How did you become a writer? It began with reading. My mother used to tell me, whenever I got bored, that I should go read a book. It was the 90s, and we’d just moved from the USSR and had no TV, so I didn’t have much of a choice. I read so much I constantly ran out of things to read. When that happens, you can’t avoid wanting to try your hand at it too. Even at age seven I was filling my notebook up with little stories that I’m sure made no sense, but it was good practice. I honestly can’t remember a time I didn’t want to be a writer. Words were always everything to me. Plus, my family is very loud, and they have a lot to say; I basically had to write in order to be heard.
What inspires you to write? Oh, pretty much everything. But I take a lot from my family’s experiences. Our history is full of holocaust survivors and crazy experiences in the USSR, and I have yet to reach the bottom of that well. I feel an obligation to save and collect these epic experiences, and also they’re just really good stories. Writing them is like taking candy from a baby. My grandpa escaped a concentration camp on his own two feet! That story writes itself. I’ll never do anything that amazing, but at least I can write it down. I guess it all starts with me, though; what I’m thinking about at the time, or how I feel about certain experiences, and how I can relate mine to theirs. I’ve spent many hours thinking about the dichotomy of cultures I grew up around. Also, I watch a lot of good television. It’s weird to say that TV inspires me, but it really does. There’s some very cool stuff happening in TV right now. I learned so much about dramatic tension from Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones.
How do you develop your plot and characters? Well, I guess I start with an idea, and then the characters come after that. Plot is last, usually. I’ve been struggling with plot for years and am only now getting the hang of it. After many failures I’ve learned it’s best to write a outline. People always tell you to write an outline, and I don’t know why, but I never listened to this. Then I wasted years rewriting entire books because I didn’t think the plot through before sitting down. I’m not going to do that anymore!
Could you share some of your challenges as a writer? Plot, for sure. Because I have so many ideas, I’m great with beginnings, but it takes me forever to plan out an entire interconnected storyline through to the end, especially as I always have multiple POVs. It’s hard to keep tension for 300 pages and also tell a story that makes sense in every capacity. Also, finishing something is hard for me. I’ve thought I was finished so many times but then it almost always turned out I was not.
Tell me about your protagonist. What's your favorite trait and/or weakness? My favorite trait of Lena’s is her preparedness, I guess. She’s a big worrier but when stuff happens she completely comes alive and manages better than most would. On the flip side, it’s also sort of her weakness, because she should be having fun and she’s sitting there wondering how to fireproof her bedroom. She’s kind of like an old Jewish grandma stuck in the body of a 16-year-old.
How does your antagonist create conflict? Trying to avoid trouble, she tends to make it worse.
What are your current/future projects? Besides this project, I have a literary novel that’s coming out next May, and I hope to start working on my third book soon, which is going to be post-apocylptic but in a slightly unique manner than we’re used to seeing. Think epic family drama in the world of the Walking Dead, minus the zombies. (There’s going to be a threat there, just not zombies, because can we all agree to take a break from zombies? It’s been DONE.)
Do you have a routine you follow when writing? Coffee. Lots of coffee. Usually in a coffee shop, so I can’t procrastinate by cleaning my entire house.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be? Skip grad school and just write.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? I guess that would also be my advice for aspiring writers. I learned everything I needed to know by reading books and failing to write them over and over until I stopped failing. I must have written 20,000 pages to get to a 300-page novel that isn’t terrible. I think that is an overwhelming thing to hear for someone starting out, but it’s just not realistic to think you can write a great novel the first time you try. Who is good at their job the first month of it? Or even the first year? Like anything else, it takes a lot of practice.
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