Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book was a memoir titled When my Time Came to Chant with S.D. It was a story of my married life in a Russian bohemian gang of late sixties. My leading character was my husband, Sergey Dovlatov, a fib master and an author of considerable renown in Russia. I was inspired to write the memoir by his untimely death.
Do you write full-time or part-time? How do you balance your writing life with your family/work life?
I write full time no less than 12 hours a day, and the only way I can balance my family life with writing is by parting with my husband for about half a year. We happen to live both in the US and Germany.
What jobs have you held that influence your stories?
During the first decade of my American life I was getting my PhD at Stanford and teaching Literature and literary theories at Reed College. For the second decade I plunged into the world of commerce. There I managed to secure myself financially, thus enabling myself to write obligation free. None of these experiences were admitted to my stories.
Do you have a specific writing style?
Although I write both non–fiction and fiction (screen plays, poetry and children stories), I like to think I have a specific writing style. Two things support my belief. I tend to break away from a strict notion of genre and I write in two languages (English and Russian) thus transplanting the oddities of one mode of expression into the other and vice versa.
How did you come up with the titles?
I do not find title pick is a matter of great significance. Books are rarely selected by titles. Most influential authors that come to mind failed to create enticing titles: Don Quixote by Cervantes, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Ulysses by James Joyce, The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald, Inspector General by Nikolaj Gogol, The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. On the other hand, Catch 22, for example, seems to be a formidable title yet it kept its author (Joseph Heller) waiting forever before he enjoyed even a moderate success with readers. My title, Spark the Stone Man must be a mediocre one although I hope the books are not.
Is there a message in your books that you want readers to grasp?
The only message I would like my readers to grasp, is the one I created for myself: DON’T OPEN NEW WORLDS, OPEN YOUR EYES.
How much of your books are realistic?
My books are totally realistic in a sense that their characters (both fictional and non–fictional) mirror myself. It is me who is both real and non–real, both guileless and guileful.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
What books have most influenced your life?
There are so many magnificent authors that affected me one way or another that I am not sure I can give justice to them even in part. William Faulkner, Henri Miller, Andrey Bely, Lawrence Stern, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, D.H.Lawrence, Jonathan Frazer, Gary Shteyngart, Neil Gaiman, August Burroughs, are among the few I profoundly enjoyed reading.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Nikolaj Gogol (1809-1852).
What book are you reading now?
The Basic Problems of Phenomenology by Martin Heidegger and Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Yes, mainly Russian authors, Tender Theater by Nikolay Kononov, for example.
What are your current projects?
I am revising and translating my book published in 2010 by Aletheia Publishers in Russia. It is titled the Hermetic World of Immanuel Kant: Beyond Hearing and Vision. I am also finishing my children’s series titled Spark’s Further Exploits (mainly writing poems both in Russian and English).
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
A company called Novel Laureate School Visits supports me by having selected my children’s series as a gift to Nobel laureates visiting American public schools, and most talented students that attend the American public schools.
Do you see writing as a career?
Rather a lifestyle.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I perpetually rewrite my books. I do so even after I publish them. In a way, I feel I am more an editor than a content creator.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
That is an embarrassing recollection. As I was surrounded by writers, I once pushed myself into writing a story, too. Should I manage to finish it, it would have been a contrived piece of rubbish. Luckily I was unable to bring it to completion and discarded. And it took me twenty years before I could sit down to write something which I was compelled to write.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
With my non–fiction project I am now writing an introductory note to Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason. As this chapter follows my detailed reading of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason I have devised an untried alternative. I wrote a fictional story of a man named Josef K. who lived in a fictitious world built on Kantian moral principles (arguably adopted by the Nazi state) by Franz Kafka. Joseph K. is actually both Kant and Kafka enacting the plot of The Process in such a way that Kant leads a nocturnal life and Kafka’s character acts in the day time.
For my children project I am working with a wonderful composer who writes music to my little poems and also supplants me with musical scores for which I create new poems. This is a novel and most enchanting experience for me.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Two things: starting a story and finishing it.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I do not leave my desk to create stories thus hoping to mimic the style of Marcel Proust.
Who designed the covers?
The covers of my children series are designed by an amazing animation artist, Olga Titova. She has received a British Academy Award and was nominated for an Oscar, alas, for the texts written by Shakespeare and Chaucer. She is also the one who brings to light the slightest inconsistencies in my plots.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
It is easier for me to create enticing scoundrels than enticing stars.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned that negative comments, regardless of how irrelevant they seem to be, can be construed as view points worthy of consideration and positive comments, no matter how unobliging they seem to be, can always be construed as a critique and used for further improvement.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
I feel there is no writing for fun, as writing is a condition which, once it grips you, will never release.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Please, don’t be lax about my writing.
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
To get inside some characters’ minds.
What do you think about e-publishing versus technical publishing?
I like e–publishing especially because technical publishing tends to create rigid rules that kill ingenious writing.
Do you have an agent or publisher? How did you go about finding one?
My books written in Russian were published effortlessly. For publishing my children’s books I created a publishing company, Pekasus, and engaged five people in the process. My several attempts to sell translation rights have failed. However, I have not really attempted to do so in a systematic fashion. When all six books are published in a hard cover and e-pub formats and equipped with musical scores and professionally narrated CDs, I will do the marketing full scale.
If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
If you could have any super power, what would it be?
I want to be able to turn into animals and insects at my whim.
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