Please welcome Elena Yazykova, author of the published short story, Suume, which appeared in Leading Edge . She has also had short stories appear in Sunstone and Touchstones magazines, and has written a novel called Oko, which is still in the querying process, but fantastic.
Elena Yazykova was born in Vyborg, Russia, moving to United States before rap was cool. When not trolling the corporate world, she scribbles in notebooks and starts and abandons journals with an alarming frequency.
Elena: Hey. 🙂
Let’s jump right to it. Why do you write?
Elena: Wow, straight to the point. Mostly because I have no choice. If I keep words in my head for too long, they turn into voices and tell me to do weird, inappropriate things to those around me. Seriously, sometimes characters and places just build up, and then something’s gotta give.
Literary explosion…makes me wonder what your muse is like. Where do you get your ideas?
Elena: Everything can bring on inspiration: an odd piece of dialogue taken out of context, why the water picks this way and not the other way to shape a rock…what would happen if someone had cooked his meat too long and ended up in a parallel universe? I look at things around me. Paying attention is an irreplaceable tool. Living in the now is essential for ideas.
Is there a particular author or book that is most influential to you in your writing?
Elena: “American Gods,” by Neil Gaiman had once blown my fantastical and realistic mind, and it had stayed, well…blown. His economical, confident writing had inspired me to use precise words and not fear harsh realities of the human world, that can always be intermingled with fantasy if one wants depth. I’d have to say that Brandon Sanderson had also inspired me to create more exciting worlds, as well as strive to build more original magical systems.
Would you mind telling us more about the short story you wrote that was published.
Elena: “Suume” is a short story about a runaway magician that gets recaptured by the system that controls the magical talents of his family. The story revolves around his return to personal power and responsibility for that power. The story was an experiment of selecting random objects and creating a magical system, making the pieces fit. It was very entertaining to write, and is available for purchase online at Leading Edge magazine (search for issue #62).
Can you also tell us about the novel you’ve completed, called Oko?
Elena: “Oko” is a book set in dystopian Estonia. I completed it in August 2014. The story follows Kadri, a young cartographer who has to struggle with her quickly approaching mortality with a mined Eastern Europe as a backdrop. It is an edgy YA with elements of fantasy and sci-fi.
You had once mentioned that dystopian novels are passé, but from what I’ve read of Oko it is so much more. Mind sharing why you think it stands out from the norm?
Elena: I think Oko has very human elements of imperfections and unlikely friendships. The villain, Eks, is just as dear to me as the protagonist. I think human connections are much more complicated than most people care to admit–often what draws people together lies outside of society’s norm and comfort zones.
Do you have a sequel in the works? Tell us a bit about it and when you think the project will be complete.
Elena: Not to give anything away, but Kadri has a lot more to learn about the post-apocalyptic Europe and her own identity. Blood Triangles might not be what they seem. The sequel is still in plotting stages, however.
What is the hardest part about writing a novel?
Elena: That’s a hard one…I think consistency in both character and style can get complicated when you write long works of fiction. Having clearly defined character traits and plotlines helps. Then, when something goes awry (like something always does), you can refer to the protagonist’s underlying motives to get the story going again.
What’s the biggest difference in terms of mindset and approach to writing a novel as opposed to short stories?
Elena: Ha! You couldn’t have found a better person to ask this. I stepped on the mine of taking the short story approach to a novel when I wrote my first novel, “Silver Flows East.” It was a nuclear disaster. Short story writing applies what I call “micro-approach” to scenes. You can elongate them and pack them chock full of symbolism and loaded dialogue. I found that when that principle is applied to novels, it makes the story drag, and often makes the author so focused on the little things, that the overall concept is lost entirely. Keeping the story moving and not being afraid to cut the “drags” has helped my short-story-writer mind adapt.
With that in mind, if you could go back in time to when you started writing that first novel, what practical tips would you give your younger self?
Elena: I would say: “Focus on the structure. Read books written by those who know how to plot better than you.” When I first graduated college, plotting was alien to me, as I had spent four years writing flash-fiction and poetry. My professors’ wisdom had many benefits, but there is always more to learn.
You are also a painter, yes? Is there a way folks can check out some of your works? Any way to purchase certain pieces?
How does your painting influence your writing and vice versa, or does it?
Elena: Absolutely, it does. I have often written in bursts of inspiration based on a painting. More often, however, my writing influences my art. I love drawing my own characters for a story I’ve just written. It especially helps me when I hit a wall in a story. Visualizing my characters through another creative outlet does wonders.
Any tips on how to get through the dreaded writer’s block?
Elena: Not every block is created equal. There is no one trick that helps someone overcome a lack of productivity. Sometimes simply writing something, even a ledger of the contents of your cupboard, helps. Sometimes, however, especially if there are emotional or personal difficulties in your life, it’s better to just let your mind sort through whatever’s troubling you. Writing is not going anywhere. Living a bit of life has the tendency to improve your perception and, therefore, your writing.
What is your favorite motivational phrase?
Elena: “In the world where you can be anything, be yourself.”
What was the best compliment you have received as a writer? Toughest criticism?
Elena: The best compliment I’ve ever received was when someone confessed they stayed up until 4 a.m. reading my novel. It’s hard to beat that.
The worst criticism was, I think, when a fellow writer I respected told me that the felt no connection to anyone in the story, except for the protagonist’s pet panther. I was so upset! Reading it now, however, I know what he meant.
Anything you’d like to say to readers/fans?
Elena: Thank you for supporting my work and the ideas behind it! Believing in magic is the most important thing in the world, and I am always happy to share my belief and receive the belief of others.
Any tips you’d like to offer others attempting to write novels?
Elena: If you don’t know it, fake it. Confident writing is much more convincing than Wikipedia-precision data. Know yourself and your craft. To quote Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”: “Believe…Everything.”
Thanks so much, Elena, for allowing us into your world.
Folks, be sure to check out Elena’s artwork for sale, as well as the beginning chapters of her novel, Oko. Oh, and don’t forget to purchase a copy of her published short story, Suumes, available at Leading Edge magazine.