Elvira Baryakina’s Bio
I was born in the USSR, in 1975.
My hometown Nizhny Novgorod was the third most populated city in Russia (after Moscow and Saint Petersburg), but it was rarely seen on the maps. There were way too many military plants, and our leaders prevented foreign spies from using globes and atlases to sniff out our secrets.
Nizhny Novgorod. A view at the confluence of the Oka and Volga Rivers
I became a writer because my dad blackmailed me: “I won’t tell you another fairy tale unless you write down the one I told you before.”
So, at first, the fairy tales were his creation, but then I decided that I could do better (which was an obvious overestimation at the time).
My parents and me. 1982
Good children’s books were scarce in the Soviet Union, and to get them for me, my mom had to go to the library, which was an hour drive from us. She would come home as a proud and successful hunter. There was no bigger pleasure for me than to rummage through her bag and take out shabby but precious books about brave Indian warriors and far away kingdoms.
In 1990, I watched Gone with the Wind, and it was an emotional shock for me.
I was dying for a chance to read the novel and, finally, I found it at the region library.
It was “a special item” and I couldn’t borrow it, so everyday after school, I came to the reading room, sat down in the corner, and read, covering my face with my long hair so nobody could see my tear-stained face.
“I want to be like her,” I thought while looking at the black-and-white portrait of Margaret Mitchell on the back cover.
Gone with the Wind, the Russian edition, 1991
My first published stories
I made my first published appearance in the local newspaper Nizhegorodskaya Pravda (Nizhny Novgorod Truth) with a story “One potato, two potato.” It was about harvesting at the state farm. I was 15 years old.
My first published book was a YA novel about modeling business.
All my friends were involved in the glamorous world of fashion, TV, and radio broadcasting, so I had plenty of materials.
The book was published chapter by chapter in the local weekly newspaper.
My first hardcover book was published by a major Russian publishing house Eksmo. It was a cozy mystery, which I wrote only to get my foot in the door. I was 26 years old.
I got a law degree because I had no idea what major to choose and my dad said that lawyers are well respected and make good money.
I even tried to get my Ph.D., but it required writing long boring papers. Instead of that, I wrote a historical novel about coup d’état epoch set in 18th century Russia.
At the university, 1993
My first job
My first job was at the Small Enterprise Equity Fund founded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development—it was one of the first foreign companies in Nizhny Novgorod back in the 1990s.
I got the offer because somehow I convinced the bosses that I speak English, which was not quite true. Being an administrative assistant at SEEF made me a master of answering phone calls, making paper copies, and brewing up coffee.
All my friends thought I settled down in a paradise.
SEEF’s office boasted imported armchairs and desks we could see only in the movies. It was wealth beyond imagination—SEEF spent $10, $20, or even $50 for staplers and paper clips. For comparison, my monthly salary was about $80 per month working part time.
I am a lawyer
While working at the law firm office, I consulted walked-ins, went to prisons, and died of boredom at judicial hearings.
In fact, being a criminal lawyer has nothing to do with mystery stories and movies. None of my clients were cunning evildoers or innocent victims. They were thieves, drug dealers, and domestic tyrants.
Gold digging the Russian way
Having enough of criminal law, I became a corporate lawyer at the First Exemplary Fund. Its only purpose of existence was to reap benefits from poorly executed privatization laws in Russia.
The government gave all citizens shares of the state enterprises, but most of the people had no idea what to do with their securities and often sold them for pennies or exchanged them for a bottle of vodka.
One could obtain a whole factory for the price of a truck with liquor.
My teaching career
For two years, I was teaching at the Nizhny Novgorod State University. Students loved my classes–I told them how to divide assets in a divorce or how to do paperwork if one inherits a fortune.
I explained what they needed to know about business agreements using simple but intelligible example.
One part of the kids were sellers of sausages, another part were buyers, the third group were sausages, and the fourth were railroad cars that carried the commodity around the classroom.
How I met my husband
My husband Paul is Russian American, and we met in the Internet in 2000. I was very impressed with his intelligence but for a long time I had no idea what he looked like.
Finally, Paul emailed me his picture–he was aiming at something with his gun.
I can’t stand weapons, but Paul’s arm muscles looked very nice and I decided to ignore the minor imperfections.
We lived 6,113.81 miles apart, and it took two years of daily phone calls, emails, and visa rejections before Paul managed to bring me to the United States.
What it was like to move to America
When I came to America, I didn’t drive and barely spoke English. What a start for a writer and an Angelino-to-be!
Everything was strange to me: prices, the system of measurement, food, road laws, the way how people treat police, teachers, officials, high education and so on.
It took me several years to learn the ins and outs.
Me at the Huntington Botanical Garden, 2008
Today, I live in Southern California, with my husband and son. I am an author of 15 books published in several countries and the founder of the largest educational website for Russian-speaking authors, The Writer’s Guide, with an audience of more than 2 million visitors.