Why do you Write?
Because writing is the only thing I am good at. I have tried many other professions but they never gave me the pleasure and satisfaction that writing does and eventually came to an inevitable dead end.
Then one fine day, I just decided to drop everything up and threw myself at the mercy of the fickle gods of the arts. I haven’t looked back since.
What makes your books unique?
Half of my life was spent in Russia and the other half in the USA. I’m therefore fluent in both Russian and English. That means that I can see events and stories from two completely different perspectives.
If I had stayed in my native country, I would never have encountered the neglected memoirs of Russian immigrants or American and British tourists who visited the USSR in the 1920s.
These dusty books that I discovered in the basements of libraries and archives have been a big part of my research and a huge inspiration.
However, if I had only used sources in English, my novels would have lacked authenticity. I have therefore been blessed to have a whole world of Russian archives available to me.
Did you visit the places that are mentioned in your books?
Yes, I did. I’ve been everywhere, from Buenos Aires to Hong Kong.
The description of a place might only take up several lines of one of my novels, but I have to have a real sense of a place before I can start writing about it.
How long does it take for you to write a book?
Some of my novels were written in several months—like the ones in the Agent Marge series. But it took me twenty years to write Russian Treasures.
I vividly remember that the first sparks of inspiration came after I watched the movie Titanic by James Cameron. It filled me with a powerful urge to sit down and write about the Russian “Titanic”—the tragic story of an entire country hitting its own “iceberg.”
I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve rewritten these novels. I have no idea why I’ve invested so much time and effort into this story. I just have a desire to present it in the best possible shape and light.
Where do your characters come from?
Recently, I reread my very first manuscript which I wrote when I was fifteen. Naturally, there was much that was wrong with it, but I was surprised to recognize Klim Rogov in the main character. It seems that he has always been with me.
Where did I meet him, I don’t know. I guess there is an element of him from an old Robin of Sherwood television series that I watched when I was nine. I could certainly recognize some of Klim’s features and traits in the Robin Hood character portrayed by Michael Praed.
As for Nina Kupina, she’s a mixture of Italian opera singer Lina Cavalieri, Scarlett O’Hara, and myself.
In 1997, my friends rented an apartment in a hundred-year-old house in the historical part of Nizhny Novgorod. The previous owner left an old chest of drawers there and told my friends they could have it along with its contents. In it, I found a vintage postcard depicting a beautiful young lady and immediately realized that this is HER, the heroine of my future historical novel.
Later I learned that the lady who inspired me so much was Lina Cavalieri.
Nina Kupina’s character has undergone significant changes over the years. In my early drafts, she was a classic damsel in distress, then she grew into a rather selfish and cruel woman, it was only later that she has matured into the figure that she is now.
I would say that all my characters have grown up and developed alongside me.
What is the most difficult part of being an author?
To accept that ultimately nobody can help you except yourself.
In my experience, nearly every author hopes to meet some miracle worker who can take them by the hand and guide them to the sacred temple of great literature.
But in the real world, you have to take risks, sacrifice all your time, energy, and money (your life per se) to the fickle and inscrutable gods of the arts, and if you work hard enough, maybe the fates will look favorably on you.
What does it take to be a successful author?
In short, talent, passion, willpower, and the utilization of every resource that you have available to you.
I teach literary craft and I can tell right away if my students are just “playing at being authors” or if they are serious about their writing.
It doesn’t matter if they are gifted or not at that stage. If a talented person doesn’t practice and make perfect, there is no helping them.
Serious authors are fanatics, and nothing can stop them from moving forward.
However, it’s a sad fact of life that talent and passion are not enough. Developing literary skills takes a huge amount of time and requires the right conditions, and if a person doesn’t have these luxuries, it takes nothing short of a miracle for him or her to succeed.
Do you write in English?
I only write fiction in my native language. I have a much larger vocabulary in Russian than English and I don’t have to think about grammar and sentence structure when I write. I just let my imagination run wild and enjoy the process.
When I translate my books into English, I adapt them so that any details or in-jokes that might be peculiarly Russian, for example, will be clear and comprehensible to my international readers.
My translations are polished by native English speakers, who are great professionals and I am very grateful to them for their excellent work.