Where did you get the idea for Eye of the Moon?
The story had been rattling around in my head for years. Not so much the plot itself, but the estate that I had visited over several vacations when I was young. When viewed through the haunting stories my father would tell me, the house came to represent the mythical and the numinous. To me, the setting came to represent a gateway to another world, which I wanted readers to experience.
You have mentioned this novel is American, in that it deals with business, transactions, and trust. Yet it pays homage to your Russian heritage of storytelling and superstition, with “realistic” magic and elements of the occult. How do you bring these two sets of themes together?
Russia has a longstanding spiritual tradition, whose Siberian shamanistic influences have shaped Western thought in profound and fundamental ways that are little known today. These include the concept of a separate body and soul.
Anglo-America (Canada and the United States), on the other hand, started as a commercial venture but ended up as a refuge and political safety valve for those who were either persecuted for their religious beliefs, or for those who were sufficiently disillusioned by the economic servitude Europe had to offer. There were two groups of refugees, one in search of spiritual freedom, the other in search of economic freedom.
When it comes to Anglo-America, there has always been an inherent conflict between the commercial and the ideal, and these themes are woven into the novel to produce the tension of the country where the story takes place.
Bringing the Russian and Anglo-American traditions together means creating a story with business and mystical elements.
What are you currently working on?
I have two projects. The sequel to Eye of the Moon and another novel that I have started. I don’t usually discuss future works simply because what starts out as one thing often changes into something else. Writing a novel that I would like to read takes me awhile to put together, usually more than I like, but the process I have worked out for myself requires a special kind of patience. I cannot count the number of times that I had to experience a particular conversation or event in real life that then inspired a crucial part of the story, which never would have been utilized had the work been written before its time. It is easy to get ahead of oneself, and so hard to have the patience to allow the writing to develop in a way that is truly inspired.
You wrote Eye of the Moon without an outline. Has your approach to writing changed with its sequel?
Situations drive the action. The characters have desires, which help create more situations when their wants collide with each other. To me this is a more realistic approach to writing novels because the characters, once created, seem to have minds of their own. They do what they want. As you might imagine, this can easily get out of hand, which inevitably it does. The result is surprises, not only for the reader, but for the writer as well. Imagine spending countless hours writing 160,000 words or more with no idea what will happen? I can assure you it is not a stress-free occupation, but the results are interesting to me, which is why I have continued that approach in the sequel. Having a finite time for the action to occur ensures that all the characters must get busy. I give my people five full days. Whatever they want to have happen must occur within that time period, or it’s Game Over! No pressure.
How do you get inspired to write?
I just sit down and write. That sounds too simple, but that is how I do it. There are far more stories that blow through my head than I can write. The ones that keep showing up tend to be the ones I put down on paper. It’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys, but I have to be careful I don’t lose myself in that world and ignore those around me.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
Do something else, and let the idea develop. Be confident that the inspiration will come in its own time. Force doesn’t work. In some cases, we reject an idea and everything shuts down. How many times have we said, “No way I’m writing that”? The result is instant writer’s block. Just add water and stir.
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
The Old Norse name, Odin, comes from two words, “Odr”, which could be translated as “inspiration, ecstasy or fury” and “-inn”, the Old Norse suffix that acts like the definite article, “the”, in English. Odin’s name could be translated as The Inspired One, The Ecstatic One, The Furious One. He was said to speak only in poems and owned the potent mead called “Odroerir”, that he would personally dispense to the great poets. Some days are like having been given such an elixir, and nothing else one experiences comes close to those sublime moments of inspiration.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
Writing short 2,000-word nonfiction articles on complex subjects with a tight deadline (three days max.) helped me to develop the discipline to get my thoughts on paper with a clarity and economy of style that I wanted. I also benefitted from writing short stories. A skilled short story writer can write a novel with no extraneous bits. Another vital element is to find a good editor, who will keep the writer writing and on track. Lastly, it helps me to think of a first draft as a block of marble, or alabaster, from which one sculpts the final story. Without the initial block of words, there is nothing to shape into something memorable and moving.