Elena Mordovina: “Book publishing in Ukraine is going through a clear crisis…”
Elena Mordovina, editor of the Kayala publishing house, deputy chief editor of the Khreschatyk literary magazine and the New Gilgamesh almanac, told why a writer does not need to have a specialized education and how to use the crisis for his development.
1. Elena, is a writer a profession or a hobby?
It’s different for everyone, of course. For me, this is neither a profession nor a hobby. This is the need to record in the text some disappearing, leaving forever events. Moreover, I follow the well-known rule: you can not write – do not write. Until the last moment, I try not to pay attention to the plots, dialogues and images that arise in my mind – if what has come is real, it does not disappear, does not flash, like a picture from a Facebook feed – it will remain and will torment you to the end. Plots, dialogues, rooms that no longer exist, people who are left in the past, cities that no longer exist. Kyiv of the 90s is no more, it has disappeared, it exists only in our memory, in my specific memory. We live in some other Kyiv. We ourselves are different. There is, of course, a certain Eternal City that can be found by making your way through all these layers, but era cities are born and die,
2. Where do you get ideas for writing new stories?
These are the moments that do not let you forget about yourself – the plot is made up of them, usually by itself. Moreover, these are not only events that I myself experienced. These are some other karmic things. For example, about five years ago I started writing the novel “Chokrak” (I haven’t finished it yet), in which a character is resurrected from the dead – naturally, he resurrects like that, in our time, everything is extremely realistic – as far as possible in such a situation. As planned, this is due to some … semi-fantastic, of course … the influence of a stopped nuclear power plant located nearby, and the fact that the body of the deceased was in a healing mud lake, which, as the locals have long believed, has the ability to resurrect the dead. And there I have a reference to the case with the famous German artist Joseph Beuys, who served in the Luftwaffe in his youth. His plane is shot down in 1943 – and the pilot falls into this lake and goes missing. Real story. The locals take care of him, and after that there is such a legend that he allegedly rises from the dead. Where did this plot come from? Why all of a sudden it is this and in this form, and some kind of nuclear power plant, right? Rave. And literally at the beginning of this year I found information about my grandfather in the opened archives – it turns out that in 1943 he went missing in the battles for the city of Chernobyl and for almost two months he was considered dead, until finally found among the living. This is the mirror situation. The same story, practically, only on the other side of the front. This case was never told in the family, the grandfather did not mention the war at all in conversations, although when the accident happened at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, this could serve as an impetus for memories of that place and those events. Information is transmitted in some other ways, quite bizarre – with interference, distortion, but carries the main symbols. So the writers are shamans to some extent – and if some plot appears, then it appears for a reason.
3. At what age did you write your first book?
The first published novel, White Balance, was written when I was barely nineteen. After I supplemented it, and the plot was finally lined up much later, but the main body of the text, its entire descriptive part, and this is eighty percent – just when I was nineteen. I wanted to call it Nineteenth Nervous Crisis at the time, after a song by the Rolling Stones, a band that was in my top ten at the time. Perhaps if I had had the opportunity to publish it then, it would have been completely different. This lightness and wildness is gone… I regret it a little. But my earliest full-fledged work was a story written at sixteen – later it was included in the collection Wax Dolls. This is also partly an answer to the question about the first book – since it was a collection of short stories that was my first published book, and not a novel. At sixteen, I didn’t finish it either – I finished it at twenty-three, the original text led to events that happened later, but the atmosphere of the text and the “mechanics” of the protagonist were written already then. It’s about the story “The Dalmatian Frog”. I was very pleased when the collection was shortlisted for the Chekhov Gift award and excerpts from this particular story were staged at the Taganrog Drama Theater. Then at the awards ceremony, I was very proud of the sixteen-year-old child who came up with all this. when the collection was shortlisted for the Chekhov Gift award and excerpts from this particular story were staged on the stage of the Taganrog Drama Theater. Then at the awards ceremony, I was very proud of the sixteen-year-old child who came up with all this. when the collection was shortlisted for the Chekhov Gift award and excerpts from this particular story were staged on the stage of the Taganrog Drama Theater. Then at the awards ceremony, I was very proud of the sixteen-year-old child who came up with all this.
4. You are not only a writer, but also the editor of the Kayala publishing house, as well as the deputy editor-in-chief of the Khreshchatyk literary magazine and the New Gilgamesh almanac. How critical are you to authors?
Let’s continue with the topic already covered. I am very attentive to young authors, because I know that a good text can be written at a fairly early age. In general, I am very loyal to texts that cause me simple human sympathy. Now we are not talking about absolutely brilliant or unconditionally talented texts. But only about those that you have to deal with every day. This loyalty prevents me from being a good editor, of course. Loyalty to the author, not to the text. If a story or a selection of poems falls into my hands, I can be merciless. Therefore, I prefer to be in the shadows – let the chief editor deal with the selection of material – it can only be a fairly tough person who is ready to take on such a high responsibility. On the other hand, if the text is good, but the author is unpleasant to me for some personal reason, I always decide in favor of the text. I never confuse work relationships with personal ones. Because human meanness and stupidity has no boundaries, and a good text remains a good text.
5. And how do you perceive criticism in your address?
Painfully, like any creative person. Boris Markovsky, editor-in-chief of Khreshchatyk, in his recent interview, recalled how he worked with my first stories sent to the magazine. How hard it was for him to convince me of something, to force me to remove obvious stupidity or hidden stylistic negligence. Now I see it all myself. Especially in other people’s texts. But then I took everything with hostility. The other day I was admitted to a yet unpublished novel by a living Ukrainian classic, and there he has a certain charismatic character, a kind of guru, who proclaims the principle that he follows in his work. I’m not quoting verbatim – just conveying the essence. You hesitate, doubt – swim or not swim – like any creative person, but now you have decided that this will be the case, and from now on you are responsible for what you decided and for the consequences of this decision – with all your skin, with all your being. Well, defend the already consciously made decision, like a wolf – counterattack, snap back if they attack. So, sometimes you have to screw up.
6. How can you assess the current state of book publishing in Ukraine?
Book publishing in Ukraine is experiencing a clear crisis. There are many reasons for this, but you should not lose heart. History teaches that for many, a state of crisis is an impetus and even an optimal environment for starting and developing. The Kayala Publishing House was founded a little over a year ago – and as a new publishing house we are trying to take advantage of the general decline. Authors who would otherwise go to a more powerful and advanced publisher come to us because the publisher is going through a crisis and publishes only old, proven, commercially successful authors. So there is always reason for optimism.
7. Creative people have their own schedule. What do you live by?
By nature, I am a night owl, of course. I love working at night. By the way, that’s why I loved the L’Andre designer pieces that I shot for this interview so much. Svetlana Andrikevich, the creator of this brand, often uses the image of an owl in her works. This is usually a stylish appliqué with wings fastened to buttons, decorated with feathers of real birds – the feeling is awesome. She has both dresses and tops with this owl. And having fallen in love with an owl, I was already carried away by the brand as a whole. So, about the birds. With our rhythm of life, it is not always possible to follow our natural inclinations. During the day, you need to rotate in society, actively communicate with people, wake up the child to school, again. Therefore, recently my schedule has not been completely owl-like. In the morning, while no one is at home and you can turn off Wi-Fi, I’m working on my texts – I’m finishing another novel or redoing a story. And after lunch, I actively join in public life. Well, by the evening I’m already so exhausted that I can no longer seriously engage in creativity – the charge sits down. But, in principle, if some idea breaks through, then neither the place nor the time of day affects such a moment of creative upsurge.
8. Who do you think your reader is?
The reader of the series of books that I will present in Odessa is, of course, a child, a teenager. I will bring only the first book in the Urban Fantasy series – my story The Ghost from Lukyanovka, followed by Anastasia Voronova’s The Last Shelter of Rebels in this series – a very talentedly written novel that, I hope, will captivate older readers. But my own reader today is a child who is interested in adventures and some mysterious stories that can happen to him. And which is completely impossible in the real world. This is such a logical contradiction. As for the adult reader, I will answer briefly: my reader is the one who is interested in what is interesting to me. At some time interval. In some story. At some turn of events.
9. Very soon you have a presentation of the book in Odessa, but do you already have a new plot in mind?
I’m already writing a sequel to the ghost boy story. Friends from the first story are waiting for new adventures. On the other side of reality, the events outlined in the first book are also rapidly developing. So, I hope that the continuation will not let me or future readers get bored. At the same time, I am writing a novel about a model girl who escapes from the harsh semi-criminal environment of St. Petersburg into a completely different world, not forgetting, however, where she comes from. And this reality, from which she escaped, haunts her. Initially, there was no desire to write specifically about the model, but here it is exactly the character who can easily move from one reality to another. Such an ultra-thin tool for studying different layers of social reality. Well, and besides, I want to break the stereotype about model girls as narrow-minded, frivolous creatures.
10. Do you think it is necessary to have a special education in order to become a successful writer?
Perhaps this can help someone in the process of becoming, but it always seemed to me that the writer needs to learn more about the world, about how rationally and at the same time insanely it is arranged … That is why I was once convinced that I biological education is needed. There are writers I know who were originally interested in mathematics or physics. Medicine, definitely. Among the writers there are a lot of people who have received a medical education. My beloved Bulgakov, for example. But initially he did not set himself the goal of writing. He has a story, one of the earliest, in which the protagonist asks the universe to stop all these wars and revolutions that began to boil then – and simply give him the opportunity to work, practice medicine, dissect tissues and sketch the anatomical structure of organs.
11. What advice would you give to young authors?
There are no general patterns here. Someone will be helped by advice to write five pages every day, and someone should try not to write at all until they manage to resist – I myself belong to the second type. Someone needs to study the world, and someone has to hang in their existence. Someone needs to clear their mind, and someone needs to be clouded with alcohol or drugs – but this cannot even be advised. Someone will focus only on themselves, while writing courses will help someone. In geniuses, this question probably does not even arise. But since it has arisen, then everyone is looking for the answer to these questions himself. For example, at some point, Stephen King’s bestseller “On Writing” turned out to be very useful to me. It helps a lot precisely at the stage when you are ready to write a serious novel in terms of building – and when it is no longer just a matter of talent, but a matter of technology, architectonics, subtle moments that only the master can clarify. And as Henry Miller or Jack Kerouac wrote, for example, no one will ever be able to teach for anything.
Photographer — Maria Tushinskaya
Style — L’Andre
Designer — Svetlana Andrikevich
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