Life in Writing
This week I had the chance to interview E.P. Clark the author of The Midnight Land, a fantasy novel with a Russian twist. Her novel is very unique and very interesting. Read on to find out what she's working on, and where she gets her inspiration.
Q. Where are you from?
A. Originally from Kentucky; currently living in Winston-Salem, NC.
Q. Do you have a job other than writing? What do you do?
A. Yes, I teach Russian at Wake Forest University.
Q. Why do you write sci-fi and fantasy?
A. I find that fantasy best expresses the things I want to say and how I actually experience the world. Speculative fiction allows the author to explore things that can’t really be explored in more “realistic” writing—alternative societies and histories, things like that. And fantasy allows an exploration of archetypes and the unconscious in a way that other genres don’t. Plus, it’s fun!
Q. What are you currently working on?
A. I recently released my debut novel, The Midnight Land, Parts One and Two, and I’m currently writing the sequel, The Breathing Sea. I’ve already finished The Dreaming Land, the last part of my planned trilogy (which, a la Douglas Adams, is going to be in more than three parts), called The Zemnian Trilogy.
Q. Tell us a little bit about it.
A. The Zemnian Trilogy is set in a Slavic, matriarchal society based very loosely off of a combination of Kievan Rus’, Muscovy, and Russian fairy tales. There are also lots of references to classical and contemporary Russian literature in it, both on the thematic level—e.g., I discuss the issues surrounding a penal system based on forced labor—and on the level of individual words and phrases, so that I have lots of allusions to and veiled quotations of famous works by Pushkin, Tolstoy, etc.
Q. When will your next book be released?
A. I’m hoping that the first part of The Breathing Sea can come out next year, but I’m still working on the first draft. These books are all pretty long—some might even call them loose, baggy monsters!—and I have a day job, so it takes a while to finish them.
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A. When I first learned to write as a child. It’s been my plan/dream ever since then.
Q. Where do you get your inspiration on what to write?
A. Pretty much everything and everywhere, but the titles for all three books in The Zemnian Trilogy are taken from medieval Russian literature. “The Midnight Land” is a name for Russia and for the north in general; “The Breathing Sea” is a name for the White Sea, and “The Dreaming Land” is a reference to the theory that the word “Siberia” is based off a Tatar phrase meaning “the sleeping land,” since the land seemed “asleep” to Genghis Khan’s grandchildren when they crossed it on their way to conquering Kievan Rus’.
Q. What are some of your hobbies outside of writing?
A. Yoga, and playing with my dogs! We like to get out and go for walks around the historical parks in Winston-Salem.
Q. What book are you currently reading?
A. Hmmm, I read a lot of books for various reasons, but recently I’ve been reading a lot of FemDom books, since they’re one of the few places where you find descriptions of women being in charge. That’s something that’s actually pretty hard to write about, since we don’t have a lot—or any, really—of good examples of it in mainstream literature, so we’re lacking a literary language and a set of tropes that allow us to write about it in a natural and meaningful fashion.
Q. Who are some of your favorite authors?
A. On the Russian side, I’ve been hugely influenced by Dostoevsky (and of course Tolstoy and Pushkin), Karolina Pavlova (who is criminally under-read), Marina Tsvetaeva, and Solzhenitsyn and Shalamov. I’ve also been reading and incorporating ideas from contemporary accounts of recent wars, especially Arkady Babchenko’s One Soldier’s War. On the fantasy side, other than The Lord of the Rings, which is required to mention as an influence but which I do think is really, really amazing, I’d say Terry Pratchett, George R.R. Martin, and Jacqueline Carey are some of my biggest influences, and C.J. Cherryh’s Rusalka series was the first thing I read that showed me that fantasy could have a Russian aspect.
Q. What do you do to market your books?
A. I can’t say that I’ve been a hugely successful book marketer yet, but other than having a presence on social media, etc., the thing I’ve done that’s been the most effective has been free giveaways. I’m enrolled in KDP and doing a free giveaway of the Kindle version of the first Midnight Land book has definitely led to a jump in sales, so I’m planning more free giveaways in the future.
Q. Of all the books you’ve written, which is your favorite, and why?
A. Hmmm, that’s a difficult one, but if I had to choose one I’d have to say The Dreaming Land, the conclusion to The Zemnian Trilogy. I’m having a hard time waiting until I finish The Breathing Sea and release it to release The Dreaming Land as well!
The main character in The Dreaming Land was just so much fun to write, and I spent a lot of my time as I was writing it saying to myself, “Am I really writing this? Am I really writing this? Yes I am!” She’s a warrior princess who needs to take a younger, inexperienced man as her husband in an arranged marriage—so a reverse of the typical romance genre story—while also fighting intrigue and slave trading and learning to control her budding magical abilities. I thought of her as a mashup between Sherlock Holmes and Eowyn, with maybe a side of Buffy and Christian Grey as well.
Q. If any of your stories could be made into a movie, which would you choose?
A. I think it would be awesome if The Zemnian Trilogy could be made into a tv series, like GoT has been. It wouldn’t make much sense for any of the parts to be made into a standalone movie.
Q. If you could be friends with a fictional character (Including any from your own stories) who would you choose?
A. Probably Buffy and Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Q. Does your taste in movies and shows line up with your taste in books? If they differ, how so?
A. I definitely enjoy movies and tv shows with a supernatural or futuristic element. I’m a big Star Wars fan—yes, even of the prequels—and I also really enjoyed the adaptations of LOTR. As you might guess, my favorite tv show is Buffy, but I also really enjoyed Charmed and the Stargate series. I guess one of the main differences is that with movies and tv I often enjoy urban fantasy and sci-fi, whereas when I read I generally prefer epic fantasy. I think it’s because tv in particular lends itself much better to urban fantasy and sci-fi than it does to epic fantasy. I also enjoy more “realistic” tv comedies, so that right now
I’m binge-watching Scrubs. I don’t actually have a tv, so I normally catch my tv shows after the fact, once I can stream them on Netflix or Amazon Prime.
Q. Do you have a certain place that you like to do your writing? Does environment affect your work?
A. I set up a home office to do my writing (both my fiction and my academic writing). I can’t write in my office on campus. I like to be indoors, but someplace with a window. And I have to listen to music!
Q. Of all the books in the world, why is yours worth taking the time to read?
A. The Midnight Land is epic fantasy with a twist. It’s set in a matriarchal society, but it’s different from most matriarchal societies I’ve encountered in other works of fiction. A lot of the problems we have in our society are still there, we just see them from a different angle, and my readers have told me that it’s really shocking and refreshing every time that the characters, for example, pray to have daughters rather than sons so that they can carry on the family line. And then there’s the Russian aspect.
Q. Leave the blurb to your latest book.
A. “Imagine reading Shackleton or Cook’s journals, only with spirits and gods and psychic powers”—San Francisco Book Review.
In “The Midnight Land: Part One,” the first installment of the Tolstoy-meets- Tolkien epic fantasy series “The Zemnian Trilogy,” we meet Slava, younger sister to the Empress of all of Zem’. Tormented and half-outcast due to her gifts of empathy and clairvoyance, Slava tries to escape the intrigue of her native kremlin by joining a mission to explore beyond the sunline, the unmapped Northern edge of the greatest country in the Known World. But instead of escaping her destiny, Slava finds herself and her gifts the target of the gods themselves. Hailed as “a tale of power, fear, and bravery set in the brutal and beautiful landscape of the frozen north” (Amazon reviewer), “a surreal, almost mystical-feeling book with action, twists, and lots of good fantastical elements” (Indie Book Reviewers, 5 star review), and “Beautifully unique and rich in a Central European and West Asian feel that comes together with a surprising and wonder-filled world” (SPR), “The Midnight Land” combines the genre of high fantasy with the “big questions” of Russian literature in a subversive exploration of gender, culture, and morality.
Q. What makes the main character of your latest book interesting to read about?
A. Slava, the main character of The Midnight Land, doesn’t seem very heroic at all: she’s shy, fearful, and emotionally sensitive, and she doesn’t know how to fight or do much of anything else. Over the course of the book she has to figure out how to be the hero that she’s meant to be without becoming the kind of person she’s always despised.
Q. What sparked your interest in Russian culture? How do you know so much about it?
A. I lived in Russia for a while in the 1990s. I spent a semester going to school in a different town from my parents, and I had a pet hamster that I would carry in a thermos when I took public transport to go home on the weekends.
If you enjoyed this interview and want to know more about E.P. Clark or her Russian fantasy books you can find her at the links below:
Daniel M. Quilter is the author of A Soul Divided. On this blog he'll interview other authors, review books, share nerd wisdom from popular sci-fi and fantasy, and occasionally share his insights on writing. See a list of his works or see what he's working on.
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