Q: Ksenia...what made you become a writer?
A: Oh, it's a very long story. The short version of it is this: I was depressed, I wanted to kill myself, my therapist told me to journal, so I started writing in a journal, by hand, in English, and that unlocked something, and I still can't shut up.
Q: What is your typical writing day like?
A: It's really very simple: I wake up, I get my coffee, and I start writing. I don't stop until I produce 2K words or spend 4 hours writing. Sometimes it spills to 5 hours or more. Then I stop and do a bit of social media (like bragging about how many words I wrote), study the etymology and meanings of the new words I learned from reading the night before, scan some literary news, then eat a snack, then read for 3 hours or at least 100 pages, then it's dinner and family time, then I might write a blog post, then I meditate and exercise and read what I wrote to my partner Royce. We talk about it, then it's bed time and the next morning everything repeats. I don't break for weekends or holidays until the draft is done.
Q: Do you outline? If so, how extensive are your outlines?
A: No. I used to, with my first trilogy, only to come to hate the process. I like writing not knowing what happens next. It's like reading a book. I want to turn the page and get all excited. Where is the fun in knowing what will happen ahead of the time?
Q: How many revisions will you typically do on a novel?
A: From 4 to 5. So far. Maybe the current novel I'm writing will take more than that. Each revision is a complete rewrite from start to finish. I go through it from beginning to end like I'm reading a book (again). I'd like to slow down and do more revisions, but by draft 4-5 my brain usually is urging me onto the next story and I can't help it. I have to let the current story go or I'll go crazy.
Q: What is your best tip for editing a manuscript?
A: Read aloud what you write as you're writing it. I wish I knew this earlier, it would've saved me so many hours of revisions. You can't see the sound of your words, can't get the rhythm right unless you actually hear what you write. This is especially true for dialogue. Try it. You'll never go back to your old methods again.
Q: Which writing habits and/or tricks of the trade have made you a better writer?
A: Reading. When I started writing, I read Stephen King's On Writing and followed his words ever since: "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that." I have learned so much in the last 3 years of writing full-time, but aside from this I have also been reading full-time, and all my tricks I have picked up are from reading. One, to know that what's unsaid is more important than what is said and that only multiple rewrites will get you to the point where you know exactly what to leave in and what to cut out. Two, that people don't say what they mean most of the time and it takes a long time to get to know your characters so you can understand how they talk. Three, that no book is perfect and it's okay to simply write what comes to your head. Four, that big complicated words don't matter. Five, that grammar rules. Six, that writing every day is what makes your voice sound consistent. Seven, that none of us really know what we do but we do it anyway, and that's okay. Well, I can write a whole book of tricks here, so I better stop.
Q: Do you ever suffer through writer’s block? If so, how do you fight it?
A: I don't believe in writer's block. I believe it's a convenient myth to hide behind to justify your procrastination. Ever heard of an accountant having an accounting block? Neither have I. Writing is a job and most days it's tedious and exhausting and boring. The glamour around writing is yet another myth concocted by wannabes, I would suspect, or those who believe that the process of birthing a book is like waving a magic wand and having it pop out of thin air complete with a muse carrying it to you on a silver platter. Unfortunately, it's not like that at all. It takes a great deal of discipline and focus to sit alone, day in and day out, with your own inadequacies and deficiencies and flaws staring you in the face from the screen, or from a piece of paper if you write by hand or type. No one you can blame for it but yourself. It's hard to stomach, this truth, so people chicken out and then tell their friends they have writer's block and their friends feel sorry for them and so on. Aside from this little treatise I gave you just now, I do get scared of not knowing what happens next and I end up staring at the screen for too long without producing words, so I get up and get a cup of tea or eat some dried squirrels for a snack (I catch them myself), and by the time I'm back I usually have a good idea what to write next. That's as much as I've been blocked.
Q: What drew you to write your preferred genre(s)?
A: I get asked this all the time and all the time I scratch my head before answering. You know the simple truth? When I started writing, I had only the vaguest idea about genres. I simply wrote what wanted to get out of me, dark magical horrors that wouldn't let me sleep. It was only after I have published my first trilogy that people told me it’s urban fantasy, and about my later books they told me it’s magical realism with a touch of horror. So I guess that's what it is! I would say, I write Ksenia Anske because that's what Ksenia Anske prefers, damn her.
Q: Do you utilize beta readers?
A: Oh, yes. Big time. At first I didn't even know that's what they were called. All my drafts I post on my site for anyone who wants to read them. If they give me feedback, great! I read through it and if it rings true, I apply it to the next draft.
Q: In your most recently published novel, what’s one scene you really enjoyed writing—and why?
A: The boys fight in Castle Dracula, the scene from The Badlings. There are three of them, the boys, and Dracula locked them in a room while he had a mind of sinking his teeth into their friend Bells, and they want to save her, naturally, but Peacock was acting as a coward the whole time and so Rusty wants to give him his piece of mind only it turns into a scuffle where Peacock is acting a sissy and Rusty beats him up. Grand, the bigger of the three, instead of stopping the fight allows himself to revel in what Peacock had coming to him. I laughed so hard writing this, I would have tears in my eyes. I was itching for this to happen and it gave me an immense satisfaction to write it, waving my arms about and grunting like I was fighting myself.
Q: What makes the main character(s) of your most recent novel so special?
A: Bells? She is a very strong-willed girl who doesn't take no for an answer and is not afraid of taking risks. It's one of my own traits and I delighted in writing a character where I could magnify it and make it her core. She's bossy, she wants to be a scientist when she grows up and because her mother disapproves of that decision, she runs away from home "to show her." A rebel! I love rebels.
Q: What is your best advice for author self-promotion?
A: Be yourself. Share yourself and make friends instead of trying to sell your book to anyone who happens to talk to you. It's off-putting. But if someone happens to know more about you, they will be willing to spend time to find out more about you, and that time is precious. It's worth more than money, more than the sale of your book. Cherish it. Thank for it. And you will convert a passerby into a guest, a guest into a friend, a friend into a reader, a reader into a fan.
Q: How do you deal with negative reviews?
A: They don't bother me. I have only a few and they're not that negative, really, just people misunderstanding why I wrote the book or misunderstanding the story. It's an opinion. There are millions of opinions. Let them have it. It doesn't mean that I should stop writing or should change my writing. I write for myself. What does it matter what people think? If they love it, great! I'm elated! If not, then they should read something they love, not my books, and feel happy. Life is too short to read books you don't like.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of being an indie author?
A: Control. I have control over my story, my covers, my marketing methods, my publishing decisions. I own my books and I can do whatever I want with them. It's a heady feeling, really. Makes you dizzy at first, then happy, very happy.
Q: What is your least favorite aspect of being an indie author?
A: I can't just thrown up my arms and take time off and not do work for a day. If I don't talk about my work daily, if I don't produce work every day, people will forget about me and then I'm screwed, so sometimes I wish I could hand it over to someone and take a break. But I can't.
Q: What is your current writing project?
A: I'm writing the second draft of TUBE: Trans-Urban Blitz-Express, a novel about a train that is killing its passengers one by one, those passengers being Russian ballerinas on tour across the United States. A nice sweet story, right? Not bloody at all. I have started writing it while on the train during my Amtrak residency. I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the 24 winners and I will remember that trip for the rest of my life. It was fantastic.
Q: What are three of your favorite novels?
A: Oh, that is a cruel cruel question. It's impossible to pick only three as time goes by and I read so many books that every year I have different favorites. Let's say that so far this year the three novels that I fell in love with are The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and Matilda by Roald Dahl.
Q: If you could have lunch with any novelist, living or dead, who would it be? What would talk to them about?
A: It used to be Neil Gaiman, but I already talked to him. So now it’s Stephen King. We'd probably talk about dead bodies. I'd tell him spooky Russian stories and he'd tell me spooky American stories and maybe I will learn from him how to stop being afraid of my writing and just write.
Q: What is your best piece of advice for budding authors?
A: Write and read every day, that's all there is to it. If you do enough of it, and if you do it continuously and won't give up, one day you will get so good, people won't be able to ignore you.
Q: What is your favorite inspirational quote?
A: The quote that my daughter sent me once when I was feeling down and hated my writing. I reread it every time I start doubting myself and feel better again. It's the quote by Ira Glass: "Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”