Saturday, 5 March 2016

The Midnight Land: Part One: The Flight by E.P. Clark

E.P. Clark starting writing fiction as soon as she deigned to learn to read, which was not particularly early—she spent a good deal of her childhood doing more important things, such as pretending to be a unicorn. Slightly later, she wanted to be a world-class equestrian. But, much to her surprise, the heavy finger of fate pointed her way and she ended up moving to Russia, which led, very circuitously, to her earning graduate degrees in Russian from Columbia University and UNC-Chapel Hill, and her current employment teaching Russian at Wake Forest University. 

Along the way there have been some odd travel opportunities: for example, almost being trampled by stampeding reindeer in Finnish Lapland. She continued writing fiction throughout all this, however, and has had multiple short stories published. This is her first novel, in what is shaping up to be a trilogy in seven volumes.

Connect with the Author

About the Book

After a life of unhappy luxury, Krasnoslava Tsarinovna (Slava to her friends, if she had any) is desperate to escape her position as the younger sister of the Empress of all of Zem’. When an explorer comes with a request to be given Imperial support for her mission to map the Midnight Land, the territory above the sunline, Slava asks that she be allowed to come along—and to her surprise, her wish is granted. 

As she travels North with her new companions, she encounters people from all walks of life, and also discovers that there is more out there than just the world of women. The spirits of the forest, and even the gods themselves, have taken an interest in her and her gifts, which begin manifesting themselves ever more strongly as she journeys. Hoping to gain answers to her questions about her growing abilities, she goes in search of sorceresses, but instead of magical assistance, she stumbles into a plot to curse her own sister, one that she may not be able to avert—or want to. 

Combining motifs from classical Russian literature with the genre of high fantasy, this book is both a gripping coming-of-age tale and a subversive exploration of gender, morality, and subjectivity.

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Keep reading for an interview with the author:

Do you have a "day job"? If so, what do you do?

My "day job" is as a Russian postdoc at Wake Forest University. I teach Russian language and culture classes, and work on Russian-related research projects. I like to think of my day job as the raw material for my writing, and, conversely, my fiction writing as "field research" for my day job.

What genres do you write?

When I originally started writing I went back and forth between fantasy, detective fiction, and sci-fi. For the moment I've settled pretty firmly into what I guess you'd call "high fantasy" or "epic fantasy," although it's also very influenced by the Realist "family novels" of 19th-century authors such as Tolstoy or George Eliot.

Is there a genre that you've been wanting to experiment with? If so, what is it and what attracts you to it?

I've become very interested in paranormal romance, and have been thinking about venturing into it once I finish my current series. I became interested in it after the tremendous popularity of the "Twilight" saga, and the backlash against it. "Twilight" and similar works obviously touched a very important chord with a huge number of female readers, and at the same time they've received an absolute deluge of hate and derision. This made me think that there's probably something there that's really meaningful and empowering for female readers, and so I started studying them, trying to figure out what that is. I'd like to try my hand someday at writing something that includes paranormal romance motifs, although I'm not sure I'm ready yet!

What authors/books have most influenced you?

For fantasy, I'd say the biggest watershed moments for me were reading "The Lord of the Rings" at 13, Terry Pratchett's "Equal Rites" at 14, "A Game of Thrones" at 16, and Jacqueline Carey's "Kushiel's Dart" my first year in grad school. Each one was amazing in its own way and opened my mind to new possibilities in fantasy. Pratchett is probably my biggest influence, although that may not be immediately apparent on reading my own work. For non-fantasy, of course I have to list Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, particularly Dostoevsky's "The Idiot," but at least as important for me were Sholokhov's "And Quiet Flows the Don," Solzhenitsyn and Shalamov's camp literature, Grossman's "Life and Fate," and Tsvetaeva's lyric poetry. A contemporary Russian work that has definitely influenced me is Arkady Babchenko's "One Soldier's War," about the author's tours of duty in Chechnya.

What is the biggest obstacle you face as an author and what do you do to overcome it?

My biggest obstacle is not having enough time and energy to do all the writing I want to do. Academics as a career is sort of great for an author, since you have a fairly flexible schedule, but it's also incredibly competitive and forces you to spend a lot of time writing. There's a lot of evening and weekend work involved, and there's no cut-off to the amount of time you can spend prepping, grading, and researching. Plus, given the precarious nature of most academic employment these days, you have to devote a significant portion of your time to applying for jobs, interviewing, and then packing everything up and moving to your new job in your new state, going to your new DMV when you get there, finding out where the grocery stores are, trying to fit in a little extra work so that you can afford said grocery stores once you've found them, filling out tax forms for multiple states...and this goes on for years. So I have to keep telling myself that my fiction writing is important, and make a commitment to doing a little bit every day. The good thing is that I get lots of practice writing, and lots of fodder for my fiction!

What is the best writing advice you've ever received?

Something along the lines of "Keep writing, write a little bit every day." Also when other authors say that it's okay to write bad first drafts and make mistakes.

What is the worst writing advice you've ever received?

There's a lot of advice out there, both for academics and for fiction writers, about how you need to envision your audience and write specifically for them, get lots of feedback, polish everything until it's perfect and never, ever, ever make a mistake. Which is all well-meant and has an element of truth to it, but for me trying to follow it ranged from harmful to totally paralyzing. The things that I've written trying to cater to a specific audience have been in general poorly received, while the things I've written just to please myself have generally managed to please other people as well. And fretting over typos and mistakes and what other people might think of me would stop me from writing and sending stuff out at all. I've recently started noticing that most of the published works I've read by big-name authors have typos and other errors in them. This has been incredibly liberating, because it tells me that you don't have to be 100% perfect (which I personally am never going to be able to obtain) to put out something that's high-quality and well-received. 99% or even 98% is still an A+, and is much more achievable.

What do you enjoy doing aside from writing?

I have a daily yoga and meditation practice, and I spend as much time as I can walking and playing with my dogs! I've always been a huge animal lover, and animals feature heavily in both my "real" life and my writing.

What book or series do you enjoy reading over and over again?

Aside from the books I've mentioned as influences, I've read Nick O'Donohoe's "The Magic and the Healing" and "Under the Healing Sign" so many times my copies are in danger of falling apart.

What made you decide to self-publish?

Two things: first of all, as an academic I've gotten to experience the submission-rejection-multiple forced revisions process enough to know that I find it incredibly stressful and frustrating, and that the improvements that result from it are of rather doubtful quality. I decided that I was going to put out something that was meaningful to me, rather than just being another line on my CV, it needed to be something that was *actually* meaningful to me, and not something that had been ground down through that mill. Second of all, self-publishing has been the norm for a lot of Russian literature, as a way to get past the censors, so I feel like I'm participating in the same tradition as some of my favorite authors.

What is your writing process?

Sit down and write, write, write! I used to start at the beginning and write till I got to the end, but recently I've been getting more and more ideas for scenes from the middle and end of the book I'm currently working on, so I'v been writing those scenes as they come to me.

What are you working on now?

The sequel to "The Midnight Land." It's, I can't talk about the plot at all, because anything I said would be a spoiler. I've actually already written the final book in the series, which is set approximately 100 years later, and now I'm going back and working on the middle book, which is called "The Breathing Sea."

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