Author Interview With E.P. Clark

Thursday, 14 January 2016
Author E.P. Clark

Pull up a chair, get comfy, and read on to find out what makes indie author E.P. Clark tick.
If you use a Pen Name why did you choose it?
I’m not using a pen name per say, but I did decide to go by my initials.  I wanted my official fiction-writing name to be different from my professional name, and the Russian influence on my work made using my initials, Russian-style, seem like a good idea (although I only came up with it as a justification for my decision retroactively!).

Why do you write?
I like to create things, but instead of making dresses or tables or something of that nature, I make stories.  I always have a lot of stories in my head, and writing them down is the best way for me to satisfy my creative impulses and communicate with other people.  I feel much more comfortable writing than speaking, so writing allows me to say things that I couldn’t actually “say” in another medium.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I originally decided when I was six and first learning to read and write.  Then I decided again about twelve years later, and again another ten years after that, and then again a few years later…I keep re-deciding to become a writer.
What genre are your books?
Fantasy, although with elements of other genres, especially the family drama.

What draws you to this genre?

It’s the genre that most accurately represents how I perceive the world.  I normally experience myself as being on an epic journey, engaged in a titanic struggle between the forces of good and evil.  It’s probably the most “psychological” of the genres, in that it allows a direct descent into the subconscious, which is something that interests me.  And it allows the writer to experiment with things you couldn’t in a more “realistic” genre.  E.g., imagining a non-patriarchal society, which is one of the things I’m trying to do with my current project, The Zemnian Trilogy.

What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?
I’d known since I was a teenager that I wanted to write a fantasy epic set in something that was sort of an alternate world, although not exactly, and I’d been working on building that world and writing stories and novels about it in a pretty disciplined way since I was eighteen.  By the time I started working on my current book, The Midnight Land, ten years later, I’d already had several stories set in that world published and had a couple of drafts of full-length novels sketched out on notebooks and sitting in my hard drive.  That hard drive has since crashed and disappeared into old laptop oblivion, which is probably best for all concerned, but the practice of writing all that was tremendously helpful.  I came across the phrase “The Midnight Land” while I was taking a course on medieval Russian literature in grad school, and I just knew that that had to be the title of my next story.  I was thinking it would be a short story or maybe a novella.  1000 pages later, I had a giant, monster, Russian-style novel on my hands, and plans to write an entire trilogy based on that particular family.
Do you write full-time or part-time?
Part-time.  As my “day job” I’m currently a postdoctoral fellow at Wake Forest University, where I teach Russian.  
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
It depends on whether it’s during the semester or during break, and what my teaching schedule is in any given semester.  During grad school I often had classes in the afternoon, so I would write in the morning.  Now that I’m teaching introductory-level courses I often have class in the morning, so I’ve switched largely to writing later in the day, sometimes during dinner, although I’m trying to avoid doing that…The main thing for me is to have a doable page quota.  During the semester I try to write 1-3 pages a day, which isn’t much but also isn’t intimidating, so I don’t try to get out of it, and if you keep doing it eventually you’ll have a full-length manuscript.  During break periods I’ll write more if I can.  Last summer I was having health problems that prevented me from doing all the other things I’d planned, so once I was able to sit upright, I would do a couple of hours in the morning and a couple of hours in the afternoon, and crank out 6-10 pages a day, until I finished another (really, really long) manuscript.  For me the main thing is consistency and preventing burnout.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I went through a phase when I was starting to write “seriously,” meaning for publication, of doing the things you’re supposed to do, like brainstorming for ideas, outlining, looking for feedback…it was incredibly stifling and the main thing it did for me was to make sure that I wouldn’t write what I had planned to write.  I would also get inspirations from things like dreams, but when I tried to write them down exactly as they’d come to me, they wouldn’t come out the way I’d envisioned them, and they often looked weird and incomplete on the page.  Then I took a break from writing fiction to finish my dissertation and apply for jobs.  That was a simply hellish amount of writing, and I was afraid that I had ruined my writing muscles forever, but when I went back to writing fiction, I discovered that I was now able to tap into my subconscious and just let the words come.  So at this point, when I’m writing a draft I try to get my conscious mind out of the way as much as possible, and just let the ideas flow from my subconscious to my fingers with as little interference as I can manage.  I think it’s made my writing much more organic and “whole,” as well as much more heartfelt.
What have you written?

My current work out is The Midnight Land.  It was originally written as one book and still is
one connected narrative, but because it’s so long, I split it up into two parts for publication: The Midnight Land: Part One: The Flight and The Midnight Land: Part Two: The Gift.  I also have a number of short stories and novellas floating around: you can probably find “Winter of The Gods,” which is the first thing I had published and the first thing I wrote about the world The Midnight Land is set in, out there somewhere.  I also have a couple of novellas, “The Shadowy Man” and “Half a Dream,” that I’m particularly proud of and that I’m considering turning into a trilogy at some point.  They’re unusual for me in that they’re set in an Italian, rather than a Russian, world, and they’re told from a male point of view.

Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just seeing where an idea takes you?

My initial attempts at plotting and outlining were dismal failures.  Writing out an outline seemed to “kill” that storyline for me, so now I just hold an overall plan for the story in my head (normally something like “she sets off, then she comes back”) and then see where my words take me.  I’ve been experimenting with writing out key scenes as they come to me, especially if I’m blocked elsewhere in the story; whether this is actually a good idea or not has yet to be determined, but it helps me keep writing when otherwise I might not, and means I don’t forget things that I think are important.

How do you market your books?

Figuring out marketing is my next big challenge!  I’ve been using a combination of word-of-mouth, social media, reviews, and a bit of advertising, but all with mixed results.

Is there any marketing technique you used that had an immediate impact on your sales figures?

The Midnight Land is set in a Russia-esque world and is full of references to Russian literature, so after a bit of hemming and hawing (I was afraid it would make my professional colleagues take me less seriously), I sent out a notification of its release to an email list for Slavists.  That was my biggest sales day, so I’d say that if there’s some kind of professional or hobby organization that you could pitch your book to, it’s certainly worth a try.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Keep writing!  Writing is like playing a sport or a musical instrument: you can only get good at it by doing it.  A lot.  Even things that never see the light of day aren’t a waste of time, just like practicing scales or free throws isn’t a waste of time for a musician or an athlete.

Give us an insight into your main character. What does she do that is so special?

The main character of The Midnight Land, Slava, is a very empathetic, even empathic, person trying to figure out how to live in a world where that kind of thing can be seen as a weakness.  She’s probably what we’d call a “highly sensitive person” today, and she has to figure out how to get tough enough to survive and help others without becoming a monster.  She’s also a woman who’s had a number of negative experiences with the opposite sex and she needs to “get in touch with her masculine side,” I guess you could say.  The twist is this is against the backdrop of a matriarchal, matrilineal culture.  So as the younger sister she’s disenfranchised the way a son would be, but most men don’t feel the solidarity with her that she feels with them…I tried both to subvert our own gender roles and expectations, and our expectations of what a story about a matriarchal culture should be, through her.  So Slava—and her name is a man’s name in Russian, by the way—thinks and talks “like a man” some of the time, but at the same time she’s a fairly “girly” girl and a lot of her concerns should be familiar to women reading her story.

Where do your ideas come from?    

If only I knew…Actually, I get a lot of my ideas from reading, both fiction and current news stories.  Things that I disagree with are particularly fertile ground.  So if I read something that depicts women in an unrealistic or objectifying fashion, for example, I’m inspired to write something that subverts that.

What is the hardest thing about writing?
NOT QUITTING.  Also the physical pain of eye strain, back pain, etc.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
For The Midnight Land it was that I was still figuring out how to write a novel and what I wanted this particular novel to be about, as well as build the world it was set in.  I had to go back and do a tremendous amount of editing afterwards.  For The Dreaming Land, the book I recently finished, it was keeping track of all the characters and places, now that I had built this epic world.  I finally started using a spreadsheet, which was helpful.  And of course the physical toll of that much writing: fatigue, pain, and so on.
Which writers inspire you?
I was inspired to write an epic fantasy series by reading A Game of Thrones, back when it first came out, what, 20 years ago?  I was given a promotional free copy somewhat by happenstance and I was completely blown away by its awesomeness.  Terry Pratchett has also been a tremendous inspiration for me, and I’m really glad that Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series is out there.  And then there’s the whole Russian literature thing.  The Midnight Land is full of direct allusions to Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Gogol, although I probably feel closer to Dostoyevsky than to any of those authors and I think there’s a very “Dostoyevskyan” feel to some of the scenes.  Karolina Pavlova’s A Double Life was also a huge inspiration, and I also had, and continued to have as I continue to work on the series, the camp literature of Solzhenitsyn and Shalamov and the war stories of Arkady Babchenko on my mind as I wrote.  On a completely different note, I’m a huge, huge Jane Austen fan, which may or may not be evident in my writing.
Who is your favorite character in your book and why?

Of course Slava is my favorite character in The Midnight Land, but I’m also really fond of a number of my secondary characters.  Slava spends most of the story off on a journey with Olga Vasilisovna, who was a lot of fun to write: she’s very bluff and outspoken and always off doing things, but she also has a difficult backstory and I ended up feeling a lot of sympathy for her and I hope the readers will as well, even though she’s done some things that are not usually considered forgivable for a woman.  And I became extremely fond of Vladislava Vasilisovna, Ogla’s niece.  She’s a little girl who’s driving her mother crazy and has also done some pretty bad things too.  Writing her dialogue was probably my favorite part of writing the book.  I suddenly developed a liking for Boleslav Vlasiyevich, one of the secondary male characters, late in the process, and now I’m very fond of him and have created a whole continuation of his story in my head, some of which may come out in the next instalment in the series.  He’s a particularly “gray” character, which I always like.

Who is your least favorite character and why? 

I tried to create some really annoying characters, and in particular to create some male characters that had a lot of the traits that are typically censured or mocked in female characters.  E.g., I have a male version of Anna Karenina, except that he’s really sulky, self-centred, and self-righteous, like some irritating teenage geek who trolls women on the internet.  That was actually extremely difficult, and I ended up feeling really irritated with the characters because they Wouldn’t. Do. What. They. Were. Told.  And I think I ended up making them much more sympathetic then a female secondary character would have been under similar circumstances.  It’s actually much harder to write an unsympathetic male character than an unsympathetic female character, I discovered.  We have all these “templates” on hand for unsympathetic female characters who are petty and stupid and one-dimensional and do nothing but get in the way, but male characters tend to come out as multi-dimensional anti-heroes.  So the whole process was very interesting, but a lot more trouble than I thought it would be.

What is your next project? 

I’m currently working on The Breathing Sea, the next instalment in the trilogy.  I’ve already finished The Dreaming Land, the last part, so I know where I’m going and I just need to get there.

If there was one thing you could do to change the world, what would it be?

Stop cruelty to animals.  It’s also a theme in my writing, and I’m planning on make it a major part of The Breathing Sea.

Tell us something unique about you.

I’m originally from Kentucky, but I lived in Russia in the 90s after the collapse of the USSR, which I think gave me an unusual perspective on a lot of things for an American.  And I’ve been working for the past several years on teaching myself Finnish.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Check out my website, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter!


The Midnight Land Part 1 The Midnight Land Part 2

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