“Even in my real life, I lose track of the plot.”
~ from A Brilliant Novel in the Works
That’s explains it, right, the life of a writer? We search for structure in our stories; we work to uncover the solid theme, running throughout, that will pull all those messy details together. We need to know how it all turns out. We get lost, make mistakes, back up and try again. Sometimes, all that happens on the page; sometimes it’s happening everyday with the people around us. Writing fiction isn’t so different from living life.
A Brilliant Novel in the Works, by Yuvi Zalkow, introduces readers to a man, named Yuvi, who is a writer struggling to find order in his life and in his fiction. Like most writers, he is easily distracted by the story lines of those around him, namely his brother-in-law and his wife.
Yes, the protagonist’s name is Yuvi. No, this isn’t a memoir. Yes, you might wonder what is truth and what is fiction. But, don’t let those questions distract you from the compelling tale of a writer in search of the perfect ending for his novel and a man struggling through the murky middle of his relationships.
I’m thrilled to host Yuvi on the blog today, where he shares a bit about his book, about taking risks, about creative therapy and his secret to success. I’m also excited to give away a copy of his debut novel. It’s so easy to enter: leave your name in the comments. That’s it. Random.org will choose the winner on Tuesday, September 18th at high noon. I love saying that, high noon.
Now, welcome Yuvi Zalkow!
CC: The way your book transitions between the (protagonist) Yuvi’s personal story to the stories he writes for his novel, illustrates so well the mind of a creative: we always turn to our art of choice to explore and examine bits and pieces from real life that confound us. I’m guessing the Yuvi in the book is a panster (when he wears pants, that is). What about you? Do you write with an outline, or do you close your eyes and let the words fall where they may?
I definitely start writing any story by just letting some voice or character explode out of me, without worrying about where it is all heading. For me, the first important thing is a strong voice. But I eventually transition into a writer who needs a rough outline to proceed. Towards the end of the first draft of this book, I began sketching out how I wanted the next draft to go. Nothing too elaborate, but a list of 10-20 connected steps roughly describing the shape of the story and the arc of the key characters. This book had virtually no plot in draft one. I’m not saying that the published work is a plot-heavy story, but it definitely has far more of a shape than draft one. Drafts 2 to 1,000 (ish) were mostly about shaping the story and taming this loud voice into a decent story. For instance, it took a lot of time to figure out exactly which of (protaganist) Yuvi’s personal stories should go in the novel and where exactly they should appear. I did a lot of shaping and editing and trashing in those later drafts.
CC: Throughout the novel, Yuvi takes risks, most of which leave him in precarious positions or in the middle of conflict. But, finally taking the right risk is what leads him to The End. Much, if not all, of writing takes courage. While writing your novel, was the biggest chance you took?
YZ: Wow. I’m getting nervous to answer this question already 🙂 The scariest thing for me — and I realize this may not be quite what you mean — is that step of giving a trusted friend/writer/mentor/reader my whole manuscript for the first time. I remember there was a point where I was thinking: do I show the public the steaming pile of a manuscript or do I hide it and forget about it? I had already read the individual scenes aloud in a writing group but no one had seen the thing as a whole piece of work. This novel is a very personal one (as you can quickly imagine upon reading it) and I felt very exposed to let others see it. I was terrified that they would say: “You’re crazy. You’ve got nothing comprehensible here. Give it up!” I think it takes a lot of courage/strength/risk/stupidity for a writer to take their work out in the world and say, “Yes, I want to see if I can make my words affect other people.” Particularly if you’re doing something that doesn’t follow some well-known standard. As it turned out, as messy as that draft was, my friend could see the power of what I was *trying* to do, and she helped me get closer in achieving it.
CC: I love the videos you make that spotlight all the different facets of the writing life (like tips for time management or the secret to everything). How does working in two different mediums, print and video, keep your creativity in balance?
YZ: To be honest, right now the two mediums keep me creatively IMBALANCED. It’s really just a lack of time. The videos take loads of time and eat into the writing. Since I have a day job and a family, I’m struggling with doing everything right now. But I love doing them both… it’s so much fun because they both are creative endeavors that use very different parts of the brain. Writing is harder. The videos are therapy in a way. I’m scheming up a few ways to do them both in a more balanced way because I hate to let either go. But I haven’t struck a balance yet. Regardless of the (im)balance, each medium has connected me to fabulous people (some as nuts as I am) and I’m thankful for that.
CC: What are you reading these days?
YZ: Wow. I haven’t been reading a whole lot of published books lately — between preparing for my book release and reading my friends’ manuscripts in various writing groups, I’m pretty underwater. But I read THAISA FRANK’S latest collection of stories ENCHANTMENT. Beautiful stories.. And I listened to the audiobook of the fabulous YA novel THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. And I also listened to the GODFATHER on audiobook because I love the movies (I & II) and I wanted to see (or in this case, hear) how the book was structured. Hmm… I think I’d like Marlon Brando to play the role of Yuvi in the movie version of my book… Though Al Paccino will also do. What do you think? Surely you must have also pictured one of those two as you read my book… 🙂
CC: Since this novel is about a writer struggling to write a novel, I wonder if, maybe during a middle-of-the-night rewrite, your Muse or Genius (or perhaps your wife) revealed some secret to success? In other words, do you have any advice for writers on the rise?
YZ: My secret to success is to be skeptical of any secret to success that is delivered with too much confidence. Thanks so much for chatting with me, Christi. In an online world where there is a lot of writing about writing, you really stand out with great insights into the craft and into the writing life.
CC: Thank you, Yuvi!
For all you readers and writers, don’t forget to leave your name in the comments for a chance to win a copy of his great novel! You can also check out more of Yuvi’s work on his website (where you’ll find his I’m a Failed Writer video series), follow him on Twitter, or subscribe to his page on Facebook. Read two other great interviews with Yuvi, as well, on Laura Stanfill’s blog and at The Surly Muse.
Yuvi Zalkow writes and worries in Portland, Oregon. His stories have been published in Glimmer Train, Narrative Magazine, Carve Magazine, and others. He is working on a second novel (about one Jew obsessed with napkins and another Jew in the Klan). He recently received an MFA from Antioch University, which makes him feel official.
Like what you see? Click here to receive weekly blog updates from Writing Under Pressure via email.