Hello my little fellow munchkins. I promised to set a schedule and then I went on a break for a little while so sorry about that. But I just took my AP test awhile ago so I had to study, and then I had to get caught up on my community college class and my other classes but this following week I should be all back and ready to spam with posts. SO YAY. Anyway, I have been talking to the wonderful Sonya Kudei and I was able to do this amazing interview with her, and there will be a review on her book Black Queen, White City coming soon to all of those who are following and reading this.
ALSO I AM SEEING DEADPOOL TONIGHT SO YAY!
So why don’t we get ahead to this amazing interview now. FYI I added little gifs.
What is your writing kryptonite?
Warm weather! This is not just writing kryptonite but everything-kryptonite. Once the temperature goes past 25 degrees Centigrade, which is…let me check…77 Fahrenheit, my brain stops working and I just feel miserable. And here in the UK, air-conditioned living spaces are as rare as the Himalayan brown bear, which means that when it’s very warm, there is nothing you can do but sweat. You can probably tell that this is a serious problem for me because I’m talking about the weather and I’m not even British!
What made you want to write this book?
The whole thing was a long evolution that started out as the creative equivalent of a slow burn, before suddenly going nuclear. For years I had been toying with the idea of writing a “big” high-concept novel set in medieval Zagreb, Croatia (my home town) and drawing on the legend of the Black Queen, who is a local take on the Blood Countess trope in the vein of Hungary’s Elizabeth Bathory (actually, the two of them might be the same person, since during the Middle Ages Croatia and Hungary had a sort of two-kingdom union going on, and their collective myths tended to overlap). This went on at a slow pace for several years, never getting past the stage of vague sketches, when one day I suddenly had an epiphany – by this time I had pretty much given up on my medieval novel and had started working on another book, a novel based on my weird early childhood experiences centred around the monolithic elementary school I attended when I was living in East Zagreb. One of my most vivid childhood memories is hanging out with a group of childhood friends and playing a creepy game called “Black-Queen-One-Two-Three” in a dark corner of the school playground. This was one of the first scenes I wrote for this new novel, and I took great care to make every single detail as faithful to real life as possible. And it was after I had read a draft of this early scene that this pivotal, epiphany-like thought struck me – namely, that the Black Queen from the playground game is the same person as the Black Queen from the medieval legend. And that the Black Queen does not belong in the distant past – rather, she belongs in the present. In other words, I realized that the old, abandoned “medieval” book and the new experience-based present-day book were the same book. This realization was so exciting that it created a sense of urgency, and suddenly I felt spurred on to become fully committed to writing and completing this exciting new “über-book.” This was one reason why I wanted to write the book. Another reason is that I wanted to recreate the “spirit” of Zagreb a.k.a. the White City. Growing up in Zagreb, I was always aware of this spirit as a protective, almost tangible presence. And I wanted others to be able to experience this presence too. I hope the atmosphere of the book manages to infuse the reader with the essence of the city, because it’s a very positive energy.
If you could tell your younger writing self something, what would it be?
I think I would just let my younger self go ahead and make all the stupid mistakes I made and get stuck in the thousands of dead ends that I got stuck in, because it’s learning from these kinds of mistakes that helps you develop as a writer.
Have you ever had difficulty coming up with an idea for your story?
Not really, because the idea always comes first – it’s the story that comes later. That is, the idea is the concept or the driving principle of what I want to say, whereas the story is mainly the structuring principle that serves to support and organize the ideas. Speaking of which, I’ve got about a hundred “idea bucket” files and reams of hand-written notes that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to set in order.
As a writer what would your spirit animal be?
The lynx, because of its strange all-seeing eyes. In the Middle Ages they believed that the lynx could see through walls and into other dimensions. And in Renaissance four-element emblems, the lynx was sometimes used as the symbol of sight (which corresponds to the element of fire). Actually, in an earlier draft of my book, there was a lynx-as-spirit-animal character. In the original version of the scene where Leo crosses the Threshold, one of the creatures he encounters in the dark forest was a mystical lynx. This is the shadow that is stalking him. At some point this lynx goes up to him and, as it does, it stands up on its hind legs (I’ve always thought that lynx legs look strangely too long and out of proportion, as if the animals are meant to stand upright). Then it looks at him with its strange mesmeric eyes and telepathically reveals to him something about his past that he has forgotten (in this early draft of the book, Leo is a fallen star daimon who does not remember who he is – I actually liked this version of Leo a lot, but in the end had to abandon it because it was causing a serious deadlock in terms of the point of view). This was actually one of my favorite scenes in the book. But, perversely, this is also one of the reasons why I decided to edit it out in the end. As I was reading through the scene for the hundredth time or so, feeling myself getting lulled into a mesmeric daze, as I always did when reading this scene, I suddenly thought, “Wait! Am I seriously going to leave this scene here, as it is, for everyone to see? It’s too revealing. I must cut it.” And so I did.
What Hogwarts house would the main character of your book be sorted into?
There are three or four main characters in the book, so let’s take a look at each one of them one by one: Stella is a Gryffindor through and through; Dario is a proud Huff (*high five!*); Leo is a kind of closeted Gryffindor (but he would really hate it if you found out!), and the Black Queen is a shoo-in for Slytherin. There aren’t that many Ravenclaws in the book. I suppose the venerable Star Councillor Alnair would be one.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your character?
A lot. Many of the characters in the book are based on real people, especially those from the Stella storyline. Her school and the playground are based on my former elementary school, which is a fascinating building with a strange history (among other things, it was used as the headquarters of the German Luftwaffe during WW2 – I actually had an entire subplot about this in an earlier draft, but in the end decided to edit it out because it felt as if it would have been too much). All of the descriptions, down to the last detail, are based on my recollections of the school. Meanwhile, Stella’s friends are based on my old school friends, and Prof. Radovan is based on my dreadful 2nd – 4th grade teacher. The scene where the teacher scrutinizes Stella’s notebook is a faithful representation of what the real-life “Prof. Radovan” once said/did to me.
While you were editing your book what were some thoughts that were going through your mind?
“This is terrible,” “must have coffee,” “where did I put that folder with all the star-name whatsits?”, “more coffee,” “this dialogue sounds worse than a Steven Seagal movie,” “is 2 a.m. too late for coffee?”, “if I have to read this passage one more time, I’ll vomit,” and “if I have just one more cup of coffee, I probably won’t make myself sick.”
Do you google yourself?
Not really. I actually have a kind of superstitious fear of doing it – the very thought of googling myself makes the palms of my hands break out in cold sweat. I don’t even know why – it’s not as if I’m notorious or anything.
What word would sum up your book?
Do you believe in writer’s block?
I think that what’s usually referred to as writer’s block is actually an “idea block.” When you have something worthwhile to say, you will usually be able to find the words to say it. But if you’re only writing for the sake of writing, then you are bound to keep stumbling upon these blocks.
What is your writing process like?
I call it the “bulldozer method.” Basically, I start with an idea, and then I proceed to build a draft upon this idea. Once I’ve got a semblance of a draft, I go through it and, if it isn’t true to the idea, I tear it down and start all over, reusing only the worthy fragments from the old draft. Then I go through the whole process again, and tear everything down again if necessary. And so on. I am completely unsentimental, and thus capable of destroying anything. When I was working on Black Queen, White City, I bulldozed some of my favorite scenes, characters, and even whole storylines simply because they were not perfectly aligned with the idea.
What advice do you have for other writers?
Most writing advice out there is nonsense, especially that old chestnut “write an X number of words every day.” Good writing will never emerge out of a mechanical churning of words and phrases. You can’t create something out of nothing. You first have to become/experience this “something.” Then the writing part will come naturally.
How much research do you do for your books?
It’s hard to say, because I’m always researching something. I have a ton of interests in various seemingly unrelated fields and I’m always reading about whichever topic I’m obsessed with at a given moment. The books I read tend to be non-fiction titles covering the whole range from popular science to more specialist/academic stuff. I hardly ever read fiction these days. Anyway, it’s all this reading that tends to spontaneously generate ideas for books. So rather than researching a specific topic for a book, I’m always researching something, and as a result of that, books just sort of happen.
When did you decide the you wanted to become a writer?
Writing has always been a part of me, but I think that what first made me make a conscious choice to become a writer as a profession was when I became obsessed with Stephen King in my early teens (which was in early-mid ‘90s). By the time I was about 17, I’d read everything he had written, and on my bookcase there were two whole shelves dedicated to his books. So it seemed inevitable that by the time I was finished reading all of his books, I’d have no choice other than to start writing my own.
When did you first start writing?
I know this sounds cheesy, but I’ve been writing since I can remember. There was a battered old typewriter in the house, and I wrote my first stories on it when I was about 6 – 7. It was a complete nuisance because the ribbon mechanism was broken, and you had to hold the ribbon with one hand while typing with the other, or otherwise the ribbon would keep slipping out. On top of that, my typing fingers kept getting (painfully) stuck between the keys, but I loved it nevertheless.
Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?
The computer is definitely my weapon of choice – more specifically, Scrivener. I don’t think I’d be able to cope without it. But I do occasionally write longhand, mainly when I’m stuck. I find that if I’m struggling with a particular scene, it’s a good idea to print it out and develop it on paper. Otherwise you end up just staring at the screen miserably until your eyes get all dry and itchy. If I’m super-stuck, I might write a whole chapter longhand from scratch. As for typewriters – never again (see above).
What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?
For me, it’s working with the text. I know that this sounds as if I’ve just said “all of writing,” but when you think about it, a lot of writing is about developing ideas, especially when it comes to high-concept works, such as novels. And this is the part of writing that I like. I spend about 90% of an average writing session brainstorming new concepts, sketching out ideas or drawing digital concept designs. I see the actual writing as the output, with the ideas being the input. And it’s this output, i.e. the text itself, that can be a struggle, especially if the text is very long. The longer the text, the harder the struggle. Here’s an example of what I mean – you’ve written a 100,000-word manuscript and after a review you realize there is a storyline or a character that’s not working. So you have to change this element across the whole manuscript. But you soon realize that when you make a change in one part of the text, this inadvertently affects another part of the text, so you fix that part too. And then you realize that a few other elements no longer fit, and before long you find yourself fixing a thousand little problems at the same time, while creating three new problems for every problem you’ve fixed. So you’re running around like someone trying to contain water coming through a leaking roof with a single pan. Nightmare!
What is the easiest part of writing that you consider?
I don’t think there are any easy parts of writing! Occasionally I get oddly inspired and I’m able to write a whole chapter effortlessly, as if the whole thing had just flowed out by itself. But such moments are rare.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
It’s hard to say, because I don’t write in a linear way, from start to finish. Instead, I tend to let my ideas evolve in an “organic” way. What this means in practical terms is that one day I could complete what looks like a finished draft of a book, and then the next day I might have a flash of inspiration that could turn the erstwhile complete draft into just another working draft for the new idea. This is one of the reasons why it took me three years of nearly full-time writing to complete Black Queen, White City, and that is excluding the five or six years I spent sketching out the concept in those early days when I still thought I was working on a medieval novel. So I guess the short answer is – it takes forever!
Any tips on how to go through a dreaded writer’s block?
There are two methods that work for me. Let’s say I’m working on a novel and at some point I get to a chapter where I either run out of steam half way through or I’m not even able to begin writing it. The first method would be to take the offending chapter out of the flow of the novel – either create a separate file or switch to longhand – and develop it separately. I find that this often frees up my flow of ideas – by liberating yourself from the constraints of the big story, you are able to focus on the mini-story of the chapter. The other method I use when I’m unable to write a chapter is to write about the chapter. When I’m working on a novel, I always keep a novel-related diary/notes file, and whenever I get stuck, which is often, I immediately switch to the diary file and start writing about the problem I’m having. And by writing about the problem, I am usually able to resolve the problem. I do this a lot. The final version of my novel Black Queen, White City has the word count of about 100,000, but the total word count of the various diary files that I poured my writing frustrations into while working on the book is over 200,000.
How did you decide to pick out your book cover?
The cover was inevitable – the image it’s based on has existed since I first started working on the book. More specifically, the mental image has existed in my mind from the start, because it’s a symbol of what the “universe” of the book is all about. Whenever I think of the White City concept, I always see it that way – as a a kind of mystical entity that exists across several levels (the higher plane, the ordinary/middle plane and the lower plane). Explaining something that complex to someone who knows nothing about the book would take thousands of words, so I thought it would be best if I translated this mental image into an actual image that I’d use as the cover. And even though this image can’t communicate all the details of the story, at least it presents the reader/viewer with a symbolic snapshot of what the book is all about. There’s an additional layer of meaning in the cover image, in that its composition is inspired by the Zagreb (“White City”) coat of arms, which is in itself very symbolic (you can check it out here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coat_of_arms_of_Zagreb ). So, in a way, the book cover is double-symbolic.
Do you think the cover plays an important part of the buying processes?
Well, yes and no. If the prospective buyer’s main criterion is genre, then the cover does play a big part. Let’s say that someone is a fan of romance or paranormal fantasy with hunky vampires in it or something to that effect, and that this person is willing to buy/read any books in that genre, regardless of who the author is or whether they’ve ever heard of them or not. And let’s say that this reader is presented with a choice of multiple books in their favorite genre. The reader has never heard of any of the authors or maybe s/he has, but does not prefer any of them over the others. All s/he cares about is the genre. In this situation, the reader is almost certain to select the book on the basis of the cover. I suppose the blurb might play a part too, but a lot of these genres can be quite formulaic and there is nothing much to distinguish one book from another other than the cover. So in this case, the cover really would be a key factor. But in the case of a reader who values quality and is able to make an informed choice, the cover would probably be of little or no consequence.
How do you market your books?
At this stage, my aim is to approach people directly, rather than shouting into the ether of social media and hoping to be heard. There’s so much white noise out there. My other method is to use illustrations for marketing. As I’ve already mentioned, the concept of the book is too complex to be put into a few words, so I’m better off using images to communicate the essence of the story to potential readers. This is why I’ve created an illustrated preview of the first two chapters on my site: http://www.sonyakudei.com/book-preview/
Why did you choose said route?
Out of sheer necessity. There is a lot of good marketing advice out there but, sadly, none of it is applicable to my book. This is because much like the White City itself, the book exists on several levels and partakes of each one without being particularly attached to any of them. That is, it contains elements of various genres (fantasy, sci-fi, contemporary, comedy) without completely fitting the mould of any of them. At the same time, it’s very literary (but not in a boring way!) and packed to the gills with classic literary, cinematic and even painterly influences. So for me there’s no point trying to target readers of a certain genre or to target certain Amazon keywords, since there are no keywords that could accurately describe my book and, even if there were, no one would ever spontaneously type them into the search bar. E.g. no one is ever going to search for “dark but funny atmospheric book with magic trams and personifications of celestial phenomena.” So I have no choice other than to play the “unique” card. This will either work out to the book’s advantage or turn out to be its undoing – time will tell.
What is your favorite quote of your book?
“Black Queen White City is positively cinematic…the novel is undeniably the product of an immensely fertile imagination brimming with confidence.
…rather like the superhero films of today, different people will enjoy different aspects.” – Jack Messenger, author and book reviewer
How can your readers discover more about you and your work?
The best place to look is my website http://www.sonyakudei.com, which has an epic FAQ section on the home page, and I’ll be adding even more stuff to it soon. I’ll also be tinkering with the site design, so if you go to the site and the elements of the page suddenly start moving right in front of your eyes, don’t panic – that’s just me, tinkering.
Where do you see publishing going in the future?
One of the main results of the digital revolution so far has been the unprecedented proliferation of new books. You keep hearing things like, “last year saw the publication of one million books” or two million, or a bazillion. But although the quantity of books has increased exponentially, their quality has decreased. If you look at the total intrinsic value of all these millions or tens of millions of books that were published in the past few years (and I’m talking primarily about fiction), it’s probably lower than the total value of books produced before the 20th century – or even before the invention of the printing press. On the surface it looks as if the world is flooded with millions of new books, but if you ask me, there have only ever been a few really good books – that is, real books with real value – and their total number hasn’t increased by much in recent years. I’ve always had a “special bookcase” where I keep the handful of novels that have real value to me, and I haven’t added anything new to it for over twenty years. So, on the one hand, it looks as if there are now more books than ever before, but on the other hand, there aren’t really that many real books. Most of these new books, whether print or digital, bear a striking resemblance to real books on the surface inasmuch as they all have a cover and some text inside, but if you look very closely (with lynx eyes) past the beautifully designed covers with the sophisticated typography and the expertly executed vector curves, you’ll see that there is nothing really there. There is no value or meaning in most of these books – it’s all just “content.” So what I see is the continued and even accelerated proliferation of meaningless content masquerading as books. And I think the discerning reader is going to need a veritable Ariadne’s thread to navigate this cluttered, constantly expanding maze of content. This situation can have two possible future outcomes – either the proliferation of low-value books will increase to such a degree that books will end up having no value or meaning at all (why not publish a book that contains no vowels? or no consonants? or maybe one that consists of random words from a dictionary? or maybe train a machine learning program to churn out a book?) or there will be a return to quality that will ensure that books with real meaning are valued again. I hope it’s the latter. But maybe the former will have to happen first.
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included.
I think I’ve already done more than enough “talking.” Thank you so much for having me on your blog!
-IT WAS MY PLEASURE HAVING YOU ON HERE 🙂
I hoped you guys liked reading the interview. I sure know that I did and I also hope that you loved those gifs. Have a great day and I will talk to you later 🙂