Daphne Kalotay (website | Facebook |Reading Group Guide ) wrote her first book “Russian Winter” (book review) to great acclaim. I was very impressed with the research that went into the book. I also found the book complex, not in a bad way of course and had some questions about and Ms. Kalotay was kind enough to answer a few questions I’ve had for her.
The paperback edition includes discussion questions, a Q&A, a personal essay and recommended reading; Ms. Kalotay website has a dedicated For Book Groups page with tools for discussion and more.
Q. “Russian Winter” deals with ballet and poetry. Do you think the two are connected?
A. Definitely. Ballet is poetry without words. Poetry is physical and choreographed, a creation of sound and movement, creating its own visual patterns—on a page instead of a stage.
And just as there are story ballets and abstract ballets, there are narrative poems and abstract poems. Just as there are love poems, celebratory poems, elegies, you’ll of course find ballets expressing all of these things. Formal poetry (sonnets, haiku, etc.) has its own accepted structure, just as traditional ballets follow general rules. Whatever the outward form, both dance and poetry aim to do the same thing: capture some essence of truth in a way that is beautiful, powerful, and lasting.
Q. How did you research a time you never experienced? What was your research like? Was it difficult?
A. Since the majority of the Moscow scenes take place between 1947 and 1952, I couldn’t simply go there and see what it would have been like. I sought out memoirs about life during that time, as well as social and cultural histories of Stalinist Russia. Even in my ballet research I tried to read up on the Bolshoi of that era and dancers’ experience of ballet in post-Revolutionary Russia. I looked for any photographs I could find of the city in those years and managed to find some videos of the places that I would have liked to see in person.
It was difficult in that it took a couple of years until I felt I really “knew” my subject and could write authoritatively while still using my imagination. When I’d finished writing the book, I went to Moscow to see for myself—and make sure I hadn’t made any egregious errors. I knew the city would be greatly changed, and indeed it was, but it was still helpful to go there and know that in general my vision of this place was realistic and informed.
Q. There are many shifts in time and space in the book. How did you keep it straight while writing?
A. It was a challenge throughout. Every couple of months I would type up an outline—not a plot outline but a time sequence, so that I could keep track of what happened in each chapter, when I’d last heard from a specific character, etc. Then I’d work on the book for a few weeks and everything, including the ordering of certain things, would change, so I’d stop and type up yet another outline.
After a while, though, I began to feel a certain rhythm and would know instinctively that, for instance, it was time to bring Drew back, or that there had been too much from young Nina and I needed to leave Moscow for a bit and spend some time back in Boston.
But I do have to admit that sometimes it all felt like too much to handle—until the last few months or so, when I’d been working on the book for so long, I basically knew the entire thing by heart.
Q. You are active on the Social Media front. How do you find the experience? Any positive/ negative experiences in book promotions?
A. My activity in terms of Social Media is pretty much limited to book blogs (other people’s blogs, I don’t have my own) and Facebook, because those are the interfaces that appeal to me. The blogs have been a nice way to connect with people who love books and to contribute some background in a way that allows me to express myself. Facebook is fun, too, though I’m still figuring out how best to provide readers with information they’ll like and appreciate. For me, the best thing about Facebook has been hearing from readers who otherwise might not have taken the time to find me and say hello. The negative part is that I now feel a pressure to participate in the online community on a regular basis—something I will have to set aside when I refocus on my writing again.
Q. What are the challenges of book promotions in the social media age?z
A. The biggest challenge is not letting your dear, beloved book, which you spent years working on, get lost among the sea of other books, news, blogs, videos, games, chain letters, or whatever other information/cyber-litter fights for attention every time we turn on our computers or smartphones. In other words, not seeing the very act of attempting to promote your novel as an obviously hopeless venture.
And for writers the combination of time away from writing while also having to be a “social” being, when really most of us are introverted and would rather not be having live Web chats, is also a challenge (which is not to say that some of us don’t love it and make the most of these things.)
It’s also very difficult not to feel constantly ill at the thought that people would rather hear what Kim Kardashian or Charlie Sheen has Tweeted than read the book you poured your heart into.
Shameless plug disguised as a wise ass question: Why do you love ManOfLaBook.com so much and often visit the website?
Wise Gal Answer: Because this is the first and only book blog by a man that I’ve ever come across—and one of my goals in life is to prove that, as opposed to what every single publisher will tell you, men DO indeed read fiction!
Thanks Daphne for the great answers.
Zohar – Man of la Book