We love the books, we love the authors. It’s with great delight that we share with you this interview with author and editor, Ekaterina Sedia.
I really like the titles you’ve chosen for your books. The Secret History of Moscow, Alchemy of Stone, House of Discarded Dreams, Heart of Iron. How do you come up with your titles?
Oh, it’s a simple formula – Noun of Noun! I am terrible at titling things, so I usually throw noun-noun combos at my publisher until there’s something he doesn’t hate. If I could just call everything UNTITLED or SOME STUFF I WROTE, I’d be very happy, but the publishing industry frowns at that sort of thing.
If someone gave you a choice to turn one of your books into an animation (ala Howl’s Moving Castle) or a movie with real people, what would be your choice and why?
Probably animation, I hope by Brothers Quay! Animation is less hamstrung by reality, and you can get really whimsical sets and creatures. With live action, it is often too obvious when the actors emote at the green screen. Plus, I have very little visual idea of what my characters look like to actually imagine live people doing them, you know?
How long does it usually take you to finish a novel?
It varies. Anywhere between six months and five years – I started something back in 2009, and it’s been at 20,000 words for the last three years.
What part of writing your novels do you enjoy the most?
I like starting new things, when there are so many possibilities, and the paths are clear, and I’m just so excited to make that book happen! You know, before the slow slog sets in and I regret this decision.
Who are the writers who have influenced you the most?
Strugatsky brothers, for sure (lots of brothers in this interview!) As well as many other Russian writers – Viktor Pelevin, Dina Rubina, Liudmila Ulitskaya. Among the Westetrn authors, probably Sheckley and Clifford Simak, Kuttner/Moore, and Tiptree Jr of course.
In Alchemy of Stone, the issues of racism and prejudice come across very clearly. Was this a conscious choice? What prompted you to engage these issues?
Well, those are the issues I engage with every day, and don’t really have much of a choice about, really – being a woman and an immigrant, prejudice is something I encounter frequently. I am very interested in dynamics between the dominant and fringe groups – the main conflict of the book, for example, has been based largely on the first Russian revolution, where scapegoating of the Jewish population very directly led to the Jewish involvement with radical politics and consequent October Revolution. So that was a good complex model to think about – for example, the roles of the upper classes flirting with radicalism, the oppressed minorities and disposed working classes, and of course the overall dynamics of how oppression plays out on the large and small scales. Small scale in the book is Mattie’s abusive domestic situation – and people with privilege often see abuse as something to be escaped and the abuser to be persecuted. But for many groups and individuals, the daily reality of abuse is learning to live with it as the abuser has the power and there is nowhere else to run. We conceptualize strength as vanquishing our enemies – but what about enduring when there is no escape? It was something I thought about a lot.
Aside from the fiction, you also blog and write a lot about fashion. Can you tell us a bit more about your interest in fashion?
Fashion for me is a fulcrum point of many of my interests – fair labor, feminism, globalization. The fashion industry is a fascinating knot of issues: on one hand, we have the industry that has been coded as excessively female and is therefore of little interest to straight men – it’s a bubble women and gay men were allowed to have as their own, and until very recently just about the only industry where women could make careers and fortunes. On the other hand, weakening of the unions and downright union busting by the Reagan administration, the export of jobs overseas, and the overall deregulation of market resulted in even more losses in domestic jobs and rise in exploitative sweatshops overseas. It is shocking to see that in 1965 95% of clothing sold in the US was made in the US, and soon after 1993 ratification of NAFTA agreement by Clinton that number dropped to 50%. Now it’s only 5%. We see the tragedies of factory fires in Bangladesh repeating 1911 Triangle Waist Company fire, the tragedy that led to organizing of the workers in the Garment District of NYC for fair labor laws, and a catalyst of unionization and socialist movement in the US. Of course, the role of the garment industry in both socialist movement and women’s rights (which were tied to socialism) is also tremendously important historically.
Then we have the issues of class, the sustainability and economic justice, the festering problems of the modeling industry – all of these underlying the very notion that clothing is important, that we use clothing as means of nonverbal communication. Clothing allows us to pick which self we are projecting into the world, create alternate personas, etc etc. This is only the tip of the iceberg, of course – but as you can see, it is tremendously interesting and complex
If you were to dress the main characters from your novels, who would they be wearing and why?
If they existed in the current reality? For THE ALCHEMY OF STONE, I can see Mattie in something architectural and low-key avant garde — Jil Sander and Dries van Noten. Iolanda would wear something body-conscious, like Versace and Dolce&Gabbana, and pattern-loving Niobe would love Marni. I mean, it is fantasy, so price is no object, right? Oh, and Loharri would probably be all over Maison Margiela – sharp and classic, with a twist.
For HEART OF IRON, I imagine Sasha in something simple and minimalist, like Celine, and Aunt Eugenia in old-maidenly Prada. Oh, and of course Helmut Lang for Florence Nightingale! Sharp tailoring for the villain, always.
Do you have any upcoming novels/projects that readers should keep an eye out for?
I have a short story collection out now, called MOSCOW BUT DREAMING. I also have an anthology coming out next year, THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF GASLIT ROMANCE, the details should be announced soon. No novels – at least not in the foreseeable future, but then who knows. I might even finish that book I started in 2009 (it is a ghost novel about Chinese actors in 1930s Hollywood).
Where on the internet can we find you?
www.ekaterinasedia.com is my website. If you are interested in the fashion blog, it’s fishmonkey.blogspot.com I am also on facebook, twitter, and Pinterest. Oh god, I am obsessed with Pinterest. So follow me there to see what I am eating/wearing/wishing I was wearing!
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions, Ekaterina. We hope that you, the reader, have enjoyed reading this interview.
Ekaterina’s latest novel is Heart of Iron. It’s been getting some pretty good reviews and we here at Chie and Weng Read Books look forward to reading and sharing our thoughts on it sometime in the near future.