Behind the Screens: Tuesday Author Interview

Every Tuesday, get to know a bit about the stories behind the books you love, and discover your next favourite novel.

Sabitha: Today, we torment one of our own with questions. Zilla Novikov is the co-author of the Sad Bastard Cookbook and the author of Query, which I could not read without tears of laughter streaming down my face. Fortunately this interview is conducted via text so both of us can pretend to be professional about it. 

Zilla: Um. Hi. Yes. A professional interview. I got this. I am a PROFESSIONAL. 

Query is a fictional account of my attempts to break into traditional publishing. It’s told in the form of query letters that my fictional-self is writing to literary agents asking them to represent my book. In both fiction and real life, my odds of finding a winning lottery ticket on the sidewalk are higher than my odds of getting represented by an agent. During the self-induced bloodletting that was querying, I sent a lot of very polite letters, and I drafted a lot of letters which were much more honest and much less polite and I did not send them. This novella is my fictional self sending those letters. 

It’s also about political activism, because my response to living in a neoliberal hellscape is to be mad about it. Or tired, but mad makes for a more active story.

Sabitha: Readers of Rachel A. Rosen’s Cascade will recognize several familiar names from that book. How are they similar or different from their counterparts?

Zilla: The characters in Cascade got in my head and in my heart, like roommates you don’t want to kick out even when they’re late on rent. I adore fanfic, so when I finished reading Cascade and found myself missing Ian, Blythe, Jonah, and Sujay, it was natural for me to ask Rachel if I could borrow them for the novella I was working on. It’s a philosophical question whether a person is the same if you transport them to an alternative universe—if Ian would have escaped small-town Newfoundland without magic, if Jonah and Ian would have fucked sooner in another verse. Sabitha, you’ve read both books, what do you think? Jonah/Ian = yes?

Sabitha: I ship it, as the kids say. And it’s nice to see Blythe hooking up with someone who appreciates her.  I want to know more about the excerpts—to what degree do the stories exist fully formed in your head vs. made up  for this purpose?

Zilla: All writers know that the only thing better than writing is not-writing. That’s the spirit I took into Query

I originally set out to write the novel that Zilla is querying in Query. I planned out all the fun scenes in my head, and I drafted a few chapters. (If y’all are very nice to me, I might give one of them away as a newsletter bonus for subscribers.) But a novel can’t just be the most fun scenes to imagine, and the story that held them together didn’t capture my attention enough to finish writing the novel. When I realized that Query needed to include excerpts from fictional-Zilla’s novel, I found a purpose for these wayward scenes.

Sabitha: We’re increasingly seeing a wealth of fiction that glorifies activism and anti-capitalist resistance. I’m thinking of works like Andor or The Boys that actively challenge late-stage capitalist hegemony, but are produced by massive corporations. It’s been suggested that activist-oriented fiction exists, in part,  as a cultural safety valve to make the consumer feel like they’ve done a thing by consuming said media. How do you navigate that space as an activist and a writer?

Zilla: I’m a late-bloomer at activism. On my way to my first protest, I imagined myself meeting vast numbers of articulate, morally superior, and extremely good-looking people, and I was incredibly intimidated to actually go through with it and attend. One of my goals in writing Query was to give a roadmap to people like my past-self. I can’t promise you’ll fall in love with a redhead marine biologist if you start organizing on the left, but you will attend extraordinarily dull meetings, you will drink awful coffee, and you discover how much better life is when your friends share your values. I don’t know if Query is going to make any more of a difference than your average green-washing and rainbow-washing corporate bullshit fiction, but I tried to write a non-didactic call to action. I hope I succeeded at least a little.

Sabitha: So I’m guessing that you didn’t literally slap your book up on telephone poles with wheat paste. If readers want to find you, or even give you money in exchange for a truly entertaining read, how do they go about doing that?

Zilla: All the book-purchasing links are available at the tRaum website. We’re doing a limited run of special edition palm-sized print books in a swag-filled book box, and then print books and e-books will be available forever.

I hate social media, but in the bad old days when I was querying, it was considered a fact that you couldn’t get signed without it, so I signed up for a few. Tumblr’s alright, but the rest of the socials are mostly full of fascists, so far as I can tell. I write for the Night Beats blog and newsletter, and I promise there are absolutely zero fash on the editorial board of either.

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