When I first joined the great wide Twitterland back in 2012, there were so many people chatting away on #amwriting that I began to feel a bit overwhelmed. It was a sensory overload of declarations concerning various WIP’s, blog post plugs, and deeply attuned personal conversations too far gone for a new thought, when right smack in the middle of the noise I came across someone who stood out from the crowd to me. There was this comment from Ksenia Anske:
“Bitter, sarcastic, biting indiscriminately. Being cute on rare occasions. YEAH, THAT’S ME.”
It doesn’t seem like much, but it relayed someone personable, someone who seemed real in this social media frenzy I was just learning to navigate through. Naturally, I began following Ksenia Anske, and to my delight, the more I saw, the more I liked. She was encouraging and quirky. In October of 2012, I told her that I was trying to finish writing a chapter in my book. Her response was: “trying? Trying?!? DO IT!”
After reading some of her work (See my review Of Rosehead under “Reviewed!”) I realized that this was a storyteller to pay attention to. Ksenia Anske deserves the acclaim and success that she has earned, and I found myself wanting to tell other people about her tremendously creative stories.
It was only a matter of time before I invited her to do this interview. Thankfully, she didn’t bite.
1. What’s the most embarrassing thing that you’ve ever done in your personal or professional life?
I’ve been invited to talk about writing to a class at Hugo House, a community writing center in Seattle, and, of course, at that time, me being a beginning writer, I was so excited. I put this into my calendar, and forgot about it. And I can’t remember exactly what happened. Either my calendar didn’t sync with my phone, or my phone didn’t sync with my calendar. Something. Anyway. When the day rolled around, I have been blissfully doing some home stuff, and then it hit me. Then I looked at the clock. Then I thought. Then I remembered. I think I made it, but was 30 minutes late. I was red in my face and so embarrassed. To this day, I’m terrified of forgetting things and double-triple check that I have put meetings or events on all calendars possible, but a couple times I did forget a few of them. Usually it happens once a year. Curse my memory. Oy.
2. How do you spend your time when you are not writing?
Reading. Seriously. If I don’t write, I read. If I don’t read, I tweet. If I don’t tweet, I write. Well, okay, sometimes I also eat and poop and sleep and all that nice body stuff. Well, sometimes my boyfriend takes me on motorcycle rides and I’ve been slowly learning how to ride one on my own. I also like to take pictures of things I see, like flowers, or worms, or whatever, and filter them to death and post them on Instagram and everywhere. But that is only sometimes. Okay, one more. Sometimes, after I read a book, if there is a movie that’s been made from it, I watch it.
3. What do you read for pleasure?
Novels, mostly. Somehow I don’t get the same kick out of short stories, but I do read those too occasionally. I love sitting on the couch with a book in my hands, a real book. Hold it. Feel it. Sniff it. Leaf through it. Hug it, even, or kiss it, if I really like it.
4. How did you first get into writing?
I started writing for therapy. There was a dark time in my life when I suffered from depression and wanted to commit suicide, and writing pulled me out of darkness. In fact, my first trilogy, SIREN SUICIDES, is about a teenage girl who commits suicide. I wrote it for myself, and I never thought it would grow into 3 books, never imagined people would read it.
5. What comes to you first when working on a new story: plot or character?
Neither. I see an image. A picture. Like a photograph. A still from a movie. That movie is in my head, but I only see a snippet of it. And I want to find out what happens next, so I sit down and start writing. I don’t plot, don’t think, just write what comes, until I’m done with the 1st draft. Then I reread it, when I finished it, and start seeing what the story is really about. Takes me about 3 drafts to get it right.
6. Tell us a little about your writing process.
My writing process. Well, there is nothing special about it, it’s very boring, really. I just drink a lot of coffee, turn everything off (you know, the shiny Internets, even my phone) and write. And write. And write. I don’t let myself out of my room until I either wrote for 4 hours or wrote at least 2,000 words. Sometimes that can stretch to 9 hours, if I’m having a bad day. Still, I keep going until I have it done. Sometimes I fail and can’t squeeze anything more than 1,500 words. Sometimes I go crazy and produce 5,000 words. Then I read. Reading fuels me to do more writing. This is it, really. Oh, one more thing, I don’t plot. I just write. I have a scene, a picture in my head, and I start from there. It takes me usually 3-4 drafts to figure out what my story is really about.
7. What are the struggles/joys of parenthood that you find while being a writer?
Interruptions. I love my kids, but the interruptions sometimes get the best of me. I have trained everyone in the house not to come in and see me without knocking on my door. Then I asked them not even knock and only knock if it’s an emergency, but you know how kids are. A lost sock is an emergency. Still, after 1 year of writing full time, they now understand that interruptions kick me out of the flow (actually, every interruption costs me about 30 minutes of gathering back my brain) and let me work while my door is closed. Also, I am not as sensitive to interruptions now as I used to be. I’m trying to learn to write in any environment, even if it’s only 15 minutes here and there.
8. You obviously have a fantastic fan base. Can you tell us what your fans mean to you?
They’re like my family. I ran away from Russia to US, away from my not-so-pretty childhood and violent family history, and my readers are really my new family. My kids, my boyfriend, and my readers. And my friends. I have connected with people on a deeper level I could ever imagine. If I only knew that I could do this, I would have given up my career earlier, started writing earlier. Writing is really about sharing hearts, and I have so many people to share mine with, it makes me cry and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.
9. You state that the reader is your publisher, and even offer your novels for free or to purchase. What led you to that decision?
My first trilogy, SIREN SUICIDES, pulled me out of depression and suicidal thoughts. I decided that if I ever finish writing this book, I will give it away for free, because I wouldn’t be alive if not for this book. I wrote it to help people, those who contemplated suicide, those who went through depression. I can’t ask money for this. It’s not about money. And then, of course, as I wrote more novels, people kept asking, will you give them away for free as well? And I thought, why not? People can always come back and donate as much or as little they thought my books were worth to them on my site. And so I did. It became my thing. I give all my ebooks away for free. And always will.
10. What can you tell us about your upcoming novel, IRKADURA?
Oy. Well. That is. How to say it. It’s giving my nightmares. In a good way. I thought after having written a trilogy and another novel, this one, 3rd one, would be easy. I was so mistaken. I started writing it on the insistence of a dear friend and mentor, a thriller author Michael Gruber, and in the process of writing it I understood that I don’t really want to go back to the time when I was 17, and ran away from home, and got pregnant, and became a mom at 18, and the Soviet Union collapsed, and all that ugly chaos swept Russia, things were happening that I couldn’t understand. So IRKADURA is about this, somewhat based on my personal experiences. In the course of writing it, I first hated it, then loved it, than hated it again, wanted to quit, then added a magical realism layer to it, and now I love it. Actually, I love it very much and I think it’s my best writing yet. Of course, it will be for you to judge.
11. As a storyteller, how do you measure success?
If my story moved at least 1 reader, if at least 1 reader told me, hey, your book made my day, I’m happy. This is success to me. I helped another human being.
12. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Yes. Write a lot and read a lot. Do nothing else. Don’t go to seminars, to clubs, groups, don’t take classes. Isolate yourself as much as you can, and write for at least 4 hours a day and read for at least 2 hours a day, better more (I usually catch up on the weekends). Contrary to popular belief, by mingling with other writers you won’t learn how to write better. You will learn some tricks, maybe, that worked for others, but you have to discover yourself as an artist, believe in yourself, and you can only do it by being alone, one-on-one, with yourself and your work. And reading the work of others will show you how they discovered it. Slowly, with time, it will alleviate your fears. It’s your fear that is your biggest enemy at the very beginning, and I’m sorry, there is no way to cut corners. This will take time, a long time and a lot of focus. Do it. Persevere. It will pay off.
13. Looking a bit down the road, what’s next for you?
PAGE JUMPERS! The next novel I’m writing, about 4 kids jumping in and out of books, like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or The Hobbit. They learn how to jump between pages. This will be a fun book, like ROSEHEAD. After that, JANNA, a dark dark book about a black woman serial killer who kills rapists. And after that I have 8 more novels sketches out, so I’m good for at least several years. Oh, and, of course, figuring out how to survive. I make some money on selling my paperbacks, but not much, so I will probably be doing lots of Kickstarters. And, I’ve been selected as one of 115 semi-finalists for the Amrtak Residency program, so hopefully I will get in and get to write a novel about a carnivorous train while riding the actual train!
14. Final Thoughts?
I’m my happiest, since the day I started writing. I wish someone told me how wonderful it is to be a writer. Well, I’m telling you, it’s awesome. Become a writer. You get to be immature, you get to run around without pants, fart glitter, do videos of silly dances, and people think you’re smart and pay you money for it. What could be better?
Find out more about Ksenia Anske and her fantastic stories: