Today we will be playing “Twenty Questions” with Olga Godim, Canadian-based author of the novels “Lost and Found in Russia” (mainstream), “Almost Adept” and “Eagle en Garde” (both high fantasy); and the collection of short stories “Squirrel of Magic” (urban fantasy).
Thank you, Anka, for having me here, on your blog.
1. Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I live in Vancouver, Canada and work as a journalist for a local newspaper. My children are both grown up and live by themselves. I became a writer pretty late in life. By education, I’m a computer programmer. I worked with computers for over two decades. I’m also a daydreamer. Since I remember myself, I always made up stories and played them in my head but I never told anyone about my daydreams. They were my secret. Frankly, I was a bit embarrassed by them. I was a professional woman, a single mom with two children, and I dreamed of magic, swords and adventures fit for fairy tales. I rarely dreamt reality stories.
I never thought of myself as a writer, never wrote anything down, but I couldn’t get rid of my daydreams. I loved my dream-world’s heroes and heroines. Sometimes, they felt more alive and precious to me than the living people around me.
In 2002, I got seriously ill. During my long recovery, my daydreams became more persistent. They swarmed me, they wanted to be told. So I decided to be brave, stop resisting, and let my daydreams out. In February 2003, I bought a laptop dedicated for my writing, off limit to my kids, and started writing a story, the first writing I did since high school. I didn’t know if it was a short story or a novel. I didn’t know anything about writing or publishing. I just wanted to write.
Of course, I needed to learn a lot to get from that naïve, ignorant beginning to now, but the journey has been fascinating.
2. What is the first memory you have as a child?
This is not my first memory but my first pertinent memory. When I was in grade one, I attempted to write a book. I drew a cover picture, something with a cosmonaut and a spaceship. It was horrible – I have no artistic talent whatsoever – but I loved it nonetheless. I also made up the back cover, complete with the price. My mom was impressed.
Then I got distracted by other projects and never wrote what is supposed to go between the covers – a story. It remains untold – fortunately for all.
3. What was your favorite toy?
I don’t remember. I always liked books more than toys. As soon as I learned to read, reading was my favorite occupation.
4. I know that you have a wide collection of monkey figurines; why monkeys?
That’s easy. I was born in the year of Monkey by the Chinese zodiac. They repeat every 12 years: 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028… One of those years, when I was already an adult and a mother, I bought a couple of little plastic monkeys in a toy store for my daughter. I liked the tiny figurines and decided: why don’t I collect them? After that, I bought a monkey as a souvenir wherever I went. My friends bring me them as gifts too. I have monkeys from Mexico, USA, Russia, Israel, Canada, China, England. I even have a monkey from Alaska.
5. Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?
Nope. I write on my computer. I also have lots of notes lying around, with my ideas of new stories, new plot twists, interesting names, etc. Sometimes, I have an organizational fit. I try to order those notes, get rid of some of them while I type others into computer files, but many are still around my desk.
6. What book do you wish you could have written?
I can’t point out one particular book but I can say: I wish I could’ve written romance novels. I like reading romances. It’s probably the most popular genre in English. But I don’t seem to be able to come up with a romantic story of my own. My brain isn’t wired that way. Even when I want to write a romantic story, the romance itself always slides to the background. That’s what happened with Darya’s stories in “Squirrel of Magic.” I wanted to write a series of stories about Darya and Patrick, follow their romance, but as soon as Beatrice, the Squirrel came on the scene, she commandeered the main role, and Patrick was relegated to the sidelines. Perhaps, if I ever write another story about Darya and Patrick, I could make their romance more prominent. I’m thinking about a novella.
7. From the books that you have written, which is your favorite one?
It’s hard to tell. All the books I’ve written and published are precious to me. I think any writer would tell you the same. But I can tell you which of my stories are the most interesting to me – the ones I haven’t published yet. I still have stories swirling in my head. Some of them I’ve already transferred into the written form, the first draft of a novel. Some are still only notes in a file.
You see, while I’m working on a story, it’s alive, changing, evolving. Once it’s published, it’s done and gone. It’s almost not mine anymore, it belongs to the readers, while I stay behind with the stories that are yet untold, unwritten.
8. Do you identify yourself with the protagonist in this book, and if so, in what way?
At the moment, the story I’m working on is the sequel to my novel “Almost Adept.” It follows the same protagonist, young magician Eriale, a few years after “Almost Adept” ended. To say that I identify with Eriale isn’t exactly correct. She is a different person, living in a different world, but we agree on many issues, from religion to art to men. We think along the same lines and adhere to similar moral principles. She is much braver than I though. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind, while I only allow myself such luxury in my fiction. I’m a very quiet person in life.
9. Do you read your reviews? Do you learn from your readers?
Yes, I do. It’s important to me what the readers think, although I don’t reply to any reviews, positive or negative. People are free to express their opinion, but I wouldn’t change my writing because of a review. I’m as free as they are to express my opinion, only I do it in my fiction. Besides, you can never please everyone.
When I write, I write mostly for myself, to tell the story I want to tell. Of course, some readers might dislike it. It’s an unpleasant fact of life, like a flu. It happens. You suffer through it and move on.
Kurt Vonnegut in his book “Bagombo Snuff Box” lists his famous 8 rules of writing. His rule #7: “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” I can’t say it better.
10. If you had to characterize yourself with just one word, what word would you choose?
11. Do you have pets?
I don’t have pets and never had. My parents weren’t into pets either. Maybe my writing about Beatrice, the Squirrel was an unconscious attempt to rectify the situation, to create a ‘literary’ pet of a sort.
12. How do you relax?
I read. I read a lot, mostly genre fiction: fantasy, romance, cozy mysteries.
13. If you had a time machine, where would you go?
The tongue-in-cheek answer would be: to France in the last half of the 19th century. They had an explosion of new arts there; the impressionist movement was on the rise. I’d buy paintings by Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir and bring them back here. I’d be a millionaire after a couple of trips.
The serious answer would be different: to Germany circa 1920s. If I could’ve, I would’ve prevented the Holocaust.
14. If you were a super hero, what would your name be? What costume would you wear?
My name would be something flowery or green, like Cactus or Camellia, and my costume would include pants and a shirt, also in green, but nothing Lycra. In comics, they always associate super heroes with sexy curves or hunky abs. I don’t think that association is necessarily true. And my powers would be to return forests to Earth, to clean it of pollution.
15. If you could walk a day in somebody else’s shoes, who would it be?
I dislike wearing someone else’s shoes: they never fit. But if I could spend a day in someone else’s head, then definitely a romance writer, probably Georgette Heyer. She was the founder of the Regency romance genre. She wrote many delightful romances, and I want to know how to do that.
16. What are your top five favorite books?
I can’t name my five favorite books but I can name my five favorite writers. My favorite fantasy writer is Sharon Shinn. I enjoy her lyrical and magical tales, a blend of fantasy and romance. Her stories are full of light, without the darkness that’s dominated fantasy novels in the past decade. When I read Shinn’s books, my spirit soars. I want to write like she does.
My favorite sci-fi writer is Lois McMaster Bujold. Her hero, Miles Vorkosigan, is unmatched in the genre. He is a genius at solving cosmic problems. His adventures are always original, his obstacles gargantuan, and his solutions frequently funny. I wish I could create a protagonist as memorable and engaging as he is.
My favorite comic fantasy author is Terry Pratchett. His satirical fantasy is joy with teeth. I don’t want to write like him—I can’t; satire is not my style—but I’d like to show in my writing as many shades of gray in a human soul as he does.
My favorite romance writer is Jennifer Crusie. I subscribe to her blog and many of her posts are as good as the best writing lessons. The humor in her novels comes in many forms: from uproarious farce to gentle chuckle, but I like everything she’s written. She is my ‘mood-lifter’, my comfort read.
In mystery, I’m divided between Carola Dunn (cozy mystery) and Dorothy Sayers (intellectual PI). I love them both.
17. What is your favorite movie or TV show?
“Bones”, without a rival.
18. What advice would you give your younger self?
I was a different person then and made many choices I might regret, but all of them have brought me to where I’m now. I don’t think an advice to a younger self, even in theory, is a good idea. If I had any advice for my younger self it would be simply: “Believe in yourself!”
19. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
I have a favorite quote – my motto in writing:
“Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.”― William Feather
That would be my advice to any aspiring writer. Persevere. Don’t give up. Write constantly. Try your hand at different genres and types of writing – novels, short stories, journalism, marketing. And don’t rush publication. Learn first, so when you publish, your story shines. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint, and you can’t skip the apprenticeship phase. Skills come from years of practice, like in music. Of course there are exceptions, but they only underscore the rule: instant gratification doesn’t exist for writers.
A writer friend I met online said: you can only consider yourself a professional writer after you’ve written one million words or more. It’s true. An average novel is about 60,000 to 100,000 words. If I toss in all the writing and re-writing I’ve done for all the short stories and novels, plus my newspaper articles (I’ve been writing for a local newspaper since 2007), I’m somewhat over one million mark now.
20. How can people discover more about you and about your work?