Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter
Our fourth installment of “Words from our Finalists”…Sana Krasikov
Sana…meet our Readers
What are some of the most challenging things about writing fiction?
Deciding where to begin. There are so many ways to tell a great story – especially a story with different perspectives. You spend months building a house in your mind and then have to make a practical decision about where to put the door so that the reader can enter and not feel completely bewildered.
What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?
I’m always relying on new sources of inspiration, and they’ve changed over the years. Just talking with people has been a big part of it – conversation for me is one of the great pleasures of life. I was in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, talking to a woman who was selling me lentil soup, and she said, “I hate Saddam Hussein, but I like him for one thing: invading Kuwait.” It turned out that she had been able to escape an arranged marriage, and take her kids, because she was on a plane heading to Egypt when Saddam entered Kuwait. In the chaos that followed, her husband was stuck in Kuwait while she fled to the States. An event that meant disaster for thousands turned out to be the agent of her deliverance. I heard somewhere once that Isaac Bashevis Singer would eat his meals at cafeterias on Broadway. Just so he could chat people up and listen to their stories. It’s such a shame we don’t have cafeterias any more.
Who is your intended audience?
I try not to think about an intended audience. My first commitment is always to the reality of characters and the world of the story. I want to be so inside it that it doesn’t even feel like fiction.
Are you working on anything new right now?
I’m starting a novel that moves through different locales and time periods, Depression-era New York and San Francisco, 1950′s Moscow, and the gas fields of the Barents Sea.
What are you reading now?
I’m going through a Murakami phase. When I was living in Moscow for a year, I’d go into the English-language section of the book store on the main strip and see exactly three types of titles: Candace Bushnell, a single copy of Woody Allen’s Without Feathers and about a dozen Huraki Murakami novels. I thought, wow, they really like Murakami here. Now that I’m reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I can see why. He’s willing to push the mystical boundary of realism the way an author like Dostoyevsky did. Underneath a lot of my own writing, there is bedrock of realism – a classical, sometimes dark realism that’s very much rooted in a Russian tradition. I wouldn’t exactly call Murakami writing “magical,” but I love the way he tries get at a reality beyond the senses.
When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?
It came in bits and spurts. My second job out of college was at a law-firm in downtown Manhattan, on Battery Park. About two months after I started, I lost my sublet – and for about a month, while I looked for a place to live, I moved into one of the “war rooms,” where they kept boxes of documents for the legal cases. I kept an inflatable mattress and showered at a gym across the street. In that month, the biggest challenge was not to get found out by the lawyers – I’d be there at eleven getting ready for bed, and people were still in the offices working. I think those few weeks shifted my frame of mind somewhat – being in the middle of that environment and also existing in an alternate reality from it. I ended up doing a lot of writing in the evenings and mornings – there was an odd seamlessness to the days. Of course I couldn’t go on living like this. But I ended up writing a story that helped me win a fellowship later, and I think the experience gave me a taste for a kind of misanthropy that’s served me well. After all, writing is all about finding a place for personal freedom in the public sphere.
What is the mountaintop for you — how do you define success?
I think with any art, it always takes a while for your skills to catch up to your vision. I want to become that person – that writer – who is capable of executing her vision. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to be given the gift of growth without paying your dues through some form of failure. You almost have to embrace it.
How do you write — what is your private modus operandi? What talismans, rituals, props do you use to assist you?
I wish there was a set ritual, but there isn’t at the moment. When I spend a lot of time in my head, I feel that a walk helps – any stream of sensory input that isn’t intellectual can bring me back down to earth. Today I walked to a skating rink and watched about a hundred kids, six and seven-year olds, skating. Some of them would fall over, others were very confident on the ice. They would skate up to the side and start their own conversations in separate little groups, all while speakers blasted a radio station down at them. I thought – wow, there are entire social worlds about which I have no idea. And I also, kids today must have to learn to tune out a whole lot of media at an early age.
What do you want readers to get out of your book?
This is going to be my most Jewish answer. I think we as people and as readers are capable of an enormous emotional range. Yet so much of what we see in the movies and on TV, and read in books, tells us that there has to be a big redemptive note at the end. I hope my stories resonate with people’s own life experiences. And in the end I hope people can feel that the more painful parts of life are not things that need to be avoided altogether, or treated as contagious, or something to be medicated for. What’s beautiful about so much of Jewish music is that even the major chords can have a minor feel to them. There is no stable major or minor tonality that you have in music that’s written on a western seven-note scale. The characters in my stories often find themselves in difficult circumstances, but it doesn’t mean they let the sweetness of life go by untasted. I think to expand our capacity for joy, we need to allow it to have an element of the opposite.
Originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Naomi is the executive director of Jewish Book Council. She graduated from Emory University with degrees in English and Art History and, in addition, studied at University College London. Prior to her role as executive director, Naomi served as the founding editor of the JBC website and blog and managing editor of Jewish Book World. In addition, she has overseen JBC’s digital initiatives, and also developed the JBC’s Visiting Scribe series and Unpacking the Book: Jewish Writers in Conversation.