Post­ed by Nao­mi Firestone-Teeter

Our fourth install­ment of Words from our Finalists”…Sana Krasikov

Sana…meet our Read­ers
Readers…meet Sana

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 CEO 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.