I backed off as soon as I saw his flashing eyes. Those weren’t the mesmerizing blue eyes I could previously get lost in. These were the eyes of a man so angry, he could kill me just by looking at me.
“I told myself a hundred times I would never touch you. But you’re so fucked up in the head, you leave me no option.” His voice was hoarse and furious; it was the only thing I could concentrate on.
He threw me over his shoulder, and before I could protest and call him another name, he took me to my bedroom, shut the door and pinned me against it. He quickly pulled both of my arms behind my back and kept me immobilized with his one hand. I was still angry, and I jerked my head from side to side. He clasped my face with his other hand and pressed my cheeks in, mangling my lips outward. He was still fuming and was about to say something but stopped himself when I let out a faint cry. He let go of my face and breathed out a few times.
“You want me to stop?” he whispered and, for a short moment, I thought I should say ‘yes.‘ I shook my head ‘no‘ instead.
Who do you have in mind when you write?
I should probably say my readers, but the truth is, the characters I create take over my “mind” almost completely. Even if I have nothing but a vague idea what the story is going to be about, I always know what kind of a characters I want to bring to life. As I write and dig deeper into their imaginary heads, their stories, dialogues, thoughts and feelings take over my own mind and thought process. I no longer think up conversations, I only write down what I feel and “hear” the characters speak. Once I allow myself to become one or more of the characters, the story unfolds right before my very eyes, on the computer monitor. All I do is type and stay connected.
Once I’m about halfway through the manuscript, I do consider the readers. I want to make sure they love my characters as much as I do. I ask myself questions like, “What would the readers think about so and so behaving so weird? Would they hate him? Would they understand her? Is the scene too unreal?” I analyze the characters and the story in light of these questions or even ask my daughters for input, and then make necessary changes.
Have you always aspired to be a writer?
I suppose I have. I’ve kept my book idea journal since my early teenage years. Somehow, I always knew I wanted to write, but I was also fortunate to have an unbelievably event-filled, adventurous, and sometimes outright crazy life. Coupled with a busy career and two daughters, I had to wait a while to get to a point in life when the urge to write became so powerful, everything else (except my family) simply faded.
Tell me about how you became a writer—what was the first step for you?
I was definitely a reader first. Growing up in the Czech Republic, we had to read a lot for school. We kept reading journals, and I loved writing my entries so much, I’d even illustrate each entry. We read everything from modern literature to classics, from Czech authors to Russian, English, American; basically every author who was somehow influential. At fifteen, I managed to read almost all of Victor Hugo (even though Les Miserábles is a very long novel…). Soon, I realized the books allowed me to imagine myself in the world they described. I loved that feeling, and I kept on reading my own personal selections of Jack Kerouac, Franz Kafka, Truman Capote, Nikos Kazantzakis, and many more. The wide array of interesting novels I read throughout my early life showed me that every story, no matter how seemingly simple or complicated, can become a great novel if written in “a light, or point of view, no one has ever seen before….”
That’s when I began to write notes in my own journal. I jotted down book ideas, short stories, personal observations of the world around me, even my feelings of how I thought I did or did not fit into this physical, “real” world we live in. It was this journal that ultimately showed me that whenever I felt like I’d rather be someone else, in some world far from ours, all I had to do was to imagine it and write it down. And so I did…. And I still do…
Do you have a distinctive “voice” as a writer?
Not really. Like I said, I feel as though the stories I write just come to me when the time is right, and I only write when I feel the urge. The voice comes with the story. If I write a diary of a French girl, the voice is hers: young, excited, scared at times. It’s the first voice of a unique person. When I wrote Bring Me Back, the story manifested itself through a third voice, sometimes a voice so strong and persuasive, I found myself listening to it wondering what will I learn next. When the need to write Choking Game finally overpowered my fear of the sadness the story would bring with itself, the voice became ardent, even cruel, but slowly turned kind, understanding, and filled with hope.
No, I don’t think about the voice. I let the story speak for itself in whatever voice feels right for it.
Do you think anyone can learn to be an effective writer, or is it an unnamed spiritual gift?
I suppose with a little talent, anyone can learn to “write” like a writer. There are many very talented people who write for hire, and they do it well. Many TV shows use such talent to write episodes after a successful pilot show. Writing, after all, has rules that apply just like any other “trade.” Even the best stories, if told without the regard for some of the rules like “show don’t tell,” “don’t jump from one character’s head to another,” etc., can fall short of their potential.
Having said that, however, I do not think one can learn to “create” stories and characters. I feel the difference between writing a piece of work and creating something from within your own inner self is tremendous. Writers who bring stories and characters to life in this way always leave a piece of themselves within the pages of the book. At least I do. I have never written a book where I would not share a piece of my own self, whether a prior experience, personal feeling, or a whole lot more.
Was there a point at which you felt this would be a career?
I never thought of it that way. Now that you mention it, I am not even entertaining the idea of quitting and going back to a day job anytime soon, if ever. So, maybe writing is my career. All I know, it’s something I love to do more than anything else.
Is there a book you’re most proud of?
This may sound a little pretentious, but I do love every one of my books. Each is very different, and each represents a different part of me or my life experience. I poured my heart out in the Choking Game, which was a very personal journey. The first book of the series, Diary of a French Girl: Recklessly Yours, was so much fun to write, I cannot wait to write a sequel.
But my love affair is the Bring Me Back trilogy. The first book was published last year, and I am halfway through with the second book. It’s taking more time than I expected because this trilogy is far more than a story. It’s a lifetime of learning, experience, imagining time and space, and the answers to enigmatic questions like, “Is there life after death? What is a soul, and where does it come from? Can we clone a human being that has both a body and a soul?” Bring Me Back is my take on all of this, and I do my best to create a story that will not only show the many possibilities, but also entertain, intrigue, and pull the reader into a world they could feel and love.
Writing is so internal—in the head—how did you release the pressure before you began writing?
I don’t. Every time I start a new book, I let the pressure build up inside my head, my heart and my soul. It allows me to forget who I am personally, and become one with my characters. The internal pressure fuels my desire to tell the story as realistically as I can by feeling it, rather then making it up.
On average, how long does it take for you to write your ideas down before you start writing a book?
I’m probably the most disorganized author you’ve interviewed. I never organize my thoughts or even think what exactly the book is going to be about. I don’t get up in the morning thinking I will spend the day writing. I don’t write a synopsis, and I write thoughts and ideas only once the manuscript is almost finished. I often go back and re-write, though.
There are two ways I start a new book. I either sit down and “doodle” a sentence. The sentence becomes a paragraph, the paragraph grows into a page on the monitor, and then a page follows another page… This is how I started Choking Game. All I did was write a Twitter tweet: I wonder what the world would be like if I didn’t exist? And the rest of the book followed in a heartbeat.
Or I get up one day and all I can think of is being alone, closing the door to my office and to the “outside world” because I feel something is pounding my head, and I have to let it come out in the form of a new story. As crazy as it sounds, this is how the Bring Me Back trilogy started. And I waited several months from when the first book was published until that same crazy feeling returned, and I began to write the second book. Once I do start to write, though, the story unfolds so quickly, I can barely keep up with the typing.
How do you guard your time to do what’s most important?
I don’t. I let things slide; I steal quality time from my family; I get anxious wanting to write while I have to do some other so-called “important tasks;” I get panic attacks that there’s simply too much to do to manage to do it all, and then… I inhale, close my eyes, and realize I am my own worst enemy. So, I do what I have to. I do one thing at a time and stop obsessing about wanting to do it all at once…
What are some of the more common distractions you struggle with, and what ways have you found to overcome them?
My friends, my family, my dog, and, of course, my second homeland, Czech Republic, where I spend a lot of time because I have more friends, family, and another dog there. I’m connected to everyone on social media sites, and if that’s not enough of a distraction, we FaceTime, Skype, go out, hang out, you name it.
But when the need to let a new story out of my head takes over, my friends and family understand my kind of “not normal.” Yeah, I retreat for a while, kind of disappear from the radar for a couple of months and go to live happily ever after in a new world I am creating at that time.
What kind of review do you take to heart?
The one where I can tell the reviewer actually read the book. Have you noticed how many reviews are on Amazon by people who did not purchase the book and seem to have no understanding what the book is really about?
As a writer, however, you have the opportunity to self-reflect, to revisit experiences. How does that feel?
Sometimes, it’s a great feeling, especially when the story has a deeper meaning, like in Bring Me Back. I find myself laughing while typing some scenes and remembering similar situations that might had happened to me before, like in the Diary of a French Girl. And sometimes the writing journey is so emotional, I can’t see the words on the monitor through the tears I am unable to hold back, just like when I wrote the Choking Game.
Yes, my work is full of self-reflection. I think that’s why I enjoy it so much, whether it’s a happy and fun experience, or a sad one. I get to revisit the past and make it better or worse in the present in a world I create. The opportunity to do this makes the entire writing process worthwhile, whether I write for readers or simply for my own enjoyment.
When you start a new book, do you know how a book will end as you’re writing it? Or does its direction unfold during the writing, research and/or creative process?
I never know how the book will end. That’s what makes the writing so exciting. Sometimes, the story unfolds and takes such unexpected turns, I am surprised myself about how it ends. Like I said before, I do not decide to write a story, then sit down, write a synopsis, and then follow the story line. I make no decisions to do anything unless something—and I don’t know what it is—literally makes me sit down, open a new file, and start typing. I may have an idea from my journal, or I may think of something and it pops in my head, but I never have a story line.
As I write and the story begins to wrap up, I am always amazed how naturally the end of the story unfolds. Writing the very last sentence is my favorite part of every book. It has to feel right—final but not absolute. The sentence has to clearly end the story, but give the reader some room for his own opinion.
How do your books speak to people, both inside and outside the reading world?
It depends who you have in mind. One thing I realized as I wrote more young adult and new adult books, though. My characters are never quite “normal.” Even if a character acts “normal” at the beginning of the book, sooner or later he or she reveals some deeper character flaw, something unique to each one, something good and definitely something bad. I gave up on entirely positive characters. I’d go as far as saying, “I can’t do normal.” Maybe it’s who I am or maybe I met too many interesting, unusual people along my unusual life. I prefer to “hang out” with quirky, edgy, even mean or depressed characters. People come in all shapes, forms and shades. I pay more attention to those who have some kind of an internal struggle. They feel more human to me.
With a character who has certain flaws and internal struggle, it is easy to go deeper into the story and relate it to the world around us in a way that may even speak to a lot of people. I hope my books do that. It’s up to my readers to make the final judgment.
How do you see your role in impacting and influencing society?
I never thought about myself as someone who could impact and influence society. Then one day I found myself working along some unbelievably smart, brilliant people who actually considered me their equal. It was a humbling experience. That was my former career as a CEO of a privately held medical research company. I was too busy working to think about making an impact. All I wanted was to keep the company going, the scientists being able to conduct their studies, and helping as many sick people as I could. And then I picked up a phone one day and man’s voice on the other line said, “Yveta, you’re a blessing to me. Without your help, I wouldn’t be alive.” That statement made me cry, and I am definitely not one who cries often.
What I realized was that this phone call reinforced what I always believed very strongly: everything we do, no matter how big or small, has an impact. We cannot hide or run away from our actions. I am far from perfect; I have many flaws, and I have trouble following the rules; but I was always ready to accept the consequences of my actions. I was fortunate to have a career that allowed me to have a positive impact, and now I am trying to use some of that work experience to do the same with my books.
Do you look at yourself as an “envelope pusher” with your writing?
Absolutely. The further the better. I do not shy away from issues that make people feel uncomfortable. I shared this quote on my Facebook page: “Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.” I don’t know who said it, but it’s a great thought. I kind of feel the same way about books.
What are some pieces of advice that you would give someone on writing well?
Don’t try too hard. If you find yourself thinking too much, going in circles, or making up conversations that don’t sound real, walk away. Come back in a few days or weeks or even months, whatever it takes to feel rather than make the story. If you find yourself back to where you were before, maybe it’s not the story you’re supposed to be writing.
Young writers often make foolish mistakes. What is a mistake to avoid?
Thinking that you know it all… Just because you read a lot of books or have a fantastic story idea, doesn’t mean you have what it takes to be a good writer. Books take time and the willingness to re-write, sometimes more than once. A good writer listens to feedback and is able to step back and see the manuscript with the feedback in mind. Sometimes, writers get too entangled with their point of view and don’t consider the fact that others may not see it their way. Always keep an open mind.
What obstacles and opportunities do you see for writers in the years ahead?
The Indie publishing world is a double-edged sword. Everyone has the opportunity to publish his work, which allows far too many to publish just about anything. The market is saturated as it is. It will be even harder to find the really good novels among so many other pieces of work.
Could you talk about one work of creative art that has powerfully impacted you as a person?
My all time favorite artists have always been Michelangelo for his unbelievably carved marble statues and Rembrandt for his paintings that played with darkness, shadows and light. I read many books about these two artists when I was a teenager. Ever since I read about Michelangelo’s Pieta, I knew it was something I wanted to see one day.
Two years ago, I was in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, and as I walked towards the Pieta, I was blown away. It was even more beautiful than I had ever imagined it to be. I cannot imagine what kind of genius can take a piece of marble and carve Jesus dead, laying in Mary’s lap, with such an incredible detail. Every muscle, sinew, piece of the body seems so real. I stood there for a long time taking in the fact that Michelangelo carved this marvel before he was thirty years old.
I felt elated for the rest of the day, knowing that I finally saw the one statue I wanted to see my whole life. It was like I finished a chapter in one of my books. I called my mom in the Czech Republic from Rome later that evening and found out my father suddenly died on that day. Michelangelo’s Pieta had a powerful impact on me and always will. It closed not one, but two chapters of my life.
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