Monday, May 10, 2021

Zhanna Slor

Zhanna Slor was born in the former Soviet Union and moved to the Midwest in the early 1990s. She has been published in many literary magazines, including Ninth Letter, Another Chicago Magazine, and Michigan Quarterly Review, and she is a frequent contributor to The Forward. She and her husband, saxophonist for Jazz-Rock fusion band Marbin, recently relocated to Milwaukee, where they live with their young daughter.

Slor's debut novel is At the End of the World, Turn Left.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I think quite a lot of work actually. It's a very unusual title--an English translation of a modern Hebrew phrase--and I think the cadence of it is very easy on the ears as well as enticing. I did a lot of linguistic research because one of my characters is really interested in linguistics -- untranslatable phrases to be specific -- and once I saw this one I knew it would make a great title. Also the meaning of it, "middle of nowhere," works really well with the book because the characters feel that way sometimes in terms of their identities and where they fit in.

What's in a name?

I don't have a great system for picking names. Usually I just go with what sounds good, or I look at lists until I find something I like. The names of a couple of the characters in my book, Liam and August, were based on real people who came up with their own names back in 2006-2007 when I was in college and trying to write them into short stories for literary magazines. I liked them so I kept them. Anna was the name I had picked for the fictional version of myself around the same time, so I just kept that as well. Additionally, I wanted to give Anna and Masha both names that were easily pronounceable, unlike my own name. Readers do not like struggling with pronunciation. So that is also a consideration, especially with so many Russian characters.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

Not surprised at all. She might be surprised by the fact that I have a daughter, but not by this book. A lot of the themes here I have been mulling over most of my life, and I've been wanting to write a novel since I was in first grade.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Oh definitely endings. I am so bad at endings. This book probably went through 1,000.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Oh yeah, definitely. Anna started as a fictional version of myself at 19. We have a lot in common; we didn't have a ton of friends in high school, we were both really into painting & wanting to be an artist for a living, and spent a lot of time at basement shows or with roommates. I was a lot more boy crazy than her though, and no longer enjoy painting very much. I identify with certain things about Masha too; her music taste, her interest in languages, her Israeli boyfriend, Krav Maga. I am married to an Israeli who served in the IDF and am really into martial arts as well. We are not at all religious, like Masha, but I do understand her need for that kind of community, and I have religious friends.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Oooh, what a fun question. TV for sure. Breaking Bad taught me a lot about how to have really good tension in a scene. I was probably thinking about it a little when writing one of the later scenes, in fact. The first 4-5 seasons of Walking Dead, before it became unwatchable, were really helpful in terms of character development through action. And Gilmore Girls, which I rewatch almost yearly, is great for keeping levity in your scenes, especially with intergenerational interactions. I always related to Lorelai's relationship with her parents so much, and I don't think it would be as enjoyable to watch them without the humor added. I think all good TV needs to have a good mix of all these things, and books should too.

I would love to write for TV one day, which seems to be getting more common with authors lately, since every other book gets turned into a show or movie. Gillian Flynn is a huge inspiration. Her books are amazing and she has been able to transition so well into writing for the screen--Utopia was so good!
Visit Zhanna Slor's website.

--Marshal Zeringue