5 from 35: Author Q & A with Katya Apekina
Katya Apekina, 35, debuts with her novel The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish, which releases today from Two Dollar Radio.
How long did it take you to write your first (published) book, start to finish?
I began the book in 2012. It took about 5 years from start to finish.
What kind of work did you do to earn money while writing your first book?
I was very lucky to get a third year fiction fellowship from Washington University in St. Louis after I graduated from my MFA program there. It funded me for a year and I taught one undergraduate fiction workshop and spent the rest of the time writing. It was that spring when I began writing the novel. I also got an Elizabeth George Grant after I had a baby and I don’t know if I would have finished the book without it. It paid for a year of childcare and allowed me to finish writing and revising the book. Writing this book was so difficult, emotionally and logistically—I really worried that if I gave myself any outs, I would take them. There was an urgency not to abandon this difficult project, and I worried that if my outside jobs were too exciting, I might just do that. I have always supported myself through freelancing, editing, teaching and tutoring. Also odd jobs. Substitute teaching. For a while I was a building manager. I’ve worked in production on movies. I’ve also done some screenwriting, but not while I was writing the book. While I was writing the book I lived pretty monastically. I didn’t really allow myself other creative outlets. It all went into the book. At some point in writing the book, my husband went from freelancing to a staff job as a journalist, so I didn’t have to worry about health insurance anymore and he’s been really supportive—in all the ways, emotionally and financially and also picking up the slack with child care if I’m deep into a project and can’t come out.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading a bunch of Russian books—as research for my next book. Nabokov’s biography of Gogol, Sevtlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time, rereading a lot of the classics I grew up on, reading political books, books about the Revolution.
For pleasure I’m reading Lauren Groff’s Florida, Rachel Cusk’s trilogy, Kiese Laymon’s essays. Books of friends that are coming out right now! (Anne-Marie Kinney’s Coldwater Canyon, Lisa Locascio’s Open Me, Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation).
Did you ever want to quit? If yes, what kept you going? If no, what kept you going?
I’ve wanted to quit so many times. Writing the book was so difficult. I had to go into some dark spaces. It was unpleasant sometimes. I had to cede control and let the book take me where it wanted to go, and I had to stick with it even when it was telling me things I didn’t want to think about or to feel. It’s also difficult to be working on a big project for a long time without any guarantee of it working out. I mean artistically working out but also practically. It’s scary to invest so much of yourself into something and not know if anyone will get to read it. I think the main thing that kept me going was thinking of myself as a channel for this book to come out into the world, and the book felt like its own living thing. Like a child, it came from me, and yet it always felt separate—and I felt like it deserved to be read and seen and have its own relationships with other people.
What’s your biggest source of encouragement?
It’s hard to not seek validation from others, but it’s dangerous and addictive. I keep wanting other people to give something to me that really only I can take for myself. Once I got a handwritten letter from a stranger about a story I wrote that was published in The Iowa Review, and the person told me the story made them feel less alone, and that was so meaningful to me. That was a real moment of connection for me. There have been so many times when I have felt adrift and alone, and reading a good book saved my life. To think that something I helped put out into the world is doing that for someone else is the biggest encouragement.
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