Ivan Brave, author of the literary novel, They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach, that I reviewed last Sunday, is here as today’s Wednesday’s Guest. He has some interesting things to say about story and the writing process. This is an unusually long blog for me, but I thought you would enjoy meeting this fascinating author. Grab a cup of coffee and read on…
1. What prompted you to explore the theme of fear of commitment and success, which is a theme I gleaned from reading the book?
You don’t start off easy, do you Maryann! For one, fear of commitment and success are two different subjects. But, since you ask, let us relate them and answer accordingly.
I argue that any meaningful success we enjoy comes as a direct result of commitment. If you succeed in finishing a novel, it is because you commit. If you succeed in marriage, it is because you commit. If you succeed in making this world just a little bit better, then it is because you commit. Conversely, failure to accomplish these feats, when boiled down to what is within your control, comes down to the opposite of commitment, which is indifference.
If you feel indifferent, then forget novels, marriage, or improving the world. What about writing one page? Going on two consecutive dates? Or even brightening a coworker’s day? How could you accomplish any of those without deciding? Without committing?
I believe the key to understanding the problem of commitment in the book is the word “fear.” But if we’re going to start talking about FOMO (fear of missing out) in the modern age, then we’re going to need a lot more space on this post. Nevertheless, you’re on to something.
2. Is the character of Ilya based on a real person?
On me, a little. But not like you would expect. When I was in college, I got into the music scene in Austin. College radio DJ, music production, rock band management, festival production, and a slew of internships at major radio stations around the city.
Seriously, I thought I had found my calling in an exciting industry! Until, after so much publicizing/reporting/producing other people’s music, I decided to double down on myself. I bought the software to do it, locked the bedroom door, and made a handful of my own songs. They were fun (still available on Soundcloud) but . . . no matter how hard I worked at it, there was a nagging feeling inside that said, “You will never be good enough.” So I quit. Followed shortly by an exit from the industry. You can imagine how that felt.
And so, Ilya is not so much his author, but rather what his author gave up in life. Given the chance to reincarnate, I would have never given up doing that which brought me so much pleasure—which is to listen to, and make, and enjoy, music. When you read TLTW, then, the reader should hear the quite voice of an author telling Ilya on every page: “Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Don’t give up!”
3. How, and why, did you decide to tell the story in the format you used, pausing the present narrative for the interlude and the coda?
Like anything about a novel, especially the motivation for certain elements, the answer is complicated.
One reason is I was influenced by Gerard Genette’s literary theory of the narration. He doesn’t regard narrators by the grammar they use (I/she: first/third person). Rather he regards narration as a matter of distance from the story plot, meaning, “Is the person telling the story involved in the story?” This view led me to experiment with various voices, at various points in time, with various degrees of bias, all telling the story of a young DJ about to break through in his career.
Another reason for the mixed format was that it felt like composing music. Depending on how much of a conductor the reader wants to be, all the instrumentation/literary-devices are there to play with—to make the book symphonic. Otherwise, you could cut to the chase, and simply read the story of a guy who loses a bad girl at the beginning of the summer and gets a good girl by the end—like it were a simple pop song.
4. Did you intentionally leave the ending rather vague so readers could imagine the “what comes next” ?
My professor Sigrid Nunez used to say a story should have “an afterlife.” As in, you want your characters to do a bunch of things while they have your attention. But even after the story ends, and characters die off, or move on, the spirit of that character or story should persist in our imagination. So, if there is any positive feeling of “the summer continues” after the last page, then, in the best of light, I take credit.
Instead, in the worst of light, if the ending is unsatisfying, then I take full responsibility as well. Can I be honest? I simply did not know how to end this story. Not that I didn’t know how it ends plot-wise (Ilya launches his EP to commercial failure, but gains the attention of a star DJ who lends him a hand at recording another EP to commercial success, then they fall in love and become the old man and the old woman of the interludes). But I just didn’t know how to write that ending without it sounding cheesy. So I hid the cheese in the closet, I suppose. Between the lines.
5. What truth do you want readers to come away with after reading your book?
That it’s possible.
6. What is your family’s favorite story to tell on you?
My favorite story to hear is from when I was a baby. My uncle lived in the apartment under us, and one night he couldn’t get to sleep. My father was stomping from his bedroom to my crib, back and forth, back and forth, all night—because I wouldn’t stop crying. My uncle, though he had a big exam the next day, thought it was the funniest thing. Apparently at one point the situation got so bad that my dad started negotiating with me, then yelling at me, then begging me to stop crying. While always, in between, there were those footsteps, back and forth, back and forth.
7. What other creative things do you do?
Lately, because my wife bought (and never used) a whole water color set, I’ve been painting mushrooms, triangles, and goofy-looking animals on Saturday. All for fun. But then, a little more seriously, I consider my private tutoring as being very creative, moreover some of the projects at my full-time job require a lot of creativity.
8. What do you like best about where you live?
I live in Bucharest. The best part is living with someone I love. I know she’s my wife, but this is the first time I ever lived with a partner. Best roommate ever. Most specific to Bucharest, however, are the great parks, the general feeling of coziness there is in my neighborhood, and also how everything is 15 mins away.
9. What else would you like to say to the people who will read the blog post?
The reason I write is to connect with individuals. And the reason we should connect is to inspire one another. So reach out to me. Share a thought. And tell me a story.
BOOK BLURB: Loyal fans know him as a rising internet star and the resident DJ at one of Brooklyn’s sauciest nightclubs. But one blistering summer day, after relapsing, getting dumped, and winding up at the hospital, Ilya Gagarin awakes in a nightmare. The only way out, he figures, is to finally debut his EP, meaning, to realize a deeper dream.
The process of producing, together with the power of music and an urge to accept his past, is passionately described in his journal—while the larger story follows the weeks leading to his EP launch, his struggle to quit drugs, and his falling in love again to a guardian angel. It is she who teaches him, “Do you know how Russians say Once Upon a Time? Жили были. It translates to They Lived They Were.” Suggesting Ilya might just get his fairy tale ending. Or at least move on.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Iván Brave lives in Bucharest, Romania, where he writes poetry, reviews, and novels, as well as promotes language learning in multinational corporations. He graduated from The New School in NYC with an MFA in Creative Writing, after earning a Bachelor in Philosophy from The University of Texas at Austin. Language, multiculturalism, and love, or anything that connects, are the themes dearest to his heart. In addition to winning prizes, such as the Writing Award from The Vera List Center for Arts and Politics, his writings have appeared in literary publications like The American Scholar and The Acentos Review. Iván’s second novel, They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach, is out June 16th 2020.