Post­ed by Nao­mi Firestone-Teeter

Yes­ter­day we spent a lit­tle time get­ting to know Sami Rohr Prize final­ist Ken­neth Bon­ert, author of The Lion Seek­er. Today we hear fromYe­le­na Akhtiorskaya, whose debut nov­el Pan­ic in a Suit­case was pub­lished this past sum­mer by Pen­guin. Below, Yele­na reveals her true feel­ings about books and num­bers, the dark moment in her life when she decid­ed to become a writer, and her pen­chant for great book cov­ers and great book titles. If you’re in the New York-area and would like to see Yele­na live, check out JBC’s May 19th Unpack­ing the Book event, Sovi­et Roots, Amer­i­can Branch­es.”

What are some of the most chal­leng­ing things about writ­ing fiction?

Mak­ing it con­se­quen­tial. The job is to find the weight, make it true. Basi­cal­ly, the hard­est part about fic­tion is mak­ing it not. Aside from that, gram­mar. It can be, tricky.

What or who has been your inspi­ra­tion for writ­ing fiction?

Inspi­ra­tion is a very pos­i­tive word, too pos­i­tive for me. Cer­tain things are inspir­ing, sure, like Amelia Earhart, but inspi­ra­tion feels like a dead end street. I’m much more moti­vat­ed by the horrors. 

Who is your intend­ed audience?

Every human being on plan­et earth, with the excep­tion of my loved ones. Of course the real­i­ty is pret­ty much exact­ly the inverse. 

Are you work­ing on any­thing new right now?

I’m work­ing on a nov­el, which, if I ever fin­ish, I’m going to put out under a pseudonym. 

What are you read­ing now?

Gilbert Sorrentino’s Imag­i­na­tive Qual­i­ties of Actu­al Things and Peter Pomer­ant­sev’s Noth­ing is True and Every­thing is Pos­si­ble. When I don’t choose a book based on its cov­er, it’s the title.

Top 5 favorite books

I have to gripe here. I’m sor­ry. It’s not just a prob­lem with lists, but more gen­er­al — any inter­ac­tion between books and num­bers upsets me. 

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

I was in dra­ma class in junior high school, which I don’t think is a coin­ci­dence, since that was when life was the dark­est and there wasn’t a glim­mer of hope. 

What is the moun­tain­top for you — how do you define success?

The moun­tain­top is a moun­tain­top. Seri­ous­ly. I’ve been at sea lev­el too long. The most banal ver­sion of suc­cess I can muster is being in a posi­tion to quit my oblig­a­tions and go live on a moun­tain, or, okay, in a hotel on a moun­tain in Switzer­land à la Nabokov. I’d just write and take walks. There are peo­ple who think I’d tire of this pret­ty quick­ly but I would be very deter­mined to prove them wrong. I guess this just reflects finan­cial suc­cess, but I think the notion of suc­cess should stay in the finan­cial realm. 

How do you write — what is your pri­vate modus operan­di? What tal­is­mans, rit­u­als, props do you use to assist you?

At first it’s pen and paper. Every­thing goes to shit when the com­put­er gets involved. The com­put­er is con­nect­ed in a not very con­ve­nient way to my psy­che. Every­where out­side of my open Word doc, the id runs amok. Inside my Word doc, the super­ego reigns supreme. If I wrote only on the com­put­er, I’d go into word debt. I’d prob­a­bly have to start delet­ing oth­er people’s masterpieces.

What do you want read­ers to get out of your book?

A new per­spec­tive on absolute­ly anything. 

Yele­na Akhtiorskaya was born in Odessa in 1985 and raised in Brighton Beach, Brook­lyn. She holds an MFA from Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty. She is the recip­i­ent of a Posen Fel­low­ship in Fic­tion, and her writ­ing has appeared in n+1, The New Repub­lic, Triple Canopy, and else­where. She lives in New York City.

Relat­ed Content:

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.