Featured Author: Ivan Brave
Q: In three words, describe yourself.
A: Curious, playful, dedicated
Q: How many books have you written? How many of those are published?
A: I wrote a novella titled Will’s Diary about an architecture student exploring the construct of his mind. Next I wrote a series of short stories called One Time in West Campus about two college misfits. Then I wrote what would eventually become my first published novel, The Summer Abroad. Right after that, I wrote another book about two best friends who meet after twenty years. Then I put all the short stories and poems I wrote during grad school into a collection called Lunas и Moons, unpublished. Lastly, I wrote the book that is coming out on June 16th, called They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach, soon to become my second published book.
Q: Do you have an upcoming release? If yes, tell me the title and impending release date.
A: They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach, out June 16th, Bloom’s Day.
Q: Tell me about how you come up with your titles for your stories. Do you create the title before or after you write the book, and does it ever change from the initial title?
A: I was on a really good streak up until recently. Normally the initial scene of a story comes accompanied by its title. Titles are so meaningful to me. They can be poetic, funny, or to the point. But they have to be grand and operatic. That said, with my current project I’m having difficulty naming it. It was named something else years ago, but that name doesn’t fit anymore, because the book has taken a sharp turn. So I’m playing with possible names as I go now.
Q: Out of all your characters in all of your books, who/what (sometimes a setting can also be an important “character”) do you think is the most interesting and why?
A: I had a lot of fun writing driving force for The Summer Abroad, the protagonist’s childhood friend, Rick Callaghan. He was initially based on one of my best friends, but because I kept amalgamating traits from other people, he kind of transformed into his own creature of fiction. The more I hung out with him, the more interesting he became. Likewise, I starting adding things to the character about myself. That’s when he became a sort of archetype for ideal-cool-guy-who-guides-the-protagonist out of his sleepy sopor, through various underground clubs in Europe, until eventually coming out alive, coming of age, growing up, etc. At the end, however, unable to leave the nether realm which were his domain, Rick gets left behind, disappearing into Europe. I always thought that was a glorious way to go. Think Dean Moriarty.
Q: If you could “create” your own genre of what you write, what would you call your books?
A: In my humble opinion, because I do it with my life, I try to bring together North and South America, to form a more united America of Americas. Now, apologies for sharing such a deep and nebulous aspiration of mine, but to answer your question of what genre title I would shelve my books under, it would have to be something like 21st century “Americas” writing.
Q: Without quoting your back cover blurb, tell me about the last book you published.
A: Why would I quote a thing like that? So passé! Plus, I figure you are interested in a personal note.
So, from the heart, my last book was my vestibule into writing. I took what had originally been autobiographical material – a Eurotrip after graduation – and recast people into characters, exaggerated some parts, simplified others, played down some, and talked up the rest. It was a total blast coming up with connections across time and place, motifs, themes. Anyway, that is what went into creating it. The result is even better: a travel narrative about home.
Q: Quote your favorite line from one of your stories. Indicate the line, and then the book title.
A: I wrote a line once that every time I read it I wonder where it came from. It’s at the end of The Summer Abroad, and became part of my banner photo on Facebook. It goes: “Being understood isn’t the most important thing in the world. Understanding is.” On a purely language nerd level, I like the switch from past to present participle, passive to active dichotomy sort of thing. In the context of the book, though, it is the final revelation of the protagonist who spent the whole summer worried about what others thought of him. On a philosophical level, the line is about . . . well I rather not say.
A good line should always require many more words to unpack it than it itself contains. And someone else should do the unpacking, like a gift.
Q: Tell me something about yourself that is separate from writing.
A: I live in Romania, my wife’s country of origin, because we wanted to live together – go figure. Now I work at an aspiring multinational corporation that builds custom language classes for other business in and around Romania.
Q: Who are your top THREE favorite authors?
A: In chronological order: Charlies Bukowski, Julio Cortázar, and Leo Tolstoy.
Q: What is the last book that you read? (Not counting anything you wrote)
A: I’m currently reading I Am a Cat by Soseki Natsume, who is the guy on the biggest Yen bill. Before that was Not Bosses But Leaders by Adair and Reed – for professional development, you could say.
Q: When writing, do you have a system or something you plan, or do you just write?
A: Well, if I have learned anything from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, the imperative to creativity is having a life that supports its. So in a very large sense my system of writing begins with having a healthy life, a fruitful marriage, awesome friends, and of course a sacred writing regimen: that means any hour I have to write becomes immutably, and intractably, my writing time. Currently that is the first hour after breakfast, and the last hour before dinner, plus weekends whenever I’m not cleaning or calling family.
In a small, practical sense, that depends. If it’s a short story, I will outline a few ideas, make a mind-map, always sketch a rough draft, then rewrite, and edit. If I work on a novel, I might sketch for a whole week, just jotting down ideas. It helps to talk about what I am working on, too. Then, in general, after the sketching I will roughly have an idea of where to go. So I write, rewrite, and then edit. Outlines are helpful if I’m lost and need some structure. But this is just in general. I’ve always tried to change up my style and process with each project. For variety I suppose.
At the end of the day, you must do whatever it takes to get a page down, whether that means doodling a mind map, or writing trash for an entire hour, writing in verse, stealing lines, inventing genres, drinking a beer, anything, as long as it put words on a page. I heard Joan Didion used to put drafts in the freezer before rewriting them. That didn’t help me, but I trust we all have our own style.
Q: Why do you write?
A: In 2013, after graduating, I was at an inflection point. Tipsy, surrounded by falling leaves, and for better or for worse, I decided I would dedicate the rest of my life to writing. I suppose that’s important to say that in answering the question, which is a complicated one.
That’s because everything before that year had led to me to want to write. My highest grades K-12th were for essays, while summers were spent in writing camps. (Parenthesis, this is ignoring Freshmen English class, which I failed; but that’s just motivation, right?). In college I started writing thought notes, then short stories, sharing them with people. Plus my major was Philosophy.
After graduation in 2013, I took that trip which inspired The Summer Abroad, where I came back with “a fire in my gut” as Bukowski put it in a poem. I had a vision of what I wanted to be, which you know all college graduates are trying to answer. I had found my answer.
After 2013 everything became what Eliade called the apprentice’s long and tedious induction into shamanism, learning the craft of writing, after my ecstatic vision.
Despite the tedium, at least I could calmly claim “This is the path I chose.” So I feel proud for that. Today, I draw energy from my identity to writing. Bonus, I got to meet my wife over a discussion about good literature and from sharing my writing with her. All in all writing makes me absolutely happy, it’s a thrill, a joy, and my life to write. And if that isn’t enough reason.
Q: Do you currently have a WIP? If yes, what’s the title, and is it part of a series or standalone?
A: I’ve never seen “WIP” before, but I suppose you mean work-in-progress? I am used to the hyphenated version, lol, since everyone talks a lot about having one. At any rate, as mentioned, my current WIP is a memoir. The intention is to write it only for my wife to read. As a surprise birthday gift to her. Please don’t tell her.
Q: Do you read your own work a lot? If so, what does it do for you?
A: Yes, I read my work. One small reason is because I actually like what I write. Think Geppetto in Pinocchio!
But there’s a deeper reason. You know how you have a bank of great advice in your head? Surely that isn’t just me. Anyway, one piece of sage advice I internalized is this: creating a work of art requires one part putting materials together and one part observing what you just did. So, I read for feedback.
The stillness of reading one’s work brings clarity and focus. It is part of the creative process, as review is to any process, from art to business to war. We need to read our stuff, asking, “How did I do? Could I have done better?” These questions help answer the ultimate question, “How will I do better next time” which is at the heart of all learning.
Q: I play music when I write, and depending on the setting or mood of the story depends on what I listen to. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what genre or artist/band do you listen to?
A: So true, I agree. Right now, for instance, I am listening to electronic music, specifically ambient cool loungy music by LTJ Bukem. Repetitive music helps me chill out and keeps the loud nag in my head busy dancing, while my fingers type.
I could listen to anything vocal-less, repetitive, especially stuff I have heard a million times and which doesn’t require my attention. So my favorite jazz albums for example are choice. Particularly Horace Silver and Bill Evans.
While I was writing They Lived They Were however, about a DJ, I listened to a lot of the pop music while drafting. In the rare instance, then, that I do type while listening to attention-grabbing music, I need to be standing up, writing on top of a drawer or something, as I tap my heel and hit the keyboard.
Q: As an author, I find that the hardest thing to write (for me) is the blurb that will be on the back cover or book’s description. When you write, what is the hardest line to write, the first line, the last line or the synopsis for the book?
A: I’ve thought a lot about that blurb hang up, because I also don’t particularly enjoy writing it. But it does help readers enter the book, so I tell myself. It’s like engraving some poetic lines at the entrance of a temple or something. Or the closet in the Narnia stories! It pulls the readers into the story, no? Plus it’s an exercise in precision, in distillation. But I digress.
The hardest thing for me to write is a good line. It is what I am always seeking to produce in my writing, because it is the thing that always alludes me: any line anywhere that makes me tingle. I’m looking for that goosebump moment of ecstasy. It might surprise me at the end of a story, or haunt me at night until becoming the first line of the next, or often it comes in the heat of writing. But no matter what it has to come, yet doesn’t always come. That’s the hardest thing to write I guess. A good line.
Q: If you could sit down and have a coffee (or your favorite beverage) with anyone, living or dead, from any era, any time, who would it be and why? (You can pick up to 3 persons).
A: First, I would order a tall glass of absinthe and chat with James Joyce circa 1920s Paris. Second, I would have a cup of coffee with Benjamin Franklin, back in 1770s New York City, out of his comfort zone. Lastly, I would share a bottle of red wine with Sappho, probably in her thirties, 600 BC Syracuse. Because then, fingers-crossed, she would invite me to whatever cool party she was going to afterwards.
Q: What does it mean to be a “successful” writer?
A: One line to draw in the sand is this: to be able to live off of your writing. That includes supporting whatever lifestyle you want to live. So the more complicated your life, the more “successful” you need to be. A quiet hermit in the northern foothills of a Vietnam can be quite successful with just a couple of killer stories and a weekly bonfire for his friends. I have often envied that life. On the other hand, being a hipster in Brooklyn, with hopes of moving out of his six-bedroom apartment, he would probably need to be “more successful” and need to generate quite a number of sales to consider himself self-sustaining.
Imagine you want to start a business. It has to pay for itself. Otherwise it is a waste of energy, a waste of time. Yet I do not mean to say writing is about money. Money is just the currency of Business.
In Art, we content with another force, a hidden currency, perhaps “cultural capital,” I’ve heard mentioned. Art needs culture, to then feed culture, which in turn supports the art. And the cycle continues.