Elena Clark, but I publish under my initials, E.P. Clark
Title of your work or group:
I’ve recently released The Midnight Land, the first installment in the epic fantasy series The Zemnian Trilogy.
Where are you from?
Originally Western Kentucky; I’m currently living in Winston-Salem, NC, where I teach Russian at Wake Forest University.
In what genre do you write?
Currently, epic fantasy, although I’ve tried other genres in the past and may do so again in the future. I’d really like to write a paranormal romance some day.
What is your book about?
The main character, Slava, is the younger sister of the Empress of Zem’, a Russia-esque fantasy world with a matrilineal system of government. Slava has some not-very-well-understood gifts of empathy and clairvoyance, which are making her miserable in her sister’s kremlin. So she takes off on an expedition beyond the sunline—i.e., beyond the Arctic Circle—as a way to escape, only instead of escaping from everything, she ends up even further enmeshed…there’s intrigue, action, a little bit of romance, and a big dose of magic and a lot of fun hidden references for fans of Russian literature.
What is your writing style?
I normally try to keep my inner ear cocked for the faint strain of inspiration. Luckily that inspiration tends to strike when I sit down at the computer and start writing. Which is another way of saying that I don’t do a lot of outlining, since I find that pretty much guarantees I won’t write what I wanted to write. If there’s some scene—say, I have a vision about how I want the book to end—that’s particularly important to me, I’ll write that scene down and hope that I’ll eventually get there with the rest of the book. The main thing for me is to keep writing. I try to do a little bit every day, or at least several times a week. Then afterwards I have to go back and figure out what my subconscious was trying to say, which was not always what I thought I was trying to say, and edit it into a coherent story that still maintains those motifs and connections.
Have you ever written anything and thought: “The world has got to see this!”
Gotta say yes to this one. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons why I write. There’s a lot of good fantasy out there, but most of it is Western-oriented, featuring mainly male characters or a patrilineal, patriarchal society. So I kept itching to write something that went against all that. I wanted to write something where Eastern Europe was the center of the fictional world, and where all the characters took it for granted that women rule and daughters inherit their mothers’ lands and titles, because duh, it’s much easier to keep track of things that way, but at the same time where people were still basically people. It was actually even harder than I thought it would be to write that kind of a story—it really made me realize how ingrained our male-oriented thought processes are, how central they are to narrative and linguistic structures, even when we’re deliberately trying to subvert them. So I think “The Midnight Land” and its forthcoming sequels are worth reading for that reason alone, but also because they’re full of the aforementioned action and romance, and a good dose of humor too!
Do you have an editor and cover designer or are you doing it all yourself?
Some people (family members—thanks everyone!) have helped me with the proofreading and creating the cover, and I hired a professional to do the formatting and add a few embellishments for the print copy cover and interior, but most of it I’ve done myself. Which they warn you not to do, but I’ve had a number of people compliment me on the cover design and on the editing of the interior, so I must have done something right! I did put a huge amount of effort into the editing, going through multiple drafts (including going over everything in hard copy and reading the entire manuscript out loud to myself) before publication and then multiple rounds of proofing once I created the Kindle version and again when I created the print version. There are just no shortcuts when it comes to editing, and it can be helpful to have a second set of eyes to look things over, but I think as the artist, you have to retain final control over the finished project, which means putting in a lot of work from beginning to end.
Who is your favorite author? Not just someone you read a lot, but someone whose book made you suddenly realize that if you didn’t do this, you would never be happy.
Hmmm, that’s a tough one. I guess I would have to give a huge amount of credit to GRRM’s A Game of Thrones, though. I was given a promotional copy of it when I was a teenager (which shows that promotional copies totally work!) and I was absolutely blown away and I knew then that one of my life missions was to write my own epic fantasy series. A couple of other formative reading experiences were reading The Color Purple, which introduced the world of “serious” or “meaningful” literature to me, and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which had the same effect. Both of them were “serious” literature about extremely serious subjects, but the characters were so alive and real that I felt like I was living their lives right along with them and I kept going back to have that experience again and again, even though it wasn’t a particularly happy one. So I’d say they really inspired me to try to put a human face on “big” issues.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Other than not quitting I’d say keeping track of everything. My books are really long and the action in The Zemnian Trilogy covers multiple generations, so remembering who’s who and who did what can be really difficult. I’ve been using spreadsheets, which helps some.
Do you write your characters or do they write themselves through you?
My characters write themselves through me; I am just their vessel through which they take form…No, seriously, I just sit down (or stand in front of my standing desk) and start writing, and characters start taking shape, oftentimes very differently from how I’d originally envisioned them. It’s a fascinating and sometimes slightly creepy experiences, kind of like being possessed.
Do you ever write yourself into the characters?
A bit (or maybe even a lot), but there’s a lot of transformation that happens. I’d say more that my characters are aspects of myself that maybe can’t be fully developed in my “real” life, so I give them free rein on the page.
Is writing your fulltime job or are you “Keeping your day job”?
Like most of us, still holding down a day job! As I said above, I teach Russian, which takes up a lot of time and energy, but provides all kinds of great inspiration, so that’s useful! My sales would have to REALLY take off for me to make writing my fulltime occupation.
If you could go back in time and meet one famous person or legend, who would it be?
Hmmm, that’s another tough one. Maybe some of the early feminists. When I think about how upsetting I find dealing with the sexism I encounter today to be, and how much **** I encounter just by occasionally voicing very mild opposition to it, I am in awe of how tough and how driven they must have been—I can’t even imagine. Well, maybe I can, since I’m also a big advocate for animal welfare, which seems like it would be a very similar situation to what the abolition and women’s suffrage movements were in a couple of centuries ago.
There are millions of books released every year. What in your mind makes yours stand out from all those millions in your genre?
Plot-wise, I’d say the Slavic/East European angle combined with the matrilineal, woman-centric approach. It’s definitely in the Western epic fantasy tradition, but it doesn’t feel or read exactly like a typical Western novel, and people have told me that it’s surprisingly shocking to encounter things like characters hoping to have daughters rather than sons in order to pass on the family line. My own vanity as an author also prompts me to say that there are a lot beautiful lyrical passages in it, and readers are already writing to me telling me about their favorites!
In the world of Indie, marketing is very difficult, especially if you don’t have the funds to pay for it. Have you found a great free way to market your book that you think other Indies would benefit from?
Well, I’m not on the NYT bestseller list yet, so I can’t say that I’ve found some magic formula, but because I’m a professional Slavist, I have a biggish network of other Slavists and Russian literature enthusiasts who have been very excited about the books and have definitely been my largest market so far. I also reached out to Russian- and East-European-themed Meetup groups, which was mostly a waste of time but I did get a few nibbles from people interested my book for their book clubs, and I also know people in other book clubs who were interested in the book. So if you have some particular angle you can sell, such as an unusual cultural background for your characters, or a particular sport or profession, and so on and so forth, I would say definitely try to reach out to that community as much as you can. It only costs you time and rejection, but you’re going to encounter that anyway, and the results are better than doing nothing!
Purchase on Kindle: