Author Zhanna Slor was born in the former Soviet Union and moved to the Midwest in the early 1990s. She and her husband, saxophonist for Jazz-Rock fusion band Marbin, recently relocated to Milwaukee, where they live with their young daughter. Her debut novel, “At the End of the World, Turn Left,” is set in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. Slor is this week’s guest on WTMJ Conversations.
A portion of the interview is transcribed below courtesy of eCourt Reporters, Inc.
LIBBY COLLINS: This is your first novel, At the End of the World Turn Left.
ZHANNA SLOR: Yes.
LIBBY COLLINS: And you’ve been published many, many times before that; not with a novel, but —
ZHANNA SLOR: Yes.
LIBBY COLLINS: — with stories, essays. What’s ahead for you? I mean, do you intend to write more books? Are you working on another book right now, Zhanna?
ZHANNA SLOR: Yes, I have a finished book already that’s for teenagers. It’s about these Ukrainian twins or orphans, they’re being raised by their uncle in Buffalo, and they have superpowers. So, she works for a tombstone company, engraving portraits into tombstones, and they start talking to her. So, I have that book that’s all done, I’m also just trying to find a publisher. And then I’m working on another new book as well.
LIBBY COLLINS: What — what are the challenges of somebody like you? You want to be a writer, you want to be published, so every day, I would imagine, you sit down and you write, but you’re not — you don’t always find that publisher. How difficult is it to be in your profession?
ZHANNA SLOR: Oh, man, it’s so difficult. I — this book is probably, like, my third or fourth attempt at a book. It’s probably just the first one I could actually sell. It’s very hard out there to actually find a publisher for your book. It’s very competitive, everybody thinks they can write a book, like you said at the beginning. A lot of those books are not good, but they send them anyway, and then all these — you have to get an agent first and the agents are just swamped with all these submissions. And it’s basically a miracle if you get through to one of these agents or publishers, and then they have to like the book, which is another challenge because it becomes so competitive. Your book has to be almost perfect when you already send it. It used to be where maybe you still needed to work on some stuff and that would be fine, but now you have to have like a perfect draft, basically. And you have to find an agent before you can even look for a publisher, so it takes years. I would say, it took longer to publish this book than to write the book.
LIBBY COLLINS: What was it like for you when you got word that you were actually going to be published?
ZHANNA SLOR: Very exciting. I was a little bit also hesitant to get excited because this was my second book deal and the first one just completely fell through about two, three years ago. So, I was excited, but also I — you can’t get too excited in publishing because everything can just fall apart really easily. It’s just a strange business to be in and you have to be okay with hearing “no” a lot more than you hear “yes.” So, but then it gets hard to celebrate the wins because — you’re always in this process of “no, no, no, no,” and then you get a “yes,” but then you get ten more “nos.” So, it’s very hard.
LIBBY COLLINS: Do you ever think, “Oh, I could be doing something else”?
ZHANNA SLOR: I do, but then I’m like, what would I even be doing? I don’t really want to, like, do anything else. I have a toddler, so I spend all of my free time as it is — I spend more time with her probably than I do writing. So, I think if I was going to do something else, I’d probably just have another child. I’m not really that good at anything else.
LIBBY COLLINS: You’re pretty good at writing though. And let’s go back to that little 7-year-old who was busy writing little stories. What advice would you have for people, especially young people, who really are drawn to writing, who want to write? As soon as they — they can sit down, they start writing words and stories, as you said, they don’t always make sense. What advice do you have for them to continue that path?
ZHANNA SLOR: Persistence for sure. You have to be okay with hearing no and accepting it. You also have to be very open to editing and any sort of criticism. You can’t just assume that you’re always right and you know best. And then read and read and read a lot, and then write and write and write a lot. And probably avoid grad school if you can because I’m still paying off my grad school debt. And I think I learned more from just failing at writing novels than I did going to school trying to study writing.
LIBBY COLLINS: That’s very interesting: Don’t pursue your education.
ZHANNA SLOR: Well, an undergrad degree maybe, but grad school is very expensive and maybe unnecessary for some people. For me, I felt like I could have just skipped it and been writing that whole time and saved some money. That’s my perspective, someone else might need grad school to direct them.
LIBBY COLLINS: Is there any particular author that you admire, that you — and I don’t want to say that you want to imitate but maybe emulate.
ZHANNA SLOR: Yeah, I have a lot of favorite authors. I think my favorite one that would be relevant to this book is Gillian Flynn who wrote Sharp Objects and Gone Girl and Dark Places, which are now all movies and a show. She’s very good at writing a mystery but also making you like the characters and following
their development. And when I first starting writing Masha’s story line, I was — I had just finished reading Sharp Objects again, and I just love the energy of, like, going back to your hometown and having all these ghosts behind you. That’s, like, a very enticing book premise for me. So, if anyone had an effect on my writing this book, it would be Gillian Flynn for sure, she’s very good.
LIBBY COLLINS: Interesting that you selected an author who’s had all of her books put into movies, television shows.
ZHANNA SLOR: Yes.
LIBBY COLLINS: Would that be your dream?
ZHANNA SLOR: Oh, for sure. For sure I would love that. I’ve always wanted to write for TV. A lot of authors are writing for TV now, so I’m hoping one day I can get to that place, too. Gillian Flynn just did this show called Utopia, it wasn’t even based off her book, it’s very good. I think she’s just done with writing books, she’s like, “I just like TV better now,” which it makes sense, it seems very fun to collaborate.