Zachary Karabashliev, author of the wildly fun 18% Gray recently participated in the Texas Book Festival in Austin. According to the dozen or so friends I know who attended, it sounded like a real blast. So I thought I’d ask Zach a few questions about his experience, and share some of his photographs. (If you’ve read 18% Gray, you know that photography plays a big role in the novel. So it’s fitting to include some of Zack’s photos here.)
Chad W. Post: Was this your first time participating in the Austin Book Festival? What exactly did you do there?
Zachary Karabashliev: First time in Austin, yes. I was invited to join all the activities there, as well as talking on a panel themed “America, the beautiful?” with another writer—Claire Vaye Watkins—who has written these great stories mostly set in the West. An awesome take-no-prisoners writing, I loved it. The moderator was Callie Collins, the Editor-In Chief of the new publishing house Strange Object. So we talked about The West, The East, America in between . . . the notions of freedom, and all that. It looked like the audience had fun—they were laughing more than usual for your typical book reading.
CWP: How did this festival compare to others you’ve participated in?
ZK: This one was unique—it was set in the majestic State Capitol Building. I found this really symbolic—as if for three days literature took power. The bastion of politics was now a house of letters. It became a meeting place for writers and readers. We were let in the very rooms some of the most important and controversial political decisions have been made. There were many parties afterwards, free booze, and so much music, God, so much great music. Austin literally rocks. A great fest town.
CWP: How was the attendance? Was it well-organized?
ZK: It was extremely well organized—from the car picking you at the airport to all the parties, to sending you off. I loved that. The street in front of the Congress Building was blocked, all tents and stuff—it was all literature. And the attendance was record high, I believe.
CWP: Favorite non-book fair event: Phil Anselmo concert with Bromance Will, or eating your first BBQ?
ZK: Man, I’ve been a proud U.S. resident for over 14 years, but it was in Austin where for the first time I experienced the true beauty and pleasure of eating a real, slow cooked brisket. And that did it, man. I’ve been initiated. I’ve arrived.
About Phillip Anselmo and the Illegals, hahaha—I was a huge Pantera fan back in the 90’s. So, when I saw Anselmo’s band I was—wow, right on. He actually started a Horror Film Festival the same weekend. And he closed the fest with his own new project. So, Phillip Anselmo was awesome, but The Illegal’s material sucked, I’m so sorry to report. I loved the other band that played that night—Eyehategod—these guys are the real deal.
CWP: Any favorite authors that you met there?
ZK: I probably met many that I liked, but not knowing how they look like made it difficult. You see, you don’t wanna look like a lit dork wearing that name tag on your neck. But the truth is—no one really knows who you are. So you talk to so and so, and you click and have a good time, and at some point you go—but, wait the minute, this is YOU? Oh, I love your writing. Then, there are the others, that you know from media and book covers, and you kinda pretend that you know their writing only because everybody else pretends they do, so you don’t want to make a fool of your self. But frankly . . . how many of us will really have already read Dissident Gardens, for example? Really?
Reza Aslan (Zealot) was super cool, Nina McConigley (Cowboys and East Indians) was a blast, Kelly Luce, Claire Vaye Watkins, and Jonathan Lethem was incredibly funny.
Yet, my favorite person to spent time with—Will Evans. This man is a maniac—he’s got literature all over. I mean it—on his arms—tattoos of dead people, all of which Russian writers. You talk to Will for a couple of hours, and YOU KNOW world can be a better and definitely a funnier place. He’s the one that introduce me to the true BBQ—how do you forget that?
A couple weeks ago, we released Zachary Karabashliev’s 18% Gray, which looks like this:
and should not be confused with Anne Tenino’s 18% Gray and looks like this:
Anyway, Zack’s book, which was the co-winner of the 2012 Contemporary Bulgarian Writers Contest (sponsored by the ever-wonderful Elizabeth Kostova Foundation) and which is a really fun, enjoyable, occasionally heart-wrenching book about a man, a camera, a cross-country road trip, a missing wife, and a huge bag of week, has been getting a lot of praise, including this amazing feature in the San Diego Union-Tribune:
The world is full of bartenders hoping for something grander — actors waiting for their first big part, musicians waiting for their first big hit.
In San Diego there’s a bartender who is already a big deal. In Bulgaria.
His name is Zachary Karabashliev. He’s 44. He lives in Mira Mesa and mixes drinks at the Sheraton downtown, where it seems fair to say not many people know that back in his homeland he’s a prizewinning novelist, short-story author and playwright.
Now he’s poised to make a splash here. [. . .]
Voted by Bulgarian readers one of their favorite 100 books of all time, 18% Gray opens in a fictionalized San Diego. The main character, also named Zack, has a newly broken heart. Drowning his sorrows in Tijuana, he escapes a kidnapping and winds up with a 60-pound bag of marijuana in his car trunk.
The best person he knows to help him unload the pot lives in New York, so he sets off across the country on a journey that’s wildly dangerous and oddly healing. His car gets stolen, rear-ended, towed for a parking violation. He drinks a lot of espressos and dirty martinis, takes a lot of photographs. He helps a suicidal woman. He accidentally goes into the wrong motel room and climbs into bed, startling the occupant. Who has a gun.
All that’s interspersed with flashbacks to his life with Stella, an artist he fell in love with in Bulgaria and eventually married. And then she left him.
If the story sounds absurd and darkly funny — well, it is. Sitting one recent morning in a cafe in University Heights, Karabashliev admitted he has a healthy appetite for both.
Additionally, Steven Wingate interviewed Zack for Fiction Writers Review:
SW: The author bio mentions that you’ve written a screenplay for 18% Gray, which is in development. The novel has its cinematic elements, most obviously its use of third person present tense narration. Yet you break completely from the cinematic model in other ways—something I think is crucial for fiction writers to do because the cinematic aesthetic is so omnipresent that it threatens to engulf everything else in narrative culture. In what ways do you see yourself embracing or distancing yourself from the cinematic?
ZK: It’s funny how after cinema adopted the rules of millennia of storytelling and practically hijacked the “hero’s journey” (the monomyth) now, we fiction writers have to deal with and challenge that. Cinema replicates narrative tradition with new means, but in terms of storytelling it has not invented all that much.
The feedback from my readers unanimously touches on the cinematic aesthetic of the novel. “It was like I was watching a movie,” “I read it in one day,” and so on. And I take that as a compliment. I guess that was also the appeal for the producers to buy the film rights and trust me with writing the script. I love film. But 18% Gray was conceived and constructed as a novel. It was not meant to be a surrogate for a movie. Even though I employ techniques from screenwriting, and at times borrow from the visual arts, I am not an advocate for the “show don’t tell” doctrine that has dominated the craft of too many fiction writers for the last I-don’t-know-how-many years.
Our civilization today is ruled by the visual, and this is normal—nearly a third of our brain is dedicated to vision. Through brain scanning, neuroscience and linguistics research shows that while reading words, we use the same cognitive tools that allow us to react to our environment, reconstruct memories, and so on. So if you want to be “heard” as a writer, you need to “show” more. Great, but that makes us, storytellers, compete with visual artists (especially film makers) for the mercy of the almighty Visual Cortex. Well, what about Proust then? Dostoyevsky? James Joyce? What about Kundera, or Robert Pirsig, or a long line of writers that like to not just show, but tell us what they think about things?
I like “show and tell.” Looking back now, I think I have used certain cinematic approaches to bribe the reader’s attention, to suspend disbelief and hold attention to the words. I never take my reader’s attention for granted. I always feel I have to fight for it.
The interview is definitely worth reading in its entirety—especially the opening sequence about when Steven first met Zack,
a man in denim jumping up and down with infectious excitement and energy. He looked about my age, with a bit of gray at the temples—just old enough to have done the pogo at a punk rock show back in the day—and he exuded the kind of vibe it’s almost impossible to be downhearted around
Additionally, you should buy 18% Gray. Actually, since I’m feeling really good about the attention we’ve been receiving for A Thousand Morons and 18% Gray, if you subscribe to Open Letter for a year we’ll throw in both of these books for free—you’ll received 12 books for $100.
(And if you’re already a subscriber and have one or both of these, we’ll just extend your subscription for an additional two titles for re-upping now.)
This will only last through February though, so sign up now!
First off, I want to point out that our new GoodReads Giveaway is now live. Between now and December 15th, you can enter to win one of fifteen copies of 18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev that we’re going to be giving away. By now, you probably know the drill, but if you’re a GoodReads member (and if not, why not?) just click on the button below. [Note: This giveaway is for U.S. GoodReads members only. Sorry.]
That said, since !8% Gray makes such a great gift for the holidays—especially for people interested in road novels or Bulgaria, as well as your easily confused friend/relative who is way into all the “Gray” titles involving a bit of the sex—and since we already have our copies back from the printer, we’ll ship these books out ASAP to anyone who orders from us directly.
18% Gray was co-winner of the Contemporary Bulgarian Writers award, and was chosen by Bulgarian readers as one of the top 100 “most loved books” as part of the BBC’s The Big Read. It’s funny, touching, sexy, and is currently being made into a movie. At it’s core, it’s a really moving road novel about loss that also involves a huge bag of marijuana.
On a separate GoodReads note, the 2012 GoodReads Choice Awards were announced today.
Now, as much as I love GoodReads, and as much as I love the idea of polling actual readers about the books they love, it has to be pointed out that the downfall of crowdsourcing an award is that you end up with J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy winning the fiction award.
As promised last week, here’s a bit more information on 18% Gray, one of this year’s Bulgarian Contemporary Novel contest’s co-winners.
18% Gray is a sort of non-linear road novel. In the present, Zack is traveling to the East Coast trying to sell off the huge bag of marijuana that has come into his possession. Parallel to this storyline is a set of flashbacks detailing his obsessive romance with the now disappeared Stella. The plot shifts from present-day California to Eastern Europe in the nineties; it runs through anti-communist student rallies, and continues with the young couple’s exodus to America.
This paragraph from the synopsis also grabbed me:
Driving to New York, equipped with an old Nikon and bunch of expired black and white film rolls, Zack starts photographing an America we rarely see. Faces, roads, buildings, nature—everything caught on his film is raw and genuine. Zack captures America as if noticing it for the first time; as if he has never learned how to take pictures. Zack photographs America the way America no longer is—real.
Here’s an excerpt of the excerpt. The full book will be available to reviewers and booksellers by next summer, and will officially drop in November 2012:
She’s been gone nine mornings.
The blinds in the bedroom are shut tight, but the day still finds a way to get in, and with a roar – the garbage truck. That means it’s Wednesday. That means it’s eight-fifteen. Is there a noisier noise than the noise of a garbage truck at eight-fifteen?
I crawl out of bed, stagger to the living room, and flop down on the couch. The cool leather doesn’t help me fall back to sleep, and the garbage truck rumbles closer. I get up, push aside one of the blinds, a bright ray burns my face. I focus my powers and attempt to dismember the roaring green monster with a gaze. The effort only succeeds in waking me up completely.Read More...
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