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!
Tom and I will record our “official” 2013 preview podcast tomorrow, so you can look forward to that, but as a way of upping the number of books we can talk about on the blog, I’d like to start a weekly “preview” column. Something that may not always be that serious, yet will at least give some space to recently released or forthcoming titles. I’m sure that this will evolve over the next X number of weeks, so please cut me some slack on these first few . . .
Sandalwood Death by Mo Yan. Translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt. University of Oklahoma/Chinese Literature Today. $24.95
Jonathan Stalling of Chinese Literature Today — which really probably definitely shouldn’t be abbreviated as “CLT” . . and yes, I am 12 — spent a good 10-15 minutes of MLA explaining to me why this book was so awesome. I forget all the plot details, but I do remember the bit about an executioner taking someone apart over a series of pages . . . So, to go along with the almost nauseating amounts of meat mastication in Pow!, readers coming to Mo Yan post-Nobel Prize also have the option to read about the “gruesome ‘sandalwood punishment,’ whose purpose, as in crucifixions, is to keep the condemned individual alive in mind-numbing pain as long as possible.”
I have to say, the more I read about Mo Yan’s books, the more I dig him . . . And I’m really looking forward to reading this before teaching Pow! in my Translation & World Literature class this spring.
Generally, I’m not a huge fan of book trailers, but I have to admit, the one that CLT did for this is really pretty elegant and cool in an anime sort of way.
I have more to post about Chinese Literature Today, but I’ll save that for later. For anyone interested in checking this out, here’s a link to a sample of the novel.
The Eleven by Pierre Michon. Translated from the French by Jody Gladding and Elizabeth Deshays. Archipelago Books. $18.
The only thing I know about Pierre Michon is that one of his earlier novels, Small Lives, which is also published by Archipelago, is loved by basically everyone.
For a while I was creating a playlist on Spotify of songs with numbers in them. Things like “Water” by Poster Children, or “Slow Show” by The National, or “Airplane Rider” by Air Miami (a personal favorite), or “Universal Speech” by The Go! Team, or whatever. I’m not sure why, but there’s something about people yelling out numbers (or referencing a particular age, as in The National song) that does it for me. It’s one of my “secret cues” that cause me to almost always love a song. (That and hand clapping. And sing-along choruses.)
I don’t think that same thing works for me with book titles. But Fifty Shades of Gray? Maybe this is some sort of subconscious tic . . . (Like A Thousand Morons! Or A Thousand Peaceful Cities.)
18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev. Translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel. Open Letter Books. $15.95
A few months back, Zack called Nate and I to talk a bit about plans for his book and marketing and all that. In the course of the conversation, he told us about his elderly friend who was anxious to get a copy of his book.
“She called me the other day and said she’s seen it on the table at the bookstore and was really excited for me. I told her that it couldn’t possibly be my book. That my book hadn’t been printed. But she was convinced. ‘No, no, it was your book, Zack. And it’s pretty dirty!’ Only then I realized she was talking about Fifty Shades . . . “
All books containing a number and the color “gray” are the same! If only we could somehow use this to our advantage . . . Should’ve included that choker necktie on the cover.
That said, Zack’s book does have a spot of banging in it. It’s more of a nostalgic, romantic book than an erotic one, but there is something sexy about a good number of the scenes. Especially the conversations between the protagonist and his now-missing wife that take place while he’s photographing her . . .
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...
As announced earlier, Open Letter, the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation, and the America for Bulgarian Foundation sponsor a yearly contest to bring attention to the best of contemporary Bulgarian literature, with Open Letter publishing the winning title (or titles in this case).
This contest was launched in 2010, when Francis Bickmore of Canongate helped me select Milen Ruskov’s Thrown into Nature as the top entry of the year. (Milen’s book was just released—for more info on the book and how to purchase it, click here. You can also read a long sample here.)
For this year’s contest, Courtney Hodell of FSG joined me as a judge, and we went through 27 submissions ranging from the highly literary and experimental to thrillers to more spiritual pieces. It was a tough contest to judge, what with so many admirable and interesting entries, so in the end we ended up choosing two books: Angel Igov’s A Short Tale of Shame and Zachary Karabashliev’s 18% Gray. Both of these are being translated by Angela Rodel (who also did Thrown into Nature), and we’re planning on bringing out 18% Gray in November 2012, and A Short Tale of Shame in April 2013.
In addition, Courtney and I chose four runners-up: Ivan Dimitrov’s Life As a Missing Spoon, Ivanka Mogilska’s Hideaways, Vladislav Todorov’s Zincograph, and Vessel Tsankov’s _Pixel. Excerpts from all of these will appear on Contemporary Bulgarian Writers and on Three Percent.
Going back to the two winners, I’ll put up individual posts for both books with excerpts, descriptions, etc., etc. They’re quite different in terms of writing style—Shame consists of a series of internal monologues from different characters, 18% Gray is more cinematic and fast-paced—but both will make excellent additions to our list.
It would be hard to overstate all the amazing things the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation for Creative Writing (and Elizabeth herself) has done for contemporary Bulgarian writers. Sure, there’s the Sozopol Fiction Seminars, but they also organized a special day of panels on Literary Diplomacy to take place in Sofia, helped bring publishers and Bulgarian writers & translators together, sponsor the Dyankov Translation Award for the most outstanding translation from English into Bulgarian, and now have helped launch the Contemporary Bulgarian Writers website to help promote Bulgarian writers abroad.
For publishers, these sorts of sites are invaluable. Aside from random meetings at the Frankfurt Book Fair, or personal connections developed slowly and one-by-one over the years, it can be extremely hard for editors to find out about contemporary literature from countries such as Bulgaria. (And by “countries such as Bulgaria” I mean ones that don’t have an active governmental organization like the Finnish Literature Exchange, German Book Office, French Cultural Services, Japanese Literature Publishing Project, etc., promoting their contemporary writers to the rest of the world.) Beyond identifying new writers to check out, a site like this helps provide a bit of context for any submissions that an editor does happen to receive. I mean, there are only a handful of Bulgarian novels that have ever been published in English, so it’s hard to understand the tradition and evolution of Bulgarian literature.
Seriously—anyone interested in Bulgarian (or simply international) literature should check this out. I’m sure that it’ll expand greatly over the next year, but the site already features maybe two dozen writers (and a handful of Bulgarian-to-English translators), and has biographical info, excerpts, critical reviews, contact information for all of them.
One author worth looking at is Zachary Karabashliev, whose first novel won the Book of the Year Award from the Vick Foundation and was chosen as one of the 100 Most Loved Books of All Time by Bulgarians, and his first collection of short stories won the Book of the Year Award from Helikon. He’s a very funny guy, and his stories are quite sharp.
In terms of translators, Angela Rodel deserves some special attention. She translated all of the pieces by the Bulgarian writers at the Sozopol Seminars AND she just was awarded a PEN Translation Fund Award for Georgi Tenev’s Holy Light, which sounds pretty interesting:
Alloying political sci-fi with striking eroticism, the stories in Holy Light depict a world of endless, wearying revolution and apocalypse, where bodies have succumbed to a sinister bio-politics of relentless cruelty and perversion. “In first class they offered easy emancipation, perhaps even electrocution, but he was traveling economy class where they wouldn’t even serve him food.” (No publisher)
(I was actually on a panel with both Georgi and Angela—both very smart, very interesting people.)
By the way, if I haven’t said this in a while, all fiction writers should apply to the Sozopol Fiction Seminars . . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .