Welcome to Olga Godim.
Thank you, Alex, for having me on your blog.
Where are you from and where do you live now? I’m Canadian. I live in Vancouver – a wonderfully green city on the West Coast.
Please tell us a little about your writing – for example genre, title, etc. I’m predominantly a fantasy writer. I have one mainstream novel, Lost and Found in Russia, published last year. It’s women’s fiction about mothers and daughters, but most of what I write is fantasy. My novels are high fantasy. They have a quasi-medieval setting, magic, and swords. My novel Almost Adept is the first in the series I’m working on. It was published in January. My second novel in the same series, Eagle En Garde, was published in May. All the novels in the series are stand-alone, united by the same world.
I also recently published a collection of short stories in the urban fantasy genre, Squirrel of Magic.
Who or what are your inspirations/influences? The idea for Almost Adept started developing in my head long ago, after I read one of Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey. Lackey definitely influenced my writing in many ways. She was the first fantasy writer I ever read, the one who introduced me to the genre. In the end of that book of hers, the main character dies heroically. I dislike such endings, so I started fantasizing: what if he didn’t die? What if… One thing led to another, until the guy transformed into someone entirely different, relocated to my imaginary kingdom, and acquired a wife and a daughter. But I didn’t want to write about him. His daughter Eriale became my heroine – a young and very powerful magician.
Strangely, when I started thinking about Eriale’s adventures, they came to me backwards. First, I wrote a story about her, when she was about 30 years old. This story exists on my computer as the first draft of a novel. I’m going to revise it soon. Then I wanted to see how she started on her magic path – and Almost Adept got written. I’m working on two more novels about Eriale.
I also have a couple of short stories about her, both happening before Almost Adept. Both stories are available as freebies on my website.
Do you have a favourite character? If so who and why? My favorite character, Miles Vorkosigan, doesn’t come from fantasy. He is the hero of Lois McMaster Bujold’s sci-fi series Vorkosigan Saga. Miles is unmatched in the genre. On one hand, he is a sick man, on the other – a kind-of ‘prince’ in a futuristic empire. He is also a genius at solving cosmic problems. His adventures are always original, his obstacles gargantuan, and his solutions frequently funny. He is arrogant and kind, self-delusional and insightful, ingenious as a military commander but inept with women. He is a heap of contradictions and charming to the core. I wish I could create a protagonist as memorable and engaging as he is.
Are your characters based on real people? Not in my fantasy novels, but my mainstream novel Lost and Found in Russia is based partially on my personal experiences. When I was young and poor, I often thought: what if someone showed up at my door and said that I had been switched at birth, and my birth family was rich. And they’re looking for me. What would I do? What would my mother do? And – here was the tricky question – what would my other mother do? Would she want and love me as much as the mother who raised me? From that daydream sprouted the idea for one half of the book – the story of a mother who discovers after 34 years that her daughter was switched at birth, by mistake.
The second part of the novel unfolded in my mind after I met an amazing woman Irina in Montreal. An immigrant from Russia, like my protagonist, Irina came to Canada with nothing and accomplished much. I was inspired by her optimism and determination. She told me about her life and her struggles to find her place in a new country. Awed by her courage, her indomitable spirit, and her lovely soul, I adopted her as a model for my heroine. After my meeting with Irina, the novel practically wrote itself.
Research can be important in world-building, how much do you need to do for your books? Do you enjoy this aspect of creating a novel and what are your favourite resources? The reason I write high fantasy is because it doesn’t need lots of research. Well, that’s a bit of a joke, but it’s the truth too. In a fantasy story, I can make up a world and all the rules in it, and nobody can say that I’ve made a mistake. It’s my world after all.
Furthermore, fantasy allows me to escape reality. That’s why I read fantasy and that’s why I write fantasy – escapism pure and simple. I imagine my heroes talented and brave, with lots of friends and lots of choices. I make them able and smart. You read about them and you forget (I hope), if even for an hour, while you read, that you need dentures you can’t afford, that your bills are overdue, that your boss is an asshole, that your mom is eighty and getting weaker every day, and you’re helplessly watching her slip away. If I can give you this tiny escape from your worries, then I’ve done my job as a writer.
My urban fantasy short stories are all happening in the city I live in, Vancouver, so again, no research is needed most of the time. And if I do need to check up some facts – the internet is my friend. Almost anything is available, if you ask Google the right questions.
Of course my mainstream novel required more research. For example, my heroine visited the Russian city of Suzdal, a city-museum with a number of old Russian churches. I have never been to Suzdal, but lots of pictures are available online. And I contacted a historical society of Suzdal to ask some questions. As I’m bilingual – I speak and read both English and Russian – I could do that. The people I communicated with were very helpful.
Is there a message conveyed within your writing? This is an interesting question. When I started writing the series of fantasy books, of which Almost Adept is the first, I didn’t intend to convey any message or preach or anything. I just wanted to tell stories, to entertain the readers with my heroes’ adventures. The novels are all high fantasy, so what kind of a message could there be for modern readers, right? But my characters express my world view. They think a bit like me. I suppose it’s inevitable, if a writer is true to herself. So now, when I look at the novels I have written, some published, some not, and some only in the first draft stage, I see a message coalescing, and it has to do with my disbelief in bureaucracy and my mistrust of people with power. What I say in each novel is: “Don’t accept unconditionally what the authorities, secular or religious, tell you. Think first. Doubt. Ask questions.” I guess my skeptical nature shows in my fiction, whether I wished it or not.
What are your opinions about authors commenting on reviews? How important are reviews?
Reviews are extremely important in spreading the word about your book, but as an author, I wouldn’t comment on reviews, even if they’re negative. People are free to express their opinion, and as the celebrities know very well, no publicity is bad publicity. In fact, when I see only 5-star reviews without exception, I get suspicious about that book and the people who wrote those unified reviews. In reality, you can never please everyone. When I write, I write mostly for myself, to tell the story I want to tell. Of course some readers would dislike it. It’s an unpleasant fact of life, like a flu. It happens. You suffer through it and move on.
Kurt Vonnegut in his book Bagombo Snuff Box lists his famous 8 rules of writing. His rule #7 states: “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” I can’t say it better.
What three pieces of advice would you give to new writers? I don’t have three advices – I have one. Persevere. I have a favourite quote – my motto in writing:
“Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.”
― William Feather
That would be my advice to any aspiring writer. Don’t give up. If one route to publication doesn’t work out, try another. If nobody wants your novel, try to write for a newspaper or a magazine. Start a blog. You need to find readership that don’t know you. You need to convince strangers that what you write could be interesting for them. And write, write, write.
A writer friend I met online once said: you can only consider yourself a professional writer after you’ve written one million words or more. It’s true. An average novel is about 60,000 to 100,000 words. If I toss in all the writing and re-writing I’ve done for all the short stories and novels, plus my 200+ newspaper articles (I’ve been writing for a local newspaper since 2007), I’m somewhat over one million mark now. And I got three novels published by small publishers. I can definitely consider myself a professional writer.
Keep in mind that writing is a long process, and you can’t skip the apprenticeship phase. Skills come from years of practice, like in music. Of course there are exceptions, but they only underscore the common fact: instant gratification doesn’t exist for writers. Almost always, your first novel isn’t good. My first novel was terrible. It’s still hidden in the bowels of my computer. It will never be published, although I have revised it at least ten times. It was my school. Your first novel is your school. Don’t publish it. Learn from it and move on.
Most authors also like to read, what books do you enjoy? What book(s) have you just finished? I write fantasy, so it won’t surprise you to learn that I like reading fantasy too. My favorite fantasy writer is Sharon Shinn. I enjoy her lyrical and magical tales, a blend of fantasy and romance. Her stories are full of light, without the darkness that’s dominated fantasy novels in the past decade. I especially like her older Samaria series. In it, she writes about angels, and her concept of angels is unique in the genre. It has nothing to do with biblical angels and everything to do with the writer’s imagination. She created a charming race of angels in her stories, angels I believe in, despite my atheism. Her angels are arrogant and talented, decadent and dedicated to their duty, in short – alive. When I read Shinn’s books, my spirit soars. I want to write like she does.
She is one of the very few writers I use as a self-teaching aid. Whenever I’m stumped in my own writing, I ask myself: how would Shinn handle such a conundrum? I open one of her books at random and page through a dialog or a narrative to see what she does. It often helps.
My recent read was The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. I read it for a group read on BookLikes. It was a re-read; I first read it long ago. I liked it then and I liked it now. A wonderful book!
Can you give us a silly fact about yourself? I use a pen name for fiction – Olga Godim. In my real life, I’m a journalist, and my newspaper articles all have a different byline. I wasn’t always a writer. I was a computer programmer for many years before I started writing. When I submitted my first fantasy story to a magazine, I was still working at my computer job and I felt slightly embarrassed by my fantastic tale. Women of my age and profession didn’t entertain themselves with tales of sword and magic. Or so I thought. So I decided to use a pseudonym. Olga is my first name, and Godim was my father’s first name. He died before I published my first piece, before I even started thinking about writing, but I wanted him to be a part of my writing life, so I chose his name as my nom de plume. Now, he’s always with me, a witness to my successes and failures as a writer.
Book links, website/blog and author links:
My book Almost Adept is available at
The publisher’s website: http://burstbooks.ca/product.php?id_product=118
Or other online retailers.