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yuvi-picYuvi Zalkow‘s stories have been published in Glimmer Train, Narrative Magazine, Carve Magazine, and others. He recently sold his first neurotic novel, which will be published by MP Publishing in the Fall of 2012. He got an MFA from Antioch University in 2010. You can track him down at www.yuvizalkow.com.
Q (Meg Pokrass): As a reader, which writers do you feel closest to?
Damn. First question and I’m already stumped. This list changes for me often. I tend to be drawn to an intimate sort of storytelling voice. So I fall for writers like Somerset Maugham (Razor’s Edge in particular), or Philip Roth (especially fond of his old short stories), or Tobias Wolff. I also like Bernard Malamud and I.B. Singer. I’m also an Ann Patchett fan. Some of Grace Paley’s stories knocked my pants off. “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin is one of my favorite stories. I know I’m talking in terms of stories I like instead of writers I feel close to, but I do think more in terms of books and stories rather than authors and my relationship to them (unless I’m having sex with them, which isn’t usually).
At different points as a writer, have you had mentors? Do you mentor?
Yes, many mentors. It would take a long time to list all of them so maybe I could just talk about the kinds of things I’ve learned (sorry, Mentors!). I obviously learned a lot about the craft of writing a good story. But I also learned a lot about how to be a writer, which I think is just as important. What I mean is that I learned about the need for a stubborn sort of dedication to the act of writing. Without learning that, all the craft instructions in the world won’t save you.
At this point, I still don’t formally mentor. But I make these online presentations about writing. I don’t know what you call this thing I do. Probably you call it: Yuvi Avoiding His Own Writing. But whatever it is, it’s also the way that I share what I know about writing with other writers (and anyone else who tolerates me scribbling on the screen as I talk about my experiences).
How do you stay creative? What are your tricks to get “unstuck?”
I actually just try to keep writing. That’s all. Even if I just write a few sentences. I try not to stop writing just because it sucks. Usually, I get stuck when I’m overwhelmed with the challenge of a task. I feel like I’m not good enough to pull off a certain challenge. So my solution is to try and forget my agenda and just get a sentence down. And then another one…. I act like I plan to throw away the writing when I’m done. Sometimes I do end up throwing it away. But occasionally this disingenuous trick helps me produce something decent.
Favorite writing exercises you would like to share?
I do obsess over point of view. So I often try to change the point of view and retell a story or a scene that isn’t working.
Another exercise I do is to put a scene that isn’t working aside, and try to rewrite it without looking at the original. If the scene feels too detached from the main character, for example, I’ll try to rewrite it from within the character’s stream of consciousness. If this writing exercise is somewhat successful, then my next exercise is to try to blend the two versions to make a better scene than either one.
Suggestions for making characters live? Do you know who they are before you write or do you find out who they are in the writing?
I used to write stories that were basically me in fictionalized form. So it was easy to know the character right away. The problem was to get them out of the damn house and make something happen.
Now I’m writing something that is not about me. And it is much harder to get to know the characters. It actually took an entire draft of a novel (and probably an equal amount of throw-away material) to get to know the characters. And I still have lots of work ahead of me. But I knew that I knew the character when I finally could write his stream of consciousness down for any situation. I hope in the future it isn’t quite this painful to get to know a character (!!!) but I’m just appreciative that I got there.
Plot: how it evolves for YOU… anything on this subject.
I suck at plot. I really suck at plot. For me, it’s a great achievement if my character goes to the store to buy a popsicle. OK. Maybe not quite that bad. I think I’m typically strong with voice and weak on plot. In some cases, that’s fine — I’ll have a voicy piece on my hands. In other cases, it requires that I force my characters (and myself) into a plotly situation. For my current novel in progress, I went against the grain of my usual writing method. I started out with a juicy plot and I then had to go searching for voice. I’ll tell you if this method worked in about a year…
What is happening now? And what you are working on next?
I just sold my first novel (to MP Publishing). This book was mostly done a year or two ago, but I finally found a home for it. Awfully excited because I really felt that I spilled my guts into that book. My guts should be available in the Fall of 2012. I’m currently working on another novel (the plotly one I mentioned earlier), about a Polish Jewish immigrant who moves to rural Georgia in the 1930s and bets everything on the Joe Louis / Max Schmeling boxing match. I’m about half way through a second-draft. Whatever that means.
Thanks for interviewing me. I’m excited to be a part of Fictionaut Five!

The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is the editor-at-large for BLIP Magazine, and her stories and poems have been published widely. Her first full collection of flash fiction, “Damn Sure Right” is now out from Press 53. She blogs athttp://megpokrass.com.


  1. Jackie Shannon Hollis

    Great questions and great answers (funny too, of course…it’s Yuvi Zalkow). I like your writing advice Yuvi, just keep writing.

  2. David James

    Hey, you two! What a fun interview. Yuvi, every video I’ve seen of yours is so delightful. Your presentations are so refreshingly well done.
    Meg, thanks for inviting Yuvi to join in. And, Yuvi thanks for sharing.
    Great job, you two. I encourage everyone to visit Yuvi’s site. Good stuff resides there.

  3. James Lloyd Davis

    Yuvi, ditto on the fact of favoritism … vis-a-vis “Sonny’s Blues.” Baldwin was a genius sometimes, well, all the time, but sometimes he outdid himself. Your work in progress sounds like a good one. Mad premise, that. Thanks for the interview, Meg.

  4. Yuvi

    Thank you for all the kind feedback! Very excited to be here.

    And, James, yes, “Sonny’s Blues” is incredible. It’s one of those stories that I cannot seem to dissect or ever quite understand how it is put together. A brilliant story that I’m in awe of.

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