Hello Readers! I’m happy to welcome ván Brave, Author of They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach, for an interview on Books Teacup and Review. Read more about author and his book about Coming of age and artist struggle.
They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach by Iván Brave
Release date: June 16, 2020 (ebook and paperback)
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Themes: Coming of age, artist struggle
Amid loss, hope, and despair, They Lived They Were . . . is a story about the power to move on.
It begins with a show at Brighton Beach, New York, where Ilya Gagarin performs a set of original dance music to a crowd of loyal fans. They know him as a rising internet star, only 22 years old, and the resident DJ at one of Brooklyn’s sauciest nightclubs. And yet, at the apex of this performance, a text comes in from his girlfriend who just happened to find his stash of coke and crushed prescription pills. Feeling betrayed for the last time, she leaves him. Deletes him. And goes on to have her own successful career as a blues guitarist.
The rest of the summer becomes a struggle to get her back.
The best way, and the only way Ilya knows how, is to launch the debut EP he has been putting off. Unfortunately for the DJ, the club where he works at teeters on fiscal collapse, plus the security manager is a jerk, blocking his every chance for a release party. Only a has-been, mentor-type DJ, encourages Ilya to finish the project, and share it with the world.
As he works towards his dream, the pressure to succeed, paired with the growing pains of a professional artist, reveals a dark truth: the loss of his mother. Soon, recurring nightmares haunt the DJ, alongside distant childhood memories. Only the power of music, together with an urge to regain his abandoned Russian heritage, both of which are described passionately in his journal, keep him afloat week after week.
Soon, Ilya meets a real life guardian angel. Someone twice his age, and Russian, too: the ethereal yet grounded Julia Levina, a celebrated news anchor with her own troubled past. She inspires him to finish the album and land a date for the launch. By midsummer, her pity turns to empathy, which itself turns into something more. An affair ensues. A smart one, they convince themselves, since it doesn’t implicate her 6 year old child, nor pull Ilya astray from the path he believes will win back his ex-girlfriend’s heart.
Close to the date of the show, however, the DJ suffers a relapse, this time with dire consequences. He isn’t able to finish the album in time for the launch party, which comes and goes, and culminates in even more tragedy. Though things look gloomy, it does serve as the reality check that concludes the misguided affair and ends his substance abuse. But not before one final twist.
“Do you know how Russians say Once Upon a Time?” explains a mysterious meta-character, who has been inserting footnotes the entire story. “. . . Жили были. It translates to They Lived They Were.” Suggesting Ilya might just get his fairy tale ending. Or at least move on.
Iván Brave lives in Bucharest, Romania, where he writes poetry, reviews and novels, as well as promotes language learning in multinational corporations. He graduated from The New School in NYC with an MFA in Creative Writing, after earning a Bachelor in Philosophy from The University of Texas at Austin. Language, multiculturalism, and love, or anything that connects, are the themes dearest to his heart. In addition to winning prizes, such as the Writing Award from The Vera List Center for Arts and Politics, his writings have appeared in literary publications like The American Scholar and The Acentos Review. Iván’s second novel, They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach, is out June 16th 2020.
Can you tell readers a little about your book, They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach? What they can expect from it?
If you’ve ever been dumped, if you’ve ever danced all night to pop music, if you’ve ever tried to create something amazing, or if you’ve ever wanted to make sense of your origin, then this is the book for you. Expect inserts of the protagonist’s journal entries, as well as cuts from his recurring nightmares, as he sails through a summer of loss, hope, and despair. A modern retelling of the Greek tragedy between Orpheus and Eurydice, but set in New York City, the year 2018, and a twist.
How did you come up with the idea for your book?
The first inkling of this novel came to me in a very nebulous and vague form, but one I felt was worth pursuing. For years I had written stories that mixed my native Spanish and English, where the characters resembled those closest to me, and whose stories echoed those in real life. So on January 1st, 2018, driving home from a wild night in Austin, it dawned on me that I should try to write a story unlike anything I had ever done (or lived) before. Rather than factual details, I drew from my interests: electronic music, the Russian language, and Greek Mythology. Thus the first chapter, of a strung-out DJ ambling through Brooklyn boardwalk, was born.
What were the key challenges you faced when writing They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach?
Probably my own frustrations, and limitations, as a writer. It occurred to me the other day that if you want to bake a chocolate cake, the first place to look is the internet. Or better, you call on an experienced family member. Most likely you do both, just to get started, and then see what happens in the mix. For a novel however, you must set out to create something completely new. By definition it should be unlike anything that came before. So that’s a challenge in and of itself. Naturally there are some rules, some worth breaking, yet others unbreakable. And I don’t even mean some magical sequence of plot points, I mean the fact that the novel you work on has to be the best possible book you can create. In other words, you have to go all the way. So this book contains all the tricks, all the ingredients, all the fascinations that I could think of which would take this book from a collection of scattered chapters, to a resounding symphony of ideas. Nevertheless, pertaining to my key challenge, it is this: I aimed high, yet for the majority of writing this book, I felt like what I had to give wasn’t enough. The ending wasn’t coming out right, because I didn’t have a clear idea of it. The middle for a long time felt boring, because I couldn’t imagine anything more exciting. And of course, the beginning was full of typos and begged for endless rewrites, because . . . who knows. After two years, however, what’s done is done. In your hands is something worth sharing.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Because I don’t edit as I write, I can fill 100 pages in a week, and in about a month have a book. That’s usually writing like mad, as they say. If you mean how long did it take to write this book, from start to publish, then it actually took two years. That includes working a job, gradation from school, moving to another country, getting married! But also multiple drafts, and rewrites, each reviewed for feedback. Plus time to set the book aside, and come back to it fresh. Finally, one last go at the manuscript. So two years . . . probably I could have finished it in one year, if I hadn’t stopped, or if I didn’t have a life. But there is something romantic to me about taking a while to really nail a book down, and doing other things with your time. My favorite books took 6-10 years to write, by people who were really passionate about stories, but also had other things to do. My next book, for example, I completed a rough draft in three months but over six years ago, then never touched it again. Once I get back into it, it will probably take me a couple months to rewrite, polish, and then publish . . . will I brag about it taking seven years? You bet! But does it take that long? Technically no, but realistically yes.
Did you outline your book beforehand? Why or why not?
Since I still feel like a novice, I impose a rule on myself of always trying new ways to write. So I’ve done both: written a book with and without an outline beforehand. But the thing is, after a book has been on my desk for so long, when my screws start to come loose a little bit, I will write an outline if there hadn’t been one, or I will completely scratch an earlier outline just to start afresh. I do think outlines are useful, and certainly if a great book didn’t have one to start with, we could write one for it after the fact – because good books follow an internal logic which could be detailed in hierarchy. In any case, I’m a big fan of mind-maps and timelines. So at any given moment there will be scattered sheets of paper with lines going up and down and crisscross on my desk.
What type of characters do you love and hate to write? What is your favorite quality in protagonists? Has anyone in real life inspired you to write them?
Your question is making me think I should start writing characters I hate, if only as a literary practice, to add spice! Usually the characters I write I have a soft spot for. I want my protagonist to succeed. I want my bad guys to have good reasons for what they do. What type of characters do I love to write in general: goofy, witty, imperfect people with something to prove. My favorite quality in a protagonist is someone who against all odds will stand up for what he or she believes in, even at the risk of losing, although I prefer it when they win. As for real life inspiration, almost everyone in my close circle has fallen prey to the pen, #sorrynotsorry. But there is one gentleman in particular, one of the most genuinely weird profound goofy loveable persons I have ever met, who I could write a whole book about.
So the main character is a troubled DJ. Which playlist you think he likes most?
What a great question! I know this might sound a bit freaky . . . surely other writers do the same . . . but I recently saw a commercial by one of the biggest producers of all time, DeadMau5, for an online MasterClass. In it, seeing the artist take off his helmet and give some insights to his technique, I thought, wow, this is something Ilya would go crazy about. Maybe I should pay the $XXX just to learn something! Plus it probably comes with an amazing new mix of experimental, never before heard music. Now, if it’s straight playlist you’re asking about, on YouTube there’s a really good DJ (name: f1rstpers0n) who mixes obscure yet great electronic music, and Ilya would like that the most these days, especially to build his own mixes.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned through writing They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach?
That people don’t fall in love with words, they fall in love with ideas. This hit me hard a few months ago. I was someone obsessed with language (heck, I still am!). To put it metaphorically, language is only the skin of a story. Seductive, sensual, sensitive. But ultimately shallow, superficial, and . . . just one element. To be specific, when I started writing TLTW the story of a DJ, my focus was on language, so I ignored the DJ and only listened to what he said, not so much what he did. Until I realized this, I couldn’t figure out what was not working with the story . . . it was missing action! And actions speak louder than words, as we know. Put another way, it’s like asking a hundred people to tell you the first line of Anna Karenina. You will roughly get the same sentence, although told a little differently. And that’s ok. Because what really matters is the concept, the idea, the truth – which words do best to point at. That’s why my next book has a central idea, and capturing that will be the central aim, while playing with language will be the fun, sexy part of writing, and not so much the focus.
Tell us about your journey to publication.
With the next book, I would like to try the traditional path again. It didn’t work with my first novel published, after four years of trying. So that’s why I went self-publishing. That time so many things went wrong (a few right) however that I decided to give self-publishing one more shot with TLTW. Thus, the journey here has been through Kindle Direct Publishing again. It’s pretty DIY and not that complicated. Once on your KDP account, you click create new book. You fill in the details. You upload the manuscript, checking that all the odd little letters (if you’re using Cyrillic like me) look good, as well as margins. Then you upload the cover, emailing your artist if the bleed doesn’t look good. Then you publish! Or in my case, hit presale. This is the first time doing a presale, meaning the ebook is available for order, but it won’t reach your kindle until the launch date. In a sense it’s strange since my audience prefers paperback, and that cannot be up for presale; but in another sense it’s awesome because I can build the book page in these weeks, before the hard launch in June. <Cough, cough> For example I reach out to awesome blogs like the Teacup and we connect before the launch! 😁
What are your most favorite and least favorite things about being an author?
My favorite thing has to do with feeling like I am accomplishing a deep, earnest desire. The inner most part of me wants to connect and entertain and make others think of things in new ways. It’s like a voice inside of me telling me to speak up. So it’s nice, and fulfilling to show that inner side of me. On the other hand, my least favorite thing about being an author is always feeling like I’m in the early stage of my career. I do not feel like I have improved at all! Yet maybe I should heed that nagging voice, and keep pushing forward, you know? Of course, while being grateful: just the other day I fixed up my website and counted all the blog posts I had. There were so many! Later I went through my old stories on my laptop, and I literally found a story I didn’t remember writing! Meaning, I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t even remember all the things I’ve written. That’s a good thing I guess, if what I want is to feel like I am improving. But anyway . . .
Do you have any writing rituals?
I’m an ardent follower of Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages. So I write three pages long-hand every morning when I first wake up. Also, I like to light tea candles (those small round ones, scent-less) when I am in real need of flow. Often accompanied by incense. Anything that simulates the senses. Food and writing don’t really go well for me, nor does drink. Those I prefer to do, and celebrate, on their own—before or after. Like, I used to write with a glass of wine, or with a cup of tea (sometimes a whole bottle of wine, or a whole pot of tea) but then I realized that if I want to write my hands need to be on the keyboard. Go figure. So, no drinks as part of my ritual. Just consistency.
What is the next project you’re working on?
I’m on the fence, you know. Maybe answering this question will help, or perhaps you might nudge me in the right direction . . . but originally my plan was to pick up that old story from six years ago. That’s because since its conception I feel like I’ve learned a lot about storytelling, plus I want to put some new tricks to use on the page. But another part of me, the part that’s been reading a lot of non-fiction lately, wants to revive a memoir project that’s been collecting dust. The reason for that is I want to write it as a gift to my wife: the story of why I believe we are meant to be. Why would a husband have to write this for this wife? Ask any husband, ask any wife.
When not writing, what do you like to do to relax?
I love to read! Lol. Honestly, it’s so nice to catch up on my pile of books which never seems to get smaller. Aside from books, I really, really, really like YouTube. It could be a certain channel, or just random recommendations. Finally, I really enjoy conversation. Whether it’s over Facetime, or over dinner, I like talking and listening and sharing and learning through conversation. It’s relaxing.
Can you describe They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach in five words?
Artist struggle meets modern love.
And the last one, top 3 tips for aspiring authors.
- Accept that life is chaos.
- Pay attention.
- Go all the way.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
A brilliant question! The easiest way is on Amazon. But the deepest way, since that’s where I put everything, including bad, awkward, personal writing, is my blog. In the summer I will revamp my Instagram—and then that will be the most fun way to connect.
The Summer Abroad:
What do you think about the book and interview? Have you read this book or any book by the same author? Are you going to add it to TBR?
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