Today we have On a Pale Star’s first, and hopefully not last, author interview. Debut author Neve Maslakovic has been very gracious and agreed to answer a few questions about herself, her writing, and her novel, Regarding Ducks and Universes. I reviewed Regarding Ducks and Universes earlier this month.
Neve Maslakovic’s debut novel, Regarding Ducks and Universes, was published in February 2011 by AmazonEncore. Before writing Regarding Ducks and Universes, Neve was crafting technical papers and finishing her Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Stanford University’s STAR Lab (Space, Telecommunications and Radioscience Laboratory). She spent her early years speaking Serbian in then communist Yugoslavia; after stops along the way in London, New York, and California, she has settled near Minneapolis/St. Paul, where she lives with her husband and son. Neve is a member of the Loft Literary Center and is currently hard at work on her second novel. Visit her atwww.nevemaslakovic.com.
On a Pale Star: Though your background is in science and you have your Ph.D. in electrical engineering,did you ever picture yourself as a writer?
Neve Maslakovic: An avid reader all my life, I’d always wanted to try my hand at writing fiction. The story of how I finally sat down to do it goes something like this: as I was finishing my dissertation (which had to do with ways of reducing man-made interference at Stanford’s Big Dish, a 150-ft radio telescope in the foothills near the university) I came down with repetitive strain syndrome. It was so bad that I could barely open doors and drive myself, so I had to take time off after graduating. I spent that time reading — a lot — and one day decided that this was the perfect opportunity to finally try my hand at writing fiction in a serious fashion (beyond taking a few classes, which I had done during my graduate years.) The nice thing about writing, you see, is that you can limit your hours at the computer, and I’ll write more about that below.
But I don’t feel I’ve moved wholly away from science; on the contrary — scientists and academic settings inhabit my stories.
ONaPS: How do you balance writing with your other obligations?
NM: Writing is my career now, my job. It’s what I do during the day.
ONaPS: How do you go about writing–do you have a routine, a specific space or time?
NM: I work at my computer, in my study, but my repetitive stress syndrome (see above) limits how long I can type in one sitting. So I take frequent breaks to edit on paper (the coffee house near my son’s old school is one of my favorite places to do so), to read, or simply to take a walk around the neighborhood lake to think about how the book is going and where it should go next.
ONaPS: I think at one time or another, every writer experiences some form of writer’s block. How did you tackle this?
NM: Sometimes, I’m unable to decide how a story should proceed from a certain point –and I’ve found that thinking and thinking and trying to come up with an idea gets me nowhere — but then I’ll sit down and start writing and somehow the decision makes itself and the story takes off. I don’t mean to sound mysterious. It’s like the very act of writing solidifies all the ideas swirling in my head into one.
ONaPS: Regarding Ducks & Universes is your first published novel; is it the first novel you’ve written?
NM: It is.
ONaPS: While I was reading Regarding Ducks and Universes, it felt like it was an homage to the classic mysteries of Agatha Christie. Is it fair to assume you are a fan of hers?
NM: I think I read all of her books at one time or another growing up! Some of the social interactions in her books seem outdated when I re-read them today (like the treatment of servants and “foreigners”) but the books are a product of the times. She is a very readable writer and quite prolific too – more than eighty novels!
ONaPS: Which of her stories is your favorite? (and why?)
I’m one of those people who has trouble choosing favorites, especially books, but it’s probably Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? which was also published under the title The Boomerang Clue. The fun and dangerous adventures of Bobby Jones, fourth son of the village vicar, and Lady Frankie, his sleuthing partner.
ONaPS: How much of yourself, as a first time fiction writer, comes out in Felix in the novel?
NM: Probably more than I’d care to admit!
ONaPS: Did you have a particular meaning or message you wanted to impart with Felix’s story?
NM: It’s a very interesting time to be in the publishing business and that experience made its way into the book. Universe A, where Felix Sayers (the main character in the book) is from, is a technologically advanced world, with e-readers, people movers, and soon; Universe B, where he is about to cross into as the book opens, is a more laid back place. They aren’t so careful with the environment, they drive cars and read paper books (or tree books, as A-dwellers like to call them with a touch of disdain.) Felix ends up quite enjoying the experience of reading a paper book, while still being aware of the advantages of e-readers. And I’m kind of like that too, firmly in the can’t-we-all-get-
ONaPS: What is one question you’d like to be asked? And what is the answer?
NM: What are macar trees? Do we have them in our own universe? (This is from the book.) Alas, no, macar trees, with their luxurious insect-eating blossoms, do not exist here. It’s one of the small differences sprinkled throughout the book between Universe B and our own universe.
ONaPS: What are you reading right now?
NM: I like to read non-fiction when actively writing. I just finished Sam Kean’s The Disappearing Spoon, quite an enjoyable read about the history and people behind the periodic table, and have just started Breaking the Maya Code by Michael D. Coe, which promises to be very absorbing.
ONaPS: And to close: please tell us about what you are working on next.
NM: A second novel. I don’t want to say too much at this early stage, but let’s just say that this time there are no ducks, but there is an Australian didgeridoo. And Fibonacci numbers. And cheese, lots of cheese. And time travel.
Many, many thanks to Neve for allowing me to interview her, and for inadvertently making my reading list a little bit longer. If you haven’t read Regarding Ducks and Universes yet, do! It’s great fun.