Interview with Ivan Obolensky

Published 2019-06-14.
What's the main reason someone should read "Eye of the Moon"?
All readers love a good story, and I think this is a good one. No matter how often I’ve read it, there are still parts that choke me up, dialogues that make me laugh, and others that make me wonder. I believe that other readers will feel that same magic, and that they will experience the power of deep connections made possible through intimate dialogues. Today, we are connected like never before, but find ourselves oddly alone and isolated. Reading this book will help to alleviate that for a time, while demonstrating the power of the spoken word to change ourselves and others.
What's the story behind your debut novel?
The idea for the novel was inspired by a large house that my father owned when I was growing up. It was situated up the Hudson River from New York. I always called it “Rhinebeck” and thought it would be a perfect setting for a story. My grandmother Alice Astor died there while reading the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Strange things happened at that house and continued even after her death. Over the years, I heard many stories. Several years ago, I saw an article about my grandmother in "W" magazine that stated she might have been murdered. That was news to me. The more I thought about it, the more I knew I had to write a story with that in mind.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
One can, at the best of times, stretch across the boundaries of time and space and reach another being in a way that is unique. There can be a wonderful meeting of minds that can establish a magical connection that can be achieved in no other way. Reading requires that the reader participate and become involved in the story. The result is an experience--when done well--that can transform and transcend the ordinary. Books, particularly novels, can be magical in that way. A good one can inspire and soften the fixed ideas and assumptions that we tend to make, with startling results. I have experienced that and want others to do the same. To do that is a joy.There is nothing like a good story to feed the soul.
What are you working on next?
I am writing the sequel to "Eye of the Moon". I was about a third through another novel when the demands for a sequel started to build to point where they could no longer be ignored. The other novel was put on hold until I finish the sequel, which should be finished by this year's end (2019).
What do your fans mean to you?
Fans are an important part of writing. It is one thing to write a novel and put the manuscript in a drawer and quite another to get it out into the world. Writing is one-third of the game. The other two-thirds are the publishing and the marketing. An actor must have an audience. The two parties, particularly during a live performance, feed off each other. The audience empowers the actor, while the actor stimulates the audience. Done well, a feedback loop is created that allows for an experience that transforms both parties. Fans are the writer's audience and without them there is little point in writing. Fans give me the energy to overcome the obstacles inherent in the two-thirds required once the writing is completed.
What are your six favorite books, and why?
These are not in any particular order of influence. Each one worked its magic in my life in different ways. They are the reasons I love books.
"Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens. The story sums up my early years. I came to realize that the legacies I received were not the legacies I expected. The plot is a polished gem.
"Man’s Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl. The book made me look at life from a completely different perspective and jump-started my spiritual journey.
"The Lord of the Rings" by J. R. Tolkien. My life growing up was in constant flux, and this book was a solitary piece of stability. I found one of the rare single volume editions in London. It travelled in my suitcase wherever I went. The story is timeless. I always wanted an elven ring. I still do.
"The Tao Te Ching" by Lao-Tzu (Stephen Mitchell translation). I keep a copy of this book with me now wherever I go. It is a surprising source of calm and wisdom. Karen Armstrong pointed out that it’s a treatise for rulers similar to Machiavelli’s "The Prince". Nonetheless, I find it a useful personal volume for insight and reflection.
"Ethan Frome" by Edith Wharton. I was so surprised by the ending. I read the novel in my senior year of high school. I came away wanting to be able to write and craft a story like that. It took me years and years to work up the necessary courage to start on such a project. "Eye of the Moon" was the result.
"Emma" by Jane Austen. It was required reading for A levels in the UK in 1971. Austen was a social genius and a master of the happy ending. I wanted to write dialogue like she did. She was the first author who I felt was able to describe social pressure, the bane of my early existence, without saying it out loud.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The one that really impacted me was read to me when I was five. It was "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" by C. S. Lewis. It scared the heck out of me, although it was more a delicious terror. I didn't want the story to end. Many stories followed, but for me (reading by myself) it was “The Black Tanker" by Howard Pease and Booth Tarkington's Penrod series that set me on a path of mystery and humor.
Who are your favorite authors?
I have many because I read all the time. Authors I like are Len Deighton, Raymond Chandler, Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Wodehouse, J. K. Rowling, Proust, Erik Larson, Bill Bryson, Stieg Larsson, to name only a few. The ones I think really had an effect on me, in terms of style, were Len Deighton, Raymond Chandler, Edith Wharton, Booth Tarkington, O. Henry and Jane Austen. There are probably others, but these last six I read over and over. They are old friends.
How do you approach cover design?
With “Eye of the Moon” I had an idea of what I thought the cover should be and told my cover designer, Nick Thacker, what I wanted, and he put it together. It was magic. What I look for is a cover that wants to be picked up and examined more closely. Above all, it must be aesthetic, pleasing, and of high quality, to reflect the writing the book contains.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
When I look out to the sea, where the horizon meets the sky, I’ve wondered what would happen if I sailed in that direction. What would I find out there? Where would I be? Who would I become? Writing is such a similar experience. You have to allow yourself to sail, or be taken before the wind, out into deep water, out of the sight of land, out until all that exists are waves, sky, and a serrated horizon stretching in all directions. Would anyone be excited about what I saw there, far beyond any hope of help from human hands? Would anyone listen? What if I can never return? What if I find I don’t want to? I get out of bed each day to find the answers to these questions.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Currently, my wife and I are in Uruguay. It is a unique land that enchants and fascinates us. Each day yields a new, totally unique experience. Exploring this new country is how we spend our time away from work. It's thrilling, beautiful, and different. The weather and skies are extraordinary, the people, even more so.
What is your writing process?
It’s puzzling. I ask for two things every morning when I wake up: inspiration and flexibility. Inspiration comes to me in unexpected ways. I think the ancient Greeks had it right with the concept of a muse. When I start, I have no idea where I’m going. I write, and the story goes where the story goes. I am often as surprised as the reader. Flexibility is required to allow the story to fashion itself, even with countless interruptions and the many thoughts that this can’t be right. Inspiration fires my passion. Flexibility allows me to believe it and write one word at a time until complete.
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