Zoran Krušvar – Interview
We would like to encourage everybody to read an interview with Zoran Krušvar, the author of “Wykonawcy Bożego Zamysłu”, which has appeared in Poland on September 30th by the publishing house Runa. MA of psychology by education, now works as a writer, juornalist and manager of cultural projects. A four-time winner of the Croatian award in fantasy literature, “Sfera”. In Croatia “Wykonawcy Bożego Zamysłu” were received very enthusiastically and managed to grow a considerable group of fans around the book. The author is leading blog in English, which is translated into Polish.
Zaginiona Biblioteka: „Wykonawcy Bożego Zamysłu” isn’t your first book which had premiere in Poland. For me, personally, that fact was a big suprise. However the way it was published must have been more satisfying for you, more than first time. Am I right?
Zoran Krušvar: Just as you’ve said, „Wykonawcy” is my second book in Poland. But the first book, „Najlepszy na świecie”, was published in very limited edition and practically without promotional activities. All promotion for that book was done by one single person, my translator, Agnieszka Żuchowska-Arent. She really did put a lot of effort into it, but there isn’t really much you can do with a book if you don’t have a strong publisher. This first book had no decent distribution, no media support and, to be quite honest, 500 copies of the book in the country of 38 million people must go unnoticed by the shear law of numbers. But lately I was very pleased with information that „Najlepszy na świecie” can at least be found in some libraries in Poland.
Fortunately, „Wykonawcy Bożego Zamysłu” are published by „Runa”, and so far I am satisfied with „Runa” beyond any expectation. They are extremely professional, they know what they are supposed to do and they are ready to work hard in order to do it. To say that I am pleased with the way this book was published would be an understatement. I certainly hope I will continue to work with this publisher in future.
ZB: Expressing your anxieties to reception of book, you wrote: “It’s a different country; maybe people have different taste in books. Maybe they are used to American and Polish writers and I might seem too weird to them.” Taking that into consideration I would like to know if you had included in your book some elements which could be incomprehensible for a Polish reader and specific only for your country?
ZK: This is very interesting question. And I think only readers might answer that one. I think that the plot of this book must be understandable to everyone, but since the story happens mostly in Croatia, I guess there must be some little incomprehensible details that aren’t really important for the main story. For example; in the part of the book that takes place at the alternative present time (or immediate future) a war between Croatia and Slovenia is mentioned. I guess one should know current political situation and the disputes that Croatia and Slovenia are having right now, in order to fully understand this detail. This is not important for the main plot, but the fact that the war with Slovenia was mentioned in the book did raise the attention of Croatian readers and it probably won’t have the same impact on Polish readers. Also, there is a concept in the book that could remind the reader on Croatian World War Two history, but I’m not quite sure that even Croatian readers have noticed that
ZB: Surely many of Polish readers will wonder how far your works are representative for the whole fantasy literature in Croatia. Would you venture and try to answer this question?
ZK: In order to give the best possible answer to this question, I should probably retell the history of Croatian fantasy and describe the current scene. And that might be an article by itself. We don’t have many fantasy novels in Croatia. Depending on how we define the borders of the genre, we can altogether count some dozen to twenty fantasy novels. The problem is, Croatia has a limited market and bigger, stronger publishers aren’t very interested in publishing fantasy. So it gets published seldom and by smaller publishers, who can’t afford good marketing and can’t afford to publish many titles. And that is the reason why we have a number of good or at least decent fantasy writers, who write short fiction. You see, two of our most popular SF conventions, Sferakon and Istrakon, also publish annual collection of stories and writers feel that participating in these contests is the better way to spend their time – because these books will surely be published. And if they go and write a novel… well, even a good novel might get unpublished for years, or forever. So they stick to short fiction. Also, we have a magazine „Ubiq” and couple of fanzines who also publish short fiction. On the other hand, when occasional publisher gets interested in fantasy novels, he can’t find any, because all capable authors are writing short fiction.
So, out of this limited number of Croatian fantasy novels, we do have Vanja Spirin who wrote some very interesting humoristic fantasy books (like Asprin), we have Milena Benini (I don’t really know with whom I should compare her, the first name that jumps into my mind is Ursula LeGuin but that might be because they are both equally good in fantasy and science fiction), and if you are willing to consider Anne Rice kind of books as fantasy, than we also have Viktoria Faust. And we could maybe count some children’s books by Darko Macan, they remind on „Buffy the Vampire Slayer” only with elementary school kids as characters, with no vampires, and with much more humor. Other than these people, we have a number of fantasy books that never should have been written, let alone published. Most of these books, whose authors I’m not going to name, are influenced by Tolkien or various role playing games. Comparing my work with other Croatian fantasy, I could separate my work in two categories: humorous and „serious”. If I should discuss the first, I think I tend to use real world and real life situations as well as daily politics, as inspiration, far more often than other Croatian authors. And if I should discuss the second… I think I tend to be more explicit with violent content and ugly details. Also, I think my heroes tend to be more mentally disturbed then other heroes in Croatian fantasy. I think that’s because I’m a psychologist, but others might say that’s just because I’m a sick bastard. So I wouldn’t really say that my work might represent the typical Croatian fantasy, but I am one of the writers who strongly prefer to use Croatia as the setting for their stories and we can say that this is one common element amongst a certain number of Croatian writers. That I can represent.
ZB: So, in that case, you don’t exclude situation, that your next book will be published in Poland? Or maybe if “Wykonawcy Bożego Zamysłu” wins a success, you will plan a visit to our country?
ZK: Of course I don’t exclude the possibility to publish my next book in Poland. In fact, my next book is being translated to polish right now, but since it is a children’s book I don’t expect „Runa” to be interested. So I suppose I will have to work with some other publisher, after all. But I do intend to keep writing and publishing and „Runa” will be my first choice when it comes to Poland. And of course, I would love to visit Poland, but I can see that you have a good production, and that means a strong competition. So, I don’t really know if my books will make me interesting enough to readers, and make my publisher bring me to Poland. As I said, I would love to, but competition is strong, maybe readers would prefer to have some other writers as guests in Poland.
ZB: Creating the order in Wykonawcy Bożego Zamysłu, actually existing only in the book, did you model it on some contemporary or historical example?
ZK:No, not really. Obviously, there is some distant similarity with inquisition, but the real inspiration were the four evangelists, because of the common claim that they were writing inspired by the Holy Ghost. So, I thought: „What if there were another, more militant group of religious people, who also claimed that their actions were inspired directly by Holy Ghost or God? What if those people had the authority to do whatever they wanted, because their actions were seen as manifestation of God’s will?” So, that was the first idea, and with time it got developed into… well, into this book.
ZB: In your book you present a vision of vampires, which have their roots in the ancient Histria. How did you come up with the idea of that particular location?
ZK: Well, I live in city of Rijeka, and that’s really next to the region of Istria. Geographically speaking, it’s a half an hour walk from my door to the border of Istrian peninsula. Also, my grandmother and my grandfather are both from Istria, and there is also a village called „Krušvari” in Istria. So I feel connected to that region and I occasionally use it as a setting for my stories. Also, there is this legend of Jure Grando, who (according to Wikipedia) was the first classical vampire to be mentioned in documented records. He was an Istrian peasant, who lived in Kringa, a small place in the interior of the Istrian peninsula. He died in 1656, and he turned back as a vampire. A brave group of paesants, led by a local priest, dug him out of his grave and decapitated him in 1672. Istrian journalist and a very important person for Croatian science fiction, Davor Šišović, has explained how the story of Jure Grando was presented to Lord Byron and inspired him to write „The Vampyre” – novel that he abandoned and let his friend Polidori finish it and publish it under his name. That was the first vampire novel, and later novels like „Dracula” were strongly inspired by it. So, this theory claims that most of the modern vampire fiction has its roots in Istria. The legend of Jure Grando was not widely known in Croatia until about five years ago, when Davor Šišović started to promote this legend as a part of Croatian heritage. So, I didn’t really want to write about Jure Grando, because other Croatian authors did that in last couple of years, but the Istria as a place seemed to me like a logical choice for a birthplace of vampires. It’s a magical place, with many mystical details.
ZB: You also leave the latest vision of a vampire, who looks more like a candidate for a model, rather than a bloodthirsty monster, mainly because of Stephenie Meyer‘s works. Did you want to refresh vampire’s image by coming back to his archetype?
ZK: Well, I really like vampires. I always did. They were my favorite monsters when I was a kid. And it, kind of, hurts me when I see what did people like Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer made out of them. I cannot be scared by a „vampire” who looks like boy-band dropout. And, the most horrible thing about vampires should be the fact that they might turn you into one of them. So, if you have vampires that are pretty, trendy, smart, strong, loving, with high morale standards… what’s so scary about becoming one of them? So, this „new” kind of „vampires” simply cannot work. Plus, they make me want to puke. So, yes. I want to go back to the „old” vampire, the one that people can actually fear.
ZB: In your work you included some critics of the Catholic Church. Is that your own belief or do you present the situation in Croatia in this respect, that is different in Poland?
ZK: I’m not that well informed about the situation in Poland. I was told that Poland is a very Catholic country, but so is Croatia. Statistics say that Croatia has like 80 or 85% of Catholic population. But, you see, we had a war recently, and it was a war against Serbian rebels, who were Orthodox Christians, and it was also a war against ex-Yugoslav army, and Ex-Yugoslavia was a socialist, atheist state. So, declaring as Catholic was a way to differ from the orthodox and atheist enemy. And that’s way we have 85% of Catholics, yet one of the most popular singers in Croatia is the one that sings songs glorifying WW2 nazi death camps. I’m an atheist, but I’ve read the Bible, and that doesn’t seem very Christian to me. So the fact that Croatia is „a catholic country” doesn’t necessarily mean that people here really deserve the right to be called catholic. Also, McDonalds is here to sell you fast food. You don’t expect them to be morally correct, they are only here to sell you junk food. But, the Church is allegedly here to guide people, so the people could live a life of good morale, be good to each other and stay humble, modest and decent. And in order to do that, the Church should be a role model. But instead, our Catholic church is more into things like luxury, money and political power. Now, if they were here to sell us fast food – I wouldn’t mind. But if they are here to teach us things like modesty and they drive new cars, plate their churches with gold, have expensive mobile phones, go to the voyages abroad – and all paid by our tax money – then I would say there is something wrong with the whole concept of their existence.
ZB: When you’re speaking about the situation of fantasy literature in Croatia, it reminds me of the discussion we had in Poland a few months earlier. Poor condition of fantasy literature was explained by the fact that the books had poor reviews. How much is the idea well-founded for you? And maybe that explains the situation in your country, too?
ZK: Fantasy books in Croatia don’t get bad reviews. They don’t get ANY reviews, that’s the problem. And we had two cases when very, very poorly written fantasy books had good reviews and great media coverage. In one case, the writer was a university professor and he used his contacts to get to the press, and in the other case the most incredible stories have been told to the press; about George Lucas being interested in filming the book (and that book was never published outside Croatia), about a grand orchestra recording the soundtrack for the book, about some European studio making a cartoon… and the media had actually believed all that crap and published it. These two cases had actually hurt Croatian fantasy, because readers that were skeptic about quality of Croatian production now had some proof. And the good books almost weren’t covered by press at all. Well, „Wykonawcy” were covered, but we had to make a soundtrack, make videos, and have fans put up a short play in order to get some coverage. It wasn’t really much, but it was more than some other writers had and in the end it had some results.
ZB: The promotion of Wykonawcy Bożego Zamysłu was a big action. Was that your own idea or Runa’s activity?
ZK: Really? Well, I was so impressed by Polish professionalism because I thought this is the way you people always work! I thought this was the usual procedure, not a big action! See, now you’ve ruined my pretty illusion! Well, I have informed „Runa” about what kind of activities we had in Croatia, and I have showed them the materials I had. And „Runa” chose what to use, and they also had some great ideas that I loved. I really enjoyed working with them. So, I’ll say it was a team work, but they actually did the main part.
ZB: For example, you started to keep a blog. Is that a good way to contact with readers? Are you going to keep it in the future?
ZK: The blog was „Runa’s” idea. I never had a blog before and I was even involved in some internet flame wars in Croatia, claiming that there is no such thing as „blog literature” (because there is no essential difference between stories published on blog and stories published in a book) so people who knew that were rather amused by the fact that I have become a bloger. Now, I don’t now how effective this blog of mine is, as a propaganda tool. J They have showed me some statistics and they have told me that the statistics are good. And there was this person that has left a comment on the blog, saying he will surely buy the book, and there was also this other person who has already read my last book (the one I thought no one is going to read ever) and apparently liked it, so I guess it has some kind of effect. But I think I will be truly satisfied with this blog when readers start writing their comments on the book. That’s what interests me the most. And, so far this blog is like a new toy to me, so I’m surely going to keep writing it for some time… at least until I get bored.
ZB: I would like to ask about your creation process. What type of author are you? Do you have a strict discipline, do you create scenes and heroes one by one, or your work is rather chaotic?
ZK: I don’t have a strict discipline, that’s for sure. My work is most often a straight line, from the beginning of the book towards the end. And after writing a couple of pages, I go through them again and make corrections and changes. I do this couple of times while writing, and I do it couple of times after the story or the novel is finished. Only recently I started experimenting with having synopsis before starting to write something. I’m not yet sure is this a better way or worse. But now, as I think about the stuff I intent to write in the future, I would say I often start with having some general ideas about characters. Sometimes characters can almost write the story themselves.
ZB: Are you’re working on some new book now? What are your plans for the near future?
ZK: Ugh. I have, like, five unpublished books in various states of completion. Two of them are written (collections of stories) and they are waiting for the publisher and editor, two of them are only in the form of synopsis and some little text written (both novels), and one is just an idea being developed – but it already has a publisher. I expect at least two or three of these books to get published in Croatia next year, but that is an issue that strongly depends on economy. There is also some initial interest for „Wykonawcy” by a French publisher and there is a possibility of publishing my book for children „The Beasts of Plush” in Poland.
ZB: Enthusiastic reception of the book in Croatia, publication in Poland, and then, as you said, in France – that is quite a success. Surely many authors could envy you your situation. Did such an enthusiastic reaction surprise you or did you quietly count on this?
ZK: Reception in Croatia was good, especially compared to other Croatian SF/Fantasy books, and I am very happy because of it. Being published in Poland is, in first place, an honor to me. I see it as an additional confirmation of my work, and it makes me very proud. But I’m yet to see what will the readers say, they have the final word and I hope that „Wykonawcy Bożego Zamysłu” will satisfy their expectations. So far, France is just a possibility, there is nothing signed or even agreed yet, so I wouldn’t like to discuss it as a done deal. But, to answer your question, I never counted on anything like this. But I did hope. I still have many other hopes and dreams, and I know that most of them will never fulfill, but occasionally some of them do fulfill and that makes all the effort quite worthy.
Interview taken by: Maria „Metzli” Roszkowska
Proofread by: Justyna „BitterSweet” Pięta