My first novel, Inga’s Zigzags, was published in May. Even though I finished writing it three years ago, it is still very much my latest project. It’s the story of a 28-year-old Russian woman, who after a decade in NYC, returns to post-perestroika Moscow to launch her own business and falls in love with two women along the way. I’m currently revising my second novel, The Shadow of the Blue Doll, but the first one still pulls you back, like a newborn who requires all of your attention – publicity efforts, readings, special events, etc.
I also decided to compile an anthology by women writers, On Loving. The idea is to have a collection of short stories by strong and daring female writers on the subject of different kinds of love, from forbidden and kinky to platonic and maternal. I want to put together a collection that Anais Nin or Susan Sontag would have been proud of. It’s in the works for 2015.
Last, but not least, I’ve been hosting Vica Miller Literary Salons for the last five years, and it’s been an ongoing and unbelievably exciting project. The Salons provide a platform for good writers to share their work in a beautiful setting (NYC art galleries) and feature both published and unpublished writers.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
I grew up in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), the hometown of Dostoyevsky, Brodsky, Akhmatova and others, so it goes without saying that the literary tradition was part of the upbringing. It started with Russian fairly tales which become part of your essence by the time you are nine; then Pushkin’s poetry, Chekhov’s short stories, Gogol’s novels. And of course, as any person who came of age in the Soviet Union, I’d read the full collections of Alexander Dumas, Jack London, Thomas Mayne Reid and Stefan Zweig by age 14. I was lucky to have a fantastic teacher of Russian language and literature in middle school. Her love of literary arts was contagious. I’m still not recovered.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
The routine has changed over the years. When my kids were little, I’d only manage to write during their naps on weekends, and that’s why my first novel took eight years to finish (I also have a day job). Now most writing happens early in the morning or on Friday afternoons, when I don’t have to be at work. I also “write” when I swim – it’s the best way to get my head cleared and let new ideas surface. (I should mention that I started writing in English at 25, till then it was in Russian).
4. What are you reading now?
I just finished Anne Lamott’s Rosie, and now it’s More than It Hurts You by Darin Strauss.
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
You know this is an impossible question to answer… Since I’ve lived half of my life in Russia, I’ll give you two sets. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, Master and Margarita by Bulgakov, and Laughter in the Dark (Camera Obscura) by Nabokov. All three are timeless love stories told in an exquisite language. I re-read them every couple of years. Oh, and I’d have to add Demons by Dostoyevsky. That one just turns your world upside down.
Departing from the Russian classics, I’d say Hundred Years of Solitude by Marques, 1984 by Orwell, and The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald. I must add Beloved by Toni Morrison. And can we mention poetry of Rilke, Mandelstam, Brodsky, Akhmatova, Neruda, Frost, Bishop…
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
I don’t specifically work on building a writing platform, though I probably should. I have started my literary salons when I was pregnant with my second daughter, as a way to stay in touch with the literary world and remain part of the conversation. I’m happy to say that the conversation continues, with over a thousand subscribers on the Salons’ mailing list today and a full house at each event. It has been an incredibly rewarding journey, as writers and audience alike love the intimate and creative atmosphere at these readings. I have featured over a hundred writers so far, from unpublished ones, who went on to become the darlings of the publishing world, such as Jessica Soffer and Catherine Lacey, to the Pulitzer-prize winner Michael Cunningham.
Each salon features four writers, and I’m often one of them. I guess that’s the most immediate connection between my platform and my writing. Otherwise, preparing for a salon (they’re held bi-monthly) and writing are two different exercises, and I appreciate the chance to use different sides of my brain for each. I’ll add that the hardest thing to balance is finding the time for writing and for the kids.
7. What is a typical day like for you?
My typical day is mostly juggling lots of logistics. From dropping the kids off at school, to running communications for a global technology company, to arranging after-school activities, sourcing new writers for upcoming Salons, and trying to squeeze in some sports. And, of course, writing, or feeling guilty for not having written on any given day. I guess, your typical day of a NYC woman, with kids, a job and a few interests. I’m lucky that my husband does all the cooking.
8. Describe your dream writing space?
I write in bed, so a bed in a quiet room in the country, with windows half-open and the wind fluttering in the curtains, with nobody tugging at my sleeve, would be my dream writing space.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
I gave an early draft of my first novel to a writer friend to read. He didn’t finish, and came back with, “It sounds like you’re trying to write like someone else.” I didn’t touch the novel for a year after that, then re-wrote it five times, and now it’s published and well-received. Lesson learned: don’t solicit early readers until draft three.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “Never never never give up.” My own advice is two-fold: don’t compare your achievements to the success of others, and write for the sake of writing, not money or fame. On a more practical side, strike out words or sentences that sound “beautiful” to you. Those are the marks of self-indulgence and over-writing.
Vica Miller grew up in St. Petersburg (Russia) and has been a New Yorker for over two decades. George Plimpton called her a writer, and she believed him. Her first novel, , was published on May 14, 2014 by Ladno Books. She is the founder of the Vica Miller Literary Salons, a chamber reading series held in New York City private galleries. Vica has written for Vogue Russia, Internet and Tennis Week magazines, and her short stories have appeared in The Jet Fuel Review, Asymptote, and Thrice Fiction literary journals.
When not writing fiction, Vica runs communications for DataArt, a global technology company, and is proud to have taught New Media and Public Relations at Hunter College (CUNY). Vica holds a Master’s degree from ITP – Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She is an excellent swimmer, a beginner paraglider and a mother of two. She’s also a big fan of burlesque and has synesthesia, which makes her life full of color.