Author Interview: Alex Shvartsman

Alex Shvartsman is one of the authors in the soon-to-be released urban fantasy anthology, Urban Harvest: Tales of the Paranormal in New York City, and I’m very happy to have him featured on my blog for an interview. 

1. What do you like about writing in the paranormal genre?

I would classify my story as more of an urban fantasy. I am fascinated by the idea of secret history, wizards and monsters walking among regular, everyday people, hiding in plain sight. It’s usually more interesting for me to set stories in modern, urban setting than writing more traditional fantasy.

2. What prompted you to write this story?

Brooklyn, NY has been my adopted home for nearly 25 years now (since I immigrated from the former Soviet Union). I enjoy writing stories that are set in New York and surrounding areas. The idea of interesting, supernatural stuff happening in locations I often visit in real life really appeals to me. I wrote several Conrad Brent adventures and each explores different neighborhoods and draws in some small way on the history and culture of Brooklyn. 

3. What other things have you written/are you writing?

I began writing fiction in 2010 and have sold over 50 short stories to different magazines and anthologies since then. Although “A Shard Glows in Brooklyn” has a gritty noir feel to it, I mostly write light, humorous fiction. 

I am currently working on a humor/alt-hist/steampunk novel starring H.G. Wells as a Victorian-era James Bond-like character, protecting the world against aliens, time travelers, and inter dimensional incursions.

4. Do you consider your writing character-driven or plot-driven?

My fiction is very much plot-driven. Sometimes to the point where it becomes a bit of a problem, and I consciously try to rewrite in order to make sure there is sufficient emotion and depth of character. 

5. Do you plot ahead of time, or let the plot emerge as you write?

When I sit down to write any given story, I must know two things: how it begins, and how it ends. I won’t begin actually writing a new tale if I don’t have a firm grasp of the ending. However, it can take all sorts of interesting twists and turns on it’s way to that ending, and often surprising new sub-plots and characters emerge from this exploratory approach. 

6. Do you have a writing mentor or inspiration?

There is no one specific writer whom I would consider to be mentor or whose style I’m trying to emulate. However, my writing is very much informed by the classic 1940s-1950s science fiction which I read in translation growing up in the Soviet Union. Modern English-language fiction wasn’t available in the USSR at the time, so I missed out on the New Wave and much of the interesting works of the 70s and 80s, picking up on modern fiction in English again, starting in the mid-90s. I suspect this reading history affects my writing style and makes it a bit of a throwback to the pulp era, but with some modern sensibilities.

7. When and how did you first become interested in writing?

I was always interested in writing science fiction and fantasy, making up my first (very short) story around the age of 10. I meddled with writing fiction in Russian when I was very young, but gave up the pursuit when my family moved to the United States because I never expected my command of the English language to become sufficient to write fiction. 

Like most aspiring writers, I kept planning on writing someday — for years! Until, finally, I realized that mythical day of ample free time and no responsibilities will never come. I should just begin writing — and I did.

8. What’s your writing schedule? Do you have a favorite place to write?

I write at my home office, in the mornings, before heading out to my day job. Typically I can only put in about an hour or two at a time, a couple of times a week. This doesn’t make for a very productive writing career, but other responsibilities must often come first, and I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish given the limited schedule.

9. What’s next?

That novel I mentioned earlier? I hope to get the first draft finished sometime in the foreseeable future. I am also editing three different anthologies at the moment, have short stories I need to write for various projects I’ve been invited to submit to, and am translating fiction from Russian. Doesn’t leave too many hours in the day for sleep, and thank the Lord for coffee!

10. Anything else you’d like to add?

I have several projects as an editor coming out soon. Unidentified Funny Objects 2 will release in early October. Coffee:  Caffeinated Tales of the Fantastic is slated for late November. Dark Expanse should be releasing early next year. I encourage everyone to check those books out, For additional samples of my own writing, please visit www.alexshvartsman.com and click on the Bibliography link.

The following is a short excerpt from his story in Urban Harvest.

A Shard Glows in Brooklyn

“Philippine Energy Beetles are nasty critters,” I lectured him as we walked, straining to be heard over the noise. “They nest by the power lines and feed off the electricity. Those flickering lights the power company says are caused by faulty wiring are often caused by an infestation.”

Having finished with the cars, I fumbled with the lock on the front door of a vacant house.

“This place is lousy with beetles,” I explained. “We’re gonna have to fumigate.”

“That’s just great,” said the prospect. “I can’t stand bugs. Now you tell me the Watch is in the exterminator business? This couldn’t possibly get any worse.”

But, of course, it could. He hadn’t seen the beetles up close yet. The prospect’s problem with insects was part of the reason I had brought him to this place. I needed to know, when push came to shove, that he’d be able to handle himself. I needed him to overcome whatever phobias and preconceived notions he’d been living with, before he learned about any of the really bad things that are out there.

“Relax,” I told him. “There’s some good news. These critters hate loud noise.”

The lock finally surrendered to my ministrations and the door was forced open by the pressure from the inside. Hundreds of fully grown beetles burst out of the house. Each of them was two to three feet long and stood at least a foot tall. The entire swarm rushed past us and toward the sewer, trying to get as far away from the roar of the sirens as they could. The prospect turned white as a sheet, but he didn’t run. This one just might be a keeper.

“They are . . .” the prospect gulped, “enormous.”

“This is New York,” I told him. “We don’t sweat the small stuff. You should see the size of the troll under the Verrazano Bridge. Come on.”

To read the rest of Alex’s story, check out Urban Harvest: Tales of the Paranormal in New York City, available from Amazon this Sunday!

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