Risingshadow has had the honour of interviewing Yordan Zhelyazkov.
Yordan Zhelyazkov was born 1988 in Sofia, Bulgaria. Actively reading since he was 4 years old he had several attempts at writing while growing up but none of them was really serious. That changed in his early 20s when he decided to turn writing into a career, began his Creative Writing Masters degree in New Bulgarian University and also started working on When They Shine Brightest.
Soon after he finished his work on the novel he signed a contract for its publication with publishing house "Enthusiast" in Bulgaria. In the meantime he also gave the book for translation into English to professional translator Alexander Gurovski and made a successful IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign with which he funded the enterprise. He published and self-published the book in both languages in 2015.
At the moment Yordan is working on his next fantasy novel.
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AN INTERVIEW WITH YORDAN ZHELYAZKOV
- Could you tell us something about yourself in your own words?
My name is Yordan, I’m 27 years old and I’m from Bulgaria. I’m what you might call a “first generation, Eastern-European nerd.” I was born one year before the fall of communism so I lived my childhood in a country that was just opening its gates and mind to the western world. A big part of western literature, comics, animations, games, mainstream movies and music poured on us like like rain over a desert. Needless to say, once I became old enough to go by myself to the library, the bookstore or the computer club, my whole life changed and I developed an overwhelming love for fantasy and sci-fi. After that, there was really just one route I could take.
When I was in school I had my first attempts at writing – several short stories, a game-book fiasco, and an even greater fiasco involving an encyclopedia about predators. That didn’t stop me however and after a brief hiatus during my first couple of university years (studying marketing), I renewed my writing hobby. And this time it evolved into something more than a hobby.
- What inspired you to become a fantasy author?
Well, it sounds silly, but I think it was webcomics. I had just started reading several of them and one night I just thought I want to be like their authors – stay at home, write what I love and make money while doing it. It sounded so easy. Of course, I wasn’t going to write a webcomic – I had already started working on a plot and some notes for a manuscript, so I decided that once I turn it into a novel, I’ll just sell that novel on the internet. What could possibly go wrong?
- What kind of books and stories do you read? Have any of them been a source of inspiration to you?
Oh, I read all kinds of things. Any type of fiction and any type of non-fiction, as long as it sounds interesting. Most of all I read fantasy of course, so basically every fantasy novel that I’ve read and liked, inspired me to become a writer.
- Your fantasy book, "When They Shine Brightest", will be published on August 17th, 2015. What inspired you to write it?
“When They Shine Brightest” actually isn’t that manuscript that I told you I was going to start writing. That manuscript reached 150 pages and was heading towards 600 pages (and was going to be the start of a trilogy), but I had to leave it for a while. When I started studying Creative Writing in New Bulgarian University I was told that my thesis can be a novel if I want, but it shouldn’t be longer than 250-300 pages. So, I ceased my work on the trilogy and I started writing “When They Shine Brightest”. In its essence, it’s a prequel to that trilogy, without being directly connected to it. Sort of the Hobbit to my LotR.
As for what “When They Shine Brightest” is about – initially I wanted to write a fantasy commentary on Pascal’s wager (and its stupidity). Later however, I turned away from that idea, because it felt unnecessary, and instead wrote a character-driven novel about lost and how we try to deal with it.
- What can readers expect from "When They Shine Brightest"?
It’s a 264 pages long stand-alone novel. It has an adult, serious tone, without being grimdark. It has a low fantastical element (GRRM style), but language-wise it’s closer to Robert Jordan (I read the entire WoT while writing it). In short – it’s a quick read that will make you feel, think and – hopefully – have a good time.
- What was the most challenging part of the writing process?
Honestly, it was trying to contain the story in 250-300 pages. As a long-time fantasy reader I obviously love 600+ pages novels, I love heavy trilogies and endless series. But with this book, I not only had to, but also wanted to make it short – it was my first book after all, I didn’t want it to be a heavy brick that no one will dare to open. Once I wrote the first several chapters however, I got the tempo right and it started flowing with ease.
- The protagonist in "When They Shine Brightest" is Korsak Dryshore. Could you tell us something about him?
Korsak is a conflicted person. He’s a middle-aged war veteran that’s just lost an important battle as a commander. He’s also lost his oldest son in it, as well as his family’s and people’s respect. Some of my readers call him an anti-hero (and for people who don’t like anti-heroes he might look like one), but for me he’s just a tortured soul that’s trying to find his way in a new and changed world. He’s that conservative uncle that many of us have, who’s suddenly confronted with an unfamiliar reality that forces him to change his entire view of life, while also dragging him through some dangerous life-or-death situations.
- "When They Shine Brightest" was originally written in Bulgarian. What inspired you to publish it in English?
Well, Bulgaria is a pretty small country. Not the smallest one on the map, but still, we’re just 7 mil people. So the market is pretty tight, especially for fantasy novels (they do have their audience here, but are not yet mainstream). Basically, if I want to ever be a self-sustaining author, who doesn’t have to work something else 40-50 hours per week, I can’t possibly do that in Bulgaria. Add to that the fact that I’ve also loved western literature, the decision wasn’t hard– just get the book translated and self-publish it online. Easy, right?
- Was it difficult to find an experienced and professional translator?
It took a lot of time, but I wouldn’t say it was that difficult. With Bulgaria being a small country, the writers’ and translators’ communities here are pretty compact – there are several epicenters that can just connect you with everyone if you can first get to them. Before I got introduced to Alexander, I also met several other translators that either didn’t have time, or didn’t get my approval.
The connection between me and Alexander actually consisted of six or seven people. A friend of mine knew a guy, who knew a guy, who got his work translated, that translator knew Angela Rodel, who connected me with another translator, who didn’t have free time and connected me with Alexander. I do consider myself extremely lucky with that whole situation, especially since Alexander was just coming back to Bulgaria after living in the US (and working as a translator between Spanish and English there) for two decades. As a result, he was still a new name in Bulgaria and didn’t have too many engagements yet (not any more ;) ).
- You funded the publication and translation of "When They Shine Brightest" through a crowdfunding campaign in IndieGoGo. Was it challenging to manage this campaign?
Oh, that was an interesting experience! It took me two months of intensive, full-time work, so yeah – it was challenging. What made it especially challenging was that we had already started the translation before that, I had already invested in the cover, website, maps, etc, so I really, really, needed the campaign to be successful. Furthermore, crowdfunding is quite new in Bulgaria and four out of five people here don’t even know what it is yet, so I had to present the whole concept of crowdfunding first, and my own project after that.
But it was a success. Not just in terms of money, but also in helping me reach a lot of readers and contacts. Just before I started the campaign, I became a finalist in a local competition for fantasy novels, which helped the campaign a lot. After that I got interviews with several big magazines, as well as on national TV. I also got a contract with a big and prominent publisher (and had to leave the competition before its end).
Basically, the crowdfunding campaign made everything possible, simply by being a success.
- How would you advertise "When They Shine Brightest" to readers who are thinking of reading it?
Oh. I may have studied marketing, but I still suck when it comes to self-advertising.
Ok, I’d tell them that “When They Shine Brightest” is an already published abroad, stand-alone fantasy novel, with a focus mainly on its characters and their experiences, as well as on the story.
- What are you currently working on? What can readers expect next from you?
Well, remember that manuscript that I had started before? I think it’s time to dust it off and finish it. As I said, it’s going to be twice bigger than “When They Shine Brightest” and also a start of a trilogy. It will also continue the events of “When They Shine Brightest”, without being a “must-read” for them to be completed. I intend to finish that first book till next February and hopefully start its translation soon after.
- Is there anything you'd like to add?
I’d like to thank Risingshadow for the interview, and to everyone else for reading all of it! If you liked the sound of “When They Shine Brightest” check the book’s blurb on Amazon, Goodreads or my website – if you like fantasy, I’m certain you’ll enjoy it!