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Author Interview Series: ROPPOTUCHA GREENBERG

Updated: Nov 24, 2023

Getting by in Tligolian is a clever, beguiling novella that weaves its way through an elusive city, encountering knotty intersections of language and time, life and death. Greenberg captures the outsider’s dislocation, the struggle to communicate, and the aching absence of a loved one who can never be truly known with finely-detailed observations. Like a half-remembered dream, this book lingers in the mind long after the final page has been turned.

Congrats on your upcoming release. Tell us about it!

Thanks! …So the book is about time-travel. It's written like a teach-yourself language book. It's about a young woman who moves to a city that has time-travelling trains. It's different from the other books I've published so far.

How did you prepare to write the book, or is there any model you used to build the story?

I didn't really prepare; my method is more about following the thread of imagination what feels true. I avoid forced story-lines and try not to rush the plot. It's a slow process, and one that allows more experimentation with form at the editing stage. At that point, I was drawn towards the genre of novella in flash. The process of creating Zglevians on the Move has shown to me how this can be done. And there are many wonderful works in the genre, including, for example, Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewin.

How did you approach the world building? And how did you decide on the target audience?

Good questions, but I don't have the answers. I write in an instinctive way, just sort of describing things that feel right. It's a novella in flash, so it suits those who like flash fiction and magic realism.

How did you get interested in playing with concepts of time? I love the trains idea.

It made sense that the trains that I had described in my city went in all sorts of directions within time but not space. There's something about trains, as opposed to other forms of transport, that makes them symbolic at the immediate point of departure.

I think I am a time-travelller, just not a very experienced one, or one that has travelled a lot in too many directions. My protagonist is a bit like that too.

I know your approach to fiction writing is intuitive rather than methodical/rational. How do you plan things out?

I don't plan things out — I rewrite and rearrange things after I've written multiple drafts. Or to be more precise I rearrange the way the plot appears to the reader to make it more intriguing. With this novella, the first draft I had was a lot longer and was basically an exercise in catering — I wrote what I thought was happening to my character, and I made sure she ate and slept at regular intervals.

Did you read a lot as a child? What were your favourite stories?

I read a lot, and I ended up identifying with the protagonists to the point of being ridiculous. When I was nine I read Cyrano de Bergerac, and that stuck fast. For months I was challenging other kids to duels and attempting to write poetry while fighting them.

Another thing I wonder about: how early in your life did you write and/or draw? Did they emerge simultaneously? Have they always existed side by side or has there been a time when one was more dominant than the other?

When I was a kid it felt funny. I wanted to write but I felt obliged to draw instead, and I didn't like drawing. It was expected of me to draw extremely well and to master all sorts of techniques I didn't like. (I still don't understand why perspective is a thing) It was all a big confusion, the kind that happens to kids and their parents. Finally, I gave drawing up, and it was great. Creatures always existed; they are everything I liked about not-drawing; there's no techniques, no perspective, no accuracy — freedom. With writing something similar happened. I worked very hard on academic writing, getting a million blocks a day, and I felt I didn't have time to do creative writing; it took me years to figure it all out.

You’ve published many stories. How have you coped with the inevitable rejections we all face as writers?

I haven't been sending too many things lately, but a few years ago I sent out flash fiction all the time, and rejection was very much part of my life. I was lucky I came across that famous piece about getting a 100 rejections, and I liked it very much. (I think that's the one…). The more rejections a piece gets, the more times it has been read. In fact, sometimes getting an acceptance too early means getting fewer readers. Anyway, I also felt I needed to really celebrate each rejection and my feelings around it, so the rejection tree was a way to do it. I doodled a new creature, and reposted the image every time I got a rejection.

The Rejection Tree

What made you gravitate towards the fantasy genre? Have you ever written other types of stories? What’s been your biggest challenge as a writer?

I write fantasy because it feels natural to me. I admire writers who can sustain a truthful narrative using the realistic mode. For me, fantasy of all kinds provides a way to express reality in a way that realism can't. Having said that, while most of what I wrote is fantastic in some ways, there are differences in how fantasy works. I have a story published in the Forge Literary Magazine called 'How She Stopped Being Afraid of the Dark', which is barely fantastic at all. It circles around what could be a UFO sighting but is far more likely to be the light reflecting off a wing of a plane. It's about a time just before a divorce. And then I have stories with a dragon (The Prevalence of Dragozemlizhil in Nature, in Split Lip) a ghost (before they sell it she comes back, in Honey and Lime), a house full of spirits (When I was House-like inside, in the Barren), and they are all about really mundane things, like lusting after a colleague, loss, or pregnancy.

I notice that Zglevians on the Move (TwistiT Press, 2019) started as Twitter-born micros. Can you talk about how VSS has influenced your writing or helped define a process for you?

Yes… Vss365 is a magical game; the idea that you can write stories within tiny moments of broken time, that you can find instant readers — there is something about it that defies all the usual unfulfilled expectations writers struggle with in our rushed world. It has certainly shaped me as a writer -- for a few years I made sure to do it daily, and I hope to come back to it again.

You have very entertaining names for your characters. Zglevians! Dragozemlizhil! How did you invent them?

The names are sort of Eastern european. Drago, of course, stands for dragon in all languages, ‘zemlya’ means land or earth in Russian, and ‘zhil’ means lived ... I think all these roots will be found in different variations in most Slavic languages. Zglevia is a country. I explain its disappearance in my mosquito story. I needed it to sound Eastern European enough to be hard to pronounce — but it doesn't have a specific meaning or code.

Can you talk about your illustrations? Have you drawn any for this new book?

My drawings and watercolours are all of Creatures of the Thicket. They are the protagonists of my four Creature books, and they appear any time my mind wanders. They have a mind of their own and, like my story lines, are not planned in advance. So they are not really illustrations, rather the stories that surround them seek to illustrate their lives.

I have not drawn any illustrations for the ‘Getting By in Tligolian’, because this book, like my stories takes place in a world away from the Thicket.

Does living in Ireland affect how you write or affect your creative output in any way? Does place have any bearing on your creativity?

I live in Galway, and yes it certainly affects what I write in all sorts of ways. The book is about a city with time-travelling trains, and although Galway does not have those, it has a few other odd features such as a stalking river, giant fishermen (though regular size in Galway), and a tendency for small parks to grow into huge forests. I cross the river every day on the way to work, and then again, when I take a completely different route back. I have written a good few vss365 stories about the river folk (some of which ended up in the Creatures Set Forth book). I like this one:

At his #zenith, the king was kind to the fish. Now the seaweed shook as he roared for cake. Empty sardine cans lined his walkway. The teens feared him and were bored by their fear. The grown-ups flicked their tails and sighed. Big bubbles showed on the surface. #vss365

Are you working on anything right now?

At the moment I am working on a longer piece featuring the Creatures, but based on their glimpses wihtin the mind rather than drawings. It will have a lot of tails, crossings of the river from the Thicket to the Big City and will be just sad enough to be more suitable for grown ups than for kids.

You’ve qualified your books as happy or sad. It’s interesting that you’re conscious of that.

Ah, yes. The sad one is Zglevians and now Tligoloan, the happy are the Creature books. The distinction is not quite true of course. Zglevians deals with death on every page but overall is quite happy, and the Creature books, though quite silly and joyful, also have a great deal of sadness.

One last thing: your name. It’s enigmatic!

Greenberg was the name of both my grannies. They were from St Petersburg, Russia, which I left at the age of 12. I grew up in Israel, and moved to Ireland in my early 20s. Roppotucha used to be my nickname in primary school in Russia. It's based on my actual last name (let whoever is interested do the detective work).

Where can people find your book?

The best place to buy it right now is at the Arachne Press website. There’s a book launch which people can join here:

On X formerly Twitter, you can find the author here, or on her website.

Getting by in Tligolian by Roppotucha Greenberg Novella Science Fiction/Magic Realism/Time Travel print 978-1-913665-93-7 £9.99 106pp 129x198mm 16th November 2023

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