In our new installment of “Meet the Debutantes”, (in preparation for our Literary Debutante Ball on April 20th), we’re speaking with Miroslav Penkov, author of East of the West: A Country in Stories, a fascinating and witty collection that includes the story he published with One Story, “A Picture With Yuki.”
1) Where were you when you found out your first book was going to be published? How did you celebrate?
I was spending the summer in Bulgaria when my agent emailed to say we’d received two offers on the book. A couple of weeks later (I was back in Arkansas by then) we received two more. We considered everything carefully and decided to go with Farrar, Straus and Giroux. What this beautiful story of triumph fails to reflect though, are the months of waiting, rejection, rewrites, more waiting, rejection and rewrites before the four offers were made.
I don’t remember celebrating in a special way. I just thanked Providence and tried to ready myself for the rewrites that my editor had explained would be necessary.
2) Your collection includes “A Picture With Yuki,” which you published in with us in April, 2011. What has happened to you between appearing in One Story and publishing East of the West: A Country in Stories?
The book came out in July, so not much happened in those two months. I spent them in Bulgaria, translating or I should probably say rewriting the stories in Bulgarian. As I had expected, the translation proved a real breeze; it did not take up the whole summer, nor did it stretch well into October; it did not depress me terribly, but brought me only joy and filled me with wondrous and positive energy.
3) What was the revision process like for you? What advice would you give to writers about turning a group of individual stories into a book-length manuscript?
I tell my students, and through my students I tell myself, that writing is rewriting. That’s not to say that every time I sit down I don’t hope, secretly, to write something perfect, something I wouldn’t have to change. But honestly, where’s the fun in that? How else would you get to know the people you’re creating if not by spending more time with them on the page and in your heart?
It took me, roughly, a year a half of rewriting before I could get the stories in my book to a place that made both me and my editor happy. Not a single story remained as it had been when we’d signed the contract. I threw some stories out, wrote and added new ones. But in the end, despite the pain, sweat and frustration, or actually precisely because of them – the book was the best book I could write. Even if my life depended on it (and who’s to say it didn’t?) I could not have done any better.
4) East of the West: A Country in Stories brings to life the tumultuous history of your home country, Bulgaria. What kind of research went into this collection, and how does your own ancestry play into your work?
It’s safe to say I’ve been researching this book since August 21, 1982. And even before that. Because is there research more valuable than the research your blood has done, one century after another? I believe that blood possesses its own memory and its own voice; the kind of memory and voice that no amount of document-reading, note-taking, people-meeting can give you.
5) What are you most looking forward to about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on April 20th?
I’m looking forward to meeting Ms. Hannah Tinti and thanking her for publishing my story, for being so kind. I look forward to meeting the rest of the One Story staff, the other debutantes… If possible, I would even like to meet my editor and some other people at FSG who worked very hard on my book.