[Note From Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora Dominguez got the opportunity to interview author Eugene Yelchin and ask him five(ish) questions. Eugene’s novel ‘Spy Runner‘ is out now!]
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind SPY RUNNER?
Eugene: I had this nagging feeling that Cold War was on the verge of returning. In recent years, the foreign politics of Russia were alarming. It seemed that the current of influence between the US and Russia was reversing. It was not our democracy infiltrating Russia, but Russian autocracy was heading our way instead. Then following 2016 election everything fell into place. The work on Spy Runner became not only necessary but also urgent. I was born and raised in the former Soviet Union. As a result, I am particularly sensitive to the notion of truth. In Russia truth was in short supply, truth was continually revised and obscured. I spent my formative years in search of what was hidden from me, what was kept in secret. Surrendering safety while attempting to discover truth occupies a significant part of my biography, and my biography is at the heart of all of my books beginning with Breaking Stalin’s Nose. Spy Runner has a similar trajectory — from the discovery of a lie to the discovery of truth.
What character do you most relate to and why?
I think it was Anton Chekov who once said — everything I know about humanity I have learned from myself. If we accept his notion, it follows that writers create characters from the writers’ own personal traits. All of the characters in Spy Runner are different versions of me, I imagine. I gave one my fear, another got my courage, and yet another was gifted with jealousy, or greed, or generosity, or whatever that particular character was in need of in order to become real.
Why do you feel mystery books are so popular and have such a voice right now?
Perhaps because mystery is at the center of our daily news. Ironically, modern technology billed as the democratic access to information also became the source of confusion. We do not like to be confused so we interpret what we read or hear. We speculate. Our solutions are tainted by our allegiances to this or that political party, this or that cause. That is exactly what drives a mystery novel — overcoming one’s blind spots while reaching out for the unknown.
In your words, please describe the content of SPY RUNNER and what can readers expect.
Spy Runner is a noir thriller. Chases, crashes, shootouts, and cliffhangers at the end of each chapter will keep readers turning the pages. Unbeknownst to them, they will be learning about the similarities between the Cold War politics and the politics of today. During Cold War, certain politicians exploited the communist threat against democracy by dividing American people. Nationalistic prejudices and media-disseminated misinformation were some of their tools. I read somewhere that future always looks good if you forget the past. My hope is that my readers will draw parallels between the Cold War rhetoric depicted in Spy Runner and our current political and social climate. To understand what our future might bring, as well as to understand the meaning of our present it is imperative to understand our past.
What’s next for you in the book world?
Lots of projects in the works, but I’m too superstitious to discuss them. Definitely a memoir. A graphic novel.
What’s your favorite writing method that you follow for inspiration?
Reading, I imagine. Every book I write requires its own type of reading. When I was working on The Haunting Of Falcon House, a supernatural narrative that takes place in my hometown St. Petersburg at the end of the XIX century, I had immersed myself into period atmosphere and language by reading Russian classics such as Tolstoy, Turgenev, Gogol, Pushkin, etc. For Spy Runner I had to read dozens and dozens of Cold War testimonies, biographies, spy craft manuals, as well as declassified documents from the CIA, the FBI, and the KGB. In other words, reading inspires me to write.