March 2013

Live Discussion: Zachary Karabashliev

As part of the Live Discussion series hosted through the Writing University website, we featured writer Zachary Karabashliev, one of this spring's featured readers at Live from Prairie Lights, in an on-line chat on Monday, April 1, 2013 at 11am (CST). Karabashliev discussed his process of writing, literature in an international community, as well as other literary topics.




Dimka Kabaivanova (Stara Zagora, Bulgaria):

What the change of your life has brought you and what have you made to take control of your destiny?

Zachary Karabashliev:

I think that every decision we make any day on any matter is about taking control of our destiny.

We don't have to wait for MAJOR things to happen so we can make MAJOR decisions.

There is one saying from the Book of the Samurai that says something like "treat not important things seriously, and important matters lightly"... In a way train your self on lightly matters, so when the BIG one comes up - you are ready. It's all about being ready. Aware.


Zlatko Anguelov (Iowa City, IA):

You wrote your novel in the Bulgarian language, and now it is translated into the language of the country where the plot happens. Which kind of reader did you have in mind when you wrote it, and do you feel the American reader will get from the book the same things that the Bulgarian reader would?

Zachary Karabashliev:

Some parts I wrote in English first and later translated into Bulgarian as I was typing. The dialogues for example. I had to translate the dialogues that took place in the US from English, and that was a challenge, because slang is not an easy thing to translate.

But, yes, the majority of the writing was in Bulgarian. I believe that the themes I write about are - I don't like to use the the word "universal" - common for both cultures, for readers.

I have been "accused" from some American editors of NOT writing more about Bulgaria in this book, for not being exotic enough... The book is too American for some of them.

I'm taking a leap of faith here in this novel - I'm not writing for Americans or Bulgarians, but for Readers. I'm not sure I answered your question... :) Does it make sense?  :)


Svetlana Slavova (Ohio):

Not really a question, but just to say "HI" and greet our friend and fellow Bulgarian and join the conversation!

Zachary Karabashliev:

Hi, Svetlana:)

I hope you enjoyed the novel. You and Kym have a special place in my life. As well as in the book:) Z

Vera (Sofia, Bulgaria):

In your life you have gone though  a lot of different activities and places and your character Zack is going through a real crisis in the book. What are the author's and the character's ways of overcoming CHANGE?

Zachary Karabashliev:

The difficult thing about CHANGE is actually accepting it does exist. We all talk about it, we all agree it's important, yet we seem to never get it right, we resist it. My novel is following the character's path from NOT accepting change in the beginning, being in a state of denial denial, to... well, I don't want to say what happens at the end :) But "18%" is really about change.

I have been in the mental space where my character is, I know how hard it is to accept change. But as William De Kooning once said "I have to change to stay the same."

We probably never change, I think. But we evolve.

Natasa (Iowa City):


The first pleasure of your book is the terrific translation by Angela Rodel (whom you acknowledge very generously on the last page of the book).  As someone settled in the US and undoubtedly a completely fluent English speaker, what were you looking for, what were you needing, and what were you checking, in choosing a translator?   And how would you describe the difference between the Bulgarian and the English feel of the novel?


Zachary Karabashliev:

To find the right translator is extremely hard. That's why it's not a job a writer need to preoccupy themselves with. The right translator is  like a Guru - you can't find them, but they will. Only when you are ready.

It happened with my French translator - Marrie Vrinat. Things happened slower with my English translator, but once I met Angela Rodel the search was over:)  She gets the voice in my novel, the voice of the character... She speaks fluent Bulgarian. It turned out we were born on the same date, so we joke that we are Astro-related :) I don't think there is a difference in the "feel" of the Bulgarian and English incarnations of the novel. Or at least I don't "feel" it:)


p.s. There is a part in the book, very different than the rest - we intentionally left Bulgarian words in it... It's in the second half of the novel. The cool part is you can skip it -  It won't hurt the rest:)

Nicole (Iowa City):

After writing 18% Grey as a novel, you then had to adapt it into a screenplay. What was that process like? Did you find that either structure worked better for the story, or the characters? Did you find that one offered you greater perspective into the world you had created than the other?


Zachary Karabashliev:

Oh, boy... do you you have time?... hahaha... :) Adapting your own work from page to screen is an awkward thing to do. To begin with - you have to deal with Producers:)


There are very few novels that have been successfully adapted from the writers that wrote them. John Irving comes to mind with his "The Cider House Rules" and several others, but really - not many.

You need to detach yourself from your work. Yet, stay true to your work. How?


Screenwriting is about structure. Format. Discipline. There is so much to learn. I find the process painful, yet very gratifying. I've read a lot and a lot and a lot of screenplays - many many hundreds, before I wrote even the first draft of mine. In a way it's a kind of translation. To translate the world you've created on the page to something that will become a visual entity. There are rules, and - like them or not - one must know them. Screenwriting is more like architecture than writing. It's constraining. It's the opposite of writing prose. Writing novel is like no other. You create a world in which you are the Storyteller, the Director, and all the Actors:) There is so much freedom.

Screenwriting is NOT giving me a greater perspective into the world, but it's giving me a greater perspective about human nature. I learned a lot from this whole process, and hopefully it will make me a better writer. Or at least a more aware one.


Thank you everyone for participating!


earthwords: UI Undergraduate Lit Magazine Issue Release

April 6, 2013
Sat, 04/06/2013 - 19:00

Each year, earthwords, the University of Iowa’s oldest undergraduate literary magazine, releases an issue featuring the best in undergraduate fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, photography, and art. This reading will feature students writers published in this year’s magazine, as well as artwork on display all festival week at Prairie Lights’ cafe The Times Club.

Granta Magazine and UI Center for Human Rights Present: Aleksandar Hemon

April 6, 2013
Sat, 04/06/2013 - 18:00

Granta Magazine will once again host a reading directly following the Book Fair, this year by Bosnian-American writer Aleksandar Hemon. In Iowa City as part of The University of Iowa’s Provosts’ Global Forum: Refugees in the Heartland, Aleksandar will come to the festival following the publication of his genre-straddling The Book of My Lives.

Little Village & Slow Collision

April 6, 2013
Sat, 04/06/2013 - 14:00

Iowa City’s own literary and cultural magazine Little Village co-hosts this reading with Iowa City-based press Slow Collision. Break up your afternoon with some locally-grown fiction from Vic Pasternak, Brent Johnson, Todd Jackson, Russell Jaffe, Kembrew McLeod.

4th Annual Small Press and Literary Journal Book Fair (with New Belgium Beer)

April 6, 2013
Sat, 04/06/2013 - 11:00

From 11am-6pm, presses large and small, literary magazines in print and online, from all corners of the U.S., once again gather at The Mill to sell some of the most exciting books being published today.

Lit Crawl Iowa City (Co-Presented by Litquake)

April 5, 2013
Fri, 04/05/2013 - 17:00

5-5:45pm – M.C. Ginsberg, Dublin Underground, Takanami
6-6:45 – Beadology, White Rabbit, R.S.V.P.
7-7:45 – Foxhead, Clinton Street Social Club