The University of Iowa

Live Discussion with Zachary Karabashliev

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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.

Read the full discussion here.

Zachary Karabashliev will also read on April 1st, 7PM, at Prairie Lights Bookstore.

Zachary Karabashliev is a Bulgarian-born fiction writer and playwright who lives in San Diego, CA. His debut novel, 18% Gray, written in his native language, was published in 2008 in Bulgaria and soon became a national bestseller. Moreover, Bulgarians voted it as one of their one hundred most-loved books of all time in the BBC campaign “The Big Read.” In February 2013, Open Letter Books at the University of Rochester has published an English translation of the novel, made by Angela Rodel.

Karabashliev’s collection of short stories, A Brief History of the Airplane won the 2009 Book of the Year Award of the Bulgarian bookstore chain Helikon. He has also published a collection of plays, Recoil (2009), and a second short story collection, Symmetry (2011).

His play Sunday Evening won the most respected theatre award in Bulgaria in 2009 and had a successful run in Sofia. His play Recoil received the 2012 audience award at the Wiesbaden Theatre Biennial, “New Plays from Europe.” In addition to his, he wrote the screenplay for the upcoming film production of “18% Gray.”

In an interview with Karabashliev, published in Fiction Writers Review, Steven Wingate noted “18% Gray takes readers to that messy, sloshy place inside us where we don’t understand what we’re doing or why. It’s a place we’ve all been to, and Karabashliev is an outstanding and empathetic guide on the journey there and back.

The novel follows Zack, a Bulgarian photographer living in California, whose wife Stella has just disappeared. Distraught, he gets himself into trouble in Tijuana and ends up coming back to the United States with a large bag of marijuana in the back of a stolen van. He ditches his job monitoring clinical pharmaceutical tests and embarks on a picaresque cross-country journey to New York. There, he learns a bit more about himself and his life than he would care to know.”

In the interview, Karabashliev discusses his prose: “The feedback from my readers unanimously touches on the cinematic aesthetic of the novel. ‘It was like I was watching a movie,’ say most of my readers. And I take that as a compliment. I guess that was also the appeal for the producers to buy the film rights and entrust me with writing the script. I love film. But 18% Gray was conceived and constructed as a novel. It was not meant to be a surrogate for a movie. Even though I employ techniques from screenwriting, and at times borrow from the visual arts, I am not an advocate for the “show don’t tell” doctrine that has dominated the craft of too many fiction writers for the last I-don’t-know-how-many years.

Our civilization today is ruled by the visual, and this is normal—nearly a third of our brain is dedicated to vision. So, the adage goes, if you want to be “heard” as a writer, you need to “show” more. Great, but that makes us, storytellers, compete with visual artists (especially film makers) for the mercy of the almighty Visual Cortex. Well, what about Proust then? Dostoyevsky? James Joyce? What about Kundera, or a long line of writers that like to not just show, but tell us what they think about things?”