Today is the release date of The Mirrored World, a novel which tells the story of Xenia, a Russian Orthodox saint who became a holy fool and is revered for her charity to the poor. I had the opportunity to meet Debra Dean at a book signing while at BEA, and I am delighted to be able to host an author interview with her today.
What inspired you to write “The Mirrored World”?
I was researching my first novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad, and I stumbled on the story of Xenia, this 18th century woman who gave up a life of relative ease to become a holy fool. I wondered, what kind of person becomes a saint? And just as importantly, what would it be like if you cared deeply for this person and you saw her turning onto such an extreme path?
What made you choose to write about Russia?
I can find no logical explanation for it, beyond the fact that Russia has amazing stories. I’m not Russian, I don’t speak or read Russian, and prior to completing The Madonnas of Leningrad, I had never even set foot in the country. My husband says I was Russian in a former life, and I suppose that’s as good an explanation as any.
Have your personal experiences impacted your writing in any way?
One of the things I love about writing fiction is that nothing in your life is wasted. Everything that happens to you – all of it, even the miserable stuff – can be put to use.
It’s hard to imagine a world more foreign to my life than the 18th century Russian setting of The Mirrored World, but there’s at least a little bit of me in all those characters. For instance, like Xenia and Dasha, I am a compulsive collector of feathers and pretty rocks and shells. We have feral peacocks in our neighborhood, and every time I find a feather, I feel like I’ve won a little prize.
What is the most challenging part of being a writer?
For me? Making the time, and then having the courage to show up when I do have the time.
What are some of your other interests? What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I have a lot of interests, but I’m afraid most of them get thrown under the bus in favor of whatever book I’m working on. That said, I still squirrel away a little time to practice yoga and to see friends and cook them the occasional dinner.
What are some of your favorite books?
The answer will change depending on what day you ask. Today, what comes to mind are Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson; James Salter’s Light Years; So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell. Those are a little older. More recent books: I love Luis Urrea’s Hummingbird’s Daughter and Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. Oh, and Ian McEwan’s Atonement. I like reading slowly, so I gravitate to books that are image-rich and masterful in their use of language.
Debra Dean is the New York Times Bestselling author of “The Madonnas of Leningrad” and the award-winning short story collection “Confessions of a Falling Woman.”