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Q&A with Valeria Kogan, author of Love Bites: A Collection of Short Stories

“Love Bites: A Collection of Short Stories was released in May 2012, and was my first book. While currently working on my next project, I’ve been asked to reflect on my first work, what inspired me, and why the stories turned out the way that they did.”

Q. What was your inspiration for the short stories?

VK: I think the various stories were inspired by different things; some were almost me in an alternate universe – how do I think I’d react – others were inspired by friends and things I read in the media, and others still were variations on fairly common themes within love stories and literature as a whole. I think that a lot of the time, a love story focuses on the relationship – the past, the present, the future – rather than the developments that people undergo within them or the ways that a particular relationship can change people (or fails to). While they are love stories, looking back at them they are fairly selfish, in that the protagonists’ ego is very much the centre stage rather than the fight for a particular love, as is traditional. Themes such as BDSM, prostitution, petty theft, and adultery just provide means for the self-exploration or the realisation that they are not the person they thought they would be.  I did try to create some symmetry between the stories; plastic surgery vs. the ‘damage’ of BDSM, the death of a loved one and how people choose to mourn them, infidelity from different points of view… but these are very much common themes within the genre.

Q. To what extent was it a conscious decision to present such dark interpretations about relationships?

VK: I think there is a difference between ‘dark’ and ‘realistic’. Yes, some of the relationships presented in the book are far from ordinary, but I do think that personal development and reactions to obstacles are the things that make or break relationships in the long term. My own imagination does usually turn towards the macabre, largely because that’s what I find interesting. I think a lot of the characters are away from the general mainstream, whether it’s because of their sexual habits, occupations, or a general decision to reject what they have been told is normal. While this can be disorientating for readers since many of the themes are things they will not have dealt with themselves, I prefer to add slightly extraordinary (but largely believable) elements to the stories so that they have a slightly different perspective.

I have to admit that I don’t think ‘happily ever after’ exists, and I find those kinds of endings incredibly frustrating in cinema and in literature. It seems to suggest that you find ‘the one’ and suddenly everything in your life makes sense. I guess with stories like Silent, Matrimony, and Perfection in particular, I was kind of challenging that.

Q. Was ‘Love Bites’ easy to write?

VK: Yes and no. I don’t think a book, particularly a first one is ever really going to be ‘easy’ – all the writing I’d previously done was considerably shorter and the separate items didn’t need to make sense as a whole. While I wanted the stories to work together, I didn’t want to use the same style throughout or rely on the same sort of formula so it was a challenge to think about the characters differently while creating a ‘whole’ that makes sense. That’s why I used different persons, male and female points of view, and why some of them are largely based on dialogue/monologue and others have no speech at all.

Having said that, once I’d worked out the characters and what was important to them, the process of completing the stories was quite natural. Once I got into the flow of each story it was very enjoyable to get everything down on paper and decide how everything was going to pan out. I changed quite a few things from my initial ideas – the main character within Tonight in particular.

Q. Which writers inspire you?

VK: I read a huge amount, and it’s quite difficult to separate ‘writers I like’ from ‘writers who inspire me’. The former is a massive group that I admire but don’t necessarily have any impact on how I write and I don’t seek to emulate them. I think Jeremy Dyson’s take on short stories was an inspiration for Love Bites, particularly Never Trust a Rabbit. I just love the way that he treats them and opens up extraordinary little worlds within each narrative. I also drew some inspiration from Mud by Michele Roberts, which was closer to the subject matter within Love Bites, and I really liked the way that all of the stories were unified by a single, unexpected theme. I also read a lot of work by bloggers – one-off columns or longer commentaries on their lives and what’s going on around them. Since I work in digital media, and short stories are closer to this form than any other kind of fiction, I think those writers had an impact on my work as well.