Today XOXOAD welcomes debut author Krassi Zourkova to the blog! She’s the author of a fascinating new novel, WILDALONE, about a young European woman finding her way at Princeton University, but who has mystical secrets in her past that may lead to something dark, dangerous and all-too-seductive. Published by HarperCollins, WILDALONE has been called “a bewitching blend of Twilight, The Secret History, Jane Eyre, and A Discovery of Witches,” and we couldn’t agree more! We hope you enjoy our interview with the intriguing and multitalented Krassi Zourkova:
XOXOAD: Your own life shares some elements with Thea’s story in WILDALONE. What inspired you to write this novel?
KZ: I have always loved fairy tales. Even as an adult, I find myself craving a retreat into a world whose logic gives a boost to good over evil. But adults need complexity in their fairy tales. The world has to become more textured, ambiguous, darker. So this is the kind of novel I set out to write. Above all else, WILDALONE is my take on the world as I would love it to be: much less pragmatic, less disillusioned, and driven instead by the potential for the extraordinary, latent in each of us.
What is it about the university setting, or Princeton in particular, that makes it such a strong background for a supernatural novel?
The Princeton campus is an eerie, gorgeous, haunting place. One can’t walk its alleys and not feel like something spellbound is about to happen. Maybe it has to do with the Gothic buildings, too. They carry a promise of adventure and magic, of secrets lifted from times long gone. This sudden urge to bring tales back to life—that is what triggered the novel for me.
As for the university setting—it begs the supernatural. A college campus is inherently linked to infinite possibilities. To that special time in one’s life when everything, even miracles, seems within reach.
The concept of the “wildalone” refers to the legend at the heart of the novel, but also becomes a theme of the book. What does “wildalone” mean to you?
I believe there is a wildalone in each of us. Since the onset of time, women have taken blame for being disobedient, moody, intuitive, unhinged. Witches were sent to the pyre. Society’s accusing finger was on a rampant quest. Now, finally, the paradigm is shifting. Female complexity has shattered many stereotypes. Passion and independence are no longer a liability. A woman can—and should—flaunt every ounce of her inexplicable, unharnessable inner strength.
You’ve created a dark and passionate love triangle among Thea, Rhys and his brother Jake. Now that the book is done, you can tell us—were you rooting for one brother over the other? Who was your favorite?
My allegiance shifted, along with Thea’s. It had to. Otherwise I couldn’t have written the story or believed in its twists. Still, I found myself rooting for Rhys all along. Jake is wonderful, of course, with his soft nature and nuanced touch. But it’s easy to like a likeable man. Rhys, on the other hand, is acquired taste incarnate. He is arrogant, sure, which is part of the money-and-privilege package. But behind the alpha veneer is a generous, loyal, sensitive man. His journey is to learn humility. Hers is to realize that the most difficult men are often the ones who challenge us to grow, take risks, be independent—if we can handle them.
This novel, in many ways, is about culture shock—from Communism to capitalism, from Europe to America, from family to independence. To what extend did you channel your own experiences, and in what ways did Thea’s journey diverge from yours?
For one, I didn’t come to America with brooding family secrets in tow. Nor did I run into enigmatic, stunning men as quickly as she does. Overall, though, her life at school mirrors my own: the dorm room overlooking the mysterious golf course, the job at the Hogwarts-like dining hall, even the romantic scene at the piano-filled atrium in the middle of the night. As for the fantastical element—that’s the wishful thinking. The part where I’d love for life to imitate art, at least some of the time.
You are also an accomplished poet and musician—how was writing a novel similar or different from pursuing those art forms?
It was similar in the most crucial way: I wasn’t doing it to pay the bills. Like piano and poetry, writing began for me as an indulgence. Which, in turn, gave me creative freedom to approach the story intuitively and take risks. One of those risks was to bring along my tools of musician and poet. I would listen to the beat of each sentence, choose words based on the number of syllables and move them around, for a natural ebb and flow. I also took poetic liberties. At one point, text is literally invisible on the page. Just as in poetry, the reader gets to fill the blanks.
Your favorite “guilty pleasure” pop culture?
Horoscopes. Fashion magazines. Taylor Swift’s Begin Again.
Favorite food here and in Bulgaria?
When I was growing up, food was seasonal. We had bread and meat and cheese all year round. But try to eat a green salad in December! I can’t tell you how expensive—and delicious—a simple lettuce can be. To this day, greens are my chocolate.
If you were to choose another mythical creature for your next book, what would it be?
My next book will be the sequel, so the wildalones will get a few more full moons. But it will also have new legends, creatures, rituals (I can’t say more without giving spoilers). After that—who knows! I am fascinated by mythological love-pairs and the beautiful, messy things that happen when someone tries to step in the middle.
Did you have a “playlist” of music while you were writing WILDALONE, or that you imagine as the “score” to the novel?
Yes—the “score” was the most important part of my working files! I wish technology would allow readers to click within the text and listen to each piece as they get to it in the story. But, absent that, I referred to the various musical pieces by name, so that they are all easily searchable on the Internet. My personal favorite is the French pianist Alexandre Tharaud, especially his Journal Intime, whose Youtube video will transport readers to Rhys and Jake’s living room at the end of the book—it is truly magical.