Exclusive interview with the israeli writer Sagy Zwirn on his first visit to Bistrita


For the first time in Bistrița , Sagy Zwirn has accepted to give Pov21 magazine an exclusive interview . If you haven`t heard yet, Sagy  is an Israeli writer, a certified lawyer and a former prosecutor. His short stories and articles have appeared in various publications such as the Quarterly Review and the Evergreen Review. He translated two novels into Hebrew for a large Israeli publisher and his short story ‘Carthage’ has been accepted for publication in the Yale Review.     

Where and how do you find your inspiration to write ?Well ,I think that`s also a matter of practice and experience. There are different kinds of writers ; poets are more inclined to moments of inspiration, but to write a 300-400 pages book ,which is part of the career of novelist ,you have to write day after day , you have to sit hours and write and rewrite and give it to agents and publishers and so on .You can`t wait for every sentence to have that great spark of inspiration.
Different novelists have different types of rigurous work .For example, Tolstoi used to write four hours a day and he worked those four hours every day , no matter how many pages he got down. There`s an element of rigidity ! Unless you do this , writing one book can take twenty years. There has to be , for a book ,some initial canal of inspiration in order to start the process , but the process itself is day in day out , you punch the clock !
What`s your opinion regarding the `writer`s block` ?
Oh , it`s very romantic , some writers have it , they like to put it in books and movies ,like the writer and the blank page. It can be real , but writing is very personal. I fortunately didn`t suffer from that problem very much , but i know some who did. There`s an element of anxiety because some people want every sentence to sparkle and then they`re afraid of not coming up to expectations. Usually what happens is not that you don`t have any idea or anything to write about, you`re just afraid of mediocrity , of writing something that`s not good enough. This idea gets inside their heads and it becomes worse and worse.
I put a lot of stock in rewriting ,i don’t have to have every sentence perfect at the outset . I write and later if it`s not good enough I`ll take it out , I`ll change it , make it better.
And we think that family plays a major role in someone`s career. How did they support you ?
My family was really supportive . It`s important to have supportive environment , may they be family , spouse , children or whatever depending on the stage of life you`re in.
Then , getting money for writing is not easy , especially if you want to make it your job .Even though the presence of family is essential , you have to find your own way. Many people can`t live just of writing , so they do it on the side with something else that gives them the necessary amount of money to live. I`ve worked in other things for a while and I`m still trying to get to a point when I can just work on my writing. For example , writing in English gives you the opportunity to obtain a larger audience , a lot of countries are open to you and that helps me a lot.
I started out in Hebrew when i was very young, but then I started to read a lot in English and i simply loved it, especially the fiction. That and the commercial aspect of course, led me to writing in English.

Do you put your everyday people in your books ?
Yes , but usually not exactly as they are. Fitzgerald said that you`ll never put your sister inside one of your novels , and I agree with him, but you take things and you integrate them. Like, I saw some behaviour pattern and I remembered it, I filed it and then I see something else and put that together with things I fabricate and I create something new.
So it`s a mix?
Yes , it`s a mix. Because when you do this mixture yourself, you can control it, you understand it better .. You cant` be inside one`s head but, you can control the person you created and fully understand him or her.
Then some of my stories are partly based on real events, but the whole scenario is a tale that I create in my head and work inside that world. Again, mixture.

How is it to be a lawyer?
First of all I think Iaw in Romania is very different in comparison to Israeli law.
There are different paths you can take as a lawyer, for example there is criminal law where you go and prosecute criminals, then there is commercial law, like contracts and working with companies and so on. Right now I`m working just with things that have to do with writing , like translating and editing, but I used to be a prosecutor in the army, that`s where one of my books came from. Clearly, it`s an interesting work but I should say that you have to have the stomach for it.
Then, to be completely honest, you start out as a slave. You work mad hours, get little money, a lot of the work is strenuous and not very interesting. Eventually when you gain some experience you get more money, fascinating cases. It can be a gratifying job, you can get a lot out of it, but it is definitely not easy.
Anyway, very little of the law school has to do with the actual practice of law. I did school and I have got the master too, it`s an interesting theoretical part, but the practice is very different.
Are writers the people that have the ability to see the complexity in this world ?

I think people, generally, are complicated and maybe to be a writer you have to be even more complicated and probably as you write, as you work at it, you also work at getting into people`s heads , kind of a shrink job. You get a multiple personality kind of thing. You`re every character in every novel you write. The bad ones, ridiculous ones, smart ones, it`s all you, different aspects of you.
Have you got an advice for teenagers wanting to start writing?
First of all, read a lot, read as much as possible. You do not know what you like before you see different things. There are training places for those who want to enter in this career, but most writers don’t become writers through those training places, they become writers through themselves, through reading and writing .
Secondly, write and write more. Again, you have to understand that the first thing you write won`t be perfect , it might be even bad, but the whole thing is a process. The same is when you go to med school, you don’t expect to be a surgeon on your second week.