This month I'm starting to interview my fellow indie authors and today my guest is Grigory Ryzhakov. Like me, he also writes books in a language other than his native.
Grigory Ryzhakov is a Siberian explant living in the UK and doing biomedical research. When not puzzled by unexpected discoveries in the lab, he writes fiction and composes music.
Let us begin then. 🙂
Q: Grigory, you are a scientist in the fields of molecular and evolutionary biology. What are the areas of your research and what are you currently working on? In brief, can you paint us a picture of your scientific passions and science/tech areas where your research results could be and/or are implemented. If it is not a secret, of course.
Originally trained as a virologist, I’ve worked within different fields of biomedical research. In the last decade I have been exploring molecular mechanisms underlying autoimmune disorders and immune responses to pathogens. I mostly work with proteins and study the way they interact and how their interactions and activities contribute to our immunity. In the long run, this is useful for designing new pharmaceuticals. Currently, I work in the lab studying inflammatory bowel disease, a group of disorders that affect millions of people worldwide. As you’ve mentioned, my other passion is evolutionary biology. I have done and published research in the past concerning evolution of molecules involved in our immunity. I am fascinated to learn how our immunity originated. It seems that it did so before organisms even became multicellular. It is hard to get grants to fund this research, as it is too distant from the applied biomedicine, so at the moment I only explore mammalian immunity, a topic directly linked to human disease.
Q: Why did you choose this specific scientific niche? What influenced you to become a biologist?
Ever since I remember myself I was interested in three things: books, music, and nature. Eventually my choice fell on biology, which I considered as more practical in comparison to my artistic passions. While studying in the university, I realized that I want to get to the core of things, the molecular level of life. I became interested in proteins, dazzled by their variety: our genome encodes over twenty thousand of different protein molecules. Structural biology has too much math and physics to my liking, so in the end I focused on biochemistry, where you study the behavior of molecules in connection to their cellular functions.
Q: Going a little further into science-y part of your life, would you be interested in a job as an astrobiologist (this is a very broad field), if someone offered you to go on a mission to the stars? For example, to study alien biomes on a newly discovered earthlike world? If you can speculate further on this, what would be of particular interest for you in such science fiction scenario? Ocean life? Plants? Would you prefer a mission to an ocean planet (with marine life) and underwater dwellings, or a more earthlike one, filled with terrestrial animals and plants? Or would you prefer to study something of a sort safely from home?
This would be amazing. I can definitely imagine myself exploring the biomes on Pandora (a planet in the Avatar film). I’ve always been interested in ecology, especially in tiny unicellular organisms like ciliates or sea algae. Yet, at the same time, I am very much a plant person, so forests are my favorite habitats. Apart from that, if I ever join a spaceship crew, I would be interested in creating self-sustainable ecosystems that would provide the air, food, and comfortable environment for the astronauts.
Q: Delving into the realm of science fiction, what is story and ideas behind Made in Bionia? What led to this book? It is not purely genre fiction. What is it exactly? What was the goal?
Q: When do you plan to release its sequels?
Q: Speaking of books and writing, how did you arrive to writing books in English? Have you been writing a lot in your native language, Russian? In brief, what is the history of your literary drive?
As a kid, I used to compose poetry in my native Russian language; later on I did some blogging too. When I moved to live in the UK twelve years ago, I wanted to fully immerse in the British culture and started blogging and writing short pieces in English. Made In Bionia was originally written in Russian and I had translated it last year. So now I know what a hard job is to be a book translator. My other two published books I wrote straight in English. The thing about writing in non-native language is that you don’t take a single word for granted. One of my word-wielding idols is Vladimir Nabokov; I can only dream to write in Russian and English as brilliantly as he did.
Q: Besides storytelling, you also write music. How do these two interests relate and intersect? Do you play an instrument or two?
I like composing music, which is the most gratifying way of story-telling for me. I don’t do poems anymore, I do songs now. I am not an instrumentalist though. I have never had a passion and patience to master an instrument, including my own voice, despite me singing all the time. I play an electronic keyboard piano well enough to compose music yet not to the extent that I could play live music. This would require both more technical brilliance and bravery that I don’t yet possess.
Q: What influences your writing? Books, music, anything else. What inspires you to create? Do you enjoy creative experimentations with forms and genres and beyond? Why or why not?
I think as writers we are influenced by so many things, it’s hard to dissect the importance of each of them. I am inspired by books with bold ideas, e.g. Dostoevsky’s novels, by talking to my friends about science, philosophy, politics, culture, by music ranging from Britpop to Borodin, by nature, especially when traveling to exotic places. Yes, I like doing experiments both in science and fiction, life would be boring if one just followed someone else’s blueprints.
Q: Being an indie author, how was your experience so far? Do you view your writing as a hobby or as another job besides the one you are doing in science? What were your biggest learning experiences and/or surprises along the writing and publishing journey?
I consider my writing a hobby with a professional attitude. I don’t write for myself, I write to communicate my ideas to other people, to make people think about science, art, the big picture, to make them laugh, to surprise them. I like to entertain. Being a self-published author gives you a lot of freedom that you don’t have in academic publishing. I learn new things every day. My biggest surprise so far is that many books that I consider pretty bad do commercially well, while many brilliant books don’t sell. I’ve learned that my literary preferences don’t necessarily coincide with wider audiences. Yet I have also learned that even most bizarre book has its audience. And this is why I think there may be a book in everyone.
Q: What are your most and least favorite books and why?
I don’t particularly like descriptive books, to be honest. Multiple pages with no dialogue scare me sometimes. I like intelligent books, bold to explore new things, also the ones written passionately and with a bit of humour. My favorite genre is existential comedy. Making people laugh is very hard. Making them remember your writing is even harder.
Q: I know you are working on Reader’s Mini Guide to Modern Russian Books and the beta-version will be available this fall. How did you get the idea for this project? What are your plans regarding such broad introduction of modern Russian literature to the Western audience?
I blog occasionally about Russian literature and constantly receive emails with questions about new Russian reads. I noticed that there’s a little information available on what’s been written in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. So, the plan is to provide an introduction to new Russian literature for readers, translators, and publishers. This will not be an academic read, it will hopefully be a simple and accessible genre-by-genre introduction. Meanwhile, I’ll keep blogging the bits and pieces from the book-in-progress to heat up the interest in this Guide. I’ll send my blog followers a free beta-version of the Guide once it’s done and maybe will get a feedback to improve it.
Q: How do you envision the future of literature as a form of information medium?
I think literature will remain with us in many ways. In classical print form, in digital version, in transmedia forms (coupled to film, computer game or music). But, as a form of art and story-telling, it will keep evolving along with its other media cousins.
Q: What are your future long-term and short-term projects? What the readers should expect?
I tend to plan short-term only, a couple of years ahead, so the Guide to Russian books, Bionia's part 2 and a new comedy next year are in the making.
Q: Where do people might go online to see more of your work firsthand?
My personal website contains my blog and all the information and links to my creative and scientific outputs. Thank you very much, Jelena, for having me at your blog.
Thank you for participating, Grigory. 🙂
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