What inspired your story “Domovoi”?
Many elements of my life came together to become this story: my love of old buildings (of course) and my Russian heritage. Mostly, however, it came from the deep fear that the things around us, the things we live with every day and take for granted, are more conscious and sentient than we know. I blame stories like The Velveteen Rabbit and The Mouse and His Child for raising these uncertainties in my young mind.
Could you tell us about the process of writing it?
I have lived in Portland, Oregon most of my life, and I wrote “Domovoi” around the same time that Portland’s Pearl District (once a magnificently seedy industrial area chockablock with run-down warehouses) was being transmogrified into what it is today: a hoity-toity district of trendy nightspots, tony boutiques, and twee eateries. While designer cupcakes are nice and all, I kind of liked it better the way it was.
You’re “an American history buff.” What’s your favorite period in American architecture? Do you have a favorite building or neighborhood?
I don’t have a favorite period in American architecture, because what I love is not any building’s particular style, but how its style evokes the time in which it was built. I love any building—from a colonial fort to a grain mill to a warehouse to a skyscraper—that tells me a story about what America used to be and how we used to live and work. I love imagining how all those little stories fit into one big story.
What are your thoughts on gentrification?
That’s a hard question. I appreciate a good, sensitive, accurate historic restoration—but not every building has the significance to merit such attention. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s a beauty in graceful decay, but there’s only one end to that story and it’s the wrecking ball. Walking a middle path of “adaptive reuse” has quite a bit to recommend it—it is satisfying to see an old building continue to be used and loved—but unfortunately, that’s usually done in the context of rich folks swooping in to displace poor folks because the rich folks happen to like where the poor folks are living. And that’s appalling. So . . . yeah. Those are my thoughts. Thank goodness you didn’t specify that they had to be cogent or insightful.
Ryan enjoys having his buildings gutted, cleaned and remade, but the actual work is done by his team, who are the ones that understand the domovoi. Do you enjoy DIY renovations?
Absolutely not. Before I actually owned an old house, I used to watch “This Old House” on PBS. Norm and Bob made every project seem like a hootenanny of kicks and giggles capped off with a wine and cheese party at the end. It was because of those lying bastards that I actually bought an old house. I now believe that Norm and Bob are like the Toxoplasmosis parasite that cats give to rats, that make rats brains go all mushy so that it’s easier for cats to catch them. Old houses everywhere are infecting the brains of the unsuspecting through such vectors (we won’t even talk about HGTV).
Could you tell us about your home’s spirit?
Just as in the story, it turns out that my house (a 1916 bungalow) has remodeled me more than I’ve remodeled it. When I bought this house, I had lots of big plans—shore up the sagging corner of the foundation, remodel the kitchen, add a second bath . . . but these things never actually happened. The house apparently enjoyed inflicting inconvenience on us, and didn’t want it any other way. So my family and I have had to adapt to its quirks over the years. We’ve come to terms with the lack of a family room, the shoebox closets, and the solitary downstairs bathroom with no shower. We didn’t update the house; the house retrodated us.
What’s next for you?
My next book is a historical fantasy called The Warlock’s Curse that continues the series I began with The Native Star. It will be coming out at the end of October. I am experimenting with this crazy “new publishing” model that everyone’s so excited about; thus, I am funding it via Kickstarter. The campaign will launch in April 2012 (on Friday the 13th). Interested readers can find out more at my website, www.demimonde.com.
Spread the word!