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Featured Writer Friday: Larissa Shmailo on Writing About Hot-Button Topics and More

April 26, 2019

Larissa Shmailo is a poet, novelist, translator, editor, and critic. Her new novel is Sly Bang; her first novel is Patient Women. Her poetry collections are Medusa’s Country, #specialcharacters, In Paran, A Cure for Suicide, and Fib Sequence . Her poetry albums are The No-Net World and Exorcism, for which she won the New Century Best Spoken Word Album award. Shmailo is the original English-language translator of the first Futurist opera Victory over the Sun by Alexei Kruchenych, performed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Garage Museum of Moscow, and theaters and universities worldwide. Shmailo also edited the online anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry and has been a translator for the Eugene A. Nida Institute of Biblical Scholarship on the Russian Bible. Please see more about Larissa at her website larissashmailo.com and Wikipedia.

Tell us about your writing journey. How did you begin writing, and how did you break into the industry? When did you know you could make a career out of it?

I have always made a living writing, editing, and translating—as a development officer for Baruch College and the American Foundation for the Blind, as an editor for Pearson and McGraw-Hill, as a translator for NASA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the American Bible Society. But I went entirely freelance in 2012 to work on literary projects. I discovered ghosting and creative naming and verbal identity branding for advertising was more lucrative than grant writing and writing for educational publishing. I supplement my book sales and article writing that way.

What topics do you particularly enjoy writing about? Why?

I am a gadfly. Recently, I published a critical article about the dangers of the the religious right in the sacred cow Alcoholics Anonymous; I have also questioned Louise Hay and the New Age movement. In addition to novels and poetry, I especially enjoy critical wriitng, and most recently wrote on sexual sadism in [the works of] David Foster Wallace.

What does your writing routine look like? How do you stay productive and overcome blocks?

I don’t block; what I need to write always comes to me. I usually plan my day the night before, and set out small and specific writing tasks, like “flesh out Nora’s torture in the Hades lab.” I just open the Word doc—the rest comes.

What strategies do you focus on when cultivating your platform?

I am very active on Facebook, where I have a fan base of 1,622 registered fans (Larissa Shmailo – Poetry and Prose) and 4,900 friends. I create groups and pages to support book sales; Facebook is text friendly. I also post to LinkedIn and blog on Goodreads and my personal blog. Now, I am working on cultivating my Twitter following.

If you could go back and change anything about your writing career, is there anything you would choose to do differently?

I would have gone freelance earlier; I also would have required more money for my work-for-hire projects.

I drank, drugged, and whored around until I was fifty, then set down to serious work on my literary career. I pity anyone who does it the other way around.

What’s your best piece of advice for someone looking to be a full-time writer?

Don’t do it alone—get a community, many communities, to support you. Connect with colleagues and make friends with other writers.

What are you working on next?

I am promoting my new novel, Sly Bang, which has been recommended for readers who like Gogol, Kafka, Beckett, and Burgess, with readings at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in Portland, OR, Chicago, the New Orleans Poetry Festival, and multiple launches in New York. And I am writing my memoir of a checkered career involving mental illness, addiction, prostitution, and a lively literary life. It’s called Episodes and is hybrid fiction/poetry/creative nonfiction.

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