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DJ: Hi Sofiya! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Sofiya Pasternack: Hi everyone! I’m an author, a trauma and disaster nurse, and a grad student getting a Doctor of Nursing Practice in Psychiatry! I’m also mom to two great kids. I live in Utah but I grew up on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
DJ: What is Anya and the Dragon about?
Sofiya: It’s about an 11-year-old Jewish girl in 10th Century Russia who teams up with the village idiot to save the world’s last dragon. There’s magic, monsters, baking, bravery, and goats.
DJ: What were some of your influences for Anya and the Dragon?
Sofiya: I was absolutely inspired by Slavic folk tales and Russian epics. I grew up obsessed with these bonkers Russian fairy tales and when I grew up I really wanted to turn one (or many) of them into adapted stories. I read a lot of Russian fairy tale books and collections. I also read Katherine Arden’s WINTERNIGHT TRILOGY. I loved seeing her different takes on the same mythology. We both have a domovoi and a rusalka in our stories, but they’re very distinct from each other.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them? ((aka What makes them compelling?))
Sofiya: I’ve always envisioned Anya as very steadfast. She complains about her goats but she’s very much like them. If she decides she’s going to do something, she does it. She doesn’t necessarily succeed at things due to any special abilities or magic or anything like that; she just doesn’t give up. On the other hand, Ivan is special for many reasons. He can use not just one but two types of magic. He’s very smart and logical, even despite his best efforts. He really wants to be stupid, but he can’t help but analyze situations. He values safety and the idea that one should live to fight another day, but he’s a loyal friend through and through. Haakon ((his name is normally spelled with a special character as the A but for some reason I can’t insert it into this document… I can’t even paste it in from somewhere else!)) has never had a friend before and is so excited to finally be able to have one that he forgets how to be safe in a world that wants him dead. He has the capability to be incredibly powerful and even dangerous, but he just wants to play games and hang out with chickens.
DJ: Aside from the main characters in the story, who is a favorite side character or a character with a smaller role in the story? Why?
Sofiya: Anya’s parents are favorites. In middle grade novels, the writer is often faced with the task of getting rid of the parents, because parents would prevent most of the adventuring and shenanigans from happening. Anya’s dad is physically absent because he was conscripted and is away fighting a war. Her mom is having a very hard time dealing with Anya’s father’s absence and all of her energy and attention is focused on keeping the family afloat. They’re absent for different reasons, but Anya hears her father’s voice as her conscience when she’s grappling with something complex, and her mother is the motivation for doing the difficult things she’s doing. For me as a parent, they’re what I hope for with my own children: even if I’m absent for some reason, I hope to have set them up with a good enough foundation that they won’t need me when they’re in trouble. They’ll be able to figure things out themselves.
DJ: What is the world and setting of Anya and the Dragon like?
Sofiya: Anya’s world is semi-historical. It takes place in a principality called Kievan Rus’, which was a real place in what is now Western Russia and Ukraine largely. The people were a mix of native Slavs and migrating Rus (basically Vikings), which is represented in Anya’s town. Back then they didn’t have tsars yet, they had Grand Princes, and their borders fluctuated regularly. I had to pin down a solid year in order to make sure some things were historically accurate, so I used epic oral poems called byliny as guides. My favorites feature magical heroes based on real people who, historically, all lived at very different times. But in the folk tales, they all hung out together and served the same tsar: Vladimir I, who reigned at the end of the 10th Century into the beginning of the 11th. A lot of really cool stuff was happening around that time, so I went with that time period. I changed some names (Vladimir is not named Vladimir) and some details (technically everyone should have been Catholic because the Schism hadn’t happened yet, but I made them Eastern Orthodox), but overall I tried to keep things as historically accurate as I could.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Anya and the Dragon?
Sofiya: Writing in general is something I really love. Creating worlds and people and magic is a singular kind of feeling. About ANYA specifically, I loved having to write within the confines of the folklore or the history. I couldn’t make the characters do everything I wanted them to, because it wouldn’t have been feasible or socially acceptable or something. Some monsters wouldn’t have made sense, some heroes had to be excluded, and so on. That’s something very fun about writing historical fantasy: the challenge of writing within set limits.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Sofiya: I’ve already heard people talking about how the dragon surprised them, and I really hope that continues. I love that he’s subverting expectations and is gathering up some fans, and in my wildest dreams he sparks a revolution of nice monsters in fantasy.
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began writing Anya and the Dragon? Was there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Sofiya: ANYA AND THE DRAGON plus its sequel ANYA AND THE NIGHTINGALE are both about thinking for yourself, even if almost everyone is telling you something else. In DRAGON, Anya is told over and over that the dragon is a ferocious monster, but this never quite sits right with her. In NIGHTINGALE, she’s told the Nightingale is a ferocious monster, but she sees so much proof to the contrary. I hope this is translated into assuming the best of people and acting with kindness.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Anya and the Dragon that you can share with us?
Sofiya: I think my favorite has got to be Anya yelling “You’re a bad goat!” at her goat, followed by every instance of the goat saying something back. Just assume he’s gone and said the sassiest thing you can imagine.
DJ: Now that Anya and the Dragon is released, what is next for you?
Sofiya: Anya has a sequel! ANYA AND THE NIGHTINGALE will release in Fall of 2020, and is about Anya’s continuing adventures as she tries to figure out the sound sorcerer who is terrorizing Kiev.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07LFWLFXJ
Author Newsletter: https://www.sofiyapasternack.com/sign-up
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Anya and the Dragon that we haven’t talked about yet?
Sofiya: ANYA is Jewish fantasy with a triumphant ending, so if that’s something you need in your life, you’d probably enjoy this book!!
DJ: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Sofiya: I tell all the kids I see at school visits, if you want to be a writer, all you have to do is write. That’s it! So go write that story in your head. Someone in the world needs to read it!
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Sofiya: Thank you DJ! These were awesome questions that were so fun to answer!
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***Anya and the Dragon is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and is available TODAY!!!***
Buy the Book:
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About the Book:
This lush tale of magic and dragons is a gem for any adventure-seeking middle grader and perfect for fans of Aru Shah and the End of Time.
Anya and the Dragon is the story of fantasy and mayhem in tenth century Eastern Europe, where headstrong eleven-year-old Anya is a daughter of the only Jewish family in her village. When her family’s livelihood is threatened by a bigoted magistrate, Anya is lured in by a friendly family of fools, who promise her money in exchange for helping them capture the last dragon in Kievan Rus. This seems easy enough, until she finds out that the scary old dragon isn’t as old—or as scary—as everyone thought. Now Anya is faced with a choice: save the dragon, or save her family.
About the Author:
Sofiya Pasternack grew up surrounded by goats, and as an adult pets the neighbor’s goats through the fence even though she probably shouldn’t. When she’s not working at the hospital, she can be found enjoying Utah’s wild places, teaching her kids to make challah, and defending nice dragons. She should definitely be studying right now. Her debut novel ANYA AND THE DRAGON is kind of about Anya, a goatherd’s daughter, and kind of about a dragon, but is mostly about Anya’s favorite goat, Zvezda.