Writing Fantasy In Slovenia: An Interview With Author Andrew Anzur Clement
Writer Andrew Anzur Clement is Los Angeles native who claimed his Slovene citizenship through ancestry. Starting at the age of nineteen, he’s spent the past decade traveling, working and studying in many places around Europe and Asia. After completing his PhD in Brussels last year, he moved to Slovenia, where, along with rediscovering his family roots, he is finding inspiration for new stories in the country’s history.
Interview by Marijana Podhraški for @letsgoslovenia
What was the main reason for your decision to move to Slovenia, when did you realize you wanted to live here?
It’s always been a dream to live in my ‘second homeland.’ Although I’ve traveled around a lot over the past ten years, I had been coming to Slovenia almost every year during that time, and really enjoyed every trip. While doing my PhD in Belgium and UK, I discovered a passion for writing historical fantasy fiction and decided to pursue that following my defense. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally move here.
What have been some of the biggest challenges so far for a young Californian native adapting to life in Slovenia?
It’s a small country. But this is also one of the main reasons why I decided to move here; Slovenia’s small size makes the country very livable. But, I sometimes find the smallness jarring. Slovenia is like a big extended family, where it can seem like everyone already knows everyone else. When you come to it from the ‘outside’ this can make it a bit difficult to break into the ‘inner network’.
How do people in Slovenia respond when you tell them you are Slovene, too?
It depends on the situation, but things always change the minute people see my Slovene ID card. Especially because I only speak the language on an intermediate level, when I tell some of my friends that I am Slovene, they assume that I only mean that I have some Slovene roots. They are usually surprised to find out that I have a Slovene passport and ID card, just like they do, and afterwards are unsure of how to introduce me to other people they know. At the Administrative Office or in a bank, people will usually insist on speaking English even when I try in Slovene, but once they see my Slovene ID, they speak only in Slovene, which is good for my language ability.
What’s your favorite thing about Slovenia and the people here?
Perhaps because the country is so small, there is a sense of community here that doesn’t exist anywhere else I have lived. I often marvel at how safe Ljubljana is and how people seem to trust in that safety. Really, it’s a great place to live!
What do you enjoy about historical fantasy writing and why did you pick it?
I’m a big fan of ‘what if?’ alternate histories. My stories take place amid real historical events and eras, but I enjoy building a secret magical story about what ‘really’ happened. For instance, my current series, Voyages of Fortune contains an entire plot line that weaves the histories of the Counts of Celje and Alma Karlin, a famous Slovene writer who traveled the world in the 1920’s, into a mystic power struggle between fallen angels and the devil’s demonic servants. It’s like historical fiction, but with space folding pirate ships, people who can turn into cats and time travel. Great, crazy fun!
Can you tell a bit more about your first book series Keepers of the Stone ? Who are the main characters, how did you come up with their names etc.?
Keepers of the Stone is a trilogy about a misfit warrior thief and her snarky shape-shifting sidekick. Who knew we share the world with cats that can turn into people? They are entrusted with protecting a magically powerful diamond from the devil’s demon warriors, during the late 19th century. The two of them must pull together with other allies from very different and conflicting backgrounds, as they embark on a quest that will take them from British India to Central Europe via places as diverse as the American West and Switzerland.
At its core, Keepers is a story about finding where you belong when you don’t fit into any one culture. The characters’ names play a role in how they determine the final destination of their quest, so I’ll leave that a bit mysterious for now….
You’ve already mentioned your current series, Voyages of Fortune, which has a more “Slovene background” …
During my first visit to Celje in 2017, I was captivated by the story of Frederik of Celje and Veronika Deseniška as well as the travels of Alma Karlin. I left determined to tell a story that connected the two of them. This turned into Voyages of Fortune, the current series that I’m writing.
One of the main characters is an American who discovers that he had Slovene roots he never knew about, and that this means he is destined to accompany Alma on a globetrotting quest, handed down to her through time from the Counts of Celje. His arc of discovering a whole identity and purpose that he never knew he had is semi-autobiographical. Many details that he discovers along the way, like the correct pronunciation of his last name, come from my own experiences of rediscovering my Slovene roots.
What is your writing process here in Ljubljana, how and where do you work best ?
I often write in NUK, the National and University Library. Even though I can technically work from anywhere, NUK is an inspiring place to sit down, write and be productive. If the weather is nice, I also enjoy writing along the banks of the Ljubljanica river in Trnovo. As a weird quirk, I’m probably most prolific while traveling on long plane, train, or bus trips.
Who were your writing idols, if any?
My grandmother was Polish-American and my grandfather Slovene-American, but he was always a great deal more shy about his background. Because of this, as a teenager, I was sent to weekend Polish school, where I first read Henryk Sienkiewicz’s In Desert and Wilderness, which is kind of the Polish version of Srečno Kekec. I fell in love with it. When I decided to start writing Keepers of the Stone it was because I wanted to tell a story in the same vein, but with more of an outright fantasy world.
What do you think of Ljubljana cultural life/scene comparing to Brussels, or even comparing to L.A.?
Even counting LA, Brussels is probably the most international city I’ve lived in. There are many cultural events going on all the time. In general, it is possible to get virtually anything at any time of day or night.
In Slovenia, things tend to run on more of a ‘set’ schedule and there tends to be only one of everything. That’s a good thing because that one thing is usually very nice and people here also have more of a commitment to making sure that where they are living stays nice. This isn’t the case in Brussels where it can sometimes seem like everyone is transient or from somewhere else. As I like to say, Slovenia is the small country that has everything.
Final thoughts on Slovenia, or maybe Ljubljana?
Slovenia is also a great place to get inspiration, because it’s a country with a rich and complex history. Since I moved here, I’ve already been inspired to write an outright historical series set during the Yugoslav conflicts of the 1990’s, after I finish Voyages of Fortune. The working title is Tito’s Lost Children and the first book will deal with Slovenia’s Ten Days War of Independence. I’m really excited about both series, and glad I decided to move here!
Read about Andrew’s finding family roots in Slovenia here!