Gina Ochsner

In conversation with

Tell me a bit yourself?
I was born and raised in Salem, Oregon. After graduating from high school, I attended George Fox University. Once all attempts to start an all-female football team (The Fighting Quakers) failed, I left and attended Iowa State University, where I was thrilled to discover that the population of hogs outnumbered humans 3 to 1. I worked in a deli called, Cheese and Puppets, where the population of plush animals outnumbered the cheese products 3 to 1. Not long after I was hired, the deli underwent radical management downsizing; I’m not sure if this is a result of my less-than-stellar job performance, though I have many fond memories of this place and still love cheese tremendously.

What was the transition like between writing short stories and your first novel?
In both forms, I found that a strong sense of narrative propels the larger story forward. I had become so accustomed to thinking in small tight modular “boxes”, each scene or expository segment another box or glue linking one box to the next, that it was very difficult for me to force my gaze up and onto a larger canvass. “Think long, think large,” my writer friends encouraged. “You first,” I’d counter. A novel, I soon discovered, required from me a looser grip on the reigns, and I found this quite unnerving at times

What’s your writing process like?
I have some writer friends who are perhaps the most disciplined people on this planet. They rise each morning at 4:30am and write for three hours, maybe four. Perhaps it is a genetic aberration or something in me, but I have tried to work that way; but I’ve not been able to muster up much of anything at those hours. I’m not even human until 9:00, which is sad for the kids because they have to suffer my pre-human presence from 6:30-8:30—the crazy hours when they race through their morning routines and dash off to school while I wave a limp goodbye. I’ve discovered that I work best in short increments: a half of an hour here, twenty minutes there, and then perhaps a golden hour while I’m stirring the pot or watching water boil or something.

Have you spent much time in Russia?
Every picture I’d seen of Russia, it is indescribably beautiful, vast, and beyond whatever I would try to make of it. My lack of language skills aside, I knew I had to go. I knew, too, that I had to forget everything I thought I knew about this immense country I had never lived in nor seen before. I fell in love with St. Petersburg. A city built of islands; St. Petersburg was like no city I’d ever seen. After that visit, I knew this country was far too immense, the people and their history far too complicated to be summed up in a single glance.

Who is your favourite character in The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight?
Every character in this book is close to my heart. Olga I love because she labours under a mother’s ponderous heart that beats only for her son and the good of her son. Yuri is an alter ego, I think, a dreamer who is slightly more useful than I am because, at the very least, he brings home fish. Tanya I adore, a dreamer in her own right who longs for all the things she can’t possibly have. Azade breaks my heart. She holds the lowliest position in this blended community. She’s connected to dreams, something intangible that becomes tangibly felt and understood by her. She’s the link, the transition between the two worlds and utterly necessary.

Who are your favourite authors and why?
I’ve always admired Milorad Pavic for his daring architectures. I first read The Dictionary of the Khazars when I was 20 and he is the writer that made me want to write. Under the Glacier by Halldor Laxness must be one of my favourite books ever and when people complain that nobody except South Americans are writing Magic Realism these days, I wave my beloved copies of Glacier or anything Pavic has written under their noses.

If you had to give everything away, but could keep one thing, what would it be?
Our house is packed to the gills with thrift store finds. I’m fond of these treasures, though I’ll admit I’ve frittered away far too much money on these things. I’ve collected wind-up tin toys that serve no earthly purpose other than to spin or scoot. They are silly and I’d be sorry to see them go, but not heart broken. There are a few photos of family members that if damaged would be hard to repair or restore, and of course, they hold great sentimental value. I can’t walk past these photos without pausing because every photo represents a life and history and whole body of stories that bear witness and relevancy and agency upon us even now.