The Trauma of Falling, the Hope in Writing

An Interview with Elena Sichrovsky

by Ann Fisher, Mud Season Review Fiction Co-Editor

“I firmly believe that having an audience for your first drafts and receiving feedback is essential to becoming a good writer.”

Elena Sichrovsky

Our readers found “did it hurt when you fell” hauntingly beautiful. Tell us a bit about how you found this story.  

This story came about in a really interesting way. It started about a year ago when I was doing writing exercises with some other writers on Tumblr and one of them gave me a one-word prompt. The word was “wings”, and I wrote the section that ended up near the end of the first part of “did it hurt when you fell.” The idea of falling from Heaven can be found throughout mythology and storytelling in different cultures. It’s often portrayed as something severe, a punishment, an abandonment, being cast out of your home. I started thinking about the intensity of that loss, the hurt and grief that you’d carry after such a traumatic event. I’ve learned from my own experience that healing from trauma is not a linear process. There are moments when it floods you in an overwhelming wave, and then times when it’s more like this constant dull throb right beneath your skin. I wanted to explore more about this fallen angel because I found this compelling, intense physicality to his trauma. At the same time, it was a story that felt deeply human and real to me.

How did you sculpt the relationship between the two main characters? Was their connection there from the beginning, with the first drafts, or did it evolve?  

In the first draft the narrator had more of an observational relationship with the protagonist. I knew the two of them had a very genuine respect and care for each other, but their relationship really deepened when I started writing the second part. And when I wrote subsequent drafts, their relationship blossomed and really became the whole story. “I’m here and I’m not leaving, no matter how much pain you’re in” — that’s the kind of love they had. 

What is your favorite part of the story, and why? Were there any parts or scenes you cut out as you shaped the story? 

Oh, this is a tough question. I love this story so much, it’s honestly one of my magnum opuses. I’ve written almost a dozen stories that use the frame of a fantasy character to explore the dynamic of relationships amid trauma and recovery, but this is by far one of my favorites because it’s so raw and painful, but the ending still carries so much hope. There’s an acknowledgement of what has been lost but also what’s been gained. I guess that’s my favorite part, ending with:

(him: my Father doesn’t love me)
(you: but I do)

You mentioned that this piece has ridden a few waves of submissions. What did you learn about the process as you worked to get this piece published? 

This story’s journey was kind of unusual for me! I wrote the first part of the story in April 2021 and started submitting it as flash fiction to several different places. It got rejected, but some of the rejections said encouraging things like “this piece came close” or “we really enjoyed this one”. Then I wrote the second half and, with the help of the Inkwell Fiction Workshop, reshaped and refined the entire story and started submitting again. It was amazing to me how this story seemed to transcend genre; I got quite positive rejection letters from both fantasy magazines, speculative fiction journals, and literary publications. I usually write more straightforward fantasy or horror stories, so the submission process for this story has encouraged me to try more different writing styles. I think the experimental structure of this narrative and the emotion of these characters made it interesting for a wider range of audiences.  

Your bio mentions your work with the Inkwell Fiction Workshop. Tell us a bit about that group, and how it impacts your writing.

This group has genuinely shaped me into the writer I am today! When I first joined six years ago, I had never published a story before. I didn’t even know what genre or style I was good at. Today I’ve been published in a dozen different publications and am now helping to lead the Fiction Workshop in Shanghai and mentor others. Inkwell has writing workshops in several different cities in China, but it all started in Shanghai in 2015. At the fiction workshop we submit short stories and then we meet up every other week to discuss each story and give feedback. Most of the members are expats because of the writing being in English, but we also have lots of local participants and there are Chinese-language writing workshops in development. I firmly believe that having an audience for your first drafts and receiving feedback is essential to becoming a good writer.

Who do you rely on as readers and critiques for your writing? 

Outside of the Inkwell Fiction Workshop I have a few close friends that I can send my work to as first readers. My younger brother has also been faithfully reading my work for the past decade now, bless him. Also, before I found the workshop here in Shanghai, I was part of a fantastic online forum, LegendFire. The community there was my first experience in sharing writing outside of my family, and it really encouraged me to reach out more.

Do you ever send a piece out without running it through a workshop/reader first? How do you decide when it’s time to send it out?

Most of the time I try to send it to at least one reader first. Unless it’s poetry or a piece of flash fiction where I feel confident enough to spot any errors on my own. I’m extremely particular about deciding when a short story is ready to send out: typically, I edit a story 6-9 times and then also run it through the fiction workshop and possibly another reader later, before submitting. I also give myself a few days or weeks between the final edits so I can get fresh eyes on my work. Most of the time I don’t feel like a story is ready to submit until it’s gone through two to three drafts.

This pandemic continues to ravage our world, and Shanghai is amid a lock-down crisis as we head to publication of your story. Tell us a bit about how you as a writer are surviving this changing world.

Well, it definitely gives me more time to work on submissions! It’s honestly hard to navigate the stress and mental exhaustion of the pandemic and find energy to still be creative. Shanghai’s lockdown crisis has been particularly challenging for me as it happened right during spring, so I’ve missed being able to go outside and enjoy the warm weather and cherry blossoms that only last a few weeks. It’s not easy to find inspiration under the strain of isolation; I’ve been engaging in a lot of “vent writing”, where I just imbue my characters with all my frustration and despair about the situation. And then I give them all the hugs and forehead kisses and hand-holding that I can’t have myself. 

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