Updated: Sep 23, 2021
As we continue briskly toward the release date of The Needle Drops... Volume One, we still have several Beneath the Needle features left to debut. For number nineteen, we chat with Sofia Ezdina about her Flash Fiction contribution Whatever walks there, walks alone, gain insight into how Sofia crafts her prose and poetry, and address environmental activism, overconsumption and the importance of empowering and politicizing individuals in the ongoing fight for the future of our planet.
Sofia Ezdina is a writer and queer woman from Russia, who befriends stray animals and whispers eerie things. While her main field of expertise is fiction, she sometimes writes on ecological issues in Russia, examples of which can be found in The Revelator and Reckoning.
Her works have appeared in Jalada Africa, Enchanted Conversation, and Air and Nothingness Press. One of her poems was also named as a runner-up for Barjeel Poetry Prize. You can stalk her on Twitter, which remains inconveniently bilingual.
So, Sofia - Whatever walks there, walks alone emanates such an atmosphere whilst remaining one of the shorter pieces in The Needle Drops… Volume One. Even so, it caught our eye, and your vivid prose is simply gorgeous. Would you mind sharing the origins of the story, and how it formed into a final piece?
I have a long-time fascination with stories about hauntings, with haunted houses being the most prominent subject (the title is a famous passage from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House). But the haunted houses are almost always very, very old – these gothic Victorian mansions, anger laying in their foundation, their personalities too big for their walls and reflecting those of their owners. The story might be modern, but the house is always old. So I asked myself, what would a modern haunted house look like? It cannot afford a big character and big crimes, it has no big owner to mirror. Then I realized: the modern haunted house is no house. It’s an apartment. Blank, bland, adaptable. Faceless. It does not profit from killing its residents or driving them mad like old houses do. Instead, it feeds on them – such is the nature of the housing business. It’s not a predator; it’s a parasite.
As with many stories in Volume One, the location and place constructed by your fiction is particularly important to Whatever walks there, walks alone. Was this location based on any personal experiences?
Yes and no. The place in Whatever walks there, walks alone is any mildly infuriating rooming experience you’ve ever had. It’s a no-place. It’s a shitty apartment you’ve rented when you first moved out from your parents. It’s a motel in the middle of nowhere. It’s the cheapest Airbnb on the outskirts of the city centre. It’s an IKEA-stocked hostel room you’ve got for one night on your business trip. It’s not based on any particular experience, rather, it’s a general aftertaste of all such sojourns.
Aside from your works within fiction, you also write on ecological issues in Russia -- an important voice to platform such a crucial issue that is only deepening as humanity seems to idle around an obvious lit fuse (read Sofia’s excellent piece in The Revelator here.) Could you share an experience or a little insight into your environmental activism?
It is always an uphill battle against the Russian government and corporations connected to it via nepotistic networks. Against indifference and avoidance of responsibility. I’m helping some environmental organizations, as well as volunteering in rehab for wild animals, but I consider spreading the word my biggest contribution. It’s amazing how many people from all around the world donated to help us fight recent wildfires just after few Twitter threads.
"It is always an uphill battle against the Russian government and corporations connected to it via nepotistic networks. Against indifference and avoidance of responsibility."
A question large in scope, but building on this and to the best of your ability in the short format of a Q&A: in your opinion, what’s the next immediate and most important step in repositioning humanity toward a positive climate future?
The politicization of mass swathes of people and their empowerment. If you’ve read about Shiyes, it’s locals who prevent the building of the landfill with, essentially, guerrilla tactics. It’s people from other parts of Russia who travel hundreds of miles just to join them. It’s also important to educate people that a personal conscious lifestyle isn’t enough – right and good, but not enough. We need to change our core patterns of consumption, but more importantly, we need to change the patterns of production as well.
You are also a poet, mentioning your success achieving runner-up in the Barjeel Poetry Prize. Can you tell us a little about your poetry, and common themes you return to when expressing yourself in this format?
I’m a poet almost by accident. When I only started pitching my stories, many editors noted my writing style as “poetic”. I revised a few of my old flash pieces and realized that most of them can be turned into poems. Now, whenever I got a new idea, I always ask myself, would it work better as prose or a poem?
As a side note, I think, it’s where the difference between English and Russian literature surfaces. Contemporary English writing gravitates towards short and sharp language and is extremely plot-centric. Historically, Russian writing is much more abstract and purple-pros-y. It’s about the vibe. The momentum. That’s what you get for Tolstoy in a middle school.
The themes in my poetry and my prose are the same. Hunger, otherness, identity, isolated places, losing a home, looking for one. Losing something precious, parts of self, and wondering if you can stay the same person after that.
"Contemporary English writing gravitates towards short and sharp language and is extremely plot-centric. Historically, Russian writing is much more abstract and purple-pros-y. It’s about the vibe. The momentum."
What future project are you working on that you’d like to highlight to our readers? Alongside this, what’s a past piece from yourself that you have particularly fond memories of?
I’m working on a bigger “modern haunted house” piece, no idea when it will get finished or published. But this one will have a much more positive outlook on the nature of our relationships with places we live in. As for older stuff, check out strange hungers, if you’re keen on mild body horror, Greek myths, identity crisis, and that pesky “poetic” writing.
Pivoting to the horror genre at large, what recent queer horror media have you enjoyed and would recommend wholeheartedly?
Everything by Cassandra Khaw is pure delight. Their Nothing but Blackened Teeth is full of hurt, hurting people, claustrophobic atmosphere, helplessness, and very flawed relationships on display. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
In three words or less - what can our readers expect from Whatever walks there, walks alone?
We really appreciate your time, Sofia, and have nothing but praise for the excellent Whatever walks there, walks alone -- available in The Needle Drops… Volume One this October.
You can find and follow Sofia and her work over on Twitter.