“I tend to let the story take me where it wants to go”
Interview | Mihaela Marija Perkovic
Mihaela Marija Perković – a Croatian author, editor, translator, workshopper, and ‘geek whisperer’ – says when she sits down to write, she tends to let the story lead the way. While she writes mainly speculative fiction, romance and genre literature, the phases she goes through are more tied to form – script, novel, short fiction – rather than genre as such.
“I tend to let the story take me where it wants to go,” she said, speaking ahead of her appearance at the 7th EU-China International Literary Festival. “For example, with my script partner, Irena Krčelić, I have a project set in the time of Vučedol culture, an eneolithic period when copper-smithing culture arose in the area of Eastern Croatia. It started out as a fantasy narrative, but after some iterations, turned, among other things, into a historical romance novel.”
Her novella Teuta’s Boat was very well received and won the Croatian national SF award SFERA in 2021. Teuta’s Boat is a fantasy or alternate history centering around a woman re-assessing her life and her ambitions amidst a political and personal crisis, set in 3rd century BC, in the area where the Croatian city of Split currently is.
“I hesitate to say alternate history, because that was one of the challenges writing it – how much to change, and how much to leave and how much will people nit-pick over the historical accuracy or lack thereof. It is a period we do not know much about, but we do know that there was a queen named Teuta who ruled the Illyrian tribe, or tribes, in that particular area, and she is famous for having raided Roman ships. Illyrian sailors are, according to some claims, the ones from whom the Romans copied some ship designs and marine battle techniques which helped them rule the Mediterranean seas later on.
“I started writing it for a Montenegrin call for speculative fiction short stories about Teuta, the pirate queen and about Illyrian history, but it soon became obvious it would be a novella, so I never sent it there.”
The narratives tend to take a life of their own as they develop, she finds.
“As a writer, I seem to have a hard time stopping myself from committing metafiction, so juggling the details, the narrative turns and the character arcs that make this novella also a coming out story, and a growing up story, and a bit of an homage to Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Siren, as well as Disney’s animated film of the same name, was one of the challenges as well.”
Wearing a multitude of hats in her professional life, Perković said carving out the time to sit down and write can be difficult at times.
“The major challenge, for me, is always finding time to write. The way I do it, writing is not only thinking it up, and then sitting down and typing it out, I envy the authors who can do that. A story and its characters live in my head while I am working on it, and they do it in a chaos that is not unlike my everyday life, too. Thus, writing requires time and brain space, which I do not always manage to find.”
One of her many roles is ‘geek whisperer’, a title she earned through her tech-writing endeavours.
“I am an English, Italian and Journalism graduate but I currently work as a technical writer in the automotive industry, which I like to describe as ‘translating programmer speak into engineer speak’, due to the nature of my job. It was not a job I felt very qualified for, but it turned out that the person who recruited me had a very good hunch – I am good at communicating with programmers in a way that enables me to get user-relevant information out of them and create tech documentation that is useful, succinct and covers all the details programmers deem self-understood but users usually do not. And I seem to have a calming effect as well, so ‘geek whisperer’ was an office joke that I liked so much that I started using it everywhere.”
Perković has been running writing workshops for many years and said that beginner writers most often have trouble seeing how much of what they imagined did not actually make it into their text, or if it did, that it is positioned in such a way that it does not make sense or just feels off to the readers.
“The best exercise for this would be to just write it all out, put it in a drawer and wait until you forget all about it. Then read it, and it is likely you will see what you failed to actually show in the story itself. This, of course, is quite time consuming, and can be skipped over if a writer can hear and accept critique – letting other people, who are not friends or family, read what you wrote to find out what it is that they see when reading. This feedback does not always have to be correct – different people will take wildly different things from one’s stories – but if you give a story to 10 different people and the majority of them get confused or have an issue with the same part in the story, that is where you start the revisions,” she said.
Very active in SF fandom, Perković has been involved in the organisation of some previous Worldcons, and very much hopes to be in Chengdu next year when the Sichuan capital plays hosts to the 2023 Worldcon.
“The thing I love about Worldcon is the fact that when it changes the venue, it also changes flavour. Each organising committee makes it their own while at the same time adhering to the established traditions. You are, in effect, attending the same convention every time, but also attending a completely new one at the same time and that is what makes it so much fun. I very much look forward to seeing what flavour of Worldcon Chinese fans come up with.”