Sofiya Pasternack: Anya and the Dragon
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
September is here! I'm very excited about September (gee I wonder why) but that's not what this post is about. This post is about celebrating my fellow debuts! I know you're going to love all the fresh books coming at you this month!
Anya and the Dragon
by Sofiya Pasternack
Anya and the Dragon is the story of fantasy and mayhem in tenth century Eastern Europe, where headstrong eleven-year-old Anya is a daughter of the only Jewish family in her village. When her family’s livelihood is threatened by a bigoted magistrate, Anya is lured in by a friendly family of fools, who promise her money in exchange for helping them capture the last dragon in Kievan Rus'. This seems easy enough, until she finds out that the scary old dragon isn’t as old—or as scary—as everyone thought. Now Anya is faced with a choice: save the dragon, or save her family.
September 24th, 2019
Introduce yourself and your debut novel!
Hi everyone! I’m Sofiya Pasternack and my novel ANYA AND THE DRAGON comes out on 9/24/19. It’s about a Jewish girl teaming up with the village idiot in order to save the last dragon in Kievan Rus’!
What’s the most surprising part about your debut journey so far?
How simultaneously fast and slow time goes. It feels like forever until my book is out, but then I look at the calendar and it’s SO SOON! Like I’m caught in a time warp.
Give a shout-out to a fellow debut!
Aimee Lucido is my imprint debut buddy, and we’re touring together in October! Her book EMMY IN THE KEY OF CODE is a gorgeous verse novel. Don’t miss it!
Who is your favorite character?
Håkon the dragon is my absolute favorite. I refer to him quite often as “my scaly, anxious son” and I really just want the best for him.
How long did it take you to write this book?
I tried to do a retelling of my favorite fairy tale for a very, very long time, and I just couldn’t ever figure out how to do it. I probably wrote a hundred iterations of this story until I found Anya, and then things fell together so well.
What’s a cool thing about your book that isn’t in the blurb?
THE BLINTZES! That's right. It's Shavuot, so there are delicious cheesy blintzes.
Describe your main character in 3 words.
Anya is stubborn, thoughtful, and driven.
What advice would you give to a new writer?
In my job as a medical person, we have a certain number of hours every year we’re required to do, called continuing education (CE). This allows us to keep up with the latest trends in the medical field, even after we’ve left school. The writer equivalent to CEs is reading!! Read everything! Ride widely!
Describe your writing space.
I’ve taken over the front office of our house, previously designated as the library. Now it’s my writing room. My husband bought me a super cool trunk desk on clearance, and it’s covered with pens, papers for keeping hastily scribbled notes, and books for research. It’s a ridiculous mess and I love it.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
One way I used to keep myself interested in school was to imagine how every subject could be made magical. All of my history classes became “The Upper Middle Ages [but with wizards]” or “The Industrial Revolution [but there are unicorns],” and I suspect this is why I have such a good time in historical fantasy as an adult. Research for ANYA was all over the place.
How do you select character names?
My characters get named what their parents would reasonably have named them. The three main characters—Anya, Ivan, and Håkon—are named for family members. At this point in history, Kievan Rus’ was very newly Christian, and while a lot of the most common modern Russian names are Christian (Ivan, Anastasia, Fyodor, Ilya, Nataliya, etc), they would have been less common back then than traditional Slavic names (Borislav, Vladislav, Nadezhda, etc).
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I've been going to the same local writing group for about ten years now, and they've formed me into the writer than I am. I couldn't have reached my current writing status without their enthusiastic, honest feedback, and I'm so glad they never let me get away with shenanigans in my stories.
Challah recipe! This is my standard go-to plain challah recipe. Sometimes I substitute orange juice for water, and add chocolate chips before the first rising (for a babka-like bread) or I’ll mix in grated Granny Smith apples and extra honey rolled inside the strands, or I’ll add garlic and rosemary for a more savory bread. Flavors are lots of fun, or just sticking with plain challah is great too. It’s up to the baker!
Notes: I use a Kitchenaid mixer to knead, and if you don’t have a machine capable of kneading, you’ll have to learn to do it yourself! I don’t hand-knead, so I don’t know how to do it, but I do know that there are awesome videos on YouTube that can take you step-by-step through hand-kneading. Try it out if you want a good upper body workout!
1 packet instant yeast (2 ¼ tsp)
1 cup warm water (not too hot!)
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
¼ cup veggie oil (I use safflower, use whatever you want!)
2 Tbsp honey
2 eggs (plus 2 more for washing)
4 cups of flour (all-purpose is fine, but bread flour mixes better in my experience)
1 tsp kosher salt
Sesame and/or poppy seeds
A machine capable of kneading, plus an extra bowl for rising (if you don’t have a machine, you need two bowls, one for mixing and one for rising)
Measuring cups and spoons
Nonstick cooking spray
1. Combine yeast, warm water, and sugar in the bowl of the mixer. Gently combine and let stand for ~15 minutes. The mixture should turn bubbly (and smell yeasty), and if it doesn’t, you’ll need some different yeast!
2. While you wait the 15 minutes, combine veggie oil, honey, and 2 eggs in a cup. Pour into the yeast mixture and combine. Add the salt, then flour ½ cup at a time until it’s all incorporated (If you’re adding flavored goodies, like garlic or chocolate chips, this is the time to put them in!), then knead for 7-10 minutes, until the gluten activates and the dough pulls away from the sides easily. If the dough is super sticky, you’re not done kneading yet!
3. While the dough kneads, grab a bowl at least 2 times larger than your dough ball (the dough is going to rise A LOT and you need the extra room!). Spray the sides with nonstick cooking spray and grab enough Saran/plastic wrap to cover the top. Grab your dough ball from kneading and put it into the sprayed bowl, then put the wrap over the top. Leave it in a warm (not hot) place to rise for about 1 ½ hours, or until the dough is twice as large as it is at the start.
4. Get a baking sheet and line with parchment paper. Set aside. Crack both reserved eggs into a bowl and mix until they’re both smooth. Get out a brush for washing.
5. When your dough has risen, PUNCH IT! This knocks the air out and makes it easier to braid it.
6. Take your dough out of the bowl and braid it. Braiding is so much easier watched than explained, so here are some links to my favorite YouTube tutorials on braiding a 4-strand and a round loaf:
a. 4-strand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llhB1eNh580
7. After you’re done braiding, apply your egg wash gently to the bread and set back in its warm place for 30 minutes. At this time, preheat your oven to 350 F. At the end of 30 minutes, wash your loaf again (gently!) and if you want, sprinkle sesame or poppy seeds on top.
8. Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and let cool on a wire rack for however long you can stand it. Then chow down!
Bread can be really finnicky depending on lots of factors (mine misbehaves if it’s too humid, for example), so sometimes it takes a little bit of trial and error to get things just perfect. It took me a few weeks to get mine down just right. Don’t give up!
Is it dorky that I interviewed myself? Well, I don't care! I did it! And I'm excited for my book's release on 9/24/19, and I hope you all love it as much as I do!