In continuation of the series of interviews in the English language the Literary Portal managed to interview Alexander Mendybayev, a contemporary Kazakh writer and a versatile talented personality.
- Alexander, good day! How is it going? Could you please tell us about yourself?
- Hello! Well, thanks again for your proposal to take this interview. I was born in in the city of Almaty, Kazakhstanon November 30, 1982. In 2003, I’ve graduated Kazakh State Law Academy, majoring in InternationalLaw. Since that time, I had been taking (and still taking) different legal positions in local and international companies. Now I’m a head of legal and compliance in METROliving in Almaty city, married and have a son. Since 2015, I had beenattendingliterature classes in the Almaty Open Literary School.Currently I have two novels, several stories and a dozen of short stories. I was published in different literature magazines, among which are Neva, Volga, Literary Alma-Ata, Esquire Kazakhstan, Za-Za, Daktil. My book “The Lodgers” was published by Meloman Publishing in 2022. This book was filmed by the production studio “Qara Production”, and the film based on that book called “Claustro” was released in 2023.
- Our sincere congratulations on the release of the first novel “The Lodgers”! How was it published, and have you published before, did you have to face any obstaclesor challenges?
- Thanks a lot for your congrats. It was a long story but when it started there was no way back. I have a friend Sabina Tussupova. She is a famous Kazakh scriptwriter. She read my book in 2017 when it was just published. And in few years (I guess it was 2020) she introduced me to Olzhas Bayalbayev, a filmmaker, who told me he would like to film my book. Afterward, we met with Yerkebulan Kurishbayev, a producer. His production agency “Qara Production” proposed me an offer I would never refuse. They also offered me to take a co-scriptwriter position to draft a script. In 2021, the project was started and in September 2023 it was launched in Kazakhcinemas. No obstacles or challenges from my side. Perhaps they happenedduringfilming the movie. I saw the movieproduction from inside and this is indeed a complicated process.
- Could you tell us about the history of the book “The Lodgers” and separately about its main characters Kema and Max?
- The story of “The Lodgers” as the book started in summer 2017. I was visiting my wife’s relatives in Konayev (former Kapchagay), a small satellite-town, 70 km from Almaty. We drove a car to the district and when I got out of the carI observed a sunny afternoon, no windor sounds, a silence like at graveyard. I looked throughwindows and I couldn’t see anybody inside. The dead and silent place. At that moment I began to dream up – what’s going on there in those flats? Why were they so quiet and silent? Where were the people? It was very unusual for me. Living in the two-million city I expected some actions, movements, noise… and there I saw nothing. Before visiting our relatives, the plot was ready in my head. We returned home deep in the night. Iopened my laptop and started writing, and caught myself at 4am still writing. The book was ready in few weeks. In September Istarted publishing it on litnet.com. When I saw the number of fans who read the book I was shocked and I thought the counter was broken. For several days (maybe even a week) I was inthe top of horrors, mystics and some other relative categories of that website. So, that isthe history of “The Lodgers”.
When we are speaking about Max and Kema – main characters of the book – we should always remember that they are not superheroes. So we are. A man and a woman who knew each other for a couple of hours and even quarreled a bit, they were blocked in the flat. And they have to find a way how to live and cooperate. When you know that you’re alone in the world, alone in the dark you start to take care of your partner. You’re really scared that you may lose him or her, and you understand that it is very important to do your best to keep the relations just because there is no alternative and this is only way to survive.
- The novel has been published in print version in August this year and the movie based on that novel has been releasedin September also this year. How did that happen? After all, it is quite a rare case.
- It is a rare case indeed. I’m lucky guy and I could not believe in this until I signed a contract. When the movie was ready me and my producer met with Meloman Publishing and they bought rights for hardcopy version of “The Lodgers” and published it. In six years, my dreams came true and I could see two main lodgers – Max and Kema – alive and in the very eight-room flat. It was really amazing.
- You took part in the shooting of the movie as a screenwriter. Could you please share that experience?
- This was my first script in my life. Thanks to Sabina – she was a great master and supported me a lot. Thanks to our team – they did respect the book and they followed the book wherever it was possible (e.g. they shot the yard and a house in the district and city I mentioned in the book). Before that script I was writing books and in the script you’re limited by actions. You should use only nouns, verbs and dialogues. It was quite a challenge. After that project I started drama lessons in the Literature School I’ve mentioned above. Also, I played a small role in the movie as an inspector of Soviet traffic militia, lieutenant Shuleikin.
- How does the process of writing short stories happen for you, is it like a disciplined daily work or a flash in moments of inspiration?
- Earlier, when I attended prose lessons in the class of Oxana Trutneva and Ilya Odegov, I had to write a short story every two weeks. Now it is a subject of inspiration, and I really miss that time period and would like to continue.
- Please, tell us about your writing path, how did you come to it, for what period of time, and what was your first attempt at writing?
- I never took it seriously. My first attempts were in the university. Fortunately for all mankind, all those attempts and drafts are lost irrevocably. In 2015, my classmate Kseniya Rogozhnikova (a famous children’s writer) proposed me to visit the Literature School. I made an attempt (actually, my motto is as follows: to try and maybe to lose is better than not to try at all). I was sure my work would a failure and it was unexpected news that I successfully passed the exam and could start my lessons. That how I started. When I was doing my tasks I wanted to try myself in novels. «The Lodgers» became a first extracurricular story.
- What does writing give you? Is it a kind of profession or hobby for you?
- This is a hobby indeed. However, it is a truly well paid hobby. Writing and composing for me are a way to express myself, talk to myself, think twice or more about things which are controversial for me. This is my world and this is, first of all, self-story telling. Sometimes, even I don’t know what will be the end of the story. I like this world. It unpredictable for me.
- In your opinion, how well is the horror genre developed in Kazakhstan? Did you rely on certain Kazakh or foreign authors specializing in this field in the process of writing the book?
- I would say that the horror genre is not developed in Kazakhstan at all. I observed some scary stories in Kazakh fairy-tales, in the 90s I accidentally found a heavily destroyed book about Kazakh monsters. It was very interesting and, as it frequently happened to favorite books, it was destroyed totally after several readings. There are modern Kazakh authors who write folk stories and I find them very interesting and really scary. I’m talking about Alen Shakirov who writes about the Caspian region, power of nature, things happening in our daily life. I admire his prose. Another Kazakh author with scary tales is Artem Urazimbetov. He delivered a really great story entitled “Angiak” about absolute evil – unborn child. There are a lot of authors in Kazakhstan whom I really respect and like to read, but these two men left the bright track in the horror genre in Kazakhstan. Of course, telling about local authors I should never forger about Daniyar Sugralinov. He is a famous LitRPG author not only in Kazakhstan but also worldwide. In literature I could treat him as my best mentor, role model and coach. He supported me a lot and he is a real friend whom I may call any time for advice. He lives in the U.S. now and I’m happy he was recognized and supported by this country as a talented writer.
- Let’s talk a little on abstract themes, what do such concepts as friendship, humanity, sincerity and justice mean to you, how often have you encountered their real manifestations in real life and are they reflected in your works
- Thanks a lot, this is a really great question. Talking about these abstract topics, I do understand that my personal impression is my personal one which may differ from others’ opinion. Let’s start with friendship. I like my friends. I have a lot of friends or at least people whom I treat as friends. For me personally it is very important to treat friendship as luxury. It means that friends do not owe me anything and do not need to drop what they were doing and run at first call. I’m happy to have friends and I’m ready to do a lot for them. But I don’t expect or, better to say, don’t request to behave in the same mood. If you follow this rule you’ll never become disappointed and you’ll enjoy your friendship without any silly resentments and expectations.
Humanity for me is a high level of empathy and a very easy rule – you should not care about all the people in the world. But if you can and if you want, please do good things as much as possible. This will keep people believe in each other. This will differ us from rational animals. And one’s modest support or help may make somebody happy for the day or maybe even for the life.
Sincerity is quite a complicated topic to talk about. I try to be as much sincere with people as possible, but I don’t wait the same from others. We are told on a daily base, “Don’t tell everything about you, people will use this knowledge against you”, “Don’t open yourselves up”, “Nobody is interested in your problems”. These patterns for sure have an impact for sincerity. I’m not asking people to be sincere with me, but I really appreciate it. And I try my best not to ruin a matter of trust if the person trusted me.
I’m a lawyer and I can talk about justice for ages. What I really believe in is mercy which is much better than any kind of justice. I always ask myself – what if the Lord applies only justice to me. This is really not what I want. I’m quite skeptical of so called boomerang law. I don’t believe in it. At least, I don’t see the boomerang in action often. Some people always look for “justice”, “boomerang”, “sooner or later one will get what they deserved”. According to my observation, it doesn’t work or at least doesn’t work in all cases. Usually, this is not a justice, but a wish of people for revenge. And a justice stops where a revenge starts. I’m a human being and, of course, all these topics are integral part of my works. However, I try to avoid any morality in my works. I can describe the scene. Let my reader decide whether it is bad or good. I’m not a teacher.
- What for you are such concepts as luck and happiness, and do you consider yourself a lucky and happy person?
- Indeed, I’m a lucky person. There are no global dreams in my life which didn’t come true. I have great people surrounding me and this makes me happy. I remember the day when I thought about happiness very well. I even remember the time (it was in the evening) and place when I asked myself what I needed to be happy. And I began to think that there were a lot of things which needed to be improved to make me happy. I wanted my father to be with us and my grandfather back from the dead, and I wanted not to visit the dentist on Thursday because I was terribly scared of him, and I wanted no physics homework, and I wanted Sony Walkman audio player, and that player should be of silver color not of black one. Afterward, I thought that even if all those dreams came true I still wouldn’t be happy enough, because I needed a PC with Doom II videogame installed on it. And I needed a dog. And I needed roller skates and I had to be the strongest guy at school. Finally, I decided that a person is not able to be one hundred percent happy. This was a very important conclusion in my life. In fact, it didn’t make me happy, but it definitely changed my mind and after that day I could always call myself as a very happy man. Besides, I’m a happy man because I try my best to avoid dull or boring activities in my life. I do everything not to do what I really hate. Now I can’t even remember what I hate most of all, perhaps, cleaning the floor.
- What is your calling in life or mission, you must have thought about it and researched that topic?
- I heard a very funny anecdote on this theme. A very good guy passed away. He ascended to heaven’s gates and met the Apostle Peter. And the Apostle Peter said:
– Come in. You were a really good man, no sins, no crimes. Come in, sir.
But a good man started to boil over. He said that he would not go until he knew from the Apostle what his meaning of life and mission were. The Apostle smiled and proposed to come in repeatedly but good man refused again. Then the Apostle said:
- Do you really want to know the truth?
- For sure!
- Please think twice.
- No, I won’t. Tell me or I’ll stay here forever.
- Ok, – the Apostle Peter looked at a good man, – I’ll tell you the truth. Had you travelled by train to Cheboksary in 1987?
-Yes. I did.
- Did you hear that somebody was screaming from the WC asking for paper?
- Of course, – a good man smiled, – I still remember it.
- Did you give the paper to a WC visitor?
-Yes, sir. Half of my roll. But why are you asking this?
- That was your mission. Please, come in to Heaven’s gates and never ask me again.
Seriously, I try to live the life. And this is my general mission and meaning. I try to enjoy any minute of my day and make people smile. Yes, I do like my job and my books. I like to be of service to people, but this is all. I do not make any deep dive into these topics.
- Who would you like to thank in the process of publishing the book “The Lodgers” and releasing a movie, and in general, for the self-realization in a literary career?
- This is a very difficult topic. Definitely Sabina, Olzhas and Yerkebulan – there would be no movie without these people. Also, all the Qara Production crew and all those people who supported us and who produced the movie. For my literature career I would like to thank my teachers in the Literature School, especially Ilya and Oxana, who were conducting seminars. And Dan Sugralinov, who always supported me. Any my dream-team who attended the lessons. And thanks to Meloman team for the book publishing, and those who supported me. And many others, among who are my teammates and people who believed in me and inspired me – my relatives, friends, classmates, colleagues and bosses. Thanks to all those 70,000 readers who read “The Lodgers” on the Internet. First of all and most of all, I would like to thank my parents – my father who instilled curiosity in me and my mother who always treated me better than I am.
- Thank you for your time and interview, and all the best in your future literary creations and discoveries!
- Thanks a lot for fruitful interview. I’m pretty sure that sooner or later my book will be translated into English and my foreign friends will be able to read it as well. This is my dream and, as I told before, all my dreams sooner or later come true.
Cover picture: from Alexander Mendybayev’s personal archive
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