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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Lavie Tidhar and Nir Yaniv, Co-Authors of ‘The Tel Aviv Dossier’

Lavie Tidhar is the author of The Bookman and forthcoming sequel Camera Obscura. Other books include linked-story collection HebrewPunk, novel The Tel Aviv Dossier (with Nir Yaniv), novella An Occupation of Angels and a host of to-be-released novels and novellas including Cloud Permutations, Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God and Martian Sands. He also edited The Apex Book of World SF and runs the World SF News Blog.

Nir Yaniv is an Israeli writer, musician and editor. His stories were published in numerous magazines in Israel and outside it, including Weird Tales, Apex Magazine and Shimmer, among others. His first story collection, One Hell of a Writer, was published in 2006 (Odyssey Publishing, Israel), and another collection, The Love Machine & Other Contraptions, is due to be published in 2010 (Redjack, US). In 2009, two novels he co-wrote with Lavie Tidhar were published: The Tel Aviv Dossier (ChiZine Publications, Canada) and “Fictional Murder” (Odyssey Publishing, Israel). Nir lives in Tel Aviv, sharing an apartment with a ton of books and a considerable amount of bass guitars, and you can find more of his stories, not to mention the free music, video and booze, in his website:

Charles Tan: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did the two of you first meet each other? This isn’t the first time you collaborated together but what made you decide to work together on The Tel Aviv Dossier?

Lavie Tidhar: We met… I think we communicated by e-mail first and then met up when I was on a visit to Tel Aviv. We were trying to figure it out the other day. That’s the mundane story. The real story is that Nir was stalking me for a long time, you know, showing up at my window at one o’clock in the morning, leaving me little “gifts” on the doorstep – dead birds, wilted flowers, that sort of thing – and finally I had to call the police.

Then we wrote two books together.

Nir Yaniv: He failed to mention the fact that I was doing all that while being located in a different continent. Yeah, such are my powers. The truth is, of course, that we first started corresponding when Lavie tried to convince me to publish a story of his in the magazine I edited at the time. Somehow he succeeded, and now I have to live with the results.

CT: What’s the collaboration process like? I heard that Nir is used to writing in Hebrew, while Lavie in English. What’s the dynamic like for this book?

LT: With both books we did we kind of alternated chapters, with each one going over the other one’s chapter and making changes. Nir acted as more of the editor on the Hebrew book, I was more hands-on with The Tel Aviv Dossier.

NY: I found out that I’m quite a different writer when I switch into English. Not better or worse, just different. Each language takes me to different places. Lavie, however – and here again the editor in me raises his (its?) ugly head – stays the same.

CT: What were the biggest challenges in writing The Tel Aviv Dossier?

LT: Nir.

NY: Yeah, he’s right. His biggest challenge was having to live after being dragged, kicking and screaming, through some of my wilder ideas. For instance, there was the bodiless head – I won’t say more about it because it’s much more fun to read it in the book – and which almost caused Lavie, who’s a most sensitive and gentle person, by the way, a heart attack. And that’s just one case among many. Though I think I’m slowly getting him used to this kind of rough treatment. It’s a bit like army basic training.

CT: What made you decide to set the story in Tel Aviv? What is it about that city that you find interesting?

LT: We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to entirely destroy it! I think it looked better when we were done with it. We were signing books yesterday near the municipality building, next to that huge, awful “sculpture” that’s been slowly rusting in the square for more years than it had any right to – and we both kind of looked at it and wished, for just a moment, that some supernatural catastrophe would happen just so we can see it gone.

Or maybe that’s just me.

NY: As long as the catastrophe is limited to that particular piece of “art”, I’m with you. However, being a long time resident of Tel Aviv, I prefer my own apartment to stay untouched. But I wasn’t born here – I grew up in the northern part of Israel – so I still know what it is to be an outsider here, which served me quite well when writing the book. Every day, riding my motorbike here and there in the city, I used to imagine all those buildings falling apart and the vehicles around me flying around and the people, the poor people. A piece of advice for beginning writers: never imagine anything while writing a motorbike. Really. Expert stuntmen were used in writing this book.

CT: How have your personal lives influenced the writing of the book?

LT: Well, Nir lives a little like an old Turkish Sultan – he lives in a converted apartment block gutted out from the inside – just this big huge space filled with water fountains, rare orchids and wild birds, where the smell of sweet opium and the pleasant sound of young women chatting permeate the air. So it’s hard to get him to write anything. Every word he writes is like a precious stone – he picks it up, looks at it from all directions, sniffs it, tastes it, puts it in its place, then moves on to the next word while sipping sherry out of a crystal goblet that may or may not be the genuine Holy Grail.

And obviously, the psychotic fireman-cum-messiah in The Tel Aviv Dossier pretty much is Nir.

NY: Have you ever wondered why you never see Lavie anywhere? I shall give you the answer right now, and if you’re as experienced an SF fan as you must be in order to be reading this interview, you won’t be surprised: Lavie is the Invisible Man.

As such, it’s quite easy to see how he was the inspiration behind all those mysterious forces which destroyed Tel Aviv so effortlessly in our book. I just had to invent the rest and let Lavie write some of it.

CT: What’s the appeal of genre for you? How about Lovecraft?

LT: I can’t stand Lovecraft. Here, I said it. That mean, crazy little man. Never been a fan. There are enough weird, racist rabid writers in the world without adding Lovecraft into the equation.

Unless you mean Lovecraft, the famous sex shop on Leicester Square in London! Is that what you meant, Charles? Is it? Hmmm?

NY: I don’t know this man. Really. It’s all a scam. I was just walking innocently in the street, and suddenly you people came along and started asking me about some book. Leave me alone, ye crazy people!

CT: How did Chizine end up publishing this novel? Can you tell us more about this new edition?

LT: Well, the first edition, it came out when Chizine were just starting, so it was a very small print run. So this is basically a larger, second printing, going out to shops, as well as online retailers (you can pick up a copy at Amazon). Also the cover (by the incredibly talented Erik Mohr, I should add!) is matte this time, not gloss. Which looks neat…

There’s also a Kindle edition , which is cool.

Obviously, what we’re ultimately planning is to turn The Tel Aviv Dossier into a full-blown franchise – we’re talking a movie series, comics adaptations, a play, a television series, commemorative stamps, action figures, colouring books – the works.

NY: When we started writing it, Lavie was sure that we were writing a short story. In fact, after our previous book, he swore that he’d never write a full novel with me again. About 7000 words into the work, when it was obvious – to anyone who’s not Lavie, anyway – that it’s going to be at least a novella, we sent a synopsis and whatever text we had to ChiZine. And till this very day you can hear Lavie whining, “How did you trap me into writing another book with you?!”

CT: You’re both flexible writers but which format are you most comfortable with? The short story or the novel? What do you think are the strengths of each?

LT: I’m more flexible than Nir because I have less of a body mass. The guy is huge! Did you know he played a monster in a horror movie? ( And that’s not make-up, either!

NY: I only look huge to you, lad, because of my charisma. That’s quite understandable. However, I take pity of you small people – I’m talking here about your mental capacities, of course – so my reign is generous and peaceful.

CT: Do you think you’ll be collaborating on another novel in the future? What other projects would you like to work on together?

LT: We might be collaborating on an editing project. Very exciting, but I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about it yet.

NY: Yeah, there’s the chance of that, and of course, since Lavie has sworn a most horrible oath never to share a work of fiction with me again, it’s clear that it’s only a matter of time since we write some other story together.

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