Master degree in engineering: pointless; Business School: boring.
The Spy Letter
Chief! This is WX3. You probably remember me. I am your best field agent. I am writing you this letter from a cold prison cell. That also happens to be damp. But, mostly cold. I am sending this letter with a rat that I captured and befriended. His name is Chief (total coincidence), and he is rather smart for a vermin. Give him cheese and send your reply with him. Or, better yet, send your reply with a properly trained rat.
Well, enough with the preamble. If I know you, and I think I do, you are probably already feeding cheese to Chief, but mostly, you are wondering what went wrong with 'Operation Anaconda.'
Let me start from the beginning. The objective of 'Operation Anaconda' was to make the Russians believe that I was a double agent, and after that, feed them misinformation about our nuclear program. To my chagrin, I found that making Russians believe anything is VERY difficult.
Upon arriving in Moscow, I came to the KGB's headquarters on Lubyanka. Ugly brown building with no air conditioners. The old woman sitting by the door told me that it was everyone’s day off, so I should come back in a week. Surprised by her fluent English, but even more surprised that the KGB takes days off, I went back to my hotel. Hoping that I was already under surveillance, I started writing coded messages to you, then tearing them up and putting shreds of paper in a wastebasket. I wrote enough to convince even a brain-dead zombie that I was an American spy.
One week passed. Not only did anybody come to arrest me, but nobody even bothered to clean my wastebasket. I tried to talk to the hotel management, but I was told that the cleaning lady was on vacation. The hotel manager added that if I was such a fanatic about cleaning wastebaskets, then I should do it myself, and while I was at it, I could fix the toilet as well. When I replied that the toilet in my room was working, the hotel manager got an evil gleam in his eye. Needless to say, the next day, my toilet stopped
One month passed. My wastebasket was overflowing with shredded secret messages, no one came from the KGB, and local television was literally incomprehensible. Not incomprehensible in terms of a language difference, because as you know, I speak fluent Russian. It was incomprehensible in terms of what the hell is going on? Once, I watched a Soviet cartoon about a lost mitten.
That cartoon went on for forty minutes. The mitten did not do ANYTHING. It just
lay in the snow, waiting to be found. I think my brain almost died from boredom.
After realizing that I had to take action, I went back to the KGB headquarters. A different old woman was sitting by the door and knitting something. Probably a mitten. I told her that I was an American spy and that I would like to talk to a KGB officer. She blinked at me incomprehensibly and then said in fluent French that I should not play games with an elderly woman who lost her husband in a knitting-related accident, and
that I was as Russian as they come.
I sighed and walked past her. In a room down the hall, a soldier was sitting in a chair and throwing forks into a wall. I am not sure why he did it. I suspect fork-throwing was his coping mechanism; the poor fellow probably watched the mitten cartoon. When I entered and coughed politely, he jumped and shouted, “Yes, comrade colonel, it will be done immediately!” Then, he realized that I was not who he thought I was, so he picked up the forks and started throwing them into the wall again. I asked him if I could talk to an officer. He told me to make an appointment. I replied that it was important. The soldier became irritated and told me to go to Room 23B. I thanked him and went there.
In Room 23B, I found a young lieutenant. He was sitting behind the table, filling out some forms. I greeted him with a cheerful, “Hello, comrade. I am an American spy. Can I talk to you?” Without lifting his head, he replied that I should go to Room 32G.
In Room 32G, I found two colonels that were trying to eat sardines right out of a can with oversized spoons. An open bottle of vodka was also present but curiously, it was still full. After I entered the room, one colonel eagerly jumped from his seat, approached me, grabbed my hand, and asked if I would be the “third.” From what I came to understand, it is important for Russians to have at least three people present before commencing to drink vodka. I said that I was an American spy and that I had important information, to which they replied, “Excellent! Right after we drink, we will talk about it.” I agreed, and the drinking began. My memories of what happened next are hazy.
When I woke up, I found myself in a prison cell. Thinking that I was uncovered, finally, as a spy, I relaxed and went back to sleep. The problem is that I was woken up the next day by a prison guard who happened to be Canadian. Apparently, after the two KGB colonels and I got drunk, we decided to fly to Ottawa and steal Canadian nuclear secrets. I am not sure why I agreed to that; I suppose vodka and sardines do not mix well. The funny thing is, we apparently did steal Canadian nuclear secrets, but I was the only one who got captured. After I told the Canadians that I am an American intelligence officer on a mission, they replied “Sure, comrade, and Stalin is our Prime Minister.” Then they laughed in a rather annoying manner. After which, they put me in the coldest cell they could find.
Chief! I hope you can get me out of the Canadian clutches as soon as possible! If not, I will tell the Canadians everything I know about you and your secret French mistress who works for Mossad.
Still yours but not for long -
Q & A with Oleg Medvedkov
Not situations per se. Just ideas. I think that real life is too boring for writing, it needs to be exaggerated and emphasized to make an impact. I am not talking only about writing something funny. If you look at any successful book or TV series, you will notice that what happens there, and even the premises, differ from your “real life” experiences. Would we really read those books or watch those series otherwise?
On the other hand, observing real-life situations helps to keep your characters acting “naturally” at any given moment. We lose our readers if our characters do not act believably.
How and when do you know that your writing is good enough to release to the public?
I don’t. There are no clear guidelines or templates that say that “This is 100% good, go publish it.” There are, however, some basic rules of writing that each story follows. If you know those rules, and as you were writing, you either followed them or broke them—on purpose—then the chances are the story is almost ready. Put it away for a while, and when you look at it with fresh eyes later on, you streamline it, cut out unneeded bits, whatever is your editing process. Send it to the editor and the proofreader as you are done. After that, just try to make sure that the next story you write is better than this one.
Has anyone around you ever got offended by the funny stuff you have published?
Not really. I had a few “politically incorrect” remarks, but in good humor. Those people who didn’t like my stories simply didn’t get what was so funny about them. A few were disappointed that the stories didn’t have enough dogs in them. All this tells me two things:
1. I am not offensive enough to large groups of people. I will work on that.
2. People like dogs. There’s nothing I can do about it, sorry.
Other than racism, profanity and bigotry, what topics do you consider off limits?
I think that racism, profanity, and bigotry make good targets for poking fun at, why would they be off limits? I just didn’t get to them yet. Well, I did make fun of bigotry in a few of my stories, but not in any major way.
I don’t think there are any topics that are off limits for a writer. It’s all about how the said writer handles them—do you play to the lowest common denominator, or, instead, use a controversial topic to excite imagination?
However, I think you were asking something different. Using racism, profanity, and bigotry to make jokes is a pretty easy way to get laughs from whatever specific group of people you are targeting. Even easier is to talk about relationships and sex. The latter has almost universal appeal—most people would listen if I were to talk funny about sex. That’s just how humans work. The problem with that, I don’t have to be actually funny if I were to do that, that’s why I avoided it so far. The same applies to profanity, on a smaller scale—using swear words is like talking about sex, only one degree removed, if you think about it.
When/why/how did you realize that you want to become a writer?
No clue. I just write. Perhaps, when I am old and writing my memoirs, I’ll invent something plausible that will make people go “Ahh” and “Ohh” when I mention it. You know, something profound with perhaps just a right touch of humbleness and a little bit of self-deprecating humor to make the audience go from sad to smiling to amazed to be able to read something that touches them so deeply in a relatable sort of way. Until then, however, your guess is as good as mine.