PW: For a first novel, The Fourth Circle is very complex and intricately plotted. Could you describe how the idea for the story came to you, and what you were hoping to achieve?

Zoran Zivkovic: As I explain in my afterword to the American edition, writing my first novel was a very peculiar experience, quite different from the writing of any of my nonfiction books, when I knew precisely what I wanted to do and how to do it. I had no plan or preconception whatsoever. Although it might sound incredible, when I typed on my monitor the simplest possible first sentence—"The Circle."—I hadn't the slightest idea what would follow.

PW: You wrote The Fourth Circle in 1993 while Yugoslavia was in the midst of civil war. Did that shape the writing of the novel?

ZZ: Only in an indirect way. In retrospect, I can see that the writing of The Fourth Circle was a kind of welcome escapism. It helped me a great deal to divert my thoughts from the harsh reality I had the bitter privilege of living in at that time.

PW: Do you feel that having worked first as a scholar and critic of science fiction gave you special insight into the craft of writing fantastic fiction?

ZZ: Most definitely. It was precisely my knowledge of literature in general and science fiction in particular, accumulated over previous decades, that gradually transformed into a new quality. Subconsciously, quite unknown to my rational self, a critical mass was gathering. As soon as it had a chance to be released, it erupted almost like a volcano.

PW: An English translation of The Fourth Circle was available almost 10 years ago. Why do you think it took so long to find an American publisher?

ZZ: When you write in a language other than English and if you happen to originate from such a marginal part of the world as the Balkans, your handicaps are substantial if you want to get published in the U.S. First, you almost have to invest a fortune in order to provide a professional English translation. Second, you have to be ready to face various inevitable prejudices. Under the circumstances, your only stronghold is the quality of your work.

PW: How do you think you've changed as a writer since your first novel?

ZZ: I would say that I have gradually established my own idiosyncratic fantastic angle, quite different from what seems to be the current popular tradition. It's by no means a simple achievement to be an original fantasy writer, considering that we have been writing fantasy for more than 5,000 years.

PW: Do you have a sense now of being part of the larger science fiction and fantasy community, even though it is predominantly English-speaking?

ZZ: All I ever wanted was to be accepted as an equal member of that community. Primarily because I was certain I could enrich it with some new and original contributions. Even the most self-sufficient of communities can occasionally benefit from a voice from another shore.

PW:The Fourth Circle won a mainstream Serbian literary award, even though it has fantasy and science fiction elements. Do you think of yourself as a science fiction or fantasy writer?

ZZ: I try to think of myself only as a writer. Without any prefixes, because they can be either misleading or limiting. But I would never deny or hide my affinity for fantasy and science fiction. On the contrary, I am very proud of it.

PW: Last year you won the World Fantasy Award for "The Library," your novella in the anthology Leviathan 3. Do you feel that this validates your literary ambitions?

ZZ: By all means. I still find it rather hard to believe that I received such a prestigious token of recognition. How could I have dared even to dream of it 10 years ago when I wrote that brief initial sentence of The Fourth Circle?