People often ask me when I first started writing. When I think back, it just happened without much though on my part as soon as I learned to write.

As a child, I was awkward and dreamed of greatness that eluded me in life: outrunning kids in my Moscow yard, climbing trees and being a proud boy by the name Andrew. Stories were fascinating. When I was two, Andrew was three, always a little older than me. When I was three he was four. When I was four in a five day daycare (a daycare where we kids spent five days and were sent home for weekends) Andrew was my heroic alter ego living in a house across the street looking at me from his window, guarding me from hooligan boys stealing my blanket and bullying others around me.

My first story, written at age seven in big uneven cursive, was vaguely based on Tom Sawyer. Plagiarism did not concern me. Soon after, my father’s close friend and a famous Russian writer, Vasily Aksyonov, sat in our kitchen, choking on his tea and roaring with laughter while he read aloud from my black-leather bound notebook. I was hiding in the bathroom next to the kitchen, excited and scared, when he gave his verdict: “She is talented and writes great dialogue.”

Then there was a novel in three notebooks, age eleven, inspired by Alexander Dumas. Writing it was intoxicating. Every week I read new chapters to my friend Katya on long Metro rides to our English lessons. Katya listened in rapture and once said: “You are a genius. You and Pushkin!”

Curiously, those novels didn’t have titles. I created them and yet didn’t need the own them.

As a teenager I wrote long unrhymed poems full of mysticism and unrequited love inspired by Lorca, Borges and T. S. Eliot. One friend loved it; another one dismissed it as “women’s poetry.” I skipped school and took long walks through the old Moscow streets dreaming, listening to Philip Glass and eyeing the Moscow Literary Institute. My parents rebelled at my idea of becoming a writer. Medicine consumed my life, first in Russian, then in German after I moved to Vienna. I didn’t write.

In New York, I wrote a novel in Russian called “The Long Body Of Life.” I sent it to Vasily Aksyonov, who had been exiled to the US and taught literature at some college in Maryland. The novel was unedited (I believed that editing destroys the spirit of writing). He said “Wonderful writing! But it needs editing. I’ll give it to my publisher.” He didn’t. I was hurt and didn’t call him again. Now, how stupid was that? I almost made it. And I never tried publishing it again.

In New York, during my psychiatry residency (for what else could I choose?), I wrote short stories, increasingly more in English. In the beginning, writing in English was less nuanced and more exciting than Russian, like a new ice-cream flavor. English was new to me and pure, a perfect tool of self-expression. It did not expect return favors like Russian did: all this careful tiptoeing around concepts, choosing the best word. English was simple and joyful like flexing muscles. What did I know about all the shadings of meaning, all the richness of synonyms which makes up its vocabulary of twice the size of any European language including my own? The ease changed as my English grew stronger, but as my English was evolving I was still having fun writing.

And so I wrote a novel in English, “The Joker,” published in September 2011. It is a story of coming to terms with adulthood and then surviving the deadly pandemic of Avian Flu set in modern New York City (and some of it in LA).

All in all my experience is that a different language – if you can swim in it - lends itself easily to the inner music of the writer even if some vocabulary or metaphoric depth gets lost in the process.