The Bashkansky family Chess Travel blog

The Bashkansky family Chess Travel blog: parents Guy and Ludmila with children NM Ethan and WIM Naomi

Monday, May 7, 2018

Epic Magazine, Epic Interview, Epic Photoshoot

A Novel in Letters, Interviews and Photos

Letters - Set Up

On June 30, 2017, Emma Gross from the Epic Magazine (they sell stories to Hollywood!) contacted us about a possible photo essay, after reading the seminal Seattle Times story about Naomi.

Our 2017 summer chess tournaments schedule was packed: at the moment Naomi was in Costa Rica for the Pan-American Youth Chess Championship on June 29 - July 6, to continue on vacation in Costa Rica on July 7 - 11.

From Costa Rica we'd fly directly to the North American Youth Chess Championship in New Jersey on July 12 - 16, then flying back home.

And then we'd fly off to the National Girls Tournament of Champions in Norfolk, VA on July 29-31, then flying home again.

Emma would be out on July 11 - 17, so she asked when Naomi might have time for a phone interview.  

On July 1, Emma wrote: "So our editorial and art departments are on slightly different schedules for this project. There will be a short article to accompany each photograph, and the editorial department wants drafts turned in well before we send out photographers. My deadline for a rough draft of Naomi's story was initially July 6, but I understand you're in the midst of a tournament, so speaking before then might be tricky.  SO, this is all to say, Naomi, if you're open to an interview (which I hope you are!!!!), as soon as we could hop on the phone would be awesome, but it's really whenever is best for you. I'll let my editor know if we need to shift the deadline."

On July 2, Naomi replied from Costa Rica: "We have a half day off on July 4th, so I can talk anywhere from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm (Costa Rica time, which is one hour ahead). If that's not a good day, I'm free July 7th in the evening."

Emma: "July 4 at 11am Costa Rica Time (10am Pacific Time) would be awesome. Thank you! What's the best number to reach you?"

That was a question easier asked than answered.  Naomi's smartphone is not international, so the choice was between Google Hangouts, Skype, mom's Project Fi smartphone, San Jose hotel room phone.

Interview 1 - Warm Up

In the end we arranged for the first interview to be conducted via Google Hangouts on Air (later known as YouTube Live), resulting in the following very nice video, watch it -- even just a little bit:

We thought that's it, now it's a smooth sailing to Hollywood celebrity.

For Emma though, this turned out to be just a warmup.  She has only tasted Naomi's story, and now she wanted more.  The appetite comes during the meal, especially for a reporter.  We've seen enough of them to generalize.

Interview 2 - Screw Up

On July 27, Emma wrote: "Naomi, I was wondering if you might be open to a quick follow-up interview? Your narrative is mostly complete, but I'd love to get a bit more information from you:

I'd like to zero in on the World School Chess Championship you played last December. The one where you had three draws in a row at the beginning, and then ended up taking first place. I want you to walk me through all details you can remember including:
  • What was going on in your life leading up to the tournament? Were you in school? What were you studying at that time? Were there any big school projects you remember? OR was it over the holidays / winter vacation? If so, what were you and your family doing at that time? Any details-- family dinners? Movies you saw? Birthday parties you went to?
  • How did you prepare for the tournament? Do you remember specific sessions with you had with your coach? Aspects of the game you and your mother went over?
  • I believe you said you were ranked first at that time, and so were pretty confident going into the games. Is this correct? Tell me more about how you were feeling leading up to the tournament, what you thought your prospects would be.
  • Where was the tournament held? Had you been to that part of the world before? What was the hotel like? What was the tournament space like? I'd love for you to describe the interior of a chess tournament hall, for someone who has never been to one-- what is hanging on the walls? How are the tables organized? Are there screens? Where do people wait to play their games? Do crowds watch each game? Or is it mostly just a few parents and coaches? Is the space loud, or pretty quiet?
  • Walk me through those first few rounds. Who did you play? What gender were they? What did they look like? Had you played them before? Had you met them before? What did you know about them going into the games?
  • What moves led to the draws? Was it in the opening? The middle section? Take me through each game.
  • What was running through your head during the first draw? What about the second? The third? What were your emotions? What were you thinking?
  • What did you and your mom talk about after each game? What was the advice she gave you?
  • Tell me how you ended up winning the tournament? How did you refocus yourself after the three draws? What were those next winning games like?
  • How did it feel once you finally won the tournament? When do they announce the winners? How do they announce the winners?
I know there are A LOT of questions here, but they're just to get you thinking and remembering the tournament.

Guy and Ludmila-- if there are any details you remember relating to these questions, those would be awesome as well!

SO, Naomi, would you be able to talk tomorrow or sometime this weekend? Whenever is best for you! Just let me know! "

On August 4 at 1pm, exactly one month after the first interview, Emma and Naomi had a follow-up interview over Google Hangouts on Air, like the first one.  

Unfortunately, this lovely interview is now lost to humanity because of my technical screwup. Typically, after the Hangout recording starts, I hit the Mute button on my own account, to avoid distracting Emma and Naomi.  Alas, this time I have accidentally muted the Hangout host account instead, thus the audio was lost.

The deep remorse over this irreparable mistake still physically pains me.  Both Emma and Naomi were gracious and forgiving, even though I totally deserve that deep inside they would mentally roll their eyes at my cosmic blunder.  Coincidentally, just a few days later Google killed Hangouts on Air and switched to YouTube Live.  Maybe it's karma?

Interview 3 - Fix Up

On August 6 at 1pm Emma interviewed Naomi again, with a similar set of questions.  This time Emma has recorded the interview on her phone. Which is totally understandable after the rueful fiasco of Interview 2 with Hangouts on Air, two days earlier.  That final interview became the base of Emma's excellent article. However, the magazine still needed Naomi's professionally made photos for the photo essay.

Photos 1 - Close Up

On August 14, the Epic Magazine's photographer Kathryn Harrison emailed that she will fly to Seattle on August 21 to shoot Naomi's photos for the photo essay. ("Quick note for wardrobe: nothing black.")

Notably, there was a solar eclipse on August 21 in Seattle, reaching 90% maximum at 10:20 am.  It would have been totally epic if Naomi's photos had this solar eclipse background.  During the eclipse, I managed to capture a few reflection photos in our backyard, and stole one direct photo from a friend who had a proper filter and a large lens, plus traveled to Oregon for the totality.  See these once-in-a-lifetime Great American Solar Eclipse photos.

Kathryn came at 7pm, an hour before the 8pm sunset, and took literally more than a hundred photos, including many with her large-format view camera, whose negative plates cost dozens of dollars each!  These cameras have the mystical aura of your grandparents' photoshop.  Just try to nail the Scheimpflug principle.

I photographed the photographer photographing the photographic object, at photogenic sunset:

Epic Article - Write Up

On September 24, Emma emailed Naomi a couple of quick follow-up questions.  In the reply, we bragged that, in the beginning of September, Naomi (14) has won first place at the North American Junior Girls Under 20 Chess Championship in Dallas, TX.  This got her the title of Woman International Master and a "norm" (i.e. 1/3 title) towards Woman Grandmaster.  

Emma heartily congratulated Naomi and wrote "I've been traveling through the Middle East for work, so have been in and out of WiFi and time zones."  That surely sounded as journalistically heroic as it can possibly get.  We knew our little chess story can wait.

Then, on January 13, 2018 we found all the essays at

And Naomi's story is first!  Read it here:

Emma's piece about Naomi is a gripping and dramatic triumph of journalism. We like her professional writing style.  She follows the old advice to aspiring scriptwriters, "Find a hero; put him in trouble." Or rather "her".  Among the other essays, the stories of Igor and Daniel are so cool and crazy they merit a movie script.

Photos 2 - Finish Up

Having witnessed the professional photographer Kathryn taking more than a hundred photos, and her spending hundreds of dollars worth of large-format view camera negative plates, we desperately wanted to see more results than just one story-cover photo shown online.  On February 23, 2018 we asked Kathryn and Emma for permission to see the rest of the photos, and they both immediately agreed!

It took a bit of time, because Kathryn was in the midst of her master's thesis and classes, and Emma was "in the midst of an assignment: in search of epic, true love stories".  Her official job title is "Story Hunter", how cool is that?  Kathryn should go with "People Snapper".  

They both have shown great interest in Naomi, who meanwhile moved to 9th grade and became very busy with studies (no time for dance anymore).  She likes Math, Chemistry, English, and especially Coding and French, while still getting straight A grades in all subjects.

On April 8, 2018, Kathryn sent us a selection of 38 screenshot-resolution unedited photos.  Here is the work of a professional, for your admiration:


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