va va Voinov : a Q&A session
Excuse me while I squeeee…. just a little bit 😛
Aleks, I am so thrilled to have you stop by for an interview!! THANK YOU!!
Thank you for having me over. I do follow your blog and enjoy your reviews (and am honoured that I made the m/must reads list! Thank you!) You’re putting so much love and thought into the blog that I’m pleased to be your guest today.
Let’s get straight to Special Forces (of course!) does it ever amaze you how much people love Vadim? After the opening, and what he does… it is a testament to your writer skillz that a character can redeem himself from, what should be, such an unforgivable action.
The whole morality of it is endlessly fascinating to me. But yes, at the start, I did think I was writing the “villain” of the piece, which is fine, I enjoy writing “evil” (or morally challenged) people. While as a person, I despise bullies and narcissists (and you could argue that Vadim starts out as both), I’m interested in looking what drives them and what kind of impact their have on their environment.
There’s also the matter about how totalitarian systems twist and deform their peoples, and Vadim grew up in a totalitarian system, in the strange position of being one of its “poster boys” and an eternal outsider based on his sexuality. In the end, once I understood why he does the things he does (need for power, internalised rage – huge amounts of rage), I could work on turning him “properly human”. And we all love stories of redemption, so his arch is that of a “beast” turning into a full human, which I find extremely compelling myself. But I am surprised (never mind terribly flattered) that people love him quite so much.
Do you ever get upset or even defensive on behalf of Jean? (yes, I know he is fictional) but I assume that a writer may view his characters as his/her children, almost, and hate having them pilloried by the readers.
I do like writing villains, as I said, so I’m totally owning the “villains” of the story, Katya (who’s fiercely loyal on her own terms), Vadim’s superior officer (a nasty piece of work), his torturer, Konstantinov (who does actually believe he’s punishing a criminal by breaking him), and finally Jean. Personally, I like him. He came into being when writing suicidally depressed Vadim was getting extremely hard emotionally and somewhat tedious, so I wanted a “lighter” character to play with. He strutted onto the stage and demanded he get time in the limelight.
What I like about Jean is that he lives life on his own rules. Here’s a Soviet soldier boy left to die by his own side, and fifteen years later or thereabouts, he’s married to a princess, owns a little castle in France and makes a lot of money having adventures in far-flung destinations. He’s a trickster, makes the best out of any situation, and he’s loyal to his people. I find a lot to like about him, so maybe I sometimes feel defensive on his behalf, though he surely wouldn’t need me to protect him. He’s fine without my help.
Of course, in a classical romance novel (which Special Forces never really was, not in my head), he’s the interloper, and he’s making Vadim feel miserable, so Vadim’s fans tend to hate Jean’s guts. So he never really had a chance to be loved by many people. That said, in his own head, he’s the hero of the piece and stands with his friend against a scary, somewhat unhinged and irreparably damaged menace called Vadim—though he eventually understands that Vadim’s not quite that insane and destructive. But that’s a growth process for him, too.
I’m not sure if you can answer this..but here goes anyway .. were there ever times that you wished you had control over all the characters? Is it hard to see an arc that you really don’t like seeing a character take – and being powerless to change it?
There were certainly decisions taken that I disagreed with. Some changes didn’t seem to make a great deal of sense in emotional terms, and some subplots went on way too long and diluted the main plot. But that’s very much a matter of personal choice and taste; I tend to like things neat and tidy and clean, and tend to cut subplots that have outlived their usefulness for the greater whole. That’s where an editor would have been good. While you’re that deep in a book, it’s sometimes hard to tell what works and what doesn’t. In hindsight, that’s easier and the primary reason for my Director’s Cut.
And so for a segue to Gold Digger … I loved seeing Vadim with such extended page time. Any idea when we get the sequel, and any tidbits you can share with us? We won’t tell a soul ….
Bringing Vadim in was unashamed “fan service” (I dislike the word “fan”), though he also had a clear need to reconnect with his son. I think he’s feeling his mortality, at which we’re usually considering matters such as family and where we come from and what mistakes we’ve made, as well at what legacy we’re leaving when we catch our connecting flight. I thought it was important for Nikolai to learn where he’s coming from, too, and that’s a big issue for Henri, too. In a way, both of them (or even all three) are eternal outsiders, with pasts that put them just at the edge of their societies.
The sequel brought up a number of problems. There’s a small, extremely vocal group who don’t want the status of Vadim’s marriage changed. Well, “Pure Gold”, the sequel, is going to deal with that, and bring some changes. But when you keep reading things like “if Voinov does that, I’ll never buy any more of his books!” you do get wary. There’s a huge amount of passion tied into these characters, and sometimes that can feel like I don’t own my own characters or their fates anymore. That felt quite shockingly intimate and threatening, and it took me a few months to come to terms with that, during which the work on the piece completely stalled. How to do anything without pissing anybody off and making passionate enemies? I think I’ve found a solution now, however, and I’ve written about 10k of the sequel. It’s going to be mostly about how to build a life together if both men are strong-headed people with baggage. And Vadim will be back, of course.
As for completion, I’m hoping to write that next, after I’ve finished my historical novel and my “Scorpion” sequel.
As you can tell – your characters are really able to get into a readers head; and Dark Soul was no exception. You manage to push boundaries that were seemingly immovable. Like Silvio and Franco. Will we get more in this series? Albeit with other characters.. like Franco. I would love to see more of him.
Well, if my characters haunt me, the very least I can do is share that pleasure with my readers. But—yes, absolutely. All Spadaro brothers have been with me for over twenty years, so they do have story and backstory, and I’ll share some more of it, though it has to make sense and fit into this world. Back in the days, I didn’t really care for things to make sense, but I’m older and wiser and more neurotic now about research. Above all, Franco will find a guy (or rather, be found by him), who can deal with Franco’s refusal to speak. It’ll mean brushing up on my knowledge of snipers and the French Foreign Legion, but it’s pretty high up on the list of priorities. There’ll also be more about Silvio, Stefano and Donata, but that’s top secret.
Are are there any other authors you would like to team up with? Your work with both Amy Lane and LA Witt has been wonderful!
Thank you! I adore them both, and LA Witt’s and my Muse had so much fun when we spent two weeks sightseeing in London. Bunnies galore! (I hope to do the same with Amy if/when she makes it over.) Essentially, I’m game for team-ups with all the authors I enjoy reading. Relative newbies like GB Gordon (whose debut, “Santuario”, is shockingly good), as well as “old hands” like Abigail Roux, Kirby Crow or Josh Lanyon (some of my all-time favourite authors). If any of them propositioned me, the only question would be “your computer or mine?”
No, we shared them all. Essentially, after Special Forces (and a few other early co-written things), I decided I don’t like head-hopping (one paragraph written from one character’s point-of-view, the next one written from the other’s), so now I much prefer sharing the characters completely. Of course, coming up with the cast is a different matter, so I guess anybody can tell whose character Malcolm or Percy originally was. I just love writing well-dressed, semi-neurotic guys, so in most co-written projects, you’ll be able to tell who looks more like daddy and who’s coming after mommy.
We tend to brainstorm a bit, slinging ideas at each other until you can feel the Muse getting electrified. It’s an almost audible “click”, which changes the chemistry of the session from “oh, interesting” to “OMG MUST WRITE NOW!” At which point, we usually start writing in a shared Google document—which is extremely cool, as you can watch the other type. It’s magic. You don’t work at all, or return from the kitchen with a coffee, and words appear on the screen without any effort. It’s like mutual story-telling and really good fun. At the same time, we tend to chat in a window about what’s going on, or bits of research, and once it’s all done, we take turn editing and deal with inconsistencies. Overall, it’s fun and easy and fast. You simply cannot agonize over a sentence or work choice while somebody in America is waiting for you to finish your damn paragraph.
Are you definitely going to GRL Atlanta? As either an author, or with your Publishing House hat on. I am so hoping to meet you …. your hugs are legendary 🙂
If my hugs are good, you haven’t had a shoulder massage. 🙂 Yes, I’m coming. I’m a spotlight author and I also come to represent Riptide, of course. I wouldn’t miss it for the world, so hotel and con are booked. Make sure you grab me for a coffee—or maybe a meal in a quiet moment/the evening or breakfast (I’ll likely be jet-lagged and awake very early). 🙂
Speaking of GRL – I was thrilled to see Riptide listed as a sponsor. It is definitely one of my favourite publishers – both for product and its user friendly site. Are you amazed at just how big it has become, in such a relatively short time?
It’s certainly been quite a ride, and there’s no way we could have predicted how well it would go. Of course, that success is due to an amazing team, from Tal, our webmistress who keeps improving the site and who’s never accepting “good enough” as “enough”, to Rachel, who is an inspired, driven leader, and everybody else. Our carefully vetted editors are all top-notch. LC and the other cover artists are doing a tremendous job of making our content visible and creating a specific mood.
I’ve been a corporate drone for eight years and have worked for some globally renowned, very well-established brands during that time, but I can say I’ve never worked with a more talented, dedicated team than the people at Riptide. So, seeing all the hard work behind the scenes, I’m biased and would say success is almost inevitable, given the talent and dedication of the people involved, but there’s a large part of me that’s continuously stunned by how our reputation and reach are growing. Considering we created Riptide as a platform in part out of dissatisfaction with how we saw m/m publishing going (“quantity over quality” and bad editing), it’s tremendously satisfying and a little bit scary. It might be the best thing I’ve ever done, apart from sending back that first short story to the magazine, aged 16.
With your Riptide hat still on, is there any chance you will be branching out to audio books? I have a couple of yours and all of Abi’s… up until she signed for you guys … which, by the way, was the coup of the year!!
I think I nearly fell off my chair when Abi signed with us. Mind you, I’ve admired her for a long time (I guess I’m a “minion”), and was privileged to beta a book for her a while back. But actually signing a favourite author is a huge shock. I mean, they are literally throwing in their lot with yours and then you stand there, wondering if you haven’t bitten off more than you can chew. But we’ve signed so many of our favourites; I was thrilled when Kirby Crow agreed to work with us, for example, so it’s unfair to single out any Riptide author—they are all amazing, hard-working people.
Audiobooks is something we’re looking into, but we have to do it in a way that makes sense for the author and the publisher. Costs are a factor for any growing company. Do we hire a new author? Go into a new market? Push print? Work more with libraries? It’s a lot of stuff for a small team, but it’s on the list, as well as translations.
Prior to Albuquerque all I saw as online images of you were smart suits and cool cufflinks – then we got some great shots of a very suave Aleks va va Voinov! How did that feel? Going from pretty tight image control to web-wide snaps?
Suave? Good! I was terrified. I’d decided to keep things low-key and show up “anonymous” (I never wore a name tag, for example). Then I tried to not be on any photos. But once you have a bright-eyed reader hugging you and asking if her friend can take a photo, that resolve crumbled. In the end, I figured what the hell, I better get used to people knowing what I look like. But then, it’s very hard to look terrible in a good suit.
Will Riptide be sponsoring any of the specific events at GRL? And is it wrong that I thought the Masquerade Ball could have been all kindsa fun under the direction of your team 🙂
Not to my knowledge at the moment, but I assume there’s still some leeway in deciding closer to the date.
Q U I C K F I R E R O U N D :
Tea or coffee
PJ’s or … um, none 😛
Depends on how cold it is.
Ultimate indulgence – cufflinks or a Montblanc pen.
Difficult! I haven’t yet invested in a Montblanc, but buy a lot of cufflinks (I should have about thirty pairs by now). For indulgence, I tend to buy books, go to nice restaurants or travel. Though expensive fountain pens are good, too. Damn.
UK sport – football, rugby or cricket?
I’m the only one who cheers the German football team (that can be embarrassing in a pub), and I have a soft spot for the Kiwi “All Blacks” (or the Tongans, who also do the haka war dance). Cricket is just endless—a game you play over several days? Who has that much time?
What WIP are you working on today?
I’m working mostly on my “birds book”, which is the nickname I’ve given my gay historical novel set in Paris under German occupation. I’ve been making some good progress on that, so I’m hoping to wrap the book up and get it ready for submission by end-April. Now that LA Witt has returned from her London trip, I think we’ll also go back to our cop story which we’ve been working on in January, before we both got swamped with too much work to write much.
Aleks thanks so much for stopping by – but before you go – I would be remiss (for that read hung, drawn and quartered!) if I didn’t hand the “mic” over to two of your biggest fans to ask a question or two themselves… take it away ladies !
Thank you, it was a pleasure!
A N D R E A :
You seem to have done a lot of online interviews. Are you ever amazed so many people are interested in you, your work, and your writing process?
I have moments where I think I’m just a dude staring at a screen really hard and talking to people all day who don’t exist—it’s not that interesting, really. But then, I enjoy reading writer interviews (or generally artists; we are all crazy in very individual ways), and I’m forever fascinated by people, so I get why people ask. I also like to talk about what I do or what’s going on in my head, so that helps (and takes some strain off my long-suffering partner). Thank gods we’re all evolving, though, so at least all those interviews and answers aren’t always the same.
Will we ever get a book about Jean? Please? You have a guaranteed sale of at least one. I’m asking with my biggest puppy dog eyes. Really, the look is irresistible. Plaintive and full of entreaty. This is me, begging.
*laughs*. It’s good to see him get some love, because I do like him. A great deal, actually. I’d be tempted to write a book about his time in Afghanistan, for example. That’s a place I can’t get out of my head, either. If I can find a way to write about him without mentioning characters I don’t own, I’ll look into it. It’s not something I can fit into this year, but maybe later.
Why did you major in American Literature? And which particular authors/eras are your favorites?
I did quite a bit of switching around at university. I started with law, which was a huge mistake I corrected after two semesters, and then went for History, British Studies (British Culture and Literature), and German Literature. Then they changed the rules and turned History into three subjects, so I ended up with Medieval History, Ancient History and American Studies.
I switched from British to American Studies because the lecturers there seemed much cooler and one of them was running Creative Writing workshops. In addition, I had more of an American accent than a British one and I preferred the American writers to the British ones by far. (The fact that we kept talking about the 18th-19th century for way too long and pretty much ignored modernism didn’t help. It all seemed so tedious and dusty. They also proved that you can ruin Milton’s “Paradise Lost” if you try hard enough.) I was happy to get rid of German literature, too, because the professors there were even worse than the ones in British Studies.
But American Studies fitted me well—we had an amazing lecturer who was into modern art (Pollock, Rothko…) and photography, and he helped me appreciate non-decorative art. He also got me started on William Faulkner, by my humble estimation the finest writer in the English language. I’d have written a dissertation on him, if not for the fact that American Studies was my minor, really, and Medieval History was the major. To be honest, though, I loved all my subjects equally, and racked up enough hours and points to major in all of them. Stupid system that then forced me to decide.
As for favourites, it’s American modern literature, post-1900, though you can see some very interesting, modern-feeling developments earlier than that, with Crane’s “Red Badge of Courage” in the late 1800s. Essentially, once American art stopped trying to emulate European art, it gains huge momentum and energy and becomes essentially its own thing. (Though you could argue that most of the “modern” writers learned from hanging out in Paris, rubbing shoulders with French and European modern writers.)
W H I T N E Y :
Do you have a title for the next Scorpion book? And will it follow Kendras and his man? Will the other Scorpions make an appearance?
Yes. I’ve just finished the re-edit of “Scorpion”, and I’m working on “Lying with Scorpions”, which is the sequel, and should be a novel, too. It continues Kendras’s story, which includes his love interest, but looks pretty grim at the moment. I’m thinking there might be a third part after that, to wrap it all up, but I don’t have a title yet. I’m sure it’ll tell me when I get there.
I’m also thinking about writing a book about Adrastes, and how he became the man he is (working title: “A Taste for Poison”). And then there’s “First Officer”, which is about how they got started. And a novella about Widow, called “Widowmaker”. I’m hoping to develop more Scorpions as I go along, of course, and there might always be room for Kendras’s successor if I want to write more fantasy.
When you were writing Special Forces did you ever wish that it hadn’t taken a soldier porn direction? Especially after you realised what an epic series you had created?
Oh, it started as “soldier porn”, and only later turned into a romance. It was only ever meant to amuse its authors; nobody could have predicted how big it would get. I do think it should get edited down and tightened up, because it’s going off the rails a bit too much in “Mercenaries” with too many love interest and random sex scenes. “Soldiers” is and remains my favourite part of the project by far. But in the end, what it did was make me confident writing in English, so it’s all good and I have very few regrets, even though I’m probably my worst critic. And people continue to enjoy it, which is great.
Thanks again to Aleks for stopping by!
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