AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: ALEKSANDR VOINOV
Hi, thanks for having me!
The most current is Skybound available from Riptide Publishing. It is my short story set in WWII Germany, just before the Second World War ends with the capitulation of Nazi Germany. It’s about the mechanic Felix who falls hard for fighter ace Baldur Vogt, who’s an epic-scale hero in his mind. Meanwhile, Nazi Germany isn’t very tolerant of gay men, and Nazi Germany is about to lose the war, and nobody knows what will come after.
Tell us a little about Skybound, what inspired you to write Skybound?
Inspiration is a weird thing. I’m never quite sure where the Muse runs off to next. The best I can do is, over the last two years, I’ve been working on a few novels set during the Second World War; both are fairly big and epic and take a huge amount of research.
Skybound somehow came out of that, though I couldn’t say which bit exactly. I just suddenly knew about Felix, and the setting, and his love for fighter ace Baldur, and then I very quickly researched German Luftwaffe fighter pilots, because Felix was very persistent and the story needed to come out, so I wrote it, frantically writing and researching. The big challenge was to find out not about the fighter aces, but the ground crew—the little people that history tends to overlook, their fears and worries and challenges and every-day heroism.
When you start writing, do you already have the story plotted out or do you let the characters dictate what will happen?
I like to think I’m in charge, but I think I’m fooling myself. I usually have a very rough idea where I’m going, but the characters do change that all the time, by doing crazy things and surprising me.
In the case of Skybound, I really expected the story to have a tragic ending, or thought something would happen to Baldur. I think that sense of dread and tension really translates on the page. My first reader was growing really agitated about it when I sent her the first half. She sent me emails going “Don’t you dare kill him!” and threatened bodily harm.
What inspired you to write in your genre? Is this the genre you started writing in or have you morphed to this one?
I write in so many sub-genres within the larger GLBTQ fiction genre (though I’d say I’m doing most of my work in the gay, bi and trans space). I do fantasy, sci-fi, cyberpunk, space opera, military, historical, horror, paranormal, urban fantasy and contemporary. And that’s how I like it. I felt drawn to GLBTQ fiction from very early on, but it took me a while to realize there are readers who like this and who will follow me—or at least give me a shot.
I started out in straight mainstream horror and sci-fi, then wrote less-straight fantasy, then moved to cyberpunk with gay and bisexual characters (all in Germany, all in print), but I felt like I had to write mainstream historical books to “break into” the mainstream.
I couldn’t do it, so I went and wrote things pretty much for myself. Eventually, I realized that there was a whole new industry jumping up selling the kind of books that I love to write most. And I haven’t looked back since. Now that I’ve found my place, I’m happier than I ever was as a writer, and that translates into productivity and quality.
Do you have a favorite character you have written?
Any character I currently write is a favorite. I have to live in their heads while I write (or maybe they have to live in my head, it can be hard to tell). I think of all fiction people I’ve met, my pansexual mafia killer Silvio Spadaro from Dark Soul has made the biggest impact. But I love the warrior Kendras from Scorpion, and my heavyweight boxer Brooklyn from Counterpunch. They are all very determined people who fight for love, and all of them are scarred and a bit messed up.
Who was the toughest character for you to “get right” that you have written so far?
Main characters are easy. They are living people, so I just watch what they are doing. But even the cast of minor characters often takes a life of its own. The two characters who’ve given me the most problems aren’t out yet. One of them is a Machiavellian politician (who was so paranoid he’d never told me what he was up to next), and the other is a shaman, whose story I’m currently attempting to tell. Mostly they are just unruly and unreasonable and they attempt to sabotage the book or the plot. (Yes, my characters do that; and yes, writing is a bit like multiple personality disorder, just a lot more fun. I did have a fantastic chat with a clinical psychiatrist about this.)
Do you draw inspiration for your characters from real life? Any fun stories you could share?
I think my characters are generally larger than life, and most real people aren’t (that includes me, by the way). What I take from real life is the struggles and conflicts, and how people respond to all the little challenges that we all encounter—bad economy, bad family, trauma, emotional issues, self-esteem stuff; how we build and maintain relationships and whether we dare to follow our true selves and how far we go for love. It’s all out there and I grab handfuls of the stuff and work with it.
I did model some characters on friends, like Sergei’s aunt in Dark Edge of Honor (co-written with Rhi Etzweiler) was based on one of my Russian friends, and the family dynamics of the Spadaro clan in Dark Soul is taken from my real life family (mother’s side). But that one is not a flattering verdict.
What do you find the hardest part of writing?
I hate editing. I’m the kind of author who writes a very strong draft that I have perfected and polished as I write it, and by the time I’m handing it in to a publisher, I’m very done with it and actually fed up, and the Muse is off gambling on a new pasture and the only thing I want is continue onwards to a new book. So the patience and tiddly-fiddly work is a hard-won skill, and I’m still resentful of having to go back to it. On the other hand, I’m aware how important editing is and I love my editors who guide me through this. So I just pull on my big guy pants and do it, but it’s not my choice of evening entertainment by any stretch.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
I buy a ton of pens (fountain pens, mechanical pencils) and notebooks (paper ones). Like many writers, I’m a stationary addict. I have several shelves full of the stuff, but I keep buying it.
What TV Show are you addicted to?
I’m not, really. I stopped watching TV in the mid-nineties because there was just so little quality on (in Germany, anyway). Also, following a series doesn’t work with the writing life—there’s always a chapter to write and the Muse doesn’t care about the TV schedule. So I’m prioritizing writing, which means I don’t really watch TV.
These days I’m watching the occasional series on DVD, so we end up grabbing the boxed sets, watch the whole lot, and then nothing for months at a time. Series I enjoyed included The Wire, Oz (before it went pear-shaped and insane), Generation Kill; on the non-fiction side, I’m currently watching the old BBC series The World At War about the Second World War (part research, but also because it’s really, really good).
I do like a good first person tactical shooter, though, so when I’m not inspired, blocked, tired or angry at something, I put on Gears of War or Call of Duty, or Splinter Cell or one of the million clones of those and kill stuff. I’m also a recovered online gaming addict.
What do you need before you start writing? Anything that is just a must have or the creative juice don’t flow?
Ideally, music, but I can do without. What I need is the voice in my head or the overall mood of the story, or a vague idea where I’m going. Weirdly enough, I also need a day job—whenever I wasn’t full-time working, I was a lot less productive than when I was juggling a million things and a normal income.
Does music influence your writing? If so, do any of your stories have a theme song?
It does. Music allows me to tap into my emotions at will. I tend to listen to industrial, movie scores, heavy metal, rap, R&B, classical music, or even inane pop songs. Anything that has a driving rhythm, a strong mood and anything that makes me feel something.
I’d say, Counterpunch is very Judas Priest, Scorpion started with the Metallica song “The Scorpion”, but there’s also In Extremo and other “modern-type” folk/medieval bands in there. Dark Soul is industrial, Eminem, Britney Spears (yes, I’m admitting to it!), Rihanna, also songs like “Teenage Hitman” (forgot the band), and various electro bands.
If your story was optioned for a movie, who would play your characters?
All my favorites are getting a little bit old (Pacino, de Niro, and Dolph Lundgren, though the latter is a model and not an actor, even though he’s a dead ringer for Vadim from Special Forces), so I’d probably ask the casting director to find a completely fresh, unknown face. I’ve fallen a bit out of love with Christian Bale (I hope he stops doing The Growly Voice at some point in the future), too, though he could probably play Silvio’s father, Paolo. He has that coiled menace that I associate with Paolo.
Where were you when you got your first contract? Who did you tell first?
I was coming home from school, and I told my mother. I don’t think she believed me. That changed when the check arrived. At 16, I was suddenly a published author.
How old were you when you read your first romance book?
I read a few romances, and I didn’t actually like them very much. Back in the late eighties (and the stuff published in Germany), I didn’t think they were very well made, so I read a couple out of curiosity, but never developed a habit. These days, of course, I’m reading what my friends write and the books in the gay/m/m space that I hear good things about.
What author causes you to “go fan guy”/anticipate upcoming books?
If I have to limit myself to four, I go fan boy over Rachel Haimowitz, Kirby Crow, Abigail Roux and Manna Francis, and pretty much everybody over at Riptide Publishing. I could easily mention twenty more. I do read quite fast.
If you still have one of those pesky non writing jobs?
Yep. And it’s not pesky at all. It keeps the mortgage paid and keeps me connected to the “real world”, which is very important to me. I might aim to go part-time, but I wouldn’t drop out of the rat race anytime soon.
Do you have a favorite movie you have seen in the last few months and/or an all time favorite?
I like the twisty stuff: Inception, The Prestige, Memento. I really enjoyed Drive, recently, and District 9.
What are you currently working on, and what else is in the wings?
I’m working on the second part of Country Mouse (with Amy Lane), a story about Vadim’s son Nikolai from Special Forces, two historical novels, one historical urban fantasy project, and a number of things I’m allowing to germinate, like some books related to Dark Soul, the rest of the Scorpion story, a sequel to Counterpunch. I have a busy two or three years ahead.
If you could co-write with another author who would it be?
I’d love to do one with Kirby Crow, Manna Francis or Abigail Roux—I love what they do and I’m curious how our styles would gel together. It’s always a journey of discovery.
How do you pick your characters names?
Sounds weird, but they either tell me immediately what they are called (like Kendras, Steel and Widow), or I’m going through name lists and wait for the “ping”.
A big one for me is the meaning of the name—the symbolism or saint behind it. I’ve named Silvio after the forest (he’s a wild one), Felix because he’s “lucky”, Franco, because his challenge is to be “free”, Sebastiano is a prominent martyr in the Catholic faith), William Raven is named after the historical knight William Marshal, Brooklyn from Victoria Beckham’s son (because his mother would totally have done that to him).
Last names are similar—Spadaro comes from spada – sword, which works for a killer, Marshall is half Eminem and half martial warrior, Baldur Vogt is half Norse god and half legal protector. I’m having fun with names.
Do you prefer the love at first sight approach or a steady growth throughout?
I do believe that chemistry is instantaneous. Whenever I’ve fallen in love, I was like “shit, this is getting dangerous”, and I could have had that reaction on the same day. Building a relationship based on that attraction, finding a common ground—that’s the interesting bit. How often have we been attracted to people or fascinated by them, but their outlook in life, their goals and ambitions, their job, the distance and all the other factors just didn’t allow it to happen?
What is your reaction to people who say one of the following…”Oh you write romance, I thought you were a real writer”, “Romance isn’t a real writing career” or the ever popular “Oh, one of those books”.
I laugh at them. Good writing is good writing, regardless of where it’s happening. Also, my royalty checks are pretty damn real (I make more now than I ever made in print), and I know that I’m pouring all my skill and emotion into my books—writing gay romance with plot is no difference to me in investment and hard work than writing anything else, and I’ve written a great deal of stories that were perfectly acceptable mainstream pieces.
If I like them and feel particularly patient, I might explain to them that romance has been around forever, and the now-luminaries of literature have written them too. So, Shakespeare can write romances, and he’s awesome by definition, but once a living author does it, it’s trash? Hogwash.
And for the silly side – What is your favorite type of chocolate?
The one that can’t escape and that I can share with friends! (I’m a dark milk chocolate type (40-50% cocoa). Belgian or Swiss is best).
Thank you so much for hosting me!