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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Author, Aleksandr Voinov Talks about Writing M/M Romance, Nasty Reviews and Riptide Publishing *Book Giveaway*

Aleksandr Voinov is an author of GLBT fiction, mainly M/M and is part owner of the epublisher,Riptide Publishing, "a boutique purveyor of some of the finest LGBTQ fiction, romance, and erotica available today. Created by experienced M/M authors who were hungry for more favorable contracts, editing, marketing support, and royalty rates, Riptide Publishing seeks to fill a critical niche in the LGBTQ market: quality books, pristinely packaged, that will satisfy readers’ desires for rich, plotty, well-edited stories for which the author is fairly paid."

I asked Aleks to stop by my blog to talk about his work, epublishing, M/M romance and a wide variety of other topics, including a book giveaway from Aleks himself!


KB: Hi Aleks, welcome to my blog!

Aleks: Hi KB, thanks for hosting me. We’ve been running into each other in a number of places (mostly online, I didn’t make it to Authors After Dark this year – maybe next), so I’m happy we finally found a moment to have a chat.

KB: I’m so thrilled to have had the chance to interview you for my blog! Why don't you talk about your latest work, Skybound? I’ve seen you write on your blog that this was “different” for you?


Aleks: Well, to be honest, every story feels a little different—I’m one of these people who get easily bored and I need to do something else in creative terms all the time. It’s why I keep switching sub-genres within gay romance, from thriller to historical to nice, gentle contemporary to dark mafia tale . . .

But yes, Skybound, my historical short story, is still “more different” than the other stories I’ve written. For one, and on a technical level, it’s my first story in present tense and from a first person narrator. That is so unusual for me that I actually didn’t want to write it at all. The Muse kept throwing it at me, and I kept saying “no, no, people will hate it. It’s first person, and present tense, too. And as a short story, people will hate it even more. And then it’s about a part of history that’s a lot less popular than, say, Regencies or the Middle Ages. Four very good reasons why readers are going to hate it.”

The Muse then gave me a glare and we had a battle for power, and, well, I assume I lost, though the story came out pretty well and now I’m quite happy with it. That was my best attempt at British understatement. I’m actually really happy how it came out. It was one of those “wow, I wrote that?!” moments. I still can’t quite believe it. It’s that different for me.

KB: So, what’s it about?

Aleks: The story itself is quickly told. We’re on an airfield near Berlin in 1945, just before the Second World War ends with the capitulation of Nazi Germany. The Luftwaffe (the German air force) is still fighting back, but it’s a losing battle, nobody really believes in victory anymore, and the Germans have settled into a kind of frozen expectation of the end. Nobody knows what the end is going to look like. Will it be like the Nazis say, an apocalypse leading Germany into eternal slavery and untold atrocities at the hands of the victors (yes, many people believed that)? Or is there a life beyond the war?

Felix, the main character, is a mechanic specialized on plane engines. He’s one of the “black men” (so called because of their black coveralls). He’s just a peon in the war, focuses on his work that absorbs everything else. Everything but fighter pilot Baldur Vogt, that is, who’s a legend and one of the few fighter pilots left.

Felix admires Baldur, fears he’s going to lose him, and their attraction to each other grows slowly, despite the war, despite the dread, the fear, the threat of impending death. Yet it’s a very romantic tale, I think, as these guys really only have each other and give each other strength. There’s no rah-rah patriotism, just the quiet heroics of ordinary people trapped in a horrible situation, and still managing to have a little hope and fall in love.

KB: That sounds intense! How did you end up writing M/M?

Aleks: Unlike many other writers in our genre, I don’t actually come from fanfiction or slash. Before I moved from Germany to the UK (and switched my language from German to English), I had a (modest) print publishing career in the German mainstream, enough to get two agents (one for fantasy, one for everything else). After a few “straight” short stories (hey, I was experimenting!), I wrote gay or bisexual male main characters. Always have, likely always will—though I have an idea for a historical that will feature a bisexual female character.

Now, in mainstream fantasy and sci-fi ten years ago, in Germany, a market that’s at least five years behind the UK/US and generally conservative, gay or bisexual male characters affronted a few readers. Fantasy in Germany, according to acquiring editors of publishing houses, is written for sixteen-year old pimply male teenagers or thirty-odd-years old males living in their mothers’ basements. These are not people who are comfortable with a gay love interest, or so I was told. The sexual tension between my characters was strong enough to weird some of these straight men/boys out (needless to say, my female and gay male readers loved it!).

I’m not sure I agree with the assessment of who buys and reads fantasy—maybe it’s like comics in the US, where the focus on one target audience has estranged all other comic fans (women, POCs and so-called sexual/gender minorities), leaving only straight white males, but I definitely got the sense that many publishers did not respect their audience’s intelligence.

After hearing from authors and publishers about how I should write another Tolkien rip-off or copy the best-selling German fantasy author X, I kinda threw the towel and looked at historicals. The situation there was even more dire. Boy, was it even. Gay characters were nigh-impossible, and even male main characters were seriously problematic (!). Everybody was writing and acquiring “strong emancipated female gets raped a few times in the Middle Ages but then meets her prince” books. I tried to write a nun-sleuth mystery book (no raping!), wrote eighty pages of that, my agent was ecstatic and loved it, and I started to hate writing because every sentence of writing something that doesn’t have your heart in it is like getting a tooth pulled. I decided I can’t write to market and can’t write what I don’t feel, regardless of the number of agents or publishers waving hardcover contracts in my face and calling me “terrifically talented”.

So I’m an example of the author who finally does the right thing after exhausting all other options, to bastardize Churchill. I tossed it all in and went back to writing “for myself”. Those stories, like my very first stories, featured gay/bisexual male characters, who, now that I didn’t have to consider the homophobia of basement-dwellers and tender feelings of insecure male teenagers (and actually found the courage), ended up having sex on the page. Big fireworks, revelation! I really loved writing that. I showed my writing to a friend who was big in the online fandoms and she said I was writing “original slash”. Now curious, I looked into this “slash thing”, but realized it’s all about shows that either were never shown in Germany or months and years later, and, besides, I don’t have the skills for fanfiction. I need my own characters. I did end up writing a Punisher and Iron Man slash novel, but I think my co-writer and I ended up being a “fandom” of two.

But that was also the time when m/m romance was beginning to seriously spread and grow and take off, so I read quite a bit of it, made friends, quite by accident, with several writers (like the amazingly talented Erastes and Kirby Crow) on Livejournal, and figured I’d give it a go, because of all the places where I tried to fit in, this seemed the most natural for me.

You can still tell that I’m a mainstream writer with gay/bisexual characters, because I don’t really know the “rules” of m/m romance (nor do I intend to learn or even follow them—my stories have a mind of their own), so I strike people as a little “different”. Some think I don’t fit at all. Others think I do. I mostly focus on getting the stories out and don’t really tie myself in knots about trying to fit every toe and finger into a specific box. I do write about queer male characters falling in love (and getting it on—I really enjoy writing sex).

KB: How do you handle negative reviews and what do you think about online review sites like Goodreads?

Aleks: Considering that the very first Amazon review I ever got for a book was a one-star review (it came out later, from a jealous frenemy from school), I had about twelve years of time to get over my ego when it comes to reviews. I understand these are just opinions and that I cannot control how a book is perceived. I can talk about why I did what I did, but that’s not to influence perception, just to provide a “director’s commentary” like on a DVD (which, personally, I love listening to). People are free to have their own opinions, and considering how controversial some of the stuff I do is, I’d be shocked if all I got was five-star reviews everywhere.

That said, an incisive, smart, well-argued review that dissects my stuff and bares all my failings is an intellectually beautiful thing, and it can really hurt the Muse, so I’m ambiguous. I like to engage and I like to see all points-of-view, on the same time, the writing urge/drive is essentially fairly narcissistic (or even megalomaniac)—instead of doing something useful like housework or spending time with your partner, you sit down in a room by yourself and are absolutely convinced you have something to say that hasn’t been said better by one of your literary ancestors, and have the means to express it in a way that allows you to charge money for it and makes people want to pay for what they just experienced (and buy the other stuff you’ve written).

Writing is an urge that we can’t suppress, but I do think authors want to be loved, too. I try not to read reviews while I’m in the throes of passion with a new book, because reading them can make the difference between sitting down to write and drowning my sorrows in the cookie jar.

But I’d never attack a reviewer—I have a right to write, and they have the right to love it or hate it or be totally indifferent (the latter being much, much worse than hate). Goodreads is a great place to have casual contact with readers and other authors, and as long as you stay in the sane groups that don’t engage in WTFckery (I love hanging out in Josh Lanyon’s group, because there are a great many very sane and lovely readers there), stay away from trolls (which do exist, both as author and reviewer trolls), and generally stay courteous and friendly, it’s an amazing place to find books and keep people informed what’s going on. For me, it supplements my blog and my website and Twitter. 

KB: If you could be any type of hero, what type of hero would you be and during what setting? What type of character would your love interest be?

Aleks: That’s an interesting question. I used to identify with your usual stoic soldier type hero (I’m a child of the eighties, so Dolph Lundgren and Steven Segal and Sly Stallone all the way), but this has shifted a great deal. What is a hero, exactly? What resonates most with me at the moment is the idea of the “conspiracy for good” – like Robin Hood and the Merry Men, or plenty of resistance movements in history. A member of a tight-knit group that works against a wrong/injustice and eventually brings about change. My partner would have to be part of that. I couldn’t decide on a setting, though. However, I’d love to visit the Crusader Kingdoms—one of my most enduring pet interests in history.

KB: And if you weren’t busy enough, you’ve now started your own publishing house. Tell us about Riptide.


Aleks: Riptide Publishing is Rachel Haimowitz’s and my idea, really, but we got terrific people on board right from the start, with Tal Valante, wizardess of the web and marketing goddess Chris Hawkins, now retired to focus on her own writing as Brita Addams (and replaced by Stephanie Grober, who’s a superhero).

The whole thing started in early 2011, when Rachel and I were comparing notes on publishers. We were looking for homes for our current works-in-progress, and tallied up the good and the bad in all reputable publishers we were working with or were hoping to work with. We discussed contract terms (length and royalty percentage), quality of editing, marketing, covers, reputation, author support, and came away somewhat frustrated, because while we loved some things about all of them, we didn’t love one house enough to inspire our life-long loyalty and devotion.

I’m not sure who actually started it (my money’s on Rachel, though), but we tallied up our own experience in publishing (both Big Six and journalism/corporate) and realized that we have (or could hire) the skills in-house to strike out on our own and have a decent chance of succeeding. The main question was whether to do it as a self-publishing platform for ourselves, or extend it to be a “proper” publisher. When we pitched the idea to friends, they were on board, so we got to work to make it happen.

My history professor always used to say “nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come”, and that’s exactly true for Riptide. We have an uncompromising author-first stance, extremely competitive contract terms and top-notch editing and covers, and one team member does nothing but marketing. We’ve achieved in ten months what some publishers don’t achieve in five years. Because we invest heavily into every title, we do our utmost to make every single title a success. And readers enjoy reading books that look good, are well-edited and actually had a developmental editor looking at all the parts of a story and helping authors get the most out of their idea, plot and characters.

We focus on quality, and readers appreciate that a great deal. I couldn’t be happier with how Riptide has been performing as a business, but as one of its authors (as an owner, I don’t get a free pass—I get rejected and edited just as brutally as everybody else), my sales and the quality of my work show what a difference a great publisher can make for an author.

KB: I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I have a cuddly shift changing demon sheep named Mho Fho as my blog mascot. Would you ever think of writing a M/M sheep shifting romance? Maybe you could name a character Mho after my Mho?


Aleks: Was that the inspiration behind Black Sheep (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0779982/)? I haven’t actually written any shifter stories (or do alien polymorphs count?). I’d have to think about it. I can only feed those ideas to the Muse, and gods know what he comes back with. Sheep-shifters wouldn’t be the weirdest thing he’s dragged in through the door…

KB: Thanks Aleks for taking the time to talk about yourself, your work and Riptide!

Aleks:  Thank you so much for hosting me! If anybody has any questions, I’m happy to answer them in the comments.

Contest Time!

Aleks is giving away two of his ebooks, and a hardcopy of Dark Soul Vol 5 (both national and international) to three lucky winners. In order for your chance to win, just leave a comment here by Sunday, 9/9 for Aleks.


Twitter: @aleksandrvoinov

Riptide’s website: http://www.riptidepublishing.com/
Twitter: @RiptideBooks



25 comments:

FanGirlMom said...

I just recently discovered Aleks and love his work-his voice is very different from everyone else. Starting Dark Soul this weekend!

Aleksandr Voinov said...

Thanks again for hosting me - and a quick note. I've received (jsust in rtime) a box of "Dark Soul" paperbacks, so I'm throwing one of those into the prize draw as well. And I'll ship internationally.

hambelandjemima said...

No need to ship internationally, Aleks, just send it to me ;-D

You answered the question I was thinking of asking, which strangely enough wasn't the one about the m/m sheep-shifting romance, but about whether you get a free pass as part-owner. If it were me, I'd be tempted to say to the editors, "Don't you know who I am?" Then again, that's probably why I don't run a publishing house :-p

A very illuminating interview. Thanks, KB and Aleks!

evaine13 said...

I have just discovered Aleksandr's work myself. AMAZING! He's a new favourite. :) And I had no idea that Riptide was so young - they seem like savvy veterans to me.

Great interview!

Aija said...

Ironically, I actually have two questions... Above you said that "I think my co-writer and I ended up being a “fandom” of two" - how is that? No one else longed to see Punisher and Ironman together? :) And have you ever been rejected by Riptide? (That's really hard to imagine ;D )

P.S. Goes without saying that I'm not participating in the giveaway. ;)

pointycat said...

Thank you - I love reading about how stories come to be and finding out more about the writing & publishing process.
Riptide are my favourite publisher because you have great stories and they're good quality with beautiful cover art. And it's nice to know that the authors are getting a fair deal out of it too!

Passing on the give-away - pretty sure I already have almost all of Aleks' books. I definitely have all the Dark Soul e-books and the paperback as well - love that series :)

Aleksandr Voinov said...

FanGirlMom - Thanks! I hope you enjoy it - it's some of the best stuff I've done. (Also, I'll need your email address for the giveaway.) :)

hambelandjemima - Actually, when I handed in "Incursion" to my editor, I did expressly tell the editor to not treat me any differently. (Though I wasn't quite prepared for how thorough those edits were - I was a little bit shocked, but it was all worth it in the end.) So, yeah, it's a bit weird when you're editing the boss, but our editors aren't easily intimidated - which is good. I wouldn't want it any other way. :) (I'll alos need your email address. :) )

evaine - Thank you! It sure feels longer than what, 10-11 months? I've rarely if ever worked so hard in my life, but it's fun and I think the results really speak for themselves. :) But yes, it helps that we've all beenin the industry/genre for a few years as authors, so we kind of knew what we were getting ourselves into. (Also, your email address?)

Aija - I think we had a few readers, but it was extremely minor compared to more common couples like Captain America and Iron Man. I don't believe the Punisher has been slashed very often - most fanfiction written about him is gory revenge fantasy rather than an examination of what he's about. But he's one of the very few characters in the comics world that I've had a lasting attachment with. Mentally. :)

And yes, I've been rejected by Riptide, I'm proud to say. Just because I own a chunk of it doesn't mean anything. I get treated no different.

Kyahgirl said...

Great Interview KB!

Every time I read an interview with you Aleks I learn so much about being a writer along with learning about you. I have thoroughly enjoyed everything I've read by you. Skybound has been in my teetering electronic TBR mountain since it came out and this reminds me I should push it to the top! Best wishes. :-)

(I don't need to be entered in the draw as I already own the Dark Soul books)

only-echoes said...

Hi Aleks!

As much as I love your other works, I think Scorpion will probably always remain my favorite. Are there still plans for a sequel?

Jennifer Book Huntress said...

Hi Aleks,

Not sure if you remember but we (@Book_Huntrss) had a "chat" via twitter the other day with @Flame_ddevil about Special Forces and you commented that since I handled SF so well Dark Soul would be easy LOL

If you haven't read Special Forces yet I HIGHLY recommend it!!! It is dark, at times even brutal, and will take you on an emotional roller coaster ride but it is SO worth it!! It is available on his site. To get an idea of what you are in for my Goodreads review is here:

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/388003026

or check out Aleks' group on Goodreads


Anyways, I can't wait to read Skybound as soon as my book budget is reinstated (husband put me on hiatus after a little buying spree this summer, oops LOL) Although I will be getting Gold Digger as soon as it is released, shhhh don't tell him...

I do have 2 questions for you:

1. How do you research your books? Do you start with times/things you already know? Do you read everything and anything or do you get enough to go with?

2. How much does your Muse dictate what you write? Do you have a "say" in times or characters? i.e. wanting to write a book about x time period or about a character that does y??

Thanks,

Jennifer aka Book Huntress

Heather Massey said...

Way to persevere! It takes a lot of guts, blood, sweat, and tears to forge your own path like that.

I recently read your m/m sci-fi romance BREAK AND ENTER and enjoyed it. Best of luck with all your endeavors!

Aleksandr Voinov said...

Pointycat - Thanks for the comment and the kind words about Riptide. The team loves hearing that - we do believe very strongly in our mission. :)

Kyahgirl - Thanks, and I'm happy to impart my hard-won morsels of wisdom (or at least entertain). But yeah, the big lesson was to not write what other people want you to write, even if they are well-meaning agents and publishers and fellow authors. I've *never* been as happy and as productive in writing as I've been in the last few years.

only-echoes - I love Scorpion. I do. I love all my books, but Scorpion has a special place because it almost didn't happen. :) (I was working as a journalist while I wrote it and that job sucked the soul out of me and very nearly killed that book - big wake-up call that I needed a new job, which happened and it all sorted itself out). To answer the question: Yes, absolutely. I'm seeing right now two novels (a straight-up sequel and a prequel focused on Adrastes and how he became the man he is - also answering some questions about Steel). And I could imagine a story about the very first officer might be cool. And Widow wants his own spin-off novella. I was going to write these all in a row next year, after I'm done with my WWII novel. It'll happen, I really want to do those. Ideally, I want to release them all maybe a month or two apart.

As to the sequel, Kendras is going to learn some stuff about his past, and there will be more war, hidden and open opposition, and possibly a rebel movement. And the high priest gets his dues. :) Working title: "Lying with Scorpions". :) Thanks for commenting!

Aleksandr Voinov said...

Hi Jennifer - of course I remember you. Thanks for stopping by! And with a little luck you'll win Skybound in the drawing (unless you want a different book, though Gold Digger won't be out by the time we do the drawing - err, tomorrow) - but yes, I know things about book budgets. Plenty of months where I spend more on books than on food (well, they are brain/soul food, really).

Regarding research - I'm a regular in a number of bookshops in London (Foyles, Blackwells, Waterstones and Daunt Books), and browse the sections I'm interested in (history, military history, politics). When something strikes my fancy, I take it home. Sometimes, it triggers a novel (that's how I "received" my WWII novel - I read a non-fiction book about Paris and was very intrigued, and then I bought more books on the same topic).

If I know what I want to know exactly, I start "accumulating" - i buy a lot of books both online and offline and try to get my hands on everything. Then I'm immersing myself, reading as much as I can, while making notes. And as questions arise during the writing, I try to dig the answers up - I ask people who know about the period/issue, I google, I read memoirs. In the case of Skybound, I ordered a ton of WWII documentary DVDs from Lovefilm, which is our Netflix, and watched all of those. Hours and hours of airplane footage.

So, yeah, I sometimes get carried away,but I need to feel I'm confident and know my way around whatever it is I'm writing about. In the case of my historicals, it slows me down a great deal. Skybound was more research work than several novels I've written. I do need to remind myself that it's OK to make stuff up, but then my inner history professor kicks in and curses at me. Factual errors mortify me, and do that for years and years, even if there was no way of knowing that at wrong detail at the time. I'm neurotic about research.

And the Muse pretty much does what he will. I mean, yes, I have these projects lined up and I can just sit down and work on them, even if I don't feel inspired. That's just graft and grit, hard work, but the flow very often comes. But when the Muse is involved, that's like lightning. It hits you and saying "oh, I don't feel like it" buys you maybe 5 minutes. And when that happens, whatever I've been working on at that time fades into the background while I struggle to get whatever hit me there out out out. I wish I had the process under control, and I wish I knew how to tame the beast, and as an author somewhere between semi-pro and amateur, I *should* know how to switch it on and off and just design books in my head, but I sometimes think I'm just kidding myself and I'm not in charge. Or at least not all the time. The good news it, it still works out fine. I can trust the Muse or my subconscious or whatever chemical imbalance in my brain does these things. :)

Aleksandr Voinov said...

Heather - Thank you! It was trial and error, really. If I hadn't wasted so much time trying to "make" it as an author and please others (agents, publishers, author friends), I could have got there much sooner. :) On the other hand, the publishing industry changed *just* in time for people like me. Just ten years ago, I wouldn't have been published (unless I'd managed to write that historical novel), and might just have turned into a weird eccentric guy mumbling to myself.

In the brave new world, everybody can have a place and people can just start companies and it's just about talent and hard work. Which works for me like a charm, especially since technology enables is to form international teams and meet people we would never have met. So, perfect timing, a huge amount of luck, and a great crowd of supporters and friends. :)

And thanks regarding Break & Enter - that was a fun story. Do check out Rachel's stuff, too. She's more hardcore than I am, but what a gifted writer.

FanGirlMom said...

Aleks - fangirlmom@gmail.com :-)

hambelandjemima said...

Oops, sorry, Aleks. hambelandjemima at yahoo dot co dot uk

steve50 said...

Great interview, Aleks - as usual

steve50 at telus dot net

Jbst said...

Hi Aleks,

I loved Skybound, and I have Country Mouse on my Kindle to be read, but I don't have Incursion or Dark Soul yet.
There are so many books on my Kindle waiting to be read which keeps growing.

I've seen references to your Special Forces. But it's not listed on Riptide? Where can I find it? I may want to start on that rather than Dark Soul.

Thanks for such a generous giveaway!

strive4bst(At) yahoo(Dot) com

Jennifer Book Huntress said...

Aleks,

Thanks so much for responding, it means a lot that authors like you take the time to talk to us.

And Rachel is more hardcore *swoons and fans self*

Jennifer aka Book Huntress

Jennifer Book Huntress said...

Jbst,

Special Forces is on Aleks' site, it is free...

Jbst said...

Thanks Jennifer for the info about Special Forces. I did take a look at Alek's website and located it. Wow. Seventy chapters and equilvalent to 15 novels. Will need to wait to read when I have more time.

Elizabeth H. said...

I have recently discovered Aleksandr Voinov's books through another blogger. While I have downloaded the free stories from Mr. Voinov's web site, I've heard the Dark Soul series is incredible! I can't wait to read it! Thank you so much for the interview and the awesome giveaway!

ehaney578 at AOL dot com

Jennifer Book Huntress said...

just an FYI you will need support while reading Special Forces, it is an emotional ride. I can be reached @Book_Huntrss on Twitter or join Alek's group on Goodreads!!!

Aleksandr Voinov said...

Hi guys/gals, thanks for playing!

According to Random.org, my winners are:

1 ebook (any) - Elizabeth H
1 ebook (any) - Heather Massey
1 Dark Soul paperback - evaine

Congratulations!

(I'll also try to get in touch with you via email. :) )

Thanks for playing!

kara-karina@Nocturnal Book Reviews said...

Thnk you for a great interview, Aleks!

Funnily enough I usually stay away from m/m romances but both KB and Smexy Books talked so much about your books that I couldn't resist and read your Special Forces. I absolutely loved it, that characters were so alive (it was like touching live wire), ark and beautiful. Needless to say, I'll be back for more!
All the best with your writing and publishing career, Aleks!