Interview with Aleksandr Voinov

Totallybooked meets Aleksandr Voinov

Aleksandr Voinov, not just an author but a man of multiple achievements:  a writer of MM romance/erotica fiction, co-author of the MM military cult classic Special Forces, a writing coach, a writing teacher with a degree in American Literature, and, last but not least, half of the successful Riptide Publishing – phew!

       Thank you so much for talking to us.  We love your writing and it really is a pleasure to have you with us today

AV:       Thank you for having me over for a chat!

TB:        Firstly, congratulations on the success of Riptide Publishing and your amazing career as an author.

AV:       Thank you. We’re actually still somewhat surprised how well Riptide is doing—much better than we’d hoped, so this is thrilling and humbling at the same time, because all the success really rests on the shoulders of great people—the team, our authors and our partners. We’re so grateful to all of them.

TB:       We’ve been dying to know.  Where did the idea come from for Special Forces? This collaboration with Marquesate was without doubt one of the most beautiful but disturbing journeys a reader could go on.

AV:      Special Forces started very much as “Let’s write some soldier porn”. It was never meant to become a romance, or even as big as it turned out to be. But then the characters took on lives of their own, and it kept growing. When we started, I was working on a different book set in Afghanistan (though a futuristic version of it), so I’d been fascinated by Afghanistan for a long time (and still am), and I’d been writing about Russian soldiers for a fair while, which is where Vadim and Jean came from.

An important inspiration turned out to be a book called “Jihad” by a guy called Philip Sessarego (LINK: ) (writing as Tom Carew), who pretended to have been with the SAS in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and was apparently found out to have made it all up, based on war stories told by buddies – or not. Can you trust a liar? (LINK:  But undoubtedly, the “story” is good and it sparked a few ideas in my head. Much of my inspiration came from my extensive military library, though obviously I made mistakes and treated some things not as carefully as I should’ve, even in a “for fun” project.

TB:     We love the names of your characters.  Are the character names important to you and do you give any thought to the actual meaning of names?

AV:      All the time. Vadim’s name, for example, is from a Russian medieval names website, and apparently Krasnorada could be translated as “beautiful happiness”. Call it a practical joke, considering what type of man he is. 🙂

Or another “famous” one: Silvio Spadaro – Silvio hearkens back to the (Latin word for) forest, and in medieval thinking, the forest is a wild, untamed, dark and dangerous space. Spadaro can go back to Italian/Latin “spada”, the sword.

Or the planet Tamene in “Incursion” – it’s a Maori word meaning “be assembled” – perfect for a colonized world. I’m having a lot of fun with names. J Though they also have to sound just right, and sometimes the characters just tell me what their names are, and often it makes a lot of sense and reveals a deeper meaning as the story progresses. That’s the Muse’s work.

TB:       Your attention to detail is second to none. Do you know everything there is to know about your character down to what is in their wallet or on the bathroom shelf?

AV:       I still screw up at times, but yes, if I spend a few months in a character’s head (or he in mine), I know them pretty well. Some characters stay with me for much longer (Silvio and Vadim being prime examples), and those I know like family (or, considering my family, probably better). Sometimes they surprise me with their decisions and experiences, but when I’m done with a character, I’ve gone very deep indeed.

TB:       How personal is your writing?

AV:           I think all writing is personal on several levels; both what I write about and how I write about it. The “voice” of an author is always a very personal thing, though it’s hard to say what the “voice” actually is. It’s a very specific quality that most people recognize when they encounter it.

And the themes I write about are definitely personal. I’m fascinated by loyalty, strength, the whole concept of the “warrior”, what makes us human, and one of the central themes in my writing is the conflict “individual versus society”—be it moral or religion, or a dominant doctrine. How do our surroundings shape us? As an example, I often write about people who lose their country of origin. They emigrate, they might even get kicked out, or the place where they come from forces them to leave or is entirely destroyed. There’s definitely an echo of me in there – I left Germany about seven years ago to live in the UK, and I do write about what you could call the “emigrant experience”, if you want to use the term. Being a stranger in a strange land is endlessly fascinating to me.

TB:        Which of your characters is your favourite and why?

AV:         I have a lot of tender feelings for a lot of my characters. Vadim (and Sergei), for his strength and vulnerability, Silvio, though I’d only want to observe him from afar (he’s not much for conversation), Francis from an unpublished novel because he’s a genius, though he’d irritate me no end if I met him (in a way, I have—he’s the composite of people I’ve met during my time as a financial journalist). I’d love to meet Grimm so I can have a dose of Glyrinny stem cells. There’s another guy, called Richard, who’s very close to my heart, because he embodies a big chunk of family history.

TB:       Your writing is very intense and we wondered if you find it difficult to switch off when you’re in these places or does it stay with you? What do you do to switch off?

AV:       Get up, walk around the house, have a coffee. Sometimes, I go to the gym to blow off steam, or punch a bag. I also like to shoot things on the Xbox (Gears of War, various tactical shooters), but when I’m emotionally drained, I like to grab a blanket and just have a nap. With the hours I’m keeping, sleep usually recharges me. But yes, it all stays with me. It’s like the echo of a very very big bell reverberating through my emotions. Sometimes, I’m barely present in the real world because I’m riveted by whatever’s going on in my head. Getting rid of a story or character can feel like exorcism. I usually have them reasonably under control when they are on paper.

TB:       Your books are primarily dark, gritty and full of action (and no not just the hot monkey kind).    What drives you to write the kind of fiction where characters are turned inside out emotionally?

AV:       At the bottom of it isn’t sadism, but curiosity. I do want to know what people are made of and get to that inner core of strength that we all have—and test it. A person always shows their true colours under stress, in extreme situations, and I’m interested in seeing how people respond to being tested. That might sound clinical, but it’s not really—I do feel for them. I have a great amount of empathy for them, and sometimes compassion, and sometimes I hate doing this to them, but steel isn’t steel if it’s never tested, and at the end of the day, I’m writing about human beings overcoming adversity and triumphing in the end. But to make this a resounding triumph, the adversity has to be quite serious. The bigger the obstacles, the bigger the reward for the character and the emotional payoff for the reader. Writing or reading about happy people doing happy things all the times with no edge or grit would bore me.

TB:       Have you ever been surprised by a controversy among fans or reviewers – for example, you created a character without thinking too much about what people would think of him, and found some readers loved him and some hated him?

AV:       The best example of that is probably Jean. People love to hate him, and all my explanations—that he’s a good guy and has never committed any of the bad things that Vadim has done—don’t seem to get much traction. For most readers, he’s the love rat and Vadim’s rival, so they hate him as much as they love Vadim. I mean, that’s fine by me—Jean really doesn’t need my protection and he wouldn’t care much that some people hate him. He’s had much worse in his life and very much walks his own path.

TB:       If you were to start your career as an author over again, what would you do differently, and why?

AV:        I think I wasted a great amount of time bewailing that I was writing things I was sure I’d never be able to sell. The industry changes so fast that all concern for an audience, a market (or sales, for that matter), are smoke and mirrors. I should just have put my head down and worked. And I should have not signed up with some publishers who turned out to be less than expected and signed their gods-awful contracts. Lastly, I’ve allowed some people to hold my writing and productivity hostage, which is a mistake I’ll never make again.

TB:       Some of your books are co-written with other authors. What are the pro’s and con’s of writing with a partner? If you could work with any author who would that be and why?

AV:        I really enjoy co-writing—you get to merge your style and themes with those of another author, leading to the most interesting chemical reactions. The plus is that you write much, much faster and it’s almost like a party game; you can’t wait to see what the other writer is doing, and you do your best to entertain your partner, too. It’s really, really good fun. The negative side is that you’re in legal limbo when the partnership breaks up. Who owns what? What if the relationship turns sour? It’s a potentially big risk, so I’d recommend agreeing beforehand what happens to the piece, and who owns what (say, split them up by characters, or agree what happens in case one wants to do a sequel).

TB:       We are working our way through your books like mad women possessed and have loved them all so far, The Dark Soul series, Gold Digger, Country Mouse and Special Forces. All of these have very strong alpha male characters yet have vulnerable sides too. Is this your favourite character to write?

AV:       Absolutely. I have one beta hero in Felix (Skybound), though his admired Baldur is definitely the “considerate alpha” type.

One of the questions I like to ask is—what is masculinity? And how do you negotiate masculinity if you’re with another guy, so gender roles become somewhat moot—or do they? On the other hand, I’m most interested in characters who stand up and fight for what they want, which gives them an “alpha feel”, I guess. It’s good for the plot, it keeps the action moving, and means I don’t have to continuously kick them into action and force them out of hiding by nefarious means. So I like to write about people with initiative and goals.

That said, I am currently working on a book that has a beta hero, though, and that’s an interesting change, but also a challenge because he’s trapped in a pretty unpleasant situation and isn’t exactly the type of character who could shoot his way out. Some people are just not warriors in a world gone mad, but they still have their strength and deal with their weaknesses.

TB:    What are you currently working on?

AV:     I’m trying to beat off the Muse who’s trying to distract me from writing my Second World War novel by throwing other sequels and prequels in my way (for Dark Soul, Scorpion, Gold Digger and Lion of Kent). But yeah, I’m still working on the WWII novel, and hope to finish the first draft by 31 December, this year (I made a bet, damn it, and I’m not going to lose…). After that, I want to do something lighter—possibly a Gold Digger sequel—and after *that*, I’m attempting to tame my second WWII novel (I have a whole raft of WWII novels—somewhere between 3 and 7, on last count). And I have the whole Scorpion-based series to write, too, so I’m doing a bit of plotting and note-taking and research on all of those. (we’re exhausted just reading that!)

TB:       We thought we’d love to finish with two fun type of questions if that’s okay with you.  If you could have dinner with one person dead or alive, who would that be and what would you order?

AV:       Many people in history I’d love to have dinner with—there’s Alexander the Great, and I’d eat whatever he’d have a guest served. It would be rude to make special demands. He seems quite brilliant and volatile, so that should be fun. I might have to polish my Ancient Greek, though.

TB:          Which of your characters would you most/least to invite to dinner, and why?

AV:          Jean of Special Forces seems like a great guy to have around for dinner—he’s funny, lively, and I’d wrangle an invite to his house in France. That’s a gorgeous area where he’s settled, and I also like his wife. For a guy with such a mottled past, he’d be a great host and good company.

Least likely is probably Gianbattista Falchi—such a smooth, extremely powerful man with exacting standards would make for some tense company. I mean, what are you talking about to a mafia player over dessert?

Books by Aleksandr Voinov

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Check out our reviews of Aleksandr Voinov’s work.

Gold Digger:

Dark Soul – The Collection

Special Forces:

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Filed under Aleksandr Voinov, Interviews

38 responses to “Interview with Aleksandr Voinov

  1. Shelley

    Fascinating man! Thank you for the interview.

  2. I would love to be in his head!!! Amazing ma!!!

  3. Urb

    Great interview, proves that AV’s work is full of depth and intelligence! Thank you.

    And that ensemble? Clean as the board of health!

  4. Ilhem

    Very interesting interview. Thank you.:)

  5. Mandie

    Intriguing insight. Thank you. 🙂

  6. steve

    Great interview. What’s not mentioned is the amount of time Aleks devotes to his fans – I’ve never seen anything like it. He’s a powerhouse to have accomplished so much and I’m glad to have discovered his work.

  7. Aija

    So much to look forward to… Funny how I get so much more intrigued and excited about new characters rather than about new stories being mentioned (who is Francis and Richard???).

    Thank you! 🙂

  8. Leanne L

    Firstly, amazing interview! Thank you for that, it was so interesting to read! Secondly, I just finished Dark Soul yesterday and I have not stopped thinking about it and there were just a couple of questions I wanted to ask. ***dark soul spoiler alert**** I suppose what I’ve still been thinking about centers mainly around Silvio and his past. We meet Sebastiano in volume 5 and he has separated himself from his past and his family. I was wondering if there was more to his separation from his brothers. Whether it was just him trying to get away from his past and the ties to the mafia or whether perhaps he partly blames them for the abuse he suffered (or rather not doing anything when such abuse occurred- even though it’s clear they all suffered at the hands of their father)? Silvio and Franco are obviously very close, and always had been, I guess I had just wondered if there was more to Sebastiano’s dislike of his brothers.

    • Leanne – Good question! In the original version (one of the many stories that I wrote – or attempted to write – about the Spadaro brothers), there was a fourth brother, number 2 in the birth order, and closer to Sebastiano. He was really the only brother Sebastiano ever really bonded to, whereas Silvio and Franco stuck together. I took that brother out this time, mostly because he’s dead and I didn’t want to explore that plotline (would have been confusing and taken away from the impact I was trying to create) – but it did havet he effect to make Sebastiano look lonely and detached.

      I think there are several layers to to issue. One is that Sebastiano from an early age determined he’d “fight for justice”, so I assume he saw Franco as weak (since his coping mechanism was to close himself off and retreat) and Silvio as … uncanny. Somebody he can’t understand and quite grasp. Silvio’s aura would feel unsettling to him. But above all, I think, he felt he should have protected them as the older brother and didn’t. I think he projected that guilt on hem as “they deserved it”. But I might jut explore that “on the page”, as it were.

  9. Thanks everybody! Sorry for the late responses, I was travelling and then so jetlagged. 🙂 I’ll draw the winners on the 25th.

  10. Ellen

    I am immersed in Special Forces, this is a life-changing story. Can’t wait to read all of your books. I am haunted by Dan and Vadim!

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