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FREEFIC WEEK – AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Aleksandr Voinov

Sue interviews freefic author Aleksandr Voinov

Sue: First of all Aleks, I’d like to sincerely thank you and Marquesate for creating my most beloved story of all time… Tell me, did you have any idea while writing this that it would have this kind of impact on leagues of readers? Did you sense you had made something so special?

Aleks: Absolutely not. From my perspective, it was “just playing”, one of those crazy things you do to entertain yourself. We were posting some bits and pieces in a forum, and people were asking to read more, so we did. It built quickly from there, but the size and vehemence of the response left me largely baffled. By now, I kinda get it, but I don’t think you can manufacture this kind of response. It is driven by people recommending it everywhere.

Sue: Special Forces covers a lot of very sensitive ground. From rape to killing, prejudice to torture, and promiscuity to self discovery. Was all this something that was planned for shock value or as a representation of “this is how bad it can be”?

Aleks: As it was never written with readers in mind, “shock value” never figured anywhere in the reasons or planning. It was clear that Vadim was a very, very bad man as a soldier, and I enjoyed writing a “villain” very much. I’ve always been drawn to deformed characters, and I had to get my head around a man who’s a rapist, a racist and ultimately a mass murderer, as well as a supporter/silent benefactor of an inhuman totalitarian regime.

As far as promiscuity goes – Special Forces was never meant as a romance. Personally, I never knew the “rules” of romance (ie, no cheating), so how Vadim constructs his relationships is not owed to any reader or genre expectation. He did what was authentic to him. I didn’t know “the rules” or cared very much for then, so even had I known, I’d not have bent my characters to conform to those rules.

And I guess we can all agree that war is bad and makes people do bad things. I’m a military historian and am always shocked when war is being “sold” as any kind of morally superior undertaking (or crusade). At that point, we’re in the realm of propaganda, not history. Reality looks very, very different.

Sue: I understand that Vadim is your character. He changes immensely throughout the whole series. First from the despised villain to adored sweetheart Then through his capture by the KGB to a person who tries to reclaim “himself” following subsequent PTSD. How well had you formed his character in your mind at the onset of writing Special Forces?”

Aleks:  It all happened during the writing, as I started with this concept of the ultimate badass, and most definitely a villain, but as the story grew longer and longer, writing a one-note character is just not sustainable. You cannot write one million words about a character who never changes — okay, maybe you can if you have a larger-than-life character like James Bond or a Marvel superhero — but I can’t.

Vadim left the Soviet Union and encountered other ways of being, and he learned to be his authentic self, and he stopped suppressing certain things, and actually had a few long, hard looks at himself. His darkness always remains, though, and he’s carrying the scars, and gods know he got off fairly lightly for the things he did.

In a way, he became a fully realised person in conflict with his environment and himself. It’s an interesting journey, and one, I think, that we’re all undergoing in life, as we spend decades becoming who we really are and learning to be authentic to ourselves and dealing with our weaknesses and scars and guilt and fucked-up families and all that emotional baggage. Also, “man versus society” is one of my favourite themes/conflicts to work on, and Vadim is very much in conflict with his environment – he struggles with the distinct issues of somebody born in Stalinist Russia, having gone through the Army and Special Forces, and having been indoctrinated with a certain brand of Soviet/Stalinist masculinity.

He’s ill at ease speaking his mind, he’s ill at ease with all casual contact where hierarchies aren’t clear, and there’s all this internalised rage, shame, guilt, and self-loathing, but mostly rage. People sense that about him – the distance, the capability for violence, the darkness, the fact that, very often, Vadim is just wearing masks. Very few people ever get to see who he really is, but he got better at that over the decades.

The longer I spent in his company, the more I understood what made him capable of doing such thing in the beginning, but when he was conceived, he was basically my take on Ivan Drago, minus boxing, plus an Afghanistan war record. So, over the 2.5 years it took writing him, he just evolved and got more layers.

Sue: Many readers seem infuriated by the promiscuity in the series. I never felt much concern because they were consenting adults, but it’s interesting to me that although there didn’t seem to be an underlying message in the story, I still felt as though there was a lesson to be learnt regarding accepting alternative lifestyles. In fact, I stated in my GR review “it had me questioning my own understanding of relationships, societal norms and the boundaries, or perhaps the possibilities, of a loving commitment.”. Is there anything you like to say about this?

Aleks:  Well, let’s say I’ve encountered different types of relationships in my life (both my own and those of friends/family) that are not conforming to that old “they fall in love, they marry, they raise a bunch of kids and it’s happily ever after” fairy tale pattern. And I’ve seen many instances where that “ideal” pattern ended up destroying people, so I’m kinda cynical about what society expects of us and how we’re supposed to organize our lives.

I think many readers expect it to be a New York-style Romance – the romance cliché that is being sold at nice profits by big-city Romance publishers, a safe kind of wish fulfilment fantasy. I’m not and never will be interested in writing “safe” fiction nor am I particularly interested in wish fulfilment. I do believe that much of hetero romance fiction is ossified and does not deal with real people and how real people live their lives. I have nothing against that kind of fiction, but it’s nothing I want to do as an author, nor would I be very good at it, because my primary concern is to write about authentic human beings and stay true to my characters, even if it costs me readers and mass-market appeal and if they do things that are unpopular and break the rules.

But Special Forces is not an anti-Romance – it still has pretty much all the structural elements, which makes Romance readers judge it as a Romance. And now we’re discussing what a Romance actually is. As somebody who’s studied literature at university, I go back way further than New York City-type hetero romances built to (lucrative) formula. I look at love stories that are hundreds of years old, sometimes even older, and tell a story about love and how people deal with the absolute horror that love can be. I mean, what is scarier than this emotional force that challenges our assumptions about who we are, and makes our joy and happiness dependent on another person? Personally, I find those themes and structures much more interesting and challenging, but that might be just me. I know lots of NYC-style hetero romance readers and writers who are perfectly happy, and all power to them. And there are many who are breathing new life into the genre, so I’m not dissing the genre as a whole. Lots of interesting things are going on in the larger context of the genre.

So yeah, I’ve taken the relationship patterns (that “loose tribe” of friends, sometimes friends with benefits) from real life rather than romance fiction or genre rules. Vadim is more trapped in the idea of monogamy – he used to be married to a woman, raised (or rather didn’t raise) two kids, and that’s his internal model of how people do things. He gets out of it eventually, working out over time what works for him and what doesn’t and what’s actually important to him.
Generally speaking, I think any model works that people agree on and that allows them to meet their emotional needs. That said, these models can look extremely different from what hetero Romance publishers are selling us as the perfect model to aspire to.

Sue: Can you give us a “Day In The Life of Vadim”? How is he? Has he gained control of his demons?

Aleks:  Well, being retired, I think his life is pretty slow generally and will involve travelling, good food, probably getting into arguments on the internet (like military discussion forums), a healthy disgust of news and war propaganda, coaching his fencing/self-defense classes, exploring wildernesses on the planet, and therapy. There will be trips to cultural events/exhibitions or performances, and he’ll likely spend time with Nikolai in London. It’s a pretty content, slow, calm life, and he’ll likely spent most of that totally in his head. He’s really quite self-contained in his own inner world. We see glimpses of that in Gold Digger, which is about his son, who’s just entered his first gay relationship and gets some good pointers from Vadim.

The demons are still there – healing PTSD of that scale I’d expect to be unrealistic, and I know a lot of old men who died with the condition, so there’s no “easy fix”, and I think it would be disrespectful to people who live with the condition to just make it miraculously go away in fiction.

Sue: Thanks Aleks, clearly Special Forces is my most beloved story, but alongside that I’ve adored the rest of your work. Skybound and Dark Soul rocked my world… Oh, and the Market Garden series – yes. And Break and Enter. And I can’t wait to get started on Scorpion too. :)

Aleks: Thank you for having me!

 

Aleksandr Voinov can be found at:

website

twitter

facebook

goodreads

37 comments on “FREEFIC WEEK – AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Aleksandr Voinov

  1. Vallie
    November 10, 2013

    Wonderful interview!!

    Like

    • Sue
      November 10, 2013

      I’m so glad you liked it!

      Like

  2. Andrea
    November 10, 2013

    Fantabulous :) Thanks to both of you for giving us a fun convo and a bit of an update on Vadim. ;)

    Like

    • Sue
      November 10, 2013

      Without a word of a lie, I fell asleep with a smile on my face after reading about Vadim in present time. :)

      Like

  3. julio
    November 10, 2013

    Great interview :-)

    Like

    • Sue
      November 10, 2013

      I’ve read his answers so many times, I think I could recite them ;) ❤️❤️❤️

      Like

  4. Ameena
    November 10, 2013

    Great interview , I loved reading about vadim in the present it made me smile from the inside, he is absolutely my ultimate favourite character and will forever remain in my heart , loved reading more about him and understand him better.
    Thank you sue for this you♥♥♥♥♥

    Like

    • Sue
      November 10, 2013

      Yay! I’m glad you love it like I do! ❤️❤️❤️

      Like

  5. Ana
    November 10, 2013

    Amazing interview Sue! Loved your question, and the answer, about the promiscuity in the series, which it didn’t concern too much to me either, life and relationships are not perfect.

    Like

    • loederkoninginkatinka
      November 10, 2013

      100% agreed. About the interview and life.

      Life is not a Disney tale.:D

      Like

    • Sue
      November 10, 2013

      Yes ladies! I wondered if I’d be standing out in the cold with my declaration of “life/relationships are not cookie-cutter formats”. xx

      Like

  6. Debra E
    November 10, 2013

    Wonderful interview with some great insight into the complexities that make up Vadim. I’m feeling the need for a re-read soon! I also didn’t care about the promiscuity in the book. The characters are all adults doing what works for them.

    Like

  7. loederkoninginkatinka
    November 10, 2013

    Aleks, I think I will just print and frame your answer to the promiscuity question. Amen.

    Like

    • Sue
      November 10, 2013

      Me too! *fistbump*

      Like

  8. Tina  (@whitemooony)
    November 10, 2013

    Great, review, sweetie. You rock! And Aleks, of course! :)

    Like

    • Sue
      November 10, 2013

      Hey Tina! Glad you enjoyed it. :) :) :)
      I’m trying really hard not to be all “fangirl crazy” but seriously I could read/listen to him for hours/days/weeks… Nnnngh.

      Like

  9. ilhem3606
    November 10, 2013

    Aleks and Sue, thank you!

    Like

    • Sue
      November 10, 2013

      Ilhem, you’re welcome! ;) xx

      Like

  10. Jenni
    November 10, 2013

    What an amazing interview! Great job Sue and thank you, Aleks!

    Like

    • Sue
      November 10, 2013

      JenniLove is in da house!! Aaah, I’m so glad my TexanLove got to read this gem xx

      Like

  11. marina
    November 11, 2013

    thanks for the interview, an insight in Vadim’s head is priceless!

    Like

    • Sue
      November 11, 2013

      I know right? I never thought I’d get to find out more about our beloved Vadim… and here it is! *high 5*

      Like

  12. mike
    November 11, 2013

    Great interview, if a tad brief. I just started “Gold Digger” so I’m excited to read that Vadim will make an appearance!

    Like

    • Sue
      November 11, 2013

      Hi Mike :). You know what? If the interview is on the brief side, it’s entirely my fault. I was loathsome to take up his time so the onus is entirely on me. Clearly I need to be HARDER!!! ROAR!!!

      Like

  13. Trish
    November 11, 2013

    Such great questions, exactly what I myself, as a fan of SF, would have wanted to know about. Thanks

    Like

    • Sue
      November 11, 2013

      Yay! I love that you got the answers you would have hoped for. Great minds eh? :)

      Like

  14. Viola
    November 11, 2013

    Very cool interview, thanks! On the one hand, I’m always defending fiction, especially violent and/or edgy erotic fiction, as “just fantasy” (think about all the crime fiction we all read/watch about serial killers – we should all be Dexter by now!), but really, it can also get you thinking about other ways to live, and I appreciate that I’m starting to see romance stories that aren’t about two people who “fall in love, they marry, they raise a bunch of kids and it’s happily ever after”!

    Like

    • Sue
      November 11, 2013

      I agree completely. :)

      Like

  15. KatieMc
    November 12, 2013

    Thanks for a terrific interview Sue. Special Forces is quite special and it is a treat to read the author’s interview. It’s too bad that we couldn’t get an update on Dan, but I understand the reasons why. I wonder what Jean is doing these days?

    Like

    • Sue
      November 12, 2013

      Hi Katie! :) I’m glad you enjoyed the interview. Hey, you’re a BRAVE woman to mention the J word… I’ve seen people flogged for less! Just joking, they were beaten to a pulp. ;) Thanks heaps for stopping by :) :)

      Like

      • KatieMc
        November 12, 2013

        I must have a death wish.

        Like

        • Sue
          November 13, 2013

          You live life to the max. ;)

          Like

  16. Jucilene Lopes Dos Santos
    November 12, 2013

    WOOOOOOW!!
    LOved this! Loved it!!
    Thank you Mr Voinov, even when I know that this can’t mean so much for you; all your answers gave me more peace of mind about that story who marked as fire.
    And thank you, Sue! Your questions were very accurate! I couldn’t do better.
    Now I just want to re-read and meet again my most beloved character of all the times: Vadim!

    Like

    • Sue
      November 13, 2013

      Yahoo! I love that people are getting so much out of it.

      I’m so happy :)

      Like

  17. Isabel
    November 13, 2013

    Fabulous interview! Loved it and thank you so much Sue and Aleksandr Voinov! You are an amazing writer!

    Like

    • Sue
      November 29, 2013

      Gah! Sorry, Isabel, it took me forever just to say “thank you”. I’ll see you ’round I’m sure xo

      Like

  18. airinyan
    March 11, 2015

    Reblogged this on The Procrastinator and commented:
    Never thought there was an interview with Aleksandr Voinov..this is nice! I feel like he’s just right there talking in front of me.

    *Now, off to reading Mercenaries II. Yay! <3

    Like

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This entry was posted on November 10, 2013 by in Cops / Cowboys / Military, FanFic / FreeFic, Interviews and tagged , , .

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