I am very excited today to welcome Aleksandr Voinov to the blog. Aleks is the author of the amazing Dark Soul series (among many other things). He is also one of the founders of the new Riptide Publishing. [P.S. Check out my reviews of Volumes 12, and 3]

Aleks, welcome and thanks so much for stopping by today!

Thank you for having me – I’ve been following your blog for a while (and read back to the beginning) and have been really impressed with the quality of the reviews. It shows you’re putting a lot of thought and passion into this. [Aw, thanks! That is so nice to hear!]

First, I’d love to chat more about Dark Soul. Silvio. Hot. Need I say more? Ok, he is such an interesting character. A combination of so powerful in some ways, and submissive in others. Plus totally hot. Was he a fun character to write? How did you first come up with Silvio?

Yeah, he does the same thing to me. (Laughs) Characters happen to me. Some are more polite and gentle than others, but Silvio (who’s neither) showed up during my troubled teenage years and wouldn’t go away, which included him constantly commenting on my real life. It’s fun and disconcerting when characters turn into “invisible friends” – new level of the usual chat and connection I have with other characters. Others fade into the background after a while, usually a few years, but Silvio just wouldn’t fade. He’s been always there.

I’ve been trying to write about him for close to twenty years – I wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages about him, but it never went anywhere. The character’s essence kept changing shape, too, so there are stories about him in his mid-thirties, as a fierce, stone-cold cocaine-addicted killer in lust with his mafia boss, and stories about him when he’s sixteen and working out his sexuality with girls his own age and much older men, and, in an attempt to find a place for himself, is taken under the wing of an older Mafioso (with predictable results). Still, he’s always the same person – fierce, amoral, and sensual. And he always has those light-defying eyes.

I find the mix of weakness and strength extremely interesting. Silvio is completely devoted when he’s in love, loyal unto death, but at the same time, he plays only by his own rules. If you told him “you can’t do that”, or “that’s forbidden”, the best you’d get from him is a blank stare. He doesn’t get those concepts and really doesn’t understand why they should apply to him.

The story takes place in the mafia world, which is not an easy place for anyone, let alone someone gay or bisexual. What drew you to this setting for the story?

Silvio’s always been a petty criminal who develops into a professional killer. When he showed up, I knew he was connected to the Cosa Nostra. At that point much of what I “knew” about the Cosa Nostra came from The Godfather (by no means a realistic image of the real world criminal organization, which is much better depicted in Goodfellas or The Sopranos).

Still, for all the pretty poor writing and terrible research of Mario Puzo, the idea of the “good Mafioso taking care of his family” is a powerful one, and Michael Corleone is a noble man (what else could he be with a name that’s half warrior angel and half “lion heart”?). So there’s my Al Pacino crush, too. I’m trying to show, however, that Silvio’s an outsider – he freaks out even the hard-bitten Mafioso and has some powerful allies that make sure he’s not simply shot and left in some ditch by the road. Similarly, Stefano is not your usual Cosa Nostra boss (for one, he’s way too educated and has been pushed into the role by a domineering father).

But, yes, the Cosa Nostra is certainly unforgiving towards gay and/or bisexual members, as the murder of Joey D’Amato shows. I still think there have to be men there who are attracted to other men, and the social pressures at work here make for an interesting story, wouldn‘t you agree?

The Dark Soul series is told in a really interesting way. Each book highlights what I’d call “episodes” where we get a little look in time at what is happening in the story. What made you decide to use this narrative style versus a more traditional linear format for this series?

To be honest, it was the last available option after I’d exhausted every other one. I’ve always tried to tell Silvio’s story as a novel, but the character’s whole outlook is extremely episodic. He goes through lovers, most of them casual, and kills, and that’s the very definition of episodic: You get a hit, you do the research, you kill the target, you move on. Or: you see someone, you score, you move on the next morning or same night.

His three defining relationships happen at different stages in his life. He sees himself in his brother Franco (with Franco a much more inhibited person who struggles with his inability to trust and connect); he’s devoted to the older Mafioso Gianbattista Falchi, who is both an odd type of father figure and at the same time clearly more experienced and more powerful (let alone much more political and better at playing mind games); and then there’s his huge crush on Stefano Marino, who starts out as the “straight man he can’t have” (and who is therefore almost irresistible). This relationship evolves, however, because the attraction and their own moral codes and desires force both Silvio and Stefano to change. In the end, these core relationships aren’t really suitable for a classically-structured romance novel.

The idea is to focus on one aspect of the character, one revelation, one different angle per story, to get closer to the “truth” about these people. We get to see Silvio both deadly (Dark Lady) and tender and caring (Dark Night), and get to understand what drives his kinks and desires throughout. Sex is always a revelation of character. And by seeing Silvio mostly through the eyes of others (usually his lovers), we also discover more about them.

So far you have published three books in the Dark Soul series. Are there more to come or is the story now complete?

Right now, I have enough material outlined to fill five. Three of them are written, two more are in my head and need to find the way onto paper. I’m looking to put them out in February/March 2012. Once they are all complete, I want to put them all out in a paperback. I’d say we’re looking at 80-100k in total. But these things change all the time. A book’s shape is only fixed once it’s on the page and in the hands of readers.

Do you have anything else you are working on now you’d like to tell us about?

I have a whole flock of novels set during WWII, but these have been stalling recently, and I’m currently not sure where I will submit these – I think at least one of them might stand a chance in the traditional mainstream. If I do go into the mainstream, that’s an investment of several years, so who knows when these will come out. I’m currently mostly evaluating where I want to take my writing next.

During the last few weeks, I’ve had some ideas centered around Widowmaker from Scorpion. It might be interesting to give this ruthless, snarky bastard his own book, but it’ll be a departure from my usual m/m writing.

Ok, now can you put on your Riptide hat and tell us more about what is going on over there? You guys have now been up and running for almost two months. How are things going? Any surprises or are things running as expected?

(Changes hats). Okay. Right now, Riptide switches gears from the craziness of the launch to the medium-term business model. One of the big developments is that I’m currently in the process of building a team of editors. At present, I have one freelancer on file and two people who we want to work more regularly with, but that’s only the start.

One of the big addition was our first-ever intern, Callie Greystone, who is already a huge asset and should progress very nicely inside the company. We’ve also closed our first acquisition: We bought Guiltless Pleasure Publishing, and its owner, Tal Valante, has joined the Riptide Partnership. This gives us access to some exciting manuscripts and a terrific editor. With Tal, Callie, and our freelancers, we’re more than ready to tackle the next step in our growth.

Now that the initial launch and blog tour are nearing an end, what can we expect from Riptide going forward? I know you have a lot of releases planned. Anything you can tell us about?

I’m in talks with some exciting authors (who will hopefully join our “Second Wave” in the next few weeks). Three of those we have already announced: Anne Tenino brings us a hot and romantic (and often very funny) college romance, and J.S. Cook has submitted a literary steampunk novel called “The Lovely Beast” and a gangster novel set during the Prohibition era. And last but not least there’s Anne Brooke, whose “The Heart’s Greater Silence” is also very much literary gay fiction. [Yay! Sounds awesome!]

As far as the next step goes, we are looking very much to acquire more trans* books, and should expand our product offering with more colours of the rainbow once we’ve finished researching the market.

One thing I have been constantly impressed by is the general awesomeness of the Riptide book covers.  Bad covers are a HUGE pet peeve of mine (as my readers probably know by now) so I have been thrilled to see so much attention paid to beautiful and original looking covers. Was this something you guys placed a priority on from the start? Or did you just get lucky with amazing artists?

Oh yes, good covers are definitely not accidental. Rachel put a lot of work into researching and sourcing fresh new talent for our painted covers, and Jordan Taylor, Reese Dante, and LC Chase have done amazing work on the photo manipulation front. We’re lucky to work with some of the most talented cover artists in the business.

The general guideline is: Would we want to have that cover on our piece of our own writing? Does it suit the mood of the piece? Will it attract buyers? If not, that cover doesn’t happen or is changed until we’re happy. At Riptide, nobody will ever get a cover that looks like a publisher’s six-year old nephew cut out some naked guys from a porn mag, cut off the heads, put them in a collage and then made it all look fuzzy to “blend” the different images. At Riptide, we want everybody to be proud to put their names on the end result: author, editors, publisher, artist, layouter. Anything worth doing at all is worth doing right.

Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by today.  If readers are interested in finding out more about your or your books, how can they find you?

The most uncomplicated is probably Twitter – I tweet as @vashtan. My blog is at http://www.aleksandrvoinov.blogspot.com/, my website at http://www.aleksandrvoinov.com/and if you want to join my forum, you can find it here: http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/38618.

Thanks again so much again for visiting today! I’d love to have you back any time!

I’m more than happy to come back whenever! Thank you for the interview!

And Aleks has brought a giveaway along with him today! Yeah!  Leave a comment to enter to win a copy of one of Aleks’ backlist books (excluding Counterpunch). The contest closes Friday, December 23 at 11:59 pm EST.  

  • By entering the contest, you’re confirming that you are at least 18 years old.
  • Winners will be selected by random number.
  • If you win, you must respond to my email within 48 hours or another winner will be chosen. Please make sure that your spam filter allows email from Joyfully Jay and leave your email address if it is not in your profile.
Thanks again to Aleks for a great interview!