Today I am so excited to welcome back Aleksandr Voinov to Joyfully Jay. Aleks has just completed the last volume in his incredible Dark Soul series (which I reviewed earlier) and is here today to talk to us a bit more about it. He is also offering a great giveaway to a commenter during his blog tour, so be sure to leave a comment at the end of this post to enter.
Please join me in welcoming Aleks!
Thanks, Jay, I’m glad to be back. And thank you for your kind words about Dark Soul – I remember the first interview here, when I was still very insecure about whether I would be able to pull it all off the way I imagined and planned. You can make all the plans you want and have big ambitions, but in the end, it’s the readers and the more outspoken type of reader, the reviewers, who decide whether it worked. In between that interview and this one, I’ve written and edited (and edited, and edited) the last two parts of the mini-saga, so now we can talk about it looking back.
I just love the character of Silvio and feel like in this book we get to understand him a little better. Yet I think he will always remain a bit unknowable to us as readers and to the other characters (which is something that I really love). I’m just curious whether as the author, you feel like you understand Silvio, or if parts of him are a mystery to you as well.
Silvio is one of the characters who have a life of their own. I could get all metaphysical about shamanism and creating thought-forms (I have some theories that tie together writing work and metaphysical or energy work), but he’s definitely the most powerful character I’ve ever made. Part of that is because of his age, over twenty years, and the time and energy I spent on him. He’s the biggest gun in my arsenal – I don’t have any more characters like him inside me.
But I needed to grow up a fair bit myself to really get what is at the core of him, and it was a thrill to approach the character again, but now armed with much better writing skills than at any time when I grappled with him. I’m a bit like Stefano at the end of Dark Soul: I think I have a good working knowledge of him. Would I be able to predict what he’s going to do next? No. He has his own logic, and many things in Dark Soul were “happy accidents,” when you just hand the reins to the character and tell him “oh well, then do whatever the hell you want, you’re not listening to me anyway.”
One of my favorite parts of this book was the emergence of Donata as such a strong and powerful force after being a more secondary character in the other stories. I loved how she could be accepting, but never a push over. Can you tell us a bit more about how you see her as a character?
Donata was another happy accident. I knew from the start that Stefano would be married, but soon, his relationship to his wife became more than sexual attraction. In some ways, I think, Stefano stands between the reader and Donata, definitely at the beginning, when we only hear how sexy she is (everything we know about Donata we know via Stefano).
However, if you think about it, a woman married to a “modern-day” Mafioso has to have ovaries of steel and be switched on about what goes on and how to keep herself, her man, and her kids (if any) safe. So in my mind she moved from “sexy model wife” to “ally and supporter,” who stands behind her man no matter what. The turning point for her was when she leaves the safety of her exile in Europe and returns to tell Stefano “I’m fighting with you.” She gained a lot of my respect there, and it was definitely a decision of that character. For the author, getting her out of the picture permanently would have been convenient, but that’s not how the characters played it in the end.
She’s modeled after some gorgeous, strong-headed Italian women I’ve met in my life, so I shouldn’t be surprised. She’s very mature, clever, and just as loyal as Silvio is. There’s one bit where Silvio wonders if Donata would ever turn into an avenger if anything happens to Stefano, and he can’t imagine her with a gun in her hand. That is because if she would fight back, it wouldn’t be with a gun, but I do think she’d be a fearsome foe if pushed far enough.
So as I mentioned in my review, I am a huge fan of the series and it was almost bittersweet for me to pick up the last book because I didn’t want it to end. Was it hard for you as the author to finish with Silvio and Stefano?
They are still in my head, so I’m not really leaving them, but I did get the sense that the main story is told, so I finished it. Personally, when nearing the end of anything larger than a short story, there’s a sense of mourning, pure, caffeine-fuelled exhaustion/hysteria, relief, and anxiety. You don’t want to mess the ending up, you speed up towards the end, because the ending is just something with a lot of gravity – the closer you get, the faster you move (and sleep and food and exercise be damned), and there’s also relief because you already have the Muse kicking down your mental doors with the next idea or book, and you can’t wait to get cracking on those. It’s an interesting emotional mix. But yes, I do mourn the characters – but letting go is the only way to share them. I don’t do well with unending series myself, and I believe in stopping while the going is good. Too many books or series were ruined by going on for way too long.
Do you think we will ever see more of them, or will this book be their final story?
I have some related ideas. One would be about Franco (I have his whole story mapped out, but I need to create a world for him – likely something dark and post-apocalyptic, because I can’t do Djibouti justice where the whole thing would be set otherwise). Franco, amazing as it sounds, is actually going to find a guy who can deal with him. I’ve written their story many years ago, so I can use that draft as “building material”. [Oh, exciting! Franco is fascinating]
Then I’d really like to write about how Silvio became the man he is today, which would involve a number of kinky short stories that are mostly about him and Gianbattista. There’s a lot of backstory just under the surface in Dark Soul – like Silvio’s various encounters and fight to the death with Diego Carbone (it’s actually pretty horrifying stuff, but it didn’t fit into Dark Soul). There’s also a lot of backstory about Paolo Spadaro, Silvio’s father, and Gianbattista Falchi. I have plenty of material to explore; all these people have history and there’s a lot of myth and legend involved. But I won’t write about Paolo himself. He has pretty much no redeeming quality at this stage, and I don’t want to spend as much time with him as I did with Silvio or Franco. So whatever exploration would happen would do it around the Silvio and Gianbattista story.
I love the episodic way that story is told and the feeling that we are jumping into their lives for little peeks into their world. I am curious now that the volumes are complete, do you think they will ever be published into one large book, or will they stay separate?
I think the format really works; there are some people who think I did it this way to rip readers off by charging more for the individual collections than they’d have paid for a long novel. The truth is, they were always short stories and always had one overarching plot that pulls them all together, and we agreed to release them in small batches because that’s how they were written. And I wanted to try a new format – basically a mini-series (inspired by formats such as Generation Kill or other short series on DVD). The structure fascinated me – on one hand, it was a bit like writing a novel but cutting out all the boring bits and arranging everything that’s left in a certain way (Dark Soul is lean and mean and has pretty much no connective tissue left – the pace is relentless, which wouldn’t work in a novel format).
The format allowed me to only write scenes I was burning to write, not what I would need to write if it were a traditionally-structured novel. Every story focuses on one revelation, one twist, one façade or angle of the characters, and the format allowed me to, for example, do the things with Franco and Sergei that I did. In a novel, we’d never seen inside their heads, because it wouldn’t work and would feel disjointed, like subplots that go nowhere. At the same time, each volume of the Dark Soul series also plays the role of one of the five acts of a traditional stage play, which is the reason why they are grouped and combined the way they are. It was an experiment in structure, and I enjoyed trying that out.
But as we speak, I’m currently proofing a print version of the book – which has a totally new cover and all typos fixed that we could find (two, so far). The book gathers all the shorts and the covers and should be out soonish, depending on a number of factors. I just wanted to have it on my bookshelf, even though print books are a bit of a vanity project, considering that we sell so many more ebooks than print books and print books are fairly expensive and unwieldy.
In the meantime, I’ve written what I’d call a “sweet romance” with Amy Lane, called “Country Mouse” – something without darkness and the people aren’t more messed up than you or me. It’s an opposites attract story between a London-based trader who hooks up with a seemingly innocent young American tourist. It’s a story much like “Transit”; normal people, normal problems, and it was fun to write. Amy is a hoot to work with!
Then there’s a short solo work that I started to cleanse the palate after Dark Soul; a bounty hunter in deep space hunting a shape shifter (how do you locate your mark if he could be anybody?). There’s a twist to the tale, but it’s a surprise for one of my readers, so I’m not giving it away. It’ll be about novella-length.
Then there’s the first of my WWII novels, which is already one-third written, I just need to get over the second third, which is really the bit where I struggle the most, but it should come together over the next few months.
And that’s really it at the moment. However, both the cast from Counterpunch and the cast from Scorpion would like a sequel each. I’ll see if the Muse cooperates, but those will happen after I’ve tamed the WWII novel (or it has tamed me, which is more likely, given my Muse).
If folks want to learn more about you or you books, where can they find you?
The most casual way to follow me is 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.
Thank you again so much for joining us today here at Joyfully Jay!
Thank you for the invitation and your time!
Aleks has brought a great giveaway with him today. One lucky commenter from the blog tour will win a Dark Soul swag pack, including a tote, notepad, and other goodies from the Dark Soul series. Leave a comment here to enter. The contest closes when the tour ends on March 28th. Please be sure to leave your contact information in your post!