Interview: Aleksandr Voinov

Jen: Today we are excited to welcome Aleksandr Voinov to Romancing the Book.  Aleksandr, will you share a short bio with us?
Aleksandr:  Aleksandr Voinov is an emigrant German author living near London, where he is making his living as a full-time writer, freelance writing coach and gentleman at large. His genres range from horror, science fiction, cyberpunk, and fantasy to contemporary, thriller, and historical erotic gay novels.

In his spare time, he practices massage, explores historical sites, and meets other writers. He single-handedly sustains three London bookstores with his ever-changing research projects. His current interests include the German occupation of France, European magical traditions, and how to destroy the world and plunge it into a nuclear winter without having the benefit of nuclear weapons.

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Jen:  Please tell us about your newest release and where the idea came from.
Aleksandr:  My newest release is A Taste for Poison, the third novel in the Memory of Scorpions gay fantasy series. The whole series follows a mercenary, Kendras, and his unit, the Scorpions, as they return from the brink of annihilation and become pawns in the power games of kings and priests. On a more personal level, Kendras moves from soldier to leader, and he also falls in and out and in love with two men, one a king, one a general, while his main loyalty is to his fellow Scorpions.

The idea comes from many places. I’ve always wanted to write military fantasy, and as a long-standing fantasy fan, I really wanted to write about a setting and characters who aren’t straight white people in a Central European type fantasy setting. So I have different races (Kendras is black), and a lot of characters are gay or bisexual. The landscape is inspired by a holiday in Turkey, so … lots of things came together in these three books.

Jen:  Are you a plotter or pantser?
Aleksandr:  I used to be 100% pantser, and these days, it’s still about 75%. Meaning, I often start with a few key scenes in mind (I call them my stepping stones – like crossing a lake with only a couple fixed points) and try to get from one to the other in an interesting, entertaining way. I think life would be easier if I could plot 100%, but for me, the discovery of the book is at least half the fun.

Jen:  Do you have a writing routine?
Aleksandr:  I should probably get one established again. I used to write on the weekends and in the evenings (I was full-time employed until recently). I’m normally a night-owl (my creative time is from 20:00 to about 01:30), but since my partner is maintaining a day job, and I quite like interacting with him, that’s not extremely feasible. I’m no good before noon, so noon to about 18:00 would be a good time to write. Now I just need to stay off social media during that time…

Jen: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing?  Easiest? Most rewarding?
Aleksandr:  My biggest battle is against trying to write the perfect book. Perfectionism is like attempting to rung with a 5-tonne weight tied around your ankle. It’s possible, but extremely hard. And slow. So the battle is really to keep telling myself that the first draft can and will likely suck and to just get the words down. Easier said than done.

The easiest is writing when I hit the flow or inspiration shows up. Then I’m just watching words form and I have the movie in my head and I’m perfectly entertained and productive. Sadly, I can’t find the button that allows me to hit that flow state whenever I want it…

Most rewarding – that had to be interacting with other people in the wider industry. From readers to co-writers to other writers and editors or cover artists. It’s just inspiring and amazing to be in the same space with all these passionate and talented people. And I adore meeting my readers. I was a bit shy/nervous at first, but now I’m all, “The more the merrier.” I’ve yet to meet one of my readers who I didn’t like.

Jen:  What’s been the highlight of you career to this point?
Aleksandr:  Now this is against the background that my career has technically lasted 23 years already (I sold my first short story at 16) and I had a five-book career in my native German language (that was the traditional print model, which meant authors earned very little).

2014 has been a turning point for me in many ways. In March, I lost my corporate editor job due to our department being closed. In July, I went back to work for two months, this time back to journalism. It took me only a couple days to work out I hate financial journalism and can’t cope with it anymore (there’s just everything wrong in that industry). So in early October, I did the numbers again – how much I was earning with writing, how much I could expect to earn in a couple years, how many books I need to write to reach those targets, and I realised I can actually live off writing. It’s a fairly modest living, compared to what I was making in finance or journalism, but it also meant much less stress, more freedom and generally more happiness. I’m still trying to open up another source of income, but I get to choose what I want to do and what I’m passionate about, all thanks to the support of my readers. That’s most definitely a highlight. Ebooks allow me a steady, monthly income that actually pays my bills. It’s basically a miracle.

Jen: What do you do in your free time?
Aleksandr:  I have the good fortune to live just outside one of the best cities on the planet for culture, diversity and overall craziness. So I might explore London, or spend too much money in bookshops (I can justify just about every purchase with “I need this for research”), or go to a museum, or meet a reader or fellow writer and hang out in a coffee shop or a museum or a bookshop with them.

I’m also trying to learn things that I never had the time for – for example, I learned massage from May to September and that was brilliant, and then I learned hypnosis in October. London is so huge and rich, I can always find something to do, something to research or explore. For example, I’m currently planning a day out to the public galleries of the Old Bailey, our criminal court. You can just sit in on those trials and follow all the strange rituals of the UK justice system. It’s a gold mine.

Jen:  What’s next for you?
Aleksandr:  The next book out will be Lone Wolf, a romantic comedy co-written with L.A. Witt, but all that is written and ready. I’m currently struggling through the last third of a gay historical novel set in Paris in the 1940s. The research has been stupendous, but I think it might end up being one of my best works. So, I’m daunted and excited.