Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Interview with Elephant (e-science fiction) Magazine, October 2012

(translated from Russian by I. Woodhead)

E. Our readers know and love Memoria. A Corporation of Lies, your most recent bestselling novel. What they don't know though is the amount of hard work you've invested in the popular S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and TechnoTma novel series for which you've written quite a few wonderful books. Now tell me, have you ever disregarded the computer in order to write your science fiction with ink on paper?

   A.  B. Oh yes I have, albeit a long time ago. When I was young I tried my hand at a screen play (or so I thought as in fact I wrote not a script but a rather decent novel outline). I filled two fat notebooks before I lay my hands on a typewriter and typed it all down having changed many scenes in the process.

E. Can you name a book that inspires you to write? In other words, one that recharges your writing batteries and creates that writing itch that makes you plant your butt in a chair now?

A.  B. So many questions in one. Such an inspiring book has to be interesting otherwise I just won't read it. Characters have to be vivid and the events, colorful- in other words, the author has to submerge me into his world and suspend any disbelief from the very first page.

I can't give you one particular title - there're just too many of them. When I was young, I was tremendously affected by the books of the Russian authors, such as Strugatsky Bros and Robert Stillmark, and also Rafael Sabatini, Robert Sheckley and Ray Bradbury. Various sci fi flicks added their two cents, of course - literally, because in those days I had to go to half-legal underground video shops to watch bad copies with very approximate bootleg translations. But they allowed me to discover many new worlds and come up with a few of my own.

E. And as a reader, what particular SF genre do you like most? What kind of films and games do you prefer? In a role game, whose part do you usually take?

A.  B. I'm a grateful and omnivorous reader. I like dark fantasy, hard science fiction, post apocalyptic, techno thrillers, space opera... I honestly can't remember what a computer game looks like: about fifteen years ago or so, I was really into "strategy" and "quake", but now I just can't tell you.

E. Scandal-mongers accuse you of using ghostwriters, eight to fifteen in total. Is it true what they say that you subject them to corporal punishments for missing their deadlines?
Continent Anomalous
cover art was by A. Rudenko

A.  B. Can I have their names, please? Where did you hear this? Had I released ten books a year, then these rumors of my evil-lordly nature would have probably had some substance (laughs). In fact, I do take my time over my projects. At the moment, I'm finishing my last stand-alone novel, Continent Anomalous, that has taken me over a year to write. By the way, the idea belonged to Andrei Levitsky and we even started writing together, until Andrei got sidetracked by another project and I had my hands full releasing and promoting the English version of Memoria on Amazon. The best I can do is four books a year. With a little help from my ghostwriters , I might improve my turnaround in the future (laughs some more).

E. Can you tell us about any prospects concerning the TechnoTma series? In two words: is it curtailed, or are we to expect new novels in the series, and yours in particular?

A.  B. At the moment, this multiple-author series features new novels by Victor Glumov, Victor Nichkin, and Roman Kulikov, as well as a story anthology. My co-writer (that is, Andrei Levitsky) and myself don't plan any future installments. At least not in the next few years, because I've developed too many other ideas that I can't wait to write about.

E. Is there a book world you'd like to move to and live in? Your own, or maybe by another author. Or are you happy enough with the world we all live in?

A.  B. I think I'd rather hang out here for a while. This world offers a life full of travel and the joy of discoveries, and I'd love to know it better. As it is now, I keep writing till I drop, and have no time left to travel. As for other fictitious worlds, I can go there at a moment's notice. All I need to do is open a book and start reading it.

E. What do you think about all these Apocalypse scenarios? Have you stocked up on vodka, ammo and first-aid kits?

A.  B. Honestly, I don't care. I have to admit though I can't be happy about what's going on in the world.

E. And what kind of advice would you give to those seriously preparing for Armageddon? Which forecasts should they dismiss and which ones would you consider more realistic?

A.  B. The current state of the world economy is the Armageddon scenario that seriously worries me. And still, I try not to think about it. I'd rather move forward and trust my luck. Some seem to do the same while yet some others will hopefully follow our suit. All you need to do is believe in yourself.

E. An interview with Alex wouldn't be complete without asking him about Andrei. Are we to expect any new projects from the two of you? Or have you gone your separate ways for good?

A.  B. That's right, we do have a project. I've just sent Andrei a publishing contract to discuss. But until it's signed, I can't tell you anything about it. All I can say is that it has some connection to the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game. Its readers and fans can follow my VKontakte page for more news. Once the contract is signed, I'll tell them all about it.

E. Did you ever dream of becoming a writer and Levitsky's co-author when you were little? What was the little Alex Bobl like at school and in kindergarten? What did his teachers say about you - especially your literature teacher?

A.  B.  never thought in a million years that I would be a writer. The first notion of the idea I got when I was about twenty-five, and then it disappeared, suppressed by the more urgent needs of a successful career and an upcoming promotion. And co-writing anything - the thought never entered my mind.

At kindergarten, I was this kid in a pair of shorts and a white T-shirt who spent all his time drawing. I could murder a whole drawing book in under an hour, and our teacher didn't praise me for that. At school, I wasn't an A-student but a typical B-grader. And as for our literature teacher, she, of all people, used to say that I wasn't going to get anywhere in life. I met her recently at our 20-year school reunion, and she's still none the wiser.

E. I bet you expect this next question! Which of your novels could work best for a screen adaptation, and why?

A.  B. I'd love to see film versions of Memoria. A Corporation of Lies, and also The Wasteland Clans.

E. Let's look into the future, as far as we can. Alex Bobl is sixty. What kind of everyday problems do you envision for him?

A.  B. None whatsoever. I'm at the wheel of my own pleasure boat on the wide ocean, sailing her into the sunset.

E. Let your imagination run wild. Imagine there's no corruption in Russia any more, no officials stealing funds, so that even the Sochi Olympic builds are completed on schedule. All the get-rich-quick Russian oligarchs have repented, willingly gone to jail and given every Russian back his or her share of the oil bucks they pilfered. What problems would such an ideal society face?

A.  B. Did you understand what you've just said? (Laughs) Life will be boring.

E. Now can you tell me in all honesty: is Russian science fiction publishing already dead or does it still have another couple of years in it? Strictly your humble opinion.

A.  B. Oh yes it does - more than a couple, that's for sure. Doubtful it'll die at all. The market has this tendency of self-redressment. The publishing industry is undergoing some serious changes which at the moment happen aggressively fast, and it's a shame that our publishers can't keep up.

E. What changes does the Internet bring to a writer, considering the reader is now closer than ever before, and the hard copy is being replaced by online cloud reading?

A.  B. I can only be happy. Distances don't matter any longer: we can exchange messages really fast which means we can get readers' feedback and watch the audience's reaction to new Internet releases in real time. Also, I save a lot of time doing research on the Internet (although naturally I double-check it all when I work on a book).

E. Can you say something about e-book promotion and whether it works better than traditional promotion? Have you mastered e-sales or are you still an apprentice?
cover art was by V. Manukhin

  A.  B. In Russia, official ebook stores have limited content while piracy abounds. I can't see us earning any money from web publishing for a while: this model takes its time to develop in Russia. In the West, though, it routinely works fine. There's Amazon and its competitors where anyone can try to get a book out and seek his or her share of audience in their genre. Russian authors, however, have quite a few hurdles along this route. First, e-readers such as Kindle, Nook and others aren't officially available in Russia therefore they don't support the Cyrilic alphabet. Which leaves us with books translated into English, and that's the route I've taken. Memoria was the first to come out in English, soon to be followed by Continent Anomalous and hopefully, other books I'm about to start working on this winter. The second hurdle is receiving Amazon's royalties which they send to their overseas authors by check, a big pain. And finally, the translation itself. You need to find a professional translator and invest some serious money in it, then try to make the book pay it back and bring some profit.

E. Do you have many fans? Female fans, in particular (something I wouldn't say no to myself). Are you already trying to escape their attentions hiding in tax offices?

A.  B. Fans I have many - unexpectedly so, and it makes me very happy. You won't believe the letter I received through VKontakte social media site the other day: a boy, one of my readers, was writing an essay about my book! Can you imagine? You just can't believe how it made me feel as a writer... I had no idea my books could affect anyone that much.

No, I've never hidden from my fans in a tax office. I prefer to meet them at book shows and fairs. I've only been to the tax office twice in my life, both times to receive a deduction.

E. Jerzy Tumanovsky is known for his addiction to his oxygen mask - he even has his pictures taken in it like Dart Vader. Do you have any professional phobias?  Do you carry a handful of bolts in your pocket, or some laser-sword batteries, or do you beam yourself up to places instead of driving there?

A.  B. No phobias, no. Wish I had more time so I could put out more books.

E. Any advice you could give the Inkpot readers? Apart from writing and editing their work, of course, because they're up to their ears in it as it is.

A.  B. Just keep reading. Read lots of good and interesting books.
And good luck!

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