Today, I repost a short interview published in December 2010 in the Vancouver Express. In it, journalist Irina Trufan and myself talk about writing in general, the Technotma books, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. project and other things.
"The only things worth doing in life are those that either challenge or excite you - or pay. Two out of those three are already good enough. And when you chance on something that ticks all three boxes - then you are in luck, man."
What's this, a page from a self-help book? Advice from a guru shrink? A pop star sharing his success story? Far from it.
Above is the opening of Sand Blues, the fifth novel in the Technotma: The Dark Times series, a larger-than-life post-apocalyptic project. One of its two co-authors, Alex Bobl, who writes the series together with Andrei Levitsky, has long remained an enigma for his readers: both his name and his contribution to the books. Today, Alex Bobl speaks to the Vancouver Express.
VE. Alex, it's a pleasure to hear about the latest developments in Russian SF from an insider. First, let's talk about the Technotma cycle. Why do you call it a cycle, and not a series?
AB. The first eight novels are a cycle. The difference is that novels in a series can have totally unrelated stories so long as they're somehow connected - if all of them are set in the same world, for instance. A cycle suggests a more coherent story that unfolds from one book to the next.
Technotma follows the stories of its four protagonists: soldier of furtune Yegor Razin (he figures in The Password Eternity, Sand Blues and the following books), a farmer-turned-soldier Turan Jai (The Wastelands Clans, The Wastelands Warrior, etc), Albino, an ex Crimean Mountain dweller who had left his home to become a humble courrier (Barbarians of the Crimea and Sand Blues - where, incidentally, he meets Yegor Razin) and finally, young Vic Casper from a Moscow mercenary clan (Jagger and Last Battle).
The readers of the first few novels meet all of the protagonists, so you don't need to worry if, say, after reading The Password Eternity you take a break from Yegor Razin's adventures. Similarly, having finished The Wastelands Clans, you meet Albino first and only then learn about the outcome of the feud between Jai and Chieftain Makota. You have lots of things to look forward to: Turan combatting the bandits' evil leader, Razin confronting Dr. Hubert… All four protagonists are yet to meet again, strike short-lived alliances, while getting into the thick of the world-wide resistance to the mysterious Dominants on their skyborne platforms.
VE. Many writers claim that they lose themselves in their work. Have you ever lost track of time while working on the cycle? What drove you then?
AB. I've never lost myself in work completely. I don't think I ever stop thinking about my wife and our two boys. The big one is seven and he's just started school. The little one is three and it's his first year in kindergarten.
As for what drives me when I work, it has to be coming up with new plot lines and characters, intertwining their lives and trying to divine their future. Novel writing is an immensely interesting task, even though it can be frustrating sometimes.
VE. So novel writing is also hard work and not just pure talent, is it?
AB. Absolutely. Often I have to force myself to write. And you can't even start to imagine the amount of uninspiring stuff you're obliged to read through while you work. You can't write a book on inspiration alone. Also, if you take me, for instance, I've noticed that I write a better and cleaner copy when I have to force myself to write. Not when I feel driven by the muse, if you know what I mean. In the first case, I don't have to work my way through the finished scene, editing, cutting and trimming it, all the while facing critique from my editor or co-author.
Some books are born in agony. You come up with certain images, but have no plotlines to support them. Other times, you have a plot but struggle with images. I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all method of how to come up with a book concept. You do have certain tools that help you in the process, that's all. I could compare a writer to a programmer who first creates a program, then runs the debugging algorithm. I'd say that those authors who take the time to outline their stories first - or, to complete the analogy, who take care of compiling their programs - find it easier to follow their gut instinct as they write.
|cover art by I. Khivrenko |
for THE ZONE WARRIORS
AB. Not in my books, no. I tend to generalize, compiling a character out of several people I know, although occasionally I discover that some friend or other fits a particular character's boots really well. A protagonist in two of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. novels, The Zone Warriors and The Quantum Bullet, is based on a real person, a good friend of mine.
VE. Do bad reviews affect you?
AB. Any critique is good when it has some substance to it. I'm always happy to receive positive reviews while the negative ones, provided they're constructive, help me take stock of potential errors and improve my craft so that the next books turn out better.
VE. Sand Blues, the fifth book of the cycle, is due to come out in November. What next? Which novel should we expect?
AB. Andrei and I keep working on two books. It's The Wastelands Warrior (a sequel to The Wastelands Clans) and Jagger 2 (working title (now Last Battle)). The one already scheduled for print release is The Wastelands Warrior - we should expect it some time this coming December.
|cover art by I. Khivrenko |
for THE QUANTUM BULLET
AB. I do - and no, I don't feel like I'm a hostage. I plan to start a stand-alone book of my own - nothing to do with Technotma - sometime this May. Andrei Levitsky, too, is contemplating his own project at the moment, with the working title of Invasion.
VE. Before Technotma, you used to write for the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series that features two of your novels. Some of the readers consider them the most original and unconventional books in the whole series. Do you plan on continuing to contribute to it?
AB. I do, but I'm rather pressed for time at the moment. But in the springtime I might seriously consider the publishers' request to do some more writing for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
VE. Have you ever considered writing in other genres?
AB. In order to change genres, you need to know what to say. Until now, I keep coming up with science-fiction plotlines - military science fiction, even. If one day I think up a story about a private detective looking into the death of a movie star, I'll write about it, too. I tend to think that writers' ideas define their choices of genre. Besides, the very idea of genre is critics' invention. They use genres to catalogue the books we write.
VE. Your readers here in Canada might want to know where they can buy your books.
AB. I don't think I can tell you that. Having said that, there is always OZON, an online book shop. My books are readily available there.
VE. Do you plan on translating some of the Technotma books into other languages?
AB. Possible. We've just signed an agreement with a European literary agency which is now busy shopping the project around. In the meantime, you're more than welcome at the Technotma official fangroup http://vk.com/zona_mystery
VE. Best of luck to you, Alex, from your Canadian fans and lots of thanks for this little interview. We'll be looking forward to more new books and projects from you!
Irina Trufan, the Vancouver Express
In the next post I will talk about diffrent vehicles in the world of DARK TIMES.