Friday, August 10, 2012

Gold Digger versus Special Forces – spinning off from a “cult classic”

As I said on my blog a few days ago, I’ve recently had the urge to write about Vadim Krasnorada’s son, Nikolai. Vadim Krasnorada being one of the two main characters is Special Forces, the work I’m probably best-known for. I’m using the expression “cult classic” with a fair amount of self-irony, though I keep seeing people calling it that.

I know I’d threatened writing about Nikolai before, but this time it actually happened. What intrigues me about him is that he’s a sane Krasnorada. I like misfits in my own writing, but in this case, it’s the one normal guy who sticks out. I mean, his sister Anya is as cold-blooded and precise as Vadim was roughly aged thirty—we’re talking special forces soldier-level lethality. Only, of course, she’s an emergency surgeon, and, in Nikolai’s words “a man-hating lesbian” (which doesn’t do her justice, by a long shot, but our families always know best how to hurt us).

And then his mother, Katya, former Russian Olympic medallist in fencing, who is as surgical and strong as her daughter. Both these women are so hardcore that they make an older, wiser Vadim look . . . well, old and wise.

As at the time of writing, Gold Digger (working title) is 40k and it’s single-POV. All from Nikolai’s perspective, though he’s a good observer overall. I expect to add a few thousand words to that, but I reckon it’s going to stay a longish novella and it wraps up some open questions about Vadim and some of my characters in Special Forces.

Now, Special Forces was written from early 2006 to late 2008—two and a half years for one million words. The enormous pressure that project generated very nearly burned me out of writing in mid-2008; and it killed a number of very good ideas for novels. This online serial became much larger than ever anticipated, much larger than I ever wanted. In some ways, writing the story in the last roughly 12 months of that period was a traumatic experience, and I believe it shows in the rifts inside the story. I still struggle to edit the text to a decent standard (I’d much rather write new stuff than revisit an old mess). For years, the experience has put me completely off the idea of writing another series. After being the hostage of a mammoth project like that (which would amount to ten big paperbacks) for so long, I desperately needed a change.

On the other hand, all that writing in English helped me make the transition from writing in German to writing in English, and it kept me going through a couple boring, repetitive jobs, and I met some terrific readers through the work. So it’s not all bad. Some of it was even pretty damn nice.

But the character, Vadim, was still in my head. I dealt with him for a long, long time, and I resurrected him—a more innocent, idealistic version—in 2010/2011 in Dark Edge of Honor, where he’s clearly Sergei Stolkov.

True to the statement that a good story is like an iceberg—90% will never make it to the surface (or onto paper), there’s a great deal more in Special Forces and in its cast of characters, things that only I know. I know a great deal more about Solange and Jean, for example, and once I feel comfortable writing a romance between a male-to-female transsexual and a philandering bisexual in denial, I might tackle their story. I still think a story about a young Jean could be terrific fun, although people loathe that character. It could be fun to attempt to turn the loathing around. I don’t think he deserves all the bad rep he’s getting.

When I was looking at writing Gold Digger as a spin-off to Special Forces, there were a few questions I had to answer:

1)      How strongly is this connected to Special Forces? Or, in other words: Can this stand alone?
2)      Special Forces being free on the internet, will readers be willing to pay for Gold Digger?
3)      Can I believably avoid characters that I don’t own without the text becoming awkward and the characters unnatural?

I had to answer these questions for myself before launching in earnest into a project that would tie me up for a month or two. With so many projects on the go, deciding what I want to focus on is a fine art, and, for example, “free fiction” takes a backseat by sheer necessity.

So, yes, the idea is that it can stand alone as the contemporary romance of a guy who has big family issues and somewhat weird father. Nikolai had maybe two or three short scenes in Special Forces, so, while established, he’s not really part of the central cast. He’s a natural crossover character.

As it does stand alone and I’m not mentioning any characters I don’t have rights to, making this a commercial story is legally possible. In addition, I want to have it commercially put out, because while my self-editing is decent, I do need a good editor who really tears into my stories. Good editors don’t work for free. I also need a layouter and a cover artist so it looks like something people would want to read.

Teaming up with Riptide Publishing makes sense, because my experiences there have been extremely good. It also means I don’t have to handle all these production steps by myself. I’d much rather write the next thing. Obviously, the hope is that it’ll appeal to my non-SF readers enough that they’ll buy it, and that the SF readers are OK to pay for the end product. It might be a gamble, but I’m pretty positive. My readers are awesome like that.

The last bit—writing around characters I don’t own—wasn’t actually hard. Vadim is incredibly self-contained, as we know from Special Forces. I feel he’s doing all right where he is now, and Nikolai doesn’t have strong relationships to anybody I don’t have the rights to. The only tweak was his younger sister, but she would have been superfluous for the core themes in Gold Digger, so her absence doesn’t even register.

While writing Gold Digger, I’m re-visiting the series that devoured my life (and sanity) for 2-3 years, referencing the text to make sure there are no major inconsistencies. I’m even starting to slowly retrench from my “series – never again!” Just as I’m writing this, I’m making preparations to write three more books in the world of Scorpion.

But that would be a topic for a different blog post.


Emme Adams said...

Aleks, I'd like more detail, please, about what might make you feel uncomfortable writing a Jean and Solange tale? I'm looking forward to more about those two SF characters because I only got tidbits in SF (though, interesting tidbits) about what makes Solange tick, and Jean grew on me as SF went on.

Aleksandr Voinov said...

Hi Emme - thanks for commenting. What makes me uneasy? Well, first of all, it would be a heterosexual romance than involves the bi guy "cheating" with a number (a fairly large number) of his soldier buddies. Can you say "instant reader hate"?

Then there's the fact I know very little about Solange's home culture or the specific sub-culture of Parisian Algerians, which is a huge kettle of fish, very political, and pretty much unforgiveable when I get it wrong.

Finally, I'd have to leave out Dan completely (not a big deal, I can always spin both out and replace Dan with a different guy - like Beauvais).

Of all these things, writing a het romance that breaks all the rules and discusses ethnic, religious (Solange is a Muslima) and gender issues... it seems like a huge battle and I'm not sure I'm a) good enough and b) all that effort well pay off in the end.

Anonymous said...

So, I'm assuming you can't legally write Vadim and Dan into Gold Digger, yes? Which sucks rocks. And, Ironically, I just re-read Mercenaries and Veterans, so the timing on this is funny for me.

As a rather rabid SF fan, would I be willing to pay for Gold Digger? Um, duh! Hells yes! And while I'll miss Vadim, Dan and Kissa (LOVE her) sightings, I've always been intrigued by Nikolai.

So, yes, Aleks. Write more. More, more, more!

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