BACKSTAGE with Ian Valetov
Today’s special feature on CSReview is an interview with a talented and prolific author from Russia whose books have made quite a roar in his homeland througout the recent years.
CS: Welcome to CSReview, Ian. You authored a series of novels, intriguing and peculiar, some very specific to the area they are set in, others more universal. Your name is known in and out of your country. How does it feel to be a bestselling author?
Ian Valetov: Never really thought about it like that. See, only one of my many novels has been sold in hundreds of thousands of copies – a dark psychological apocalyptic thriller No Man’s Land. I even had trouble finding a publisher at first, which is typical for me. Then the book came out through a publishing house in St. Petersburg and sold 130,000 copies, three consequent editions. On the other hand, my other books sell well online. The market has changed, irreversibly, I think. So, maybe someday I will feel like a bestselling author, but this day hasn’t come yet.
CS: Why did you decide to write The Chronicles of the Damned?
Ian Valetov: It’s a trilogy, three books, but all together just one long story. It came to me on one of my trips to Israel. I saw an ancient citadel – Metsada – and heard what had happened there. I told my wife, someday I will write a novel about it. Back then I had no idea what I was getting myself into. In fact, this trilogy is monumental as it covers a special time in the history of the world.
Had I known that I would spend four years on the computer, read thousands of pages of tens of books, talk to historians, archeologists and theologians? No, I really had no clue. In the end I created a product that doesn’t fit into any specific genre and that is as much a historic blockbuster as it is a sensitive human drama. But, I did know one thing – this novel won’t have it easy. Well, I had to tune it down a little, to modernize it, connect the ancient story to our present reality. So I came up with this professor Rubin Katz and a number of people from his circle. They had found a scroll from which it all began…
CS: Were you at any time worried about implications of this novel and how it might reflect on you?
Ian Valetov: No. I am not the first nor the last one to talk about a controversial subject, but I wrote really more about such very human things as the meaning of friendship, love and sacrifice, and the eternity. Religion is secondary in this book. This trilogy is aimed for agnostics, for those who look for answers.
CS: Some critics compare you to Dan Brown. Do you think it’s fair? Does it make it difficult for you to stand out as a unique writer?
Ian Valetov: I appreciate Dan Brown and his work, and I am not afraid of this comparison as much as it flatters me. The thing is, genre is the only commonality that unites us two. For the rest, we write about different things and look at the world’s history from a different angle. I am afraid though to ever be compared to a talentless fool…
CS: Where in The Chronicles are you, Ian Valetov, who of the characters speaks with your voice?
Ian Valetov: I do not intentionally and directly channel my own personality through my characters. I do understand their fate and their sacrifices, and I love them dearly for the depth and sincerity of their feelings. Take for instance professor Katz and his Jewish proverbs, or this serious guy Sayeed the Bedouin and his son, or Irene – professor’s assistant – and even Shultz, the member of the Legion (central to the trilogy). There’s a little bit of me in all of them…
CS: How long did it take you to complete the series? What was the source of inspiration, what difficulties you had to overcome, did you struggle with anything, maybe with yourself, when writing it?
Ian Valetov: One year went on preparing the manuscript, at the same time I was also finalizing No Man’s Land. Then those three years I spent on writing the trilogy. One year to write one novel, that’s all I have time and energy for. My inspiration comes always from the same source – I want to tell stories to people. I don’t spend time on the couch waiting for the muse… In the end of the day when my family is resting, I sit down at my desk and begin telling my stories. Not that I’ve ever had difficulties putting my works together, no, but some scenes were exhausting and sometimes even haunting, pushing me to go over a certain personal limit for the sake of authenticity. Like the mass murder scene, or that chase in the desert… In this respect it’s easier to write about today’s reality than go back into the past.
The hardest part began when the novel was completed. I discovered that I am thought of as a science fiction writer and readers expected a sequel of No Man’s Land. And then suddenly I come out with a novel quite different from anything I’ve done before… adventures, history, thrill… a religious novel as they say. Nonsense. Anyone who ever even just briefly glanced at this novel would know it has nothing to do with religion.
And, I am grateful for my own business that allows me certain independence from writing for hire. That said, there were expectations of me in this regard, to write something that’d sell, something that’d fit the success formula. I chose to differ.
CS: What is your message to the reader of your books outside Russia, what do you want us to see in your works – and what not?
Ian Valetov: I write about people. They are everywhere at all times just that – people, regardless of the country and the century, and the language they speak. I am just telling stories. My credo is to write about evergreen common to us all notions such as love, loyalty, intrigue, sacrifice. We all have much more in common that we may think. It’s just that one may prefer one beverage over another, but our mentality in its core is never that different. The language of feelings and emotions is universal. I want my reader to feel the rush to get to the end of the story and then feel sad that the story ended… What I don’t want is for my reader to be bored. There are no bad genres. Sometimes there are bad authors, but I hope I am not one of them.
CS: What are you writing now, and what are your future plans?
Ian Valetov: Right now I am working on the novel Stranger’s Dreams which is a story of confrontation between two parallel worlds and the people who got caught in the middle. I created the plot together with my wife Lesya. It’s a story about good and evil and us not always knowing which side we’d take. I’ve been married for over 25 years, and this novel will be my first cooperation with my wife.
My next novel is planned under a working title Mr. Inquisitor and is about a man who served a religious dogma all his life only to discover that the love towards his family is dearer to him. It’s a mystical fantasy novel about the role of the Church in society.
I am not yet sure what of these ideas will be fulfilled and what will remain in my files as notes. I have two new ideas for two sequels for my previous novels To Stay Alive andThe Left Bank of Stix. If only I could find the time and the desire to continue. Well, it seems the work for the next four years has been cut out for me.
CS: Thank you for being with us, Ian. Very interesting stories, very interesting future plans. Wishing you to see them come true and of course we’d love to see your novels in the English language someday. That would be just awesome.
Translated from the Russian by Camilla Stein.