BACKSTAGE with Ian Valetov

2 12 2012

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 throughout 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?

ianvaletovIan 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 and The 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.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

Ian Valetov on Amazon (Russian Edition)


13 03 2012

Today’s guest on CSReview – Domenico Italo Composto-Hart, a science fiction writer, author of Dark Legacy and professor of American, modern European and world history, geography, and economics in Barcelona, Spain.

Stein: Dark Legacy, being a merger of science fiction and fantasy genres, has a very tangible ornament of the Orient, so mysterious and fantastic, in the names of the characters, their life style, and their culture. What inspired this?

Composto: My fascination with Asian culture, which began when I was in junior high school. This was in the late 1980s into the early 1990s and at that time there seemed to be a sense of awe, and perhaps fear, amongst most Americans toward the strength of the Japanese economy. The U.S. economy was in a slump, so in seeking answers as to how to rise out of this recession and meet the challenges of the coming global economy there were reports, articles, books, and films (such as Black Rain and Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun), which displayed aspects of Japanese corporate and yakuza culture with an underlining tone of tension and competition in regards to which was better, the American work ethic and culture or the Japanese work ethic and culture? The answer–it seemed–was the Japanese work ethic, and with that answer came the media inquiries into the unique culture that gave rise to that work ethic.

I remember clearly going to see a presentation by an actor/history teacher while I was in high school. This presenter originally led us to believe that although he looked Caucasian he was in fact Japanese; he portrayed himself–convincingly–as a descendent of Dutch traders who had settled in Japan centuries ago. He had a slide show clearly showing us, from a cultural point of view, how the Japanese saw Americans, essentially as backwards. He displayed an image of a European woman taking a bath and said, “Here we see a woman taking a bath in her own filth! In Japan we take a shower before stepping into the bath to rid ourselves of all impurities.” When we heard that, I remember feeling offended–it felt like he was saying that we were barbarians–but at the same time I realized that there was a logic and truth in that point of view. It was soon after that presentation that I decided–and knew–that I would one day live in Japan for a period of time. In the years that followed I read as much as I could to understand the Japanese culture to the point that I eventually lived in a Zen Buddhist temple and went off to live in Japan for three-and-a-half years.

So that entire obsession and series of experiences all fed into the Dark Legacy novel. That is what I hope makes the book unique within the science fiction and fantasy genre since most novels within that genre draw upon Western mythology and culture. Dark Legacy draws almost entirely from Eastern mythology and culture, and although the depictions of Atlantis and the city-galaxy of Atlas appear more Western influenced, there is still a taste of the Asian since I drew upon my experiences from the megalopolis of Tokyo to serve as a type of model for Atlas.

Most of Dark Legacy was written while I was living in Japan. Naturally, I drew a lot from the people, culture, and traditional lifestyle of that country. One aspect of the story–the second act where Master Shinsei is teaching and training Kieko within the Kadek Temple–was drawn, in some part, from the time I spent living in a Zen Buddhist temple.

Stein: Amazing, Domenico. I too am drawn to the Japanese culture, having worked with the Japanese years ago, and now I have this obsession with haiku… I totally understand how the Japanese culture can provide the fertile soil for fascinating images, stories, characters. Speaking of which, is it hard for you to envision the development of your stories, growth of your characters? Is it hard to write a trilogy?

Composto: A quick answer to that question is no. But to back up, Dark Legacy will be a six-book series. Many people naturally assume that it will be a trilogy since so many fantasy novels are trilogies, but the Dark Legacy series will be six books, with more to come after that in a second series entitled, Legacy of Light. Hopefully, I live long enough to finish it!

In regards to writing a series of books and maintaining a vision for the development of each story and the growth of the protagonist, that was the part I found to be the easiest. There is a classical piece of music called Adagio for Strings, which was used in Oliver Stone’s film Platoon. It is a haunting piece of music and one I found myself continually attracted to when I was an adolescent. Every time I heard that piece I had a particular vision–a scene–in my head. That particular scene is the final end of the Dark Legacy series. So from there I worked backwards thinking what was the story of the character I saw in that scene. Who was he, where did he come from, what was his childhood like? I developed a back-story for this character and eventually sat down to write a one hundred plus paged outline of this character’s life to lead up to this one scene in my head. From that outline I took the first twenty to thirty pages and wrote, Dark Legacy: Book I – Trinity.

I still have these outlines and over the summer, last year, I pulled it out and found that the beginning I had in mind for Dark Legacy: Book II – Travels has not changed although the story, details, and context of the story will be different from the original outlines. But the outlines are definitely a general guide (a sketch) that is clear in terms of where each story is leading to and how all six books will work as a whole. With that “sketch” I can fill in the details with all the new experiences and knowledge gained since writing the outlines.

Stein: Sounds like a monumental undertaking! Do you always know what will happen to your characters? Have you been taken by surprise by any of them?

Composto: That is a great question. No, I don’t always know what will happen with my characters in terms of the individual choices that they will make. In regards to the ultimate outcome for most, if not all, of the characters from Dark Legacy: Book I – Trinity I had a very clear idea of what would eventually–inevitably–happen to them, but in regards to their individual choices throughout the story I did not. Their choices became apparent within the writing process, but there were many times that I would have to back up and correct or alter certain choices as a result of sharing drafts of the story with my editor, Thomas Lee, and with friends and family. Their feedback was a critical aspect of helping me see through their eyes, the eyes of the reader. Sometimes as a writer you write and assume that the reader will pick up or quickly understand certain aspects of the story or the characters. Since you are so intimately involved and see the road ahead of where the story is going you may lose sight of what is obvious and not so obvious to the outside reader.

I remember working with my editor in developing the character of Kira and her relationship with her mother, father, and with Kieko. To really develop her character to my editor’s satisfaction, and my satisfaction once I could see through his eyes why the character needed work, I had to go back and write and rewrite again and again. That experience of working alongside my editor and going over essentially the first act of the story, paragraph by paragraph, is where I feel I became I true writer. He became my “ideal reader” and his critical analysis of the story and the characters really developed and strengthened my writing abilities. I always have him in mind when I write; I can hear him saying in my head, “Show, don’t tell,” or “That is lazy writing, fill in the holes,” etc.

Stein: This only proves that practice makes perfect – your hard work surely shows in the book. Is there a part of you in Dark Legacy? If yes, who are you in the book, where are you?

Composto: Yes, there are many aspects of my personality, experiences, and past in Dark Legacy. Authors, writers, filmmakers, artists, musicians, and all those involved in the creative arts probably have this secret understanding that their works, and the works of others, are really reflections of ideals, values, concerns, and experiences that they hold dear to their heart. When you read a book from an author or watch a film or observe a work of art you are really looking deep into the soul of the individual who created it. They are speaking to you, revealing an intimate part of their very being with you.

Just recently I saw the film Super 8 with my wife. After watching the film we saw the behind-the-scene interviews available on the DVD with the director, J. J. Abrams, and producer, Steven Spielberg. They discussed how they came up with the idea for the story for Super 8 and essentially it was the story of their childhood, their adolescent years, and how they would run around making short movies on 8 millimeter film (in Stephen Spielberg’s case) or with their Super 8 camera (in J. J. Abram’s case). It was so enjoyable to see them discussing their childhood and reveal that the film Super 8 was essentially revealing aspects of their own childhood. I loved that!

In regards to who am I in the book? Many aspects of Kieko’s experiences, frustrations, and journey are in some way autobiographical of my years as an adolescent. My search to understand what it means to be a man, to have integrity, to do what is right, dealing with bullies, feeling different, curiosity and love for women, dealing with my own personal anger and teenaged angst, wanting to change the world and ensure justice while feeling unable to do so, and seeking mentors to show me the way.

There are little aspects of my past in most of the characters in regards to drawing upon people throughout my life to define the characters that the protagonist interacts with.

Stein: Interesting that you should mention Super 8. The movie has been reviewed on CSReview by a guest poster Michael Panush. I remember thinking when reading his review that childhood truly never ends – it just takes on a different form later on as we mature. Where do you see yourself as a professional writer in five years from now?

Composto: That is a difficult question. I don’t usually like to project a vision of myself into the future. When I turned twenty (or around that time) I promised myself that I would finish and publish my first book when I turned thirty. About six weeks before I turned thirty I was nearly finished with the first complete, final draft of Dark Legacy: Book I – Trinity, but while in a café in Barcelona my backpack, which had my laptop, was stolen. It was a fairly new laptop and I foolishly hadn’t saved a backup copy of my book. As a result, about six months worth of work was lost on the book; I was devastated to say the least. Finally, when I was thirty-three, nearly thirty-four, I finished and published Dark Legacy.

With that experience I learned that it is good to have goals set in the future, but to simply take things as they come and to not loose heart when the objectives I have set in the future do not come to pass exactly as I would like them to.

Whether this happens in five years from now or not, ultimately I would like to make a living as a professional writer and author working on the completion of The Legacy Cycle sci-fi/fantasy series of books while also writing books within the genre of steampunk and science fiction. If that comes to pass then with it comes the freedom to take my family to live in a few exotic places to further inspire my writing. I would like to take my family to live for half a year, to a year, or more in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Sydney, and perhaps London. My home is here in Barcelona, but my wife and I met while we were backpacking throughout Southeast Asia, so it is a dream of ours to take our son to experience and live in the cities in Asia that inspired us.

Stein: Domenico, thank you very much for being here and sharing with us the behind-the-scenes story of Dark Legacy. Wishing you good luck with your future projects and traveling around the world again!

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

Official Trailer of The Dark Legacy

The Legacy Cycle Official Website

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The Legacy Cycle on Goodreads

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The Legacy Cycle at



29 12 2011
Pirates of the XXth Century

Finally found – a highly recommended to me movie that I’ve been searching for after hearing all about it from my friends in the film industry in the late 90s. Why the buzz? The answer is in the movie’s history.

Shot in 1975 (yes!) but released only several years later, this Russian blockbuster became an internationally acclaimed box office topper of the year, and held its position many years to come.

Watching this movie in the 21st century, one can’t help the sad feeling of the past gone forever. Not only have the decades passed, actors been taken with the wind, but also the country that produced this lovely work of cinematography, is no more. So what is going on in the Pirates of the XXth Century?

The thrill begins with the name. Not very laconic, but nevertheless an attention catcher, the title draws you right in, anticipating an adventure. And oh boy, do you get one!

At the time, the global interest in martial arts grew stronger, passionate fighters and actors from all over the world – dominated by Hong-Kong of course – got on the set and popularized the sport and the love of a hand-to-hand combat. Pirates of the XXth Century celebrated that.

The plot revolves around a theft of a highly valuable cargo, and the crew’s attempt to salvage it. The script has one or two flaws that don’t really stand out and don’t spoil the pleasure, but are noticeable to an attentive critic. Still, because of the film’s foundation in the Soviet Russian aspirations of the time, all you see on screen is an exceptionally outplayed performance and a dedication of the cast and crew to make their message culturally acceptable and recognizable worldwide.

Dashing main character, a super-hero, doesn’t rival with the Hollywood standard of a Rambo-style figure – but he is. On a different scale, in a different dimension, in 1975 Russia told the world that they can film a product that will sweep the audience off their feet, and duly so.

The movie has all elements of a good and fast moving action story, with a romantic drive and a heroic exhibit of the noblest of the human nature – as opposed to the criminal and low one. Playing on contrast was done well by means of a clean cut elegant acting,  very accurately placed scenes, specifics of the language – and yes, the crew spoke English – and by the work of a masterly underwater cameraman.

This film also carries a refreshing change to the over-done semantic mess that the trend of contemporary blockbusters suffers from. Neat and courteous, this movie here doesn’t have excessive colorful language that cripples one’s ears, doesn’t have adult scenes that one can see no more for there have been too many in all genres.

Interesting to note that at the time, such exotic locations as were featured in the movie, were off limits to many citizens of the former ‘red’ zone. So to them, seeing on screen how their fellow men and women cross international waters on a cargo ship – and then get in a very big trouble and flee on a boat – was a completely and insanely amazing experience. Sesame opened! And so it did for me, when an opportunity to witness a different type of a master class on screen presented itself last week and I saw Pirates of the XXth Century.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2011. All rights reserved.

Full movie Pirates of the XXth Century available on Youtube under Fair Use terms:

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