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)


BACKSTAGE with Larry Laverty

29 10 2012

Today on CSReview Hollywood actor Larry Laverty is talking about a new horror film production he just finished working on – The Control Group, directed by Peter Hurd.

CS: Welcome to CSReview, Larry! Nice seeing you again. What can you tell us about your recent film project?

Larry Laverty: I’ve been in a few movies now, over one hundred at last count, but hadn’t experienced anything quite like my adventure on director Peter Hurd’s first feature film The Control Group. I’d been talking with my good friend David Fine, also an actor, about this movie he was going to be taking part in back in Minnesota.

CS: And so you were immediately hooked?

Larry Laverty: Well, he’s mentioned it off and on over a period of a couple of months and then one day he told me he had a conflict with another project he was prepping for at the same time. He asked me if I’d be interested in talking with the director about taking over the role. So I did, I was hired, and I hurriedly prepared my role and travelled to Minnesota three weeks later. I spent a month on location in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, working from the very first day of the shoot to the very last day.

CS: What can you tell me about the set?

Larry Laverty: We were going to shoot almost exclusively in an abandoned asylum built in 1895 that is scheduled for demolition after we leave. When we first arrived the place was populated by hundreds of bats. Some parts of the facility look as if the staff just walked away from their jobs yesterday while others are crumbling.

CS: So, why was Fergus Falls picked for the project?

Larry Laverty: Fergus Falls was chosen as the location for the film because of the access the production company had to the now abandoned, 120-year old mental hospital there. It’s a  humongous facility, built in 1890, with all the trappings of the mental hospital of your dreams. To top it off, much of it is in wicked disrepair and now home to hundreds of bats. You could never build a set for a movie of this scale or style. We shot in the tunnels beneath the structure, in the hallways, and in countless rooms. and every day and every inch of the way, you couldn’t work without being reminded of what went on here over the years. The history of how our society has dealt with the mentally ill took place in living color here over the years.

CS: What kind of history? Any living memories?

Larry Laverty: Good and bad. Many records of the goings on have been destroyed,  rooms permanently sealed shut or demolished, and many lives were lived with no record of their existence. Over 3,000 souls died while committed here and are buried in a remote cemetery, out of view from the public, about a half mile from the main building on grounds surrounded by farmland once used to feed the patients and workers. To see this graveyard only accentuates the pathetic history of the institution. Of all the graves there, markers sit atop only a couple of dozen, in random, improbable fashion. All the other graves can only be detected by the shallow impressions left by the years of settling earth that have gone on. It’s all very sobering. So in this setting, we made our movie, a drama that turns into a thriller, that turns into a horror, with elements of the super natural sprinkled on top.

CS: This is very humbling, Larry, as well as terrifying. Who is your character in the film?

Larry Laverty: I play a government agent, of the special ops type, tasked with monitoring the operations of a secret government experiment on mind control. The experiments are done on college students who have been abducted and seems to be going well until something goes terribly wrong and the patients along with the staff and myself are forced into a run for our survival. The story has everything, in terms of plot and in terms of visuals.

CS: Sounds like something right up your alley, Larry. Who are you playing opposite of?

Larry Laverty: The lead scientist played by Brad Dourif who’s in the middle of a fantastic acting career that got its momentum from his incredible role in the highly acclaimed film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Since the film happens to be one of my all-time favorites and I’ve watched it countless times. Everywhere we went during off hours, someone would come up to us, having recognized Brad and starts a wonderful conversation. Likewise everywhere we go, somebody mentions that their mother or their sister or somebody they know used to work at the asylum and the stories keep growing.

CS: What was the most memorable during production?

Larry Laverty: I still haven’t gotten over the fact that I was working with Brad Dourif who I’ve always respected. Now a month since I left Minnesota following completion of the shoot, I still have vivid images of the creepy asylum there in Fergus Falls and the bats that lined the hallway ceilings when we first arrived. It was a twist of history that while our production was in town, the city fathers were embroiled in a fight to determine when the building, save for the administration portion, would be raised to the ground and erased from sight.

CS: Incredible. What is to happen to the building?

Larry Laverty: The Minnesota state legislature has already set aside the funding to demolish the place, so I consider myself grateful for the opportunity to have toured the structure and to have made a movie there. Life went on in Fergus Falls once the facility, at one time the largest employer in town, closed its doors. And once the building is demolished, life will go on then too. But I for one, got a glimpse  into a world that remains out of sight to our society, the world of the mentally ill and how we as a community deal with them.

CS: What are you taking with you from this project?

Larry Laverty:  I, for better or for worse, have been aware of the less fortunate all my life as my elementary school was situated right next door to a school for ‘retarded’ folks. From the very first day, we were instructed to never look through the cyclone fence that separated our two playgrounds, never attempt any contact with those individuals on the other side of the fence. And so it’s been through human history. I’m grateful to the makers of this movie, not only for the fun and adventure I had in the making of the movie, but for the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people in this community of Fergus Falls who took such great interest in what we were doing in this facility that has loomed over a community for so many years.

CS: Great to be talking to you, Larry. Thanks for stepping by, and break a leg on your next film set!

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

View the Official Trailer of The Control Group

BACKSTAGE with J. Gabriel Gates

12 10 2012

Today on CSReview we welcome an actor and a prolific writer in the horror genre J. Gabriel Gates, author of a sci fi thriller Blood Zero Sky.

CS: Welcome to CSReview, Jake. When did you decide to become a writer? Did you feel like you had a story in you and it needed to come out?

J. Gabriel Gates: Like many creative kids, I started young.  After reading The Hobbit in third grade, I remember walking around with the first thirty pages of a fantasy novel I’d written in a dog-eared D.A.R.E. folder.  I’ve taken some detours since then, but I really never wavered from wanting to write books.  If I didn’t have lots of stories I needed to tell, I’d be in some easier profession.

CS: What is the difference between an actor and a writer? How do you manage to balance your career in both fields?

J. Gabriel Gates: There are probably more similarities than differences. Both disciplines involve acts of creation that are wonderfully fun to participate in, and both are miserably difficult and heart wrenching fields in which to make a living.  The advantage of writing over acting is that, in acting, you require someone else’s permission to practice your art.  You have to find an audition and win the role.  You need a theater or a movie camera, a cast, a set, and—generally—a budget.   Basically, you need the sanction of a director or producer to do what you love.  There are gate-keepers for writers, too: you need a decent publisher to get your books marketed and distributed into the hands of readers, and you probably need a decent agent to get a decent publisher, but the great thing about writing is that it lasts.  I wrote the first draft of my most recent book, Blood Zero Sky, seven years ago, and it just came out last week.  Unlike an acting performance that’s so ephemeral it disappears the moment it’s happened (unless it’s captured on film, which costs money) once you write a book it exists forever.  No one can take it away from you (as long as you back up your files!) and somewhere, some time, if you’re lucky, it can find its way to readers.  It’s that feeling of creating something relatively permanent that can give a writer a feeling of satisfaction even if they haven’t managed to get published yet, and actors don’t get that.

As for balance between the two fields, right now I’m concentrating much more on my writing than my acting.  When I was younger and living in Los Angeles and trying to get some life experience under my belt, I concentrated more on acting, but the scales have gradually tipped to the point where now 99% of my energy is devoted to writing, simply because it’s the craft that I’m best at and that I love the most.  I did, however, just start teaching an acting class once a week in the evenings, and I’ve found it to be a lot of fun.

CS: Do you ever cast yourself for the role of any of your characters?

J. Gabriel Gates:  As I’m writing I inhabit the bodies and souls of all my characters—even the girliest or the nastiest of them!  As for actually playing any of my characters on TV or in film, I haven’t had the opportunity to do so yet, but it’s definitely on my bucket list.  Right now there’s a deal coming together to make a Web series based on my teen urban fantasy series The Tracks, and there’s a small role for a young theater teacher named Mr. Brighton that would be fun to play.  We’ll see if it happens.

CS: Your sci fi novel has already drawn much attention. What is the message of Blood Zero Sky and why should we care about the story?

J. Gabriel Gates: At its core, Blood Zero Sky is a patriotic American story meant to cause readers to examine some of the systems of thought that, I feel, are limiting and endangering our way of life.  Specifically, it examines the relationship between corporations and the government and poses the question “can we trust corporations, which are basically systematic engines of greed, with the responsibility of governing people?”  You can guess what the answer is, but I think it’s a question that bears some serious exploration, particularly given the current political climate and the influence of money in politics.  Because of its themes, Publisher’s Weekly called Blood Zero SkyA Brave New World with a consumerist edge.”  I think that sums it up pretty well.

CS: What is your source of inspiration? Do you have a muse?

J. Gabriel Gates:  I believe in taking my inspiration wherever I can get it, so I can’t say that I have any single source.  I listen to NPR a lot, read as much as possible, watch the news, and try to stay conscious of my own life experiences and relationships.  Spirituality and metaphysics are also important to me, so I read up on those things whenever I have the chance.  But when you’re creating whole worlds, as one does when writing a novel, you can’t afford to be one-dimensional.  I just try to suck everything I see and experience into my subconscious, and hope that when it comes out again in my work, it has a coherence and a resonance that will affect people.

CS: Tell us one superstition common in the acting profession. And one common among writers?

J. Gabriel Gates:  Most of the superstitions among the acting community are pretty well known. You say “break a leg” instead of “good luck,” for example.  For people who are acting in productions of Macbeth, it’s also supposedly bad luck to say the name of the play.  Actors usually call it The Scottish Play instead.  I haven’t run across any pervasive superstitions like that among writers, but there is definitely a great deal of nervous hand-wringing in both professions.  The common thread in both is that preparation, hard work and professionalism go a long way toward creating success—and reducing anxiety.  In writing, the main thing is to make sure you’ve revised your story to the point where it’s as polished as you can possibly make it—then revise it again. After a certain point, though, you’re invariably just sitting there wishing and hoping for a phone call from that agent or editor who has your fate in her hands.  For that, I’d recommend some stress-reducing remedies like exercise, prayer, meditation, and the occasional brimming glass of wine.  That’s about as close as I come to superstition.

CS: Most interesting observations, Jake. What are your future plans, projects?

J. Gabriel Gates:  I’m currently writing the third and probably final installment of my teen series featuring magic, kung fu and star-crossed love in a gang-torn small town, The Tracks. It’s called Shadow Train, and it will be coming out in the spring from HCI books.  I’m also doing some final polishing on a new teen horror novel in the vein of my popular horror book The Sleepwalkers. It’s a project that I’m very excited about, so I’m hoping to get it published and into readers’ hands soon.  Stay tuned!

CS: Thank you for a wonderful interview, Jake. I wish you all the luck in the world fulfilling your dreams.

J. Gabriel Gates is the author of the teen fantasy series The Tracks (Book 1: Dark Territory, Book 2: Ghost Crown), horror novel The Sleepwalkers and the newly-released sci-fi thriller Blood Zero Sky. For more information on him and his work, please visit his website:

You can also “like” him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter at @JGabrielGates.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.


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:


9 08 2011

Dream House

Readers, attention on all decks-a new ghostly story is on the publishing market and it’s literally haunted! Author Jim Melvin offers us a novel where a soul is being tested and a body is being tempted and the mechanics of making a choice between right and wrong is being explored.

This thriller is composed in the tradition of the horror genre. After having seen them all, this novel here is fresh, nerve tickling and personalized. Draws you in, places you on top of the mental game of speculation and deduction, your mind trying to solve the mystery as your eyes absorb the written word.

The idea that something in your home can threaten you is scary to most. The idea that you can do something about it is just as frightening and occurs to a selected number of candidates. To find out who and why is chosen for the experience, read Dream House by Jim Melvin-the book that gets under your skin.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2011. All rights reserved.

Format: Kindle Edition

File Size: 310 KB

Publisher: Out of Bounds Press; 1 edition (July 15, 2011)

Sold by: Amazon Digital Services

Language: English



6 06 2011

Broken Toy

Are You Ready to Be More Than You Can Be? 

Ever wondered what a modern day Frankenstein could be like? Broken Toy by Forewarned Films  tells all about it.

This new dark comedy slash military sci-fi thriller web series with an awesome hook has so far released five episodes, which is half of their planned produce, according to sources.

From the very first scenes of the show, it’s clear that the story isn’t about some urban legend or a carried away conspiracy theory, although references to such are being made on occasion.

This here is an ordeal of one guy with a good heart whose entire being was tampered with to create an invincible abomination, a multi-purpose killer-tool, a toy in the hands of his invisible players… At a gun point of rather intimidating machinery, geeky gadgets and technology, is a damaged person whose life had been taken from him. To get it back, he needs to go from being a monster to becoming a hero.

Not a minute of the show’s production is being wasted-every scene is meaningful, well paced and serves rightly to advance a very intense plot.

An astounding attention to detail is brought by surprisingly innovative photography, appropriate and very telling make up and costumes, spectacular acoustic effects, dynamic dialogues with catchy phrases and interesting turns. Great and clean acting too, believable and competitive, simply high class.

Can’t wait to see more!

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2011. All rights reserved.


Broken Toy, episode 1


  Watch Broken Toy on Forewarned Films Official Youtube Channel

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