Hello, and welcome to our latest series of author interviews. The long anticipated anthology "Altered Europa" will be coming out April 2, 2017 (PRE-ORDER PRINT OR KINDLE HERE), and in preparation for this grand release we'll be running interviews of various contributors.
Today I'm interviewing Alex Shalenko , who contributed The Great Bear to the collection.
MTI: Starting off, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
ALEX SHALENKO: While I have only received my first publishing contract a few years ago, I have been writing for as long as I can remember, first in my native Russian language, then, upon moving to the United States, in English. I have always considered myself a storyteller, whether through fiction, music, or other creative endeavors, and I was fortunate enough to learn that others were interested in what I had to say. When not writing fiction, I am a heavy metal enthusiast, and have been a part of many musical projects over the years.
MTI: Now, the next question I generally ask new contributors is this; what first compelled you to weave fiction, and what's your favorite type of story to write?
AS: I have been an avid reader since early age, and my imagination was captured by the fantastic worlds from the very beginning. It was only natural that after a time, I wanted to craft my own stories. I remember the bittersweet feeling when the characters we grow attached to finish their story arcs, some in satisfying manner, others making us with that things turned out differently, others yet leaving on cliffhangers which may never be resolved. It was this desire to craft stories that continue on, the stories that reflect the world around me and spread out in unexpected directions, that prompted me to consider writing.
I have always had a soft spot for the darker side in fiction, from fantasy stories flirting with antihero archetypes to space operas dealing with rise and fall of civilizations. As such, my favorite kind of a story has realistic and typically flawed characters, ambiguity driven by all sides of human nature – both good and bad – and complex internal worlds for the characters who are neither paragons of virtue nor utterly irredeemable.
MTI: If you had to pick just one author who has influenced or inspired you, who would it be?
AS: I would say that my love for darker fiction was heavily influenced by Michael Moorcock. The use of an antihero protagonist in considerably more grim settings than traditional heroic fantasy was, and still remains, a great source of inspiration in my writing, and is something I still enjoy to this day.
MTI: Your story appears in Altered Europa, an anthology devoted to alternate history and altered reality. Tell us a little bit more about this contribution, particularly, how does it deviate from known history?
AS: In our own world, the great space race of the 1950s and 1960s was a momentous development from scientific standpoint. It brought out the best in humanity, and proved that we could achieve amazing things if we remain focused on it. While our own space race was largely over with the American landing on the Moon, my story The Great Bear posits a question – what if the Soviet Union decided to continue the space race? What if USSR decided that they could not let the American achievement stand, and that they had to one-up it?
As a side note, the story was inspired by similarly-named album by a Colorado-based heavy metal band Silencer, a long-time friends of mine. I had an opportunity to participate in the making of the album, and the story came organically as a result of it.
MTI: If you could go back to any point in time and change any historical event to create an "altered" world, what would you choose to change?
AS: I have always been fascinated with late-era Rome and Byzantium, and a part of me wants to see what could have happened had some of the catastrophes which diminished Byzantium in our own history did not happen. Can you imagine what the world would have been like if Justinian’s plague did not happen, and if the reconquest of the West was a lasting success? Would the Dark Ages as we know them have been avoided with the Mediterranean remaining a Mare Nostrum, a hotbed of commerce, innovation, and travel?
MTI: Now, for further pondering, if a wormhole leading to an alternate reality suddenly appeared in front of you, would you dare to take the plunge and discover what awaits on the other side?
AS: Tough question! In the real world, having a family would make it a deal-breaker, but for a pure thought exercise, why not? Let’s have an adventure!
MTI: Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?
AS: I am making progress on “Graveyard Empire”, my next grand space opera novel with a distinctly grim original setting. The great apex civilization has fallen, and all that remains is a decaying society only dimly aware of its origins, using irreplaceable ancient technology and dwindling corps of guardians to just barely stave off the depredations of the things waiting outside its borders. And then, it gets worse!
MTI: Other than The Great Bear, appearing in Altered Europa, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?
AS: At this time, I do not have any other scheduled publications, as I am focusing all my literary efforts on getting “Graveyard Empire” finished. Once it is done, hopefully in the near future, there will be plenty more stories to tell!
MTI: On a lighter note, have you watched any good TV lately?
AS: I am not much of a TV watcher in the best of times, though I do play a good amount of video games. Lately, it has been all about Final Fantasy series for me… does that count?
MTI: How about music?
AS: I don’t think there is a day when I don’t spend at least several hours listening to music. My preferences tend to be on the metal side of things, but the actual artists vary based on the mood. Lately, I have been listening to a lot of Candlemass, In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, and Falconer, but I am all over the map. In addition, I sing in several metal bands, so any time I am not writing fiction, I am usually writing, recording, or performing music!
MTI: Can you name three movies that you could watch over and over again and not be bored?
AS: Star Wars Episodes IV, V, and VI! In all seriousness though, throw in The Dark Knight and Die Hard, and you will have a holy trifecta of all that is entertaining, in various ways.
MTI: Readers love samples. Do you happen to have a story excerpt you'd like to share with us today?
AS: A little while ago, I wrote several novel-length works of fan-fiction, essentially reimagining a popular universe of Warhammer 40,000. Being that these works are not publishable, I thought they still presented a good sample of how I write, and tell entertaining stories. Interested? Check out the dedicated blog for the project:
I will leave you with a short sample to give you an idea of what to expect.
* * *
Yusuf al-Malik was nine years old when he saw a god.
Slight breeze broke through the monotony of hot, humid Apellan summer, making the decorative flags on the roofs give an impression of movement. Garish banners covered the white brick walls, obscuring the rectangular designs which marched parallel to the cobbled stone of the streets. Wooden shutters kept the worst of the afternoon heat out of the windows, where curious eyes looked down onto the throughway, where thousands of Apellans waved to the militant procession passing by.
Aristocrats in their pristine citizen's togas and elaborate turbans decorated with flowery designs mingled next to beggars in filthy rags and courtesans braving the sun in their gaudy silks and garments showing off more than they hid. Excited children ran to and fro, chasing after mangy dogs or playing countless games of skill and imagination as their parents kept watchful eye over them. Wives and daughters of respectable citizens filled the balconies of two- and three-story houses, wreathed in flowery garlands, while their servants held on to the bouquets to be thrown down when the time came.
Today was the momentous day. Today, the Legion came home.
MTI: Interesting sample. Thank you for an exceptional interview, Alex. Those who wish to read The Great Bear and 20 other exciting stories of alternate history can pick up Altered Europa!