Thursday, October 10, 2019

Interview with Alexey Osadchuk

Alexey Osadchuk is an avid reader from an early age, devouring adventure novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jack London and Arthur Conan Doyle. In 2010 he wrote his first fantasy novel which was immediately accepted by one of Russia's leading publishing houses Alpha Book. He also used to be a passionate online gamer which prompted him to write the story of a man who joins an MMORPG game hoping to raise money for his daughter's heart surgery. In 2013, the first book of Mirror World was published by EKSMO, Russia's largest publishing house.

We talked with Alexey about his new LitRPG series Underdog!

First of all, I’d like to congratulate you on The Underdog which is a fantastic book all around. It’s probably our most successful 2019 release. It’s a great achievement, so my first questions are going to be about the book itself. Firstly, what gave you the idea of creating a character who is born “nulled”? You couldn’t have thought of a better plot device.

If you take a look at the Mirror World series, you’ll see that I have a soft spot for characters who have to start from scratch. Plus they tend to jump in at the deep end which is why it takes them some time to start leveling. I really don’t like OP characters who only take a few pages to embrace their awesomeness. I prefer my MCs to develop bit by bit. I hope that readers like it too. I kept asking myself what I could use to hook the reader with, and that’s how I came up with the idea of the “nulled” MC. And then I just kept upping the ante. Naturally, the hero receives some sorts of freebies on his way. But what’s truly important for me in the Underdog is that the hero has to keep going. Things have to keep happening to him. Having said that, some readers suggest the books should have more intrigue. I’m going to work on it in book three, so we’ll see how it’s going to turn out.

Logically, your MC has two potential courses of development. He either finally starts to level up himself or he preserves his uniqueness by helping his team to level up instead. Which of the two scenarios seems more probable to you?

As far as I remember, at first a lot of readers seemed to be annoyed that the character was zero level and couldn’t use tablets despite his proficiency in procuring them. However, others seemed to think that this was the book’s unique feature. I’d love to preserve this effect but in order to do that, I need to make sure that it appears natural. I already have a few ideas I’ve been working on but I won’t make any decision until I have a completed draft to work with. You’re perfectly right in that saying I have two potential scenarios, so I’ll have to give it a good think in order to decide which one I prefer. I might even think of a third one, you never know.

But have you done all this just in order to avoid the standard scheme where the MC is a useless newb in Book One, a regular player in Book Two, an expert in Book Three, an awesome hero in Book Four and a God in Book Five?

If such a thing as a standard scheme does exist, then an author’s job is to break it. From rags to riches, from zero to godlike isn't the case of the Underdog. My MC will become much stronger, of course, but I doubt he’ll ever become a god.

The book was much criticized for its flashbacks. Are they just another way of your breaking out of the standard scheme?

Personally, I do like flashbacks in books, provided they’re cleverly done. I needed to show my MC in certain situations which would have illustrated his outlook and his philosophy. Some readers might not have been happy about it, but others probably were, I’m pretty sure of it. Also, as I wrote them, I already knew that they would be limited to the opening of Book One. I don’t think there’ll be more of them later in the story.

Strangely enough, the book doesn’t have any real-world settings at all. All we see is the actual game and some vague references hinting at a world of so-called Ancients who must have built it and which is now inhabited by their completely digitized descendants. Are you planning to elaborate on this particular theme?

I thought about this. I could, of course, leave it as it is now, just a bunch of dark hints here and there. Or I could actually lift the mystery ever so slightly. The world of the Great System can be described from a totally different prospective, like showing its origins, for instance. I could write a new series, I suppose, which would describe what had happened a thousand years before the Underdog. There I could indeed reveal all its secrets. But in this series, I don’t really feel like going into too much detail. Let me just say that what you’ve just said is quite close to the actual truth. Close, but not quite.

Now, your worldbuilding. The book is packed with very unusual, quite unique creatures. Mainly monsters, of course, but your sentient races aren’t that commonplace, either. Take the foxfolk, for instance. Why them?

I know. Well, it’s not that the foxfolk are so rare. There’s something similar in Japanese folklore. I tried to go easy on worldbuilding because I still remember reading books by some quite famous authors and I was struggling because of their overly complex worlds. Too many races, specializations, classes and item names can only confuse the reader. I really think we should go easy on that sort of stuff. We should rather be focusing on what really grabs the reader’s attention - while occasionally trying to introduce something new, why not.

And still you have an enormous amount of monsters.

When you read a lot and watch a lot of movies like I do, a lot of your work is actually recycling what you’ve seen or read. It might prompt an idea for a monster which can be a very funny process in and by itself - provided you don’t discover later that it’s already being mass-produced at toy factories! I can’t remember who said this, but you can’t be a good writer without being a devoted reader. Or something like that. That’s actually why I read so much. I love the genres I work in but I also love classical literature because it can teach you everything a beginning writer needs to know.

I’ve just spoken to Dmitry Bilik about this. His series has a lot of literary allusions which is quite unusual for LitRPG. Such a shame it doesn’t happen more often.

I completely agree! And seeing as you mentioned Dmitry, his Time Master is an awesome book. I like it a lot. Some of the scenes are just out of this world. You can tell straight away that this is someone who likes classical literature.

Many English-speaking readers are especially grateful to you because your books don’t have cliffhangers. Up to 95% of LitRPG books coming out of Russia seem to have a cliffhanger of some kind. But not yoursWhy?

Well, firstly, as a reader I can’t stand cliffhangers myself. I do like reading a book which holds a promise of further developments but not when it just ends abruptly. Still, I use this tool a lot at the end of each chapter. For instance, if a monster attacks my MC and that’s how the book ends, forcing you to wait another four months for a sequel, that’s just scandalous. But between chapters yes, it can be a very effective and powerful plot device, forcing you to keep reading just to find out what happens next. But definitely not at the end of the book! I’m by no means an expert on endings, but there’s an expression that sums it up pretty well: write what you’d like to read. So that’s what I’m trying to do.

Do you have any idea of how many Underdog books will be written?

Currently, I’m planning five books or so, even though this isn’t something I like to plan. Over time, new ideas keep cropping up which are worth putting in, so you end up thinking, why not another book? But at the moment, I have a rough idea for five books or maybe six. I don’t want to make the series too big.

Your readers wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t ask you whether you intend to write the fifth book of Mirror World. Is it in your writing plans?

Absolutely. I already have a lot of drafts of book five, which indeed will be the last book in the series. I might actually finish it sometime over the course of the next year. In the meantime, I’m focusing on the Underdog which seems to progress really well, so I’m entirely engrossed in it. But whenever I have a spare moment, I continue working on Mirror World, editing what I’ve already written and making lots of notes. I’d love to complete it by mid-2020. At some point, I had almost 90% of the manuscript completed but when I reread it, I realized that I might need to change a whole lot. That’s what has caused such a delay. But now, finally, the book seems to be taking shape. I also have an idea for a new RealRPG series which I’d love to develop.

And finally, one last question. I know that you and your wife often write as co-authors, and your daughter has become the cover artist for the Underdog. How come that writing has become your family business?

We’re extremely lucky in that we’re all very close. We like the same books. My wife and I read and watch the same kind of stuff as our children, and we also listen to the same kind of music. Our philosophies and outlook are more or less the same. It’s probably just the kind of atmosphere we have in our family where everyone learns from all the others. Our children learn from us and we, from them. Sometimes I just can’t get into the flow, in which case it’s my wife who takes my place at the computer and writes while I dictate stuff to her and we discuss plot twists together. Our daughter’s paintings are based on her vision of what she’s just read, plus whatever two cents my wife and I have to offer. She’s still learning how to do it, but I do like what she does. Our eldest daughter is training to become a translator - so hopefully, one day she might be able to translate me and my friends into Spanish. So you’re dead right there: we are a family business.

Underdog, book 2 is going to be released December 23, 2019. 
Pre-order here!

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