Welcome to the Riptide Publishing/Aleksandr Voinov/L. A. Witt blog tour for Unhinge the Universe!
Every comment on this blog tour enters you in a drawing for a choice of two eBooks off my backlist (excluding Something New Under the Sun) and a $10 Riptide Publishing store credit. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on July 21st, and winners will be announced on July 23rd. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries.
Note: Aleks and L. A. are currently gallivanting around Europe. As such, we won’t be online as much as we normally are, and may not be able to respond to comments as quickly as we’d like, but will try to post responses as often as possible.
I can’t resist putting little Easter eggs into my stories–things with a hidden meaning or referring back to other things that a reader can unravel and enjoy while they do it.
Some of those are very much insider references–being German, I have a whole culture to play with that may or may not be obvious to international readers. In Skybound, I connected Nordic myth (sun-god Baldur and the whole Ragnarök idea – the twilight of the gods) and the last days of the Third Reich–not exactly original, but it gave the whole story a tension and gravity that went really well with the poetic tone.
In Unhinge the Universe, I’m playing with another story that’s very much part of German cultural heritage: The Nibelung saga, essentially Germany’s national epic. The story goes like this: Siegfried, a young hero, slays a dragon and bathes in its blood, becoming invulnerable apart from a spot between his shoulder where a leaf falls and covers a patch that remains free of dragon blood. He goes out to the court of king Gunther, and wants to marry his sister Gudrun. First, he has to help the king court his wife, which is achieved with some trickery.
Once everybody’s married, the two wives (Gunther’s and Siegfried’s) butt heads about whose husband is the greater. And then everything goes to hell–the king’s bodyguard, Hagen, murders Siegfried (after his wife tells him of the one weak point between his shoulder blades) and sinks Siegfried’s treasure in the Rhine. Kriemhild then re-marries nobody else but the king of the Huns, invites her whole family (and Hagen) to the marriage and has them murdered in turn.
So, as far as German stories go, it’s pretty typical–everybody dies. Wagner wrote a massive opera cycle around it–the Ring cycle, and Hitler was a fan. In a way, the whole story is “loyalty unto death”, or a loyalty that dooms you. The parallels to Nazi Germany are pretty glaringly obvious.
Now, Hagen has always been one of my favourite characters. Dark, brooding, devious and strong. Loyal. Certainly somebody you don’t want to mess with. So when we were looking for names for Unhinge’s characters, Hagen was the first name that came to mind. Naming his older brother–the first, favoured son–Siegfried was a foregone conclusion. (In some versions of the story, Hagen has abrighter, friendlier brother called Dankwart). Their little sister is Gudrun. So yes, the mother was a Wagner fan.
Hagen’s name also has a meaning in German. It’s derived from “hag/hagan”, which is wall or protective enclosure. In my home city, the three circular streets around the town center are called Hagen I, Hagen II and Hagen III–they ran along where the three old city walls were.
Our Hagen is very much a defender–in the story, he tries to defend his country until he is sent out (volunteers, really), to rescue his brother. He’s the young, passionate warrior–a definite contrast to the grizzled brooding presence of his namesake, but who says I can’t play with the type a bit.
Siegfried is an interesting name in German, too. It’s combined out of “Sieg” and “Fried” – Victory and Peace. Hagen shortens his name to “Sieg”–thinking repeatedly he has to find “Sieg”, rescue “Sieg”, and for German speakers, it’s not just about his brother, but overall victory – the much-touted “Endsieg” – when the Reich would be triumphant and all enemies vanquished. Of course, in December 1944, we as the readers know he’s chasing an illusion. Consequently, his brother has to die–there is no victory achievable in this place.
And their last name: Friedrich. Again, both syllables have a meaning – Frieden (Peace again) and “Reich” (Riches, wealth). Full of peace… nice for soldiers, but in a way a hopeful attribute that they will, actually, live up to their name, given time and opportunity. And yes, “Siegfried Friedrich” clashes like hell in German ears, but I figured maybe the grandfather was named that, and the mother called her oldest son in his honour, regardless of how the name sounds when spoken.
Some of the other symbols were happy accidents. Once we knew exactly where the story would have to start (North-East France), it became clear pretty soon that it would be set in Burgundy. Now, Burgundy happens to be the very place where the events of the Nibelung saga are said to have happened in the very early Middle Ages.
The kingdom of Burgundy obviously doesn’t exist anymore–which really echoes the inevitable demise of the Third Reich in the context of the story. It’s a kingdom that had its day and is now pretty much forgotten, a hint at how quickly and how completely empires can fall. With the book set largely in Burgundy, I found it striking that these characters came home, symbolically speaking, in Unhinge.
That’s one of those surprises that the Muse sprung on me. By now, this has happened often enough that I’ve learned to trust the Muse–he’s usually right and leaves me stuff to discover after the fact. Some stuff is intentional, but the really good Easter eggs are happy accidents and I enjoy finding them myself.
Aleksandr Voinov is an emigrant German author living near London, where he is one of the unsung heroes in the financial services sector. He published extensively in his native German, then switched to English and hasn’t looked back. His genres range from horror, science fiction, cyberpunk, and fantasy to contemporary, thriller, and historical erotic gay novels.
In his spare time, he goes weightlifting, explores historical sites, and meets other writers. He singlehandedly sustains three London bookstores with his ever-changing research projects. His current interests include special forces operations during World War II, pre-industrial warfare, European magical traditions, and how to destroy the world and plunge it into a nuclear winter without having the benefit of nuclear weapons.
L.A. Witt is an abnormal M/M romance writer currently living in the glamorous and ultra-futuristic metropolis of Omaha, Nebraska, with her husband, two cats, and a disembodied penguin brain that communicates with her telepathically. In addition to writing smut and disturbing the locals, L.A. is said to be working with the US government to perfect a genetic modification that will allow humans to survive indefinitely on Corn Pops and beef jerky. This is all a cover, though, as her primary leisure activity is hunting down her arch nemesis, erotica author Lauren Gallagher, who is also said to be lurking somewhere in Omaha.
More info about L.A. can be found at http://www.loriawitt.com or by stalk—er, following her on Twitter (@GallagherWitt).
Unhinge the Universe is available July 15th from Riptide Publishing.