There are many roads to becoming an author, and experience comes from anywhere and everywhere. For few people is this truer than Nathan Long, a former screenwriter turned author and games writer. Long is with us today to discuss that road.
So right off the bat, one of the biggest projects you were involved with was taking the helm of the Black Library’s popular Gotrek and Felix series. What was it like for you to continue the work of William King?
It was both frightening and exciting. Frightening because I knew I had big shoes to fill and that Bill’s fans were probably not going to be pleased with me no matter what I did. Also because I’d been handed Black Library’s flagship series with only three previous novels under my belt, and I wasn’t sure I knew what I was doing. Exciting because Gotrek and Felix were great characters, and the opportunity to write stories about them and play in every corner of the Old World was like Christmas every day.
Turns out I was right about the fans, at least at first. A lot of the reviews for Orcslayer were brutal, but as I got better and more comfortable writing Gotrek and Felix the reviews got better, so I have no regrets. It was a fun run, and really helped me hone my craft.
We understand that you can’t discuss projects with the Black Library, but are there any new and upcoming projects you’re undertaking on your own? What’s your dream novel or magnum opus?
Heh. I really can’t say anything about upcoming Black Library stuff since I haven’t worked for them for about five years and I’ve got no idea what they’re up to. As for my own projects I’ve got a Blackhearts-ish novel I’m trying to sell currently, and a bunch of ideas for other novels, comic books, short stories, etc that I’m looking forward to getting to soon, but nothing’s close enough to being complete to talk about.
I am currently working for inXile Entertainment, a maker of computer RPGs, writing plots and dialog for their games, and that’s taking up a lot of my writing time. I was head writer on a game called Wasteland 2 which came out in 2015, one of many writers on their next game, Torment: Tides of Numenera, and I’m the head writer again on their game that will be coming out after that, Bard’s Tale IV. I’m really excited about that one. Can’t wait!
So, let’s switch base for a moment. What can you tell us about being a writer for video games these days? How does it differ from planning novels or other fiction?
I still feel like a beginner in the computer game business. I am only working on my third game now, and I’m still on the learning curve, but it’s fun work, and the best job I’ve ever had. That being said, it took some getting used to.
The great freedom a novelist has that a game writer doesn’t is that his characters do what he wants them to. If I say they storm the castle, they storm the castle. When you’re writing for RPGs you have to account for the player who completely ignores the castle and wants to go start trouble in the village instead. Giving the players meaningful choices while at the same time trying to keep the story on track is the biggest challenge I’ve faced, and the hardest part of the craft to learn, and I am thankful to my bosses and co-workers at inXile Entertainment for helping me find my feet in those first few months.
Another thing is that you end up doing more writing, since you can’t just write one scene, you have to write three or four, to account for player choices. But that can be a lot of fun, as you can play out different outcomes the way you can’t in a novel, and that sometimes leads to very cool moments.
What franchises would you enjoy writing for if you could choose?
I’d love to be allowed to write new Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories, or a movie based on the books, or a TV series. I tried to make a Fallout Story Mod once, so that’s obviously a world I’d love to play in. I like the world of Dishonored too.
Do you still hope to write a couple more novels for the Jane Carver of Waar series? They’re very well received on Goodreads.
I would love to write more Jane Carver. I have at least one more novel in my head for her. Unfortunately, the publisher who has the rights to the books hasn’t expressed an interest in another installment, and until I have the rights back there’s no point. I hope to write more someday, but it won’t be soon.
What’s the most challenging thing you face when sitting down to write a novel synopsis? How detailed do you find yourself getting?
Structure and pace are very important to me, so I work hard on finding ways to tell the story that keep things moving, and add twists and turns at regular intervals. I have torn apart and rebuilt novels after I’ve finished writing them because my beta readers told me they sagged or dragged at this or that point. Of course, I should have caught that sagging and dragging in the synopsis phase, but sometimes you can’t see it until you write it out.
I try to get as detailed as possible about plot, and who’s where when, and all the continuity stuff, because that stuff is hardest to fix later. I tend to leave motivation and character stuff a bit looser, because I like discovering how my characters feel and react to things as I go. That allows me to still have some surprises when I get to the actual writing.
When writing your own original work, what themes attract you the most?
Heh. I actually have a ready-made answer for that. It’s on my old blog which I haven’t updated for three years. Here it is, slightly modified and updated:
“I like to write swashbuckling, street-wise sword and sorcery that draws from low fantasy, hard-boiled pulp, cloak-and-dagger thrillers, and old-fashioned romantic adventure. It should be visceral and immediate, crude and sly. It should be red and black and break-neck. The doings of sorcerers and kings may spark the action, but rarely are they the story themselves. Instead, my tales are of hard men and dangerous women from the working classes whose lives are mauled by the whims of the powerful, and who must therefore draw swords and fight in order to survive. There are heroes here, but no saints.
My influences are many, and make for a strange gumbo – Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Alexander Dumas, Raphael Sabatini, Dorothy Sayers, Raymond Chandler, George MacDonald Fraser and Michael Moorcock, as well as William Gibson, Damon Runyon, Sarah Waters and, just to be perverse, P. G. Wodehouse.”
That’s pretty much me in a nutshell. Thanks again for interviewing me. It’s been a pleasure.
Thank you Nathan!