The IAMTW Scribe Award Nominees for best Speculative Original Work.
Welcome to the third in our series of virtual panel discussions here on the BIG SCARY BLOG to celebrate the nominees for The Sixth Annual Scribe Awards.
The SCRIBE AWARDS are presented by the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers (IAMTW). The Sixth Annual Scribe Awards will be given at a ceremony and panel discussion held during Comic Con International in San Diego in July 2012.
For the full list of nominees: http://www.iamtw.org/awards-2011.html
Meet the nominees for best SPECULATIVE ORIGINAL work:
GUILD WARS: GHOSTS OF ASCALON by Matt Forbeck and Jeff Grubb
STAR TREK MIRROR UNIVERSE: THE SORROWS OF EMPIRE by David Mack
STAR WARS: FORCE UNLEASHED II by Sean Williams
SUPERNATURAL: HEART OF THE DRAGON by Keith R. A. DeCandido
WARHAMMER: BLOODBORN: ULRIKA THE VAMPIRE by Nathan Long
BIG SCARY BLOG: Tell our readers about your nominated work.
MATT FORBECK: Guild Wars: Ghosts of Ascalon is the first tie-in novel based on the bestselling Guild Wars MMORPG (massively multiplayer online roleplaying game). It helps tell the history of the 250-year timespan between the original Guild Wars and the upcoming Guild Wars 2, but we wrapped it up in an adventure story to make it fun to read.
JEFF GRUBB: The novel takes place in the time leading up to the time of Guild Wars 2, and resolves one of the great conflicts of the original Guild Wars “ the ongoing strife between the surviving human kingdoms and the legions of the charr, a race of horned feline warriors. It is the story of Dougal Keane, an adventurer who escaped the haunted catacombs of Ascalon on an earlier expedition. Now to bring peace between the two races, he and his allies have to return there.
DAVID MACK: The Sorrows of Empire is an epic tale of politics, betrayal, and doomed love set in the alternate Star Trek history colloquially referred to as “the Mirror Universe.” It begins very shortly after the end of the original alternate-universe episode, “Mirror, Mirror,” and chronicles Spock’s ruthless ascent to control over the Terran Empire, his bid to reform it and reshape the future, and the events that transpire as a result.
Part of the story’s direction was dictated by a single line of dialogue in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Crossover,” which referred to the Terran Empire being overthrown by the Cardassian-Klingon Alliance after Spock unilaterally disarmed his empire. But, in keeping with the spirit of Deep Space Nine, which threw us this curve ball (and many others), I decided to depict a situation that was far more nuanced and complicated than we had been led to believe.
SEAN WILLIAMS: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is the novelisation of the most recent LucasArts computer game, and sequel to the first ever novelisation of a computer game to debut at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list (which I also wrote). It continues the story of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, the tortured, powerful young man who created the Rebel Alliance just before the fourth movie, A New Hope.
KEITH DeCANDIDO: HEART OF THE DRAGON is my third book based on SUPERNATURAL. It’s both similar and different from my first two, NEVERMORE and BONE KEY. The TV show is about two guys who travel across the country, but due to budget considerations, everywhere they go looks just like Vancouver. So HOTD follows in the tradition of the other two in taking place in a distinct location that would be difficult for the show to ape: NEVERMORE was the Bronx, BONE KEY was Key West, and HOTD was San Francisco. However, it’s different in that the novel actually takes place across three time periods. I took advantage of the history of hunters established on the show generally and the history of the main characters’ ancestors as established in the episode “In the Beginning” to do an adventure that spans three time periods. It starts in 1969 with Samuel & Deanna Campbell and their daughter Mary — Sam and Dean’s grandparents and mother, respectively. Then we jump to 1989, with the focus on John Winchester, the boys’ father. Finally, we end in 2009, with our two main characters. All of them deal with the spirit of a dead samurai called Doragon Kokoro, or the Heart of the Dragon, hence the title. It also ties into the show’s apocalypse storyline.
NATHAN LONG: Bloodborn is the first in a trilogy about Ulrika the Vampire, and concerns her education as a vampire after she is turned against her will. I conceived the three books as childhood, teenage rebellion, and adulthood. Bloodborn is childhood. Ulrika is learning her strengths and weaknesses, and coming to terms with what she has become.
All her life she had been a hunter of monsters. Now she must deal with becoming a monster herself, while at the same time helping her mistress solve the mystery of who is slaughtering the vampiresses of her sisterhood. It’s got plenty of swashbuckling action, horror, intrigue, and (I hope) some emotional impact.
BIG SCARY BLOG: What drew you to writing media tie-in books?
MATT FORBECK: The money. Oh, and the groupies. Seriously, it’s a love for the material. I’m a gamer from way back and have made my living as a professional game designer for many years, so it’s short leap from writing novels to writing tie-in novels about games.
JEFF GRUBB: I’ve written a large amount of media tie-in and shared world fiction, and really appreciate the fact that I can do things in a novel that can’t be done in a computer game or an RPG. I can get into a level of detail and storytelling that is often unavailable (or at least very different) in other media.
DAVID MACK: I originally aspired to write for television, starting with Star Trek: The Next Generation, where I never did break out of the slush pile. My ambition carried over to my repeated attempts to get noticed at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and my first writing credit for Star Trek was actually there, for the fourth-season episode “Starship Down.” It was only after I had some TV sales under my belt that I started to write for the Star Trek tie-ins.
What I soon came to love about writing tie-ins was the much broader canvas and the ability to tell much more complex and nuanced stories. Instead of being limited to a TV series’ per-episode budget and 43-minute running time, I could dig into deep, multilayered narratives and tell revelatory, unusual stories about characters and a universe I’d loved for most of my life.
SEAN WILLIAMS: I grew up on film and TV novelisations. The Target Doctor Who books were a huge favourite, and so were the works of Alan Dean Foster. So it was only natural to want to write one, one day. I was first offered work in the Star Wars Extended Universe a decade ago, and I jumped at the chance.
KEITH DeCANDIDO: I’ve always been a fan of tie-ins. I read them as a kid, devouring new STAR TREK novels as they came out, and reading movie novelizations and such. My road to writing them was a bit bass-ackwards, though, as I started out editing them — which I still do, sometimes. I was working for Byron Preiss, editing (among other things) the line of Marvel Comics-based novels that were published form 1994-2000. The editorial work actually led to writing work, at first due to the need for a Venom story in our first Spider-Man anthology. We had already done the cover, and it had Venom on it, but Marvel had rejected half a dozen Venom proposals. Finally, my co-editor, John Betancourt, and I asked them what they wanted — they gave us a sentence, and John and I wrote the story in about three days. It was all downhill from there. I’ve enjoyed writing tie-ins, as I love the chance to play in universes I’ve enjoyed, from STAR TREK to Marvel to SUPERNATURAL to FARSCAPE, etc.
NATHAN LONG: I fell into it by accident. I was roommates with a writer who was asked by a publishing company called Black Flame to do a novelization of a movie he had written. He turned down the book, but suggested I could write it. They contacted me, and though I ended up not writing that book, I discovered that Black Flame was a sister imprint to Black Library, who published sword and sorcery novels set in the universe of the Warhammer Fantasy Battles game, and asked if I could write those instead. They had a look at a writing sample, and a few months later I was writing my first novel for them. This was in 2005. Since then I have written ten novels for them, with my latest, Bloodforged (the sequel to Bloodborn) coming out this month.
BIG SCARY BLOG: Talk about your process for creating a media tie-in book.
MATT FORBECK: If I’m not already familiar with the basis of the book, I immerse myself in it as best I can and become a fan of it too. As I do that, I look for story hooks, little “what about that?” or “wouldn’t that be cool?” bits. Those become the seeds of the novel. Once I have that, I write up an outline, get it approved, and dig in for real.
JEFF GRUBB: I think all media projects have a core ethos, an underlying truth about them. The original creators of the project may not know what it is, and in fact it may evolve over time. One of the goals I have when working on a media tie-in book is to dig down and find that piece, find that core ethos, and remain true to it in the story. Guild Wars 2 is very much about people coming together to fight a greater threat “ that is one of Dougal Keane’s major conflicts in the book.
DAVID MACK: It’s a lot like most other writers’ processes, I imagine. Either I solicit an editor for a shot at writing for a particular license, or they approach me. Either way, if it’s a property I know well, I might already have ideas ready to pitch and develop. If it’s one that I’m curious about but don’t know intimately, I’ll dig in and immerse myself in it until I start to get a feel for its big picture, its characters and its broader storytelling arcs.
Next, I’ll try to find a story that interests me and seems to offer some new angle that neither the show nor its existing tie-in titles have explored. In some cases, such as a tie-in line that’s been running for a while, an editor might ask me to craft a story specifically to advance a part of an ongoing narrative.
Then I write a proposal, just a few pages, to see if my general idea is what the editor is looking for. Once we settle on an idea, I prepare a much longer and more detailed full outline that can be presented to the license-holder for approval. Once we get the green-light, I go to work on the manuscript.
To stay in the right mindset while working on a given franchise, I’ll try to listen to music soundtracks from it (if they’re available), and have DVDs ready for reference and quick refreshers on characters’ speech patterns, etc. Online references are also often invaluable tools, especially for a series that is still in production while one is working on it. Thank Heaven for the invention of wiki reference sites!
SEAN WILLIAMS: Well, firstly, I have to make sure I know the property sufficiently well to do it justice. With Star Wars or Doctor Who, say, that would be easy: I’ve been a fan of them for decades. Depending on the kind of project, the next step would be to get right down into the details of the story and character, since they’re the aspect of the tie-in most important to get right, at least in the early stages. This is always accomplished in collaboration with editors and other stakeholders in the project–the people who own the property, basically. I’m not just telling a story for me: in a real way I’m just channelling something for someone else. But that is a fun process, and a challenge, one I take very seriously. There are snafus sometimes, without a doubt, but whether I have one month or one year to write a tie-in, I give it the same energy and consideration I would give one of my own books. To do anything less would be to cheat everyone involved.
KEITH DeCANDIDO: What was it P.G. Wodehouse used to say? I just sit at the typewriter and curse a bit. It’s not really like that, but it feels that way sometimes. Honestly, the process changes from book to book. For starters, the genesis is always different — sometimes it’s a notion I come up with, sometimes an editor comes to me with a notion that we hammer out together, sometimes I’m handed a plot, sometimes I’m handed a movie script, sometimes I’m working with the licensor to write something that goes alongside something they’re doing, and so on. I also work to my deadline, so when I start the novel, I figure out roughly how many words it’s likely to be, divide that by the number of days I have to write it, and try to hit that number each day.
NATHAN LONG: Writing gaming fiction is closer to TV tie-in work than novelizing a movie, in that I do not expand a script. I write original stories set in a previously established world. Where a TV tie-in writer would study the show bible and try to fit a story somewhere within the continuity of the series, I study the rule books and background of the game (there is a LOT of material) then work with my editors to find a place in the history and geography of their world to set my story.
Unlike TV tie-ins, however, I sometimes get to create my own lead characters. In the Blackhearts Trilogy, my first series for Black Library, I created all the characters, both heroes and villains, as well as the stories they get involved in.
Once I get an assignment, I work up some pitches, send them to my editors, and wrangle back and forth with them until we have an approved synopsis. After that I do what I do for any book. I work out the plot in detail, using post-its to lay out scene order, then type up a synopsis (which also has to be approved) and finally write the book, using the synopsis as a guide.
BIG SCARY BLOG: How much creative freedom does this genre allow for authors?
MATT FORBECK: A lot. Tie-ins don’t give much room for worldbuilding, as they’re based on an already existing world. However, that leaves space for stitching together new characters, plots, and stories from that substantive, well-made, and often gorgeous cloth.
JEFF GRUBB: Tie-ins often are provided with a stage and a set of rules for its universe. One of the challenges for media tie-ins is to produce a rewarding, entertaining book, and stay within the bounds of that setting. If you do it right, it becomes part of the greater meta-media world of that license.
DAVID MACK: As with most questions related to publishing, the only honest answer is, “It depends.” There are many factors that affect that aspect of the job. How hands-on is the licensor? Is the series or franchise still in production, or has it been off the air and out of theaters for a few years or longer? Does it now exist as a literary entity alone? Are the books meant to track with ongoing continuity, or with one another, or is each treated as a stand-alone effort that is free to chart its own course?
For instance, on The Sorrows of Empire, I had a lot of freedom to explore and innovate within the Star Trek framework because at the time that book was written, there was no Star Trek television series in production, the most recent movie was still only a gleam in J.J. Abrams’ eye, and all I had to worry about was syncing up details from “Mirror, Mirror”, and a handful of Deep Space Nine episodes and a pair of Star Trek Enterprise episodes set in the Mirror Universe.
Similarly, for my Wolverine novel Road of Bones, I was given carte blanche to tell whatever kind of story I wanted, as long as the main character remained recognizable and I didn’t blatantly contradict any of the canon continuity from the comics. I ended up writing it as a James Bond-style spy-thriller, with Logan (aka Wolverine) standing in for Bond.
The only tie-in book I’ve written where I had to be especially careful about not running afoul of active continuity was my novel More Beautiful Than Death, which was written as a sequel to the 2009 feature film Star Trek. Unfortunately, that book (along with three others based on the new film) has been indefinitely postponed by the publisher. So I guess that represents the other far extreme of the spectrum.
SEAN WILLIAMS: It depends on the individual property. The Force Unleashed II gave me some opportunities to stretch my wings. Since the script of the game didn’t dwell for long on one of the previous main character’s arcs, I was able to flex my creative muscles in fleshing out her story. And the other Star Wars novel I had published last year–The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance, also a computer game tie-in, but this time of an MMORPG–provided even more freedom, since the game has no core script or characters as such. I could make up my own stories (with approval, of course) and really go to town. Similarly, working in Doctor Who: in my short story Midnight in the Cafe of the Black Madonna I was able to convince my editor and the BBC that I should show what happened to the Third Doctor between Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith, something that had never been written before. And that’s exactly what I did.
KEITH DeCANDIDO: Almost every question about writing and publishing has a single answer: “It depends.” No two situations are alike. I’ve been in situations that allow for a ton of creative freedom, and I’ve been in situations that have absolutely none, and everywhere in between. For example, my WORLD OF WARCRAFT novel was very tightly controlled, because Blizzard Games has plotted out that particular world within an inch of its life. On the flip side, I’m working with the creator of FARSCAPE on the monthly comic book that takes place after the show ended, so we can do almost anything we want. Of course, whatever you do, it has to fit within the universe, otherwise the readers will reject you.
NATHAN LONG: I think gaming novels allow for more creative freedom than any other sub-genre in the tie-in world. Other than the setting, I am almost completely free to write what I want to write – as long as my editor approves it, of course. As I said above, I can create my own heroes, plots, themes, and even, to a certain degree, settings. As long as I stay within the confines of the world I can do what I want.
BIG SCARY BLOG: Why makes a really good media tie-in book?
MATT FORBECK: It needs to be faithful to the elements of the original that reverberate with the fans. It doesn’t have to be a direct port, and it’s often better if it isn’t. Every medium has its own strengths, so you need to play to those while respecting the original. If you can manage that, you’ve done your job.
JEFF GRUBB: I agree with Matt about every medium having its own strengths. What media tie-in fiction does is bring the strengths of novelization to bear to help illuminate and expand the original work.
DAVID MACK: Other than good writing and storytelling? A passion for the universe and characters is essential, in my opinion. More than that, I think it’s important to have respect for the source material one is working from. I won’t name the franchises, but I have on a few occasions turned down offers to write novels because I just couldn’t get excited about the core property, and I was concerned that my lack of enthusiasm for the material might come through in my writing. Licensors, publishers, and fans all deserve better than that for their money, in my opinion.
In terms of content, there is no one answer. I think it depends on what the licensor, editor, writer, and fans are looking for. Part of what I love about being a media tie-in writer is that when we work together to develop and expand shared fictional universes, we open up all kinds of possibilities. I believe there is room within most tie-in publishing programs to do a variety of stories, in different styles that play to different writers’ respective strengths. Why not have a nail-biting thriller one month, and a light-hearted romp the next, followed by a bittersweet tragedy, and then by a story that feels just like an installment of the source material but just bigger?
I say let’s do them all. I am a tie-in writer, my name is Legion.
SEAN WILLIAMS: A story that’s true to the property on every level–character, genre, theme, pacing, etc–while at the same time adding something to it. It sounds simple, but isn’t, and I wouldn’t claim to be any great shakes at it (not like Alan Dean Foster, anyway, or Terrance Dicks!). I just try to put myself in the place of the fans and write something they would love–which, in the case of shows that I too love with a passion is very easy to do.
KEITH DeCANDIDO: The list is lengthy, and I assume you’re asking other people that same question, so I’m going to focus on the two things that I particularly try to accomplish when I write a tie-in. The first is character voices. The people have to sound like themselves. I tend to pore over every line of dialogue and make sure that it really sounds like something that particular person would say. Once I wrote a STAR TREK story in which Sisko and Picard were taking a shuttle flight together. I had a one-sentence line that originally went to Picard and then I realized it made more sense for Sisko to say it. I wound up rewriting virtually the entire sentence so it matched Avery Brooks’s speech patterns as opposed to Sir Patrick Stewart’s. The second thing is to take advantage of the one thing prose can do that the camera can’t: internal POV. You can’t get inside a character’s head on a TV show or in a movie, but prose excels at that.
NATHAN LONG: Emotion and depth. For instance, in my genre, all that’s really required is some guys with swords running around and killing some monsters, but if that’s all you give the readers, they will feel cheated and unfulfilled. You have to exceed the requirements of the brief in order to do it right. The heroes can’t just be any guys with swords, they have to be real people, with believable backgrounds and honest motivations, and they have to have deeper reasons for doing what they’re doing than just â€œof course we have to kill them, they’re evil. They have to be human.
Readers of Bloodborn have written to say they hate me for killing a certain character at the end of the book. Others say they choked up. To me, that is the gauge. If you have gone beyond filling in the checklist of elements that the license requires and actually engaged the reader’s emotions, then you have done your job.
MATT FORBECK has been a full-time creator of award-winning games and fiction since 1989. He has designed collectible card games, roleplaying games, miniatures games, board games, and toys, and has written novels, short fiction, comic books, motion comics, nonfiction, essays, and computer game scripts and stories for companies including Adams Media, Angry Robot, ArenaNet, Atari, Boom! Studios, Del Rey, Games Workshop, IDW, Image Comics, Mattel, Playmates Toys, Simon & Schuster, Tor.com, Ubisoft, Wired.com, Wizards of the Coast, and WizKids. He has fifteen novels published to date, including the award-nominated Guild Wars: Ghosts of Ascalon and the critically acclaimed Amortals and Vegas Knights. His latest book is Star Wars vs. Star Trek. For more about him and his work, visit Forbeck.com
JEFF GRUBB is the author of over a dozen novels, all of them in shared worlds and media tie-ins, along with over thirty short stories and well over a hundred game products including computer games, RPGs, card games, and board games. He is the co-creator of the Forgotten Realms Setting with Ed Greenwood and one of the co-founders of the Dragonlance setting. He lives in Seattle, where he continues to build worlds for a living. His contents have apparently settled during shipping. Learn more about Jeff here: http://grubbstreet.blogspot.com/
DAVID MACK is the national bestselling author of more than twenty novels and novellas, including Wildfire, Harbinger, Reap the Whirlwind, Precipice, Road of Bones, Promises Broken, and the Star Trek Destiny trilogy: Gods of Night, Mere Mortals, and Lost Souls. He developed the Star Trek Vanguard series concept with editor Marco Palmieri. His first work of original fiction is the critically acclaimed supernatural thriller The Calling. In addition to novels, Mack’s writing credits span several media, including television (for episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), film, short fiction, magazines, newspapers, comic books, computer games, radio, and the Internet. His upcoming novels include the Star Trek Mirror Universe adventure Rise Like Lions, a new Vanguard adventure, an epic 24th-century Star Trek trilogy, and a new original supernatural thriller. Find out more about David here: http://www.davidmack.pro/
SEAN WILLIAMS first novel, The Unknown Soldier, was a tie-in to a multi-media property that never got off the ground. He and Shane Dix went on to write three books in the Star Wars: New Jedi Order series, plus numerous solo novels of their own imagining. Sean’s 35th novel, Troubletwisters, a collaboration with Garth Nix, was released in 2011. He lives in Adelaide, South Australia, with his wife and family. Find out more about Sean here: http://www.seanwilliams.com/
KEITH DeCANDIDO has written flipping great wodges of tie-in fiction: Star Trek, Zorro, Supernatural, World of Warcraft, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc. He currently writes the monthly Farscape comic book, and his latest novels are the Dungeons & Dragons tome Dark Sun: Under the Crimson Sun and Unicorn Precinct, the sequel to his 2004 novel Dragon Precinct. Look out for his novel in “The Scattered Earth,” a shared-world series created by fellow IAMTWers Aaron Rosenberg, Steve Savile, and David Niall Wilson, his original novel Super City Police Department: The Case of the Claw, and more. Read his blog at kradical.livejournal.com, or follow him on Facebook and/or Twitter under the username KRADeC.
NATHAN LONG: Nathan Long is a screen and prose writer, with two movies, one Saturday-morning adventure series, and a handful of live-action and animated TV episodes to his name, as well as ten fantasy novels and several award-winning short stories. He hails from Pennsylvania, where he grew up, went to school, and played in various punk and rock-a-billy bands, before following his writing dreams to Hollywood – where he now plays in various punk and country bands – and writes novels full time. Find out more about Nathan here: http://sabrepunk.com/