Ari Marmell, author and game creator, was kind enough to answer some questions about his latest novel, a kickstarter project, and a few other interesting projects.
For those yet to read In Thunder Forged could you explain a little bit about it?
In Thunder Forged is the first print novel that take place in Privateer Press’s Warmachine (miniatures game) and Iron Kingdoms (roleplaying game) setting. It’s a world of both magic and steam-tech, in which nations wage a very World War 1-esque conflict with human soldiers, sorcerous weapons, and great steam-powered machines.
The book is based on the game – how much research was involved in capturing the feel of the game and what was it like to write within that universe?
Quite a bit. There was a lot of material to read up on, a lot of detail to absorb. It’s not just a matter of getting the facts right–though that’s important, too, of course–as there are people in the process who’ll catch that sort of thing. It is, as you said, capturing the feel of things that’s most important. That’s the case for any licensed novel, be it Warmachine, Star Wars, Guild Wars, whatever. You can write the best novel of the last two decades, but if it doesn’t feel like something that could/should happen in the world you’re writing for, it fails as a tie-in novel.
Writing in the Warmachine/Iron Kingdoms setting was an interesting experience, as it’s a slightly different sort of fantasy than I’m accustomed to. As with any shared world, it’s a matter of getting comfortable with the material, figuring out how to focus on the parts that speak to you and minimize (without being unfair to) any parts that don’t. In my case, I love focusing on smaller parts of the war effort–individual units, espionage, etc.–and I particularly enjoy the alchemy and steam-tech aspects of the world, so I tried to play those up in my particular story.
Could you explain how the process works writing in a set universe (or from a game) as opposed to creating your own settings?
Well, part of it, as I said above, is getting comfortable with the different aspects. When I create my own settings, it’s a fair bet that anything I include is there because I wanted to include it. In a shared world, obviously, one doesn’t have nearly that level of control. If someone’s writing a Star Wars novel and he hates wookies (which makes him a bad person, who should feel bad, but that’s beside the point), he can’t just ignore the fact that they exist. He may not to utilize them in that particular story, but they’re part of the setting.
And of course, when one is creating something original, the feel/aesthetic of that project is entirely malleable. Sure, it’s got to be internally consistent, but the initial design options are nigh infinite. It’s a very different sort of thought than goes into working within an existing aesthetic.
I guess, ultimately, that’s the main difference right there. It’s simply a different sort of creativity; not just deciding what to do with the tools you’re given, but to work with entirely different sets of tools.
Writing within a franchise, how much influence do you have on the shape of the story? Are there a lot meetings going back and forth with editors and designers of the game?
It depends on the property and the licensor, to an extent, but yes, there’s a great deal of back and forth. Everything has to go through approval processes, both at the initial outline stage and at the completion of various drafts, to say nothing of a great many questions lobbed back and forth during the writing.
In my case, I’ve been able to shape the basic story of every tie-in I’ve done, but only after a great deal of discussion. In Thunder Forged came together fairly quickly on outline, but a great many tweaks from first to second draft. By contrast, just for example, Darksiders: the Abomination Vault took a great deal of time for us to settle on an outline (and in fact, the book that was finally written was based on a second outline; there was a whole other book ready to go), but really required a fairly minimal amount of rewrites.
So, a great deal of freedom within strictly defined borders, as oxymoronic as that might sound.
Your novel has a number of very strong female leads, putting them at the forefront of the action – what was the thinking behind this?
You know, I’d like to say I was making a deliberate statement, as I do believe very strongly in diversity in genre fiction. The truth is, though, these are simply the characters as they came to me. Dignity and Bracewell appear on the page largely as they very first came to mind. (In fact, the same is true of most of the characters.) It wasn’t a deliberate “I want to put women in these roles,” but simply that the characters who came to mind to fill those roles were women. Laddermore, for her part, just seemed a good fit for the story when I realized I wanted to include a pre-existing character from the setting in a larger role than I had thus far.
Funny thing is, I actually did want to make a statement with one of the characters, but it wasn’t any of those three. It just happened that the opportunity to do so never arose in the novel, given that there’s little in the way of romance or relationships of any sort in this story, and it would’ve been poor writing to force it in. But… Ask me about Atherton’s sexuality at some point in the future, if I haven’t had the chance to discuss it in the narrative.
The steampunk setting is an interesting one – what was your favourite part of writing In Thunder Forged?
I don’t know if I have a single favorite. I can tell you that they include the character interaction/arc between Bracewell and Habbershant; and also playing with the steam-tech and alchemy, and figuring out where the line was on those before I was crossing over into what the setting would consider magic.
And the whole wartime backdrop.
And Atherton’s stunts/magics.
Um, a lot of things, clearly.
You come from a background of game design – what is the transition like to writing novels as opposed to games?
Well, it was less of a transition for me than it might appear, because while I have a very obvious shift from games to novels at the professional level, I’ve been writing long fiction for years before I got good enough for publication. So I’ve actually been doing both for quite some time.
That said, it is a very different experience. Both freeing and overwhelming. And of course, a novelist has to focus on aesthetics, whereas for a game designer, the objective is often absolute precision.
They’re related skills, but far from identical ones, and it’s actually a bad thing if you let one influence the other too much. Telling a story vs. empowering others to tell a story; very different requirements.
Will you be writing more with the Iron Kingdom setting?
I’m not currently contracted to do so–it was never the plan for me to write the entire first trilogy–but anything could happen in the future, and we were all happy with how ITF came out, so… We’ll see.
What else can we look forward from you in the future?
Well, in December, Pyr releases Lost Covenant, the third book in my Widdershins YA series, after Thief’s Covenant and False Covenant. I tried to do something that both followed after, and yet was a tad different from, the prior two. (If you’ve read The Chronicles of Prydain, I consider Lost Covenant to be the Taran Wanderer equivalent of the series.)
Next May, Titan releases Hot Lead, Cold Iron, an urban fantasy set in 1930s gangland Chicago. Fae, organized crime, witchcraft, betrayal… Everything from the underworld to the Otherworld, basically.
Finally, I’ve just launched a Kickstarter in hopes of funding Strange New Words, a collection of my short fiction. It’s to be novel-length, with the word count divided roughly between reprints from various sources/markets, and new, never-before-seen material (which includes a new story set in the world of my novel The Goblin Corps). That’s going on for another few weeks, and I have high hopes for meeting at least a few of the stretch goals. I think people will really like what they see, if we can make this happen.
Ari Marmell: http://mouseferatu.com