At the end of September, Silverstring Media released Tales of the Stop, an anthology of short stories that I edited to accompany my project Azrael’s Stop. It features stories from ten different authors [including a new story I wrote] about the various people that visited the Stop during the course of Azrael’s Stop that I couldn’t get to in the main story.
I decided I wanted to ask each of the authors a few questions about why they decided to join me in this experimental journey. Today I present the second of these, a few questions with Scott Walker, who wrote The Hammer and the Nail. You can read the first one, with Wren Handman, here.
Lucas: What attracted you to Azrael’s Stop that led you to writing a story for Tales?
Scott: With collaborative efforts, I personally find myself initially drawn to people: would it be fun to work with them?
Interest in a particular project is important, but secondary: would I like playing in that world? do I think I have anything interesting or original to contribute?
Lastly, I ask myself if I have the bandwidth to tackle the collaboration: would it be easy to contribute to this project?
In this case, I definitely wanted to work with you, I liked what you had created for Azrael’s Stop and Tales of The Stop, and it was obvious that how you structured your world made it super easy for an outside writer to step in and contribute a work that also naturally and organically extended the world narrative.
How could I say no? ; )
Lucas: Have you ever written content for pre-existing settings before? What was it like to do so now?
Scott: Aside from some very short-lived fanfic as a kid and my own contributions to Runes of Gallidon, I contributed a short piece of fiction to Carrie Cutforth-Young’s serialized romantic comedy project, All Your Fates.
Though that project was outside my wheelhouse in terms of genre, I was interested in working with Carrie and in the challenge of writing something in that space. Finally, it was clear my story could slot perfectly into All Your Fates’ larger narrative arc.
Having been on the receiving end of submissions for Runes of Gallidon, I perhaps had a jump on constructing a story that would live nicely in All Your Fates and Tales of The Stop. That doesn’t mean my stories were necessarily better, but I approached them with a mindset of, “now, what would work best for that setting?” instead of perhaps, “Well, this story doesn’t really fit the setting, but I’m going to write it anyway” (or worse, “I’ll just write whatever I like and not even bother researching the setting!”).
It certainly helped that while both you and Carrie provided hard guidelines, you also welcomed a lot of creative freedom on the part of the contributors.
So both experiences were very similar, even though the worlds were, well, worlds apart. That is to say, I had a blast!
Lucas: How did you choose what to write about for your story? How much was it affected by the existing Azrael’s Stop story or world?
Scott: Again, your structure was perfectly suited for rapid idea iteration (through your prior stories you established the logic of the world and how The Stop fits in with a character’s death).
In other words, I knew the shape of my story (someone wanders into the Stop right before they die), even if I didn’t immediately know all the specifics (who, when, how, etc.).
As a result, the world greatly affected what I wrote, but I didn’t have to worry much at all about the other stories, even though I had read them.
For comparison, imagine being Chuck Wendig, who just had his first Star Wars novel published. Even after scraping away the Expanded Universe content from the core canon, Disney still left Chuck with a lot of material to wade through. Imagine having to climb that mountain of canonical content before you even start writing your own story!
Both All Your Fates and Azrael’s Stop were the complete opposite. You might call them settings with a light world building touch. There’s more than enough to hang your writer’s hat on, but not enough to slow you down.
I brainstormed a bit and fairly quickly had an idea for an audio script in which an old man is unknowingly poisoned by a mute boy while the man has a drink at the Stop. The old man’s dialogue showed just what a nasty little worm he was, and the story had a reveal at the end where the man — and the reader — learned the boy’s parents were killed by the man a few years earlier. The boy and the Stop’s crow stare down silently as the man breaths his last breath. His death was justifiable, but it’s still a tragic little scene.
I used a few creative cheats and wrote a script that only required a single voice actor but which allowed for “interaction” between the old man and Ceph and the boy. I planned on voicing the old man and keeping production super simple.
However, even with that simple approach, I didn’t really have the time to put together a decent audio, and you had some great feedback on the “rules” of The Stop and how it all worked that required a slight tweak to the ending. Those factors led me to shelving the idea for an audio piece and going with a short story. But during that transition, I also began having other ideas about how the story could play out.
The mute boy got dropped, and the protagonist shifted from an unsympathetic character to a more relatable person. Someone who, at the end of his life, acknowledges his regrets and seeks peace, if not redemption, for his misdeeds. What better place for that to happen than The Stop, right?
And I had just reread the Conan story, “The Red Nails,” which is a great little tale about two groups of humans battling each other within a city (one group keeps track of how many they have killed by putting nails in a wall).
During an early draft on the new story, I wrote a scene where my protagonist pulls a nail from his pocket while he waits for his drink at The Stop. As he plays with the nail, the reader comes to understand it represents a part of the man’s past. That little inspiration (thank you, Writing Muse!) ended up giving me the title for my story: “The Hammer and The Nail.”
I think we had one round of edits on the new story to ensure it was still consistent with The Stop’s canonical world, and the final version was put to bed.
Lucas: As you’ve mentioned, we discussed a few different story ideas before you wrote the final piece that ended up in the anthology. How do you balance your vision or idea as an author–and what you want to explore in the piece–versus working with an editor or fitting the story into a larger context? More generally perhaps, since you’ve worked with Shared Worlds a lot, can you talk about the collaborative writing process?
Scott: Perhaps I was just lucky, because both you and Carrie allowed me to explore what I wanted, even as you requested edits. I agreed with all of your feedback, and I welcomed your suggestions. My stories were much better as a result.
And let’s be honest. If you’re working with an editor, that’s a form of collaboration. You gave me some great feedback that didn’t lay out specifically how to change my story, but your general feedback ended up prompting a completely new (and better) one. My story evolved as a result of our interaction, which began with your invitation to contribute to Tales of The Stop and ended with your final feedback.
At its best, working with an editor is a wonderful, collaborative experience, which is exactly how it felt to contribute to Azrael’s Stop.
Tales was a great experience in collaborative storytelling, and I was very glad to have Scott’s experience and willingness to work together as part of it.
You can read his story, The Hammer and the Nail, and the others in Tales of the Stop — it, Azrael’s Stop, and the official soundtrack that accompanies it are available now for digital download. [And you can read more of my own thoughts about the project at Chuck Wendig’s blog, here.]