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. This is interview number four, a few questions with Nathan T. Dean, who wrote the interactive fiction piece Death and His Deer. You can read the previous interviews as well: Wren Handman, Scott Walker, and Steele Filipek.
Lucas: What attracted you to Azrael’s Stop that led you to writing a story for Tales?
Nathan: Initially the format, followed by the content. Which, in a way, is strange for me. Usually – and I speak on behalf of audiences in general here, whether they like it or not – it’s what the story is about that intrigues us initially. Naturally, we are aware of the format (novel, game, film), but as long as the story is fascinating we accept how it delivered to us. Azrael’s felt slightly reversed. I was intrigued initially by the format – short flash fic, soundtrack, etc – and then discovered this rich world beneath. I needed to add to that sensation of “that’s an intriguing format” and “this world has so much potential for exploration.”
Lucas: Have you ever written content for pre-existing settings before? What was it like to do so now?
Nathan: I’ve had a pre-existing setting of mine implemented into a festival (The Oneiriad) [http://oneiriad-zero.tumblr.com], and like all writers playing in the sandbox that is the imagination I’ve written fanfiction (guilty pleasure, I’m quite proud of my Batman story; Captain Scarlet is next). The latter certainly is a warm-up exercise for the writer developing original content. It’s muscle stretching. Knowing the limits and then developing new ways of breaking them down. So when you get invited to an existing world, where you get to add not just fan-fic, but actual canon to a reality, you take what you learnt from your previous experiments and apply them. Though, I have to say, it is mildly more nervewracking, as now it is more than just play, it’s a finished product. It was just fantastic having a world like Azrael’s Stop to do that in, as it has so much potential, so many secret rooms so to speak.
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?
Nathan: Death is so crucial to Azrael’s Stop, obviously. I had to give the collection Death, a physical incarnation. However knowing its lore and its mythopoeia as it stood, I couldn’t just have Azrael rock up and start changing things. So… well I won’t say more, you’ll have to read my tale. But in short, I wanted to express the emotional spectrum that is Death, seeing as that was a theme so prevalent in the original story, through the eyes of the player.
Similarly, the format. As I said before this is what initially sparked my curiosity. So I picked a format I knew that Silverstring Media understood in greater depth than me (thanks for the edits!) that also really placed you in that tavern. I wanted you to enter every room, drink the mead, speak to the characters. I mean, in how many instances do you get to explore death itself that directly? Interactive novellas is a format I want to explore more and more as I continue my writing career.
Lucas: Your story was unique in the anthology because you wrote a piece of interactive fiction. Why did you choose interactive fiction as the medium for your story? What do you think interactivity allows in writing that non-interactive stories don’t? How important was Azrael’s Stop’s experimental origins to your decision?
Nathan: Incredibly. If you are going to enter the world of someone else’s design you have to be aware of that design not just on a narratological level, but on others as well. How it was constructed. Why. This was why I wanted to explore more how interactive fiction and character interplay with one another. I wanted to place you in a specific individual, rather than what I usually find in interactive stories, where the second person is used extensively. I have no issue with “you are doing this” where the “you” of the scenario is a blank, tabula rasa for the player to inhabit – it develops an emotional connection quite effectively – but I wanted to experiment with that. I wanted to tell you what you felt, even why you felt it. I wanted to give you a history that you, as the player, had to compute. Combine that with the experimental origins of Azrael’s Stop – and the plethora of personifications within – and I think it slotted in nicely with the themes.
You can read [play?] Nathan’s story, Death and His Deer, 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.]