Interview with Spectres Author Nate Keynon
Recently we had the chance to do an interview with Nate Keynon, author of the StarCraft novel StarCraft Ghost: Spectres that deals with (a part of) the backstory of Nova and Gabriel Tosh from the StarCraft II campaign. Both characters were also a part of the indefinetely postponed console game StarCraft: Ghost.
Hi Nate. Let’s start with introducing yourself for those who might not have heard from you so far.
Sure. My name is Nate Keynon. I’m the author of StarCraft Ghost: Spectres, my first tie-in with Blizzard and Pocket. I’ve written and published under my own name original novels past a few years. I have four thriller/horror titles and one sci-fi develope called „Prime“. My latest original novel is Sparrow Rock and I’m currently writing the next Diablo novel.
So, Spectres is your first novel in the StarCraft universe. How did you prepare for it? Did you play the game? Did you read other novels?
When I was contacted and agreed to do the book, one of the things I wanted to do is I wanted to it right. I played StarCraft years ago, but I wasn’t a hardcore fan. Certainly I played the game and loved the game, but I basically spent propably three months just immersing myself in everything I could: StarCraft, all the novels, the manga, the wiki. I had several conference calls with Blizzard as well as a full day meeting out there at their campus that was used for creative brainstorming basically. I played the game a couple of times, both the originally and the new one in beta. And eventually I felt comfortable enough with the universe and characters to start writing the book.
So, you said you played StarCraft a while before. How much did you actually know of the StarCraft storyline before starting with this whole project?
Not a lot. I mean I knew the very basic plot, but I didn’t know a ton about it until I started researching. You know, it’s a tremendously extended universe and there is a ton to learn. Like I said I wanted to do it the right way so those three months I spent were needed to get familiar with everything, backstory, charackters, story of the universe. When I finally was ready to start writing I did feel very comfortable and the characters I got started connecting with my own. It wasn’t all that different from one of my original books.
Spectres has a lot of tie-ins with other aspects of the StarCraft storyline and it connects several lose ends, e.g. the fate of Jackson Hauler who we just know from the original manual. Were all these tie-ins part of the concept that you got from Blizzard or did you also invent some of them yourself?
A little bit of both. In the case of this book I think it was helpful that there was a prequel essentially, namely StarCraft Ghost: Nova. So some of this was set up and then there was a concept, a story line that Blizzard had and they wanted to develope with me. In our meetings, in our conference calls and our face-to-face meetings we further developed that plot and some of the things we came up were mine, some were theirs and what I love about Blizzard is that they are so into collaboration, they are passionate in what they do. Obviously they know their stuff so well, but at the same time there is never a situation where they just say „This is the way we do it, this is the way we want you to do that kind of thing.“ They are very collaborative, they were greatly open to my ideas which is really exciting.
That’s very interesting. So basically if you have the idea to take a chracter out of the original StarCraft and plug him into your book? The Blizzard story writers were never getting angry?
No, not at all. If I wanted to do something like thak, the first thing I needed is of course talking to them. They have an entire lore team making sure that everything fits. And not only that it fits with the stories that have already been told but also with the stories that they want to go. And that’s equally important because they have the real vision of where they want to take the game and where they want to go with novels and everything else that they are doing. So, well I might come up with an idea that I think it need, Jackson Hauler is a great example of that, I need to take that to them and then say „Hey, what do you think of this? Is this doable? Is it possible?“ They are very open to the idea, but there were several times where they said „That’s not gonna work with what we want to do here“ And then we kind of hashed out until we go into the right direction with it. Sometimes they felt like „Hey, that’s a great idea. Let’s go with it and see where it takes us.“ So we didn’t have the right to do a big issue without their blessing but on the other hand they certainly are open to talking about any ideas you have.
That sounds cool. So, was there anything that you would really like to have done in Spectres but has been rejected by the Blizzard writers?
You know, nothing from the top of my head. You know there were certainly little pieces here and there that I would have loved to do but didn’t quite work because of either storyline angles that I wasn’t aware of or things they wanted to do in the future, but nothing significant, nothing I my mind that harmed the book itself. We did basicly everything we wanted to do, we told the story we wanted to tell. The way it turned out I think was very, very exciting.
Speaking of the overall content of the book. Spectres has 28 chapters, are such things as the number of chapters or the number of total pages given by Blizzard or is that up to you?
It’s a combination of things. There are some guidelines from both, Blizzard and Pocket as well. Pocket is the publisher and they do the actual design and printing. They certainly are involved in the creative as well and all that. So, it’s really a collaboration between all of us. There wasn’t any a set length for this or the Diablo Novel, it developes organically as you work out the outline and the plots you want to tell. So, as we worked through the plot and I outlined it, we worked together and developed it chapter by chapter basically, you come to a final decision on length. And you know you want to hit, just in terms of marketing and everything else that goes along with publishing, roughly a certain number of words. But there is leeway there in either direction.
It took quite a lot of time until the book was finally released if we go back to time where it was announced. Other novels like „Devil’s Due“ or „I, Mengsk“ were out there way quicker. Can you tell us why it took so long? Was there a fundamental concept change?
There is a long backstory certainly to it. I came in fairly late. When I was hired to write it the time was actually pretty short between it came out and the I time started to write it. Maybe a year or over a year which is normal. But before that I think there has been a hole between StarCraft Ghost: Nova which Keith R. A. DeCandido wrote and this book. I don’t know the details there but I thing there was some time in-between where they tried to figure out which direction they wanted to take and how to work with the plot. That may have been some of the delay but I’m not really sure.
How does the process of writing a book work? Do you write the chapters in a linear way or do you start with certain chapters and fill in the remaining ones later on?
That’s a great question. I write in a pretty linear way for most of my stuff. In terms of develope and concept and than starting from page one to the end. However, writing a book like this is a bit different than writing my original work which is a litte more free fall because you are working with existing property and you have other people who have interest in the story and where you are going with it. The outline is really essential whithout every detail being finished. So while with my original stuff I might have a concept and hash out some ideas and then start and see where it takes me and be a bit more lose with how things develope, in this one I definately had a very clear idea from the beginning to the end where I was going and what plot points to hit. So it was a much more structures process for me, which was actually in a lot of ways more supportive to me than writing the normal way, because I always knew where I was going an I knew that Blizzard and Pocket were both on board with the way they wanted to take plot and chapter by chapter. So there was a support there.
One thing that I noticed when reading the book was that there seems to be a glitch in the Nova’s ghost team that wants to rescue Arcturus. There is a girl named Rip on the team, but later on she is never mentioned again and instead there is someone who is called Cyborg. So what happened here?
I have to back and look. Actually I don’t remember that issue. We certainly gave all the ghost team folks nicknames. So it may be… I have to go back and look but it may be a nickname that we are referring to later on, sorry.
I see, so it might be that one of it is the real name and the other one is the nickname. With Nova, Spectres and the manga series, how much of the StarCraft Ghost storyline has been told?
That’s a good question. I think it’s a better one for Blizzard than propably for me. I know there is more they wanted to tell, I’m just not sure how far they are going to take it and how many books and manga they would put out. I guess it’s a work in progress but knowing Blizzard and the way that they work they’ve got it worked out and they know exactly what they want to do.
So, can we expect more StarCraft novels from you?
Well, I hope so. You know I think this is one of the more exciting and better experiences in my career. I really do love to work for StarCraft and Blizzard/Pocket. I was a really fun project and I love the way it turned out. And I think they have faith so certainly the Diablo project grew out of this one and the part of the experience writing this. The Diablo book is going to be the big book next spring for me. [The] Diablo [novel] will be released around the game that is coming and that’s a point. We certainly talked about if I wanted to do more projects generally, I just don’t have anything yet specifically what’s next.
Ok, so let me ask in a different way. After having familiarized with the StarCraft universe, is there anything that you would be really keen on writing about?
Well, absolutely. It’s such an extensive universe and there are so many stories that you can tell that would be exciting stories. I personally love Nova, the character. She really clicked for me. I think she is a fascinating character. The idea of this incredibly talented woman who is haunted by such a severe trauma in her past and tries to suppress it. The whole concept of somebody who goes into a program like the ghost program actually to have her memories wiped away. All set by the fact that she is just incredibly talented and strong, physically and mentally with amazing psyonic abilities. It’s just a great character and a great thing to play with. That said… I can’t say too much but I know that Blizzard working on the next chapter of the sort of Nova story in various ways. I don’t know if I have the opportunity to work with her again but certainly I would love to if I get the chance.
Aside from Nova, who is your favorite character in the book?
Ah, that’s a good question. There are so many I love. I love so many characters in the book. I think Gabriel Tosh is a fascinating character in the book, again for similar reasons, his abilities and of course the terrazine gas spectres aspect. His developement and his break with the emperor and the dominion and all that is a great epic drama. Lio is fascinating and he is another one that I would love to develope more if given the chance. He is a small piece of this book, but he is a fascinating piece. The whole idea of kind of transcending your body into becoming something else, that is so different is fascinating .
What is your personal oppinion on killing more or less important characters? Two years ago I had the chance to talk with Andy Chambers and he mentioned that they have to stop killing all the interesting main characters. If you’ve played StarCraft and Brood War some guys like Duke and Fenix are wiped out and even in the books major characters often do not survive. So what is your oppinion?
Well I think in any great drama some people have got to die. You know, it’s a tough one. You need to kill of characters that are interesting and that you love but at the same time in order to create a drama that fans love to read. And that includes both good and bad. If you look at any successful fiction, if it is movies, if it is games, whatever… often times the one that are most successful, that ones that get most emotions from the fans are the ones where you have something dramatic happening and somebody dies, good or bad. That generates a lot of debate. So I think that’s a really important part of the process writing and creating a drama like this more epic source of storyline that battles and clashes. So on the one hand I definately understand that you have to be very careful in the choose who … does it and than go from there.
Ok. Time is getting short, so lets come to a question that might also interest the more gaming-oriented fans: What is your favorite race in StarCraft?
Uhh… I think it’s the Zerg. Terrans are fascinating but you know they are…they are people. And the idea of the Zerg is being this hive mind and sort of unstoppable killing machine because of the way that they can adapt anything. This kind of vision is fascinating.
So, maybe there would be some room for writing a novel from the Zerg’s point of view? Almost all the novels so far have been from a Terran perspective. There is a bit from the Protoss if we think of the Dark Templar Trilogy, but we have seen almost none out of the Zerg’s perspective so far.
Yeah, I think that would be an interesting and very challenging thing to write. Based on the hide mind concept, there would be a lot to work out, in terms of point of view and how we could tell that story. But I think it would be a great challenge though for anybody that wanted to take this on.
Especially with the long back story this race has that has not been told in details so far.
Finally, how much more StarCraft novels are currently in the work that you know of?
I think I’ve got to stay away from that one. I’ll have to refer you to Blizzard for that one, sorry.
Ok, thank you very much for the interview and thank’s to Blizzard for giving us this opportunity. I really enjoyed reading StarCraft Ghost: Spectres.
Well, thanks so much. I really appreciate that. You know, it’s my first effort and I’ve touched upon with it. The fans are incredible. I’ve had the chance to interact with the folks online and I went to BlizzCon and that was just an amazing experience. I’m really excited about it and I like how it turned out and I hope that the fans will give it a try.