Please welcome Steven S. Long to The Qwillery. “Forest for the Trees” will be published in GENIUS LOCI: Tales of the Spirit of Place from Ragnarok Publications.
This is the ninth in a series of interviews with many of the authors and the artists involved in GENIUS LOCI. I hope you enjoy meeting them here at The Qwillery as much as I am!
I am a backer of GENIUS LOCI which is edited by Jaym Gates. You may check out the Kickstarter here.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What are the challenges in writing in the short form as opposed to the novel length? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Steven:Thanx for interviewing me. :)
Given that I’ve only semi-completed one novel (which is still in a long, drawn-out process of revising and rewriting), I may not be the most qualified person to answer. But I’d say that the trick with a short story is that you can’t really waste any words — you have a very brief amount of “space” to describe your character, set the scene(s), explain the dilemma, and resolve the situation. So you have to have a story idea you can deal with “quickly”; epic quests and galaxy-spanning sagas aren’t short-form types of tales, generally speaking.
On the other hand, you can write a fantastic short story about an idea that’s too basic or weird to support a novel. For example, Tom Godwin’s classic SF story “The Cold Equations” is a compelling short story, but would be pretty boring if he’d tried to stretch it into a novel.
I think I’m still far too much a pantser for my own good, but I’m trying to get better. ;) As fun as pantsing a story can be, it often leaves gaps I don’t realize are there, or results in me standing at my desk for long periods of time thinking, “So what the hell happens now?” The last short story I wrote was the first one where I had the whole sequence of events outlined (in my head, admittedly, not on paper) before I started writing, and it’s amazing how much easier and more fun it was for me to write it. One of the problems with my novel, and the reason it requires such extensive rewriting, is that I pantsed too much and thus didn’t structure the story properly.
(I think “to pants” has become my new favorite verb. ;) )
TQ: You’re a game designer. How does this affect (or not) your short story writing?
Steven:I’d like to think it doesn’t really have any effect, but roleplaying games have been such a central part of my life (both professionally and socially) for the past 30-odd years that I’m not foolish enough to think I can escape their influence entirely. ;) A Well-Known SF Writer Whose Name I Won’t Drop once told me that a fiction editor he worked said she could often tell which writers had a gaming background and which didn’t. A writer who didn’t play RPGs usually had well-developed characters and plot, but his setting and background were often vague or inconsistent. Writers with RPG experience tended to have very well developed settings with strong internal logic, but their characters and plots were often weak or poorly developed.
I’ve tried to keep that in mind and not let my RPG writing experience affect my fiction. I want to have well-developed settings (heck, I often teach worldbuilding at conventions, so I’d better!), but I want the characters and plot to show just as much attention to detail and quality. On the other hand, when my RPG experience can help fiction — such as in developing settings and magic systems that work well — I’m happy to draw on it.
TQ: Which question about your writing do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Q: What’s your goal when writing Fantasy fiction?
A: To evoke the sense of wonder, majesty, and general “coolness” that I’ve so often felt myself upon reading great works of Fantasy (he said presumptuously). I’m not sure I can succeed, since I think the type of Fantasy that sells these days isn’t the type of Fantasy which accomplishes that (at least for me), but I try.
TQ: Describe “Forest for the Trees”, which will be published in Genius Loci, in 140 characters or less.
Steven:An encounter with a forest spirit in a beloved childhood haunt gives a dying man the inspiration and strength to go on fighting to live.
TQ: Tell us something about “Forest for the Trees” that will not give away the story.
Steven:It includes a pirate ship, a castle, a race car, and a space cruiser.
TQ: What was your inspiration for “Forest for the Trees”? Have you ever encountered a Genius loci?
Steven:I’ve never encountered a genius loci (or any other spirit) as far as I know, but “Forest for the Trees” is definitely inspired by my personal experiences. I live in the house I grew up in, which my family moved to in 1971. There’s a patch of woods (small by adult standards, large by a kid’s) about a hundred feet from the house. I spent countless hours playing down there as a kid; knew it from one end to the other like the back of my hand. That’s where the story takes place — in fact, I went into the woods for the first time in about twenty years to experience the “feel” of it before I started writing. It turns out that it’s a lot easier to clamber around in a hilly forest when you’re ten than when you’re all too rapidly approaching fifty. ;)
Here’s another odd sort of correspondence with my life. The protagonist is a form of me, obviously, but he has terminal cancer. About six months after I finished the story, I was actually diagnosed with colon cancer. Fortunately the doctors caught long before it became terminal and have pretty much completely taken care of it. But when I went back to revise the story, I came across that element (which I’d forgotten) and it sent a bit of a chill down my spine. Perhaps a genius loci of some sort was looking out for me!
TQ: Give us one of your favorite non-spoilery lines from “Forest for the Trees”.
Steven:“God I’m old. I’ve lived here so long I can measure my life by geological processes.”
Just a few months before Jaym Gates began soliciting submissions for GENIUS LOCI, I happened to walk along the road on one side of the forest. It was winter, so I could see down through the trees to the creek at the lowest level of the land. I thought to myself, “Wait a minute, that doesn’t look right. It should bend there, not there, and there should be a long straight run there,” and so on. A few seconds later it hit me that over the course of forty years, the natural processes of bank erosion had changed the course of the creek significantly. That line above popped into my head, word for word. ;) Jaym’s submission announcement brought it back to mind, and the whole story pretty much fell into place in just a few minutes.
TQ: In which genre or genres does “Forest for the Trees” fit? In your opinion, are genre classifications still useful?
Steven:I definitely think genre classifications remain useful for many purposes. If there’s any real problem with them, it’s that people use them without defining what they mean — so that one person’s “Epic Fantasy” is different from another person’s “Epic Fantasy,” and the whole analysis gets snarled up and becomes useless. Even serious, academic works about Fantasy by noted scholars usually fail to define their terms properly. Since I love talking about Fantasy fiction and want people to understand what I mean, I’ve actually written an article, “Defining Fantasy,” which you can find on my website, www.stevenslong.com, if you’d like to know more. ;)
“Forest for the Trees” fits firmly into what I call Urban Fantasy: Fantasy that brings magic and other fantastic elements into the modern, “real world.”
TQ: What’s next?
Steven:There are a several projects that, naturally, I can’t talk about yet, but fortunately a few that I can. I have a story, “A Singular Justice,” in Tales >From the Age of Sorrows, an anthology of stories for the Exalted roleplaying game from Onyx Path Publishing. I also did some RPG work for Onyx Path on the Wraith 20th Anniversary Edition, which is slated for publication later this year I believe.
Most exciting for me is that my first major work of non-fiction is due out in May from Osprey Publishing. It’s titled Odin: The Viking Allfather, and you can guess from the title what it’s all about. As someone with a lifelong interest in mythology in general and Norse mythology in particular, getting to write this book was a real joy.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Steven:Thank you for the opportunity! There are few things I enjoy more than talking about myself and my work. ;)
About Steven S. Long
Steven S. Long is a writer and game designer who’s worked primarily in the tabletop roleplaying game field for the past twenty years. During that time he’s written or co-written nearly 200 books. He’s best known for his work with Champions and the HERO System, but has worked for many other RPG companies including Last Unicorn Games, Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Decipher, and White Wolf. In recent years he’s branched out into writing fiction as well, selling short stories to many anthologies and publications. Someday he may actually finish his novel. His Master Plan for World Domination has reached Stage 67-Delta.