Nathan Long takes a few minutes to tell us about what it’s like being a writer. A veteran screenwriter of 15 years before becoming an author, Nathan has a fair bit of thought to share with us today.
He2etic: What is the writing process like for you? If you were to describe the process in what word, what would it be?
Nathan: Wait, is that two questions or one? Uh, my one word answer would be, “Structured.” By which I mean, I build a structure for each story before I write it. I almost never “wing it.”
He2etic: What kind of music do you listen to while you write?
Nathan: Mostly soundtracks, Conan, Lord of the Rings, etc. But I try to match the music to the subject matter I’m writing, so if it’s something science-fictiony I might write to trance or electronica.
“I tend to come up with plot ideas before I come up with the characters to put in them, so my character creation is strongly influenced by the role the character needs to fill.”
He2etic: Who are your favorite characters amongst both those you’ve written, and by other authors?
Nathan: Favorite characters by other people: Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser by Fritz Leiber, and Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser. Favorite characters by me: uh, it’s really hard to choose. I like them all because they all give me the opportunity to write in different voices and explore different aspects of my psychosis… er, I mean personality.
He2etic: What are your strongest influences when it comes to character creation?
Nathan: I tend to come up with plot ideas before I come up with the characters to put in them, so my character creation is strongly influenced by the role the character needs to fill.
For instance, with The Blackhearts, I didn’t come up with Reiner first, then build the story around him, I came up with the idea of “The Dirty Dozen in the world of Warhammer” and then sat around thinking about what kind of person would lead such a group.
He2etic: Are there any dream characters or settings you want to write about? Not just those in the Warhammer universes, but in other franchises or even of your own make?
Nathan: I have plenty of my own characters that I am dying to bring to the public’s attention, but, yes, there are a few established characters I would love to write. Top of the list would be Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and in fact I actually wrote an F+GM fan fic, which you can find on the ‘Free Stories’ page of my blog.
Others would include Solomon Kane, Catwoman, the Creeper, the Aliens franchise, the Bordertown series, Buckaroo Banzai, and I’ve always wanted to adapt a kids story called the Weathermonger into a movie, though I think the BBC might have beat me to it.
“I would say screenplays require tighter, simpler plots than novels, and a focus on a fewer number of characters.”
He2etic: What are your favorite drinks, both alcoholic and not? Do you occasionally partake while writing?
Nathan: I don’t drink alcohol, but I drink absolutely gallons of tea when I write. My favorite is oolong tea. It is the nectar of the gods.
He2etic: If you could cast anyone to play the roles of main characters in your work, who would you pick?
Nathan: Hmmm. Good question, but I’m really bad at this. Lets see…
Ulrika – Tilda Swinton (Well, she’s a bit old for the part, but someone like Tilda Swinton, only 20.)
Reiner – Tom Hiddleston (The guy who played Loki.)
Jane Carver – Sadly, there are no actresses I know who look like I imagine Jane looking.
He2etic: Do you have any long term projects for writing? For example, do you intend to someday spin your own franchise or complete a long novel series?
Nathan: Yes. Jane Carver was planned as a four book series. I have no idea if the last two will ever be written, but I would like to. I also have a few other novel ideas that could easily become series, and right at the moment I’m getting set to announce an on-line comic that I’m writing, which I hope will go on for a very long time. I can’t tell you anything more about it yet, but there will be an announcement in the next few months.
He2etic: Are there any novels you would consider required reading?
Nathan: As follows…
–The Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series by Fritz Leiber
–The Flashman Papers series by George MacDonald Frazer
–The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood by Raphael Sabatini
–The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
–House of Stairs by William Sleater
–The Bordertown Series by Terri Windling and others
–The Jeeves series by P.G. Wodehouse
–Last Call and The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
…I could go on…
He2etic: What advice do you have for anyone trying to make the transition from novel and short story writing to screenplay writing?
Nathan: Hmmm. I can’t really answer that question, since I went entirely the other way. I started as a screenwriter and became a novelist. I would say screenplays require tighter, simpler plots than novels, and a focus on a fewer number of characters. A screenplay is usually about one or two heroes doing something in a fairly short period of time. A novel can be about generations of heroes and take place over centuries.
“I really enjoy telling the smaller, more self contained stories that fall between the cracks of the big momentous things…”
He2etic: What’s your favourite part of writing a story?
Nathan: Hmmm. I like all of it, for various reasons, but I guess my favorite parts are the initial plotting phase, where I work out the ending, and all the little twists along the way, and then the polishing part at the end, where I fine-tune everything and add the last details.
He2etic: What is it that draws you to the Warhammer universe? Is there anything it permits you to do that you can’t find anywhere else?
Nathan: I like that the world is already built, and that it is so clearly defined. World building is fun for me, but coming to a world which already has a well-documented history and established rules makes creating stories in it almost like creating stories set in the real world. You look at the history, see the stories that have already been told about it, then try to find some place or some event or some time that nobody’s touched yet.
I really enjoy telling the smaller, more self contained stories that fall between the cracks of the big momentous things that the history books (or the army books) tell us about, and the richness and depth of the Warhammer background allowed me to do that.
He2etic: And the least favourite part of writing?
Nathan: The first draft is often a slog. Some scenes I love writing, and I breeze right through them, giggling to myself along the way. Others, particularly descriptive passages and stuff where people are traveling, are a grind, and I try to get them over with as soon as possible. My writing tends to be a little light on that stuff, and now you know why.
He2etic: What does a typical writing day look like for you?
Nathan: Hmmm. Up at 8:30. Have breakfast and noodle around on the internet until 10. Write until 12:00. Have lunch. Write until 3. Have a half hour nap. (Yep, sorry, I’m old.) Write until 6 or 6:30. So basically six hours of writing time. But if I’m on a deadline I’ll often work until I reach a certain word count, no matter how long it takes. Sometimes 3000 words have taken me until 11:00 at night.
He2etic: Finally, do you have any guilty pleasures when it comes to reading? Stuff you know is utter trash, but you love reading anyway?
Nathan: I don’t read as much as I used to, so I am more selective now when I do read, so less trash these days. But back in the day I burned through Pier’s Anthony’s Xanth books and the Saga of the Exiles books by Julian May.
Neither of those series were trash, exactly, but definitely popcorn books.