GQB Questcast 02 – Crafting Characters and Sticking with Their Development

Join GQB co-founders, Josh & Kasandra Radke, Tony Zore (Producer), Ken Asensio, and Andrew Gilbertson in discussing project updates and storycraft. We provide a recap of the ‘WARS: The Battle of Phobos’ #sffwrtcht Twitter chat with WARS writing team (transcript link below)

http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/sffwrtcht/2012/03/07/transcript-sffwrtcht-30712-with-grail-quest-books-authors-editor/

We take a look at ‘Stitched Crosses: The Audio Drama’ Episode 3, which affords an opportunity to discuss the importance of talking story with others and how this activity can help a storyteller reaffirm the path of a character, even if it may not be popular at first with your audience.

And finally a ‘Shadow of the Stars: Savus’ progress report, and what to do when you are at a crossroads about how to handle a complex main character–especially when it could mean *another* rewrite.

 

Questcast is a weekly podcast, every Wednesday at 8 pm EST on the Middle-earth Network Radio. Josh and Kas are the Founders of Grail Quest Books, and work as the publishing arm of the Network in conjunction with Oloris Publishing. We welcome all sorts of questions about the publishing industry from people who are able to join us in the Questcast Chatroom during the show. Looking forward to seeing you there!

[audio:http://ia600303.us.archive.org/10/items/QuestcastEpisode3-IntroductionsToTheAdventure/Questcast_3142012_web.mp3%5D

Transcript: ‘#SFFWRTCHT’ Twitter Event with the WARS: Phobos Team!

The transcript from last Wednesday’s Twitter chat event with the writing team and the editor of the WARS: The Battle of Phobos trilogy is available for anyone that missed this live event! This was the first time that all four authors–Nathan P. Butler, Sean E. Williams, Jim Perry, Sabrina Fried–and the content editor/series director (Josh Radke) were in the same event!

The #sffwrtcht Twitter chats are hosted by author and editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt, whose sci-fi book The Worker Prince received an ‘Honorable Mention’ on their list of “Best Sci-Fi Books of 2011′. Past guests at the event have included New York Times Best-selling authors Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kevin J. Anderson, and others from every level of science fiction and fantasy.

WARS Authors Roundtable on Middle-earth Network’s ‘The Star Wars Report’

Last night, the author team for WARS: The Battle of Phobos, Volume 1 – Preludes–Nathan P. Butler, Sean E. Williams, Jim Perry–and series editor for GQB, Josh Radke, was on the Middle-earth Network’s ‘The Star Wars Report’ for about an hour chatting up about the Decipher, Inc. sci-fantasy property!

You can listen to (or download) the full episode by heading on over the SWR’s website.

AISP Interviews WARS: Phobos Series Author, Jim Perry

WARS: The Battle of Phobos author, Jim Perry, is the featured guest on the latest episode (#121) of Adventures in Scifi Publishing. In addition to his involvement with the Phobos book series, hear Jim discuss topics from sci-fi/fantasy influences to He-Man & The Masters of the Universe trivia to football!

Let us know what you thought of the interview on the book series’ official Facebook page!

Interview with Stitched Crosses Composer & Sound Designer, Joe Harrison

Before Mr. Joe Harrison could step into another exciting adventure by phone booth, transporter, or hyperspeed, GQB’s resident interviewer, Arnie Carvalho, was able to catch up with him to talk about his professional debut as a musical composer and sound designer for the Stitched Crosses audio dramatization and soundtrack

AC: Joe, how did you get started as a sound designer?

JH: Well, let me just turn back the clock a bit…. During the early 2000’s I had really started to get into listening to radio productions. Among the ones I listened to repetitively were BBC Radio’s The Lord of the Rings adaptation, and the Star Wars: Dark Forces audio trilogy. Before that, though, I had also loved listening to the older radio dramas, such as The Shadow or Superman or Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Aside from listening to these, I was always mildly fascinated by sound design in general—Ben Burtt’s work in particular—and loved how it all really came together to make the whole thing work. This fascination for sound design grew when I was introduced to the radio dramas. As opposed to a movie, it is up to the sound designer [in a audio dramatization] to carry the production (aside from the voice actors, of course), as it cannot rely upon visuals. Honestly, though, at the time I don’t think I really understood just how much responsibility was on the sound designer of a radio production. I was just intrigued and excited to find a way into the “world of audio”.

This was about the time that I was introduced to “fan audio dramas”–audio productions put together entirely by fans of a popular franchise and what have you. The thing that I loved about producing audio dramas was that you could practically create a major movie-like story, but at almost “zero” the cost of a motion picture.

What were some of your early projects?

My first production was a five-part fan-made audio project, and it was doing this first series that I learned a lot from beginning to end. In the series’ original first episode (which was later replaced by a “special edition” remake) the sound quality was awful, the sound design was awful, the acting was awful (it was just my sister and myself doing all the voices). At the time I didn’t really care, but once the second episode came around I knew it was time to start raising the bar. I tried a few things here and there, but there really was not a significant change in my sound design abilities until the third episode.

Episode three to five sounded almost completely different from the first two episodes… which is why I could not resist the temptation to remake the first two from scratch to bring them up-to-date with the others. As the series concluded and a new series went into production it pretty much became my goal to raise the bar a little higher each time.

For the sound effects, how many did you record yourself, and how many came from pre-designed libraries?

Breaking it down into percentages, I’d say about 30% of the sound design for Stitched Crosses was original, either because there were things I needed that were not in my sound library, or because I just wanted to give it more of an original, ‘from-scratch’ feel. If I remember correctly, all sounds of swords being unsheathed were original; riding [sounds] (such as the jingling of the reigns of a horse) was all original; and any sounds that involved movement of clothes, cloaks, etc., were original, just to name a few.

Another 10-15% of the sound design was original mixes; sounds I didn’t record, but created using various different resources mixed together.

For sounds you recorded or designed, can you share with us that process?

Everything recorded is done right in my room in front of the microphone. For sounds involving clothing, it’s just a matter of getting as close to the microphone as possible and rustling whatever it is your using to perform the desired sound.

For most clothing and cloak movement I simply used my winter coat and rustled it, ruffled it, or slid my hand across it. There’s a scene in the last episode where two of the story’s characters are in a tent. I wanted to capture this setting by having the tent walls flapping in the wind. So I got a couple of coats, shirts, or bed sheets, and shook them. The same applied to the main character’s cloak flapping violently in the wind in the opening scene of the first episode.

For designed sounds, or original mixes, it’s mostly a matter of bringing multiple pre-designed sounds into a sound editing program and mixing them together. For instance, Markus’s sword rings when he pulls it from his sheath. Both the ring and the blade sliding from the sheath are two different sounds. The ring is actually a reverberating sound that resulted after I hit two swords together. So I removed the clang, isolated the ring, and overlaid it on the sound of the sword being pulled from the sheath.

The story has a number of fight scenes told only through effects, with no dialogue, narration, or visuals.  Were these scenes challenging?

Thank the Lord, I had some practice with this in one of my own productions, but it still didn’t downplay the challenge by much. In a scene like this, it can be pretty stressful when you realize, as sound designer, you have to make the scene work. Almost all of the responsibility is on your shoulders.

Without visuals, more attention is paid to the sounds… which means audiences will notice if you are constantly using the same sounds over and over again. This became a fairly big part of the challenge, because there are only so many ‘sword-on-sword’ clanging sound effects out there. Plus it would get boring if you were just sitting there listening to swords clanging against each other.

So I had to get a little creative with livening it up a bit. This included movement sounds, boot scuffles in the dirt, a few surprise combat-moves (such as a kick or a punch) to add in some variety, and getting the voice actors to record several different grunts, groans, and yells.

The end result, I feel, are realistic fight sequences to which you could easily imagine the visuals.

In addition to doing the sound effects you composed and recorded the music for Stitched Crosses.  Who are some of your favorite composers, and did any of them inspire your work on Stitched Crosses?

Some of my favorite composers include Jerry Goldsmith, James Newton Howard, Trevor Jones, and John Williams. All four, though primarily Goldsmith, indeed inspired my work on Stitched Crosses, and inspire my work in general. Searching for the right feel for this production, I was heavily influenced by Goldsmith’s scores for Timeline (the rejected score), The Mummy and The 13th Warrior–the latter two specifically for parts that involved the Middle Eastern world.

While these composers greatly inspire my “sound”, I also take very seriously the importance of discovering and utilizing my own “sound”. Otherwise I’ll just come across as a “copy-cat”… which, unfortunately, seems to be happening with a lot of composers today.

I remember not too long ago when a one-man composed score could only be done in the MIDI format, but yours sounds almost orchestral.  What tools were used to achieve this?

Ah, the good ol’ MIDI days. Well I am very happy that the MIDI era is pretty much behind us now. As our technology progresses, people like me who don’t have access to a live orchestra, but want to express themselves musically, are being given new and wonderful opportunities to do so, thanks to hard-working men and women who develop software in their free time; software that takes actual recordings of live instruments and integrates them into downloadable software that can be loaded into music programs.

Most of the instruments I use sound real because they are real; live recordings of people playing each note on their instruments, all integrated into a piano keyboard (or, in my case, my computer keyboard). It’s then just a matter of turning on the recorder and playing the notes, and then editing any mistakes you made. While I definitely hold up high the programs I use, I am very much looking forward to upgrading my resources in the near future.

There are long interludes of your music during transitions of scenes and set the mood of the drama.  Were you aware how much of a spotlight your music would receive in this drama when you were composing it?

I didn’t know it would be like that going in, but in all honesty… I may have actually pushed for some of those interludes and transitions when I saw the opportunities. A lot of them, specifically the interludes, were not noted in the script. But they seemed logical to add in during time lapses. I’m sure the director didn’t disagree with my choices. Well… I actually know he didn’t because he kept them in! [laughs]

Which piece is your favorite as music overall? And which piece is your favorite within the context of the drama?

Just about all of my personal favorite pieces come in the second half of the dramatization. It at that point where I really feel like I began to find my footing and felt more confident in how far I could take the music.

One of my favorite pieces is a battle track during an ambush sequence (titled “Jerusalem Caravan Ambush” on the soundtrack). I still feel that this particular track turned out better than I expected. Another one would definitely be “The Damascus Road”. This one, I feel, definitely sets the mood of the scene.

Though I’ve learned a lot since composing this soundtrack, and though I may struggle with that part of me that wants to re-compose some of it, I will definitely look back on it with “fondness” (to choose a cheesy word) because it was my very first music composition project. It is very surreal looking at my CD rack and seeing my soundtrack among all the others in my collection. Music means so much to me, and this has been an opportunity that I never truly believed would actually be realized. But God had different plans, and I cannot even thank Him (or Josh & Kasandra Radke) enough for it.

What other projects are you currently working on?

Aside from composing a bit of freelance/non-profit music here and there for various other things, I have recently been “re-called” to compose the soundtrack for Grail Quest Books’ upcoming audio production, Shadow of the Stars: Savus, which I am really looking forward to.

Joe’s God-given musical talent has inspired and touched people long before Grail Quest Books was led across his path. Below are comments from some of Joe’s family, friends, and fellow cast-mates on Stitched Crosses about his music and how it has played a role in their lives:

“When I got Joe’s music I immediately put in on my MP3 player and looped it. The “love theme” he composed for Markus and Mairin is so beautiful!”
Vanessa Martin

+ + +

“I couldn’t believe that the soundtrack was composed digitally. When I first heard it I thought that Josh and Joe somehow had gotten access to a live orchestra.”
Tony Zore

+ + +

“Music is the third most important element to my writing–after God and my pen. To hear Joe put the world of Markus to music has been a dream come true for this writer, and a real honour. As a lover of film, I have always wanted to know what it was like when George Lucas collaborated with John Williams or William Wyler with Miklós Rózsa or anyone with Hans Zimmer. Joe has given me a real good taste of that relationship between story teller and musician, and I look forward to all further opportunities to work with Joe again, if it be in accordance with God’s will for our careers.”
Joshua Rothe

+ + +

“When I got Joe’s Stitched Crosses soundtrack in the mail, I immediately digitized it and put it on my iPod.  And now sometimes, when I have trouble sleeping, I will queue up the last three or so tracks of his on the album and listen to them to help me fall asleep.  You may be tempted to think I do this because it’s boring music, but it’s not.  It’s calming and relaxing and these three tracks especially help inspire me to take on the next day.

“I can’t wait for Joe to get a shot at conducting a live orchestra recording session of his own compositions.  With a developing talent like his, I’m sure that day will come.”
Chris Walker

+ + +

“I have had the pleasure of following Joe’s work in the audio mixing field since he emerged in the fan audio community back in 2005. Since then, his talents have only grown, and I have had the chance to spend time with Joe at ConCarolinas. You couldn’t ask for a more talented young composer in the audio drama field, nor a gent with more integrity and enthusiasm for the genre.”
Nathan P. Butler

+ + +

“I’ve known Joe for some time, and have always been impressed with his talent as an audio play producer, editor and actor. He’s always had a knack for choosing the right music and for his amazing sense of timing. I was even more impressed when I heard that no only did he compose music, but he is a fabulous soundtrack composer! Where did this guy come from?!

“His score for GQB’s Stitched Crosses was so profoundly appropriate, setting the mood perfectly for the story. I really felt like I was there riding alongside Marcus on his quest. He made my narrations sound good to boot!”
R. Douglas Barbieri

+ + +

“I have to say I am so jealous of my brother Joe. I have been obsessed with music scores as long as I can remember-I collect pretty much any I can get my hands on. Me and Joe grew up super close and he loves scores just as much as I do, but he turned that love into action and now he’s kicking tails and taking numbers doing musical score. I am totally amazed and awed every time I listen to something he’s composed because he really has that golden age of film scores sound down-I am talking Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Alan Silvestri, Hans Zimmer, and John Williams in the times before people forgot that music was supposed to be a personality and a feeling and not just background noise. Joe makes the music a personality and a feeling and it makes everything it accompanies feel so much more magical and real.

“His music tells a story and gives wings to stories already written, I am so proud and JEALOUS of him it makes me sick! 😀 It just makes me happy to see him using a God-given talent and using it so well. His music gives me chills and makes me want to hear more…which in my book are the keys to being one of the greats. 🙂

“Joe I have to say that I think if Jerry were still alive and he heard your music; it would bring a smile to his face. I love you!”
Sarah Gilbertson

Arnie is a writer and podcaster who can be found on Star Wars Action News, Now Playing, and Books & Nachos where he has interviewed a number of authors, game developers, actors, and other creative types.

Interview with WARS™ Author Nathan P. Butler

Arnie Carvalho recently had an opportunity to sit down with the author of the first-ever official fictional work commercially released for Decipher, Inc.’s WARS™ franchise, The Battle of Phobos – “Healers and Hunters”:

AC: How did you get started writing?

NPB: (laughs) Apparently, I anger the right people.

In high school, I had been considering journalism as a career, but I ended up leaving the journalism program after publicly admonishing (as the Editor-in-Chief of the school paper) our superintendent to apologize to students for a summer schedule change that I, in my youthful vigor and ignorance, compared to pickpocketing. (The original draft referred to it in harsher terms.) As they say, fecal matter rolls downhill, so once the superintendent saw the article, I found myself in the doghouse and demoted, despite winning awards and acclaim for the paper statewide with my writing.

At that point, I had already somewhat recognized wanting to do fiction or humor, rather than straight news, so I gave up on the journalism idea and very soon after found my real calling with teaching, thanks to an Advanced Placement U.S. History teacher.

A couple of years later, my first podcast, ChronoRadio (“the Star Wars continuity buff’s” internet radio show), featured an editorial (i.e. rant) on the state of Star Wars comic publishing with Dark Horse Comics at the time. It was an era in which spelling errors were frequent and the company couldn’t release a Star Wars comic on time with its own street date schedule to save its life. My rant on the subject caught the attention of Dave Land, one of the Star Wars editors, while I was already engaging in a heated discussion about continuity with lead Star Wars editor Randy Stradley.

The Star Wars Tales anthology line was about to be canceled with its twentieth issue, but the last of the editors, Associate Editor Jeremy Barlow, was given a chance to revamp the title for a year (four issues). In that revamping, which focused more on longer stories and in-continuity tales, Jeremy wanted to use some less established talent. As he later explained, he’d heard about my Star Wars fan audio dramas (specifically Second Strike), seen my understanding of continuity with my Star Wars Timeline Gold, and recognized my passion for quality on ChronoRadio, so he decided to invite me to write a story for Star Wars Tales #21.

That was my first professional writing gig, after which I produced two self-published books (in print and podcast format), a novella called Echoes and a novel called Greater Good. It was the latter and my Star Wars Tales story, I believe, that got the attention of Josh Radke here at Grail Quest Books and led to me writing for the WARS™: Battle of Phobos novella series.

With this being your first commercially published novel, how was the writing experience different?

The experience was actually quite a bit like writing for Star Wars Tales. You’re working with someone else’s universe and a three-tiered structure behind the scenes: writer; publisher; and copyright holder.

From a prose writing standpoint, though, the biggest differences have been in having set time deadlines and answering to an editor. For Echoes and Greater Good, the only deadlines were what I set for myself, which was nice, but I was also playing the roles of editor, cover designer, typesetter, etc. In the case of the WARS™ series, I had set deadlines that had to be met, which was stressful at times, and I had to work with an editor.

Working with an editor, whether with WARS™ or Star Wars Tales, is always a balancing act. On the one hand, you want someone to make your work tighter, better, and more easily understandable to the audience. On the other, a writer can often get “married” to his own phrasing and word choices, and any change can be frustrating if you don’t “let go” and let the process work.

With WARS™  being a licensed property, what restrictions did you work with on your story?

Unlike with Star Wars, the universe of WARS™ is something that finds its rich detail mostly in terms of source materials, rather than previously-published prose fiction. That gave all of us a great universe in which to work, rife with interesting characters, locations, and technology, but not a lot of required story frameworks. What story elements did exist tended to be in terms of general backstory or some running themes in the WARS™  Trading Card Game.

Similar to writing in Star Wars, though, sometimes you end up with the endpoint already known. In a sense, [the Battle of Phobos illustrated novella series is] a trilogy of prequel trilogies (one for each of the Earther, Gongen, and Maverick factions) to the WARS™ card and roleplaying games. Phobos is set three years prior to the appearance of the Mumon Rift, a System-wide event that sets up the main conflict in the games.

I had to keep the characters true to what we saw in the game, but we knew very little of their backgrounds in most cases. I set about writing a story that, in part, would help push the chosen characters to where they had to be by the time of the games. For example, a short story called “Cloud” had previously introduced how Jannett Yens is promoted from a CISyn guru of Level I to Level II. How did she gain that initial position, and was she always a CISyn guru? That’s part of the story I set out to tell.

Were there any ideas for your novella that you could not use due to the license?

There weren’t any specific ideas that could not be done, per se, but I did sometimes tweak my ideas to fit the universe. For example, space travel in WARS™ with a GRAVdrive is a very specific process in the games. You can’t just “fudge it” like in other sci-fi series, where travel times become a mess of inconsistencies to the point where you just ignore it. It helps the universe feel more realistic, but it does cause one to have to step back and think through things a bit more in terms of how characters move within the Solar System.

Were you familiar with WARS™  before you were contacted to write the book?

I had never heard of WARS™ until that point. I had been a big player and collector of Decipher’s Star Wars Customizable Card Game (SWCCG) back in its early days, so I was familiar with the company and the game mechanics of the SWCCG (which were revived and revised for the WARS™  TCG after the SWCCG ended).

What sort of research did you do for WARS™ ?

Fortunately for me, WARS™ is a universe without a lot of pre-existing materials. I was able, in a very short time, to find copies of the three WARS™ RPG books from Mongoose Publishing and plenty of WARS™  TCG starter decks and booster packs from the two published sets (Incursion and Nowhere to Hide). Between those materials, the original short stories, and the background material I was given, I was able to get a good feel for the universe.

Do you enjoy the game?

I have not played the TCG much, but what playing I have done has been enjoyable. It captures all of the good parts of the SWCCG without all of the “excess baggage” rules that started to bog that game down by the end of its run. As for the RPG, I’ve not had an opportunity played it at all.

Were there any other Decipher CCGs you are a fan of playing?

Just the aforementioned Star Wars Customizable Card Game. I never played their other Star Wars card games, Young Jedi and Jedi Knights.

Why do a novella on WARS™  in 2010 when the last card set for the game was released in very early 2006?  Do you know of any plans to revive this game?

The goal, I believe, is to revitalize the property as a whole; I have not heard of any specific plans to revive the game at this time. There’s a strong fan base out there and it’s a rich universe for storytelling when explored. Between the novellas and the comic series (coming later), I’m optimistic that his will be a new beginning for WARS™ , rather than a tacked-on “expanded universe” approach after the fact.

Which parts of your novella are based on original ideas, and which were drawn from the existing WARS™  universe?

It is really hard to say which parts are original and which aren’t, as the original ideas are all meant to develop pre-existing ideas. Most of the characters are from the original game: Rogan Hallard, Jerlen Krae, Jannett Yens, Jossel Swin, Jylan Rathe, and so on. Thomason Grayger, the XeLabs scientist that acts as the focal point of the story, is an original character, but his technology, the Shroud, is from the game. It all interweaves, really.

Outer Rim–a WARS™  term or Star Wars term?

Both. The Outer Rim in Star Wars is the far-out regions of the galaxy far, far away. In WARS™ , it refers to the outer regions of the Solar System around our sun (Sol).

WARS™  was begun out of the death of Decipher’s Star Wars CCG; very similar game mechanics were used with a new universe of ships, locations, and so on.  As you are a well known Star Wars fan, and author of a Star Wars comic, did that comparison help you get a faster grip on the WARS™  universe?  For example, The Shadowsurfer could be seen as your novel’s Millennium Falcon

The Star Wars CCG did help me in writing the first Earther WARS™ novella, but not as you might expect. I’m a fan of space-based science fiction, so things like Star Wars, Babylon 5, and the like have influenced how I write space fiction, certainly, but the SWCCG was more useful in that I understood its game mechanics, so I could, at times, consider the game statistics and mechanics of the similar WARS™  TCG to make sure that the universe was consistent between the game and the novella.

The Millennium Falcon and Shadowsurfer comparison is apt, though. The card for the ship makes it look like a starfighter, but its stats reflect much greater capacity, so it definitely wound up feeling like a Millennium Falcon when writing: not huge, but not starfighter size either.

Likewise for inspiration, when reading your character of Jerlen, his description early on made me picture him in the book as Michael Clarke Duncan.  Was he who you had in mind for Jerlen, or did you have anyone specific in mind when writing him?

I think Jerlen in my mind was a lot like Michael Clarke Duncan or Hershel Dalton (Heavy Duty from G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra). I usually tried to picture him as we see him in the game, but there’s only the Ranger Watchman card to show him, as far as I recall.

Given that this is a novella, will it be published stand-alone or as part of a collection?

For the moment, each novella is released individually. They can stand alone as far as story, but characters will build over the course of all three novellas for each faction, and some characters will cross over between factions, all leading up to the Battle of Phobos. They will be released as a trilogy of omnibus editions later, but concerning the specifics of those releases, I couldn’t say. That’s not really my part of the process.

With some of the lingering storylines in this book, were you asked specifically to “set up” anything for future novels?

Other than leading up to the Battle of Phobos and, later, the TCG and RPG situations, the only real “set up” for the first Earther novella was that we wanted to consider which heroes would make most sense from the Earther perspective. The games did a good job of introducing a lot of characters, and the background of the universe is very intriguing in that it doesn’t make any one faction “right” or “wrong,” “good” or “evil.” It is all very much based on each faction’s own perspective. In the game, though, these perspectives did not each have a core group of characters to present these perspectives. Instead, you picked whomever you wanted to use while gaming.

In considering the series, Josh and Decipher had the important notion that we needed a group of core characters that could be associated with each faction. In Star Wars, when you think “Rebellion,” you think Luke Skywalker or Leia Organa usually. In Babylon 5, when you think Centauri, you think Londo Mollari or Vir Cotto. WARS™ did not have that, so we have set out to create that core group of characters, a sort of “Fellowship of the Factions,” akin to the drawing together of heroes in The Lord of the Rings to make a focal point for each faction and the WARS™ saga in general.

My job was to introduce the universe for those who hadn’t played the games and to develop and draw together some of these key players, such as Rogan Hallard from XeLabs.

In your book you have the Earther Sergeant Swin who is seen as being mad by several characters for his violent tactics, but given the extreme circumstances might Swin’s actions also be seen as justifiable for the sake of keeping his squad alive in the face of hostile and mysterious attacks?  He seems to think so; the uniform condemnation of his actions under harsh circumstances seemed surprising.

Well, bear in mind that we are only really seeing Jossel Swin’s actions from the perspectives of Rogan Hallard, Jannett Yens, and Swin himself.

Swin, of course, will certainly feel justified in his actions, and I wanted to present him as someone who has taken the needs of Earth a bit far in practice, even if he feels justified. His TCG card lore specifically calls him “a former squad leader,” noting that he “was demoted when his hatred of the Mavericks manifested in extreme violence.”

With Jannett, she’s relatively young and still marginally idealistic, so it would bother her to see Swin’s more violent actions, while Rogan, who considers himself a sort of soldier-healer, would be bothered, at least to a degree, by Swin’s more brutal acts.
So, yes, Swin could certainly be justified, especially in his own eyes or those of his superiors when those acts lead to success, but our more heroic characters are taken aback by their own consciences.

At the end of the book there seem to be some dangling mysteries.  Any plans for a follow-up to continue with the story of the mysterious informant and Jylan Rathe?

Jylan Rathe will definitely be reappearing in the overall novella series, as he is the major WARS™ player for CISyn in the games. (He also appears in the two-part Nowhere to Hide short story series.) I find him pretty intriguing.

As for the Gambler, who kicks off the first WARS™ novella by contacting Rathe . . . I personally don’t yet plan to use him again, but you never know. The trick with the Gambler is that his gang, the Cartel, is only one of quite a few Maverick gangs in the WARS™ universe, and those groups don’t coordinate much at all until later in the chronology, closer to the games. Stories with Mavericks involved might include the Cartel or the Gambler, or they might end up with entirely different gangs and characters.

My focus is on the Earther characters, which makes it much more likely that we’ll see Earther characters return in “my” faction’s novellas, but those may not feature Mavericks at all the next time around. Remember: there are plenty of power plays amongst the Earther corporations, and Gongen is still out there as well . . .

Looking back on your first WARS™  writing experience, what are your thoughts?

Overall, I found the experience to be rewarding, if stressful. Writing for a licensed property with deadlines and a shared universe is a very different beast than writing in your own universe with yourself as editor. But I think I’ve done right by the property and am now a dedicated fan of the WARS™  universe myself.

What are you currently working on?

At the moment, I would say I’m in a “holding pattern.” I have ideas for some other original works, but none are on the front burner at the moment, as I [go through the riggors of a school] year of teaching (my primary profession). I have ideas floating around in detail for the second Earther novella, which I’m about a quarter of the way through in terms of the initial manuscript draft.

If readers find your writing in the WARS™  series and want to read more of your work, are your earlier works available?

My self-published novella (Echoes) and novel (Greater Good) are both currently available at Lulu.com, though I am also pursuing an interested publisher at the moment. My Star Wars Tales story can be found in Issue #21, trade paperback volume #6, or as a Hasbro Comic Pack with action figures of Kyle Katarn and a Yuuzhan Vong warrior. The former two can be found at comic shops and places like TFAW.com; the comic pack is available in toy stores, though it is pretty hard to find at this point.

Arnie is a writer and podcaster who can be found on Star Wars Action News, Now Playing, and Books & Nachos where he has interviewed a number of authors, game developers, actors, and other creative types.

A Conversation Round-table with the Stitched Crosses Audio Drama Cast

Arnie Carvalho recently had an opportunity to sit down with the cast & crew of from Stitched Crosses: The Audio Drama. The following is the cast portion of his conversations:

––––––––––∞ Can you tell us what acting you all have done before this?

Vanessa: I’ve done most of my acting in school-funded drama/theater clubs from high school through college. I’ve also branched out and worked in some local community theaters.

Chris: I did some stage plays and stuff in high school before I decided it was something worth doing. I’m still learning stuff, but back then I [acted] because I wasn’t much interested in doing sports.

Doug: I was involved in high school stage plays, and some amateur radio that we did in those days.

Tom: This was my first time doing acting of any kind, so it was an exciting experience, if a little scary.

∞ Have any of you worked in audio-only (radio) format before?

Doug: Yes. I have been very active in recent years in many audio-only productions and one flash animation project. I have recently been cast as “The Doctor” in the Doctor Who Audio Dramas, a production that has been running for the last twenty years (done in those pre-Internet days on audio tape).

Tom: As this was my first acting role, I can’t say I have much of a history! I have been running my own (podcast) show for a few months now, so I have some experience with recording, editing and mixing audio, especially for recording my lines.

Chris: Aside from various (fan-made) Star Wars dramas, I’ve done some things in college for a class I was taking. I was able to turn one of the Star Wars scripts I wrote into an assignment. It was a short audio play that someone professionally edited into a full-cast audio drama for me, and that was a real treat. It showed me what was possible in the audio world, and gave me an glimpse of how things change from “script to waveform.”

Vanessa: I had never done any voice recording or anything related to audio dramas before, that’s partly why I was so interested in the project; I love trying new things.

Any favorite dramatizations, either that you have worked on in the past or enjoy as a listener?

Chris: I think the initial fascination with doing this [format] happened when my parents bought my brothers and I these full-cast childrens’ audio dramas called Adventures in Odyssey. That was almost twenty years ago now, and that show is still going strong. I still listen to it, actually. Despite it being aimed at kids, there’s enough adventure and intrigue in them to hold my interest as an adult. Another one I love is Focus on the Family Radio Theatre’s adaptation of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series.

Doug: I have been enjoying Jim Nolan, Detective recently, Joe Harrison’s Star Wars (fan) productions, and Doctor Who Audio Dramas.

Tom: I’m not fond of general talk radio, but shows discussing a specific topic, and radio dramas, are of great interest to me. Two of my personal favourites are, for one, the commercial adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society under the banner: Dark Adventure Radio Theatre. These are of the highest quality, with excellent actors and attention to detail, including period-style advertisements!

And second, The Decoder Ring Theatre shows. These are great, free radio-style dramas based in the pulp/crime fiction genre, with fast-talking, wise-cracking detectives and slimy criminals.

Vanessa: I never really knew what radio dramas were before I came to Husson University and heard one of the A Christmas Carol live on school’s radio station.

Did anyone have any interaction with their fellow cast members, playing scenes off each other or discussing character motivations?

Vanessa: Unfortunately, the cast for Stitched Crosses is a pretty [geographically] scattered group, and while I would like to someday meet them, I’ve never gotten the pleasure of really talking to them. Thankfully I knew Josh, who wrote the script, and was able to discuss with him how he saw Mairin.

Doug: Sadly, the only interaction I received was with Josh himself, and that was through email. I’ve been involved in two productions where we used Skype to rehearse scenes (Russ Gold’s Misfile and Merodi’s Dreamcatcher).

Tom: Even though we did not have a huge amount of contact, [my] initial recordings of the lines usually made the grade each time. I did do a few extra takes and I would listen to the lines of the other actor in that case so that I could fit my speech to theirs.

Chris: Yeah, it would have been nice, but what usually happens with audio dramas is that each actor records their lines separately. It’s not usually like it is on television and film where one can practice in the same room with one’s fellow castmates.

What drew you all to this project?

Vanessa: Originally curiosity got me to read the audition segment for Mairin after being told by a friend about the part. After reading that little segment I was extremely intrigued by the character. It’s rare to find a character like Mairin in today’s scripts. She wasn’t tainted by the world of sex, drugs, and violence that we all seem to live in today. Mairin has a inner strength and resolve that I admired about her.

Tom: I really wanted to improve my recording and voice acting skills in advance of releasing my own fiction audiobook, so this project gave me a lot of skills to do so.

Chris: For me–it wasn’t Star Wars, and it was interesting. It was a chance to do something bigger than what I had been doing; something professional. Not that a lot of the Star Wars stuff I did wasn’t professional–a lot of it is very much worth listening to–but it was fan-made, you know? This was a shot at something people couldn’t just pidgeonhole as amateur without even listening to it. And I didn’t want to pass an opportunity like that up.

Doug: I was recommended to Josh by Joe Harrison, who, as I mentioned, I worked with in previous productions.

Tom is English, so I imagine the accent needed for the audio adaptation of the story wasn’t a problem for him. But Chris and Vanessa: was the accent hard to affect for you?

Chris: I remember while in high school I was trying to learn the British accent. So I spent a lot of time with Monty Python and any British audio or TV that I could get my hands on and repeating the words those people on the screen said back to the screen in the accent. Then while on a trip to England, I stopped into one of those stores that sold magazines and newspapers in Windsor I think to ask for one of their two-pound coins, as I was collecting their currency at the time, and I said to myself, “To heck with it” and asked for it in the accent. They looked at me a little funny, but that was the first time I got the confidence up to actually try it out on someone. But I digress.

It wasn’t too hard because I have been practicing at it for several years now. What was challenging was keeping it consistent. I had to make sure I wouldn’t say certain words in the American way, like “either”, because while an American listener wouldn’t think twice, someone who hears that accent every day would be pulled right out of the story. I think I did a pretty good job at it, but who can say? I hope I can get some fair-minded critiques from [anyone] who does speak in the accent.

Vanessa: Surprisingly I did not have any problems. Occasionally I’d run across words that took me a few tries to get to sound like proper English, but I was thankfully rather well trained in an English accent before I started the project.

Chris, the audio drama is about 3 hours long and your character is the focus of many of the scenes. How long did you spend recording?

Chris: I did eight principal recording sessions and recorded a little over 300 minutes of audio in them. Including time for setup and pickup lines and I come up with around six hours, give or take. I spent probably the equivalent amount preparing for the role. When you break it down like that it doesn’t seem very long at all, but going through [the process] I felt like I put a lot more [time] into it.

Your character, Markus, is a character having a crisis of faith. Was it difficult to put yourself in that mindset?

Chris: Well, yes and no. Yes, it was hard to get into his mindset because his dilemma wasn’t something I had personally grappled with. But there were experiences that I was going through at the time that I could grab a hold of and channel into the character. It was hard to do this because I had done no formal acting training, so I hadn’t been taught the exercises to do this easily, or even that I should be doing it in the first place. But I did manage to do it somewhat instinctively, and I hope convincingly. Once I had figured it out for a particular stage in the character’s journey, things flowed easily until the next stage began to develop.

Tom, your character in this drama seems unenviable for an actor to take, as it is the role of a wise man who’s wisdom remains unheard repeatedly. How did you approach this challenge?

Tom: I considered the performances of actors who have taken on this kind of role, the conscience or mentor of the story: Alec Guiness, Sean Connery etc. With this understanding of the thematic importance of the character, it then became a much more natural process to perform his role.

Could you to relate to Charle at all?

Tom: Charle is a religious man, and his life revolves around his beliefs. In that sense, we are both very similar, so I found it very easy to relate to him. While I do not share Charle’s religious views, and I find some of the specifics of his theology to be flawed, I agree wholeheartedly with his overall goals.

Vanessa, Mairin is repeatedly rejected by Markus, yet you play the character as resilient rather than needy or hurt. Was this your choice in the characterization?

Vanessa: This was a bit of a personal choice from what I’ve learned from playing British characters; they’re a very reserved and intelligent people with gumption. With Mairin I always felt that if she was going to keep putting herself out there, it was because she knew deep down that she was right and she had the patience for Markus to come around to the fact. Josh seemed to like how I did this and how it added to the resolve and inner strength of the character.

If she had been played more as a needy or hurt woman, she would’ve come off as weak. That’s not the kind of woman that Markus needed by his side, he needed someone patient and stubborn, someone to push back and make him want to be a better person.

What is your opinion of Mairin and the choices she makes in her life in regards to her love for Markus?

Vanessa: I admire her for her patience and stubbornness when it came to knowing what she wanted. Some people spend their whole lives looking for the person they’re meant to love, and when she found hers she wasn’t about to let him push her away just because he considered himself damaged goods.

I loved the fact that she makes such an impression on him, that when times are tough, she’s the one Markus would think about. For instance the flashback of when he’s getting ready to leave and she will not let him leave his Templar tunic, [focusing specifically on the importance of] the cross. I love how she won that argument, and while he didn’t wear the tunic he still packed it and ends up wearing a cross–Mairin’s cross necklace.

Being the narrator in this piece, Doug, did you look to any other narrations specifically for inspiration?

Doug: Yes, I am very inspired by Jim Dale, who read the Harry Potter novels for audio book format.

What qualities does the voice of a narrator need to possess?

Doug: I believe a good narrator requires a decent buzz in his voice, an even meter to his voice, and the ability to speak the words as if he was actually there, experiencing the situation he is describing. Remember, you are the eyes and ears of the listener so you have to set the mood and the tone.

To the players: What scene was the most difficult for you to nail in the drama, and why?

Chris: The most difficult scene was perhaps any scene with a lot of Ye Olde English in it. Those words were hard to spit out and I wasn’t even sure when I first read them what some of them meant. I will tell you the most fun scene to do though, and that was the part where Markus finally gets to where he thinks he needs to go and he has a very memorable one-sided conversation with God.

Tom: I would say the final scenes were the most difficult. Charle has been a man of action for the entire story, running here and there, getting people emotionally and physically to the right places. In the final scenes there’s little more he can do except sit back and watch. It was quite a shift in his mindset.

Vanessa: That would be when the (castle) fight breaks out. At the time of recording we didn’t have any of the sound effects in place, so as an actor you have no real idea what’s going on. That’s the worst possible scenario, because it’s hard to gauge what’s wanted or expected from you. If memory serves that was the most recording on different stressful reactions and sounds, trying to figure out what might work. After getting the recording for Markus’ reactions we re-recorded Mairin since we had an idea of the intensity present in the scene, and I had something to react off of.

Doug, you had to pronounce a lot of unusual names of people and places during this drama. Did you have problems with any of the pronunciations? Did you have to rerecord any of them?

Doug: Yes there were a few trouble words I tripped over and had to retake. “Hospitaller” (HosPEETaler) was one I found myself having a very hard time pronouncing. Another was “Audaciter per Deus,” which required me to roll my ‘R’s…sometimes difficult to do to switch back to the more British Rs in the same sentence.

I also had the most difficulty with the huge monologue describing the duel between Markus and Gerard de Ridefort. It goes on for three pages with a ton of detail. I had to create a pacing that mirrored the kinetic excitement of the fight, and then dial it back [towards the end]. It was challenging.

Also, Josh had to change the final line in Latin after I already had made a good take of the original. He had discovered that his translation was wrong. So I had to retake: “Numquam desperate, confidite deo”.

When you listened to the final work, did any scenes surprise you or come out radically different than you had envisioned when recording the lines?

Vanessa: The only thing that really came out like nothing I expected was the fight [in the castle]. It’s really different hearing the different weapons being used to reading a description on paper. In general it was really interesting to hear how Markus and Mairin played off each other; you would’ve thought we had recorded together instead of in different time zones.

Tom: The surprises for me were not related to specific scenes. Josh’s script was pretty solid from the start, and I can only remember a couple of changes being made for second or third takes when an idea required more exposition or a scene needed to be adapted better for the format. Instead, I was blown away with how professional the performances were, particularly Chris’s performance as Markus.

Chris: I’ve only had an opportunity to listen to the first three parts, and they were pretty much how I expected it, which I think means that Rothe did a good job writing and directing the piece.

Looking back on your experiences, what did you learn as being part of the Stitched Crosses audio production?

Chris: I think you can probably tell that I was able to learn a lot about acting; I was able to push myself farther than I had before. It was worth all the time and effort, and I can’t wait to apply what I’ve learned in my next acting ventures.

Tom: I have become more organised as a person. I needed get the lines recorded when the house would be quiet, and also to deliver them before the deadline. That has helped me when working on other projects, including podcasts, videos and my own fiction. It has also given me more motivation creatively, as I have seen a project grow from early in the process until the creation of the final product. The dedication from the team inspired me to finish my own projects, and I now have a completed novel to show for it.

Vanessa: Well I definitely learned a whole lot about audio dramas and all the work that goes into them; recording the actor’s voices, the tweaking involved when it comes to adding the music and sound effects, cutting together everyone’s voices to sound continuous, and how time intensive it all really is. In the end though it was all really worth it and I’m excited to do it again in the future with another Grail Quest Books audio drama, Shadow of the Stars.

Doug: I learned a lot about this time period. It must have been a very uneasy time, especially in these holy lands when Muslims and Christians were having to live side by side, each of the powers trying to gain control of the same lands. You have Rome, the Saxons, the Normans, the Moors, the Templars, big players like Saladin and Richard the Lionheart. A very rich backdrop that I think Josh did a fantastic job weaving (pun intended) the story into.

Arnie is a writer and podcaster who can be found on Star Wars Action News, Now Playing, and Books & Nachos where he has interviewed a number of authors, game developers, actors, and other creative types.

Readers can follow-up on Chris Walker at his blog, Tom Baynham’s prose work at Smashswords, and Douglas Barbieri at his Facebook page.

Stitched Crosses: The Audio Drama and the related soundtrack can be purchase in a variety of ways, including Amazon.com and Audible.com. You can find the details here.