Writer Wednesday – Steven S. Long

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Tell us (briefly) about you…
I’m Steven S. Long, writer and game designer. I’m in my late 40s and live in Greensboro, NC in a book-filled house along with my cat Persimmon. When I’m not busy writing or reading, I collect antique maps and travel books from the 1920s and ’30s, go for walks, birdwatch, entertain Persimmon, or watch movies in my custom-designed home theater.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
For most of the past 20 years I’ve worked primarily as a writer/designer in the roleplaying game field — I’ve written or co-written about 200 RPGs or RPG supplements. I’m best known for my work on the HERO System/Champions, but I’ve written for many other games during my career.

In recent years I’ve branched out into writing fiction as well, and am definitely enjoying the new challenge. Fiction uses different “writing muscles” than RPGs, so “exercising” them improves my writing overall.

You can find a full list of my current fiction credits at my website, http://www.stevenslong.com/

And my Author Central page at Amazon has some of my RPG books as well: http://www.amazon.com/Steven-S.-Long/e/B00CA5HF4M

…and what you’re working on right now.
I am currently focused on my first major non-fiction work: Odin, The Viking All-Father, for Osprey Publishing’s “Myths and Legends” series. Given my life-long interest in Norse mythology (see below), it’s been a dream project to work on.

Additionally, I’m working on short stories for several anthologies I’ve been asked to participate in, stretch goal contributions I’m providing for several Kickstarters, and when I can on my major long-term project, Mythic Hero. MH is a book about world mythology for gaming; I’ve been working on it for 2½ years so far and have at least that much more to go.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
Wow, good question. I’m not sure if this is the absolute earliest one, but the most significant, I think, is my memory of pulling D’Aulaires’ Norse Gods and Giants off the bookshelf in my elementary school library and becoming captivated by it. I don’t know for sure what attracted me to it — quite possibly the art, which I still enjoy looking at today — but that led to a life-long interest in mythology, and then Fantasy and Science Fiction. In a sense you can trace my entire career back to that one book.

What are your three favorite books?
That’s a tough one! There are so many good books. I’m going to exclude genre fiction from this, because that’s really a separate discussion altogether. 😉 If I absolutely had to pick, I would say: The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings; King Of The Confessors, by Thomas Hoving; and The Children Of Odin, by Padraic Colum.

For a list of Fantasy fiction I like, see http://www.stevenslong.com/articles/ — though I need to update that list with some of the good stuff I’ve come across in the last couple years. It’s hard to find a Fantasy novel I truly enjoy these days, but every now and then I get lucky. 🙂

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
Excluding anything I’m reading for research purposes, I usually have two or three going at any given time. Often this is because while I’m in the middle of one book, another comes along that takes priority. For example, if I’m published in an anthology, I try to read the rest of the stories in that anthology ASAP in case anyone asks me about it. If a series that I like gets a new book, I often give that priority (though these days I usually wait until a series is done before reading it — saves time).

Currently I’m working my way through several collections of the early short stories of one of my most favorite Fantasy/Science Fiction authors, Jack Vance. I’m eagerly awaiting several books due out later this year, including J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf and the latest Deryni novel from Katherine Kurtz.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
…have to be careful not to get attacked by a nap.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
You have to re-read good books, there’s no question about it! I re-read some light favorites pretty much every year. I think re-reading is important not only for the sheer fun of it, but because a book that appeals to you often does so on multiple levels, and you don’t always catch everything on one read-through. For example, I’ve read Gene Wolfe’s Book Of The New Sun quadrilogy at least half a dozen times, and I’m certain that I’m still missing cool things in it.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Pretty likely. If a friend whose taste I trust tells me I’ll like something, I’m willing to give it a shot. After all, if I don’t like it I can just quit reading it. There’s no law that says you have to finish a bad book.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Very, very likely. I’m not known for keeping my mouth shut when I dislike something, but by the same token on those (sadly rarer) occasions when I find something I really like, I don’t hesitate to recommend it. For example, just this year alone I’ve gotten a couple friends hooked on reading Patrick Rothfuss’s “Kingkiller Chronicles” novels.

What do you look for in a good book?
That’s a tough one to answer, but I’d say that what it really boils down to is that I want to be swept up in the story. I want to care about the characters, what they do, what happens to them. I want the setting to come alive. And in the case of Fantasy fiction (my usual pleasure reading), I want that sense of wonder, majesty, and awe that I think Fantasy should have. A lot of older writers (Dunsany, Tolkien, Vance, Howard, Carter…) knew how to create that and infuse their stories with it. Few writers these days do, at least for my taste.

Why do you write?
It’s my creative outlet — I’d do it even if I weren’t getting paid for it (but I’m glad that I am). That’s not a very original answer, I admit, but that’s the way it is. 😉

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
I used to be an attorney, but I don’t think I’d go back to that. If I could pick anything? Hmmm… archaeologist? architect? artist? ninja? psychiatrist? FBI agent? professor? There are so many cool things to do that it’s difficult to pick just one.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Everywhere and anywhere! There are story possibilities in just about every little thing you encounter or sense during the day. For example, I’m currently writing a short story inspired by the little patch of woods half a block from my house.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
Ummmm… plaid? I don’t know that it’s taught me anything about myself, really. I don’t think of it as a spiritual process.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
They’re supportive of it and curious about it. I know some of them think what I do is a little “unusual,” but that’s pretty much correct. 😉 And I think a few of them are jealous of my control over my own schedule.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
Probably any and all of them. Writers are such a diverse bunch that I don’t think you can accurately say much about us as a group other than that we write.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
The same challenge writers have always had — getting noticed, attracting readers/customers. Self-publishing offers possibilities that never existed before, which is great, but I don’t think the odds of a starting writer succeeding via self-publishing are much different than they’ve always been via “traditional” publishing.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Oh, sure, lots of them. Little things, mostly, but looking back on my work I can see them. I like to think that every book or story I write, I learn something.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
It’s hard to name just one! There are so many things I’d love to work on. For example there are lots of licensed RPGs for favorite IPs of mine that I never got to work on. From a fiction standpoint, I’d love to be involved in creating a classic “shared world” anthology that went on to become a big success.

How do you deal with your fan base?
With as much respect and love as possible! I really appreciate my fans and am grateful for every one of them. I just wish I had a few million more. 😉

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
That I’m really not that big a fan of many IPs in genre culture. Some of the biggest or most popular (e.g., Superman, Star Wars) just don’t hold that much appeal for me. I often seem to be attracted to the old and now-neglected stuff, the quirky classics, the obscure authors.

 

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