Notes coming soon!
Read Necropolis PD and Connect with Nathan:
When I have a minute, I will correct these time stamps, but know they are off by the length of the intro music and pre-interview portion. Sorry!
00:00 Rekka: Okay, everyone I have with me, Nathan R. Sumsion, whose book, Necropolis PD, is coming out this Tuesday, as we’re speaking, from Harvest Press. When you hear this, it will already be out. So, as soon as you get off this interview from your podcast recording, head on— you know what, you can multi-task. Head on over to Amazon right now, or drive yourself to Barnes and Noble, and pick up a copy of Necropolis PD so you get to see what we’re talking about. So hello, Nathan, and thank you for joining us today.
00:29 Nathan: Hello. Thanks for talking to me.
00:31 Rekka: So, this is your debut novel.
00:34 Nathan: It is, yeah. First one.
00:35 Rekka: As it is being recorded right now, we are, we are on Saturday. It’s coming out Tuesday. How do you feel?
Nathan: 00:42 I’m really excited.
Rekka: 00:44 It’s a whole thing, right?
Nathan: 00:44 This is great. Yeah, this has been something I’ve, you know, I’ve always considered myself an author, but not having an actual book out kind of doesn’t meet the definition of an author. So this is—
Rekka: 00:57 That’s a funny one because you hear people talk on— I see a lot of pep talks from professional writers on Twitter and the, there’s like a definition of writer that like if you write, you’re a writer. So there’s a lot of self-rejection for people calling themselves writers. But the word “author” does tend to feel like, okay, where’s your book? If you’re going to call yourself an author.
Nathan: 01:20 Yes.
Rekka: 01:20 I’ve heard arguments against it, but I’m with you. I really feel like the moment you’re published is when you start changing the word writer to author.
Nathan: 01:28 Yes.
Rekka: 01:29 So, congratulations.
Nathan: 01:30 Thank you.
Rekka: 01:31 Alright, so, tell us a little bit about Necropolis PD.
Nathan: 01:35 Well Necropolis PD, you know the tagline, how do you solve a murder in the city of the dead? It’s an urban fantasy horror story about, a kind of a normal, normal young man that gets trapped in a city of the dead and gets recruited to help them solve a crime that’s never happened there before: someone’s been murdered.
Rekka: 01:59 Someone who’s dead has been murdered.
Nathan: 02:00 Yes.
Rekka: 02:01 So, uh, where did this story come from?
Nathan: 02:04 I had been toying with the idea for a while, but, in my normal writing process, I’m a meticulous outliner and every, uh, every story that I write, you know, I know exactly where it’s going beforehand, and Necropolis PD, this story really interested me, but I didn’t know where it was going. I had this great setup, but I had no idea how to resolve it. And I, I’ve talked a little bit about this on a blog that I have, but— So my experience has been designing video games for the last 20 plus years. And something that happens a lot as I’m making video games is the project I’m on goes into crunch time. And so I’ve got this kind of graveyard behind me of half-completed projects and you know, great ideas that were going along fine until crunch time hit, and then everything falls apart. So I decided I’m going to stick with one thing, I’m going to finish it. What I really want to do is write a book and you know, I’m so interested in this idea, I’m just going to start writing for once and see what happens.
Rekka: 03:16 So you abandoned the outline and you just pantsed it.
Nathan: 03:18 I did. I did. I had my outline for about the first quarter of the book and I had where I wanted it to go.
Rekka: 03:27 Oh, at least you had that.
Nathan: 03:29 Uh, I just didn’t know how I was going to get there. And so I was figuring it out as I wrote which was very fun.
Rekka: 03:35 So how long did it take you to write?
Nathan: 03:37 Well, I guess I’m— I don’t know if I’m like a lot of authors because I was still going through several crunch times while I was writing. What I tried to do was pick a time that I knew I could write regardless of how busy I was. So I started writing over my lunch hours. I would just pack in a lunch, eat it really quick, and then, you know, use as much time as I had leftover to write. And so, I actually started fleshing out the idea in a little writing group that I had with some coworkers and then once that ended, I just kept going with it. So, I mean, I think to get my first draft completed probably took me a little over a year.
Rekka: 04:23 Okay.
Nathan: 04:24 Cause I was, you know, I mean I’d usually write at least half an hour every day.
Rekka: 04:30 During that lunch time?
Nathan: 04:30 During the lunchtime, but I just made sure that every day I was writing something and then, you know, as it went on it became a lot easier. My mind would start getting ready to write, ’cause I knew lunch was coming up so there was less downtime wondering what I was going to do. It was more like, I know exactly what I’m going to do. I just have to wait to get my fingers to keyboard.
Rekka: 04:53 So you built that habit and then you were able to just get going as soon as you found yourself at that— Did you write in your office or did you—
Nathan: 05:02 I did. I just, I put headphones on. I’ve got some young kids, so I’m pretty good at—
Rekka: 05:13 Tuning the world out?
Nathan: 05:14 At tuning things out, yeah.
Rekka: 05:14 ‘Cause I’ve found, I can’t write in a workspace where I do other things. Especially around other people because I have this feeling like they’re going to walk by my desk and see me not doing my job, even if it’s lunchtime. You know, I just, I can’t, I can’t put up that, that barrier around myself because I feel like, oh, I’m going to be caught, you know, like caught not doing my job. Even though like this, this lunch hour is supposed to be my personal time, that it’s going to be somehow, well, the other problem I have is that people will approach me since I’m at my desk and give me work because they’re not on their lunch and I’m at my desk, so I’m not working, so I’m not on lunch. So, I guess it’s possibly different in your scenario. You could just say like, “I’m on my lunch, I’ll get to you in a minute,” or?
Nathan: 06:01 Well, uh, no. It was very much like you’re saying. What I— I had an office for part of the time, so when lunch came, I’d close my door, but then the way my desk was positioned, there was a window right by my door that I would look at right above my monitor. So people would come and just stand at my window staring at me. And so I went out and bought a curtain and put the curtain up.
Rekka: 06:27 Yeah.
Nathan: 06:27 Or, or I would take my lunch, take my laptop and just, you know, walk out to the lobby, sit down, and type out there. I’m just, like I said, I do a lot of multitasking at work, so I could switch gears fairly quickly. I do a lot of writing during the day. Just, you know, documentation and things, so me writing isn’t necessarily—
Rekka: 06:53 Feeling like you’re misbehaving. Yeah?
Nathan: 06:53 Yes.
Rekka: 06:56 Okay, fair. Yeah, I’m, actually, you have graphic design background. I’m also a graphic designer by trade. So there’s a very different look to my monitor when I’m doing one thing, than when I’m typing out words on a page and I always felt very self-conscious. Like I said, I was taking my breaks but I had to go somewhere else. I couldn’t. And I also had a cubicle so there was no door that I could close. There was no curtain to pull. It was just inevitable that the only time during the day that someone would come by my desk would be on my lunch.
Nathan: 07:29 Absolutely.
Rekka: 07:29 So it’s better not to be there. So that, okay, so you work in video games. That is a very, as you mentioned, crunchy sort of industry to be in. And there’s always that crunch time before a release or before the final version of something and you mentioned it took you a year to finish this first draft. Was it like stop and start, did you get to periods where there just, there was no way to get your writing and on a day?
Nathan: 07:57 That did happen, but I, like I said, a lot of the— I’ve got this file folder that’s full of half completed card games and roleplaying games and app ideas and you know, things like that. And so I, when I decided, you know, this year is the year that I’m going to finish something, I wanted to pick something that wouldn’t rely on someone else. I mean, I did start writing in this other group, but I knew that if the other group fell apart because of time constraints, that wasn’t going to stop me necessarily. So, writing was something that I had a lot of control over and there were days where I was working very late or working very hard, but I would make sure to take— I would be pretty strict about taking my lunch break and writing on my lunch break.
Rekka: 08:50 Well, that’s good. You set the boundary, and you defended that time?
Nathan: 08:53 Yes.
Rekka: 08:54 Even from yourself?
Nathan: 08:56 I mean, some days I’d only get a couple of sentences written.
Rekka: 08:59 But you were always moving forward?
Nathan: 08:59 I would try to do something, yeah.
Rekka: 09:01 Okay, good. So, for a debut novelist, that’s fantastic advice for other writers who are trying to figure out how to get that first draft of their first book done. Now, you said you have a bunch of other projects and some of them included a lot of gaming, so you have, you have experience with roleplay, you play, you know, you just told me before the call that you finished up a DnD game or DnD-style game last night. How does that group setting, organic game play inform your writing?
Nathan: 09:34 So I guess when I’m— a lot of the design work that I’ve done in games has been around the systems in the game. Figuring out what moves the character can do, how they interact with their environments, and so when I was approaching writing, like I said, I’m a pretty obsessive outliner, but I would build this, basically… When I was looking at my main character, Jacob Greens, I had this premise, but I’m like, how is going to be the best way for my character to interact with this weird setting that he’s in? And so I would build out, well, you know, what’s unique about my main character? What are, what’s unique about the setting that he’s in? If there’s any magic that’s being thrown around, how does that work? ‘Cause I didn’t want there to be a sense of, “aaand someone just does the magic and solves the problem and we move on.” I mean, I wanted it to feel very natural to the world that it was in. So just, I guess, building the parameters of the characters and the environments first before I started getting too far into the stories.
Rekka: 10:51 Do you ever DM the games that you play?
Nathan: 10:54 Yes, I do.
Rekka: 10:55 Okay. So you have that sort of preparing for unexpected actions on parts of other people built in?
Nathan: 11:03 Yes. Yes. Which, which actually came into play in this one because I didn’t know where the story was going. I was like, well, okay, there’s, you know— Jacob Green’s been paired up with this really scary, intimidating Detective Marsh that’s kind of his babysitter, kind of his protector.
Rekka: 11:21 This is the big guy on the cover?
Nathan: 11:22 Yes.
Rekka: 11:22 Okay.
Nathan: 11:23 Yes. And you know, so in any situation they’re in, well, how’s Marsh going to— ‘Cause I would treat anything with Detective Marsh, as far as Marsh is concerned, this is his story and he’s been saddled with this mortal sidekick, you know, what’s, how does he approach every single situation?
Rekka: 11:44 So it sounds like the sort of chess-pieces-moving-on-a-board aspect of roleplaying games has aided you in maybe thinking about alternatives, thinking about like the different spiderwebs that you could follow, you know, across a story.
Nathan: 12:01 I think so. I, in the, in the games I run, I, you know, even if it’s just a module off the shelf that I’m running for some— I’m getting ready to start running a DnD game for some coworkers at work, and some of them had never played before, and so I’m using just a standard adventure that’s very common that everyone who’s played the game is familiar with. I think that’s important for people that are starting to play a game like Dungeons and Dragons to have that shared experience. Something that they can compare with others. But I can’t resist putting my own little unique additions and things to it. But I found, when running games for a group like that, you know, weaving in a lot of subplots that are kind of specific to each character, you know, really helps keep them involved when there’s something unique to them in every adventure.
Rekka: 13:03 Yeah. I have a confession. I am not a roleplaying gamer. I played once in early high school career. I think it was a cyberpunk game. And I didn’t even finish the campaign with the friends. I was apparently too emotional in the, in the playing. I was supposed to sit there with a straight face and just say I choose to do this or I’m going to do this and instead I’m like having a panic attack ’cause my character’s, like, undergoing stressful situations. So, my husband and I are actually about to— we just bought like the DnD starter pack that they sell at Target. And so we’re about to start trying it ourselves and I’m really looking forward to getting into it ’cause everyone—
Nathan: 13:42 That’ll be fun.
Rekka: 13:42 — that I talked to who’s a writer has had some experience with this, and I don’t know if it’s just because there’s something about the genre, you know, fantasy and science fiction and stuff, that lends itself to also, you know, people being interested in these. When I was younger, some of my earliest experiences in writing, were writing for a text-based roleplaying game that I played online. And that was like before I even realized I was writing. I was creating the backstory for that character because the character needed a backstory. I wasn’t even thinking about it as writing, but it was an MUDD online and it was all tech space and it was all scrolling and I don’t even know how I would have kept up with it if the modem had not been a 14.4 at the time. There’s just so much text going across the page. And so I’ve got that experience and that definitely informed my writing, but I really want to just, like, DM a game and have to come up with these situations on the fly that solve problems and challenge people. And I do think that that’s, that’s gotta make your writing stronger. It’s gotta make your storytelling stronger, and make you more flexible, too. Because like, sometimes things are just not going to happen.
Nathan: 14:51 I think it did help in my characterization. ‘Cause you don’t want every NPC that people run into to sound the same, to act the same, to be predictable. So as I was developing my characters in the story, it was always, every time they said something, you know, are they saying it in their voice, are they acting according to their motivations, and hopefully that came through, possibly. Something that I definitely did in my experience running games.
Rekka: 15:25 So when you created NPCs, are they mostly throw away? Like, you have to encounter someone at this moment because you needed to get a tool or you need to get something and then you move on with the story, or do you like make them all their own characters?
Nathan: 15:38 I, so it’s funny. When I was running games with my original gaming group in high school, I finally figured out that I, when they would ask, when they would start planning to do something, they would kind of, my players would start watching out of the corner of their eyes. And if they saw me start flipping through my book, they knew they were on the right track. But if I just sat there and was doodling, they were like, oh, you know, he’s going to start just spinning something off because it’s going the wrong way. So I started, you know, writing detailed notes for every character—
Rekka: 16:15 So every NPC was a red herring?
Nathan: 16:17 So, well, so that way at least, I could flip to a page to reference this NPC and it wouldn’t throw them off, you know, it wouldn’t tip them off that I was—
Rekka: 16:26 Wouldn’t give them the hint, yeah.
Nathan: 16:26 — that it was a throwaway character. So, yeah, I do tend to flesh out all my characters and try and know what they’re doing.
Rekka: 16:36 Like I said, this has gotta be like a skill that should really be required for most writers because there’s so much work that goes into like planning a campaign. And I just, this is my fear, is that I’ll get into this and this will take over my life and never mind novels. Sorry. Parvus I know I’m not gonna finish this trilogy. I need to, uh, I need to design a game for next Saturday night.
Nathan: 16:59 Well, I mean, there is, ‘cause it’s a live audience, it’s instant feedback. If you’re doing a good adventure, there’s that enthusiasm, that excitement that’s with the group. You know, I’ve, as I’ve been doing various writing projects, over the past several years, I have run roleplaying games or, mostly I’ve run them, but I’ve played in a few. So I have to be very careful how many I get involved with because they do take up a lot of time.
Rekka: 17:31 Yeah. Yeah, I bet. Especially when you are involved with the running of the campaign as opposed to just playing along and throwing sticks under this, the spokes of the person who has designed what’s supposed to happen. So, speaking of designing what’s supposed to happen and having sticks thrown in your spokes, how was the editing process on Necropolis PD? So you, you wrote it in a year over your lunch periods and then what came next?
Nathan: 17:57 So, yeah, it was kind of interesting. I, you know, I finished writing it and then I spent another considerable amount of time rewriting it, polishing it, got it to where I thought it was good, and just started picking random agents to send it to, and submitted it to a couple of places. Got nothing. So I was really confused. I’m like, I know I’ve got something here, but clearly it’s not generating any enthusiasm. So I went back. I have a few friends that are editors in various media. I had a friend spend some time, he’s edited some roleplaying games, and he gave me some pointers and so I did a pretty substantial rewrite, and so that was probably about my fourth or fifth draft.
Rekka: 18:50 Okay.
Nathan: 18:50 And at that point, I decided, okay, well, most of the agents I’d contacted, they were only interested if I was already under contract or if I was already published, which, obviously, wasn’t going to do me a lot of good.
Rekka: 19:04 Right, right. Excuse me, I’m coming to you, as an agent, to get to that point. Right? Yeah.
Nathan: 19:09 So I started looking at a publishers that were, that had some open submissions and I spent a lot of time, kind of, digging through each publisher, going to their page, finding out who the editors were, going to those editors’ social media accounts and finding out about them, when I came across Parvus, which was recommended to me by a friend—
Rekka: 19:32 Yes, and if it’s not clear already, Nathan is one of my publishing siblings. So, of course that’s how I got hooked up with you for this interview. But I just wanted to say that off the top, we are talking, both of us, about our experience with Parvus as the publisher. Sorry, continue. I just realized I hadn’t made that explicit.
Nathan: 19:52 Well, so I went to Parvus, I read what their goals were as a publisher, read about each of the founders of Parvus and what they liked. And so, when I wrote my query letter, I targeted it specifically to them. I felt that they would be a good fit with my book and, uh, I’m glad they agreed. But I found in my experience, and my experience interviewing people for game design positions throughout my career, that kind of half the battle is just following the instructions for the submission. ‘Cause every publisher wants something slightly different. Some wanted sample chapters, some wanted the full manuscript, some just wanted a summary and I found making sure that I followed every instruction that they required probably got me through the first hurdle.
Rekka: 20:52 I think that’s like 60% of the battle, right? It’s like, if you don’t make them work harder just to find out what you’re sending them, then they definitely start with a better impression of you than if you’re just like, “Here’s a link to my blog where the story is public!” And you know, “Hey there,” and “Here’s three pages about me, the author.”
Nathan: 21:13 But the actual— So once I got on with Parvus Press, the editing process, this was my first time really working with a, you know, one on one with a professional editor, specifically, about the book, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to, but I thought— I didn’t realize how useful having an editor was. I thought my story was, I thought my story was pretty solid. But Kaelyn had some really good notes on, “Oh, this, you know, this sentence doesn’t make sense here,” or “This seems like a very awkward scene for this character.” Just some really good feedback, and I think, I definitely think the story is much improved from that process of going through. I had one version that was what I called the Great Comma Migration, where it was just dropping in a semi-colon here, moving, taking this comma out, putting another one over here. But I think the most useful part of the editing process was just someone that was really invested in the story, like I was, that was bringing, was seeing it from a different perspective and brought up some really good ideas and notes.
Rekka: 22:28 Okay. So, how long ago did you submit and start working with Parvus?
Nathan: 22:36 Eeh, I, I honestly don’t remember.
Rekka: 22:40 Okay. You don’t remember the day that you popped the cork on the champagne to celebrate getting signed.
Nathan: 22:44 I think it was end of 2017.
Rekka: 22:48 Okay. All right.
Nathan: 22:49 I believe we were originally going to try and release it last year, but we pushed it back a little bit.
Rekka: 22:58 Yeah, Parvus’s entire calendar and catalogs got affected by this recent distribution contract that they signed. So, you and I are in a similar boat where it’s like, “Oh, I thought that book was coming out at a certain time, but it’s not so much,” but that’s hopefully going to give us stronger sales and bigger audiences since we’ll be in bookstores now, physical bookstores. So—
Nathan: 23:19 And it did give me a chance to do one more revision. I think at the end of it all, I did about 12 revisions of my manuscript. Like I said, not all of them were complete rewrites, but uh, yeah.
Rekka: 23:33 So twelve passes for one thing or another.
Nathan: 23:35 Twelve passes, yeah.
Rekka: 23:35 Okay. Yeah. Kaelyn’s a tough cookie, huh?
Nathan: 23:38 But it was, it was totally worth it.
Rekka: 23:40 Oh yeah. Yeah. And that’s— I will revise forever if someone lets me. And that’s—
Nathan: 23:45 Yes. I tend to, I tend to write my first chapter many, many, many times.
Rekka: 23:50 Many, many times. Yes. The first chapter, the first version of your first chapter, almost never survives the process. Definitely. I’m feeling that right now I’m in the middle of my revision pit and it’s a whole process. So your novel is, it’s urban fantasy, but it’s a, it’s almost like secondary world.
Nathan: 24:11 Yes.
Rekka: 24:11 So you have a very specific gateway that this— Oh, right! Okay. So we’ll even say it’s like portal urban fantasy because you have this gateway that your main character passes through, and when you created this story, now I’ve read the first chapter, so I have a little bit of insider information about this and if listeners are curious, I’m sure Parvus has the first chapter somewhere to be snagged. It’s either on Amazon or it’s through Parvus’s newsletter. So the temptation when you go through a portal in your writing is to have a carnival of exposition, right? So like, you know, you think of that scene in a—
Nathan: 24:48 A big info dump.
Rekka: 24:48 — Yeah, a big info dump. This person wandering through and marveling at everything and how it’s different from what they’re used to. And the temptation is to have a Well, As You Know, Bob or like a Watson, you know, like explanation thing. Is there a version of Nec PD that has that?
Nathan: 25:11 Oh yeah. In fact when I went back to the drawing board to try and figure out what’s going on, I decided I was starting the story in the wrong place because that was exactly what was happening, was I was spending so much time focusing on how Jacob Green got to this, got to the city and “Wow! Look at all this weird stuff!” that it was just really slow right at the beginning. So I made the decision, “No, I’m gonna, I’m kind of going to move the start to where things actually start happening.”
Rekka: 25:48 And he’s already sick of the place.
Nathan: 25:49 Yes. And he’s, he’s become a little numb to all the weird changes. And so I was able to more slowly roll some of that stuff out, and especially with the characters, all these undead characters that have been there for decades, lifetimes. I mean, they don’t even want to explain it. It’s right there. They’re tired of explaining
Rekka: 26:14 This is so normal to them. Why are you even asking these questions? Yeah. So the first chapter starts with your main character in a bar. He’s been there for months. He’s been put through a wringer of bureaucracy. And the nice thing is that it’s not just “everything here is now my new normal,” but he’s got relationships with each aspect of this place. So, he’s in a bar where it’s like basically the only place he’s allowed to hang out. He’s got opinions of the bartender. He’s got opinions of the people in the room. So he’s already got like a relationship with this world and you’re able to learn both about the world and about him through the description of that relationship and the small snippets of dialogue where you describe it through the lens of his bias rather than like the matter-of-fact, like, “Here, check this out.” So yeah, I know that, I’ve talked to Collin and I’ve talked to Kaelyn and they both love how it starts at that point where like all the, all the “ooh, shiny” has already worn off the place. If it even had “ooh, shiny” to begin with because it’s the world of the dead and you imagine that everything has like maybe a layer of moss or something on it instead.
Nathan: 27:23 Right. Well, and you know, the person that he is saddled with, this Detective Marsh, basically, I just kind of approached him as he’s eternally constipated, right? He’s always in a bad mood. He doesn’t want to answer questions. And so, you know, any time Jacob would ask something, he’d get a sarcastic response. So, just a very curt answer. I realized that it was an odd setting, there’s a lot to explain, but I didn’t want big paragraph blocks of information coming from the character that likes to answer in grunts and monosyllables.
Rekka: 28:09 Right, right. And that’s, that’s a whole other language that you use. It’s as much about what the character refuses to talk about. It’s as much about like how the character thinks like, “That’s a stupid question.” And it’s fun to build something out like that and not include all the details, but still try to do it through dialogue or through relationships and stuff like that. So that’s very cool. I really enjoyed the first chapter. As I mentioned, I’m revising my book, so I unfortunately did not have time to read beyond that, but I, actually, was sitting in the living room, so my husband was there. We didn’t have the TV on or anything, so I read the chapter out loud to him and he was also very interested in continuing it. And he’s a tough nut to crack, so good job on that one.
Rekka: 28:53 I think the undead are always an easy way into his heart though, which is a strange statement, but yeah! So, the book hasn’t come out yet. So you’re in that, you’re in your own sort of undead state right now where you’re, you’re wondering how it’s going to go. You’ve put all this work into it and now there’s nothing to do but sit and wait for your handler to pop up and tell you what’s going on and what’s going to be done about you. So how, I mean, like this is unfair. But how do you see this week ahead going for you? Like, do you have plans to distract yourself on Tuesday when the book comes out? Keep yourself busy?
Nathan: 29:32 Well, this week’s going to be a little crazy. I just recently did a move from one state to another state. I started a new job. I’ve just, you know, been in the process of selling a house in one state. So, actually, the day my book comes out, I’m going to be moving into a new house, so I’ll have plenty to distract myself.
Rekka: 29:54 Was that intentional? Did you say, “Hey! That would be a great time to get the hell out of dodge.”
Nathan: 29:58 No, no. It’s not intentional at all, but yeah, it’s just how it worked out. It’s been a, a pretty hectic move, but I’m— Just the job. You know, designing games is something I’m very passionate about and that’s what a lot of my focus is on, but I’ve been super distracted about my book coming out. I’ve been, I’m sure, as most authors do, I’ve been scouring for any mention of it in a review or someone that may have—
Rekka: 29:58 Received an ARC or something.
Nathan: 30:38 — posted something about it.
Rekka: 30:39 There’s nothing like seeing your ARC in a stack of books that someone’s received and like, “There’s the spine of my book!”
Nathan: 30:46 Yes. Yeah. That’s fun.
Rekka: 30:48 Yeah. And then you have to hope that they ever get around to reading it, too, is the next step. Okay. There’s been a photo of it, but did you crack it open? Yes. So that’s really convenient. I should move when my next book comes out. That seems like a really good plan.
Nathan: 31:03 Oh, I don’t know. I think the stress of a move… maybe not a—
Rekka: 31:08 Just as bad—
Nathan: 31:08 Yeah, not a good a trade-off as maybe we might think.
Rekka: 31:08 Okay. Fair enough. Okay. So are you working on anything else now? Did you dive back in as soon as you sent off one book?
Nathan: 31:21 I did. Well, and actually, as you know, when I finished Necropolis PD and I was in the process of submitting it, I was in this habit of writing every day, so I’m like, well, I can—
Rekka: 31:35 Keep going, yeah.
Nathan: 31:36 What am I gonna write about now? And so I am writing another book. It was, “Well do I, do I write a follow-up to Necropolis PD? Because if no one picks up the first book, what’s, why write a second one?” But I decided there’s just so much more to this story that I want to tell. So I’ve been working on another Necropolis PD-set novel.
Rekka: 32:06 Cool.
Nathan: 32:06 So, yeah, that still doing my daily writing something, so.
Rekka: 32:11 Yeah, that’s good. That’s good. It’s an easy, it’s like a deceptively easy habit to break to suddenly like stop and be like, “Okay, well, you know, I just finished a book so I’m going to take a month or whatever.” And then at the end of the month, it’s been three months and, and you’ve figured out what else to do with that, you know, half hour or so during the day.
Nathan: 32:29 Well and for the past seven years I’ve been the lead designer on a fantasy MMO. And so I play a of and w you can sink a lot of time into those and because they never end. Right. Yeah. So yeah, I have to, you know, I do play a lot of games, a lot of video games, but I, I, I do kind of self-regulate my time. I don’t, when I was in college, I was playing my first time playing Civilization II, I was all fired it up on my brand new Mac to computer and I was all excited and uh, I’ve been playing it for a couple hours and was like, well, I’ve got a test in the morning, I better stop. And I looked out the window and the sun was coming up and—
Rekka: 33:17 A couple hours, huh?
Nathan: 33:18 A couple hours, yep. All night long. So I, I tend to be very strict about how much time I play games
Rekka: 33:25 Having learned the lesson once, you didn’t need to repeat it.
Nathan: 33:27 Yes.
Rekka: 33:28 That’s a little fast. I don’t think I ever learned a lesson after just one time staying up until 5:00 AM playing.
Nathan: 33:35 I, I just, I’m not saying it never happened again.
Rekka: 33:37 Okay. Okay. You are human after all.
Nathan: 33:39 But I try not to make a habit of it.
Rekka: 33:40 Yeah. Yeah. I think one of the greatest gifts ever given to me was the fact that the graphics card on my Mac laptop, at the time when I tried to start playing World of Warcraft, would not handle the game. And I wasn’t about to go invest in a new computer or a new display card or anything like that for this game that I wasn’t sure that I was going to continue playing. So I think that was the greatest gift because if I had gotten into World of Warcraft, there’s a very good chance I never would have written a single thing. I was already working on my book at the time, but it was very young and it would not have turned into what it was. If I, if I had found that kind of time-sink, I have enough time-sinks as it is.
Rekka: 34:23 But that’s, that’s definitely— the games that don’t end are the dangerous ones because then it becomes your lifestyle, then it becomes your social circle, then it’s, you know, and then you’re done. And then there’s nothing else ever. So that’s good. The habit of writing and making it consistent and always moving forward and always working on something is pretty critical. Would you say that’s like, if you were going to give advice to somebody who’s got an idea for a novel and they’re not sure how to approach it or what they want to do about it, like what’s the advice that you would give to someone who’s back at the start of the process, where you once were?
Nathan: 35:01 For me, that was definitely the critical piece. I mean, I had, like I said, many times started projects, maybe outline the whole story and then, which is the fun part, figuring out what the story is, and then there becomes the actual work of, you know, filling in all the pieces. But that, yeah, that daily routine really helped me out. And I was able to start— Once I was in the routine of, “Oh, I’ve got this 30, 45 minutes, well, so I know that I’ve got that every day, but now I can, oh, I’m going to have another hour this evening.” I’ve got some spare time and my mind’s already, you know, I remember where I left off so I could just hop on, crank some worktime out. So that was, that was very critical. And I also wasn’t afraid to throw things away. You know, some, sometimes I would write out a dialog or a scene just to see how that would play out and then I might not use it, but I still felt it was useful effort.
Rekka: 36:12 Yeah. Because you explored it and there’s no more, “What if I had done it that way?”
Nathan: 36:16 Right.
Rekka: 36:16 Which is something that, as a DM, you don’t get to ever see what if it had gone that way. You know, like they ask you a question and suddenly you’re off in a whole other direction and that whole thing that you designed never happens, or you have to bring it around again.
Nathan: 36:29 Exactly. Yeah. There’s, yeah, when you’re running a running a roleplaying game like that or even in a quest-based video game, we’ve developed lots of content that one player may not ever see but someone else will. So it’s concept that needs to be there. But that was a challenge in writing the book, was when I did extensive world-building and you know, I built out magic systems and the city, like all the different parts of the world, but my main character doesn’t necessarily go to all those parts. And so I was content with just, well that’s another story stuff.
Rekka: 37:11 Tip-of-the-iceberg stuff.
Nathan: 37:11 Yup. Yup, Yup. I’m okay to not explain everything right up front.
Rekka: 37:16 I think that’s a strength. A lot of authors are not okay to leave any of the detail out, and then you do end up with just like the recipes of exposition where the critical information is buried in there somewhere, but you can’t, and you’re too proud of it. You’re too proud of the magic system. You’re too proud of like how city ordinances for like, you know, the living would work out in an undead city kind of stuff like that where you just can’t let go. And I think letting go is pretty important, especially because there are always more words. You could always tell it a different way. You might tell it better the second time, but like, so you gotta let go of the first one that you’ve, you know, the first version of it. So when you sat down to continue writing, did you outline the next book in this world?
Nathan: 38:07 I did.
Rekka: 38:07 Even though you pantsed it the first time?
Nathan: 38:09 I did. Yeah, I just kind of, I come up with the high points of the story and then I do a, “Okay. That’s the high point of the story.” I chapter break-down, kind of know what I’m gonna do in each chapter, but, I kept it a lot looser than I normally outline. So, as I’m writing through, I’ve gone back several times and said, “Oh, this character that I introduced, here’s how they tie in.” It’s a much better way that they tie in, you know, further down the road than I had originally thought. So there is still a lot of that discovery as I’m going.
Rekka: 38:46 Right. So it’s a looser outline, but you still have sort of like a roadmap. How you’re going to get across the country. But if you detour, that’s okay because you can meet up with that roadmap later on. Yes. Yeah. I, I like to outline tightly because I think that’s going to help me make a more efficient first draft. But every time, you know, no plan survives contact with the enemy sort of thing.
Nathan: 39:08 Right, right.
Rekka: 39:08 You know, there’s, there’s no way to not, at least in my experience, there’s no way to not find yourself deviating almost as soon as you get started because the discovery writing. Every, I mean, unless you outline the entire novel, like, you know, word for word then— which isn’t an outline— which is pantsing. There’s no way to get into the meat of it and not discover something that you hadn’t considered before because your creativity is just like replicating and you just go off almost immediately.
Nathan: 39:42 Well and, as I’m writing, I try to avoid the trap. I have such extensive kind of notes for each character I introduce. I, like on this story that I’m writing, I found that I was kind of introducing cool characters, but they didn’t really have a lot of purpose. So I made sure to go back and kind of critically look at— I don’t want to just have a quirky character that takes up a lot of page space if—
Rekka: 40:12 Who isn’t significant in this story.
Nathan: 40:14 Who isn’t significant, yes, exactly.
Rekka: 40:14 Yeah. I’m about to churn one of those out after we get off this call.
Nathan: 40:17 It’s hard.
Rekka: 40:18 Yeah.
Nathan: 40:18 It’s hard because you know, they’re, they’re an interesting person but.
Rekka: 40:23 And they have a backstory but just never delete anything, put it in another folder. Right? You know, an anthology of side-stories in the world, and that’s one of my projects that I’ve assigned myself because there’s just so much stuff like, you said.
Nathan: 40:42 And in my, I guess, my experience for video games when we’re starting a new video game project there’s different kinds of documents that we’ll write for different purposes. You know, when we’re pitching the game, we want to keep that pitch very short. It’s “Here’s the high concept of the game. Here’s the bullet points that are on the back of the box.” What are, what are the, what’s the hook? What’s the kind of the key game mechanics. This is not the time to plunk down your 200 page, you know, world history. The background, there is a need for that, but— So I guess that did kind of factor into a little bit of my writing is, yes, it’s important information, but trying to discern what the right time to present that is.
Rekka: 41:36 So as you went through the process of editing Necropolis— I’m backing up— so you went through the process of editing it with somebody who didn’t have access to your vision of the world. Were you ever challenged to change some of the functions? Like, you know, your magic system and stuff like that. And how did that go? Were you able to say, “No, see here’s the logic behind that,” and then you won the conversation, or did you have to be flexible with the way the world works in order to work with your editor on fixing up the parts that the reader sees?
Nathan: 42:08 I mean, I think when my editor would bring up those things— Kaelyn would point out, you know, “This isn’t very clear,” or “Why has this happened?” It’s very easy for me to say, “Oh, well I know why this happens this way.” But I mean, if it’s not communicated to the to the reader, that’s not sufficient. So any time she would bring those kinds of things up, I was able to go back and be like, “Okay, why is this not coming through clearly?”
Rekka: 42:40 Right.
Nathan: 42:41 And kind of the same way, when I would be making games and I would watch player reactions to early builds, you know, if there’s this really cool feature in the game mechanics, but it’s never really demonstrated or presented to the player and they don’t know it’s there—
Rekka: 43:00 They’ll never use it.
Nathan: 43:01 They won’t use it. That’s wasted effort. So, I’d like to think that I didn’t ever get super defensive over those things, you know?
Rekka: 43:13 I’ll ask Kaelyn later. Yeah.
Nathan: 43:14 Yeah. Maybe you should. Yeah, maybe I’m not as easygoing as I thought, but, I would look at that as like, “Okay, here’s a problem.” It’s good that, you know, in most cases I did know the answer to that. I had already thought about it, but then I had to look at, okay, how do I explain that better? I think the payoff in a couple of scenes is a lot better because, you know, it wasn’t just wave-my-hand and magic solves the problem. It’s, “I understand what the consequences would be if this is done,” and it gave a sense of urgency, I think, that was lacking before. So it was, yeah, definitely a good thing.
Rekka: 43:56 Yeah. Not just the mechanics, but also the consequences. I think consequences are things that authors don’t use enough of. Like consequences are so, so compelling for worlds and stuff like that. So I know that I’ve— I interviewed Katelyn last week, but I’ve had conversations with her separately from that where she would say something like, “All right, in your world if tigers can play violin but giraffes can’t, that’s fine, but let’s make it clear and keep it consistent.” So if you have rules for your world, and they’re consistent, you may not need to spend a lot of exposition in explaining it, but you demonstrate, like you said, consequences or you demonstrate how things work in a way that is natural to the story, but is also like clear to the reader. Because that’s my favorite part about getting feedback from readers is finding out the spots where what I’m thinking is really clear, does not come through.
Rekka: 44:47 I don’t know why that’s my favorite part because that’s also torture, but it’s you know, going, “Oh, oh, you didn’t see that.” And then finding a spot where I make it clear, which is also foreshadowing, which makes it delightfully inevitable ,when it does come back later. It really does strengthen a story. But it’s also why every revision I make ends up longer.
Nathan: 45:10 Yeah.
Rekka: 45:10 So you have your new book for the reader. For our listeners, it has just come out. It is two days old. It has that new book smell. Everybody go pick it up. It’s Necropolis PD by Nathan Sumsion. It’s on Amazon, it’s Barnes and Noble. Anywhere fine books are sold. And so congratulations on your new book, which doesn’t mean—
Nathan: 45:32 Thank you.
Rekka: 45:32 I’m speaking from the future now, so you don’t know how you feel exactly, but I hope your move went well on Tuesday.
Nathan: 45:38 Thank you very much.
Rekka: 45:39 Take a moment to answer your texts from Kaelyn when she’s excitedly telling you how the book’s launch went and, yeah, congratulations. It’s Necropolis PD, again, from Parvus Press, Nathan Sumsion. So thanks so much for joining us today, Nathan. I really appreciate your time.
Nathan: 45:55 Thank you for the opportunity. It was a lot of fun.
Rekka: 45:58 Yeah, I had fun too. Great. Take care.
Nathan: 45:59 Bye.
Thanks to Sara Rose for transcription!