Sep 13

2017

Author Interview: Katherine Nehring, “Grand Academy for Future Villains”

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)

Looking for a career as an evil overlord? A mad scientist? A megavillain, a wicked witch, a final boss? You’re not going to get there without hard work, dedication, and thorough education. In the space between worlds, between genres, beyond time and space itself, the Grand Academy for Future Villains trains the bad guys that every good story needs. I sat down with Katherine Nehring, author of Choice of Games’ latest release to talk about what influenced her writing. Grand Academy for Future Villains releases Thursday, September 14th. 

Tell me about what influenced your world creation for Grand Academy. What kind of a world is this set in?

Trope-spotting can be both a delight and a distraction when it comes to reading, watching, playing, and otherwise partaking in popular fiction–especially popular genre fiction. There’s a sort of sly double perspective: in-universe you’re asking yourself who this character is within the framework of their created world, but as a reader you’re also asking yourself what type of character they are within your own experience of stories. Who do they remind you of? What do you expect from their narrative arc?

The Grand Academy inverts that order: to be in-universe at the Academy is to be outside the universe of any particular story.  This is a world where the laws of narrative are far more important than the laws of physics–a world where it’s taken for granted that concepts can be prohibited (and confiscated, and smuggled), where acting too much like a protagonist means heroic things start happening to you, and where doing something memorably can be just as effective as doing it competently.

You and I both attended St. John’s College for undergrad, and Jason Hill did a graduate degree there. I see a few parallels between the Grand Academy and SJC. Were you drawing on anything of personal significance in your writing?

I’d never thought of this before, but both the Academy and St. John’s are worlds of books – adhering to this overarching meta-order, living by the rules of narrative (surely one can call SJC’s pared-down arc of Western thought a narrative!) And of course, that’s always in tension with the ‘real world’, with history and particularity and the need to go out and find a job at some point.

The Grand Academy has elements of every one of the schools I attended, going right back to high school (the arbitrary nature of the class schedule is a less-than-fond memory of trying to decipher when lunch hour was). DarkBoard is an only slightly more vivid version of the class management software I used in grad school; Professor Ulik’s brisk, career-oriented Evil Architecture class was definitely influenced by community college classes I took. But St. John’s, with its intensity, eccentricity, and constant narrative engagement, was undoubtedly the biggest influence.

There’s a great cast of weird characters here: the PC’s mother, Maedryn, Dr. Cerebrist, and Professor Mortwain were some of my favorites. Did you have a character you enjoyed writing most?

I had a lot of fun with all of them–probably the most with Aurion and Kinistra. Either one of them could be the focus of an interesting story of their own, I think (or several interesting stories; one of the delightful things about writing this as a game rather than a novel is the way their stories can go very differently depending on their relationship to the player character. For Aurion, there’s something that appeals to me about an overachieving underdog at a school for villains–he has all the markers of a protagonist, but he’s determined to rise to greatness in the realm of evil. Kinistra, on the other hand, the player meets in one of the most classic of heroic ways: as someone to be rescued. And the ways in which you and she either thwart those tropes or fulfill them can have a big effect on how your story plays out.

What did you find challenging about the process of writing in ChoiceScript/our game design?

There was definitely a steep learning curve with ChoiceScript. It’s very easy to pick up, and can do a great many things once you’ve picked it up, and learning how to make those things engaging for players and manageable as a writer is quite a task! The editors were enormously helpful through this process, as were playing other Choice of Games titles, reading the forums, and going through my own game, over and over, until I could look at it both as a player and an author. By the middle of the editing process I was thinking in ChoiceScript, mapping out my daily activities as *choice and *if and *goto, setting my personal stats higher or lower. I’m not new to writing or to games, but I am to game-writing, and creating a game that worked was a challenging discipline. There was nothing I could fudge, handwave, or leave to the reader’s imagination: every loose end had to be woven in on a technical level or the game couldn’t be played at all, woven in on a narrative level or the game wouldn’t be fun to play.  This process taught me a good deal both about games and about writing!

Would you do it again?

In a heartbeat! Well, not a heartbeat. I need to nap for at least a month.

Short answer, Bernard Pivot-style Questionnaire:

Favorite color? 

Green. (A little-known rule of the universe, stemming from color-coded childhood possessions: all green things belong to me.)

Favorite word? 

Peal, apparently, as I learned in the copy-editing process. (I hadn’t realized I used that word so much!)

What profession other than your own would like you like to attempt? 

Alternate-universe me is an art conservator somewhere.

Which would you not want to attempt? 

I’m glad that electricians and tax lawyers exist; I’m very glad I don’t have to be one!

Personal choice for genre dormitory at the Grand Academy?

I think I’m going to have to go with the player character’s mother and say Science Fiction. “Taking over the galaxy” has a nice ring to it.

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