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SCL: First off could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you've done and written prior to I, Mengsk?


GM: Back in the mists of time I worked in an architect’s office in Glasgow, but came south to England to work for Games Workshop in their Design Studio in 2000. I worked there as a Games Developer for six and a half years, and was part of the team that wrote the Army Books, Codexes, and Lord of the Rings supplements. While I was working for the Studio, I did some short stories for GW’s fiction imprint, The Black Library. They seemed to go down pretty well with the fans, so I was asked if I wanted to write a novel. That’d be a yes then! My debut novel was published in 2002 and was called Nightbringer, the first of the Ultramarines books. Over the next few years I wrote a few more novels in my spare time until, in 2006, I went full time as a novelist and I’ve been doing that since then. As I write this, I’m hip deep in my fifteenth novel, with about the same number of short stories behind me, as well as some comic strips for Boom Studios and a graphic novel that ties in with the Warhammer: Age of Reckoning MMORPG. I, Mengsk is my first commercial venture away from the Games Workshop universes.

 

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Graham McNeill

SCL: How does writing in the StarCraft universe and the Warhammer 40,000 universe compare? Do you find they are similar or very different?

GM: There are similarities, but on closer analysis, I feel they’re more different than alike. The challenge with I, Mengsk was to make it feel like a StarCraft novel, not just a Warhammer novel with the names changed. That meant the dialogue had to sound different and the characters had to feel more recognizably human. Now that might sound a little odd, but humans in the StarCraft universe are much more like us than their 40K counterparts, with many of the same concerns as us – jobs, family, relationships etc. Humans in the Warhammer 40,000 universe have concerns that are pretty far removed from that, like not getting eaten by a daemon, purged by the Inquisition or devoured by Tyranids. In that respect, it was easier to get into the heads of the StarCraft characters, as they could sound like us and share many of the same emotional beats.

SCL: What makes the StarCraft universe different from other, more well-known, science-fiction universes such as ST, SW, 40k etc?

GM: Like a lot of created science-fiction worlds, the StarCraft universe uses strong archetypes and bends them into interesting shapes that fit its own world. As with any good mythos, it expands over time and those archetypes start to assume their own identity as their stories grow and develop new wrinkles. StarCraft’s done this nicely and it was good to feel I was adding something to that by adding more layers to the story and universe in the same way the others novels did.

SCL: How familiar with the StarCraft universe were you before writing the book and was there much you had to do to improve your knowledge? How much contact, if any, did you have with Andy Chambers and Chris Metzen?

GM: I knew a bit about the StarCraft universe, but not as much as I needed to. Before I put pen to paper, I read all the existing novels several times over and dug out everything I could find on the net about the plots of the games, the characters and the unit types. We’d played a bit of StarCraft in the Design Studio in our lunch hours, so I knew enough to get a grasp of things pretty quickly. One of the things I liked was that a lot of the universe was largely unexplored, so it was fun to invent stuff as well. I met Chris Metzen while visiting Blizzard last year and he looked over all the stuff I sent over in the planning stages and gave me feedback after the book was written. I had much more contact with Andy, as he used to be my boss back in my Games Workshop days. He and I corresponded quite a bit in the initial stages of the book’s preparation, and he helped me get my head around the nitty gritty of the universe. Evelyn Fredericksen also helped me a lot, making sure I didn’t do anything too silly with the lore and giving me lots of invaluable feedback in the book’s final stages.

SCL: How would you describe your writing style? What were the challenges in translating to a completely new universe? Storm of Iron (and Warhammer lore in general), for instance, was exceedingly, brilliantly violent throughout - was this something you could continue into this book?

GM: I like to think I have a pretty punchy writing style; one that gets across the right visual impact of a scene without overburdening the reader with description. I try and keep things fast paced and exciting, but with plenty of character driven moments to really involve the reader emotionally. I like to mix action and emotion in a book, hopefully making the reader think as well as getting their pulse racing. And, yeah, given that the Warhammer universes are based on wargames, you’d expect them to be pretty violent, going into scales of carnage you can’t really capture on the tabletop. But then you can also go the other way, exploring character in a way the games don’t easily allow. In some ways I knew I, Mengsk wasn’t going to be as obviously violent as a 40K book, but given the history of Arcturus and the Koprulu sector, there was clearly going to be a bit of fighting involved!

SCL: How is the writing of I, Mengsk going? Is it now finished?

GM: The writing was finished up way back in early March 2008 and I have a box of printed novels in my office as we speak. And very pretty they look too. The writing process itself was about as smooth a ride as I’ve ever had, with the characters writing themselves onto the page and behaving in ways I liked.

SCL: How is I, Mengsk laid out? Is the book split into three different sections or does it transition seamlessly between the histories of Angus, Arcturus and Valerian?

GM: Yeah, it’s split into three major chunks, with each of the Mengsks getting their own section. The story’s bookended by a major event in the life of Arcturus and Valerian, and while Angus, Arcturus and Valerian each have their own section, there’s degrees of overlap, and hopefully the transitions happen naturally without you even noticing them.

SCL: Much of the history you are writing about in I, Mengsk had already been written. Arcturus's story particularly has been told in detail during the games. How did you deal with these slightly limiting factors? Is there anything you can reveal about information relating to Angus and Arcturus that StarCraft fans will not have heard before?

GM: Actually, very little of what I wrote about has been detailed to the level I was telling it. Yeah, the StarCraft manual tells some of the history, but it does it in about a paragraph, which leaves lots of room to tell interesting stories. There’s almost nothing written about Angus and his relationship with Arcturus, and a lot of what I felt was the real meat of the drama between them was fresh territory to explore. I, Mengsk was never going to be a novelization of the game’s storyline, that had been done very well already in Liberty’s Crusade. So even though there are a few events referenced that will be familiar to fans of the games and books, the vast majority of the novel will be new and previously unknown to fans, even if they’ve played the games to death and read all the books ten times over. And there’s lots of things in the book that fans won’t know; like the identity of Valerian’s mother…

 

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SCL: If there was one thing you could change about pre-defined characters such as Arcturus and Angus, if anything, what would it be and why?

GM: Honestly, there wasn’t any point during the research or writing that I thought, “Damn, I wish that wasn’t the case…” I liked the characters and it was fun to develop the character of Angus, since there wasn’t much written about him. Working out the chronology was a pain at times, as some of the dates I found on the net for certain events conflicted with one another, and trying to figure out things like why Arcturus would join the Marines given his father’s vehement anti-Confederate stance involved some clever thinking, which all worked to the betterment of the novel.

SCL: Which character was your favorite and what did you enjoy most about creating them?

GM: As far as characters I created, there’s a Marine character named Angelina Emillian who was a lot of fun to write, as she was tough, no-nonsense, sassy and utterly ruthless. She got some killer lines and was the one person who gave as good as she got with Arcturus. Writing Angus and Katherine was fun, but writing dialogue for Little Dot, Arcturus’s baby sister was a hoot.

SCL: Do you know of any plans to continue the threads of stories started in I, Mengsk into future Blizzard products? Do you have any plans yourself for development?

GM: I don’t know of any plans to continue any of the plot threads begun in I, Mengsk, but there’s certainly a bunch I’d love to take further. These characters were such fun to write that I’d happily go back and tell more of their stories. I’m busy with a few novels for The Black Library at the moment, but I definitely want to do more StarCraft books.

SCL: If you were to write another novel in the StarCraft universe, are there any characters, situations or locations that you would particularly like to focus on?

GM: I, Mengsk is actually the second story I put together for a StarCraft novel. I had one all ready to go that was set in the StarCraft universe, but didn’t deal with game characters or storylines. Before I got going on that story Blizzard contacted me and asked if I’d mind putting it on hold for a bit to do a novel dealing with the game characters to tie in with the release of StarCraft II. And I, Mengsk was born. Much of the novel deals with events before the arrival of the Protoss and Zerg, so it’d be nice to have them take more of a central role in any other books I do, but beyond that, I think I’d prefer to explore the unexplored areas of the Koprulu sector and see what’s hiding in its darkest corners…

 

 

This has been a StarCraft: Legacy (http://sclegacy.com/) interview.

 

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