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An Interview With Prophet of Bones Author Ted Kosmatka
Culture

An Interview With Prophet of Bones Author Ted Kosmatka

We chat with author Ted Kosmatka about his latest novel, Prophet of Bones, what it’s like working for Valve, and writing intelligent fiction.

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]With a brain like Ted Kosmatka’s, writer at top videogame studio Valve and author of several excellent short stories, you might expect excellent fiction such as his latest novel, Prophet of Bones. But what goes on behind-the-scenes when you’re trying to make writing your career? We pitched some questions to Ted about the story behind Prophet of Bones, his work as a writer, and his career plans for the future. What other ideas is he rolling out next?

One thing’s for sure – he’s definitely an author you’ll want to keep an eye on him for his exciting, cutting-edge brand of fiction, especially if you’re willing to embrace the darker sides of speculative scifi. Check out his thoughts below on his latest novel, what it’s like to work for one of the world’s most respected game developers, and the challenges of writing intelligent fiction for the masses.

And don’t forget to read our full review of Ted Kosmatka’s Prophet of Bones right HERE!


How different was the jump to working within the games industry from novel and short story writing?

There is a lot of common ground between prose fiction and game writing. In both cases, it’s all about telling a story, and using the best tools that you have available to you. In the prose fiction world, you have language, exposition, internal and external dialog, the structure and flow of the sentences. In games, you have spoken lines, dynamic action, along with a whole artistic style that helps you set mood and tone. But it’s still, at its core, all the same thing—communicating a story to the audience. To me, the big difference between the two forms is the level of collaboration. In prose, it’s just you and the computer screen. But in the games industry there are meetings, and long discussions about nearly every facet of what you’re doing. There’s a lot of give and take on everyone’s part, and by the time you get anywhere near to the end product there are all these talented hands that have helped shape the way the story looks. That is the strength of the video game medium.

When did you decide to expand upon the short story “The Prophet of Flores” and why?

I decided to expand the short story into The Prophet of Bones because I always felt I wasn’t done with the story yet. I knew there was more that could be told, and I was dying to know what happened to Paul when he’d smuggled the DNA out of Flores. Did he get caught? Was he able to test the sample? Did he get to the bottom of the conspiracy? What were these strange bones? These are all things I wanted to find out. The only way to know was to write it.

The supernatural elements of the novel feel a bit out of place in a novel exploring a world where evolutionist theory prevailed – what prompted your decision to add these dark creatures into the fold?

Ah, but to me there were no supernatural elements. Those elements only seemed supernatural to the characters in the story who were primed to interpret them that way. The dark creatures in the novel were living things that absolutely could exist. Or, to put it another way, could be made to exist. The fact that they don’t exist in our world might be simply because no one has tried. Even the thought of it raises a lot of moral red flags, but in a world where science and morality have a much different relationship, it left me free to speculate, and to fill in the gaps of our knowledge with my own ideas. To me, it was straight forward scientific speculation.

Did you set out with the intention of working with Valve or how did that come about?

I look at it as a kind of miracle. Valve is a great place to be writer, and I’m always a little stunned that I get to work with such talented, amazing people every day. The whole thing came about because of my short stories, I think. At that point I’d been writing for fifteen years, but only publishing for about five. I’d had a particularly good run of short fiction in 2008 and 2009, and I ended up having short stories reprinted in four Year’s Best Anthologies in one year. John Joseph Adams introduced me to Marc Laidlaw, another writer at Valve, and I ended up sending Marc a bunch of my stories. He passed them around the office, and one thing lead to another, and the next thing I knew I was being flown to Seattle for an interview. At the end of the very difficult interview process, they offered me a job as a full-time writer. So after that I quit my job at the research lab and moved my entire life across country to Seattle.

What types of fiction are you typically drawn to?

Dark fiction. Idea fiction. Fiction that is like abstract art, open to different interpretations. The morally ambiguous. I’m drawn to certain kinds of sentences, though I couldn’t tell you what kind those are. I know it when I see it. I like fiction that takes risks. It’s easy to write the safe stuff. I love fiction that plays at the boundaries of uncomfortable but in the end tells a great story.

Is there any specific video game project you’d love to write if you were able to work on any project without bounds or time constraints?

I’m really looking forward to helping with the games that Valve will be doing next. (Though I might not be able to say what those are.) Right now I’m working with the Dota 2 team, and I’m really enjoying the exploration of that vast universe.

What are the challenges you run into when crafting a novel that speaks on an extremely intelligent level without alienating those who don’t understand the jargon?

That’s a great question. Honestly, the audience is very smart, and I think most people like a good challenge. I also think—and I could be wrong here—that most readers don’t mind if they don’t catch every single facet of a story. I believe the worst thing you can do is to write down to your audience, explain everything away. If I’m reading a novel about a crazed whale, I expect the author better know a lot more about whales than I do, or I’ll wonder why I’m reading the book. And I’m fine with a lot of the technical whale stuff coasting across my brain without sinking in. The important thing is that the author knows what it all means. As a reader, I don’t have to know. Not all of it anyway. It’s about building trust. The reader trusts the author not to lead them astray, and the author trusts the reader to follow. It is a fine line that you have to walk though, and it is certainly possible, as a writer, to go too far. I have had a few reviews where people hated my stuff and complained about having to constantly look stuff up, so I am perhaps not the greatest judge of where that line is.

Since you’re firmly entrenched in the video game universe, what do you feel are aspects of a successful video game narrative?

I think probably the same as the successful narrative for an epic poem. Or a play, or a movie, or a novel. A good story is universal. You have to care about the characters, and the stakes had better be high. Life or death. Love or loss. The player has to feel like they’re invested in what happens.

What’s the next novel you plan on releasing – are you looking to expand on any more of your short stories?

Yeah, I’m currently working on my third novel right now based on my Nebula nominated short story “Divining Light.” It’s about an addicted, unstable physicist who stumbles across a flaw in reality that might prove the existence of the human soul. He also stumbles across those soulless who don’t want their secret revealed.

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About the Author: Brittany Vincent