Interview - Steven-Elliot Altman
Image courtesy of Steven-Elliot Altman.
Steven-Elliot Altman is a bestselling science fiction author and an award-winning videogame writer and narrative designer. He’s been trusted with some diverse major brands; including Batman, Sherlock Holmes, Ancient Aliens, The Wizard of Oz, and The Terminator.
To date, every game Steve has written has gone on to become that company's highest grossing title. For example, Steve wrote and game directed Acclaim's highest grossing game, the multiple award-
winning MMORPG title 9DRAGONS, still being actively played after 15 years. More recently, Steve penned and narrative designed Wooga’s highest grossing game, the Facebook / IOS / Android sensation PEARL’S PERIL, which boasts 90+ million players.
His recent game projects include ANCIENT ALIENS: THE GAME and PROJECT BLUE BOOK: THE GAME which Steve wrote and narrative designed for The History Channel, based on two of their hit television series, and his latest game is TERMINATOR: DARK FATE: THE GAME, based on the feature film.
Steven’s novels include Captain America is Dead, Zen in the Art of Slaying Vampires, Batman: Fear Itself, The Killswitch Review, The Irregulars and Deprivers. In reviews of note his writing has been compared to that of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Michael Crichton and Philip K. Dick, and he has collaborated with world class writers such as Neil Gaiman, Michael Reaves, Harry Turtledove and Dr. Janet Asimov. He’s also the editor of the critically acclaimed anthology The Touch and a contributor to Shadows Over Baker Street, a Hugo Award winning anthology of Sherlock Holmes stories. Steve's latest novel, Severed Wings, is now available from WordFire Press.
The Mood 51: How has coming from the gaming world influenced your writing? I've hypothesized about this before, but I'd like to hear your own take on it.
Steven-Elliot Altman: Great question. Well, certainly more people know me as a game writer than as an author. It’s inevitable because the audience on the videogames I write for is so much larger than my book readership. But hey, I’ll take it. Every storyteller just wants to be heard, right? Who cares what venue? I’m so lucky I get to work in both fields. But what few realize is that I started out as an author, and that led me to become a game writer. But now I’m coming back to novels after a long hiatus with my latest erotic fantasy novel Severed Wings and I think the biggest influence I brought back from gaming is my newfound understanding of storytelling structure. Before I wrote games I was definitely more stream-of-consciousness writer, and now I plot cause-and-effect much more consciously. I think it’s a positive influence. And writing while unconscious never turns out well.
M51: Give a one-sentence summary of each of your books. SEA: Oh fun. Captain America is Dead: A 12-year-old boy goes on a terrifying road trip across America to track down his hero’s killer, and becomes a hero himself in the process.
Zen in the Art of Slaying Vampires: A college couple fall in love and study Buddhism together before they’re murdered by vampires, and he uses meditation to overcome his bloodlust.
Deprivers: A medical epidemic where those infected can touch your bare skin and cause you to lose one of your senses… sight, sound, touch, taste, balance, paralysis, etc., and the world goes touch shy.
The Touch: The Deprivers medical epidemic continues, but in an anthology with 23 other writers; all better than me, like William F. Nolan, Janet Asimov, Harry Turtledove and Katherine Dunn giving their take on my epidemic, with proceeds to AIDS and Cancer charities.
Shadows Over Baker Street: My story in this anthology (A Case Of Royal Blood) teams Sherlock Holmes up with Science Fiction author H.G. Wells to stop a poltergeist from murdering Princess Wilhelmina, who must grow up to become the Queen of Holland.
The Irregulars: Six clever orphans solve one of Sherlock Holmes greatest cases against an enemy wielding arcane powers, and manage to absolve Watson of murder charges.
Batman - Fear Itself: The population of Gotham City is driven by fear when a bestselling author writes the most terrifying novel of his career with the help of an insane criminal mastermind, and only The Dark Knight can stop the madness.
The Killswitch Review: In a Blade Runner style future where we all live forever young you need a special device called a killswitch to kill yourself, and an investigator at the end of his rope and his android have one night to prevent a wave of copycat suicides.
I Should Have Stayed In Oz: My story in this anthology ("Suffer Not a Witch to Live in Kansas") follows a young witch named Lorelei, who is Dorothy’s doppelganger, and Prospero, her disobedient winged monkey, as they arrive in Kansas and set off to off The Wizard for crimes against Ozmanity.
Severed Wings: A paralyzed young actor stalks his beautiful neighbors because he thinks they can cure him, and gets sucked into an ancient mystery filled with angels and demons.
M51: Which of your characters do you relate to the most and why?
SEA: Fuck, that’s a hard one. We are all of the characters we create to some degree, right?
They don’t just spring out of nowhere. But my first thought is that I relate to David, the protagonist and narrator of Zen in the Art of Slaying Vampires. My mom passed away as I was writing that book and that character got locked into my bizarre spiritual journey while I tried to make sense of it all. I went along on his journey while he went along on mine. You can find all my deepest pain expressed through that character, I suppose, as he struggles to retain his humanity after being murdered and waking up as a vampire. In
a way, that character and I sort of saved each other.
"You can find all my deepest pain expressed through that character, I suppose, as he struggles to retain his humanity after being murdered and waking up as a vampire. In a way, that character and I sort of saved each other."
M51: Berlin seems to be your favorite place (or one of your favorite places). Explain why.
SEA: Berlin is where I am sitting as I write this, Julia. Yes, it is indeed my happy place! It’s the new Bohemia. This city is vibrant and teeming with art and music and culture and awesome food. It’s grungy like Seattle in the 90s and hip like I imagine The East Village was in the 60s with a modern cosmopolitan flavor of “we’re all artists and we don’t give a fuck if we’re popular or not”. There’s so little pretension here, which is a nice balance
for me after living in Hollywood all these years. People share ideas in cafes and argue in every imaginable language and accent and I’m just inspired to write every place I go.
M51: What are your top 5 favorite video games?
SEA: Oh Gosh, so many. But my all-time faves (that I did not work on) are BioShock, Portal, Journey, Red Dead Redemption and Myst. As far as board games I’m kind of in love with social deduction games at the moment, and my favorite is Blood On the Clocktower which I’ve been beta testing with a group of friends. Don’t miss it.
M51: What are your top 5 favorite books?
SEA: That’s much easier.
The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov, Franny and Zooey by Salinger, Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, Stranger In A Strange Land by Heinlein and Geek Love by Katherine Dunn.
M51: Someone is planning on reading your writing for the first time. Which of your books should they start with and why?
SEA: My new novel, Severed Wings, for sure. I like to think I’ve gotten better each book I’ve written. I feel like I have growth spurts in between books. This one just came out this year after 5 years since I’d written a book, so it should be my best. It still scares me a bit when I read it. So, I’d be honored if any of your readers start reading me, and I recommend you start there and if you enjoy it maybe work backwards through my list and that way you’ll stop happy wherever you end up : )
"I feel like I have growth spurts in between books. This one just came out this year after 5 years since I’d written a book, so it should be my best. It still scares me a bit when I read it."
M51: Dovetailing on and kind of inverting the previous question, which of your books do you think is the most esoteric/least accessible and why?
SEA: That’s an interesting question, Julia. Zen in the Art of Slaying Vampires is certainly my most esoteric work. I sort of channeled that one. I was studying Buddhism at the time and dealing with the loss of my mother, and so I sort of wrote it in what the Buddhists refer to as a “Bardo State” and any wisdom in there came down from above, so to speak. I can’t even take full credit for it. That makes it esoteric in my mind. It’s out of print and hard to find, which makes it less accessible in a way (although I know that’s not what you meant)… but I just learned that it’s finally going to be republished by WordFire Press June 3rd, 2021, so it will be accessible again!
"I was studying Buddhism at the time [that I wrote Zen in the Art of Slaying Vampires] and dealing with the loss of my mother, and so I sort of wrote it in what the Buddhists refer to as a 'Bardo State' and any wisdom in there came down from above, so to speak."
M51: What are your top 5 achievements in life (of any kind)?
SEA: You’re killing me, Julia. 1) Becoming a published author. I became what I aspired to be.
2) Being a death / grief counselor. I helped people through some tough situations. 3) Mentoring other writers. I helped other writers make some good stuff happen. 4) Creating The Touch anthology as a charity project. Which gave me my career. 5) I’ve made some amazing friends. Having amazing people consider you a good enough candidate to be numbered among their friends is an achievement in my eyes.
M51: Do you have any pets? If so, what kind/what are their names, and if not, which pet would you get if you could/did?
SEA: Good thinking. End fluffy. Yes, I have a little black 18-year-old kitten named Chicklet who is made of love, waiting for me patiently back in Los Angeles, and I miss her terribly. She likes long naps and her favorite food is sour cream. We chat regularly on
WhatsApp. CHECK IT OUT: Severed Wings, Steven's new book!