Last week, Shawn Nichols had his book grace the front page of the Tellest website. Book of Forsaken Futures is an immense Choose Your Own Adventure story, and certainly the roundabout way to get to the multitude of endings required a lot of work. Now, since Nichols has wrapped up that huge volume, he’s got more content coming from his world. Join me today as we learn more about the author and his growing catalog.
Tellest: Hello Shawn! It’s always a pleasure to talk to a storyteller who wears their passion for their craft on their sleeve. I can tell that you’re carving out some time from your multitude of projects, so I want to thank you for that. I talk with dozens of talespinners every year, but it’s rare to talk to one who doesn’t think of their stories as a bit more of a straight line. You’ve got a pretty rare perspective that I’m very interested in hearing about. Fans of the sort of books you write are no doubt in for a treat. With that, I suppose we’ll draw back the curtain and see what makes you tick. Welcome to the interview!
Shawn Nichols: Thanks Mike, I am happy to be here and excited to see where this goes.
T: I always start off by trying to figure out what inspired the authors that I interview. This is sort of a rare case in that when you and I started talking, we knew our focus was going to be on a meaty interactive fiction book, but I also know that you’re working on more traditional content as well. So, I suppose we can broaden the question a bit. What sort of authors or stories inspired you to pick up a pencil and crack open a notebook to begin your own stories? Was interactive fiction always what you wanted to start with, or did you begin with other, perhaps more straight-forward tales?
SN: Well, it all started during my homeschool days, which was right up until the 1998/1999 school year, when I entered public school for 7th grade at Buljan Intermediate in Roseville Ca. Anyway, up until then, my most frequent hang out had been the library. I read a lot of books—and I mean a lot. My reading speed is somewhere over a thousand words a minute, which has always meant that I can burn through reading material fairly quickly. Though for a long time, I enjoyed many variants and subgenres of fiction, I never really found anything to be truly inspiring.
However, I did find that I had a fascination for mythology and legends. Especially Arthurian legends, Greek mythology and other legends such as the ballad of Gilgamesh and Beowulf. Anything I found in these stories and legends that I didn’t know or understand, I would find further books on said subjects and research. One of the nice things about legends and myths are the various interpretations. Doing my own research and coming to my own conclusions. From these conclusions I built what I felt would be a more modern meeting of the facts and fiction.
As for the second question, yes and no. There are a lot of things that have statements beginning with “Originally” when I touch on this subject. For instance, the series name was originally Magi, and all of the stories in the series were Book of ___. Book of Forsaken Futures was neither supposed to be the first, nor a book. I had originally planned on it being a fighting game as a matter of fact. I had a lot of ideas on modes, including a story mode and a mode where you could “alter fate” by changing aspects of the character you were using. Whereas the story itself was linear.
The original story followed Hale and Hayloskien through a direct storyline where Hale struggled with visions of the future but could not tell which ones were futures of the current stream of events, and which ones were from alternate realities. Realities where he could find to some extent how he had denied them existence. This would lead into a series of hijinks, including different points where he would become overwhelmed in his quest to save the world from various possible apocalypses. It was usually at points like this that he would lose his grip on his other personality Hayloskien, who would go on a rampage. Or, in some cases, he would be pulled into these alternate realities.
This concept evolved into the Voices of Chaos and the story came to a point where it made more sense to me, to instead explore these other possiblities through the choices of the reader and it allowed me to invest in the other characters and spread the wealth. Instead of the weight being entirely on Hale and having everything happen solely to him. It allowed me to switch the theme to personal choices, consequences and perspectives.
T: You mentioned another important point in the story that I’d love to get into a bit more. The nature of your story means that you’re able to see different characters take the wheel—in some cases, in a pretty clever way. How was it trying to balance multiple identities? Did you end up doing a lot of research on the topic?
SN: Well, honestly rotating characters served a lot of purposes. Some were just to maintain the natural balance, others to hide or give information. I tried to just to go over what characters were in a given room and see whose perspective worked best. I would often think of the scenes like they were in a movie and run it through my head, see who had the best angle, treating each character like a camera.
Research was always an interesting thing. For personality, all I had to do was observe how different people interacted with each other over the year. I would over time relate them to one person or another, looking back for reference at who or whatever I related them to. For instance, Rywho or the person whom his personality was based on, acted a lot like Dante from Devil May Cry. And I emphasize acted like. I knew from being around him for years what was behind that action and why he acted like Dante. So if I was having trouble imagining how he would act toward someone or in a situation, I would read the related manga or comics, watch cut scenes on youtube, or even replay the games.
Speaking of games, that was another fun way to explore a character. We often take for granted exactly what open worlds give us. When I play one, especially if I am trying to work on the personality for a specific character, I would play the game as though I was that character. Make the choices that I know from one experience or another that they would. You do that long enough and you begin to see things through there eyes and not only walk in their shoes, but see why they picked them.
T: You mentioned a few times in your previous response that you’ll use all sorts of different mediums to help you inspire the characters and story that you come up with. Do you ever tackle it from the other side, and envision your story as a movie, or in comic form or anything like that?
SN: As a matter of fact, I do. Envisioning it in other mediums is actually a good chunk of how I develop scenes. Amongst the available tools, I find I use a lot of music. If other routes don’t help me get into a character’s head, I have playlists for each character on Spotify that I go to. Or if I am working on a scene that involves two characters, I might find a song they would have in common and listen to it to help me set and work through the scene, kind of like it was a movie. Heck, each book actually has a theme song, I can’t actually put those down in the books directly because you know, copyright. But that is the method I use to help me work out the story arch, imagining the song as the backdrop for a movie trailer or AMV. Each book has a theme song in this way.
For those curious,
Books of Forsaken Futures: Magi is Downfall by Trust Company
Dawn of Beyonders is Nexus by Amaranthe
End of Normals is 1,000,000 Lightyears by Amaranthe
Army of Beyonders is Points of Authority by Linkin Park
War for Life is Fading Away by Demon Hunter
Path of Immunity is … I forgot, honestly, I know it was something by Demon Hunter.
Once I have the story arch figured out, I don’t come back to it unless I get lost.
I would love to move it on to other mediums in full. I just lack the manpower as it were. But hey, if anyone out there in the aether wants to help adapt it to other mediums, I am always game, and my email is gone through regularly.
T: I am flabbergasted by the amount of work that you do. The book that I was first introduced to, Book of Forsaken Futures—your second volume, I might add—is absolutely massive, and beyond that, you’ve got tons of other books in the works. How do you manage to find time for a normal life outside of that sort of workmanship?
SN: Honestly, I don’t. Not in a planning fashion anyway. I treat my writing as I do my art. As a hobby. I work, I run my errands, I do family things, and if there is time, I write what I can. Book of Forsaken Futures or Magi as I have opted to switch the Book and series titles (Trying to avoid copyright issues and confusion as there is a Manga series by the same name now.) was actually built piece by piece. Each passage was physically written down while I was at work or on the bus to and from work. At the time I was working in a call center. Between calls, most people read, I opted to write. During that time, I had to take notes and make charts to help me keep everything straight. Unfortunately, I only still have the first notebook. More current books, I have more freedom to write while I am at home as my kids are older and I now have a chromebook to type everything out.
Sidenote – Amazon lists it as the second volume, but the second edition is more accurate. If someone wants to still get the first edition for collecting purposes, all the power to you. If you want to get both, reach out to me at my email and we can try to arrange something more cost effective than buying both at full price. I am trying to fix this issue, but they are the same book. The second edition is just a lot cleaner and easier to read.
T: Choose Your Own Adventure books were on the somewhat rare side even when I was a kid. It’s not something that I see too much of these days. Are your kids into that sort of thing, or does it just sort of fire up a nostalgia muscle for you that the younger generations can’t get into?
SN: Honestly, the kids aren’t really big on books. Comic books and a rare handful being an exception, their loss. But they do like to sit with me or other family members and role play. Whether it be Dungeons and Dragons, free RP, or even whatever random scenario we come up with in Minecraft. For me though, it is a hobby, an outlet. I could be sitting in an empty room, utterly silent, and still come up with some off the wall story or scenario. Whether or not I can use it for anything is another story. I used to have notebooks full of ideas that never got used, just left behind.
T: With as much as you have on the horizon for your universe, do you ever find yourself going back to old notebooks or other material to try and inspire new ideas that you may discover now that you’re a bit older?
SN: I wish I had my old notebooks. I really do. Because I am constantly coming up with new ideas and a lot of the time they don’t relate to anything at the time. Heck, at one point I was working on a political satire in the vein of Demolition Man, but geared for our current political climate. But it felt like it was missing something, so I shelved it. Then one day after a graveyard shift (Those who have been there know the mental state) I found myself going on an odd tangent. I quickly messaged my little sister my ideas, so I could come back to them after I slept off the graveyard delirium. But because of that, what was going to be a political satire, became a post collapse fantasy, where it all began with a turtle. (See Unbalanced: Fall of Angelus on Kindle Vella for that one.)
Getting off of the tangent there, I would if I still had them. As with a lot of things like that in life, you only really get to hold on to a handful and something always gets lost in a move.
T: Do you ever use something like Minecraft to help you visualize locations in your world, or experiment with storylines when you’re playing Dungeons and Dragons?
SN: Oh yeah, all of the time. Or just to cut loose when I crash into the old writer’s block. Minecraft, The Sims, Dungeons and Dragons, or back in the day RPG Maker for world mapping/building. Open world games and fighting games with customizable models such as Soul Calibur for creating a quick and easy model when I am trying to envision a character or need a visual of how something flows.
T: I used to love reading Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books when I was younger, and it warms my heart to see it still being honored in such a way. What made you decide that you wanted to stick with that subgenre, and how has the digital age changed what you can do with these sorts of books?
SN: Honestly, I remember the scene that made me decide I wanted to do it as a choose your own adventure. I was walking down the street of Reno NV, job hunting at the time. The night before I had just bought and downloaded some new albums on my Zune. Now, most scenes when I plan them out, I already have a vague idea of what the scene is supposed to be and then I flip through
my music on a grand shuffle until I find something that has the right vibe for the scene I have in mind. Anyway, this was different. The song No Limit by the Scorpions came on and I remember rocking out to it until it got to the drop at the end of the song, and I could see the scene in my mind. Hale getting just utterly fed up with Rywho’s crap and taking him up to the sky to throw him back down at the ground. I liked this idea in my head, how I envisioned it.
So, I reset the song and listened to it a few more times and I tried to fit it into the story as I had planned it, as a vision or an alternate reality. But there was a problem. It just didn’t fit, no matter how I looked at it. As the story was planned, there was no reason for the two to fight. So, I found myself thinking, well what if I wrote it as an alternate story, maybe one from the perspective of Rywho. The more I thought of it, the more places I thought about it, how other characters may have a better perspective of a scene. How other alternates could make an interesting feature of the story. At that point I decided that a choose your own adventure was more appropriate. That if I was ever going to do the fighting game, I was going to need more people anyway and I was a long way from getting anyone interested in the project.
As for the digital age influence, well it made it doable. Especially as I didn’t have a computer when I was working on the original book back in 2012. Wattpad was introduced to me by a friend of mine, and it was perfect storage for the story. Also, it gave me an audience to test on. Now, interactive novels are a more easily done thing, with apps and programs out there to help you build them. Now as an alternative, there are websites where you can post the content in an episodic form and get paid while you work on it.
T: What would you say are the best ways to start accumulating new fans, whether it’s for the Choose Your Own Adventure story, or for any other sort of project you might be working on? What challenges have you run into when trying to gain people’s attention?
SN: I wish I knew. That has always been a difficult thing for me: networking and getting a story, game, or other property into the hands of others. There are people who enjoy my stories, but they only read them because I introduced them to it directly. But organically gathering followers, readers, or fans—just never been within my wheelhouse. But I can say the same for anything honestly for stories, artwork, trying to gather a team for making a video game, etc. Heck, I would love to have converted the first book into a series of comics. I even play with the idea from time to time. Showing different character perspectives with different art styles. But I keep coming back to the same thing, it would need to be a team effort.
T: You just mentioned something that I’m always interested in when it comes to sprawling content like that which you’re working on. Sometimes we have to tap into the resources we have, and in your case, you likely have a decent team that you can rely on. Who does your team comprise of?
SN: Me—as of the moment, me. I model the personalities and some of the appearance of characters off of people I know. But it is not like they model it for me. I just observe their personality in action and if I find someone’s personality to be interesting, I make comparisons and mental notes that I use to build the character. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I am not very good at team building. I’ve been in management and leadership roles, and I can lead a group. I just can’t put one together to save my life.
But, would I love to get a team together to build this into something great and massive? Naturally, I would. I would love to make this into something where down the line I can not only interact and be excited with fans, but to be able to include them in the creative process. Heck, if I make it big enough, I would love to leave the series open at certain points and give the fans a chance to add their spin to it. As long as they can provide a logical discussion for any changes they may make, I see no reason to not make their answer a possible reality. Could you imagine that? Your favorite author not only reaches out to you about your fan fiction, but supports your creation, to the point of allowing you to publish that branch of the story as an official part of the property, that said fan gets profit from.
T: You’re not exclusively working on Choose-Your-Own-Adventure material. It seems more like Book of Forsaken Futures is a doorway into the world that you’re continuing to work on, with the style of your work being a little more traditional in their presentation. What was it like shifting gears from those two styles?
SN: To be frank and I don’t mean Miller, with the first book it made sense to use the multiple-choice formula. Primarily as choice became the theme for that book. I never wrote it any differently though. I tried to treat each passage as a smaller story and put them together to show the entire narrative.
T: So far, much of the work that you’ve done puts the reader in the driver’s seat. As we’ve discussed, you’ve got more of a traditional Urban Fantasy catalog that’s going to be coming through soon, but with 2,000 pages of interactive fiction under your belt, do you see yourself staying away from it for very long?
SN: As it currently stands, there is only one other choose your adventure planned in the series, but that can change. I could find that whatever theme I am trying to give for a future story may well be better told with a choose your adventure. Each ending goes off to its own direct story, not only because it makes sense in the narrative, but because of the sheer confusion I would be looking at.
T: Speaking of how many endings go off to different stories, you have a slew of other books planned for the world you’re building. Were they all built off the foundation of Book of Forsaken Futures / Magi, or are some of them new books that are being started from scratch for you?
SN: The vast majority continue off of Books of Forsaken Futures: Magi. But I do have other ideas. One I am working on as we speak is currently not connected. It is an entire other universe, and I will probably do others. If for nothing else, I have other storylines that will eventually hit where I need to have universes to work with. But as I said earlier, I find myself almost constantly coming up with new ideas. Most have nothing to do with anything else but may eventually become their own stories.
Heck, I have a series of concept drawings that almost became a kids book series—may still. And that thought process started with an offhand comment. Someone referred to one of my kids as a murder hobo in the campaign we were playing and I laughed, responding “That is Captain Murder Hobo to you!” No sooner did I finish saying it, then I got the image in my head of a teddy bear decked out in household items, called Captain Murder Hobo. From there I started drawing concepts for other characters, stuffed animals that each had an assigned rpg class that is completely counter to their animal identity, symbolically. Such as a gender fluid Unicorn Paladin, a Sheep Berserker, a Lion Jester, and a bat cleric. I was going to call it “Stuff of Legends” and each book would have a moral lesson. Anyway, getting off of that tangent.
T: You’re the one who typically creates the concept art for your books, right? Would you try and do the art and the story for your would-be children’s book, or would you try to farm out the art component of it?
SN: Honestly, I’d wing it. The main reason I end up doing as much of my projects as I do, is that I am not very good at team building. But if I worked out a good team, I would happily divide up the work and the benefits in equal fashion. Heck, if someone has a team that is ready and raring to work on a possible project off of my property just shoot me an email. I am a very easy person to negotiate with.
T: When storytellers begin discovering the worlds that they want to bring others to, they often see bits of real-life bleed through. As fantastical as your writing is, there are some inspirations that you’ve drawn from your own experiences. What was that like, tying it into a world that’s so rich with otherworldly feelings?
SN: As I mentioned earlier, I had been big on myth and legends when I was younger and had researched things I didn’t understand as well as trying to find how in my opinion these subjects would work out in the modern world. Well buckle up, because it just gets more meta. Before LARPing was a thing, I essentially had been doing just that with some friends, which allowed me to get a more in-action perspective of some concepts.
There are some more slice of life things that actually happened to myself and other persons that some of the characters were based on. From dealing with bullies, to the toilet seat of shame, there is some bits of reality sprinkled in. Speaking of characters, about half of the cast is based on people I knew, even if only in personality in some cases. By doing this and having these be people that I interacted with, some on the daily, allowed me to imagine how they would choose to handle certain situations.
T: Have the characters in your written universe ever sort of outpaced their real-life inspirations by way of character development?
SN: Now that’s a laugh. They have, but not generally in the sense of outpaced, but simply taken directions that were not available to the person or situations that just weren’t available to them. But that is the entire idea of the first book. To give the ability of choice and to see a multiverse in action. The continuations which take place after the endings further pronounce these outcomes, in some case they will allow me to display just how much difference can come from one choice.
T: And following up on that question, have your characters ever done anything to surprise you? You seem like you have a tight rein on everything, but you also write a significant amount of content. I’d feel like that was rife for opportunity for something to go off the rails, for better or worse.
SN: Yeah, I have written myself into some interesting situations. Usually because I try to keep everything consistent. That once I make a rule or give a property to the universe, I stay true to it. But given the world today and how everyone is trying to back out or rewrite history; I think it is much more important, especially for those who watch us, to see us take ownership for our decisions and try to move forward. There are areas in my original writing that I know I am going to have to take ownership of, from a point where I let the insanity that I was living in at the time get the best of me. However, it is part of the story, the world already has access to it. I just have to acknowledge it for what it is and move forward, making the story the best I can from there.
T: If someone wanted to learn more about you, and the worlds that you’re creating, where could they go to make that sort of discovery?
SN: Well, there is the Book of Forsaken Futures Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Magiboff. Also, I am very responsive at my e-mail Hayloskien@hotmail.com . Current stories in the works can be found here https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Shawn+Nichols&rh=n%3A21165462011&ref=nb_sb_noss . I am working on a website, but honestly it is going to take a while to put everything on there.
Also, you could watch my merch sites
Red Bubble – https://www.redbubble.com/people/hayloskien/shop?artistUserName=Hayloskien&collections=2774685&iaCode=all-departments&sortOrder=relevant#profile
Spring/Merch – https://hayloskien-basics.creator-spring.com
Spring/NFTs(original artwork related to book.) – https://masks-with-hayloskien.creator-spring.com . I do post concept art and use it for merch.
Other social websites –
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/shawn.nichols.756/
Pintrest – https://www.pinterest.com/halfskull/_created/
T: Shawn, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak to me. I know that you’ve been busy with your immense projects, and I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about you. We covered a lot of ground here, and I hope that readers can find this conversation as enlightening as it was delightful.
SN: Thanks Mike, it has been fun. I hope and look forward to future collaboration, especially with the first five endings getting their sequels as we speak. Until next time, thank you.
Once again, I’d like to take a moment to thank Shawn for taking some time out to let us get into his mind, and see the depths of his work. As you can see, he’s yet another busy author who puts his heart into his work. If you’re interested in joining along with a massive Choose Your Own Adventure story, you can check out Book of Forsaken Futures: MAGI (Books of Forsaken Futures 2) on Amazon today!
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