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Interview With Greg Keyes

Librarian Comment: 

This is an interview with Greg Keyes, the author of The Elder Scrolls Novel: The Infernal City. Thanks to Greg Keyes and also to Gstaff for facilitating the interview.

TIL: First of all, The Imperial Library sincerely appreciates the acknowledgment in the novel. While conducting your research, what were some of the more useful things about TIL? In your opinion, what could be on the site?

GK: I just found it to be a well-organized body of lore. I played Oblivion, and later Morrowind, but of course didn't read every book in the game. The timelines, the maps, the Guide to Daedra – all these were very useful. The compilation of names in Zeph's TES treasury helped me work out the names for the characters in the book. In the outlining and initial writing, I was at the site constantly.

TIL: Could you briefly explain the planning process? We assume there were a lot of preconceived ideas. Did you receive a detailed outline of events that had to be written into the book? How much freedom did you have when it came to your own ideas for the novel?

GK: Things were pretty wide open, in terms of the story I could tell. I was given a preliminary outline of history after Oblivion, but I was also told that some of it was negotiable. I wrote a number of different short proposals, which were reviewed by my editor and the guys at Bethesda. Once the basic idea was settled on, I wrote a longer, more detailed outline, which then went through a few changes. All through this process I had access to Bruce Nesmith and Kurt Kuhlman at Bethesda, so I could bounce ideas off of them, ask whether I could or couldn't do something. Of course, it had to be a TES story, so I was constrained by lore -- although not, interestingly, by game mechanics. I was told specifically that no one wanted to "hear the dice rolling" so to speak. We are to imagine the world of TES to be a real place, of which the games are merely representations. My book represents that world in another way. Geographical distances, for instance, are contracted in the game -- in my books they aren't, so it takes days or weeks rather than hours to run from one city to another.

TIL: What was the hardest part about writing a novel based on the rather extensive Elder Scrolls history? Conversely, were there things that made your task easy?

GK: Well, it's not unlike writing a historical novel; the amount of lore is daunting because I don't want to get it wrong or re-invent the wheel. On the other hand, when I had a question about something, I could search the Imperial Library for the answer or ask Kurt or Bruce, who usually replied within the day. Finally, there is the game itself; I could walk around virtual Cheydinhal and then imagine everything about it bigger, fuller, more detailed. And of course, a few decades later.

TIL: And those Argonian swear words, any funny stories you can share with us?

GK: A few are actually Breton (coac', for instance) and I used distorted words from the Breton language still spoken in France. With the Argonian, I looked at all of the words and names, worked out a grammar that I thought explained them, and then created my own words. That's not funny, really, but I will say that most of them are based around the word for cloaca.

TIL: Finally, can you tell us anything at all about the second Elder Scrolls novel? What can we expect in the second part of the story?

GK: I don’t think we’re ready to drop spoilers at this point. Not everyone is going to die, I guess.

TIL: Thank you for answering our questions, and good luck with the second Elder Scrolls novel.