Authorship and Collaboration with L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories

L.A. Noire: Collected Stories coverLast week, Mulholland Books, the crime fiction imprint of Little, Brown and Company, announced a partnership with Rockstar Games to produce a series of short stories based on characters and the world of the upcoming thriller video game L.A. Noire. Developed by Team Bondi in conjunction with Rockstar Games, L.A. Noire will be released for PlayStation3 and Xbox 360 on May 17, 2011, in North America and May 20, 2011, in Europe.

On June 6, L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories will be available for digital download from all major ebook retailers. Eight well-known authors will explore the dark and violent universe of Rockstar’s L.A. Noire video game, a universe that draws on research about crime and criminals in post-war Los Angeles. Some of the research to create the story world can be viewed at an interactive map published by the Los Angeles Times.

“L.A. Noire draws on a rich history of not just film, but also great crime literature for inspiration,” said Sam Houser, Founder of Rockstar Games. “Using the game’s world as a springboard, we worked with the genre’s best writers to create stories that lived up to the finest traditions of crime fiction.”

“We are thrilled to be embarking on a creative partnership with the team at Rockstar Games,” said Michael Pietsch, Publisher of Little, Brown and Company. “The possibilities for cross-promotions of this nature, encouraging gamers to read and readers to play games are huge. We’re looking forward to a new frontier of book publishing possibilities and see Rockstar as an ideal partner.”

Contributors to L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories include Joyce Carol Oates, Lawrence Block, and Joe Lansdale, among others. According to Mulholland’s Director of Marketing Miriam Parker, some of the writers were able to preview the game. One of these authors is Megan Abbott, who describes her encounter with the L.A. Noire story world at her own blog. An excerpt of Abbott’s story, “The Girl,” is currently available as a preview.

Another contributor, Edgar-nominated crime thriller author Duane Swierczynski penned “Hell of An Affair,” which centers on William Shelton, a professional land surveyor. “Hell of An Affair” is currently available as a free download at the Rockstar Games website.

I caught up with Swierczynski over email to ask him about how the creative process worked, and this is what he had to say:

We were asked to write an original story that connected to one of the segments of the game — however, the story couldn’t “step on” or spoil any part of the game, for obvious reasons. Jonathan Santlofer (who edited the collection) called me to run down a list of possibilities, giving me a thumbnail of a few segments until I stopped him on one: “A Marriage Made in Heaven.”

Now I can’t tell you *exactly* why this appealed to me, because then I’d be arrested and hauled off to Spoiler Jail. But something in it spoke to me, reminding me of the kinds of stories that James M. Cain (one of my favorite writers of all time) used to cook up. Even in that short thumbnail, I saw the potential to have a lot of nasty fun.

Jonathan sent me a longer synopsis of that segment. I read it. I brooded. The tricky thing was coming up with a story that connected with “Marriage” in some meaningful way, but didn’t ruin any of the plot surprises. So I put my brain in reverse and wondered if a “prequel” could work — taking one of the characters from “Marriage” and telling their backstory, while at the same time making it as suspenseful and action-packed and noir-ish on its own. That’s where my contribution, “Hell of An Affair,” came from. (And I’m proud to say that my story ends at the exact moment where “A Marriage Made in Heaven” begins.)

It will be interesting to see how “traditional” book authors are brought into collaborative relationships with video game producers–and to see how such collaborations are constructed. Neither Swierczynski nor Abbott seem to have had access to the “story bible” or other production and development documentation, but instead either previewed the game itself near the end of the production cycle or viewed thumbnails/synopses of the game’s chapters.


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