Alyse Knorr is the author of the next book in the Boss Fight series, GoldenEye 007, as well as a previous book, Super Mario Bros. 3. The GoldenEye book is currently being funded in a Kickstarter campaign and comes out later this year, first as a paperback and then as a special edition hardcover. I caught up with her today over email, and she graciously answered my questions as one of her editors on the book. - Gabe Durham
What did you learn from writing the Super Mario Bros. 3 book that you then brought into writing about GoldenEye?
So many things! From a research perspective, I learned that writing about games well requires exploring a huge range of sources: interviews with the developers, interviews with super-fans, interviews with cultural critics, research into academic game theory, and research into the contextual history of the era. You need to talk to people, comb through old copies of The New York Times online, stalk old buildings on Google Maps, and simplify then apply complex theoretical ideas from games criticism. Sometimes the most exciting research finds are articles that were written just at the time the game originally came out--comparing the historical criticism alongside today's commentary is so fascinating.
When it comes to writing, I learned from Super Mario Bros. 3 that my job is to weave together all of these different sources on all of these different topics to tell a clear and compelling story. Anyone can find a cool listicle online called "10 things you didn't know about GoldenEye," but when you tell a story, you have to work things out like narrative arc, scenes, character development, and what's at stake emotionally. Writing Super Mario Bros. 3 taught me that you need a clear throughline for your book--a guiding question, hypothesis, or argument--to bring everything together. That's what makes it a cohesive and satisfying experience for a reader (I hope!)
In a recent video, you do a great job of describing what GoldenEye's multiplayer mode meant to you when the game came out. What other games have you loved playing with others, either local or online?
The three games I played most with friends through high school and college were Mario Kart 64, GoldenEye, and Super Smash Bros. for the N64 and then GameCube. They are such hilarious, silly games. They are designed to create so much emotion--I mean, there's nothing like the anger you feel when your buddy red-shells you just INCHES before you cross the finish line in Mario Kart 64. But it's a hilarious kind of anger. Of course, I also still love playing Super Mario Bros. 3 with family and friends, and I have a lot of memories of growing up and playing it with my dad and brother, which I wrote about in my Boss Fight title on Super Mario 3. I still think it's so fun to introduce that game to little kids--I played some with a 10-year-old the other day and he was shocked at how hard it is. "It's old-school hard!" I told him.
What about the history of GoldenEye surprised you or ran counter to what you had assumed going into your research?
My biggest surprise was just how organically this game was made, through iterative design and a profound trust between each of the developers as well as between the developers and Rare management. Early on, GoldenEye was meant to be an on-the-rails shooter--a fundamentally different type of game than the open 3D world in the final version. The multiplayer was thrown together in six weeks right at the end of development, pretty much just to see if it could be done.
Because almost none of the developers had ever worked on a game before, they didn't know what the rules were, and so they could easily break them all. This, along with the work culture of Rare at the time, allowed unparalleled creativity and freedom. These were such brilliant, adventurous, and ambitious designers, and so it's no wonder that, given the time to experiment and innovate, they came up with something as beautiful as GoldenEye.
The year is 1997. You're playing GoldenEye multiplayer with three friends on a big boxy 4:3 TV. You're going to play multiplayer for the next 3 hours, but the twist is: You have to keep the same weapon/play mode specs the whole time! What are they?
Power Weapons, Facility, 10 minutes! I think I've done these very settings for 3 hours, haha.
What's your relationship with the Bond franchise like outside of this particular game? Do you have a favorite Bond actor and a favorite movie?
Like many Millennials, I really didn't care much about Bond until GoldenEye the game, which was really the first meaningful interaction with Bond I ever had. So GoldenEye the movie is my favorite Bond film, and for me, Pierce Brosnan will always be Bond. No offense to Daniel Craig fans, but he's too bulky and sweaty to be my Bond! The women actresses in GoldenEye are also amazing. I really love Judi Dench as M, especially when she calls him a "misogynist dinosaur"! I also love the fact that Famke Janssen (who plays Xenia Onatopp), was so hardcore that she sent an actor to the hospital during filming because she "got carried away," and she herself broke a rib after Brosnan threw her across a room. What a badass!
You're very good at pitching books, and I remember appreciating that you put just as much work into your 2019 GoldenEye proposal as you had the first time around with SMB3, even though we already had a working relationship. But more than that, I remember what a great impression both proposals made on Mike and me. How do you approach a book proposal? What advice would you pass on to people who have a nonfiction book idea that they want to pitch to a press or an agent?
This is such a nice thing to say! Thanks, Gabe. I wanted to give you and Mike just as polished and professional a proposal for GoldenEye as I did for Super Mario Bros. 3 because I respect the hell out of you both, and the work you do for Boss Fight. You deserve only the best.
I think a book proposal is like a combination of a job interview and a date. It needs to be meticulous, persuasive, and professional, to prove that you are ready to do this job, but it also has to be fun and exciting, and give a sense of your voice. You hope that your proposal will make the editor say "Holy smokes this is so cool! I need to hear this story. And I'm totally confident this is the author to tell it." Editors have to invest a lot of time, money, and trust in their authors, so I believe that we authors owe it to editors (not to mention readers!) to show up and do the job well.
From a technical standpoint, I try to center my proposal on a clear, concise thesis so that it will stick in the editor's mind all day and be very memorable. I only write the proposal after I've already done a lot of research, seen what's out there, figured out my approach, and written a sample chapter. That way I can really prove to the editor not only that the book itself is worth getting behind, but that I will write it on time and write it well. The pitch is in part saying: listen, I've done my homework already, I've got a plan, and this is why it's a great plan. In this way, writing the proposal is basically like getting started writing the book itself.
Read more about the book on our Kickstarter page here.