In early July, author Eli Easton is already starting work on her annual Christmas novel. It’s part of a long-running tradition—the first was Blame It on the Mistletoe back in 2013, when Easton kicked off her gay-romance writing career. Since then, she’s written over 30 books that cover everything from burgeoning Amish boy-love to a hot firefighter family (they’re nicknamed “the Hot Cannolis,” of course), and perhaps most tellingly, a series about paranormal dog-shifting guys whose human personalities reflect their canine forms.
This isn’t Easton’s first foray into writing. Eli Easton is, in fact, a pen name for one of gaming’s greatest icons—Jane Jensen, the veteran Sierra Online writer who codesigned King’s Quest VI and created the Gabriel Knight paranormal adventure series. The second game, 1995’s The Beast Within, was arguably the finest piece of full-motion video (FMV) storytelling at the time, delving into deep character-driven storytelling, an incredible tapestry of historical detail, and, quite notably at the time, smoldering queer subtext that has since found new life on the fanfiction hub AO3.
Jensen hasn’t been active in games for a while—her last big project was a Kickstarter for her Pinkerton Road Studio with her husband, Sierra composer Robert Holmes, and the 20th anniversary edition of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father. With renewed interest in point-and-click adventures and Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision (we even have a Monkey Island reboot happening), inquiring minds need to know: When are we getting a new Gabriel Knight adventure?
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Jane Jensen: I wish. I would have made Gabriel Knight 4 years ago if I'd been able to, but the rights are with Activision, and they just weren't interested in doing that. I have written a lot during the pandemic, and my introverted side has blossomed, let's put it that way, where you forget how to be with people. I do about four books a year as Eli Easton. So I’ve written quite a bit. I’m just finishing up a series with a coauthor, Tara Lain. The new book is coming out tomorrow [Thursday, June 30], actually.
Do you usually start this far ahead, five or six months before Christmas?
I know, it's crazy, isn't it? It's kind of a long story, but I've been doing self-pub in the last three or four years, mainly because the publisher I was working with in gay romance basically stopped paying its authors and all the authors left. I had already put out some things on my own and found that I really enjoyed the process.
Do you have any ideas you’ve been stewing on all these years, about a setting or story for Gabriel Knight 4?
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I have. I had an idea of what it would be about at the end of the third game. I can't remember if it's Gabriel or Grace who mentioned that there are these other sort of schattenjäger (shadow hunter) groups around the world. I had an idea that Grace was going to go off and join one of these other groups, and Gabriel was sort of alone and regretful. And then there was going to be a case involving witchcraft. I was initially thinking about Scotland or someplace isolated like the Isle of Mull for that kind of story, and I had some ideas about what was going to happen with them during the game, and their relationship, and what was going on with her.
If I had the chance to do it again, I'd have to sit down and think about whether that's the right story to proceed with, but probably it would be, because I've always loved witchcraft. And that's something I hadn't gotten the chance to do with Gabriel Knight. There are so many great movies out—The Witch, by Robert Eggers, but there was one that just came out called You Won't Be Alone that had some really interesting twists on witch lore. Compared to werewolves, there's been a lot of witch-themed horror movies in the last five years that have had some really wonderful texture, and some interesting twists on the idea of what a witch is.
Speaking of werewolves, some of your books have dogs as shape-shifters.
The way that series came about is, I read a hit romance series featuring werewolves that was set in Alaska, and it was really, really funny. I loved it, and I was like, oh my gosh, I want to do something like this, but for male-male. So I was talking to my husband and said, “I need something else. I can't do werewolves, that's too trite. I need some other kind of creature.” And he's like, “Well do dogs,” because we have dogs. We love dogs. And I was like, yeah, but that's kind of squicky, isn't it, thinking about having sex with your dog? And he's like, “No, you can do it.” And so that's how the series was born. It's romantic comedy. It's meant to be funny. It's been a very popular series. All the different characters are a breed of dog, so there's a bulldog character, and when they're in human form, they have those traits that the dog would have. The sheriff of the town is a herding dog, a sheepdog. So he's always like, trying to control what people do. It’s just been so much fun to write.
I don't know if you keep up with games these days, but adventure games, especially, point-and-clicks, are going through a bit of a renaissance right now.
No, I didn't know that, but I hope it's true. The last time I heard this was when we started our Kickstarter, and that renaissance didn't really materialize, but hopefully this time it will. That'd be exciting. I would love to work in games again, at some point.
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Do you still play games on your own for fun?
I haven't, the last few years. That side of my brain—I've always been a person who had to have something like that. I'm very obsessive. So I spent a few years doing jigsaw puzzles, hundreds of them. I've been a crossword addict and a solitaire addict, and my current thing now is I'm quilting, which is actually very much like, you cut things apart and you put them together in different patterns. It's very pattern oriented. But I mean, I've been a gamer my whole life, basically. Just not as much recently. That highly detailed, little widget part of my brain, it just loves that kind of stuff.
Have you thought about doing a crossover with your romance work, like a gay romance visual novel?
I would if there was a good opportunity. I was contacted by an interactive fiction company a couple years ago, and I did something for them. They were a new startup. I wrote a story, but they had a really weird system. They were trying to sell coins for different emotions. And they had all these strict rules about how you had to write it, so people would have to buy emotion coins. And then, when they went public, they ended up just becoming about user-created content.
So I've seen some of those like, they're very popular with the new generation on iPads and stuff, these interactive fiction games with very cartoony graphics. I really like trying new things, so I'm always up for doing something new if an opportunity comes along. But I haven't been really researching that, mainly because I've been on this treadmill of releasing my books so quickly. It takes up a lot of my energy.
What about a crossover in your audience—do any of your fans follow both your games and romance work?
A few, not many, but I do occasionally run across somebody who says that they found me through Gabriel Knight, found my romance through Gabriel Knight.
I feel like there was always this quasi-romantic streak in the Gabriel stories. Is that what pushed you to get into romance?
I don't think so. It's just a reflection of who I am as a writer. My two loves are horror and romance, and that sounds really psychotic, but I read romance growing up, and I read tons of horror growing up, and both of those had a thread in Gabriel Knight. Gabriel was definitely a classic rogue character, the bad-boy womanizer who you can't help but love and be attracted to.
When I found out about your Eli Easton work, I felt so vindicated, because The Beast Within had this incredibly homoerotic tension in it.
Yeah, it's interesting that that came out then. I think at that time I had never written a gay romance, obviously. But I was really influenced by Anne Rice, and she always had a lot of homoerotic tension in her stories, and sometimes more than that. Cry to Heaven is one of my favorite Anne Rice books. It's about a castrati, and he has a long-term relationship with another man, and it just sort of came out in that book. But the interest has always been there and has reached fuller expression more recently.
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Did you have any gay fans write to you when The Beast Within came out?
Yeah. Since The Beast Within came out, and I would say not necessarily immediately, but more recently, I do get letters from people who say, “I played The Beast Within when I was a teen, and that was the first time I realized that I was gay, so it's been a huge influence on my life.” I've gotten a number of letters like that.
The ending of Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned was such a classic sort of romance novel cliff-hanger. And I remember when that happened, I was like, this is soap-opera-level stuff.
I know! [laughs] I thought we would do Gabriel 4.
I’m still waiting to find out what happened.
I know! At one point I thought, I'll just do Gabriel Knight books. Just give me the rights to do like six books, and if you ever decide to do games, you’ll already have stories written for them, and it'll keep the brand alive. But anything that had to go through Activision’s legal department took years, and if it wasn't something that was going to make them millions of dollars, they just didn't want to spend the time on it. So something like that would have been really hard even to get permission to do, unfortunately. But now it's with Microsoft, so it's hopefully a new ballgame.
Yeah, Phil Spencer was talking about how he wants to bring back old-school Activision games.
That would be so great. Ever since we heard that announcement, we've been hoping that somebody would want to revitalize those projects and maybe do a GK4. So, yeah, if anybody's out there!