Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Archive for July, 2009

Reading the text: Jane Lindskold

Posted by Randolph Carter on July 31, 2009

thirteen orphansAuthor website:

http://www.janelindskold.com/

Could you take a minute and explain what Thirteen Orphans is about?

Hidden magic. Stalkers. Alternate worlds. Chinese mythology. Mah-jong. Trying to survive while learning what you need to know in order to survive. Friendship. Polymer clay.

Would you mind discussing what the process was like for you in getting your first book published?

I wrote lots of short stories – starting informally as a kid; later, more seriously, when I was in my mid-twenties, immediately following getting my PhD.

I wrote a first novel. I wrote another novel. I wrote a third novel. The third one sold.

This was Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls, a book that, I am happy to say, has enough of a cult following that Tor Books reissued it in their Orb line.

The other two novels, Marks of Our Brothers and The Pipes of Orpheus also eventually sold, although I did a considerable amount of revising on both.

There were lots and lots of rejections in there. When I left my teaching position in Virginia, I had a folder filled with rejection notices. It was at least three inches thick. I considered taking the folder with me. I decided it belonged in the trash. That’s where it went.

I still get rejections. Got one last week.

I keep writing.

Were you a big reader as a child/young adult? What were some of your favorite books and/or authors growing up?

I was (and remain) an avid reader. I suspect I am the only grammar school student on record to be banned from the school library. Banning me from the library was the only incentive my teachers could think of to make me concentrate on the subjects (like spelling) that didn’t interest me.

Favorite books and authors are always hard for me to remember, despite the fact that I still own a lot of those books. Let’s see. I read mythology. I read all the Mary Poppins novels. (She’s an interesting, scary lady in the original stories). George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblins and The Princess and Curdie. All of Edward Eager’s novels (Half Magic, The Time Garden and many others). Elizabeth Enright (brilliant!). Robert Lawson’s weird historicals (Ben and Me, Mr. Revere and I).

One of the reasons I have trouble remembering what books influenced me then is that I still read a lot of YA. Therefore, I don’t have a sharp cut-off point in my memory where I stopped reading YA and started reading “grown-up” books. I read “grown-up books” all along, too, basically as soon as I could understand the “big words.”

Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I have been and am still a gamer. I started gaming my freshman year in college. That happened to be around the time the hard cover AD&D books came out. There was a little review article in a magazine included in our freshman orientation bag mentioning this odd “new” hobby.

I happened to be reading the article in the room of a new friend I had made – Sheri Paxton, now Sheri Gormley. I said something like, “This sounds cool.” Her face lit up, and she said, “I have the starter set. Want to play?” And I’ve been hooked ever since.

Eventually, my buddies and I found the “class-based” games like AD&D too limiting. We played Traveller. We played Call of Cthulu. We eventually moved to the early Steve Jackson books and adapted from there. To this day, I prefer skill-based to class-based systems because you can do or be anything.

GURPS (third edition) is currently my system of choice. I’m using it right now to run a game where my players are eleven year-old pages at an academy for knights. It’s pretty fun watching two professional writers, an archeologist, and a lawyer – all of whom in real life are on the “wrong side” of forty – try to remember what it was like to be eleven.

Gaming means a great deal to me. When I moved to New Mexico to live with Roger Zelazny I made a lot of changes to my life, but I didn’t want to give up gaming. Once we were settled, I told Roger that I wanted to resume the hobby, and figured I’d hang up a notice in the local comic/gaming store looking for a group. Roger said, “I think George [R.R. Martin] has a group. Let me ask him if they have room.”

They did, and we joined. Roger hadn’t gamed before then, but he had a lot of fun learning. Gaming was one of the things that got me back into society after Roger’s death, and gaming was where I met my husband, Jim Moore. Jim and I still game together. He’s the archeologist I mentioned above.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

Sorry. I haven’t managed this one. We have dial-up. We do play computer games and enjoy them. Often we’ll play on the PC together, me and Jim against the computer. When we’re beat at the end of the day, it takes both of us to think of everything. We tend to prefer role-playing or tactical/world building games to shooters, but it’s nice when you find a game that combines all three. Then you get to hit your problems once in a while.

I even wrote the outline, then the script for a computer game: Chronomaster. Roger was offered the chance to do a game, and he said: “Only if she can be my partner on it. I know nothing about gaming. She knows a lot.” I finished the game after his death, and was really pleased with it.

I also made two friends I still treasure, Scot Noel, who was both a producer and my contact person, and Jane Noel, who was the art director.

Would you mind sharing an interesting and/or amusing story from your gaming past?

How about the time I solved a murder mystery game in my sleep? We were playing a group of FBI agents who specialized in serial killers. We had several murders we were pretty sure were connected to one killer, but we were frustrated because we couldn’t figure out his pattern. Without the pattern, we couldn’t anticipate and hopefully entrap the killer. We couldn’t even issue warnings to potentially vulnerable groups.

Jim and I drove home after a late game and crashed. A few hours later, I woke up to answer a call of nature. The dream I’d had lingered with me. I realized that in it was the solution to the serial killer’s pattern. I struggled to retain the dream, managed to do so, woke Jim up, explained it to him, and then wanted to call the woman who was playing Richard, the head of our unit: “But I have to tell Richard!”

Jim made we wait until 7:00 a.m., until we knew “Richard” would be up. She agreed that I had found the pattern. Later, the game master asked how I worked out his intricate puzzle. I had to admit “I dreamed it.”

When I write fiction, I’m a subconscious plotter, but this was a really weird experience, discovering how much my sleeping mind works on my plots.

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer? Please explain.

Yes, but not always in a good way. If you don’t mind, I’d also like to expand my comments to include to gamer/writers in general.

Okay. The three basic bones of a story are character, setting, and plot.

Gaming is great for working on characterization, at least the characterization of one character. If you’re running the game, then you get a lot of experience coming up with support characters. That’s good, too.

Running games is also a great way to work on world-building (setting), especially if you make up your own world and don’t just play in one where someone else has done all the work.

Gaming is not so good for plot for a lot of reasons. At least to me, the best games are those where the plot ends up being a combination of what the ref sets up and the players do with it. When you’re writing a story, you don’t have the player input. It’s all up to you.

Another reason games aren’t great for plot is that, unless you’re playing with a very small group, all the action is pretty external. Stories are different. Much of the crucial action is internal. Too many people who come out of gaming write as if they’re still playing a game. The hero does this, goes there, hits this, wins that. They leave out the internal complications, the moral complexities that really draw a reader into the story.

When gaming first became popular, people started writing up their adventures as short stories or novels. I have heard several editors describe a certain type of story as one where “you can practically hear the dice rolling.” By this, I believe the editors meant that the story was somewhat mechanical, that it included unlikely situations that were to be accepted because “that’s how it happened.”

Grind is a term used frequently in gaming vernacular referring to something that is rather repetitive or unpleasant that one engages in in order to progress in the game. Would you say there is grinding in the writing process? Please explain.

Yes. In fact, professional writing could be described as mostly grind. I go over a manuscript at least three times before anyone sees it. Then my husband goes over it. I make repeated changes and corrections along the way.

And that’s before the editor gets into the mix, or the copy editor. That’s before you review the book so many times that, by the day it comes out, you can’t look at it any more because all you see are strings of words and symbols.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

I love telling stories. I love getting lost in a story. There’s nothing like it. Not long ago, we were having the house re-piped. Stressful. There’s always a worry that some new complication in an already expensive process is going to crop up.

I started a short story I’d promised an anthology editor. Suddenly, a small shop in a Western town was as real to me as the plumbers sawing apart my kitchen. I love this.

What projects are you currently working on?

In addition to the short story I mentioned above, I’m working on a novel about time, foxes, and tall buildings. I’m also getting geared up for the release of the sequel to Thirteen Orphans, which is titled Nine Gates. Nine Gates comes out in August, and there’s always a certain amount of work to do associated with the release.

nine gatesWhen do you find time to write?

Writing is my full-time job, so I write Monday through Friday. I schedule myself to write during the “work day,” since I like my husband, and like to spend time with him.

I don’t assign myself “hours,” but quota, and when that quota is filled, I let myself do other things. This is the system I came up with when I had a full-time job (I was a college professor), and it still works for me.

How do you tend to escape these days?

Escape tends to be seasonal. I’m a gardener, and since I’m doing this interview in the summer, my garden – and dealing with produce – is a major sideline. I also love crafts, especially variations on beadwork and polymer clay.

And, as I mentioned above, I game.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

Write the story you love, not the story you think “the market” wants. If you write to a trend, it’s likely that whatever you see as the trend is going to be burned out before you can finish following it. Sadly, you’re not likely to sell what you write immediately, so you might as well enjoy what you’re doing.

Also, grammar does matter. Spelling does matter. Punctuation does matter. Knowing the basics can set you above the herd. No. The publisher doesn’t have someone who will “do that for you.”

You wake up to a world where Thirteen Orphans has been made into a massively multiplayer online game. What character would you play and why?

That would really depend on my mood. I love Des Lee for his quirky world-view and sense of the bizarre. I love Pearl Bright for her ability to see the long picture. I love Brenda Morris for her ability to adapt to the impossible. I love Riprap for his gentle strength and reliability.

When I’ve gamed I’ve never had a set type I play… Drives some folks crazy.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

Sure.

Live your dream, don’t just talk about it. I’ve met a lot of gamers with tremendous talent and energy. Often they tell me about the book they’re going to write, the painting they’re going to do, the game they’re going to design. A few years later, we meet up again. They’re in the same place.

I remember with great pleasure meeting a Goth girl – “Steena” – at a convention in Austin, Texas. She asked me some very intelligent questions about writing, and told me she wanted to write. Next time we met, she practically danced up to me and told me she had sold a couple of stories.

I was thrilled. Dreaming is fine, but living is great.

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Reading the text: Caitlín R. Kiernan

Posted by Randolph Carter on July 29, 2009

red treeAuthor website:

http://www.caitlinrkiernan.com/

Could you take a minute and explain what your forthcoming novel The Red Tree is about?

Well, generally, I try to avoid synopses. Which makes pitching novels to publishers rather difficult, but I really do detest the whole reductionist aspect of a synopsis. They can be so extremely misleading. That said, it’s sort of a ghost story, maybe. But maybe not. It might be a book about the reality of evil, or it might be a discourse on the myth of evil. A writer named Sarah Crowe has left Atlanta, following her girlfriend’s suicide. Sarah rents an old farmhouse in rural Rhode Island, and in the house’s basement, she discovers an unfinished manuscript. It was abandoned five years earlier by the house’s previous tenant, a folklorist who was writing a book on an old oak growing on the property. The tree has, it turns out, a long, weird, and unsavory history, dating back at least to the 1600s. As she begins reading the manuscript, Sarah finds herself becoming obsessed with the tree as well. Weird stuff happens. Bad stuff happens. And really, there’s not much else I can say without risking spoilers. The “book within a book” aspect is very important to The Red Tree.

Would you mind describing what the process was like for you in getting your first book published?

That’s really a very long story, and one I’ve told over and over again. To try and make that long story short, I’ll just say that I think I got very lucky. I’d met Poppy Z. Brite, who liked the manuscript a great deal and showed it to her agent. And there were several other authors who were a tremendous help to me way back then, people who read Silk and helped give it the requisite push. Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, and Clive Barker, for instance. On the one hand, I’d say it had a lot to do with having worked so hard to make Silk a good book, and on the other, I believe that I got very lucky.

What kind of things scare you?

I’m oddly bereft of phobias. There just aren’t many things that genuinely frighten me, and certainly not the sorts of things you see in “horror” films and movies. Most of my fears focus on very large-scale problems: ecological degradation, war, waste, ignorance, prejudice, and so forth. I do have a fairly acute fear of death, which is likely as close as I can come to the sort of fears that most people would list as phobic. Anyway, this is one of the many reasons that I insist I’m not a horror writer. I don’t study the psychology of fear. I don’t sit down to write “scary” books. Usually, I’m trying to do something much less specific. Okay…wait. I’m going to take back what I said about not having phobias. Actually, I can be intensely agoraphobic, and I really don’t like being in crowds. Sometimes, I can’t even stand to be looked at, it causes me so much anxiety.

Were you a big reader as a child/young adult? What were some of your favorite books and/or authors growing up?

I was a voracious reader as a child and as a teenager, and even into my twenties. I’d actually taught myself to read before I began school. Growing up, I don’t know. The list is enormously long. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ursula K. LeGuin, Ray Bradbury, Madeleine L’Engle, Tolkien, Richard Adams, C. S. Lewis, Edgar Allen Poe, Peter Beagle. Those are some of the very important ones from childhood. Later on, in high school, I fell in love with John Steinbeck, Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, a completely different set of authors. And then there was another revolution of this sort in college, as I discovered James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Yeats, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf — all the Modernists, really. Also, about that time, I was really into Clive Barker, Frank Herbert, Angela Carter, and see, I could go on like this forever.

Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

Yes, I’m a gamer. It started with D&D, back about ’78. Then I haunted the mall arcades in the early ’80s, when I was in high school. Then I sort of drifted away from gaming until the early ’90s, when I got my first PS1. I went through three of them, because they had that problem with overheating. That led to PS2 and Xbox, and eventually to rp in Second Life and to countless hours of World of Warcraft. Really, I spend far too much time gaming. These days, I’ve discovered I don’t really like games that are games, strictly speaking. Instead, I’m looking for genuinely immersive rp experiences, which are hard to find via consoles and WoW. I’ve had some limited success from Second Life, but I think it’s hard to get people to understand the idea of simulationist rp, where the object isn’t leveling or points or combat or looting. It’s more like improvisational theater, what I’m looking for. It’s more about storytelling, and, simultaneously, becoming part of that story. I think an awful lot of things are called “rp” these days that aren’t the least bit about rp. Some of them are wonderful games —- the Final Fantasy series, for example, or the Lara Croft games —- but they’re not roleplaying.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

As I said above, yeah. But only through Second Life and World of Warcraft. SL has a lot of rp potential, but very few people seem interested in interested or able to exploit it. So genuinely good rp experiences there are few and far between. As for WoW, I think I hated it at first, because I’d hoped it would be good rp. It isn’t. It’s a video game, and you can try to rp, but no one’s much interested, and, truthfully, the system really isn’t particularly amenable to simulationist rp. Anyway, once I realized this about WoW and approached it as I would a console game, I fell in love with it. I solo, mostly.

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer? Please explain.

I’ve actually had a few good stories inspired by rp sessions in Second Life. You have the freedom there, in theory, to experience that sort of total immersion and rp. That level of creativity. But SL is a minefield. I actually think the system somehow selects for stupidity, and, though I can’t confirm this, I fear the average SL inhabitant’s IQ is scraping bottom. Maybe I shouldn’t say that, but gods, the idiocy I’ve endured for the sake of good rp. The people who are functionally illiterate. The ones who can’t tell the difference between being in character and out of character. That sort of thing. And the people who seem to pour ooc drama over everything they touch, who blur the lines between first and Second Life. I said, recently, I think people should have to demonstrate they have a first life before being trusted with a Second Life. It’s a wonderful concept, but, at this point, it’s a mess, and I can’t blame anyone for being wary of it.

Grind is a term used frequently in gaming vernacular referring to something that is rather repetitive or unpleasant that one engages in order to progress in the game. Would you say there is grinding in the writing process? Please explain.

I’d say life has a tendency to be a grind. But, sure, I can see applying that term to the day-to-day experience of being a professional writer. Especially while working on novels, the days tend to blur together. I get up and write. I go to bed. I get up and write. I rarely leave the house, and this might go on for eight or nine consecutive months. The reward is the finished novel, and the payday, of course. But, if you’re going to be good writer, and if you’re going to manage to survive this life, you have to learn to take positive things away from the process, not just the end result. You need, I’d say, to become a sort of process whore, fascinated by the way that books get written. At least, I had to become fascinated by the way I get my books written. Truthfully, I have very little interest in how anyone else does it, but I’ve become keenly fascinated by my own writing process. Oddly, I love reading about the lives of other authors, just not they way they write or, in the case of the deceased, wrote.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

Well, I love seeing the finished product, holding the actual book in my hands. Which I suppose is terribly materialist of me, but there you go. I appreciate books not merely as a means of transmitting data —- in fact, I loathe that whole attitude towards fiction —- but as objects of art and craftsmanship, in and of themselves. So, there’s that. Also, having this freedom the tell stories, and then share them with so many other people. Though, at the same time, I do have to say that I write for me. I virtually never write with an audience in mind. I love having an audience, but I’ve discovered it has to be on my own terms, not theirs. Finally, I’ve cherished the opportunity to meet so many authors whom I admired since I was a kid, getting to know them, people like Harlan Ellison and Peter Straub. That’s just the coolest thing in the world, really.

When do you find time to write?

It’s what I do. I mean, this has been my “day job” since 1994 or so. The problem isn’t finding time to write, but finding time to do anything else. Time to just live. Time to have the experiences I need to have to be a writer. I don’t take weekends. I almost never take vacations. I spend most of every day sitting at the desk, and the iMac, writing. It’s what I do.

How do you tend to escape these days?

Well, we’ve already talked so much about gaming, but that’s one way. Getting outside, away from work. That’s important. Movies are extremely important to me, as a way of clearing my head and relaxing. I spend as much time near the sea as possible, since it’s one of the few things that calms me. I don’t read nearly as much as I used to, since it’s just too much like work. Mostly, I read short fiction and non-fiction, especially science and biographies.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

So many people want to be published authors, and it seems to me that very few of them have any real comprehension of what a hard life this is, if you’re “lucky” enough to break in. I mean, I had no idea, at the start, how brutal it would be. And that’s the right word. Brutal. I’m quite certain it’s one of the most stressful careers anyone could choose, between the constant pressure to perform, the money worries, the fact that so many writers can’t afford any sort of health, life, or dental insurance. Constantly worrying about what people are going to think about the most recent story or novel, whether or not it’s going to sell, or, worse, worrying about the next novel before the present one even hits the shelves. I do this, because this is what I do. This is what I’m best at, but, as my grandfather would have said, it’s a tough row to hoe, and so I guess that’s what I would say to would-be writers. Oh, and have a fallback career, because you’ll likely need it. And first impressions are almost everything. Learn grammar. Learn to spell. Read everything you can before writing becomes a job and reading begins to feel like work. But, most importantly, you are not a special flower, and there’s no one out there to catch you if you fall.

daughter of houndsWhich of your novels or stories would you most like to see made into a massively multiplayer online role playing game?

I suppose I’d say Daughter of Hounds. I can sort of see that. The dynamic between the changelings, the hounds, the vampires, and all. The layers of secrecy. The gunplay and violence. It might come out sort of like a combination of, I don’t know, Myst and Grand Theft Auto.

In this game, what race and class would you play and why?

Oh, a changeling. Undoubtedly.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

Just that The Red Tree come out August 4th, and I think it’s by far my best novel yet. You can preorder now from Amazon and other online booksellers. Also, I have a couple of short-fiction collections slated for 2010, The Ammonite Violin & Others and Confessions of a Five-Chambered Heart, both from Subterranean Press. You can find me at caitlinrkiernan.com, and on Twitter, and on Facebook. I spend far too much time online.

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One shot: Anjin

Posted by Randolph Carter on July 28, 2009

MMO community connection:

Bullet Points

Please take a minute and describe what your blog is about.

Bullet Points is a place for me to formalize some of my thoughts about games, books, or anything else that catches my eye. My attention wanders wildly at times, so I can’t tie myself down to a single topic. That may cost me readers looking for a single subject blog, but I’m primarily writing for myself. And my wife because I make her read everything.

What was your first MMO and what was that experience like?

It took me a long time to get into MMOs. First, I didn’t have a computer or internet connection able to keep up even with those early MMOs. Then when I finally caught up technologically, I was perturbed by the subscription fees. So my first online game was the not-quite-an-MMO Guild Wars. It was a revelation to me. I met people, quested with them, formed a vanity guild, and really lived in that world for couple of years. I’ve been hooked on MMOs ever since and prefer them to just about every other style of game.

Can you recall that first MMO “wow!” moment?

My first wow moment was something I didn’t do myself, only watched. This was the famous Droknar’s Forge run. For those who didn’t play Guild Wars in the early days, there is an outpost in the Northern Shiverpeaks called Beacon’s Perch. While this is normally just another step in the campaign progression chain, the developers attached this outpost via a series of area instances to Droknar’s Forge. Since that city is the first place that maximum level armor becomes available and there is no level restriction on it, you would be at an advantage to purchase this armor prior to continuing the campaign. Those connecting areas are tuned for max level characters, so there was little chance a group of low level characters could make the trip normally. However there were particular skill builds that would allow a single character to run from Beacon’s Perch to Droknar’s. And because of the instancing, only one character is required to reach the end portal to pull the entire group through. I did purchase a run for one of my characters to experience it for myself and the runner put on quite a show. I believe this counts as my first experience with an emergent mechanic in an MMO.

At your peak, how much time per week would you say you spent gaming? How about now?

When I was in the thrall of World of Warcraft, I was spending several hours a night playing. That could run 25 to 30 hours a week with long playing weekends. Nowadays while I’m skipping from game to game, I rarely play more than an hour a night, maybe playing about 10 hours a week.

Do you tend to supplement your MMO gaming with other PC, console, or tabletop games?

I started my serious gaming with pen-and-paper role-playing games, though that has been entirely supplanted by computer gaming. I tend to skip from PC to console and back as each is upgraded. Now that I have a computer that I’m not embarrassed about, I rarely even notice I have an Xbox. When I still had an older PC, I spent a lot of time on my console since that was more cost effective at the time.

Seeing how your blog covers several different interests of yours, I have to ask: Would you say you spend more time reading, playing PC games, or watching films or TV?

Where I spend most of my free time changes quite frequently, depending on my mood. And I am one moody bastard. I tend to wander between booting up old PC games, playing golf on my shiny new PSP, perusing comic books or graphic novels, reading the latest from the Hard Case Crime book club, watching the DVD for whichever TV show has my attention, or taking in the occasional theatrical release. Occasionally though, something just gets a hold of me and I will focus on that to the detriment of everything else. At the moment I’m spending most of my time keeping current on blogs and podcasts. Yes, I do find it ironic that I spend more time reading and listening to games media than actually playing games.

When did you first start blogging? Please take us up to present with all of your projects.

I first started blogging back in 2002 on a personal webpage, handcoding the text in HTML. It was all the same stuff I blog about now, but I pulled it all offline a long time ago because I wouldn’t inflict that on anyone. If you’re at all interested in what that looked like, google “Risus Firefly” some time.

From there I started a Guild Wars blog that ran from May to December 2006 called Guild Wars Kira. I wrote it in character and had a lot of fun doing so. Of course, I couldn’t keep it up as I started losing interest in the game.

I launched Bullet Points in February 2007 and have written with varying levels of intensity since then. The blog has been more active lately since I discovered I actually have readers.

Do you have a schedule or some sort of routine you try and follow when blogging?

Schedules and routines are anathema to me. I have an allergic reaction to any regimentation. Mostly, I blog when I feel like it. The problem generally arises that I get five ideas at once, then none for another couple weeks. It’s a little like trying to move in the darkness. Sometimes there is a flash of lightning where you can memorize your surroundings and move confidently for a short time. Then you wait for the next flash. That’s blogging to me.

Would you say there is some grind involved in blogging? If so, what is it and how do you cope with it?

Grind in blogging is like grind in gaming. If what you are doing feels like a grind, you are doing it wrong. If you’re not enjoying yourself, there has to be something better to do, or something better to write about. Grinding is the first sign of burnout.

When I find myself feeling that way, I stop and try something else. Either I start a different post or I shut it all down until I feel like writing again. The last thing I want is for this hobby to start feeling like a job.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

The best thing about blogging is taking part in a community, but doing so at a measured pace. The conversational immediacy of Twitter or message boards, while interesting, does not usually allow for thoughtful responses. Usually by the time I’m ready to contribute, the topic has already been abandoned. Blogging allows me to form what I hope are coherent opinions written in a vaguely entertaining manner. And I like that the blog community has such a multitude of voices that can all contribute to the conversation in their own time.

Would you care to share a particularly memorable moment from your days of blogging?

I’ve had two blogging highlights and they both came about recently. First was a Daily Blogroll link from Tipa from West Karana. Up to that point, I wasn’t sure anyone else read my blog other than my patient wife. Second was when I lambasted the Shut Up, We’re Talking podcast over their coverage of the WoW Bunny Ears incident. That earned me a Blog of the Week mention as well as an appearance on the show.

Have you ever considered branching into podcasting?

While I’ve given some consideration to podcasting, I haven’t figured out what kind of niche a new podcast would fill. While I don’t mind that my blog is just one of millions, I don’t want to put that much work into a podcast that might get lost in the din. So my answer isn’t a no. It’s more of “When the stars are right.” Shut Up, We’re Talking gave me a taste for it, so it’s something I keep thinking about.

Are you pleased with where your blog is in the MMO blogosphere?

I’m pleased that Bullet Points is considered part of the MMO blogosphere at all. It’s been like a lonely wolf howling at the moon for a long time. So that I’m actually getting readers is very satisfying.

If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you do anything different?

I regret nothing. Actually, I regret many things, but those mostly have to do with high school and nothing to do with blogging.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to try their hand at blogging?

My only advice is to just get started already. Blogging (and writing in general) is something you can only learn by doing. And it’s not like every single post has to be a masterpiece. You’re going to learn and you’re going to improve. But you can only do so if you get off the sidelines and play the game. In this metaphor, the game I’m referring to is blogging.

Can you picture a future where you will hang up your keyboard and no longer blog?

Oh yeah. My ego isn’t tied up in the blog. I will always find some way to write, but I’m only going to blog as long as I enjoy doing so. After that I’m all “poof,” gone like a ghost. Or maybe “bamf” like Nightcrawler. That was one cool mutant.

You wake up to a world where you are the head of a company developing an MMO. You have unlimited funds and resources available to you. Please describe the kind of game you would make.

What was it about my prior answers that makes you think I enjoy that kind of pressure? This snarky answer has been brought to you by The Internet, where the snark grows like kudzu!

If I really could make an MMO, I would like to have three separate games living in the same world: a soloer game that takes place in and around the civilized lands, a group/raid game on the frontiers, and an entire separate explorable continent for the PvPer. Soloers would get a great story with lots of intrigue, danger, and a little bit of love. Groupers would get to take on the big challenges without anyone else underfoot. I would steal Public Quests, but automatically group all the participants to help foster cooperation between them. And the PvPers would be subject to permadeath as soon as they step foot onto the boat. Then we’d see if they can make a civilization of their own. I think I’d borrow Eve Online’s idea of local scarcities and limited transport capabilities to foster an economy. And I would get to ride a pink pony that sparkles.

Darn it, there’s that snark again.

-30-

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Reading the text: Maria V. Snyder

Posted by Randolph Carter on July 27, 2009

storm glassAuthor website:

http://www.mariavsnyder.com/

Could you take a minute and explain what Storm Glass is about?

Storm Glass is about Opal Cowan. She is a glass magician and her special magic played a vital part in my third book, Fire Study. Now it is five years later and she has completed four years of instruction at the Magician’s Keep with one year left. Even after four years at the Keep, she still feels as if she’s a One-Trick Wonder and doesn’t have any other useful magic. But the Master Magicians feel otherwise and send her on a mission to find out what’s wrong with the Stormdancer’s glass orbs. The orbs are shattering, killing Stormdancers. If they don’t discover why the orbs are failing, the Stormdancers won’t be able to calm the powerful storms battering the coast. This mission launches Opal into new territory where she discovers a hidden depth to her glass magic.

Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I’ve never been a serious gamer. I always enjoyed playing board games, dominoes, and cards. Now I know I’m dating myself, but I remember when Pong was new and I begged my parents to buy me the new Atari video game for our TV. I loved Space Invaders, Asteroids and Defender the best. More recently, the computer game 3D Pinball has been a distraction.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

No, I haven’t gone to the online worlds. As a writer and a mother, my time is limited and I’m worried I would be sucked in and miss my deadlines.

Do you then happen to know anyone who plays massively multiplayer online games?

Yes. My husband, son and daughter all play on World of Warcraft. My 14-year old son spends the most time online. His characters are all at level 80, while my daughter’s single character is only at 28.

As a parent who doesn’t play MMOs, how do you view your family’s involvement with World of Warcraft?

I’m happy that my children and husband have something in common and they’re frequently talk about quests and guilds and killing monsters. Sometimes the game will dominate a dinner time conversation and I’ll be bored.

Are there limits ever set on the amount of time your son can play WoW?

He doesn’t have a time limit per say. He needs to meet certain requirements in order to play. During the school year, his grades must be a B or higher, he needs to finish his homework first and to have some type of physical activity each day. In the summer, instead of homework, he has to read for 30 minutes and make sure his chores are done in addition to the other requirements.

Do you ever watch them play?

I do. My kids like to show me their pets, weapons and mounts. I’ll watch a few battles and talk to them about the game.

Going back a bit, what was the process like in getting your first book published?

Poison Study (PS) was my first novel written and published. Once I finished writing the book, it took me two years to find a home for it. I submitted it to literary agents first. Collected a stack of about 40 rejections. Then I submitted PS to the major fantasy publishers like Bantam, Tor, Roc, Ace etc… rejections rolled in. Targeted small presses to earn more rejects – 17 and counting. I keep submitting PS to markets and the 18th submission was to LUNA Books – a new (at the time) fantasy imprint of Harlequin. I felt it was a long shot. I did have the strong female protagonist they were looking for, but I wasn’t sure about the romantic sub-plots. But I was determined to get rejects from every possible publisher before I put the book away for good. Four months later, LUNA calls and offers me a two-book contract for Poison and Magic Study (not written at that point). My persistence paid had off :)

Were you a big reader as a child/young adult? What were some of your favorite books and/or authors growing up?

I loved to read throughout my childhood and still do. I owned only a few books when I was younger. My favorites were Leo Lionni’s Frederick and Swimmy. As a young adult, I read a ton of mystery novels because that is what my mother enjoyed. Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys were my favorites before I graduated to Agatha Cristie, Dick Francis, Robert B. Parker, Barbara Vine, and Ed McBain.

Grind is a term used frequently in gaming vernacular referring to something that is rather repetitive or unpleasant that one engages in in order to progress in the game. Would you say there is grinding in the writing process? Please explain.

sea glass 2The writing process is very creative and, while there are difficult aspects and parts I don’t particularly enjoy, I would never say it’s repetitive or boring. Description of setting details is not my favorite aspect of writing. I get impatient having to describe a person or place when I want to write action and dialogue.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

Getting emails from readers has been a wonderful aspect of being a published writer. They share how much they enjoyed my books and sometimes how the books have inspired them to write or to take a kickboxing class or to study martial arts. I find these little jewels in my Inbox on a daily basis.

On average, how much time would you say you spend a week writing?

Ideally, I aimed to spend at least 25 hours a week writing, realistically it’s closer to 15-20. During deadline crunch time, it can be 30 to 40 hours per week.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

Persistence is my biggest advice. I’d been writing for ten years and submitting for eight before I sold anything. I also tell writers to be wary of predators, if someone is asking you for money proceed with the utmost caution. Get feedback on your stories from fellow writers before submitting. Joining a critique group is very helpful. I also find that if I let a story sit on my desk for a few weeks I can pick out all the problems, typos and inconsistencies easier. And I agree whole heartily with Stephen King’s advice in his book, On Writing. He wrote, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” And don’t give up! Ever!

I enjoy helping other writers, and I think it’s very important to share what I have learned. I have a whole bunch of writing advice and tips on my website.

You wake up to a world where your Study trilogy has been made into an MMO. What class would you play and why?

Assassin, because they have all the fun ;)

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

If you think my books sound interesting, I would suggest you start with Poison Study and go from there. Even though Storm Glass is a new series and has a new main character, to fully enjoy the world you’d want to start at the beginning :)

You can read the first chapter of all my books on my website.  I also have some FREE short stories you can read there as well.

Thanks so much for inviting me on your site!

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Reading the text: Matthew Sturges

Posted by Randolph Carter on July 24, 2009

midwinterAuthor website:

http://matthewsturges.com/

Could you take a minute and explain what Midwinter is about?

The high concept is “The Dirty Dozen with Elves,” but that’s really just the setup. In the world of Faerie, a group of prisoners is released in order to perform a secret mission for Queen Titania. Their leader is a man named Mauritane, who was once the Captain of the Queen’s Royal Guard, but who was arrested for treason and imprisoned for life. Our heroes travel the breadth of Faerie, braving the Contested Lands, a wild place full of ancient magic and Shifting Places, and subsequently find themselves in the middle of a war upon which depends the survival of the Seelie Kingdom. There are also some talking trees, and some really nasty villains. And magic. Tons of magic.

This may have been your first novel, but it appears you’re no stranger to writing. Would you mind giving us a brief overview of your writing career?

My writing career started about ten years ago, when I was one of the founders of the Clockwork Storybook writer’s collective, which also included comics writer Bill Willingham, novelist Chris Roberson, and noted Robert E. Howard biographer Mark Finn. I wrote a book of short stories during those years, as well as the first draft of Midwinter. I stopped writing for several years, and then started pitching comics series about five years ago. Jack of Fables, with Bill Willingham, was my first published comics work, and since then my comics career has taken off fairly well. And now the finished version of Midwinter is out in the wild, and I’m currently writing a sequel.

So, did you find making the transition from writing comics to novels challenging?

It’s funny — when I first wrote Midwinter — long before I started writing comics — it was pretty easy. I didn’t really think too much about it, I just kind of WROTE it. It was challenging, but fun and there was no deadline so I could take all of the time in the world to write it. In those days I had a day job as a web developer, so writing was pure escape for me. Now that I’m writing the sequel, a number of years later, and after having been a full-time writer for a couple of years, I find it much more of a challenge to write prose. Maybe it’s because I have higher standards for myself as a writer; maybe it’s because I’m used to thinking in comic book terms. Probably a bit of both. It’s still fun, though.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’ve got a lot going on at the moment, which is just how I like it. Like I said, I’m working on the sequel to Midwinter, and I’ve also got a number of ongoing comic book projects. I’m still doing Jack of Fables — I just turned in the script for issue 41 last week. It’s hard to believe we’ve been doing it for almost four years. I have another ongoing Vertigo comics series called House of Mystery, which is a revival of sorts of the popular horror anthology from the 60s and 70s. It consists of a rather involved framing story that typically takes up about two-thirds of the book, about a group of people who are trapped in this mysterious house, and who have turned it into a bar of sorts, providing food and drink for those travelers who can come and go as they please, in exchange for their stories. The balance of each issue is a short story illustrated by a different artist each month. It’s great fun.

My other love, though, is superhero comics. I’m currently writing Justice Society of America with Bill Willingham, and I just finished a miniseries called Final Crisis Aftermath: RUN, about a douchebag villain named Human Flame, who’s fleeing from justice. All that, and a ten-page Blue Beetle co-feature in the pages of Booster Gold. I keep pretty busy.

What was the process like in first getting published?

Long and painful, which I think is the norm. I pitched comic book series for years before I finally got on with Bill Willingham on Jack of Fables, and I must have written at least a hundred short stories before I finally got one published. It was basically just a process of writing a lot, pitching a lot, and being very, very patient.

Were you a big reader as a child/young adult? What were some of your favorite books and/or authors growing up?

I’ve been a voracious reader for as long as I can remember. I think that’s one of the standard attributes of the writer. My favorite books have always been fantasy and science fiction. I cut my teeth on the Narnia books at a very young age, read a lot of Douglas Adams and things like Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea books, Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinke in Time books, basically anything I could get my hands on that had a fantasy bent to it. I think the first thing I ever tried to write was a sort of Douglas Adams pastiche about a post apocalyptic world. I seem to recall that the main character lived in the ruins of a talk show set. But I think it was Frank Herbert’s Dune books that really defined the kind of reader I became as an adult; I’ve always since sought out books with complex and deeply thought-out worlds, heavy characterization; the kind of things that draw you in and convey that sense of wonder, which to me is the best thing that fiction can deliver.

Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I’ve always loved playing games, and I did get heavily into AD&D back in the early 80s. I lived in a small town in West Virginia in those days, and there really wasn’t much else to do. I spent many, many evenings in middle school drinking root beer, eating Doritos, and slaying orcs.

I got my first computer in 1981, or thereabouts. It was a Commodore 64, and there were magazines that would let you enter games into the computer in Basic by just dumping bytes into memory one at a time with POKE commands. You’d spend hours and hours typing numbers, and then pray that you typed it all right. Every now and again you’d succeed and you’d spend about fifteen minutes playing a Q*Bert clone, or something like that. Being a nerdy kid in the early 80s, gaming was kind of inevitable. There wasn’t really an Internet for us to waste all of our time on, so we had to waste our time with 20-sided dice and rulebooks.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

For some reason, being in online places like MMOs always makes me feel antisocial. I spent most of my time in World of Warcraft questing on my own, and only teamed up with others when I was in a situation I couldn’t handle on my own. I’m a fairly introverted person, and being an anonymous Tauren Hunter doesn’t blunt that much for me.

house of mysteryWould you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer? Please explain.

Probably the first complete thing I ever wrote was a D&D module. It was bad — I mean really, really bad, and my friends revolted and refused to play it before it was even halfway over, but I think I wasn’t a very good dungeon master. I wanted everyone to do everything exactly according to the script laid out in my head. Writing stories is much more rewarding in that regard!

As a computer gamer, one thing that I absolutely have to have in a game to keep me interested is a compelling story. The only FPS I’ve ever played all the way through is Half-Life 2. The gameplay is very good, of course, but it’s the narrative elements that really sell it. It’s that need to feel IMMERSED IN THE WORLD and the need to know WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? That’s something every writer, regardless of medium, needs to understand, and that’s something that a very well-written game can teach you as much as any book can. In a good game, there’s always something at stake. If you’re just killing things to get to the next level, who cares?

Grind is a term used frequently in gaming vernacular referring to something that is rather repetitive or unpleasant that one engages in in order to progress in the game.Would you say there is grinding in the writing process? Please explain.

The day I knew I had to quit playing World of Warcraft was the day I spent four hours of my actual real time teaching my Undead Warlock how to fish. It was a real moment of clarity. What was I DOING with my life? I haven’t played since.

It’s true that in order to raise your stats as a writer, you have to work very hard, and it’s not always interesting or fun, but you always hope that your efforts aren’t going to JUST pay off in the long run, but that you might also produce something of quality along the way. Even when I had no idea what I was doing as a writer, I still produced a few halfway decent short stories, a few diamonds in the rough. In college I wrote a story called “Conscience and the Letter Q,” which wasn’t great by any means, but it was imaginative enough and pretentious enough to get published in the University of Texas literary journal. It was a featured entry, and I got paid fifty bucks. The reason I mention this is that another writer who made it into that issue of the journal was Owen C. Wilson, who may be a movie star but who did NOT get paid fifty bucks for HIS story. So I’ll always have that over him.

But yes, certainly there are times when you feel like you’re just typing in order to get to the end, and that can get pretty dull, especially when that’s paired with the sinking feeling that what you’re working on might actually be a total piece of crap as well.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

There are two things. One is when you have one of those rare “great days,” where your fingers fly over the keyboard and you feel confident and sure; you know what you’re writing is good. You get in the zone and the hours just fly by. That’s probably the best part. There’s also the part about not having a real job and not having to wear pants to work. And there is certainly the thrill of seeing your book on a bookstore shelf. That never gets old. It’s nice to hold the book in your hand and think, “I wrote this.” It’s something that no one can ever take away from you. My great-grandkids could read that book and they’d know a little something about me and what was important to me.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

The only advice that’s worth anything is Heinlein’s advice: Keep your ass in your chair. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. It’s just that simple. There’s tons of books about writing and getting published and all that stuff, but if you’re not willing to spend many, many hours at your desk typing away with no certainty that anyone but your mom will ever read it, you’re not going to get very far.

How do you tend to escape these days?

Watching TV shows on DVD is my favorite escape. I don’t actually watch much TV, but I’ll find a show that I really like, like The Wire or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and just pump the DVDs into my computer one after the other when I want to relax. The skills that make a good tv writer are to a large degree the same ones that make a good comic book writer, so I can even pretend that I’m doing “research.”

You wake up to a world where Midwinter has been made into an MMO. What race and class would you play and why?

I’d probably want to be a research thaumaturge, with the Gifts of Elements and Insight. If you have those two, you can accomplish a lot in that world. There are twelve magical gifts, and depending on which ones you’ve got, you can do different things. I’m not saying that I have character sheets written out for my main characters, but I’m not expicitly denying it, either.

When all is said and done, would you like to be more remembered for your novels or the comics you have written?

I joke sometimes that the main reason that I write novels is so that I can refer to myself as a “novelist,” which sounds more impressive than the lowly “comic book writer,” but to me it’s really all the same. I doubt I’ll ever write anything that cjack of fableshanges anyone’s life, the way that mine was changed by, say, Kurt Vonnegut, but as long as I’ve succeeded in letting someone forget their cares for a few hours, I call that a pretty great success, regardless of the medium.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

Only that I think you have to respect the gamers and the readers out there. There are plenty of utterly passive ways to entertain yourself. But gaming — especially role-playing — is a creative act in and of itself. Anything that engages your imagination is worthwhile in the long run. If I had my choice between spending a day watching TV or a day immersing myself in the world of an enthralling game, I’d take the game every time. Likewise, when you’re reading, you’re entering into a creative partnership with the author to co-create a world and the people in it. It’s one of the great sublime joys in life to participate in an act of creation, and we should take the opportunity to do it whenever we can.

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One shot: Matticus

Posted by Randolph Carter on July 23, 2009

MMO community connection:

World of Matticus

Please take a minute and describe what your blog is about.

World of Matticus is a WoW related blog centralized around healing and guild leadership. There’s a great Shaman and Druid writer who I am honored to be working along side with. Now I just have to find a Paladin to help me out. Anyway, you’ll find posts with healing strategies and practical advice for bosses. For the raiders, the GMs, and the officers, the team provides the varying perspectives and experiences to help advise readers on different day-to-day or unique guild situations.

What was your introduction to MMOs and what was that experience like?

Oof, this goes back a while. My first real MMO would have been Guild Wars. It exposed me to an actual online environment where I could engage and interact with other players. The fact that it didn’t have a subscription fee at the time was what sold me. I was in high school when it came out. Couldn’t afford WoW at the time so I resorted to Guild Wars!

Can you recall that first MMO “wow!” moment?

The first real WOW! MMO moment would have been winning and capturing the Hall of Heroes. HoH was a PvP tournament style competition within Guild Wars. Basically, organized groups or guilds would face off against one another or in 3-guild free for alls. The teams with the most wins would then face the guild that held the Hall of Heroes. It was very regional based. It could’ve been held by Korean players or by Europeans or by those on North America. It’s funny though. Once we finally won, my friends and I sort of stopped playing and moved on as we felt we pretty much accomplished what we wanted to do.

At your peak, how much time per week would you say you spent playing? How about now?

I’d probably spend a solid 30 hours a week especially in between semesters. Most of it was spent idling trade chat in a city just keeping an eye for any deals or pickup raids. I’d use that time watching movies or reading blogs or something.

At present, I spend a minimum of 12 hours a week to raid. I’d venture a guess and say somewhere in the lower 20 hour a week range.

Have you ever experienced burnout in WoW? If so, how have you dealt with that?

No, I’ve never truly experienced burnout in WoW. Not at the point where I felt like I had to uninstall the game. I’ve been playing the game since Vanilla. I think Zul’Gurub had just been released. I’ve maintained a steady pace. How I’ve managed to avoid burnout is a mystery even to me. You’d think a player who has done so much and has played so often would get sick of everything and just step back for a while.

You know, I think I partially credit that to my blog. I’ve always wanted to maintain a high level of quality and production on my blog. And no matter what anyone else says, it’s hard to write about something you’re not interested in. You have to keep some hours invested in the game to come up with fresh content and material. I had no desire to be one of those fly by night blogs where I’d post strong for a while and then disappear forever. It was my goal to try and become a regular resource and voice. In order to do that, you just have to keep playing.

How exactly did you end up focusing on the priest class?

I played a Monk in guild wars. The healing mentality never really left me. A Monk and a Priest are relatively similar in terms of ideology so it wasn’t a far stretch by any means. I did my research and found that the most sought after race/class combination (at the time) was a Dwarf Priest. They were the only race/class combination in the game that had access to Fear Ward. I correctly deduced that being able to cast Fear Ward would offer a slight edge over other Priests. I was a little disappointed when the patch hit that gave Fear Ward to every Priest. But I understood the reasons and i accepted it.

Do you tend to supplement your MMO gaming with other PC, console, or tabletop games?

I play a lot of shooters. Counter-strike was one of my first competitive games. Played with a team of other players and we even joined a league (I managed to get carried to CAL-M for those of you that understand ^^). Nowadays, I’ll bury myself in some Call of Duty 4. Lately I’ve been getting back into Battlefield 2 with some university friends. There’s something satisfying about planting two C4 charges on the back of a tank.

When did you first start blogging? Would you mind taking us up to present with all of your projects?

I started blogging during the summer of 2007. Actually, the blog’s birthday is coming up sometime in late August. We’ll be entering our second year. Here’s a timeline of all events that I consider significant:

  • August 2007 – World of Matticus is created
  • Winter 2008 – Blog Azeroth formed under Phaelia of Resto 4 Life. I try to help and support as much as possible.
  • April 2008 – Invited to join what is now known as wow.com as their Priest columnist.
  • June 2008 – Foundation of a new healer only community is formed. Auzara of chickgm.com comes up with the name plusheal.com. The groundwork is laid out, forums are established and then open to public. Wynthea joins to help me with theorycrafting interpretation (because I can’t read numbers much).
  • August 2008 – One year anniversary of World of Matticus. A young sapling writer known as Sydera is invited to join the team being declared winner of a blogging audition/contest.
  • Winter 2009 – Ambitious Resto Shaman named Lodur applies after I post casting calls for Resto Shaman help.
  • Spring 2009 – Spotting a void in the WoW blogging community, I felt the time was right to try my hand at launching another WoW blog. Nostockui.com is born for those who want to learn about addons and altering their gaming experience.
  • Summer 2009 – BLIIIIZZZCONNNNNNN! :D

Do you see blogging as just a hobby or perhaps something more?

To me, I think of blogging as a passion. I guess that’s a step or two higher than a hobby. When i started out, in the back of my head I wondered if it was possible to make money doing this kind of stuff. But I realized very quickly it would be a ton of hard work and the returns may not be as high. I just kind of stuck with it more as an internal challenge to myself to see if I could do it. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Do you have a schedule or some sort of routine you try and follow when blogging?

Usually I’ll sit in a coffee shop of some sort and grind out 3-4 posts and draw up outlines or flesh out future post ideas on a Saturday. Lately, I’ve been taking a bit of a pseudo break. I’ve been under the gun lately so I’ve slowed down a bit and just pacing myself.

Would you say there is some grind involved in blogging? If so, what is it and how do you tend to cope with it?

Oh yeah, absolutely. This happens no matter what activity. Some days it’s just going to feel like a grind and you just have to work your way through it. WoW bloggers typically don’t get paid to write. When many of them hit a grind or a dead end, they just say forget it (perhaps with a different f word even). Perhaps the words don’t come. Or they’re staring down a blank page with a great topic but without knowing what to put down on paper. Maybe the ideas are crap.

This is what separates WoW bloggers from one another. Do they crumple up their draft and toss it in the trash or do they plant their ass in the chair and continue working knowing that they’re not going to see a tangible benefit? It’s entirely about how we deal with such feelings and bad days.

I do my best to try and come up with something. It’s not always successful. There have been days where my internal creativity well has dried up. When that happens, I’ll log in to the game for a while. Maybe I’ll read some other blogs or re-read emails. I’ll surf my comments on my blog. Usually I’m able to come up with something worth writing about.

Not every post has to be a detailed 1000 post behemoth with images, maps, or diagrams.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

The people. I’ve met a lot of great people online via Twitter. Only seen a handful in person. It’s a narcotic feeling everytime someone says they read your work. It doesn’t happen very often, but I do treasure those the most.

Would you care to share a particularly memorable moment from your blogging past?

I don’t know. I can’t think of one off the top of my head. Come back to me in a few years. Maybe I’ll have a cool story to share like I’ve met my future wife via blogging or that I got offered an insanely cool gig due to my projects.

Have you ever considered seriously branching into podcasting?

Yes. But I’m so spread out with my work and school. I don’t have the technical skills or the time to invest in it. I’d rather not partake in a project if I can’t throw myself behind it full force. I don’t like to half-ass things especially when its blog related.

Are you pleased with how your blog has been received in the MMO blogosphere?

Absolutely. I’m happy and also incredibly humbled by the amount of players out there that read our work. Almost approaching 4000 subscribers. That is no small feat. I won’t rest until I hit 5000 at least. But yeah, I do try to engage with other blogs and other bloggers via Twitter. There’s absolutely no harm at trying to maintain a good relationship with readers.

If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you do anything different?

I would’ve changed the name. I didn’t know enough about branding at the time. But it’s a bit late for that now. I was more concerned with just getting out there and starting to write. Didn’t fully think it through as hard as I should have.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to try their hand at blogging?

Just write. Whatever idea you get, never reject it. Change it, alter it, modify it if you’re not satisfied. There is no such thing as a bad idea. Whatever you put down, you’re either going to learn from it or others are going to learn from it. I view blogging as a never ending learning and teaching process.

Get in the habit of writing regularly. It doesn’t have to be often. It just has to be consistent. There’s enough blogs out there that don’t make it past the 60 day mark (it’s a specific threshold for me as most bloggers don’t make it past 2 months before they quit).

Can you picture a future where you will hang up your keyboard and no longer blog?

I can’t. I shouldn’t say that actually. I mean, it’s really hard to say. If WoW shut down, I’d probably shift over and write about something else or a different game. Right now I started up a food blog for restaurants in my area (yeah, Matt the food critic!). Although its not really a blog since its more of an internal reminder for myself and some friends. Places that I liked along with dishes or restaurants that I weren’t too fond of so that I can steer clear of them. Sometimes you remember going to a place to eat but you just can’t remember what it was like eating there or what you ordered.

You wake up to a world where you are the head of a company developing an MMO. You have unlimited funds and resources available to you. Please describe the kind of game you would make.

Hands down, I’d invest wholeheartedly in a Stargate MMO. I love the series and the franchise. I wish it’d come to fruition already!

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Reading the text: S. G. Browne

Posted by Randolph Carter on July 22, 2009

breathersAuthor website:

http://www.sgbrowne.com/

Also of particular interest:

Undead Anonymous

Could you take a minute and explain what Breathers: a Zombie’s Lament is about?

It’s a dark comedy about undeath through the eyes of an ordinary zombie. An irreverent social satire with a decomposing protagonist, a zombie support group, and a little necrophilia. Think Fight Club meets Shaun of the Dead, only with the zombies as the good guys.

So where did you come up with the idea for the plot?

It actually came from a 2000-word short story I’d written back in 2001 called “A Zombie’s Lament.” I’d always loved zombies, but I hadn’t written about them. Instead of taking the POV of most zombie stories, I wondered what it would be like to be one of the living dead. So I wrote a short story about a sentient zombie who just wants his life back but in the end gives into his Hollywood urge for human flesh. Breathers evolved from that idea.

What kind of “research” did you do for the book?

Other than visiting some local cemeteries in Santa Cruz, most of the research I did from my desk. The Internet is a wonderful thing. Though the majority of what I learned about what happens to the human body after it dies came from STIFF: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. That book was great in helping to add a disgusting sense of reality to Breathers.

In addition to sloughage and cadaver impact testing, I also did research on wine, reality television programs, the Constitution, and how to apply foundation and concealer.

Would you mind describing what the process was like in getting the book published?

From the time I finished Breathers in 2006, it took 15 months and 82 rejections from agents before I found representation in November 2007. Two months later, I had a deal with Random House. If I would have known it was that easy to get a book deal, I would have found an agent years ago. (That’s supposed to be sarcasm, by the way).

Would you consider yourself zombie obsessed?

I love zombies, but I pick and choose my zombie entertainment and most of those are films. Night of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Planet Terror. I still haven’t seen Zombie Strippers. But I really should. For the zombies, naturally.

What scares you?

Children. And spiders creep me out. So do paraplegic mannequins and the woman who wears the cosmetic tool belt at Macy’s.

Speaking of scared and zombie obsessed, have you been creeped-out by any fan reaction to your book?

Yes. (Sound of crickets chirping). Next question?

Would you care to share an amusing and/or interesting anecdote related to the book?

There’s a point in the book where Andy, the main character, wonders: “Is it necrophilia if you’re both dead?” People who’ve read the book ask me for the answer, as if I’m an expert on necrophilia. Which I’m not. But I think the answer would be “no.”

Grind is a term used frequently in gaming vernacular referring to something that is rather repetitive or unpleasant that one engages in order to progress in the game. Would you say there is grinding in the writing process? Please explain.

Looking for an agent. The constant research of literary agency lists and writing query letters and sending out submissions is a definite grind. In the creative process itself? I can’t think of an analogy. If writing is repetitive or unpleasant, then you should be doing something else.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

Having someone tell me that my book got them interested in reading again. Or that when they read Breathers, no world existed for them outside of the book. That’s tough to beat.

When do you find time to write?

I’m supposed to be writing?

What projects are you currently working on?

I just sold my next novel to Penguin NAL, so I’ll be working with my editor to polish the manuscript and get it print ready. It’s a dark comedy like Breathers, but instead of zombies it’s populated by Death, Destiny, Fate, and a lot of humans who can’t get their shit together. The title of the novel is Fated.

How do you tend to escape these days?

I bike across the Golden Gate Bridge or play a round of golf or sit down with a good book. I know, I sound like Grandma. But extreme sports and strip clubs was never exactly my thing. Occasionally, I do plug in my Playstation 2 and play a season of Madden 2003 on General Manager mode.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

Don’t write what you think anyone wants to read or what someone tells you will sell. Write something that appeals to you. That affects you. That resonates with you on some level. Because if it doesn’t resonate with you, it won’t resonate with anyone else.

You wake up to a world where Breathers has been made into a massively multiplayer online game. Would you play a zombie? Why or why not?

I’d definitely play as a zombie. How could I write a novel about sentient, sympathetic zombies and then turn around and blow them away? I can’t even play House of the Dead anymore because it makes me fell like a hypocrite.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

Zombies are people, too.

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One shot: Pete Smith

Posted by Randolph Carter on July 21, 2009

MMO community connection:

Dragonchasers

Please take a minute and describe what your blog is about.

Dragonchasers.com is very much my personal blog. I started it in 2002 with no clear goal in mind other than having a place to share my thoughts. It is about what I’m interested in at any given moment. Since I’m a gamer-for-life, mostly that means its about MMOs & video games, but I also cover books and tv from time to time.

What was your introduction to MMOs and what was that experience like?

I’d say the first MMO I played, though the term hadn’t been coined yet, was a multiplayer space game called MegaWars III on Compuserve back in the early 1980s. The way the game worked is that the admins would start the universe and everyone had a single planet. You’d expand and capture other planets (a 4X game, for strategy buffs). Players could join together in teams to share resources. Resource-rich planets that would sustain life were pretty rare, so teams would be organized around protecting their good planets, pretty much 24/7. My team had a call list. If you logged in and another team was attacking our planets, you’d log off (everyone was on a modem back then) and call the next guy after you on the call list, then log back in to defend. The guy you called would in turn call the next person on the list and then log in as well. 2 am calls were not uncommon! It was exciting as heck…and remember, this was all text-based (and people using 1200 baud modems were considered cheaters since only big companies could afford that kind of technology). At some point one team would more or less dominate the universe, and the admins would declare them winners and ‘reset’ the game.

After that, I played Neverwinter Night on AOL and The Shadow of Yserbius on The Sierra Network. In terms of modern MMOs, I started in Ultima Online during its beta test phase.

Can you recall that first MMO “wow!” moment?

During one ‘war’ in MegaWars III, our team leader had to step down for a while due to real life commitments, and he put me in charge. We came in 2nd place in that war. At the time, I was in a dead-end job, cooking for a living, still living at home at 22 or 23. Not quite in my parent’s basement but close enough. But I’d log into MegaWars III and I was somebody. I was empowered. It was like stepping into a good sci-fi novel and just living in it for a while. And I was interacting with people all over the country. That seems ordinary now, but remember, this was before universal email, when only a fraction of people had computers and a fraction of those had access to Compuserve or GEnie or that weird ‘internet’ thing that college students could get on if they know someone that would get them an account. I used to play Chess in a Play-by-Mail club where you’d write your moves on a piece of paper, stick it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and then wait a few weeks for your opponent’s response to arrive. Compared to that, Megawars III was damned near magic!

At your peak, how much time per week would you say you spent playing? How about now?

My peak was probably in Ultima Online. How much time a week? Essentially every waking moment that I wasn’t working… 40 hours? 50 hours? Too much time, anyway.  That was an unhealthy amount of time to spend in a virtual world. These days, 10-15 hours/week, tops. Often less than 10. When a new game catches my fancy, the amount goes up. As I write this, XFire says I’ve spent 7 hours in the past week, most of it in Age of Conan (that 2-week ‘welcome back’ period is going on).

Do you tend to supplement your MMO gaming with other PC, console, or tabletop games?

Yes, I have all the video game consoles. In theory I also play PC games, but I never stick with them for long. Sitting at the computer, I’m always tempted to log into an MMO. On the consoles I play single-player RPGs, driving games, and ‘action adventure’ games. I just finished Infamous on the PS3 a week or so ago. I don’t do tabletop games. Before personal computers I had a nice sized collection of wargames, the paper and cardboard counter kind, but never found another wargamer to play them with, so I’d solo-play them. I was a geek in a community of friends that were all about hunting and fishing… a game of Monopoly was pretty complicated for them. :)

When did you first start blogging? Would you mind taking us up to present with all of your projects?

As I mentioned, Dragonchasers was started in 2002. I also run a gaming forum, Jaded’s Pub, that’s been going since 1994, though these days it is mighty quiet. That community came from the Strategy Plus Magazine forums (now defunct, both the forums and the magazine) which I ran (I was an associate editor for Strategy Plus for a few years). When I left the magazine, I started my own community. Jaded’s Pub is pretty insular; mostly older folks like myself who’ve know each other for literally years online. We don’t get many new members, and as old members drift off we just get smaller and even *more* insular. Every year I think I should shut it down, but it has such a history…

I also blog for ITWorld, non-game related techie stuff (though I sneak a gaming post in now and then). That’s a paying gig, though. I write a post every day and that’s the extent of my influence over the site.

Between a full time day job, the ITWorld blog, and Dragonchasers, I keep pretty busy. I have lots of ideas for other projects, but no time to work on them. Just like all of us!

Do you see blogging as just a hobby or perhaps something more?

I’d love to blog full time, as a living. But times are tough for media of all kinds. In my day job, I do web development for a small consumer electronics publisher, and both our web site and print mags are really struggling. I keep my ears open for opportunities, though! The few years I spent writing for Strategy Plus were without a doubt the most fulfilling years of my life, professionally speaking. But Dragonchasers is strictly a hobby…it’s my escape valve where I can blow off steam however I want to without worrying about what would happen to me if I lose my audience.

Do you have a schedule or some sort of routine you try and follow when blogging?

One post/day for ITWorld, if I want the checks to keep coming! No schedule for Dragonchasers, though.

Would you say there is some grind involved in blogging? If so, what is it and how do you tend to cope with it?

When keeping to a schedule, yes. It’s tough to come up with a fresh idea to write about every day, and even with a new news topic, delivering it in a new way can be a challenge. I cope with the idea side of things by keeping a ‘tickle file’ of things that strike my fancy, then going through it to combine different items in various ways to find new patterns or new ways of looking at things. As far as new ways to deliver your ideas, I think reading a lot helps. Blogs, newspapers, books…lots of different authors. Just being exposed to a lot of styles can help you sound fresh.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

The writing. I just love to write, and for reasons I don’t understand, writing is more pleasurable when someone else is reading what you’ve written. :)

Would you care to share a particularly memorable moment from your blogging past?

Nothing from my blogging past jumps out, but I can tell you a fun story from my Strategy Plus days. I got flown out to Las Vegas to cover a new game from Westwood called “Command & Conquer” (yeah, this is going back a ways!) and I sat down with Ed Del Castillo who was, I think, the producer of C&C? And he laid out this epic storyline that was going to take place across three games… he had it all planned out. What Tiberium was, and all this crazy stuff. And I had to sit on that info… it was all NDA. Of course, C&C was a huge hit back then and people would be on message boards speculating about this and that and I’d know all the answers but all I could do is chuckle to myself.

We put C&C on the cover of Strategy Plus and we were the first magazine to really expose the game. I was always proud of that fact, because I really had to sell it to the editors as cover-worthy.

In general, visiting game development houses was a real joy, though. These people are *so* passionate about what they do… you can’t help but get caught up in their excitement (which is why so many previews are so positive).

Have you ever considered branching into podcasting?

Naa, I don’t have the voice for it.

Are you pleased with how your blog has been received in the MMO blogosphere?

There are days when I wish I had a bigger audience, but that has a downside too.  There’s something ‘comfortable’ about having a circle of blogging friends who you read and who read you. If you go read the comments on a typical post at Joystiq or Massively… they’re really ugly. I don’t think my life would be enriched by a bunch of hateful, bitter gamers reading my blog, y’know? I have a circle of bloggers who I read and respect, and they seem to respect me, too, and that’s very rewarding for me.

If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you do anything different?

I would probably have started 2 blogs: one specifically for MMOs, and another for everything else I write about. Just to have a clearer message.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to try their hand at blogging?

Forget about regurgitating news that everyone else has already reported on. If there’s some news item you want to talk about because you have an opinion of it, then sure, cover it and share your opinion. But just reporting the news isn’t going to get you very far since then you’re competing with sites that have a paid staff tracking this stuff down. You need to write about what only you can write about, and generally speaking, that means your opinion.

In order to build traffic, read blogs that talk about the same general topics that you do, and comment there. If your comments are interesting, people will click through to read your blog. Blogrolls can help, too.

Also in terms of design, keep things clean and readable. Flashy layouts can be interesting to look at, but not to read, and you want people actually reading your posts, not just popping in to look at your design and leaving.

Can you picture a future where you will hang up your keyboard and no longer blog?

No, I really can’t. I suppose in the worst of all possible futures I’d have to ‘blog’ in a notebook with a bic pen. But I’d still be doing it!!

You wake up to a world where you are the head of a company developing an MMO. You have unlimited funds and resources available to you. Please describe the kind of game you would make.

I’d probably rewind the clock a bit. I still think UO was the best ‘virtual world’ MMO there’s been. I like the idea of the player-driven economy that lets you build everything, from weapons and armor to homes and furniture. Though I’d want the house-building functionality of Horizons in there. My game would have a death penalty of some kind…enough that death had a bit of a sting to it. And lots of player-driven changes to the world… great engineering feats that players would have to collaborate on. Oh, and skill-based rather than class-based.

As for combat, I know its in vogue to hate on current MMO combat, but I enjoy it and wouldn’t change it very much.

Since I have unlimited funds, I guess my game doesn’t have to be commercially viable.  Which is probably a good thing, because I don’t think my ideal game would be!!

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Reading the text: Victor Milán

Posted by Randolph Carter on July 20, 2009

rending of falconsAuthor website:

http://www.victormilan.com/

If possible, would you be able to explain what the Wild Cards series of books are about and what your involvement with them has been?

The Wild Cards books are about an alien virus accidentally released over New York city in 1946. It rewrote the genetic code of those affected. Ninety percent died horribly – in Wild Cards parlance, they drew the Black Queen. Nine percent survived but with some physical deformity, ranging from minor to horrific: the Jokers. And one percent drew an Ace – becoming, in effect, superheroes. Not always with comfortable, convenient, or even useful powers; but super withal.

That’s the short form. The long form (get comfortably seated): the Sunday night of a con back in the early 1980s I found myself in a hotel room listening to George RR Martin and Ken Keller discuss their lifelong love of comic books. I believe Roger Zelazny was there too – a hell of a detail to be fuzzy on, I admit; it was a long time ago. Of course Roger became a member of the Wild Cards consortium, to our everlasting benefit.

Anyway I was deeply impressed by the passion these guys showed for comics. Back home in NM George frequently played RPGs with Melinda Snodgrass, Walter Jon Williams, John and Gail Miller, Chip Wideman, and me. So when Chaosium – publisher of our fave game Call of Cthulu – came out with a game called Superworld, and GRRM had an imminent birthday, well, my course was obvious. I gave him a copy.

Thus began a shared obsession that’s spanned, holy cats, nigh onto thirty years.

Most of us in the group were established professional writers. Some were semi-pro or even professional actors – Walter and I in the first category, Melinda in the second. So our Superworld sessions became free-form improv theater as much as *games.*

They also *ate our lives.*

Eventually George realized he was spending all his time concocting plots and rolling numbnuts (our sensitive New Age name for NPCs.) He needed to find a way to make money off of this madness or sink beneath the waves. So he called first upon Melinda (who was also a recovering attorney) and then the rest of us, and the Wild Cards universe was born.

So my role was, basically: it’s my fault. And I have the honor of being an Original Wild Cards Mafioso, of which I am highly proud.

Whew.

Would you mind describing what the process was like for you in first getting published?

You really want to know? From the time I was a kid I knew I wanted to be a professional writer. Specifically of science fiction and fantasy: but most important of all, a *writer.* I’d do anything to get published.

So I did. A local, relatively new, SF author (whom I suspect would prefer to remain nameless, and so shall) was making a living writing, ahem, porn novels. I liked to talk writing with him. Then after a bunch of us Albuquerque fans attended Milehicon in Denver, I concocted an idea for a porn novel set at an SF convention. I told my writer pal, who was favorably impressed enough to say that if I was willing to co-write it with him, he would pitch it to his publisher. To which my response was, “Hell, yeah!”

It sold. And so, in 1974, I became a pro. I was too young to go in the store and buy it when it came out.

I started selling porn novels regularly and soon was making my living that way. In fairly short order I sold a hardcover Western novel to Doubleday and an SF short story to the short-lived Asimov’s SF Adventure Magazine. And was on my way.

And to date how many novels have you had published?

Including the naughty ones, somewhere upward of 90.

Where do you happen to find inspiration for all of this?

SF writers sometimes sneer at this question. It strikes me that it’s as valid as any other (although it may be when it’s phrased, “”Where do you get those crazy ideas?” that hackles rise.)

The truth is, they just come to me. Not helpful, I know, but true.

As far as to what triggers I’d have to say, first, life in general. Then reading: especially history, which is a lifelong passion of mine. And entertainment: oftentimes I’ll read or watch something, and think of a different – or, I’ll be honest here, sometimes better, especially in the latter case – way to handle certain ideas and concepts. And the ideas grow from those.

Were you a big reader as a child/young adult? What were some of your favorite books and/or authors growing up?

Oh, yes. I don’t know that I’ve ever met an author, particularly an SF/F author, who didn’t read voluminously from childhood on. Reading was my sanctuary – along with the tales I made up to exalt and entertain myself.

As for favored books growing up, there’s Heinlein: the YA novels, especially Have Space Suit, Will Travel – a true SF great – and also Glory Road. Alan E. Nourse’s Raiders From the Rings and Star Surgeon. Andre Norton, especially Star Guard, The Beast Master, and its sequel Lord of Thunder, as well as her Time Traders series. As I got a little older I got into Jack Vance, who’s now my favorite author, especially his Demon Princes and Planet of Adventure series. And fantasy, heroic and otherwise: Poul Anderson’s Vault of Ages and The High Crusade, Robert E. Howard’s Conan tales, Fritz Leiber’s wonderful stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

Why, yes. As I suspect has already become clear.

I started out playing D&D in the 1970s with Walter and Chip. We then got into Call of Cthulhu and my specialty, an after-the-apocalypse game called The Morrow Project.  And, of course, Superworld.

Back in the 1980s I played a lot of Atari games, from Defender to Frogger to more sophisticated games like Ultima. I found I enjoyed computer RPGs as well as pen-and-paper ones. Eventually I migrated to the PC, and hence PC games.

In the mid-1990s or so I started tapering off the pen-and-paper RPGs. Found myself not getting enough writing done, and felt playing those games diverted too many resources I should be using for my craft.

I also tapered off PC games, especially the last few years. But I’m coming back some. I’m playing through the wonderful No One Lives Forever and Neverwinter Nights in a kinda desultory way (I never said I kept *current* on games.) A friend named Ty Franck recently got me playing XBox 360 at his house – my current faves are Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 and the jaw-dropping Bioshock.

I might even get back to the face-to-face role-playing, if anyone else proves interested in involving me.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

My only real experience there came several years ago when a friend guided me through a brief tour of City of Heroes. Which was fun. My feelings on MMOs is much the same as Melinda’s: I’m afraid of diving in and never coming out.

Would you mind sharing an interesting and/or amusing story from your gaming past?

Call of Cthulhu. Run, if I recall correctly, by John Miller, currently doing business as John Jos. Miller to distinguish himself from all the other authors named John Miller. He was our stalwart usual CoC game master. Otherwise I think the usual suspects: Melinda, Walter, Chip, me. And George.

As he often did, George played a fairly brash character. This particular campaign he was a reporter who was markedly skeptical of the whole Cthulhu Mythos bit. We found ourselves coming up against a cult led by a most formidable creature indeed.

So we were checked into a hotel suite in some big city where the cult was based. While the rest of us were gathered in a back room we heard George’s character talking on the phone in the living room: “I hear you claim to be a 700 year old vampire. Well, I don’t believe that. Why don’t you come over here right now and show me.”

And he proceeded the give the 700-year-old vampire, who had his own private death cult, our hotel address and room number.

When he came back to where the rest of us were, John told him, “You see an empty room. The window is open and the curtains are still flapping, like something from a Warner Brothers cartoon….”

The rest of us – following, I’m proud to say, my lead – had literally jumped out the window and run away down the street as fast as we could go.

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer? Please explain.

*That’s* a leading question. Actually, I think it sharpened a lot of my skills for scenario setting, for tactics, and for character interplay. Again, the particular gaming group I was lucky enough to have no doubt contributed.

It also effected me by leading to a number of book sales: not just the ongoing Wild Cards series (with a new collection, Suicide Kings, due out in December, and yet another anthology called Fort Freak in the process of being written) but the novel Runespear I wrote with Melinda Snodgrass, based on a game I ran set in Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

The research and preparatory material I did for my Morrow Project campaign, which diverged in a lot of ways from the original conception, provided a useful foundation for the post-apocalypse action/adventure series Berkley recruited me to write in the 1980s, The Guardians. Which were a total hoot to do, and which I still get fan mail about, even though I wrote my last book in the series in the early 1990s.

I’ve also done a fair amount of game-oriented fiction – a D&D novel, and a number of novels and stories set in the BattleTech/MechWarrior: Dark Age universe, including a story I just sold to an upcoming anthology.

Grind is a term used frequently in gaming vernacular referring to something that is rather repetitive or unpleasant that one engages in in order to progress in the game. Would you say there is grinding in the writing process? Please explain.

I don’t think there needs to be. Often there is. What I’ve found grinding – and what from time to time has come close to defeating me – is writing in spite of barriers I throw up for myself in my own mind and emotions.

When I’m writing as I should, it’s a trance-like, near-ecstatic process, as gratifying as anything I’ve ever done. In that state I write fast and without regard to how “good” it is. I leave all such considerations for the rewrite – yet when I write that way my prose usually comes out at its smoothest and most vigorous, my characters most alive.

When I *think* about what I’m doing – struggle to find the “right” word or incident, and most of all, second-guess myself – that’s grinding. And all that agonizing and effort produces prose that often tends to grind.

I’ve spent almost two decades trying to break out of the habit of making writing a grind. In the last year I’ve largely broken through. At last.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

Power! And the rush of pure creation. I can make *worlds,* man. Or destroy them in an instant.

I love coming up with characters, worlds, settings, schemes. And of course action, which is kind of my specialty. And when they all flow together in a story – when I *let* them flow – there’s nothing to beat the sensation.

When do you find time to write?

Well, the hours are pretty good, given that for almost all the 35 years since my first sale I’ve written full-time. So it’s not so much a matter of finding time to write as getting myself to write. In the face of distractions, as well as the “grind” I dealt with above.

How do you tend to escape these days?

Still waste too much time online.

For real escape I walk the ditches of Albuquerque’s North Valley with Emma, my Black Lab/Shar Pei-cross dog, and socialize with friends, both of which I enjoy hugely. Lately I’ve gotten into square foot gardening, and having both fun and some success with that.

Also instead of the online crap I need to do more things that give me actual pleasure, such as watching movies or, yes, playing games. I’ll get there.

And, as always, I read a ton.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

Writers write.

That’s the one absolute. Except maybe, one size never fits all. Try anything, use what suits you and discard the rest. But *write.*

While there’s a world of stuff to learn to help you learn the craft of writing (it is, at least for me, a lifelong process) there are no prerequisites. Don’t ask permission. Don’t put it off. Don’t do this or that first. *Write.*

Also: read. If you don’t enjoy reading you might want to reconsider being a writer. It probably won’t suit you.

Otherwise, write! Talent is overrated. Like everything we do, writing is a skill. If you want it bad enough to put in the time and effort to learn it, you will.

Which of your novels would you most like to see made into a massively multiplayer online role playing game?

The one I’m (finally!) about to finish, the epic fantasy The Dinosaur Lords. Which is basically what it sounds like: the Renaissance with dinosaurs, featuring armored knights on gaudy duckbills fighting archers shooting from howdahs strapped to the backs of 10-ton Triceratops.

In this game, what race and class would you play and why?

The only sophonts are humans. No cutesy-pie talking dinos in this one: as Weird Al Yankovic sings, that T. rex thinks you’re dinner, not his friend. And while the 70-ton Brachiosaurus is placid by nature, if he steps on you or whacks you with his tail by accident, you’re just as dead as if Rex had devoured you. So race would be: human.

As for class? Probably a Dinosaur Knight. They’re the ones who get to strap on armor and ride to battle astride a three-ton monster who makes noises like a whole brass section. Although commanding a Triceratops – a living tank with six-foot horns – and crew would rock, as well.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

Yeah. Games are great. Don’t lose sight of the world outside them. If you start role-playing your life instead of living it, you might want to step away from the table, or the screen. At least for a little while.

You can only share what you have; and you inevitably share what you do have. So seek happiness and pleasure in everything you do, and make the world a brighter place.

And seriously: if you want to be a writer, just start writing. Start *now.*

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Reading the text: Thomas M. Reid

Posted by Randolph Carter on July 17, 2009

crystal mountainAuthor website:

http://www.thomasmreid.com/

Could you take a minute and explain what your latest novel The Crystal Mountain is about?

Sure. The Crystal Mountain is the third book of a trilogy set in Wizards of the Coast’s Forgotten Realms setting. The entire Empyrean Odyssey tells the story of an alu named Aliisza and a cambion named Kaanyr Vhok. The two wind up in the celestial planes, mixed up in the machinations of the good gods and their angel servants. The story revolves around a handful of characters dealing with their own issues, but it’s all set against the backdrop of some pretty sweeping events that WotC developed to introduce the 4th Edition version of the Dungeons & Dragons setting. It was originally conceived to help bring those changes into play, but I tried to focus on keeping the story grounded around those particular characters and their immediate problems.

Would you mind discussing your professional background in the gaming industry?

I began working at TSR, Inc. (the company that produced D&D in its earliest days) in 1991. I came on board as a game editor, but I dabbled in design, and eventually became a product line manager. I moved west to Seattle when Wizards of the Coast acquired TSR and all of its properties where, in addition to continuing to work with the game department, I also started writing fiction. I eventually moved back to Texas (where I grew up) to work in the paper-and-pen industry as a freelancer. I’ve also done some contract work for a handful of computer game companies here in the Austin area, but my main focus has continued to be writing.

What has your gaming experience been like (pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

Obviously, based on my resume, it’s pretty extensive. I started playing D&D way back in the late 70s, and I’ve been involved in that pastime–as well as the electronic side of things–both personally and professionally in the three decades since. I also spend my fair share of time playing computer games. I got an Apple II+ for Christmas when I was something like 13 years old and played the very first version of Wizardry on it. I still play computer games regularly, mostly MMORPGS. I have a particular passion for WWII games. We do have consoles in the house (a Wii and an XBox), but my kids are far better at those than I will ever be.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? What has that experience been like?

I have a character on World of Warcraft, and I, my wife, and our three kids have all played it together. I also dabbled in Lord of the Rings Online, D&D Online, and Age of Conan. My most recent interest has been WWII Online: Battleground Europe. Though certainly not the most cutting edge in terms of graphics, etc., it has the unique appeal of immersing me in World War II, one of my passions since childhood. Though I would never insult anyone who has ever seen real combat, by suggesting that it gives me any real perspective on how it must feel to be on the field of battle, I will claim that it’s probably pretty similar to a very complex game of paintball.

As someone who obviously appreciates the written word, do you tend to read the quest text?

Absolutely. Much of the work I have done for various computer-game companies recently has revolved around creative content, including quest text, so yeah, I am partial to seeing the story behind the game play. I know plenty of people who have more than enough fun just completing the tasks without ever really paying attention to what was written, but someone on the other end has gone to a lot of trouble to craft a believable tale, and if you are careful and pay attention, you can learn quite a bit about the setting.

Would you care to share an amusing and/or interesting anecdote from your gaming days?

In general, funny stories only mean much to the people who were a part of it, but I’ll share one little tidbit from very recently. I mentioned that I had just started playing WWII Online. Well, my oldest son had come into my office to see what I was engrossing me so thoroughly. I explained to him that I was playing a British AA gunner, trying to defend a town from the attacking Germans. Nothing much was happening, and he thought it looked stupid and boring (as teenagers are wont to do). All of a sudden, a lone Stuka came swooping overhead. “Crap,” I said, swiveling my Hotchkiss around. “He’s fractured skycoming back, I know it.” Sure enough, the Stuka lined up for a high, diving attack run–right at me. My heart pounding, I tried to line it up in my sights. Now, remember, I am a complete noob at this game, so my ability to lead a plane is pretty raw. But this plane came right at me, bullets raining down all around me. I unloaded an entire belt of ammo and I shot it right out of the sky. It was so close, I thought for a split-second I would be killed by the falling debris, but it landed just beyond me. I was so stoked I literally jumped out of my chair and high-fived my son. I think he was suitably impressed, even if he wouldn’t let his old man actually see the admiration.

How would you say your gaming experience has influenced you as a writer?

I would say that the two are so completely intertwined that it would be hard to differentiate one from the other. Much of my game experience has involved writing creative content, and much of my writing experience has focused on games. The two are all part of what I do for a living.

Were there ever times when you felt like your gaming got in the way of your writing?

Sure. Early on, I was as guilty as anyone of writing “a group of unlikely heroes out of a gaming session” clichés as anyone. I still probably let the rules of the game setting unduly influence much of my writing at times, but that has waned with years of experience.

Have you found there to be any drawbacks to writing shared-world fiction?

No matter how much of yourself you may put into characters, plots, and environment, it’s never really yours. Everything you work on belongs to someone else, and it’s easy to get lost in that fact when you’re really immersed in it. But the moment you start to forget it, something can (and will) come along to rudely remind you otherwise. It’s also maddening sometimes to really want to do the perfect thing in a plot, something that fits exactly the way it needs to and accomplishes the precise climactic moment, and you can’t. Perhaps someone else is in need of that particular plot device, or perhaps the company would prefer not to open up particular can of beans by what you want to do. Either way, it can be frustrating, but you just figure out an alternative and go on.

By contrast, what would you say you enjoy most about writing shared-world fiction?

There’s a real sense of camaraderie with the other creatives working in a shared world. You can bounce ideas off one another, take some seemingly innocuous, throw-away idea from one of their works and develop into something grand, and so forth. It’s almost like we’re all in on a very special, well loved inside joke when we’re working in the same world together. It can be pretty special, and some terrific, lasting friendships have developed as a result of it.

Were you a big reader as a child/young adult? What were some of your favorite books and/or authors growing up?

I have always and will always read voraciously. There’s more stuff I can point to than I could type in a day, but some of the real standouts include The Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators, The Lord of the Rings (of course), any of Robert Ludlum’s spy thrillers, John Norman’s Gor series, anything by Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, etc. I exhausted my grade school librarian.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

For the first time in a long time, I am not contracted to write any work-for-hire material. It’s refreshing, because it’s giving me a chance to pursue some speculative stuff. I don’t want to say anything more right now, but hopefully, some new fiction will surface in the near future for me that’s completely my own.

gossamer plainWould you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

I get asked this all the time, and I know other authors do, too. We all say the same thing, and though the answer is probably not what a would-be writer wants to hear again, you’ve got to write. Just like learning to play a musical instrument, practicing makes you better. When you write, you’re developing a bunch of different talents. You learn how to type faster, which allows your ideas to flow more easily from head to fingertips to computer screen; you learn how to make yourself sit down every day and actually do it, developing the discipline; and, most important, you develop your craft. Most people who think they want to write like the romantic notions of it and don’t fully grasp the labor involved. I hear folks say, “I want to be a writer” all the time, but that’s all they ever do. If you are a writer, you can’t NOT write. You have to do it; it’s in your blood. And if that’s the case, then you do it, every day, and you get better at it.

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