Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Stephan Grundy

Posted by Randolph Carter on September 1, 2009

rhinegoldAuthor website:

http://stephangrundy.net/

Could you take a minute and explain what your first novel Rhinegold is about?

Rhinegold is a retelling of the Volsung/Nibelung saga, divided roughly into thirds. The first section is basically the story of Sigemund and Sigelind, the second the story of Sigefrith (Siegfried) through the dragon-slaying, and the third covers Sigefrith’s death and its consequences through Attila’s slaughter of the Burgundian royal family.

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

Surprisingly easy for a first novel. I needed a few spare grade-points, so I talked C.W. Smith, one of the Creative Writing teachers at SMU, into letting me do the third part as a semester-long independent study project. He thought it was good enough to recommend me to his agent; by happy chance, the agency was in touch with the German publisher that had taken Mists of Avalon. And they thought something to the effect of, “This is like Mists of Avalon, but it’s better, because it’s German.” Really. Then they decided that it would be their fall bestseller (in fact, I was interviewed for an article on “The Making of a Bestseller” in Der Spiegel before the book ever hit the shelves). After that, it was not too difficult getting it published in English.

Was Rhinegold written originally in German? And if so, who was responsible for translating it into English?

No, it was written in English. It was just that it sold to a German publisher (Fischer) first and was translated into German by a couple of their lads.

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

A huge reader. In fact, I learned to read before I could talk – which sounds bizarre and implausible, but this was the late Sixties and there were a lot of experimental child-teaching methods going around. I actually read the first word I ever spoke off a card.

Favourite books and authors…Zilpha Keatley Snyder was a huge favourite of mine as a child. I got into Tolkien pretty early. I also loved Moby Dick from the time I was seven or so – the symbolism mostly went over my head, but I may be the only person alive to have ever actually read that book for the whaling chapters (ironically, or maybe not, I was also a big supporter of Greenpeace at the time). I loved Heinlein, read all his juveniles and was into the adult books by the time I was twelve or so. Basically I would read anything that didn’t run away fast enough – and I was pretty quick on my feet.

What do you tend to read these days?

Still read anything that doesn’t run away fast enough, although, as always, the bulk of it leans towards fantasy and science fiction. S.M. Stirling’s “Emberverse” series is my favourite, edging out his Draka books by a nose these days; Diane Duane’s series that began with The Door into Fire is another huge favourite of mine, though I’ve been waiting for a long, long time for her to write the promised final one. Harry Dresden, too; I used to like Anita Blake, but if I want pornography, I can get better elsewhere without the frustration of remembering that the series used to have plots, characters, and writing.

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.)?

Gamer since the age of twelve, thank you. In fact, I’m writing this while I wait for my MERP PC to be revived from the dead – if the other guys survive long enough to bring him back.

I’ve always liked the classic D&D-style RPG’s, mainly because of the character development and interaction and the fate-like tension of the dice. Computer games never did it for me at all, nor did board games. The only one with cards I like is Munchkin…but I like Munchkin *an awful lot*.

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

Afraid I haven’t.

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

Ohh…everyone’s got about five billion of them… I’m not sure any of mine are any more entertaining than anyone else’s, except to the people who were playing at the time…they’re really not interesting or amusing unless you know the characters and the world. Or unless I’ve had three beers or more and am listening to other people’s gaming stories, at which point, of course, they all become wildly hilarious.

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

Almost more than anything else.

That’s how I got started: I’d race home from school and write up my PC’s adventures of the day. When that campaign ended, I sort of moved on into other stories, the way it would have been if our GM had only been bright enough to appreciate me fully (really) and had a better sense of drama. And from there I just kept going.

About seventy percent of what I’ve written includes characters based on either the PC’s or the gamers, from the time I was twelve until right now, this very minute. The one true fantasy book I’ve written (not yet published) is based on my favourite PC, and the world is strongly influenced by the rather mutant version of MERP I’ve been playing over the last twelve years. I say rather mutant because our GM is a skeptical Renaissance-history-focused Irishman with a strong sense of practical reality, which creates a very different feeling and result in his Middle Earth than in Tolkien’s. For one thing, I think he sees the Numenoreans as the English – which Tolkien might have done too in some ways – but the viewpoint is rather less complimentary.

I probably would not be a writer now, certainly not the writer I am, without gaming.

How is your MERP group conducted? Do you all get together at someone’s home or is this done on the computer with Skype or something like that?

It’s all at our house. We take over the drawing room for a weekend and play until our eyes turn red and our hands get too shaky to hold the dice, then have a brief nap and do it some more. One of our lads actually flies over from England for it….I’ve been playing with these guys for 12 years, and they had been going in the same world/setup for something like ten or twelve years before I moved in, I think. We usually do a lot of the pre-planning stuff by computer if we can, though, especially rules revision, especially where Rolemaster just doesn’t work for us or isn’t compatible with Tolkien and/or our sense of quasi-mediaeval reality.

Would you say there is grinding in the writing process?

Yes. I’m doing that this week, too. My agent has informed me that I need to cut the manuscript I’m working on, and neither of us could find any actual pieces to cut, so I am going through it *word by bloody word*, hoping to sweat about 25000 words out of a 180,000 word ms. This is slow, obnoxious, and grinding, probably the worst part of the whole process.

Proofing is kind of a grind too, but I am a very clean typist so it’s usually not that bad.

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

When I’ve just written something really good, and I read back over it, and just have to start chortling, “Ah hah, I got it, I got it, it’s perfect, this is amazing!” Especially when it’s something drawn from a painful experience in my personal past, when I realize that I have transfigured whatever horribleness it was and made it into something really worthwhile.

When do you find time to write?

Pretty constantly. My other job is as a jeweler in my own company (we do mostly Irish and Norse historical jewelry), so my hours are flexible.

What projects are you currently working on?

The main one is a retelling of the Tain bo Cuailgne (Cattle-Raid of Cooley) from the perspective of Queen Maeve, which will go off to the publisher as soon as I sweat out those 25000 words. My Beowulf will be coming out from I-Universe sometime later this year, or should be. I’m also working on a couple of non-fiction projects, a fighter manual for the SCA and a book entitled “Amulets, Stones, and Herbs” for the academic Norse Heathen audience.

How do you tend to escape these days?

I read. I almost never watch television, and I won’t watch a movie if it has a book, unless the movie is something really special. Reading a book usually takes me about an hour to an hour and a half, unless it’s humongous; watching a movie is generally more like two to three hours or whatever, and it’s difficult for me. I have to figure out who all those strange people are and what they’re doing. In a book, you always know because they have names and stuff.

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

Don’t give up. No matter what. People will tell you your writing sucks – I paid one agent to evaluate Rhinegold, she said it sucked…and it became a bestseller. You will get more rejection than even the average high school outcast can possibly imagine. Don’t give up. Ever. Maybe you will make it, maybe you won’t, but I can guarantee that if you give up, you certainly won’t.

Publish whatever you can, where-ever you can. Then go to as many cons as you can afford. An awful lot of business gets done there; probably my biggest professional mistake was not going on the con circuit as soon as Rhinegold came out and getting to know all the other writers, editors, and other people that kind of support each other in the business.

Which of your works would you most like to see turned into a role playing game and why?

I’d really like to see the “Falcon Dreams” trilogy as a RPG. The scenario – black magicians vs. white magicians in fourteenth-century Germany, with the Church as sometimes a help and sometimes a major threat (Inquisition just really getting rolling in Germany), would be a *lot* of fun, with a huge amount of scope for anyone with a sense of history. You could work in all kinds of interesting monsters, too…I actually had a pre-series planned, involving some nasty Undead out of early German folklore and similar things.

As someone who is well versed in Norse mythology, do you think the gods would find the title of this site (Grinding to Valhalla) to be blasphemous? And if so, is there something I could possibly do to appease them?

I can’t see them objecting. There is actually an Old Norse pun in there which I bet you never suspected, but it’s real arcane.

Generally, we don’t have the same sense of blasphemy that the Peoples of the Book do. You have to really mean offense.

However, if you would like to offer a horn of good ale or mead to Odhinn as a sort of royalty on the name, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind in the least!

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

If there’s a better exercise for the imagination than role-playing games, I can’t imagine it. I think most fantasy writers these days are some sort of gamers, which shows up in their books, sometimes spectacularly. To me, gaming is somewhere between reading and writing – other people do a lot of the work, but you still get to interact and mutually create the characters, the world, and everything else.

Well, I’ve just been called back into the gaming room, and the word is that my temporarily late PC Minalost is going to live if I don’t fumble my revival rolls, so it’s time to go now. Hopefully I will see some of you at a con sometime!

One Response to “Reading the text: Stephan Grundy”

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