Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Joel Shepherd

Posted by Randolph Carter on September 14, 2009

crossoverAuthor’s website:

http://www.joelshepherd.com/

Could you take a minute and explain what your Cassandra Kresnov series happens to be about?

The Cassandra Kresnov series is about an artificial person, Cassandra (or Sandy), constructed to be the most lethal ever soldier in an interstellar war, who decides she’d rather be a normal person instead. But of course, the powers that shaped her creation on all sides don’t make it that easy for her. So it’s a lot about choices and individual rights and the like, as well as all the way-cool action stuff.

For your more recent series A Trial of Blood & Steel you made the transition into fantasy. Would you say you are more at home writing science fiction or fantasy?

I don’t really have a preference. My fantasy tends to be a bit more lyrical, and my SF more blunt and direct, because that’s sort of what future technologies are doing to language anyhow… but my subject matter always comes from aspects of human civilisation, it’s just in SF it’s future civilisation, and in fantasy it’s past civilisation.

What is the likelihood of your US readers getting a chance to read this fantasy series?

The first novel Sasha is out in a few weeks! The rest to follow at probably half-yearly intervals.

What was the experience like for you in getting your first book published?

Wonderful and frustrating. Wonderful because the first book is always exciting. Frustrating because it took so long to find a US publisher (Pyr in 2006, it took them that long because Pyr only came into existence a year or two earlier). But recent sales for Cassandra have proven that Pyr really know what they’re doing…

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.)?

When I was a kid I played a fair bit of D&D. In hindsight, that was something of a formative experience for being a writer, because I can remember becoming quite frustrated with D&D’s limitations in plot. You couldn’t just make cool stuff happen, and the dice don’t always deliver the most dramatic result. Also there are those character strengths and weaknesses (which everyone always cheats on), and endless debates about what constitutes ‘charisma’ anyway? I kept wanting to create characters that made consistent sense to me as people, and the game mechanisms never really allowed it. Having said all that, D&D could also be lots of fun, it’s just that observing what worked and didn’t work gave me ideas that in hindsight were good writer training.

Then I got quite into battletech, which is technologically quite a silly concept, but that’s completely besides the point. Giant fighting robots are cool, especially when you’re thirteen. And who am I kidding, if they made a movie I’d still see it and buy the DVD…

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

Never have. I have enough distractions from my writing now, I don’t need more. And besides, I’m sure I’d become frustrated with each world’s limitations as I did with D&D. I’m more into creating my own worlds than playing in other peoples’.

Would you say there is grind involved in the writing process?

Oh for sure. There’s grind in every creative process. Writing stories isn’t that fundamentally different from creating game worlds, you’re trying to create an alternative reality, and sometimes the ends don’t all fit together very easily. And so you have to create all kinds of plausible reasons why things work the way they do, and do it in a way that allows a dramatic narrative to take place, and that gives ordinary readers a reason to care. That’s a huge number of things to make work all at the same time, and it takes a lot of time to process all those details. And sometimes it still doesn’t work, and you have to go back and rewrite to find what you’ve done wrong. But most things worth making take effort.

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

Making it work. It’s such a hard thing to do, that making it work, and having readers tell you that it works (for them at least) is awesome. Like a sports person who trains endlessly to achieve some very difficult technical skill, it’s exhilarating when you see it finally working.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

The fourth book of my ‘Trial of Blood and Steel’ fantasy series, titled Haven. It’s due out in Australia middle of 2010, and in America probably sometime in 2011. I’ve also got an urban fantasy series I’m working on, and a stand alone SF/action novel already completed.

How do you tend to escape these days?

I go cycling, I watch sport, I do anything but think about writing.

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

Only do it if you absolutely must. It’s very hard to succeed, takes a lot of time and pays you very little in return. But if you must, then I guess you must.

You wake up to a world where your Cassandra Kresnov series has been made into a massively multiiplayer online game. What type of character would you play and why?

killswitchWell I’ve thought about this, and it would be pretty hard to play Cassandra, because she’s way too fast for merely human players to control. But there are plenty of interesting characters around her who would be fun to play as, and keeping up with Sandy could be half the challenge.

I think I’d play Director Ibrahim of the Callayan Security Agency. He’s in charge of the CSA, which is kind of like the CIA/FBI/NSA all rolled into one. So he’s the guy who tackles the big picture, takes advice from all different sources, then makes the call as to what to do. So he directs the intelligence gathering units (Ari Ruben), the SWAT units (Vanessa Rice), and the investigative units, while simultaneously trying to placate meddling politicians, handle the media, etc. Not that I wouldn’t enjoy shooting stuff up (Vanessa) or hacking into things and stealing information (Ari), it’s just that as a writer, I enjoy the big picture most of all, and trying to see how it all fits together.

And last but not least, when was the last time you rolled a 20-sided dice?

Oh, ages ago. But it would be fun to go again one day.

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