Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Kevin J. Anderson interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on February 16, 2010

Kevin J. Anderson is the author of more than one hundred novels primarily in the science fiction and fantasy genres. Here he talks about his latest writing project, Terra Incognita, a nautical fantasy trilogy involving sailing ships and sea monsters and how one of his early fantasy series was directly influenced by his days of playing Dungeons & Dragons. One wonders how different Mr. Anderson’s output would have been if it weren’t for those formative gaming sessions.

Kevin’s website: http://www.wordfire.com/

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The second volume of your Terra Incognita series is due out in June. Would you mind setting up the premise of the series and perhaps what you’ve set out to accomplish with it?

And I’m right now half-finished with the third and final volume — this is a big epic fantasy set in a world with sailing ships and sea serpents, and a religious clash of two great empires: much like our Age of Discovery and the Crusades. It’s got a large cast of characters ranging from kings and sultans, soldiers and sailors, religious fanatics and the truly devout, all trying to unfold the mysteries of the blank spots on the map, fears of sailing off the edge of the world, the excitement and terror of discovering the unknown.

I’ve finished the seven-volume “Saga of Seven Suns” about a gigantic galactic war. Even though this one is only three books long, it’s still got a huge scope and deals with some major issues of religious intolerance, blind faith, and the need to expand our horizons. Oh, and sea monsters. Did I mention sea monsters?

As an innovative side project, we’ve also worked with a record label, ProgRock Records, to do two companion rock CDs that accompany the first two novels — we’ve got performances from some of the legends of rock music. The band name is Roswell Six. We’re recording the final vocals for the second CD right now, with some incredible performances from my music idols. (Yes, I really feel like a fanboy.)

At the risk of upsetting you, I’m going to bring up a Dungeons & Dragons anecdote Kristine Kathryn Rusch shared in an interview I did with her a little while back.

“In my D&D game, the players always celebrated the end of a good run in a tavern. They’d drink, then toss their glasses in the fireplace. So one of the villains developed a potion that, when put in fire, exploded. He dosed their cups. (I set this up with my character, an evil magic user, and using some long lost D&D rules) I had this thing for months, but the players stopped tossing their glasses in the fire. Then one day, after a particularly grueling session, they did. The tavern exploded, everyone died, and Kevin never forgave me. In fact, he still gets mad about it if you mention it. (Mention it. Mention it.) My character survived because he knew what was coming. Became the most powerful character in the game for a while. <evil grin>”

Have you by chance forgiven her and would you have any comment?

Oh, I have found many other ways to get my revenge. Kris was just showing her evil streak even back then.

You’ve mentioned that much of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s first novel, White Mists of Power, as well as your novels Gamearth, Gameplay, and Game’s End were inspired by your days of playing D&D. I’m guessing those were pretty fruitful gaming sessions. Would you be able to expand on this a bit?

Yes indeed, those were wonderful formative days.  Many of the characters in my Gamearth trilogy were the characters I played, and Kris used some of the characters from the game in White Mists. Her novel was a straightforward fantasy with some parts adapted from adventures we had. My trilogy was more self-referential to the game system: a group of players (like us) playing every week…finally deciding to stop and move on to other things — but the characters inside the game discover their world falling apart because their game is no longer being played, and so they try to fight back against the outside players.

So, yeah, those gaming sessions were very fruitful.

Aside from D&D would you mind discussing what your experience has been with gaming (board games, other pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I used to spend a lot of time with board games as a kid, but the couple of years I played AD&D with Kris and our group was the only time I got heavily into it in a time-consuming fashion. In the early days of the internet, I played some of the text quest games (usually at work, so don’t tell anybody), but I never got into computer games or videogames — when I was at my computer screen, I was having too much fun writing stories. Which leads nicely into your next question…

Many of the authors I’ve interviewed view gaming as a potential threat to their productivity as a writer. Where do you happen to stand on this?

I’ve known many authors who find plenty of distractions online, whether it’s gaming, mmorpgs, or just chat rooms, discussion boards. I know I could dive into some fascinating games, but I am really satisfied with the creative thrill of writing stories instead.

How then do you tend to escape these days?

My big escape is hiking and exploring. I live in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, with more trails than I can possibly walk, and then I spend a lot of time in Utah with the most fabulous canyon country. That’s where I go to recharge my batteries. I also read a lot, watch TV and movies, attend a lot of SF conventions.

You wake up to a world where your Terra Incognita series has been made into a fantasy RPG. What class would you play and why?

Sailing ship captain, no question about it! I want to explore the “terra incognita” on the maps and encounter all sorts of adventures and wonders.

And one final question, when was the last time you rolled a 20-sided dice?

In anger? I have the dice right here (my wife keeps a bunch of them around, Just Because). It’s been quite a while since I rolled one in a game…but I did just write a D&D story for their website. Does that count?

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