Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Mark L. Van Name

Posted by Randolph Carter on May 20, 2009

overthrowing heaven coverAuthor website:


Could you take a minute and explain what Overthrowing Heaven is about?

I hate giving away a book’s plot, so I’ll keep to details that won’t destroy the story for anyone reading this interview. Overthrowing Heaven is the third novel featuring Jon Moore, an unusual man with even more unusual abilities, and Lobo, his best friend–who also happens to be a Predator-Class Assault Vehicle with particularly sarcastic emotion software. The book begins with Jon having reluctantly agreed to help a woman escape from her abusive partners. All he’s supposed to do is provide transportation off the planet. As often happens to Jon, however, what he thought was a simple job turns incredibly complex and mutates into something entirely different. It’s a fast-paced adventure that I hope readers will enjoy.

What was the process like in getting your first book published?

I wrote it, asked a publisher I knew (Jim Baen, now dead, alas) if he would like to take a look at it, and he said, yes. After he’d had it for five months, he decided to buy it. It was that simple. Many writers have horror stories about their first book sales, but I really can’t complain at all about the way mine went down.

For those interested, the entire story is a bit funnier and a great deal longer; you can find it in this entry on my blog.

Where do you happen to find inspiration for your work?

Everywhere! Everything I read, every conversation I have, every place I visit–it’s all fodder for stories.

That said, I do read voraciously, watch a lot of movies and some TV shows (but only on DVD), listen to a wide variety of music, travel as I can, and so on; it doesn’t hurt to prime the creative pump.

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 been a gamer of one sort or another most of my life. As a kid, I played board games and card games and chess as often as I could manage. I had an original Pong game. I’ve played a fair number of PC games, including more than my share of Doom. My kids and I and a friend in Maryland (who’s also a game developer) play Halo 3 almost every weekend day.

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

I’ve spent only a few minutes in online worlds. Overall, I wasn’t impressed. I see the value of where they’re going, but right now the tech just isn’t good enough to intrigue me–plus, of course, I’m constantly swamped by my obligations in this real world and so don’t have much time to devote to online worlds.

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

In the sense that all experiences shape my work, of course gaming has affected me, just as books and movies have. I can’t, however, attribute any specific characteristics of my work to gaming.

Gaming definitely is a way to relax after writing, and I’ve certainly used it for that purpose more times than I care to admit!

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 wish I could insert here a recording of how much I laughed when I first read this question. Though there are many times in the course of writing that are quite pleasurable, a great deal of the job of writing is very much like working your way through a long game: making yourself sit in the chair and do the job, word after sentence after paragraph after chapter, until you hit the end–and then you go back and revise, much like immediately replaying a game at the Heroic level just to sharpen your skills. For me, though, gaming, even grinding through levels, is far more relaxation and fun than work.

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

If someone who wants to be a writer asks my opinion, I always give him or her the same two suggestions:

  1. If you can possibly not write, don’t. It’s a mug’s game that few win in the short term and almost none win in the long run.
  2. If you must write, do it every day, or at least as often as possible, and let nothing deter you. Never stop, never surrender, and write, write, write. It’s the best job in the world.

Yeah, I know they seem contradictory, but they’re not, not jump ahead cover

You wake up to a world where your Jon Moore novels have been made into an MMO. What race and class would you play and why?

Jon, of course. I’d have his abilities, I’d have Lobo, and I’d get to play in a universe that up to now has existed only in my imagination. What could be more grand?

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

Yes, one selfish thing: Please petition your favorite game publishers to buy the gaming rights to one of my books and make a game from it. I would love to see a great game done around Jon and Lobo and my universe of humans spread across dozens and dozens of planets, all linked by mysterious jump gates. How cool would that be?

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