Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Camille Alexa

Posted by Randolph Carter on May 26, 2009

push of the sky coverAuthor website:

Could you take a minute and explain what Push of the Sky is about?

Push of the Sky is a collection of short stories about things that didn’t happen, probably couldn’t happen, or haven’t happened yet. I snuck a couple poems in there, but I don’t usually tell people in case it scares them.

What was the process like in getting your book published?

My boyfriend bought me a laptop for my birthday a few years ago. We both just sort of expected it to streamline my Icewind Dale, Torment, and Age of Empires binges. But I stumbled on this weird thing called writing, and it was like somebody — lots of somebodies — had been keeping this amazing secret: Writing is *awesome*.

I wrote novels. I wrote essays. I wrote short stories, some of them so short they’re called poems. I tossed all those puppies out into the universe, and to my incredible good fortune and delight, someone (besides me) liked them enough to eventually put them all in one place.

Where do you happen to find inspiration for your writing?

I do what’s called “writing by the headlights.” I get an image or idea or even just a string of words in my head, and I drive in that direction until the story’s done.

I’m mainly an anthologist, so if I hear someone’s putting together, say, a collection of stories about a machine that predicts the mode of a person’s death, and the first thing that pops to my brain is, “Huh. That would be interesting if when you turned sixteen, the Big Deal is to get your Cause-of-Death slip instead of your driver’s license . . . ” — well, I sit down and write that story.

(Machine of Death is a real anthology, by the way, inspired by Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics. The story I sold to them, “Flaming Marshmallow and Other Deaths,” also appears in audio at Escape Pod, and in Push of the Sky.)

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.)?

Board and card games were huge for me as a kid. Risk, Monopoly, Stratego, more obscure stuff like Pit, Waterworks (I loved those freaking wrenches!), and 3M Bookshelf games. Like many children of the 70s and 80s, my siblings and I were latchkey kids, so we had plenty of unsupervised home time. Almost before we could read we were making up rules using various game boards and pieces from the games cupboard, sometimes mix-n-match.

Then the Atari showed up. We got so good, we’d handicap our play to make it more challenging; like, we could only play moving the joystick or paddle with our feet instead of hands. Playing Kaboom! using only your toes is a pretty wild ride at the faster speeds.

So I’ve always been a casual gamer (though it doesn’t feel so casual when you’ve played Baldur’s Gate so long, you suddenly realize you’ve been wearing pajamas for three days and the dog is really sad from not getting walks) but I live with a very NON-casual gamer (the entire lower level of our house is dedicated to a massive gaming table, scores of board games and thousands of RPG minis). I’ve never been a live RPG gamer, but I get far too easily addicted to single-player computer RPGs (my boyfriend’s correcting me over my shoulder, saying I play computer RPGs “in single player mode”).

Living with a game enthusiast, I get to play lots of fabulous German-style board and card games: Lost Cities, Kahuna, Citadels, Settlers of Catan . . . tons of others. Most recently we’ve been playing Small World, though I’m generally more into exploration and resource management than conquest.

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

My childhood home was not exactly tech-embracing: we never used the air conditioner (and in Texas, that can be brutal!); I’d never seen MTV; I thought the trash compactor (do houses even have trash compacters anymore? How EPISODE IV !) was for storing dog food.

But my mother got into CAD drafting years ahead of the curve (I played Zork on her work computer), and my father, a folklore professor at UT Austin, brought us home a . . .what? Apple IIe? Commodore 64? I don’t even remember. Nice foresight, though! I was raised virtually without television, but my parents bought a computer pretty early on. Not bad, Mom & Dad! I don’t think I truly appreciated that before. Typical.

camille alexa2My dad hoped I’d play the no-doubt-useful typing shark game, but I completely ignored learning to type (still can’t) in order to play countless hours of Ultima II (all monotone green characters difficult to tell apart). Much later — way after college — came console games: Final Fantasy, Chrono Cross, Lost Vikings, Zelda. I’m not so much an online gamer. I prefer going at my own pace. I’m a binge player just as I am a binge writer: I’ll do nothing else for days if I get sucked in, but I have to be able to set it aside then and do other stuff, like bathe and sleep. If my game universe kept going without me after I flipped the off switch, I’d go crazy. Real life goes by fast enough and is already pretty hard.

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

Writing, like reading and gaming, is world-immersion. You plunge headfirst into another world, you learn its rules and you play by them until things reach a resting point. The truly amazing part is when other people read your stuff and immerse themselves in your worlds as well. Too cool for words.

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.

Writing’s such an individual experience, a deeply personal process, different for everyone. But most people find rejections hard. You sometimes have to send a story out again and again (and again and again) before you find the right editor at the right time for the right market for the right story. That part wears on a lot of writers.

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

Writing. Clear and simple, no doubt about it.

What . . . You expected fame and fortune? From writing fiction? From writing Science Fiction? You’re thinking of those game development guys. They get all the gold and the women.

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

I’m a proponent of doing things one’s own way, not just following the herd. I’ve not followed conventional wisdom about how to write, or how to get published. I still don’t. There’s no wrong way — just lots of right ways, depending on your goals and situation. Commit to finding ways that work for you, while remaining reasonable and fair to yourself and others. Don’t listen too much to people telling you how you’re “supposed to” be a writer. Or, listen respectfully and nod your head (I’m still working on this), and then go do what works for you. If it doesn’t work, you’ll try something different next time. Or the next. Or the next. Just keep producing new stuff, and keep trying to get it out there.

You wake up to a world where one of your short stories has been made into an MMO. Which story would you pick and why?

My favorite question EVAR. I was going to say “Shades of White and Road” right off the bat, because that world is so unusual, infinite, and populated with endless sentient objects you can cultivate on towering vines, all vying for attention (read the story free online in Fantasy Magazine), but I can’t help thinking “The Clone Wrangler’s Bride” would be tons of fun, too (free online at Wandering the Twelve Domed Cities of Mars, fighting giant Martian prairie squid and evil Pinkerton mandroids, avoiding seduction by cancandroids and drinking nanobot whiskey. . . Actually, those last couple things are from the sequel, “Droidtown Blues,” which I wrote as a Christmas gift for my gamer boyfriend.

Oo! Oo! I’ve got it! “Four Jerks of the Apocalypse”! That should show up at Revolution SF any day now. A short piece, but with lots of good chaos.

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

I’ll be reading in Austin, Texas June 4th at Book Woman, and also at the Beaverton Powell’s in the Portland, Oregon area June 18th @7pm. I’d love your readers to come say hi.

Also, thank you for reading! Anything. Anywhere. But most particularly this. Also Push of the Sky. Come visit me at!camille alexa

2 Responses to “Reading the text: Camille Alexa”

  1. […] on Grinding to Valhalla Randolph Carter hosts a series of interviews on his Gaming site, Grinding to Valhalla.   He calls this series Reading the Text, and has interviewed writers like Sarah Monette, Ken […]

  2. […] in Austin, Tx If you haven’t read the very sweet interview on Grinding to Valhalla, please at least give it a skim. Randolph Carter asked me the best question ever: “You wake […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: