Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Daniel Abraham

Posted by Randolph Carter on July 8, 2009

price of springAuthor website:

Could you take a minute and explain what The Price of Spring is about?

Price of Spring is the last book in a four-book epic fantasy series that follows a couple of folks from childhood to old age, following the changes in their lives and the changes in their world. It’s all about magic and war and betrayal and love and intrigue. All four books are built to stand alone. This one in particular is what happens *after* the big world-breaking war. It’s about two groups who have different views for rebuilding and making a future. With, y’know, apocalyptic magic.

What was the process like for you in first getting published?

It was kind of like marrying my wife. I started by being rejected for ten years. (Ha ha, only serious.)

I started submitting short stories when I was in high school and racked up rejections from publishers. I wrote three lousy, unpublishable books. Eventually it got to the point I was thinking of it as a game. Postal ping-pong. I sent out the story, they sent it back. Then I sent it back out, and they sent it back. The point to the game was no to have the stories sitting on *my* table. And then eventually, the stories stopped coming back every time, and they sent checks instead. That was actually kind of weird.

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

I read constantly as a kid. And young adult. Well, and adult. I was an omnivore. I remember the Danny Dunn books, and The Phantom Tollbooth, and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books. I had a thing for Roald Dahl too. But there were a *lot* of books.

My introduction to science fiction was Arthur C. Clarke (followed quickly by Larry Niven and Harry Harrison). I got into fantasy with David Eddings.

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.)?

autumn warMy introduction to gaming was when I was, I think, twelve years old. I got really sick. Hospital sick. My grandfather worked across the street from a store called Wargames West. He didn’t know much about it. He got me the boxed set of Tunnels and Trolls. I got all the solo dungeons, and when I ran out, I started branching out. I probably played over half the games that came through Wargames West, but I was particularly a Steve Jackson junkie. I remember the microgames like OGRE and GEV and card games like Illuminati and Nuclear War. That’s probably dating me. For the RPGs, my friends and I went through AD&D, Traveller, Gamma World, White Wolf’s gothpunk stuff and Star Trek with abortive attempts at Shadowrun and Space Opera before we landed on GURPS for the long term. I’ve been playing on and off since then.

The best campaign I was ever in was run by a guy named Sam Jones. Google “Nine types of user“. He wrote that too. It was a very occasional game — maybe one session every month or two. But it was so powerfully original and nifty and weird, I loved it. As an exercise in storytelling, it was hard to equal. Walter Jon Williams’ ancient Rome campaign was right up there too.

For computer games, I haven’t been as serious about following up on it. I hit a bunch of the high points — King’s Quest, Myst, and Riven, and most of Blizzard’s pre MMO stuff. WarCraft, StarCraft, Diablo. And the first four Tomb Raiders.

I’ve only gotten my first console in the last year. I’d played on my friends’ systems, but I never invested in my own until Left 4 Dead. Normally first-person shooters make me motion sick within the first 20 seconds or so. I can’t watch movies that don’t use a steadycam either. That’s limited me a little. I’ve played through Mass Effect and I’ve got Fallout 3 waiting as a reward for when I’ve got a couple contracts cleared out.

I’ve heard tell that people still regret to this day not being invited to your massive 8th grade AD&D party. Would you care to explain that phenomenon?

I went to school with a wide band of utterly unrepentant geeks and nerds. The Knights of the Cafeteria Table, we were. We’d sing Tom Lehrer songs like The Masochism Tango and Oedipus Rex, we’d play a kind of simplified bastard version of D&D dungeon crawls during the lunch hour. And there was one time I got it in my head to have a real blowout. I was an 8th grade geek, and I think I didn’t quite have a clear concept of how many people would fit at my house. I invited *everyone*.

But, geeky as I was, I was still a boy. Some of the girls’ parents balked at the idea of an overnight with boys. And once my folks got an idea of how big the gig really was, I had to trim back a little too. We wound up with two tables running more or less all night.

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

I’ve been a little leery of the online gaming. I played in some of the old text-based MUDs and MUCKs. I worked as front line tech support for years, so I was always aware of it, but it’s one of those things where the better it got, the more I looked at it and thought “If I go through this door, I am *never* getting back.” So I hesitated, and the longer I hesitated, the bigger the games and worlds got.

I know the kind of sucker I am. If I got started seriously with online gaming, I would be so far into it, I’d want to cut the time out of something else. And between work and family, I don’t have the spare cycles to do it right.

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

Absolutely. The RPGs especially are exercises in storytelling, constrained by the mechanics of the system. There are a lot of ways that gaming was my first exercise in structure and balance. Not to mention that when we were doing our best work, it was right on the edge of improvisational theater. None of that was bad to have under my belt when the time came to write stories on my own.

What projects are you currently working on?

Right now, I’ve got a new epic fantasy series I’m working in called The Dagger and the Coin and an urban fantasy called The Black Sun’s Daughter under the pseudonym M. L. N. Hanover. Plus about five short stories I’m promised to do. And there’s a graphic novel in George RR Martin’s Wildcard universe that may see the light of day sometime in the next year or so. The scripts for that are done, and we’re waiting on art.

betrayal in winterGrind 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 grind in the writing process? Please explain.

Heh. Yes. Oh yes. One of the things that was a surprise to me when I started doing this on a more professional basis was the amount of time I spent not writing. After you’ve turned in a finished manuscript, you’re maybe halfway through the process. There’s getting the notes from your editor, negotiating the rewrite, then reviewing the copy editor’s marks and negotiating those, and then reading the galley proofs. So when I turn in a book, I have at least three more times through it before it’s ready to see print.

Plus which, there are days when the words just aren’t coming easily. Back when I was just doing it for fun, I could skip those days. These days, I have to get behind the mule and push.

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

The funny thing about that is it looks just the same as the lousy parts. The days when things are going really well are the best times ever. There are a few times when something comes out just as good — or maybe even better — than I’d imagined it. There’s just nothing in the world as good as feeling competent at something hard.

When do you find the time to write?

Well, these days it’s pretty easy. I drop the kid off at daycare at 8:30. I pick her up at 3. In between, I work.

When I was still at the day job, I didn’t have the kid, so most of my writing was late nights. By the time I sat down to work, I’d have been chewing over what I wanted to have happen, and the actual writing was pretty easy. It wasn’t like I was making things up on the fly. I was just writing down what I’d already thought through.

How do you tend to escape these days?

It’s harder now than it used to be. Reading the kinds of things I used to escape into feels like work. It’s hard to turn off my critical mind. I either have to read something totally different than what I write — history, popular science, biography — or watch movies. Or shoot zombies. I mentioned Left 4 Dead, right?

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

Read a lot, write a lot, be prepared to turn out a million words of crap before you get good at it. And since there’s no formula for making things good, you have to follow your own taste.

You wake up to a world where The Long Price Quartet has been made into an MMO. What race and class would you play and why?

shadow in summerYeah, but I’m not a character class kind of guy. That’s part of why I landed on GURPS. There are kinds of characters that don’t fit any class, and I like them best. In Walter’s Rome game, I played a guy whose only skill was sex appeal, and he had it at godlike levels. Couldn’t fight. Couldn’t sneak. Couldn’t ride or drive a cart (which turned out to be really important).

If I could design the MMO, I’d want an almost totally customizable generation and advancement system. And then I’d want challenges and quests that your could discover with really weird, squirrley skill combinations. Like the one you can only win if you have six fighters who specialized in bo-staff, a wizard with summon broccoli, and an orc who can juggle.

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

How about a good quote. “Pleasure is not an infallible critical guide, but it is the least fallible.” — Auden.

One Response to “Reading the text: Daniel Abraham”

  1. […] Abraham, Daniel […]

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