Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Melinda Snodgrass

Posted by Randolph Carter on July 15, 2009

edge of reasonAuthor website:

Could you take a minute and explain what your latest book The Edge of Reason is about?

The Edge of Reason is about the struggle between science and rationality and superstition and religion. I was hoping to cause apoplexy among the American Mullahs, but alas, no one has inveighed against my book or demanded a book burning. I keep hoping.

Would you mind describing what the process was like for you in getting your first book published?

I’ve had a really charmed career. I fell in with a bunch of professional writers, and they just took me along with them. They introduced me to their agent (not a very good agent, but that’s another story), she took me on as a client. While I was working on my first science fiction novel about a Federal Court judge riding circuit in outer space, I wrote several romance novels under pseudonyms. They helped pay my mortgage after I quit the law firm, and they taught me a valuable lesson — how to finish a book. Because I’d been a lawyer I knew how to write to a deadline, but getting through those Kansas/Nebraska chapters (as Walter Jon Williams calls them), and actually see a project through to the end is one of the hardest lessons a new writer learns. The romances did that for me.

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

I was a voracious reader. My mother used to scream at me because I wouldn’t turn out my light, and then I’d read under the covers with a flashlight. My dad was the same way. He was an insomniac and he read a book a night. He also taught me to read before I started school. Favorite books as a child — Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit Will Travel, Burroughs A Princess of Mars, Farely’s Black Stallion books.

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 am a gamer. Role playing games. Vic Milan took me to an RPG that Walter Jon Williams was running, and I was hooked. My first game was a Call of Cthulu campaign, and I was just charmed at the idea of a game where you could go mad. Our group is a little weird because we tend to play real world and historical games. Walter has run a Privateers and Gentlemen game where we played English naval officers during the Napoleonic wars, he ran a cop game set in New York City, and a campaign set in ancient Rome during the Republic. Right now he is running a WWII French resistance game. Vic ran Marrow project for us, and then began an F.B.I. game where we hunted serial killers. And of course George R.R. Martin ran a superhero game that was the source for our shared world anthology, Wild Cards.

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

I have not because for the longest time I only had a satellite system and the lag time would have killed me. Now I have DSL, and I’m resisting because I’m afraid I might dive in and never come out. Also, I spend so much time in front of a computer that I really don’t want to do that for fun. I prefer the role playing games because I get to be with my friends. Writing is a rather solitary business so it’s nice to connect with people once and a while. Also, my group is filled with a bunch of frustrated actors so we really get into our characters.

Would you mind sharing an interesting and/or amusing story from your gaming past?

I think the night that Daniel Abraham’s character in the Rome game tried to load a dead body into a chariot and drive it back to the city. His character had been at a pastoral orgy, with whores dressed up like Vestal Virgins, and the organizer of the orgy was struck by lightening and died. Daniel loaded up the body, and then Walter, with an evil smile said, “Did you take teamster?” Daniel’s response was “hell no, I’m a walking penis.” So he was operating at default. I laughed until I cried, and George literally fell off the sofa he was laughing so hard. Actually, there are so many funny moments — now you have me remembering them all, and smiling while I type.

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

Oh god, yes. I’ve created characters in games that have ended up in my books. The hero of the Edge books began life as a character in a game, as did a character in my space opera universe.

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.

It’s those Kansas/Nebraska scenes. The ones you have to have to create the connective tissue between the really big iconic or tent pole scenes in a book. In a screenplay you get to jump lightly over them, but in a book they just have to be there, and it can get really tedious. That’s one reason I love screenplays. I also suck at description. I tend to skip over it in other people’s books, and I forget about it in my own books. I’m really good at dialogue and action. The waving fields of grain bores me senseless. And in a screenplay I don’t have to worry about it. The set designer has to worry about that stuff.

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

I love it that I get paid to daydream. I also really love the plotting of a book or a screenplay. It’s like building a watch. Every piece fits together. You lay in things early in the book or screenplay that don’t pay off until the end. You figure out that surprising twist midway through the story that’s going to spin your reader’s head around. That’s like play to me.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am writing a new Wild Card story. I’m about to start on an Urban Fantasy series for Tor books. It’s all about vampire lawyers and werewolves who own Blackwater or Xi or whatever they’re called now — talk about literalizing the metaphor. And I’m working on the third book in the Edge series. And my writing partner, Ian Tregillis and I just delivered a screenplay to our manager.

When do you find time to write?

I prefer to write in the morning, but I’m having to adjust that because my coach has me riding my horse in the early morning. I’m actually managing to write at night which I could never do before. Basically, I write a little every day. Because this is a job.

How do you tend to escape these days?

I ride my horse. I go to the health club and lift weights and swim, I game, I go to movies, and I go to concerts. I love music.. I’d like to camping again, but it’s summer and I hate the heat so that has to wait until the weather breaks.

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

The only way to become a writer is to write. Don’t wait for permission just sit down and start writing. It’s a job. Treat it like a job. Don’t wait for the Muse to strike or you will never make it. Find a writer’s group. The encouragement and help from your peers is invaluable. I love my group, and would be lost without it.

You wake up to a world where The Edge of Reason has been made into a massively multiplayer online game. What character would you play and why?

Richard Oort, of course. I’ve played him before, and he’s the hero. I like to be the hero. 🙂

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

I’m thinking about getting an X-Box, but I’m afraid I’m too damn old to learn the controls, and since I hate to suck at things, I’m afraid it will drive me crazy. Can anyone give me some encouragement? Can an older person develop the hand/eye coordination? Because when I watch Ty and Daniel play it looks like such fun, and I want to play too.

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