Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Jane Lindskold

Posted by Randolph Carter on July 31, 2009

thirteen orphansAuthor website:

Could you take a minute and explain what Thirteen Orphans is about?

Hidden magic. Stalkers. Alternate worlds. Chinese mythology. Mah-jong. Trying to survive while learning what you need to know in order to survive. Friendship. Polymer clay.

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

I wrote lots of short stories – starting informally as a kid; later, more seriously, when I was in my mid-twenties, immediately following getting my PhD.

I wrote a first novel. I wrote another novel. I wrote a third novel. The third one sold.

This was Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls, a book that, I am happy to say, has enough of a cult following that Tor Books reissued it in their Orb line.

The other two novels, Marks of Our Brothers and The Pipes of Orpheus also eventually sold, although I did a considerable amount of revising on both.

There were lots and lots of rejections in there. When I left my teaching position in Virginia, I had a folder filled with rejection notices. It was at least three inches thick. I considered taking the folder with me. I decided it belonged in the trash. That’s where it went.

I still get rejections. Got one last week.

I keep writing.

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

I was (and remain) an avid reader. I suspect I am the only grammar school student on record to be banned from the school library. Banning me from the library was the only incentive my teachers could think of to make me concentrate on the subjects (like spelling) that didn’t interest me.

Favorite books and authors are always hard for me to remember, despite the fact that I still own a lot of those books. Let’s see. I read mythology. I read all the Mary Poppins novels. (She’s an interesting, scary lady in the original stories). George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblins and The Princess and Curdie. All of Edward Eager’s novels (Half Magic, The Time Garden and many others). Elizabeth Enright (brilliant!). Robert Lawson’s weird historicals (Ben and Me, Mr. Revere and I).

One of the reasons I have trouble remembering what books influenced me then is that I still read a lot of YA. Therefore, I don’t have a sharp cut-off point in my memory where I stopped reading YA and started reading “grown-up” books. I read “grown-up books” all along, too, basically as soon as I could understand the “big words.”

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 have been and am still a gamer. I started gaming my freshman year in college. That happened to be around the time the hard cover AD&D books came out. There was a little review article in a magazine included in our freshman orientation bag mentioning this odd “new” hobby.

I happened to be reading the article in the room of a new friend I had made – Sheri Paxton, now Sheri Gormley. I said something like, “This sounds cool.” Her face lit up, and she said, “I have the starter set. Want to play?” And I’ve been hooked ever since.

Eventually, my buddies and I found the “class-based” games like AD&D too limiting. We played Traveller. We played Call of Cthulu. We eventually moved to the early Steve Jackson books and adapted from there. To this day, I prefer skill-based to class-based systems because you can do or be anything.

GURPS (third edition) is currently my system of choice. I’m using it right now to run a game where my players are eleven year-old pages at an academy for knights. It’s pretty fun watching two professional writers, an archeologist, and a lawyer – all of whom in real life are on the “wrong side” of forty – try to remember what it was like to be eleven.

Gaming means a great deal to me. When I moved to New Mexico to live with Roger Zelazny I made a lot of changes to my life, but I didn’t want to give up gaming. Once we were settled, I told Roger that I wanted to resume the hobby, and figured I’d hang up a notice in the local comic/gaming store looking for a group. Roger said, “I think George [R.R. Martin] has a group. Let me ask him if they have room.”

They did, and we joined. Roger hadn’t gamed before then, but he had a lot of fun learning. Gaming was one of the things that got me back into society after Roger’s death, and gaming was where I met my husband, Jim Moore. Jim and I still game together. He’s the archeologist I mentioned above.

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

Sorry. I haven’t managed this one. We have dial-up. We do play computer games and enjoy them. Often we’ll play on the PC together, me and Jim against the computer. When we’re beat at the end of the day, it takes both of us to think of everything. We tend to prefer role-playing or tactical/world building games to shooters, but it’s nice when you find a game that combines all three. Then you get to hit your problems once in a while.

I even wrote the outline, then the script for a computer game: Chronomaster. Roger was offered the chance to do a game, and he said: “Only if she can be my partner on it. I know nothing about gaming. She knows a lot.” I finished the game after his death, and was really pleased with it.

I also made two friends I still treasure, Scot Noel, who was both a producer and my contact person, and Jane Noel, who was the art director.

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

How about the time I solved a murder mystery game in my sleep? We were playing a group of FBI agents who specialized in serial killers. We had several murders we were pretty sure were connected to one killer, but we were frustrated because we couldn’t figure out his pattern. Without the pattern, we couldn’t anticipate and hopefully entrap the killer. We couldn’t even issue warnings to potentially vulnerable groups.

Jim and I drove home after a late game and crashed. A few hours later, I woke up to answer a call of nature. The dream I’d had lingered with me. I realized that in it was the solution to the serial killer’s pattern. I struggled to retain the dream, managed to do so, woke Jim up, explained it to him, and then wanted to call the woman who was playing Richard, the head of our unit: “But I have to tell Richard!”

Jim made we wait until 7:00 a.m., until we knew “Richard” would be up. She agreed that I had found the pattern. Later, the game master asked how I worked out his intricate puzzle. I had to admit “I dreamed it.”

When I write fiction, I’m a subconscious plotter, but this was a really weird experience, discovering how much my sleeping mind works on my plots.

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

Yes, but not always in a good way. If you don’t mind, I’d also like to expand my comments to include to gamer/writers in general.

Okay. The three basic bones of a story are character, setting, and plot.

Gaming is great for working on characterization, at least the characterization of one character. If you’re running the game, then you get a lot of experience coming up with support characters. That’s good, too.

Running games is also a great way to work on world-building (setting), especially if you make up your own world and don’t just play in one where someone else has done all the work.

Gaming is not so good for plot for a lot of reasons. At least to me, the best games are those where the plot ends up being a combination of what the ref sets up and the players do with it. When you’re writing a story, you don’t have the player input. It’s all up to you.

Another reason games aren’t great for plot is that, unless you’re playing with a very small group, all the action is pretty external. Stories are different. Much of the crucial action is internal. Too many people who come out of gaming write as if they’re still playing a game. The hero does this, goes there, hits this, wins that. They leave out the internal complications, the moral complexities that really draw a reader into the story.

When gaming first became popular, people started writing up their adventures as short stories or novels. I have heard several editors describe a certain type of story as one where “you can practically hear the dice rolling.” By this, I believe the editors meant that the story was somewhat mechanical, that it included unlikely situations that were to be accepted because “that’s how it happened.”

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.

Yes. In fact, professional writing could be described as mostly grind. I go over a manuscript at least three times before anyone sees it. Then my husband goes over it. I make repeated changes and corrections along the way.

And that’s before the editor gets into the mix, or the copy editor. That’s before you review the book so many times that, by the day it comes out, you can’t look at it any more because all you see are strings of words and symbols.

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

I love telling stories. I love getting lost in a story. There’s nothing like it. Not long ago, we were having the house re-piped. Stressful. There’s always a worry that some new complication in an already expensive process is going to crop up.

I started a short story I’d promised an anthology editor. Suddenly, a small shop in a Western town was as real to me as the plumbers sawing apart my kitchen. I love this.

What projects are you currently working on?

In addition to the short story I mentioned above, I’m working on a novel about time, foxes, and tall buildings. I’m also getting geared up for the release of the sequel to Thirteen Orphans, which is titled Nine Gates. Nine Gates comes out in August, and there’s always a certain amount of work to do associated with the release.

nine gatesWhen do you find time to write?

Writing is my full-time job, so I write Monday through Friday. I schedule myself to write during the “work day,” since I like my husband, and like to spend time with him.

I don’t assign myself “hours,” but quota, and when that quota is filled, I let myself do other things. This is the system I came up with when I had a full-time job (I was a college professor), and it still works for me.

How do you tend to escape these days?

Escape tends to be seasonal. I’m a gardener, and since I’m doing this interview in the summer, my garden – and dealing with produce – is a major sideline. I also love crafts, especially variations on beadwork and polymer clay.

And, as I mentioned above, I game.

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

Write the story you love, not the story you think “the market” wants. If you write to a trend, it’s likely that whatever you see as the trend is going to be burned out before you can finish following it. Sadly, you’re not likely to sell what you write immediately, so you might as well enjoy what you’re doing.

Also, grammar does matter. Spelling does matter. Punctuation does matter. Knowing the basics can set you above the herd. No. The publisher doesn’t have someone who will “do that for you.”

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

That would really depend on my mood. I love Des Lee for his quirky world-view and sense of the bizarre. I love Pearl Bright for her ability to see the long picture. I love Brenda Morris for her ability to adapt to the impossible. I love Riprap for his gentle strength and reliability.

When I’ve gamed I’ve never had a set type I play… Drives some folks crazy.

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


Live your dream, don’t just talk about it. I’ve met a lot of gamers with tremendous talent and energy. Often they tell me about the book they’re going to write, the painting they’re going to do, the game they’re going to design. A few years later, we meet up again. They’re in the same place.

I remember with great pleasure meeting a Goth girl – “Steena” – at a convention in Austin, Texas. She asked me some very intelligent questions about writing, and told me she wanted to write. Next time we met, she practically danced up to me and told me she had sold a couple of stories.

I was thrilled. Dreaming is fine, but living is great.

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