Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Cherie Priest

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 3, 2009

fathomAuthor website:

Could you take a minute and explain what Fathom is about?

Fathom is a story about an old water elemental who wants to bring on the end of the world … and the people who’d prefer that she didn’t. I’d like to think that it’s a little bit Nancy Drew, a little bit Pirates of the Caribbean, and a little bit Lovecraft.

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

Absolutely, though my reading material was pretty strictly monitored by my mother. My parents divorced when I was rather small, and although my dad is pretty laid back, I lived primarily with my mother — who feared and loathed all things that even smelled faintly of the supernatural. For example, heaven help me if I got caught with the aforementioned Nancy Drew books. My mother once found some Carolyn Keene that I’d checked out from the library. She threw them away and made me pay for them out of my allowance, because I should’ve known better than to invite the presence of Satan into her home.

This having been established, for some reason dead authors were fair game. I don’t know why, or by what logic. But my dad figured out my tastes and started slipping me old mysteries by Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie; and then we moved on to Poe, and Algernon Blackwood and F. Marion Crawford, and Joseph Sheriden LeFanu. All dead, all fair game. Very strange, yes. But they became my favorites.

As I got older — and better at hiding things — I became a huge fan of Robin McKinley, Charles DeLint, Barbara Hambly, and Barbara Michaels. And just to be contrary, I read all the Nancy Drews I could get my hands on … for years after I’d really stopped enjoying them.

What do you enjoy reading now?

Most of my leisure reading these days is nonfiction, since I’m constantly researching and exploring topics that I might want to use in my own books. When it comes to nonfiction, I’m a big dork for pop science and pop critical theory, as well as any regional ghost stories (the cheesier the better). To give you some idea, recently I’ve been going through Mr. Gatling’s Terrible Marvel by Julia Keller, The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley, Unbelievable by Stacy Horn, and a book about Sasquatch that I nabbed from the clearance bins at Barnes & Noble.

You’ve mentioned that you are a big fan of survival video games. Would you mind sharing some of your favorites?

Back in ye olden days, I used to love the Sierra games (the King’s Quest stuff and the like), the Monkey Island Franchise, Roger Wilco, and Maniac Mansion, and Transylvania, and Uninvited. I remember I once spent a whole summer building up a completely bad ass party in Might and Magic 3 (the Isles of Terra, if I recal correctly) only to have my little sister delete all my characters one afternoon when she got a bug up her ass to play it herself. I could’ve shot her.

Then I wandered away from games for awhile due to college and graduate school, and came back to it in large part due to my husband — who’s also a big fan of survival horror. Now we play through games together, which is to say, I mostly “backseat game” with a bottle of wine and a passion for hollering directions.

Therefore, more recent favorites include (but are not limited to) System Shock and Bioshock, the Half Life games, Call of Cthulhu, the Thief franchise (except for that last one, which was so buggy it was impossible to play), the Resident Evil offerings, and the Silent Hill games. (Even the weaker Silent Hill games are better than most of what’s available.) At the moment, we’re picking our way through Cryostasis — an independent Russian game that has a whole lot going for it. It’s kind of like playing a video game version of the novel The Terror by Dan Simmons.

Aside from these games, what has your gaming experience been like (RPGs, console and/or computer games, etc.)?

All of the titles I mentioned above were played on computer, not on a console, I’m afraid. I haven’t owned a console since my old Atari 2600. But about ten or twelve years ago — back in my “late gothic revival” as I like to call it — I got involved with a local chapter of Vampire: The Masquerade in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Our city had a big LARP game once a month, as did most of the other large chapters.

After awhile, I was making the rounds every weekend: the big Atlanta game with the White Wolf folks (at the Hapeville Recreational Center — aka, the YMCA), one of the Alabama games (usually Birmingham, since I had friends who lived there who could put me up), and the Nashville game. They were all within a couple hours’ drive, and I had nothing better to do.

By the time I left Tennessee three or four years ago, I’d pretty much wandered away from that scene — not due to any drama or falling out, but simply because many of my friends had moved or quit playing. Then I went and finished grad school, got a full time job, settled down, and started writing books. Today, I think that the same social need is filled by the conventions I attend. I still love to play dress-up and put together costumes, but mostly I take it on the road to DragonCon, NorwesCon, SteamCon, PenguiCon, and the like. And I tend to do so in a much less structured fashion than before.

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

I haven’t done any online playing, I regret to admit. I think it looks awesome … and like it’s no doubt quite a lot of fun … but I’m also afraid it’d turn into a time sink the likes of which I would never escape.

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

Well, it always makes people laugh when I tell them that the Nashville, Tennessee Vampire: The Masquerade game was held in the Grand Old Opry Hotel each month. That hotel is so damn big it’s practically got its own zip code; so we’d just pick a lobby (there are many to choose from), spread the word, and forty or fifty vampire LARPers (sometimes more) would take over.

We were never thrown out, bothered, or asked to leave. I don’t know if the hotel staff thought we were just a bunch of weirdly dressed tourists playing rock, scissors, paper, or if they were just afraid to come near us.

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

Some of my first short stories were, in effect, character write-ups that I had to hand in to the Chapter Storyteller when I wanted to play something new, so there was definitely that element of early quasi-fan-fic going on.

But in a broader sense, I was always drawn to the puzzle-solving mystery games, and playing those taught me a lot about how a story has to fit together, even if it’s broken down to its core components, and not handled in a linear fashion. Obviously when you’re writing a book the story has to be somewhat linear — even if that linearity is only bound to the page numbers — but I think that it was worth figuring out how to take a mystery apart and put it back together again.

What kind of grind would you say there is in the writing process?

Anybody who keeps up with my webpage knows what my personal grind looks like. Almost every day I post the word metrics and a general update on whatever project is in the queue, not so much to keep the world informed, but to keep my progress tracked. I am not innately good at self-direction and time management. That sort of discipline took me a long time to learn, and it’d be easy to un-learn if I let myself get out of the habit.

People talk a lot about their muse, and about how inspiration strikes them, and I guess that must be nice. I’m sure that it really does work that way, for some people, but not for me. For me, it’s a matter of sitting down and writing every day whether I want to or not — whether I’m feeling inspired or not, and whether I have anything to say or not. Because usually, once I force myself to get started, I get into the groove and end up making a productive day of it after all, despite any initial hesitation.

The fact is, I have deadlines.

Those deadlines do not wait for my muse to get its ass in gear.

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

All I really want to do is write stories that people enjoy. Sometimes people tell me I’ve succeeded. Those are the days I buy myself a drink and sit around with a real stupid grin on my face.

When do you find time to write?

I work part time as an associate editor for Subterranean Press, but that gig is quite flexible — and it’s structured so that it only eats up my weekday mornings. Generally speaking, I get up and get to work when my husband leaves for work around 8:30 in the morning; I do “day-job” work through lunch, stop and eat, and then spend the afternoon writing.

Would you mind explaining what it is you do at Subterranean Press?

I’m not an acquisitions editor for Subterranean; mostly I proofread, often comparing existing editions of books with the specialty editions that Subterranean releases. Gotta make sure everything is precisely the same between the two. I also read for formatting issues, and once in awhile I actually perform light editorial duties on manuscripts that are mostly fine — but could use a smidge of fine-tuning.

How do you tend to escape these days?

I don’t. Or if I do, I go out to a convention … and come back needing a vacation.

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

Only one: Write. Okay, maybe two words of advice. The other one would be: Read.

boneshakerWhich of your novels or stories would you most like to see made into a massively multiplayer online role playing game and why?

Absolutely, hands down — my upcoming novel Boneshaker. It’s an alternate-history steampunk setting wherein the Civil War has been going on for 20 years, and the west has not yet been won … not by a long shot. There’s a whole universe built up around the setting, and I have a webpage set up as a hub for the stories, maps, and artwork associated therewith.

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

Nothing comes to mind, except my thanks for having me aboard!

2 Responses to “Reading the text: Cherie Priest”

  1. […] How gaming ruined my life and left me a shiftless degenerate. Nah, just kidding. It’s an interview with yours truly over at GrindingToValhalla, vis-a-vis how my experiences gaming (video gaming, LARPing, etc.) have shaped and influenced the things I write today. Nice folks over there. […]

  2. […] Cherie Priest […]

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