Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy fiction’

Reading the text: an interview with Anthony Huso

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 27, 2010

Anthony Huso is video game designer at Arkane Studios. He’s also an author and has recently had his first novel, The Last Page, published by Tor books. He was kind enough to answer some questions for me about his book, his career, and his gaming past.

Anthony’s website

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Could you give us a little bit of background on your professional career and what it is you do now at Arkane Studios?

I started out in games modding for Thief the Dark Project. For me, games really provided me with an interactive story and the chance to tell stories through games was what got me excited about making games. Currently I’m a designer at Arkane Studios, recently acquired by ZeniMax. I’ve worked at Arkane Studios since 2004 doing design work and some writing.

In your infinite spare time you’re also a writer and have recently published your first novel, The Last Page. Would it be possible to give us a synopsis of the book?

Sure. The book follows two very different characters and therefore two very different threads of action. In the shortest way possible, I might say that the book follows, on one hand, the esoteric happenings within a country called the Duchy of Stonehold. On the other hand, you get the more visceral, grounded, and political part of the same country’s story. Essentially there is a power-couple at the head of the Duchy of Stonehold and it is through the eyes of this duo that both the subplots and main plot evolve.

In an interview you did with Ricardo Bare, you mentioned that most fantasy these days is of the canned variety. What sets your novel apart from this?

I try not to be a basher of other people’s writing. I think that we’re lucky to have a variety of styles within any given genre and anything that gets people (especially kids) reading is a Good Thing. (No. My book is not for kids.) That said, I have no interest in recapping gorgons and dragons and on elves and so forth. Established fantasy tropes are not my thing.

What I prefer is to combine fringe mythologies, things that I think very few people will have ever heard of, and reconstitute them for my purposes. I toss in a heavy amount of my own imagination: stuff I think is just crazy and outlandish. In my writing, I’m going for weird. I want to create a place that is so strange that the characters are often just as shocked as the reader. In addition to this, I want the place to be familiar, sometimes surprisingly so: especially to an American audience. I push the envelope of that familiarity sometimes by mentioning things like “aspirin” in a setting that is clearly nowhere close to North America. The goal is, of course, to generate unsettling familiarity with a place, a plot, and a group of people where everything is really utterly bizarre.

There’s one other thing I do, which is to try and twist archetypes into unrecognizable shapes. Of those who have read The Last Page, I wonder how many really noticed that Sena is a witch with a cottage, a broom and a cat familiar. I think I did, or at least I hope I did, a fairly good job of playing with that archetype in a way that’s nearly invisible. The downside of playing these sorts of games is that it makes writing a synopsis tricky. The Last Page, in blurb form, seems to be about a witch and her prince. The whole thing sounds like a cute little fairy tale.

In your acknowledgements for the book you write, “Additionally, nothing in this book would be what it is without the infinite lost hours of Poy (Phanty), Chappy (Vlon), Tone (Rill) and Mike (Karakael) or “Jason: the Hermit” (and his assorted bloody sacrifices).” I’m curious as to what these infinite hours were lost to. Would you mind explaining?

Sure. Those are the guys I role played with back in high school. We literally lost thousands of hours at the gaming table playing Gygax’s modules and making up our own. Several of the participants had long-lasting characters. But poor Jason…well, it seemed like he was rolling up a new set of stats every week. I’m an advocate of gaming, even though I haven’t played anything that required a twenty-sider since 1995. I’m not embarrassed of this often lampooned past time at all. You could almost say, what with my parent’s divorce and all, that gaming practically saved my life.

Also you mention, “I wrote this book because it Rained.” Again, I’m curious.

This one I’m going to keep private, but I think that’s ok. Everyone needs a little mystery, right?

What is next for you on the writing/publishing front?

I’m currently working through my editorial revisions on the sequel to The Last Page: a book called Black Bottle that I hope will be out late next year.

On your blog you write about your one and only experience with an MMO and how that was enough for one lifetime. Would you mind explaining what that experience was like and how you came to that decision?

I opted to play an incredibly hard core, very deep (mechanically) Chinese-born MMO called Perfect World. The server was based in Malaysia and it had players from all over the world. My OCD got the best of me, I’m afraid, and I wound up creating arguably one of the top 2 archer characters on the server. This endeavor took a fabulous amount of time and money and I would never repeat it. On the other hand, it will certainly be one of my most memorable gaming experiences of all time. And I’ve saved all the screenshots to prove it.

I take it you’re still a gamer then. What would be your games of choice these days?

These days I mostly play Magic the Gathering Online. Despite the current state of the client, it’s hard to fuck up Garfield’s incredibly brilliant and robust mechanics. I have a blast making decks and pwning noobs at the two-headed giant table. I do however always try to be polite. Yes it’s a super nerd game but it lets me stay home with the kids and still socialize a bit. If you haven’t tried Magic in a while, you should come check it out. The client is being redesigned as we speak — so the rumor goes — and videos of the new version that I scrounged up on the internet look promising.

Many of the authors I’ve interviewed view gaming as a potential threat to their productivity as a writer. As someone who is a gamer, a game creator, as well as a writer, how have you managed to reconcile these activities in your life?

It’s absolutely a threat. Which is why I mostly stick to Magic these days. I can play a hand in thirty minutes and be done. In my case, I’m afraid, abstinence of “real gaming” has been the essential prescription for more hours on the typewriter so-to-speak.

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

Absolutely. I love games like Thief, Halo — you can see a list on my webpage. Good games are great at evoking mood, tension, anticipation: stuff you’d hope to find in a book, right? Games and movies and other books all pour into a compost pile of sorts that I turn with my pitchfork and let cook. That compost grows all kinds of new characters and ideas.

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

My brother and I played Halo co-op through the campaign at least twenty times. It got to the point where we had most of the dialog memorized and started making up special rules, like: Heroic — pistols and fists are the only legal weapons. It was literally a blast. Sitting in front of the big screen, eating home-made pico de gallo, trying to escape the imminent explosion of the Autumn…it occurred to us as we listening to that pelican captain tell Cortana that she couldn’t pick us up because: “Negative, I’ve been engaged…” Well, we just laughed because it sounded to us like she couldn’t save our asses or she’d be late for her wedding.

How do you tend to escape these days?

I read. I play with the kids. I watch a little TV or head to the Alamo Drafthouse for a movie. Pretty standard stuff, I guess.

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

Write because you have to…not because you want to make money or be famous. Write because when you go to bed at night you see people and places and you imagine wild adventures, and because you feel that if you do not write these things down, you might go insane.

You wake up to a just and verdant world where The Last Page has been made into an MMORPG. What character or class would you play and why?

I’d definitely be a holomorph. Cutting myself just a little too deep to cast the next spell seems a wonderfully funny way to die…and hey, since I’m going to respawn, I might as well laugh.

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

Nope, other than a kind thank you to Randolph Carter for having me. If you ever come across the silver key, let me know. I want to come with.

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Reading the text: Janice Hardy interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on March 11, 2010

Janice Hardy is a fantasy writer and the author of the young adult fantasy novels The Shifter and the forthcoming Blue Fire (due out in October). She also happens to be a rather enthusiastic gamer whose credentials would put most gamers to shame. In this interview she talks about her writing, her gaming, how she balances the two, and recounts a most excellent story from her days in EverQuest. 

Janice’s website: http://www.janicehardy.com/ 

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Could you explain what your novel The Shifter is about? 

Nya is a fifteen-year-old war orphan with a secret. She has the ability to heal people by shifting pain from person to person. She tries to hide this ability, because if the enemy forces occupying her city ever find out, they’ll use her as a weapon against her own people. But when her younger sister, Tali, disappears from her apprenticeship at the Healer’s League, it turns out Nya’s shifting ability is the only weapon she has to save her. 

And this is the first in a planned trilogy? Where are you in the writing process for the rest of the series? 

It’s is the first book of a trilogy. Book two, Blue Fire, is done and galleys will be sent out shortly. I’ve just hit the halfway mark in book three, which has no title yet. 

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

Remarkably smooth, to be honest. If I hadn’t had three other books I failed to get an agent for, I’d think this business was easy (grin). I wrote and polished the book over about a 9-11 month period, then researched agents, wrote my query letter, and sent out eight the first batch. I planned to send more if I received no bites, but I had four requests for the full manuscript. Three of those agents made me offers of representation (a huge thrill, but a hard choice) and I picked one, the fabulous Kristin Nelson. She had me do some revisions, and I rewrote the ending twice more before she started submitting it to publishers.That was about the end of May, and I had nibbles from editors that first week. There were two that were duking it out, so to speak, and we sold all three books June 26 to Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins. Once I sold it, the real fun began. I have an amazing editor in Donna Bray, and we did a few more rounds of edits before she was satisfied. It’s the same book it always was, but the story was so much deeper and richer. Six months later, it hit the shelves. (which was about 15 months from the day I sold it.) It was a wild ride for sure, and a bit of a dream situation. 

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’m a huge gamer. Board games, card games, pen & paper, PC, consoles, you name it. I like all kinds of games, but I’m especially fond of city builders like Civilization (I just finished Tropic 3 actually), and sneak’em ups, like Thief and Splinter Cell. And RPGs of course. Fable, Overlord, Fallout, Morrowwind. Stuff like that. 

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

I got sucked into the original EverQuest when it first came out, solely to help my husband and a friend of ours get some extra money. (Remember how hard it was to buy anything in the lower levels?) I had so much fun playing I had to get my own account. Been hooked ever since. I’ve played both EQs, Anarchy Online, Dark Age of Camelot, City of Heroes, City of Villains, World of Warcraft, dabbled some in Horizons, Lord of the Rings Online, and a few others I can’t remember the names of. I try just about everything that comes out. 

Considering the healing abilities of your main character Nya, do you tend to play healer classes in MMOs? 

Oh, neat question. I always have a healer at some point, but only once has that started out as my first character. I lean toward the utility classes, like bards, enchanters, druids, or pet classes like warlocks and necromancers. One thing you’ll rarely see my playing are straight melee classes. I hate chasing after mobs to hit them (grin). 

Many of the authors I’ve interviewed view gaming as a potential threat to their productivity as a writer. As someone who games, how have you managed to reconcile these two activities in your life? 

I played way too much EQ when it first came out, so I know how games can practically take over your life. After that experience, it’s been a lot easier to walk away from the games and not get so wrapped up in them. I approach it now as a fun diversion, not something I need to play every day or immerse myself in. I avoid the big guilds in MMOs so I’m not drawn into raiding, which is where so much of the time sink comes in. I don’t buy new games I’ve been dying for if I’m on deadline so I’m, not tempted. I also have a gamer husband, and he’s really good about bopping me on the head if I’m playing when I should be writing. It’s a lot easier to split the two when you have someone waiting for your next book, though. It becomes your job, and as much as you might want to, you can’t really blow off work to play games all the time. 

As someone who obviously appreciates the written word and the art of narrative, do you tend to read the quest text and immerse yourself as much as possible into the story of the game you are playing? 

I know I should say I read every word, but I actually don’t. (grin). I get immersed in the stand alone games, since the story usually has clues you need to play and the experience is more affected by your actions and choices. But the MMOs I just click through to get to the quest most times.I like the stories behind them and do read some, but the gameplay is what I’m after in those. 

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

Oh, there are so many. Let’s see. One of my favorites is back in the old EQ days. This was very early on, possibly a week or two after launch. I was hunting in West Commons with my husband and a friend when we found Befallen, which was an undead dungeon. We were terrified since we had no idea what was inside, but we ventured in anyway. We explored some on the first floor, and found a well that went clear down to the third floor, which had level 30 monsters in it. (Bear in mind we were maybe level 10 at this point) Naturally, silly me backs into the well, falls all the way down, and dies. 

For those that never played EQ, death was a big deal. If you couldn’t get back your body, you lost all your gear, and gear was hard to come by. We’d pooled out money to buy a Mino Axe for me, and by golly that axe was on my body! I couldn’t lose it. (This is so laughable now, but back then this was a real quandary). I know what you’re saying, why didn’t we just ask a higher level player to go down and get it? Because at this point, the highest level person on the server was 20. There was no one who could have gone down there and survived. 

I was so upset about “losing everything I owned”, so my brave cleric hubby handed us all his gear and jumped down into the well, using a spell to protect him form the fall. He hoped to grab the axe and gate out before the ghouls got him. He tried three times before he gave up and declared my body lost forever. To this day I still count that as one of the sweetest things he’s ever done for me. I think he knew if my first gaming experience was bad, he’d never get me back into it. When I got high enough level, I went back and killed every undead in the whole place as payback. 

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

I’m not sure, because gaming is so different from writing. But gaming does teach you to think on your feet and come up with creative ways to solve problems, and that does translate when you’re plotting, so it might be keeping my creative skills sharp. Plotting has always come naturally to me, and I’m rarely at a loss as to what my characters will do next. Gaming could certainly have played a role in that. 

Would you say there is grind involved in the writing process? 

There can be, when a scene or chapter is being unruly. Most of time it’s a lot of fun. I am working on a chapter now that’s just been a pain. I know I’ll get through it and it’ll be fine when it’s done, but every sentence is a struggle. It’s taking longer than usual due to that, so I have to force myself to sit down and just write my way through it. (and this interview is being a lovely distraction from that, so yay!) Days like this, definitely a grind. Luckily, those are few and far between. 

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

For me, it’s the entertainment value. I love telling stories, and when someone says they loved my story or a character I get all warm and fuzzy inside. I know how much I love my favorite authors and books, and hearing I was able to bring that to someone else is the best. In fact, I was at a book signing last week, and the sweetest little girl told me she wanted to be a writer too, and that I was an inspiration to her. How can you not totally love that? 

When do you find time to write? 

I’m a morning person, so I write from about 7-8am to noon most days. If I’m on deadline I write almost every day, but if not, I prefer to write a few days, then take a day or two off. I get a little burnt if I write every single day with no breaks. 

How do you tend to escape these days? 

Janice Hardy

Books, movies, TV, games. A lot of that involves friends as well, and we’ll have the gang over for game night or movie night. And I have been known to waste an entire day trying to beat Civilization Revolution (PS3) on Deity mode. A cultural win is the only one I’ve managed so far. But I refuse to give up! 

You wake up to a world where The Shifter has been made into an RPG. What character would you play and why? 

Ooo, fun. I’d think I’d play Jeatar, because I already know Nya’s story, and he’s the most mysterious of the other characters. 

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

Let’s see… Blue Fire comes out October 5, 2010. That’s probably good to know. The Shifter is out now in hardcover, and the paperback is due out this fall, probably September sometime. I also have a novellete out in the upcoming anthology, Eight Against Reality, which is full of great science fiction, fantasy and horror stories. And if anyone knows how to get the murloc sounds from WoW as my ring tone, let me know.

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Reading the text: Kevin J. Anderson interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on February 16, 2010

Kevin J. Anderson is the author of more than one hundred novels primarily in the science fiction and fantasy genres. Here he talks about his latest writing project, Terra Incognita, a nautical fantasy trilogy involving sailing ships and sea monsters and how one of his early fantasy series was directly influenced by his days of playing Dungeons & Dragons. One wonders how different Mr. Anderson’s output would have been if it weren’t for those formative gaming sessions.

Kevin’s website: http://www.wordfire.com/

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The second volume of your Terra Incognita series is due out in June. Would you mind setting up the premise of the series and perhaps what you’ve set out to accomplish with it?

And I’m right now half-finished with the third and final volume — this is a big epic fantasy set in a world with sailing ships and sea serpents, and a religious clash of two great empires: much like our Age of Discovery and the Crusades. It’s got a large cast of characters ranging from kings and sultans, soldiers and sailors, religious fanatics and the truly devout, all trying to unfold the mysteries of the blank spots on the map, fears of sailing off the edge of the world, the excitement and terror of discovering the unknown.

I’ve finished the seven-volume “Saga of Seven Suns” about a gigantic galactic war. Even though this one is only three books long, it’s still got a huge scope and deals with some major issues of religious intolerance, blind faith, and the need to expand our horizons. Oh, and sea monsters. Did I mention sea monsters?

As an innovative side project, we’ve also worked with a record label, ProgRock Records, to do two companion rock CDs that accompany the first two novels — we’ve got performances from some of the legends of rock music. The band name is Roswell Six. We’re recording the final vocals for the second CD right now, with some incredible performances from my music idols. (Yes, I really feel like a fanboy.)

At the risk of upsetting you, I’m going to bring up a Dungeons & Dragons anecdote Kristine Kathryn Rusch shared in an interview I did with her a little while back.

“In my D&D game, the players always celebrated the end of a good run in a tavern. They’d drink, then toss their glasses in the fireplace. So one of the villains developed a potion that, when put in fire, exploded. He dosed their cups. (I set this up with my character, an evil magic user, and using some long lost D&D rules) I had this thing for months, but the players stopped tossing their glasses in the fire. Then one day, after a particularly grueling session, they did. The tavern exploded, everyone died, and Kevin never forgave me. In fact, he still gets mad about it if you mention it. (Mention it. Mention it.) My character survived because he knew what was coming. Became the most powerful character in the game for a while. <evil grin>”

Have you by chance forgiven her and would you have any comment?

Oh, I have found many other ways to get my revenge. Kris was just showing her evil streak even back then.

You’ve mentioned that much of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s first novel, White Mists of Power, as well as your novels Gamearth, Gameplay, and Game’s End were inspired by your days of playing D&D. I’m guessing those were pretty fruitful gaming sessions. Would you be able to expand on this a bit?

Yes indeed, those were wonderful formative days.  Many of the characters in my Gamearth trilogy were the characters I played, and Kris used some of the characters from the game in White Mists. Her novel was a straightforward fantasy with some parts adapted from adventures we had. My trilogy was more self-referential to the game system: a group of players (like us) playing every week…finally deciding to stop and move on to other things — but the characters inside the game discover their world falling apart because their game is no longer being played, and so they try to fight back against the outside players.

So, yeah, those gaming sessions were very fruitful.

Aside from D&D would you mind discussing what your experience has been with gaming (board games, other pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I used to spend a lot of time with board games as a kid, but the couple of years I played AD&D with Kris and our group was the only time I got heavily into it in a time-consuming fashion. In the early days of the internet, I played some of the text quest games (usually at work, so don’t tell anybody), but I never got into computer games or videogames — when I was at my computer screen, I was having too much fun writing stories. Which leads nicely into your next question…

Many of the authors I’ve interviewed view gaming as a potential threat to their productivity as a writer. Where do you happen to stand on this?

I’ve known many authors who find plenty of distractions online, whether it’s gaming, mmorpgs, or just chat rooms, discussion boards. I know I could dive into some fascinating games, but I am really satisfied with the creative thrill of writing stories instead.

How then do you tend to escape these days?

My big escape is hiking and exploring. I live in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, with more trails than I can possibly walk, and then I spend a lot of time in Utah with the most fabulous canyon country. That’s where I go to recharge my batteries. I also read a lot, watch TV and movies, attend a lot of SF conventions.

You wake up to a world where your Terra Incognita series has been made into a fantasy RPG. What class would you play and why?

Sailing ship captain, no question about it! I want to explore the “terra incognita” on the maps and encounter all sorts of adventures and wonders.

And one final question, when was the last time you rolled a 20-sided dice?

In anger? I have the dice right here (my wife keeps a bunch of them around, Just Because). It’s been quite a while since I rolled one in a game…but I did just write a D&D story for their website. Does that count?

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Reading the text: N. K. Jemisin interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on February 2, 2010

N(ora). K. Jemisin is a writer of speculative fiction who recently published her first novel. In this interview she discusses The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, how she got it published, what she particularly enjoys about writing, and of course her gaming background.

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Could you take a minute and explain what The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is about?

Sure. Basically, it’s an epic fantasy set in a secondary (non-Earth) world in which human beings have, through various circumstances, enslaved several of their own gods. One family in particular controls these gods, using their power to rule the world. The focus of the story is on a young woman who is a member of this family, though she was raised in effective exile; she gets brought back to the family seat and is forced to deal with politics she can barely understand, much less survive.

The book is the start of a trilogy, all set in the same world.

Would you mind describing what the process was like for you in getting this published?

Well, I originally wrote a version of this novel 10 years ago. It was very different then, but still had the same core ideas. But I wasn’t as good of a writer then, and so it didn’t sell; I couldn’t even get an agent with it.

I trunked it for awhile, wrote a few other books and found an agent in the interim, then decided to take a second look at it. Now, as an older and hopefully wiser writer, I was able to see what was wrong with the original version. I changed a number of things, wrote the whole thing over from scratch, then sent it off to my agent. This time it sold. =)

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.)?

As a kid I was sort of interested in Dungeons and Dragons, but never really found geeky-enough friends to play it with me. In college I did, but we didn’t play D&D — the local campaign was some kind of superhero thing. I don’t remember the publisher or name (that was 15 years ago!). I played a woman with electrical powers named Live Wire… who got killed about six months in, as I recall.

Also in college, I got introduced to the Super Nintendo by a friend, and played Zelda and various games. Didn’t get hooked on anything until…::drumroll:: Final Fantasy 2, which I think was actually FF4 in Japan.  That was the beginning of a very long love affair with Squaresoft (later Square Enix), which continues to this day — I’m still working my way through FFXII. Have promised myself an XBox 360 when I finish Book 3 of the Inheritance Trilogy.

I’m also a big fan of Atlus’ games, in particular the Shin Megami Tensei series and its spinoffs. My current favorite among those is Digital Devil Saga 1 and 2.

In addition to RPGs, I’m a big fan of survival horrors like the Silent Hill series and Resident Evil (though I refuse to play RE 5), and action games like the Devil May Cry series. I’ve also got a taste for “art games”, for lack of a better descriptor — Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, Okami, and so on.

Why do you refuse to play Resident Evil 5?

Because games are supposed to be fun, and racism and sexism aren’t.

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

Nope. I prefer games with specific plots and established characters. It might have something to do with me being a writer; I spend so much time having to do worldbuilding and character development on my own that when I relax, I prefer to use something already developed!

As someone who obviously appreciates the written word and the art of narrative, do you tend to read the quest text and immerse yourself into the story of the game you are playing?

Yes, definitely. I really don’t have much interest in games without a story. I’m also not fond of games that are badly-written or, in the case of Japanese games, badly-translated. ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US is funny the first time or two, but after awhile incomprehensibility gets old.

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

One of my BFFs in college was a guy who loved to talk smack about his gaming skills — with a particularly macho, “you’re just a girl, you can’t relate” undertone. One of the game loves we shared was World Heroes, for the Neo Geo. He challenged me one day, and I mopped the floor with his ass. What’s amusing is that he’s still mad about it even today, 15 years later! Any time I bring it up, he bristles. It’s so cute.

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

Yes — I’ve been utterly fascinated by some game worlds to the point of writing fanfiction based on them (yeah, I’m admitting it!). I tend to use fanfic as a practice ground for narrative techniques which I later use in my original fiction, so basically I work out the kinks there first.

Also, I think the kinds of games I’ve loved best have been those which challenged my assumptions on some level. For example, one of my favorite games is an old Japanese survival horror called Galerians. The hero is a drug-addicted anorexic teenage sociopath with psychic powers, who spends most of the game exploding the heads of anybody who gets in his way (think the old Cronenberg movie “Scanners”). I think I spent most of the game with my mouth hanging open, wondering how the heck this got published in the US.  But it really worked, and that made me more willing to write stories about heroes who weren’t very “heroic”, and characters who were overall more complex.

Would you say there is grinding in the writing process?

Of course there is. I usually start out a novel with a very clear idea of its beginning and end, and a few “cool bits” in between. But getting from point A to B to C often involves painstaking outlining and writing and rewriting. There’s nothing to be done for it; just gotta put your head down and keep it going. I try to do at least 1000 words a day, 2000 when I’ve got a looming deadline.

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

Seeing how people react to my work, even if they don’t like it. Maybe it’s my time served in fanfic, but to me, the worst reaction I can get from a reader is apathy. Anything is better than that.

When do you find time to write?

Well, at the moment I’m a full-time writer, so every day! But back when I was doing a 9 to 5, I generally wrote in the evenings after work, and sometimes on the weekends. It took me a lot longer back then to finish a novel — a year and a half to two years. Working full-time I can finish a book in six months or so.

How do you tend to escape these days?

Writing *is* an escape for me, even though it’s also a job at the moment; I wouldn’t do this stuff if I didn’t love it. But if you mean how do I escape from that, I read a lot, travel, am a “foodie”, and hang out with friends.  I still play video games. At the moment I’m replaying several old favorites.

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

Heck, there’s tons of that out there, from people who are more established than me and have a better idea of what they’re doing. Go listen to them. =)

But I guess I’d have to say that the main piece of advice any writer should keep in mind is… write. Don’t say you’re a writer, *be* a writer. If you write, you’re a writer.

You wake up to a world where The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has been made into a video game. Which character would you play and why?

N. K. Jemisin

Oooh, fun. =) Well, I don’t know if this means anything without people having read the book, but I think I would play Sieh. Sieh is the god of childhood — he’s literally aeons old, older than the planet, but he looks like a ten-year-old. His powers derive from his ability to maintain a childish persona at all times; he literally *has* to have fun, or he grows weak. Something about that really appeals to me, as a thirtysomething adult with grownup concerns. I like his attitude.

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

Blowing up (virtual) stuff is cathartic and good for you, in a psychological sense. Go and be healthy!

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Reading the text: Greg Keyes interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on December 2, 2009

Greg Keyes is the author of many fantasy and science fiction novels, including the two fantasy series, The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone and Age of Unreason. He’s recently published the first of two books set in The Elder Scrolls universe. He talks about The Infernal City, how he came to write it and what the experience was like writing a book set in the world of a video game.

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It appears you are working on a pair of novels set in the Elder Scrolls universe. Could you talk a little bit about how this project got started and how you came to be the one writing them?

Well, to be brief, I was asked if I wanted to write them by Keith Clayton, an editor at Del Rey. Apparently some of the guys at Bethesda had been reading my Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone books and thought I would be a good fit. They sent me Oblivion and some written materials to review, and after doing so, I thought they were right – it looked like a fun universe to play around in.

If it’s not too much trouble would you mind describing what the first book, The Infernal City, is about and where it fits in Tamriel’s history?

It happens about four decades after the Oblivion crisis, and involves a flying city – Umbriel — which arrives in Tamriel and begins to wreak havoc. Various characters – for various reasons – set out to stop the city and its master.

How much involvement has Bethesda had in this project?

A lot. There were many conference calls. I made short outlines, they chose the one they liked best, and we went through several versions of a longer outline. I had email access to Kurt Kuhlman and Bruce Nesmith – two of the developers – and of course they all read the various drafts of the manuscript.

Have you found writing novels based on a video game series to be particularly challenging?

No more so than anything else I’ve ever done. One hug bonus with TES is that if I want to know what things look like at some location, I just go into the game and run there. At the same time, I wasn’t restricted by that, because the developers and I agreed that the game represents a simplified, scaled down version of the “real” Tamriel, which still leaves a lot to the imagination.

You mentioned just having to run to any place in the game if you needed to see what it was like. Having played the game myself, I found that easier said than done—meaning, there were locations that were very difficult for a low level character to access. So, I guess my question is this: did you get to level your own character up in the game or did Bethesda provide you with a high level character file which would allow you to travel to any part of Tamriel from the get go?

I just started playing the game, and didn’t understand at first that you could travel any way other than running. So I ran everywhere, avoiding encounters when possible, just eager to see the game world. By the time I figured out the other way to travel, I was really good at running. Running and conjuring and shooting my bow.

Eventually, of course, I had a high level character (or several — I played through with more than one) and i now use those if I need to have a look at something.

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.)?

My brother Tim and several of my closest friends started playing Dungeons and Dragons in probably about 1979. We heard about the game first, and were so excited we cobbled together some makeshift rules while we tried to find a copy of it in Meridian Mississippi. We finally ended up with the original booklets, and when AD&D came out we latched on to that. We tried other RPGs – Traveler, Gamma World, and so on – but AD&D was the one we stuck with. Later, in graduate school, my friends and I played several of the World of Darkness games. Those were a lot of fun. I’ve always liked face-to-face rpgs for the social aspect. I don’t watch football or anything like that, so games always filled that niche in my life.

Computer games I sort of try to stay away from – not because I don’t like them, but because I like them too much. I played DOOM and QUAKE back in the day, and more recently Neverwinter Nights and TES. With Neverwinter Nights I was really more interested In the tool set than the game, at least in the first iteration – and spent hours scripting and so forth. And there’s the rub – my job is to write, and if I spend all my time playing games, I never get anything done. So I don’t buy games; my brother gets me games so we can play them together when he visits. The great thing about the Elder Scrolls was that I could play the games without feeling guilty – it was part of my job description!

Were you a fan of the Elder Scrolls series before writing these books?

No, for the reasons I just gave. But once I got the game, I thought it was fantastic.

As someone who knows a thing or two about fencing, how did you find sword combat to be in Oblivion?

I’m not really sure how to answer that. As a gamer I like it pretty well – as a fencer I feel my low-level character ought to be doing better because I could do better.

How much would you say your experience playing the Elder Scrolls games went into your writing of these stories?

Some, but one of the goals in writing the books was to not make them “Gamey”. The guys at Bethesda didn’t want to hear the dice rolling, so to speak, and neither did I. I got good feel and background from the games, but I wanted the people in the book to be characters, not player characters.

Just for the record, are you in the Morrowind or Oblivion camp?

I don’t see why I have to make a choice. I like them both.

Turning to writing, would you say there is grind involved in the writing process?

Sure. It’s not always fun. In any book there are things that you want to write and things that you have to write. For me, that’s why revision is most important – once I have something down, out of my head, then I can tinker with it and make it into something I’m glad I wrote.

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

Right now, being able to work at home. I have a four-year-old-boy and a twenty-month-old girl, and I love hearing them downstairs while I work. The flexibility of writing allows me to be with them more – and in more ways — than a rigid day job. I also like being my own boss.

When do you find time to write?

Until the kids came along, I had all day to write, so there wasn’t really a problem. I haven’t had a real day job since 1997. Now I have a sitter who comes in a few hours a day so I can work solidly. I also work at night – and when pressed – on weekends. But I generally like to leave weekends for family time, when I can.

How do you tend to escape these days?

My whole life is an escape! I still fence and teach fencing. We go to pub after fencing. I travel, sometimes alone, mostly with my family.

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

I wrote a novel a year for five years. I wrote them and sent them off. The first four did not sell, and the fourth did, and since then things have been pretty good. While I was writing those books I was also working, doing graduate school and so forth, and I never counted on being able to make a living at this. Write because you want to or because you want to get published,. Writing is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Sure it happens, but don’t count on it. And don’t re-write the same book for ten years. Finish, and start something new.

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

I wish I had some genius thing to say here, but I don’t. Thanks for asking for my two bits.

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Reading the text: James Barclay interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on November 19, 2009

British author James Barclay is perhaps best known for his high fantasy Raven novels. Thanks to Pyr, who has recently published the first trilogy here in the states and will soon be publishing the second trilogy, James’ work should be readily available at your local bookstore or library. Check him out.

No stranger to the world of gaming, James talks unabashedly about his gaming background, what his long road to publication was like, offers some helpful advice to the would-be-writer, and recounts his adventures playing Boot Hill with a gang of incompetent outlaws.

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Author’s website:

http://www.jamesbarclay.com/

Could you explain what your Chronicles of the Raven series is about?

The Raven are the premier mercenary team on the Northern Continent of Balaia. Peerless in their trade, they have been fighting together for ten years. Six warriors and an elven mage who make a habit of never being on the losing side. But after a decade of fighting, they are just beginning to lose their edge. That’s age for you, particularly when your job is standing in line, fighting all day.

Thinking of retirement, they take just one more job, body-guarding a mage named Denser who is carrying a valuable artefact to deliver to his masters. It is a fateful decision. Without going into enormous detail, Denser isn’t quite what he seems and he leads the Raven into an increasingly desperate bid to save the world.

And so it goes… The Raven never do quite get to retire but they aren’t really mercenaries any more either. They are a group of people who, for better or worse, find themselves at the centre of conflict and cast as heroes or villains at every stroke. They are old friends. They bicker and moan, they fall out. They are mortal and fallible. But they are utterly loyal to each other. They have an unbreakable bond which sets them apart from the rest.

While the four colleges of magic bicker and fight, the Wesmen from across the mountains are gaining in strength and unity. To the south across the ocean, the elven nation is stirring as an old magic rears its head. Amongst it all, the Raven do what the Raven do. Because it’s all they can do. For some people, the world will never become a place that no longer needs you.

The books are written to be fast-paced heroic action fantasy. The Raven are characters readers have grown to love because they feel real. They are heroes but they are vulnerable. You get thrills, you get joy and you get sorrow. You get love and loss. You get men, elves and dragons, but not as you might expect them. You get betrayal, battle, desperation and the sweet taste of victory. What you don’t get is bored.

Pyr is just now publishing your first US editions of the series which were originally published in the UK almost 10 years ago. It’s very nice to see the books coming out here, but I’m just curious how this all came about. Would you mind explaining it?

Well, the wait to be published in the US has been a long and frustrating one. I never really worked out why they didn’t sell in the US in the early days but that’s just life, I guess. So you wait and work and never give up. I have an excellent US agent who felt the same way. That sometime, if we kept at it, we’d find a publisher. Then Pyr and the magnificent Lou Anders happened along. A newish imprint for science fiction and fantasy who looked across the Atlantic and were interested in what was happening here as well as finding talent closer to home.

They’d already enjoyed success with new UK fantasy authors like Joe Abercrombie and Tom Lloyd (both splendid people. Joe is a big gamer by the way, not sure about Tom) and when Lou enquired about the US rights to The Raven he was surprised and delighted to find they were still available. He snapped them up and the rest of history. The Chronicles trilogy, Dawnthief, Noonshade and Nightchild are all published now and we have just tied up a deal for Pyr to publish the Legends trilogy, Elfsorrow, Shadowheart and Demonstorm, beginning late in 2010. This is great news. I’m very excited about it.

Stepping back a bit, what was the process like for you in getting your first novel published?

Oh blimey, it was long. That’s what I remember most. And frustrating and depressing. It required the acquisition of a very thick skin and a firm belief that the sheaf of rejections meant nothing and that I would get a deal sometime…

Loads of writers have experienced that and all you can do is work harder, improve and resubmit. Eventually I got a bite. I submitted letter, synopsis and chapters as requested to Gollancz and heard back that they were really interested but wanted more development of the idea. What my editor-to-be said was that the work as it stood was fine but was like a skeleton without the flesh on the bones. He wanted to feel more about the world and what The Raven’s actions meant. So, off I went and did considerable redrafting, finally delivering a complete manuscript for consideration sometime in mid-1998.

The call to say I was to be published remains among the happiest moments of my life. I was at my desk, being an Advertising Manager for an investment company at the time. A decent job but not my dream job. I took the call standing up and had to sit down sharply before my legs gave way. ‘You’re now an author,’ said my editor. ‘How does that sound?’ I think I was wearing a stupid grin and there were a few tears as well. When the phone went down and I convinced myself it was not all a dream, I took the department out for champagne.

Funny thing is, after that, there is this interminable wait to be published. What with contracts, editing, copy-editing, setting, covers, final proof-reading and all that, Dawnthief did not appear on the shelves for a year. Of course, I had another book to write because Gollancz bought the whole trilogy but the desire to see my book on the shelves just grew and grew.

Two other moments of great emotion were seeing my books for the first time, actually getting my hands on a copy. And seeing one on the shelves of a bookstore for the first time. That made me well-up too. These are feelings to savour because they only come round once. I still love seeing my books on shelves but the first experience is truly unique. I hope as many of your readers as possible get to experience it.

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 a massive gamer for thirty years now. I’m forty four and I first picked up percentile dice at the age of fourteen when my brother ran a Dungeons and Dragons night for his mates round our house. I totally fell in love with it and it wasn’t long before I’d set up a group with my own friends and we were playing far too much for my parent’s liking since we were all supposed to be studying for exams and the like.

Thinking about it, my gaming past goes right back to my early years. I’m one of four children and our whole family used to sit round a table on a Sunday afternoon to play a board game. Cluedo, Totopoly, Mine A Million, Helmsman, card games as well. Some of those games may be totally unfamiliar.

But I guess the die was cast. From D&D, we went to AD&D of course but never really liked the system. Eventually, we moved to the brilliant Dragon Quest system and we played that for six years until college was over and we all went our separate geographic ways. During that time, though DQ was the central plank, we played Bushido, Boot Hill, Car Wars, Space Opera, Toon and Gamma World too.

My history of video games is no less long. I was brought up on the coast, in a town called Felixstowe in Suffolk. We had a couple of arcades and I spent far too much time and money playing sports and shooter games there. That led directly to playing games on the earliest of computers and consoles. The ZX Spectrum, Commodore PET and Commodore 64, finally settling on the Commodore Amiga which was a fabulous console for its time. Late 80s I think.

Then PCs happened. Oh Lordy. I’ve played games on PCs since the late 80s and early 90s. Real classics like Red Baron still spring to mind. I’m primarily an FPS, sports and strategy game player and I won’t bore you with every title. Some highlights are Command & Conquer, FIFA Football, Return To Castle Wolfenstein, Dungeon Keeper, Lemmings, Severance, Championship Manager, Grand Prix, Medal of Honour, Call of Duty, Medieval: Total War, Civilisation, Ghost Recon. There’ll be others but you get the picture

Right now, I’m playing Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood and, the moment it drops through the door, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

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

Yes, occasionally. A game I left out of that last list is Guild Wars. It was good fun. A few of my old gaming mates and I used to meet up and do quests. But I haven’t played it for months now and doubt I’ll go back to it. I’ve sampled Call of Duty online but to be honest, I find it all rather random and don’t bother with it too much. Maybe I’m just rubbish at it but I spend far too much time dead. I prefer campaign based games these days. I still get together with three friends every now and again. We link our PCs up and sit around a table and reminisce while playing games like Ghost Recon and Call of Duty. Great fun.

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

There are many that I still smile about. I think we were the most incompetent bunch of outlaws in Boot Hill history. We’ve dropped lit dynamite in the wagons we were driving, gone to sell grog to the Indians and found ourselves wandering the plain in just our long johns, tried to rob a train only to grease the wrong part of the rails and get taken apart by a Gatling gun. But the crowning idiocy was trying to get bounty on a notorious gang, follow them to their hideout, spread ourselves around to cover every door and window and only then decide to discuss in loud voices exactly what we were planning to do. Following the countdown, we rushed the place and were terribly surprised to find them waiting for us. Not a one of us survived.

I’ve got so many more. Some real triumphs from DQ, like managing to hack the forelimb clean off a basilisk while looking in a mirror to avoid being turned to stone. That caused serious celebration and spilled coffee as I recall.

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

Yep. Huge. The Raven is based on the group of characters from my Dragon Quest days. Hirad, The Unknown Warrior, Richmond, Ras, Thraun, Erienne, Ilkar and Denser. All were rolled up characters when they started, immortalised now in print. The influences are all there to see in Dawnthief, which is a classic quest novel in many requests. But the link fades as the novels progress.

Would you say there is grind involved in the writing process?

Occasionally. Not every day is a good writing day. Reading and re-reading your work does get dull. It is a solitary profession and that can mess with your mind sometimes. But look, no job is all joy and no sheer hard work. No job worth doing anyway. Those who work hardest at their craft tend to get the best rewards. For a writer, that means spending countless hours in front of the PC getting words on paper. When it’s going well, it’s beautiful. When you can’t see the way to the end of the scene, it’s horrible and frustrating. But a writer writes. If you walk away the book won’t write itself.

Don’t get me wrong, I utterly love my job as a writer. I am extremely lucky to be getting paid for doing the thing I love most. If I could get paid acting work, I’d be even happier but you can’t have everything (though I’m working on it…). The point is, a professional sports person only reaches the top through practice on the training ground. Ask Tiger Woods why he’s the best. Roger Federer, Phil Taylor (if you’re a darts fan), Venus and Serena Williams. A writer only improves by writing, rewriting and rewriting again. Not all of it is joyful. That’s life and I’m not complaining.

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

I’d say right up there is getting an email from a fan who has really loved my work. Someone who has got from the book everything I hoped they would. Reading such messages makes all the off days and difficult stuff so utterly worthwhile. Please, write to your favourite authors and tell them why you enjoyed the book. I don’t care how big they are, the personal stories always matter.

There are also the days when you sit down and never want to stop. Days when you’ve written three thousand words by lunch time and you know that they are all good. Days when the work is finally done and you are so buzzed you can’t concentrate on anything.

That’s two things but there you go.

When do you find time to write?

Well, I’m lucky enough to be a full-time author so I get four days a week. On a Tuesday, I look after my son, Oscar. There is no better way to spend a day off than with him. He’s three next birthday and the reason why I get up in the morning and do what I do. He goes to nursery the other week days and that’s when I get writing. I also tend to do some work in the evenings. Emails, interviews, reading. Not too much. Wind-down time is really important.

How do you tend to escape these days?

There isn’t too much time for escaping but when I need to I will still put on a game and get lost in the action. That still works. I watch films on DVD, things like Flash Forward on the TV. I also turn off the mobile phone and leave the house. Being out of contact is liberating. Just for an hour or so. We have a dog I walk every morning and that is a good way to get rid of any demons and tension before the day starts. I play tennis occasionally and we go out on our push bikes as a family when we all need a change from the walls of the house and garden. I’m not a big reader these days. I do read but time is so short and I’m normally knackered come the end of the day and end up snoozing into my book, however compelling it is.

So its lots of small things used to break up a day. Best of all is being with Oscar. Children are amazing and watching him grow and learn and blossom is the best way to forget anything bad ever happened.

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

Picking up on some of what I said earlier, I think there are a few things every writer needs to know or appreciate. Some of it sounds really glib but I’m surprised how often I hear from people who don’t apply the basics.

For starters, a writer writes. If you don’t write, you aren’t going to finish a book, a short story a poem or even a letter. That means you have to sit down and do it. Just a bit every day until it’s done. A great piece of advice I got from another author, Stan Nicholls, when I was starting out was “write to a finish”, another way of saying this is, “don’t get it right, get it written”. A basic error is to go over and over and over the section you’ve done, trying to get it perfect. For one thing, it never will be perfect and for another, it’s stopping you getting to the end. That is the time to go back, read, rewrite and improve.

And here’s a quick editing tip. When you reread, read out loud. If you stumble over words or they don’t sound right in your ears, they probably aren’t. Time to change them.

When you’re submitting, submit exactly to guidelines. Generally, that’s a letter, a synopsis and the opening three chapters but publishers and agents have individual quirks. All of it is equally important. My editor says that if you can’t write a letter you can’t write a book and he will judge a writer on that because he gets such a high volume of submissions. He doesn’t have the time for anything else. He needs to be interested enough to move to the synopsis. Always, always send in the first three chapters. If you don’t it only begs the question, why if you don’t. The opening of your book has to grab editors like it must readers. But you know all that.

Another quick tip. Try and find the name of the editor or agent you are sending your submission to (this is after you’ve established that they will be remotely interested in your sort of work). This gets it to their desk, not merely the department in general. A quick phone call to the publisher or agent should get you the info you need. Also, importantly, this does mean that you can expand your possible number of submissions. If a publisher has four fantasy editors, there is no reason why you shouldn’t submit to each one in turn. Just not all at the same time. Ever.

And finally. Getting rejected is hard. Waiting for responses is interminable. Most of us get knocked back a few times. Even such giants as JK Rowling and Stephen Donaldsdon have been turned down before being accepted (and boy are some editors regretting those decisions). All it means is that one person on one day didn’t like your stuff. You just have to suck that up and submit to someone else (after you’ve made sure your submission is absolutely as good as you can make it). Believe in yourself. If you don’t , no one else can be expected to.

You wake up to a world where your Chronicles of the Raven series has been made into an RPG. What character race and class would you play and why?

Elven mage. Definitely. I get to live a long time, though not necessarily forever. I’m naturally good at casting because mana, the fuel of magic, is an integral part of me. I have an excellent range of spells I can learn, both offensive and defensive, healing and harming. I’m pretty tough in terms of constitution and if I’m really scared, I can run back to my homeland and call on some seriously hard bastards who will come to my aid… probably.

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

Yeah. Don’t let anyone tell you that gaming is a waste of time. Clearly it isn’t. My early gaming years have had a direct and massively positive influence on my career. Gaming means you aren’t getting into trouble anywhere else. It’s only anti-social to those who have a) never tried or b) never actually been online or linked up on a LAN. Surely this is more productive than sitting round a table in a pub with a few mates, sending texts to other people.

Be proud of the genre you read. For some reason I still can’t fathom, there are authors who deny they are sci-fi or fantasy authors and readers who deny they read the genre. Fantasy and SF contain nearly all the best ideas, wonderful imaginations and beautifully realized worlds and characters. I am proud of what I write. Join me!

Oh, and finally, go look on the Xbox live site and find the trailer thing about Project Natal. This is the future of console gaming…. It’s controller-free, it really is.

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Reading the text: David Farland interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on November 16, 2009

David Farland is the pseudonym of fantasy and science fiction author Dave Wolverton. In this interview Dave discusses the premise of his epic fantasy series The Runelords, his own gaming background as well as his experience working in the game industry including his involvement with the StarCraft expansion Brood War.

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Author’s website:

http://www.davidfarland.net/

Could you take a minute and explain, for those who are unfamiliar with your epic Runelords series, what the basic premise happens to be?

runelordsPart of the basic premise has to do with the magic system. In the world of the Runelords, the lords are able to draw attributes from their vassals. Thus, a lord might take the strength from a strong man, the grace from a dancer, the wit from a wise man, or the glamour from someone who is beautiful.

Of course when you do this, the lord gains tremendous powers, but a man who gives up his wit becomes an idiot, a man who grants strength becomes a weakling and might die if his heart becomes too weak to beat.

The attributes are drawn out using magical branding irons called “forcibles,” which are destroyed in the process, and the attribute “flows” to the lord so long as both people remain alive. If the lord should happen to die, the attribute would flow back to the person who granted it. If the vassal dies, then the lord loses that attribute, and thus is weakened.

So in the world of the Runelords, the lords must take great care to protect and maintain those who have granted attributes. The lords can exhibit almost godlike powers–and in this world, the easiest way to overthrow a god is to kill those have given themselves to him.

The people sustain this system because there are great dangers in their world. The biggest of them are creatures called “reavers,” subterranean carnivores whose exoskeletons serve as natural armor. Reavers can grow to be larger than elephants, and a single reaver can wipe out an entire village. Thus, the people NEED to have lords with super powers to protect them.

Are you or have you ever been a gamer?

Yes. I used to do it quite a bit.

What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

Years ago, I started playing board strategy games with my little brother, along with D&D. In the early eighties, my brother and I developed our own variant, which included simplified magic rules, a 20D system for figuring hits and criticals, and advanced archery rules.

For a few years, I ran a game as a DM. I did it three nights a week on a slow week, just about every night if not. We had about a dozen friends that met.

So I thought about becoming a game developer quite a bit.

starcraft brood warJust after I wrote the first Runelords novel, in fact, I began working for a small videogame company called Saffire in Utah. My first job was to land a contract for StarCraft’s Brood War, which I did. I was then asked to be the co-leader of the design team, and I came up with a lot of fun things for the game. I even threw my “Reavers” into the game. (If you’ve played, the Zerg Lurkers were based on my reavers.)

After that I worked on a few other games, usually just scripting them. Most were little things, like Xena: the Talisman of Fate. That was a simple fight game. I worked on another that was much more fun, called Barbarians. It was a fantasy role-playing game, but the company that made it went bankrupt before the game was ever released. I helped write and design a few other things.

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

Not too much. I play a few online games from time to time, but I have to admit that I’ve learned to avoid them, since they interfere with my writing.

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

Sure. I tend to think a lot about achieving interesting balances in my story–balance between a character’s powers and those of his or her enemies. But to be honest, I’ve been that way since I was a kid drawing monsters on the kitchen floor. My mother used to worry that I was insane as a child–always drawing epic battles with knights and monsters. So I suspect that my writing actually has had more of an effect on my game design, rather than the other way around.

When do you find time to write?

One never finds time; one has to “make” time to write.

How do you tend to escape these days?

I still let off steam playing simple games like Diablo. I keep thinking that I’d like to play some World of Warcraft, but it has sucked the life out of so many of my friends. Still, I’m thinking I might get a MMUOG for Christmas.

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

Sure, lots of them. In fact, for the past two years I’ve been giving it away for free. Check out my site and sign up for my daily kick in the pants. I also teach writing workshops, for those who are interested. Some of my past students who have gone on to do well include Stephenie Meyer, Brandon Sanderson, Brandon Mull, and dozens of others.

You wake up to a world where your Runelords series has been made into an MMORPG. What class would you play and why? A lord or perhaps even a vassal?

Ah, I’ve actually had a couple of companies ask about making Runelords videogames, but we couldn’t do it until recently. The rights were tied up with movies.

So what class would I be? I’d actually want to play a benevolent wolf lord, just hanging out, protecting my people, fighting reavers and big government.

Are there any current writing projects you wouldn’t mind discussing here?

I’m finishing up the final book in the Runelords series right now. I also have a bunch of other projects in the wind, all of which, unfortunately, must remain a secret for a few weeks. Not all of them are locked down. I do have some more interest in a Runelords videogame, and I’m going to start looking for a company that might be interested in doing a Runelords paper-based RPG. Beyond that, I’ve recently been asked to work on a large movie project, and though the producer has said they want to hire me, I don’t want to jinx it yet. There are lots of other things, too, but I’d prefer not to talk about them at the moment. Let’s see what the next few weeks bring. . . .

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Reading the text: Alan DeNiro interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on November 13, 2009

Alan DeNiro is a writer of speculative fiction who has just published his first novel Total Oblivion, More or Less.  Here he talks about the book, writing interactive fiction, and gets into his own gaming background as well as offering some tips for the would-be-writers out there.

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Author’s website:

Goblin Mercantile Exchange

Could you take a minute and explain what your novel Total Oblivion, More or Less is about?

total oblivion, more or lessThe novel begins with ancient European tribes–Scythians, Avars, and the like–invading Minnesota, and the rest of the United States, from up north somewhere. Technology stops working and the invaders are able to conquer wide swaths of land until a mysterious empire, from down south somewhere, manages to repulse them and set up very tenuous security. The novel is narrated by Macy, an ordinary 16-year-old girl living in St. Paul, with has a dysfunctional family, who finds her life turned upside-down by these events. She and her family are forced to a refugee camp on an island on what used to be a state park. They manage to escape and make their way down the Mississippi on a converted steamboat to try to get to St. Louis, where Macy’s father may or may not have a job waiting for him. That’s the first big chunk of the novel–much more ensues!

Would you mind describing what the process was like for you in getting this novel published?

It was rather disjointed; I had been working on this novel for quite some time (about 4-5 years), and had an agent, but we parted amicably in regards to where the revisions were going. Then after a lot of dead-ends it came together fairly quickly–I found new agent (Colleen Lindsay) when she was just starting at FinePrint; I was her first client actually! Some months later the book was bought by Bantam Spectra (now just Spectra–there was some reshuffling at Random House after the book was bought). It found a great home, but there was still a lot of work left to do on it: quite a bit of copyediting and revisions. Which in the end made it a much better book.

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.)?

Yes, I’ve been a huge gamer for most of my life. It started when I was 10 years old with the D&D Basic “red box” and I haven’t really stopped since. I also had a Texas Instruments TI994/A (16K RAM! Woo-hoo!) and have great memories of games like Parsec and also playing Scott Adams’ Pirate Adventure using a cassette player to load the game. I have been pretty eclectic with games and haven’t fixated continually on one mode for very long. I haven’t had much chance to play too many pen and paper RPGs of late but I’ve been interested in some of the “indie” and “story games” systems (and ideas) that are out there. I also have a DS and Wii and play my fair share of computer games.

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

Yeah, a fair amount. I played a lot of MUDs throughout the years and actually have a character in one now (Icesus), which has a gloriously convoluted system of mechanics. My wife also got me into Eve this year, though I’ve let that lapse the last month or so. Oh, and Free Realms. Free Realms has been a nice way to wind down after work, even though it feels somewhat like a series of mini-games that happen to look like part of a MMORPG. But it’s still a blast. Probably the one actually I had spent the most time in is Kingdom of Loathing, which amused me to no end. The experience has been really different depending on what the creators have hoped to do, and taking those visual and textual clues as a player and running with them. But I’m really interested when there is a measure of surprise in a world, where everything isn’t quite so scripted.

kingdom of loathingAs someone who obviously appreciates the written word and the art of narrative, do you tend to read the quest text and immerse yourself as much as possible into the story of the game you are playing?

It’s an interesting question but I think what draws me in the most are the mood and atmosphere. For example, with Eve, there’s that loneliness of deep space–and then coming across a weird super-sized artifact in the middle of an asteroid–that’s pretty cool. That sense of mystery. I think you can develop that mystery in various ways, sometimes with text, sometimes not. It can be tricky to actually develop story in games–and how to have the right “triggers” to move a story forward. There have been a lot of interesting games in the interactive fiction world, actually, that have experimented with these ideas.

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

I think in two somewhat related ways. First, in terms of content: the way people interact with games and online worlds is something I’m really interested in exploring through my fiction. Secondly, the potential of non-linear storytelling in games has definitely had an affect on my own “linear” writing. The big question is: how do you keep a work of fiction “open” for a reader–to give them glimpses of an entire world (in other words, the APPEARANCE of a sandbox). So much of fiction is about what you don’t write as much as what you write.  And in game design, it’s much of the same. Even in the most open world there are still going to be limitations to the map and barriers (some more restrictive than others). So you have to learn (speaking about fiction again) how to work inside those limitations.

You’ve written some interactive fiction. For those who don’t know, would you mind explaining what this is and perhaps talk about your Deadline Enchanter?

Sure–interactive fiction, in a big way, is the original crucible of much of what we’d consider computer gaming, and particularly adventure gaming (with games such as Crowther and Woods’ Collossal Cave Adventure and Infocom’s Zork series). I’m bad at explaining technological things, but from Wikipedia, IF is gaming in which “players use text commands to control characters and influence the environment.” That’s as succinct as a definition as I can think of.  Anyway, after textual IF died as a commercial genre in the late 80s or so, the tools to create IF became available to hobbyists and writers.  And the field is still going pretty strongly; in fact, it’s a great way for game designers to try out new ideas. There are some IF games released in the last 15 years or so that match the complexity, breadth, and gaming “punch” as any big-budget console game–the games just happen to be done in words rather than graphics. Plus 99.9% are free and widely available on the Internet–so you can’t go wrong with that.

Anyway, I’ve completed and released three works of IF myself, and the one I’m happiest with is the most recent, called Deadline Enchanter. It’s a little bit hard to explain without giving away too many spoilers, but I tried to play with notions of player complicity in a game and point of view. It’s also set in a Faerie Folk city in the middle of the Dakotas. The game won an XYZZY award for Best Use of Medium that year, and that’s something I was absolutely thrilled and humbled by, since I’ve come really late to this game-designing thing.

Where would you point people who are interested in exploring more interactive fiction?

For finding games: The Interactive Fiction Database can get you set up with interpreters (to play the game files) and finding games that suit your desired genre.

For designing your own games, I can’t recommend Inform 7, as an IF-friendly programming language, enough. Believe me, if I can do it, anyone can. There are also languages such as TADS and Hugo, so you might want to poke around a bit to find what you need.

Would you say there is grind involved in the writing process?

There is; not as much in the original moments of creation but in the revision process. The trick is to make revision and editing as exciting as when you first put the words for a project down on a page.

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

Realizing that characters do and say things that you really didn’t expect. I know that sounds kind of goofy, but it happens all the time. It all comes down to the characters for me and what kinds of emotions and decisions they are working through.

When do you find time to write?

That…is an excellent question. I have a full-time day job, so it can be a struggle. Mostly cram sessions on the weekends and during lunch breaks when I can.

Many of the authors I’ve interviewed view gaming as a potential threat to their productivity as a writer. As someone who has and continues to game, how have you managed to reconcile these activities in your life?

Excellent question! I think it can be a real challenge to strike the right balance. Lord knows I’m astoundingly capable of procrastination. But, aside from the “research” component (that is to say, I tend to write a lot about how people incorporate fantasy into their own lives, and gaming is a prime example of that), I do think that the storytelling within games continues to grow and evolve at a rapid pace, and that in and of itself is exciting and gives me ideas about my own fiction. Also, with the content delivery (to use a really arid term) of books on the cusp of changing on the digital end of things, I’m really curious–and actually hopeful–about the merging of different storytelling media. Who’s to say in ten years what some novels might look like? Some might very well have, on whatever near-future digital platform, some gaming component that augments the novel. Or vice-versa. It all depends on what story one needs to tell.  What are the best tools to carry that out? The great thing is, more and more tools are becoming available to us. And in that, I’m pretty agnostic about form. I love static fiction, but it’s a means to an end, just like the poems I write, or the interactive fiction. So in that light, aside from having fun with my gaming, I try to play many games like a writer reads novels–you’re reading for enjoyment, sure, but you’re keeping an eye on the craft as well.

How do you tend to escape these days?

Some of the aforementioned games, playing and taking walks with our two dogs, fostering kittens, and working on the yard. Pretty mundane stuff.

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

alan deniro1. Don’t worry about trends. There are stories only you can tell and those are the stories other people are going to want to hear.

2. Treat editing as part of the creative process.

3. Find a group of like-minded peers; it’s a lonely business and you need support and to give support to other writers.

4. Pay attention to writing in other cultures and other genres; reading divergent materials is what’s going to allow your own voice to grow.

5. Have fun. If you’re finding a project too grueling, take a break from it and move to something else in a somewhat different genre or medium, and come back with a fresh perspective.

You wake up to a world where Total Oblivion, More or Less has been made into an MMORPG. What character would you play and why?

Hmm, probably Em, who is the captain of a submarine that may or may not date back to the Byzantine Empire, and is much, much larger on the inside than outside. Anyway, she is a resident bad-ass in the novel.

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

Really appreciate the opportunity to chat on your blog!

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Reading the text: Robin Hobb interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on November 3, 2009

Robin Hobb is a fantasy writer who has more than ten novels to her credit. She’s currently at work on a two-part story, called The Rain Wilds Chronicles. Here she discusses these new books, recounts, rather fondly, her memories of second-hand gaming, what being a writing mother has been like, and how she unwinds these days by battling a few acres of farm land while dual-wielding a machete and weed burner.

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Author’s website:

http://www.robinhobb.com/

Would you mind talking a little bit about your new series, The Rain Wilds Chronicles, and telling us when we can expect the first book to come out?

dragon keeper2The Rain Wilds Chronicles is a book in two parts. I far exceeded my word limit in the manuscript, so rather than cut the story, we divided it into two volumes. The first is Dragon Keeper, appearing in January of 2010 and the second will be Dragon Haven. That one will come out in April or May of 2010.

Dragon Keeper returns to the setting of the Liveship Traders trilogy, the Rain Wilds. A problem faces the Rain Wild Traders. The dragons that hatched on the grounds at the base of the tree-dwelling city are growing rapidly. Malformed by too late of a migration, they are unable to feed themselves and are irritable and dangerous creatures. Dragon Keeper is the tale of how the city intends both to solve their problem with the dragons and be rid of some ‘non-productive’ citizens. An eccentric wife of a wealthy Bingtown Trader and a river captain become part of the expedition. But there are rumors that the Duke of Chalced would pay richly for ‘dragon parts’ that may halt or reverse his aging. So the expedition may face more dangers than just the acid river and the wild country that surrounds it.

And Dragon Haven will, of course, finish the tale of their quest/ banishment.

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

I spent most of my childhood reading, and my favorite reading has always had fantastic elements. Books of mythology, Mary Poppins, the Oz books, books of fairy tales, anything that had an element of magic or wonder fed the hunger. As a teenager, I discovered The Lord of the Rings, and my reading was never the same. It was the first time I’d seen fantasy takem so seriously and in such a detailed and adult manner. It validated fantasy for me and I suddenly knew that was what I wanted to write.

There wasn’t a lot of fantasy of that sort that was easily available to me at the time. I think Peter S. Beagle was the next writer that really resonated for me, and then Fritz Leiber and his tales of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser came my way. Once I had found those, I was able to back track and discover Conan the Barbarian, and Doc Savage and all the rest of the pulp. I was onto the mother lode, and read everything I could get my hands on. Fantasy is a very wide genre; for me, in includes SF and mythology and beast fable.

We are so spoiled now, with a vast supply of fantasy and SF every month. I remember when it was much easier to be ‘well read’ in our genre. Now there is no way to keep up with it all. It remains my favorite genre, but I also enjoy mysteries, mostly detective or police procedural. Add fantasy to either of those, and I’m very happy.

What are you reading these days?

My current read is Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, a steam punk novel set in an alternate Seattle in the Gold Rush days. The backdrop for this tale is an alternate Seattle that has suffered a great calamity that has altered their history substantially from ours. I already recommend it.

What has particularly impressed you about this book?

Her research. Her steam punk Seattle is built on the Seattle that did exist at the time. Gritty is probably a word that has been over-used, so I’ll say that her technique gives a very solid and real feel to the city and what it might be like in that alternate history.

I’ve been in your basement. Well, I’ve seen a picture of your basement at any rate, and I can just make out the corner of a Risk box. So, I have to ask, 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 grew up with the very old board games, such as Monopoly, Scrabble and Clue, as well as strategy games such as Battleship, Risk, Go, and chess. They were fun but other than Clue, they didn’t really have much in the way of role-playing. My kids were the ones who first discovered Dungeons and Dragons and brought them home. We still have a lower book shelf full of boxes of the old gaming modules. And of course we fondly recall the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were out about then, too.

I started the kids out with me as DM for the first canned adventures that came with the modules, but they quickly surpassed me. Our house became gaming central for my son and his friends, but my mom-role was largely to provide provender for the gamers. I loved ‘auditing’ the games and watching how seriously they took designing the dungeons and painting the figurines and all of the side ventures that went into gaming.

baldur's gateFor my youngest child, born in the early 90’s, gaming came in the form of floppies and then disks and game consoles, and finally online stuff. She still retreats to Baldur’s Gate to replay a favorite section if a day has gone very badly in real life. Some games are very much a comfort zone for her and for her friends. For a time there, when Pokemon was hot, I had a gaggle of neighborhood kids that I walked down to the local card store every Wednesday night. And that was a lot of fun for me. I recall one fellow who created the All Digglett deck, and proved that you could actually win with it, under the right circumstances! The kids collected the badges and had all the paraphernalia . . . I was actually sad to see it fade. Other card games came after that, but they weren’t really aimed at my daughter. Not even Magic held her for long.

So, most of my gaming experience has been of the second-hand variety. With so much on-line gaming, I do miss the rolling dice and table top games that used to bring the teenagers into my home. Now they play on line.

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

I think that early on I realized that gaming, online worlds and even the Internet connection presented a very real danger to me as a writer! Seriously. I can handle one obsession at a time, and writing is a career where the obsessive parts of it are actually very helpful to me. Online gaming presents a very strong lure to me. After a couple of very small trials, I realized that it would be an ‘all or nothing’ occupation for me. And I do mean an ‘occupation’ as in something that would occupy all my life and time. At that time, with work and a family and a small farm to take care of, I had precious little ‘free’ time. I knew I could give it to gaming, or to writing. I made a conscious decision that I had to play in my own world inside my own head. So, I still feel a lot of envy when I walk past my daughter’s desk and see all this cool stuff happening on her monitor. But I have to keep walking and sit at my own desk and start piling up the words on the screen instead. I don’t think I could game and still find the time to put out a big hardback every year.

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

The effect has been a rather indirect one. At the time I was writing Assassin’s Apprentice, my son was about 15 and heavily into his games. Even if the session was not at my house, the whole scenario and action was recounted when he came home. The big thing was that it directed a flow of teenage boys through my home, guys of all different kinds. I think that Fitz’s character development and his interactions with others owe a lot to there being a lot of live research material available at the time. It also gave me a pool of young men to bounce ideas off. And it let me see what sort of characters and situations were riveting and which ones were marched past quickly.

Everything is grist for the writing mill.

Would you say there is grind involved in the writing process?

The grind is what I mentioned above. It’s looking at wonderful fascinating pastimes and saying, “If I start that, it will eat into my writing time.” It’s not just gaming. I really envy writers who manage to crochet or costume or have amazing hobbies in photography or rock climbing. I need to write every day, rain or shine, regardless of what distractions are tempting me. Every days, I need to get the words on the page (or the pixels on the screen.) By keeping that discipline, I can then say when the day is done, “Now I can put my attention where I want it.” But most often that means doing something with family, often grandchildren. There simply are never enough hours in the day.

But the grind is also what I love about it. I do it all myself and there is such a tremendous satisfaction in the moment that those last words are typed.

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

Setting my own hours. When my kids were younger, it was wonderful to be a ‘stay at home’ mom who also have a career that was about as profitable as a part time or minimum wage job. That’s a pragmatic answer.

The other answer is that I love what I do, and I can make a living at it. Is there any bigger blessing in life? Having worked in restaurants and retail and door-to-door surveys and all sorts of other jobs, I will tell you that getting up and spending the day with my characters is an extreme pleasure. Every aspect of the story, every decision is mine. Yes, an obsession. J

When do you find time to write?

Well, I’m a full time writer these days, so it’s a 6AM to 11PM job on the days I want it to be.

When I was younger and working outside the home and having kids, it was harder. Some things, such as gaming and watching idle television, simply had to go. I still had favorite TV shows, for example, but I couldn’t sit down and just channel surf all evening. Dinner over, dishes done, kids on homework, me on the word processor. When they were really small, a notebook (paper kind!) was my best friend. Sit on a bench at the playground or on the floor by the bathtub and write. Write on the bus, while waiting at the doctor’s office, while the kids were at the roller rink . . . you can get a lot of words that way. And when you type it all in at the end of the day, it’s a revision and elaboration process that multiplies those words.

I also had and have a messy house and a jungly yard. We all make choices about what is important in our lives. And once we know what is important, that is where we put our time.

How do you tend to escape these days?

dragon havenI have a few acres and a rotting old house down in the McKenna, Washington area. There’s a pond and always endless physical work to be done. I battle the blackberry canes with a machete and a weed burner. I’ve got a lot of birds and wildlife down there. In the summer, my husband offers free judo clinics and overnight camps for our judoka down there, and that is great fun. A lot of the kids have never been to an overnight camp or out to the countryside, so to them it seems extremely wild while to me it’s merely rural. We have fruit trees and grape vines and deer (yum). And solitude. I don’t enjoy the constant noise of my suburban home. Leaf blowers make me homicidal. If you ever hear of a serial killer wiping out people who are using a 12 horsepower leaf blower at 6 AM to move three leaves, come knocking at my door. Because I spend so much time here in the basement in front of my keyboard and screen, I love it when I can go outside and work all day and wind up dirty and exhausted. But then you stand up on the road, and look at what you’ve accomplished that day, be it tree planting or ditch digging, and you can actually SEE what you changed. That’s such a wonderful sensation.

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

Start today. Write. Finish what you start. Submit what you finish. Repeat. Don’t get caught up in the ‘someday I’m going to do that’ trap. Don’t blog and tell yourself that it puts you on the road to being a published fiction writer. It just makes you a blogger. Get your stories down on paper now. Don’t wait. The stories that you can and would write today are irreplaceable. The story you will write at 15 can’t wait until you are 30. It won’t be the same story. It will be gone. Don’t write a lot of stuff in other people’s worlds. You are not a cookie press pushing out dough into a pre-set shape. You’re a writer. If you don’t write your own characters and worlds now, today, no one ever will.

If you don’t write them now, your characters will shrivel up and die, unknown, unread, unmourned, and it will be ALL YOUR FAULT!

(Isn’t guilt a wonderful motivator?)

You wake up to a wonderful world where your Elderlings universe has been made into an MMO. What character would you play and why?

Oh, too late for that! I’m a writer. I get to be all my characters, every day. I also get to be the cinematographer, the producer, the set designer, the costumer, the dialogue coach . . . I get to be all of it all the time.

In a way, I guess, I’m running a single player, all expenses paid, no special effects budget limit, no memory limit game all the time. And so far, I’ve never had to buy more memory or a faster processor! Not even a graphics card!

And I do keep a log of it for all the rest of you.

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

Do what you love.

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Reading the text: Katharine Kerr interview

Posted by Randolph Carter on October 30, 2009

Katharine Kerr is a fantasy writer best known for her Celtic-influenced Deverry novels. Here she talks about what it felt like finishing the final volume in this series, what current writing projects she’s working on, and about a particularly fatal gift a friend gave to her back in 1979.

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Author’s website:

http://www.deverry.com/

Could you take a minute and explain what The Silver Mage is about?

silver mageNo, actually, because it’s the wrap-up of the entire previous series and would take about 100 minutes. 🙂 In general though I suppose I could say that it continues the themes of the previous volumes and finishes the stories of the main characters of those volumes.

Your first Deverry novel was published in 1986 and since then you have written 15 more. That’s quite a run. Now with the final Deverry novel coming out, do you think you’re going to have a tough time letting go of the world?

I thought I might, but so far I mostly feel relief. I’ve had this particular volume in sight for many years now. It’s just that road got twisty and steep toward the end. I don’t know how I’ll feel in a few years, though. 27 years is a loooong time to invest in something. When I turned in the finished manuscript, I felt what I can only call post-partum depression. It only lasted a few days, though.

Do you have any current writing projects you’d care to talk about?

Yes. I’ve just sold a three volume humorous series of contemporary fantasies to DAW Books. The first, License To Ensorcel, is finished and will be out next year at some point, though I’m not sure when yet. They are about as cross-genre as you can get: mysteries, spoofs on the James Bond style of improbable secret agent, urban fantasy, science fiction elements, a dash of chicklit. They’re also fast-moving entertainments. I need a vacation from Death, Wyrd, Betrayal etc after Deverry. I have a couple of other books in mind for the future, but they are too amorphous to talk about, except to say that one involves Rome under Nero.

In 1979 a friend of yours gave you a “fatal gift.” Would you mind telling us what that was?

The infamous “blue box” Dungeons and Dragons, the one with the incomprehensible directions and opaque rules. It took me days to figure out how to play, but I knew I wanted to. That was the gift. Playing D&D led to writing for Dragon magazine. In one of the issues I read a short story that was, let us say, not my idea of good writing. I said to my husband, “I could write better stories than this!” He agreed and said, “Why don’t you?” That’s the fatal part. One word led to another, and here we are.

If it’s not too much trouble, please give us an overview of your gaming background (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)

dungeons & dragonsI’ve always loved games from the time I was three years old and started playing “Snakes and Ladders” with my indulgent grandfather. We moved on early to checkers and other games requiring a little strategy. So I suppose it was only natural, many many years later, that I loved Avalon Hill style wargames when I encountered them. From there I graduated to the hard stuff, ie, pen and pencil RPGs, D&D at first, and then Runequest, which is a superior system in my opinion. I also enjoyed — and contributed to — Chaosium’s “Pendragon” game. I played a little Traveller, too, back in the day, and Tunnels and Trolls. As for computer games, I miss the interaction with other players, though I have played 3 of the “Myst” titles and the much under-rated “Obsidian” as well — still, despite the lovely graphics, they’re not as satisfying as getting together with friends was.

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

No, because I know I’d become addicted instantly. I’m my family’s sole support. If I got involved with World of Warcraft, we’d starve because I’d be playing for most of the day.

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

Well, the Runequest world included a race called “trolls”, who were bad asses of the worst sort. They loved treachery, eating their relatives for dinner, conquest, getting stinking drunk, and the like. They were also matriarchal. We had a player in our group who kept agitating to play an all-troll campaign, but he hadn’t read the rules very carefully. So one day I said sure, I’ll GM an all-troll adventure. When he found out that the society was matriarchal, he dropped out!

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

Yes, not in the writing process but in the necessary preliminary work. I drew out the Deverry maps on hex paper, so I could keep the distances between cities and the travel times accurate and consistent. I planned all the battles on hex paper overlaid with terrain, too, in order to keep track of who was where and what happened, both overall and to the viewpoint characters.

Would you say there is grind involved in the writing process?

Hell yes. It’s called “the middle of the first draft”. Openings are fun, because everything’s new and the possibilities seem endless. Endings — you feel like the proverbial horse seeing its stable after a long trek and start galloping home. But those damned middles, which alas are about 2/3s of the book — that’s where the grind comes in. Some writers will tell you they hate revising, but I don’t mind the revision process at all; it’s enjoyable, tinkering with a project and making it work well. The first draft is the grind for me.

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

Holding the printed and bound book in my hands when everything’s done. Getting the check isn’t bad, either.

How do you tend to escape these days?

Watching pro sports on TV.

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

Learn the basics of writing well. That means grammar, spelling, sentence construction, word choice, overall prose rhythm and the like. I am tired of hearing wouldbe writers say “but my story is good so why does all that matter?” Sorry, it does matter, and if you can’t do it correctly, your story isn’t good, no matter what your friends tell you. The best way to learn this kind of craft is to read good fiction, including fiction outside the fantasy and SF genres. Literary writers may tell stories that don’t interest a genre writer, but they tell them very well. We can learn from them.

You wake up to a world where your Deverry Cycle has been made into an MMO. What class would you play and why?

runequestHalf-elven dweomermaster. Half so I could cross the borders without causing comment.

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

Don’t forget the great games of the past, systems like Runequest and its offshoots.

I’ve met a number of young gamers these days who honestly think that Warhammer and AD&D are the only RPGs that have ever been.

Have you ever been in a sword fight with Kate Elliott? If not, who do you think would win?

Kate, easily, every time. She’s got the skill and the training. I am strictly an armchair warrior.

And last but certainly not least, when was the last time you wielded a 20-sided die?

Years ago, too many years. Writing fiction has taken over my life and my time, but I do miss gaming.

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