Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Posts Tagged ‘Science fiction’

Reading the text: David Louis Edelman

Posted by Randolph Carter on February 22, 2010

David Louis Edelman is an author, blogger, and web programmer who has recently completed his first science fiction trilogy. Here he talks about the Jump 225 series, what he finds pleasurable and not so pleasurable about writing, and discusses his gaming background where he boasts — rather unrealistically — about his skill at playing Yars’ Revenge.

Author’s website: http://www.davidlouisedelman.com/

*   *   *

Could you please explain what your Jump 225 trilogy happens to be about?

The Jump 225 trilogy is three books — Infoquake, MultiReal and Geosynchron (the last of which has just been released by Pyr). It’s a story set about a thousand years in the future, where you download software that runs on nanobots in the human body. So you can download a program to cure a disease, or focus your vision, or even show a specific expression on your face. The story focuses on a group of software entrepreneurs as they try to bring a radical new technology to market.

I’ve heard some good quick phrases for what the trilogy is about. There’s “Dune meets the Wall Street Journal,” “Neuromancer meets Wall Street,” “the love child of Donald Trump and Vernor Vinge,” and (my personal favorite) “Boston Legal meets The Matrix.” I tried to really find the excitement in the business world and focus on that, rather than just use it as a jumping-off point for your typical action thriller. These are probably the most exciting books ever written that climax in marketing demos and government hearings.

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

Like most published authors, my story was pretty excruciating and involved a lot of luck. After I finished the first book (Infoquake), I shopped around for literary agents. I sent two dozen queries and samples to the top SF/F literary agents who claimed to be looking for new talent, and got two dozen form rejection letters. Finally a former boss of mine, who had done some literary agenting before, offered to take a crack at getting the book published. He sent the book out to a number of publishers, and I just happened to get lucky by landing in front of Lou Anders at Pyr. From there, it was another 18 months until Infoquake hit the shelves.

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.)?

When I was a kid, I was a big board game aficionado. My brother and I used to invent board games on construction paper when we were kids. We made this board game where we recreated the whole map of Disneyland, complete with a pop-up Skyway and replica ticket books. Later on in my early teenage years, I was into AD&D — but for me, it was mostly a reading experience, since I never found a like-minded group of serious players. I also had a whole collection of Avalon Hill games that never got much use, unfortunately. My board gaming and RPG experience pretty much ended in high school.

On the electronic side, I was a serious Atari 2600 and Colecovision addict as a kid. But my experience with console gaming largely died in the big videogame crash of the early ’80s. I’ve done a fair share of computer gaming in the years since. In college, I was big on the Infocom games (Zork, etc.) and stuff like King’s Quest and Space Quest. Since then, it seems like I pick up a new game every two or three years and just play it over and over again, long past the point when I should be bored with it. I’ve lost serious amounts of time to Civilizations I through IV, Starcraft, Diablo, Master of Orion, Neverwinter Nights, Return to Wolfenstein and Star Wars: Jedi Academy.

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

For some reason, I’ve never cared to game with real people. I just like to play against the CPU. So that’s limited my exposure to online worlds. I played around with Second Life for a little while, but I didn’t really see the point of it. Seems like a fabulous idea that has utterly failed to pan out once you actually log on. And believe it or not, I’ve never even seen World of Warcraft.

 
 

David Louis Edelman

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

In junior high school, my group of friends and I decided to say goodbye to RPGs by playing a raucous game of Chutes n’ Dungeons n’ Ladders n’ Dragons. It was a pretty lousy gaming experience, but it was fun to play Dungeon Master and describe all of the neon-colored stuff on the Chutes n’ Ladders board with a corny dramatic voice.

I also find it interesting and amusing that I tried to create an RPG version of “Guitar Hero” 20 years ago, long before the technology was around to do anything like that in pixels. I sent an unsolicited proposal to TSR and never heard anything back. Somewhere out there is an alternate universe where I’m so wealthy I’m using hundred-dollar bills for napkins.

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

Absolutely. I’m known as something of a worldbuilding addict — the world I created for the Jump 225 trilogy not only has religions, political parties, a banking system and business regulation, but a shipping system and futuristic building materials too. It’s much easier to think that way if you’ve got a gaming mentality, because you’re constantly thinking in terms of cause and effect. The Civilization games have taught me a lot in that regard. I’m constantly trying to think a few turns ahead of my characters, to set things up that I might use in the future, to think about characters in terms of resources to be used and points to be scored.

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

Yes, unfortunately, writing is not exempt from the grind. For me, it’s a huge part of the process. I tend to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite, then reread and reread and reread. It can get tedious at times, but when you look back over what you’ve accomplished it’s definitely rewarding.

I didn’t make things easy for myself by having so many things to keep track of. For instance, in the Jump 225 books, there’s a virtual communication technology called “multi” which lets you project a virtual body into real space and interact with other people as if you’re actually there. So for every scene in all three books, I had to keep track of which character was present as a real body and which character was present as a multi projection. Definitely gets tedious the 45th time you do it.

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

Hearing from the fans and the readers. And I’m not just talking about abject flattery (though that can be rewarding in and of itself). I enjoy reading reviews and discussions and emails from people who are really engaging with the books, even if they dislike parts of them. As long as they’ve taken the books seriously and not just as mindless entertainment, I’m happy. A couple of critics have even shaped the content of subsequent books to an extent by making criticisms or bringing up issues that I’ve overlooked. There’s a crucial subplot of Geosynchron that really only came together after I thought long and hard about the criticisms in one particular review.

When do you find time to write?

Mostly at night, after the babies go to sleep. Which is why I really have no life. And also why it takes me so long to get any writing accomplished.

How do you tend to escape these days?

I used to escape by immersing myself in books and films. Before I started writing, I was a serious two- or three-book-a-week reader, and I tended to watch my movies very seriously, on a big screen on Blu-Ray and full digital sound. But since becoming a parent, I’m afraid I’ve found it too difficult to concentrate on reading for any extended length of time. Instead I tend to just browse the web too much. I wish I could say that I was reading deep, intellectual things on the web, but instead I spend too much time on the Onion AV Club and Reddit.

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

You have to be prepared to never be published, and even if you *do* get published, to never be appreciated. There’s a huge amount of luck in this business, and the number of deserving authors who actually get recognized for their work is minuscule compared to the total number of deserving authors. The only way you can deal with that it is to have this zen-like sense that it doesn’t really matter in the end whether you’re successful or not.

I’m also fairly convinced that the Apple iPad and the Amazon Kindle are the harbingers of a very big shift in the publishing industry. Right now, novelists are very much subject to the whims of the big bookstore chains. But within 15 years, I think, having a big New York publisher isn’t going to matter nearly as much as having a dedicated online following. So I think the best thing a budding writer can do is to network, join online writing and reading communities, build up your Facebook friends and Twitter followers. And just keep writing.

You wake up to a world where your Jump 225 trilogy has been made into a role playing game. What character and class would you play and why?

I wouldn’t mind being one of the Lunar tycoons, who are very much the people pulling the strings behind the scenes. Who wouldn’t want to be able to manipulate people from afar for your own self-gratification and not worry about the consequences?

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

I’d like to remind everyone that Infoquake, MultiReal and Geosynchron are now available in bookstores across the country. And if you can’t find them in the bookstores, you can order them from a zillion different online vendors. You can read the first seven chapters of Infoquake on my website at www.infoquake.net if you want to get started right away.

I would also like to point out that back in the day, I could kick all of your asses at Yars’ Revenge.

Advertisements

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Reading the text: Brenda Cooper

Posted by Randolph Carter on September 25, 2009

silver ship and the seaAuthor’s website:

http://www.brenda-cooper.com/

Could you take a minute and explain what your Silver Ship series is about?

This series is meant to an all-ages adventure story set on other worlds. I start by marooning six genetically enhanced kids on a planet full of people who detest genetic engineering.

The first book – The Silver Ship and the Sea – is about growing up, about becoming, and about loyalty. It’s also an anti-war book, and it touches on the concept of prejudice. If human’s discriminate based on color or age or sexual orientation or just about any other slight difference, what will happen when there are real differences between us, as people have different skills and powers one from the other. This concept is actually fairly inherent in gaming, too.

The second book – Reading the Wind – is about a child finding a father and about genocide. It’s also introduces readers to The Five Worlds – a complex society spread across 5 planets (some natural, some artificial). The two most powerful planets of the five are preparing to go to war between each other….

And in book three – Wings of Creation– our heroes are trying to stop the war. They are on Lopali, a world where humans can fly….and the surface of everything looks ordered. But death and betrayal exist under even the prettiest places….

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

My very first novel was actually a collaboration with Larry Niven: Building Harlequin’s Moon. Larry is well established, brilliant, fun, and a good teacher. Because the book was with Larry (who did tons of work on it – it’s not my book with his name on it – it’s a joint effort), I didn’t have the usual problem of getting a foot in the door. So the real challenge was believing in my work, in our work together, and in book itself. When you are achieving a life-long dream, there about a million way to sabotage yourself, so I had to watch for those and avoid them.

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

Sure. A bunch of grinds. You have to write every day. At least I do. I get grumpy if I don’t. And some days I get grumpy. Some days I drag home after work and there’s social/family stuff I want or need to do and I hit the keyboard late and every word is tough. This year, work has been so hard (can you say recession) that I’ve cut my word count target in half to stay sane. I still write more many days, but it’s lets me off the hook earlier when I need it.

Marketing can be fun, but it can also be a grind. I’m happy to have been asked to do this interview, and I’m having fun answering the questions. But I’m not writing (However, I did write my minimum word count already today).

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

The act of writing is absorbing and almost always fun. Seeing your work take shape as it becomes a book is grand.

reading the windHearing from readers is the best thing ever. I can be having a tough day at work or at home, or I can just be tired, and I’ll get a nice note from someone I don’t know who’s read one of my books, and that will be fuel for a day or a week of good energy.

Seeing my work in a bookstore is still a bit of a shock. The first time I was able to give Barnes and Noble money in trade for a short story of mine in a magazine, I cried. Dumb girl. I already had the story for free on my computer and in my head. But I cried because I could pay money for it. Humans really are silly.

When do you find time to write?

Whenever. This morning it was between 6:00 and 7:00 AM. Tomorrow it might be the same. If I don’t get to it in the morning, it will be after 10:00 PM. Sometimes I just go away for a night or two and write – especially when I’m starting a novel or a big story.

How do you tend to escape these days?

I’ve always escaped by reading. I still do. I escape by getting lost in fast, fun books like a lot of the urban fantasy that’s out there. A Patricia Briggs is like candy – I buy it and I stop my life for two hours. Lately, we’ve been watching LOST on CD (we’re still on Season 1, but I own Season 2). I walk my golden retriever, Nixie. I exercise (not nearly enough – but I always love it). On a rainy day, we do have a Wii that we like to drag out and play fun games on.

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

Write. Really. Write. Write. Write. It’s all practice. Write. If you were planning to run a marathon, you’d train (run). To write a novel, you have to write. So the advice to would-be-writers is to write.

Writing makes you a writer. You can learn how to be a published writer after you practice being a writer.

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

To find out more about the books, go by The Academy of New World Historians.  Readers who leave comments through November 10th will be entered into a drawing to win a free book (one a week). The grand prize will be a hardback set of all three books.

This website is a new concept for me, and I honestly don’t know if it’s working yet. I wanted to create a place readers would like. So if any of your audience will drop by they get a chance at a book and they get my undying gratitude for taking a minute to let me know what works and what doesn’t.wings of creation

To find out more about me, drop by http://www.brenda-cooper.com/ where I post reading recommendations, musings on futurist topics, and keep my schedule up.

Just tonight, I listened to our local seattlegeekly podcast issue #32, where our intrepid podcasters interviewed game designers at PAX 09. And talk about fun. I wanted to play the games I heard about (I am scared to death of gaming. It would eat my time. I would never finish books). One of the games the show was about, Aion, has flying people in it. So does Wings of Creation. So now I want to play Aion. I probably won’t. I need time to write (see above; writer’s write).

Whether you’re gaming or creating games or writing, be happy.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Reading the text: Joel Shepherd

Posted by Randolph Carter on September 14, 2009

crossoverAuthor’s website:

http://www.joelshepherd.com/

Could you take a minute and explain what your Cassandra Kresnov series happens to be about?

The Cassandra Kresnov series is about an artificial person, Cassandra (or Sandy), constructed to be the most lethal ever soldier in an interstellar war, who decides she’d rather be a normal person instead. But of course, the powers that shaped her creation on all sides don’t make it that easy for her. So it’s a lot about choices and individual rights and the like, as well as all the way-cool action stuff.

For your more recent series A Trial of Blood & Steel you made the transition into fantasy. Would you say you are more at home writing science fiction or fantasy?

I don’t really have a preference. My fantasy tends to be a bit more lyrical, and my SF more blunt and direct, because that’s sort of what future technologies are doing to language anyhow… but my subject matter always comes from aspects of human civilisation, it’s just in SF it’s future civilisation, and in fantasy it’s past civilisation.

What is the likelihood of your US readers getting a chance to read this fantasy series?

The first novel Sasha is out in a few weeks! The rest to follow at probably half-yearly intervals.

What was the experience like for you in getting your first book published?

Wonderful and frustrating. Wonderful because the first book is always exciting. Frustrating because it took so long to find a US publisher (Pyr in 2006, it took them that long because Pyr only came into existence a year or two earlier). But recent sales for Cassandra have proven that Pyr really know what they’re doing…

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.)?

When I was a kid I played a fair bit of D&D. In hindsight, that was something of a formative experience for being a writer, because I can remember becoming quite frustrated with D&D’s limitations in plot. You couldn’t just make cool stuff happen, and the dice don’t always deliver the most dramatic result. Also there are those character strengths and weaknesses (which everyone always cheats on), and endless debates about what constitutes ‘charisma’ anyway? I kept wanting to create characters that made consistent sense to me as people, and the game mechanisms never really allowed it. Having said all that, D&D could also be lots of fun, it’s just that observing what worked and didn’t work gave me ideas that in hindsight were good writer training.

Then I got quite into battletech, which is technologically quite a silly concept, but that’s completely besides the point. Giant fighting robots are cool, especially when you’re thirteen. And who am I kidding, if they made a movie I’d still see it and buy the DVD…

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

Never have. I have enough distractions from my writing now, I don’t need more. And besides, I’m sure I’d become frustrated with each world’s limitations as I did with D&D. I’m more into creating my own worlds than playing in other peoples’.

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

Oh for sure. There’s grind in every creative process. Writing stories isn’t that fundamentally different from creating game worlds, you’re trying to create an alternative reality, and sometimes the ends don’t all fit together very easily. And so you have to create all kinds of plausible reasons why things work the way they do, and do it in a way that allows a dramatic narrative to take place, and that gives ordinary readers a reason to care. That’s a huge number of things to make work all at the same time, and it takes a lot of time to process all those details. And sometimes it still doesn’t work, and you have to go back and rewrite to find what you’ve done wrong. But most things worth making take effort.

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

Making it work. It’s such a hard thing to do, that making it work, and having readers tell you that it works (for them at least) is awesome. Like a sports person who trains endlessly to achieve some very difficult technical skill, it’s exhilarating when you see it finally working.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

The fourth book of my ‘Trial of Blood and Steel’ fantasy series, titled Haven. It’s due out in Australia middle of 2010, and in America probably sometime in 2011. I’ve also got an urban fantasy series I’m working on, and a stand alone SF/action novel already completed.

How do you tend to escape these days?

I go cycling, I watch sport, I do anything but think about writing.

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

Only do it if you absolutely must. It’s very hard to succeed, takes a lot of time and pays you very little in return. But if you must, then I guess you must.

You wake up to a world where your Cassandra Kresnov series has been made into a massively multiiplayer online game. What type of character would you play and why?

killswitchWell I’ve thought about this, and it would be pretty hard to play Cassandra, because she’s way too fast for merely human players to control. But there are plenty of interesting characters around her who would be fun to play as, and keeping up with Sandy could be half the challenge.

I think I’d play Director Ibrahim of the Callayan Security Agency. He’s in charge of the CSA, which is kind of like the CIA/FBI/NSA all rolled into one. So he’s the guy who tackles the big picture, takes advice from all different sources, then makes the call as to what to do. So he directs the intelligence gathering units (Ari Ruben), the SWAT units (Vanessa Rice), and the investigative units, while simultaneously trying to placate meddling politicians, handle the media, etc. Not that I wouldn’t enjoy shooting stuff up (Vanessa) or hacking into things and stealing information (Ari), it’s just that as a writer, I enjoy the big picture most of all, and trying to see how it all fits together.

And last but not least, when was the last time you rolled a 20-sided dice?

Oh, ages ago. But it would be fun to go again one day.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Reading the text: Sandra McDonald

Posted by Randolph Carter on July 13, 2009

stars blue yonderAuthor website:

http://homepage.mac.com/samcdonald/

Online journal:

http://sandramcdonald.livejournal.com/

Could you take a minute and explain what The Stars Blue Yonder is about?

Sure! It’s the third book in a series, though it’s meant to be read as a stand alone. My heroine is Jodenny Scott, a military officer who has long been stranded on a remote planet while intergalactic war rages back home. One day her murdered husband Terry Myell shows up, very much alive. He’s a soldier lost in time, ricocheting through the century on a futile quest to change the course of history. Their reunion and adventures take them around the universe, through epic battles, and back to the rough and tumble streets of colonial Australia. And for most of the book Jodenny is pregnant. With a child who’s already grown up. That’s the fun of time travel 🙂

What was the process like in getting your first book published?

I wrote three full manuscripts before starting what was eventually my first published novel, The Outback Stars. The first few chapters of that were workshopped in 2001, the full novel went out in 2003, a revised version went out and sold in 2005, and the book first appeared in hardcover in 2007. The process was both exhilarating and frustrating, as many writers have discovered, but well worth the effort.

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

As a child I was a big fan of my hometown library, one of those beautiful Andrew Carnegie buildings of red bricks, fine wood, and a beautiful reading room. It’s still standing in Revere, Massachusetts. In middle school my hands grabbed everything, but as I grew older my tastes turned mostly to science fiction, fantasy and horror. By college I was reguarly reading Kurt Vonnegut, Stephen King, Joel Rosenberg, Nancy Kress, Lois McMaster Bujold, and lots of tie-in novels for Star Trek, Star Wars, Space 1999, Dr. Who, and everything in between. Give me an adventure and great characters and some spaceships or magic, and I’d devour it.

Are you still a reader? What kind of things do you enjoy reading? Any favorite authors you’d care to share with us?

I’ve been reading a lot of great Young Adult fiction: Megan Whalen Turner, Sherri L. Smith, Suzanne Collins. In science fiction and fantasy, I’m enjoying Rachel Caine, Linnea Sinclair and Ann Aguirre. Suzanne Brockman, Nora Roberts, Paul Levine and Diana Gabaldon are big favorites from romance and mystery. Plus I regularly pick up non-fiction – recently about submarines, Victorian criminals, writing poetry, sleepaway camps, accupressure, and birdwatching – and lots of magazines. There’s always something in my to-read pile, and am glad for it.stars down under

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 family’s very first home video game was Pong. I remember watching the ball go back and forth in amazement! Later we moved up to a Nintendo, and my brothers, father and I got very good at Mario and Super Mario Brothers. While I was stationed in the Navy in Newfoundland, a good friend and I played endless hours of Wolfenstein 3D – maybe too many endless hours 🙂 These days it’s mostly Super Mario Galaxy, but if I could fit Myst on my iPod Touch, I’d load that in an instant – it’s one of my all-time faves.

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

I think many narrative experiences – gaming, acting or writing theater, attending film school – can be enormously beneficial to writers. The more stories we analyze and participate in, the more we have in our repertoire. Solving the puzzles in Myst may not have made me a better writer, but it certainly made me think about mood, atmosphere and worldbuilding. Killing Nazi soldiers in Wolfenstein didn’t necessarily teach me plotting, but it sure taught me persistence! Anything can be a learning experience when you’re a writer.

Grind is a term used frequently in gaming vernacular referring to something that is rather repetitive or unpleasant that one engages in in order to progress in the game. Would you say there is grinding in the writing process? Please explain.

Oh, sure there is. The excellent writer Maureen McHugh once posted a great graphic about the writing process that starts with “This is greatest idea I’ve EVER had” and gradually descends into “Dark night of the soul.” A novel is a four or five hundred (or longer) page argument that people made of ink and white space actually exist, matter, and are worthy of your time. Making that happen is an amazing but tiresome process. And revising – oh, let’s not talk about revising.

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

outback starsAs Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “To fill the hour – that is happiness.” Falling into the rapture of writing – really being in the groove – makes me happy. And to hear that other people enjoyed or were moved by something I wrote doubles that happiness.

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

Read Pen on Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, and love the work that also might drive you crazy.

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

Thank you for letting me share my work, and I hope readers enjoy The Stars Blue Yonder!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Reading the text: Thomas Harlan

Posted by Randolph Carter on July 2, 2009

land of the deadAuthor website:

ThroneWorld

Could you take a minute and explain what your latest novel Land of the Dead is about?

Our three main characters in Land of the Dead are Gretchen Anderssen (an ex-xenoarchaeologist working as a technical college sysadmin), Susan Kosho (a newly-minted Imperial Fleet captain with her first command), and Mitsuharu Hadeishi (Kosho’s last commander, now on the beach after losing his light cruiser in House of Reeds).

Willingly or not, they are all drafted into a plot to secure a recently discovered alien weapon in a disputed and uncharted region of space known as the kuub, by an Imperial Judge (or nauallis) known as Green Hummingbird. Of course, things aren’t quite so simple as “grab the artifact and run.” Many powers – human and non-human – are moving, with the ‘artifact’ as the fulcrum of their efforts to deceive and destroy one another.

The first glimpse of a perilous future for humanity is revealed to Gretchen, forcing her to choose between two wildly different paths for her entire species.

And many, many things go boom.

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

Started out back in the day eyeballing the D&D basic edition (blue cover) and a John Carter of Mars RPG from Heritage(?) games – didn’t have the money to buy either the basic edition or the original three book set – so I made my own (ESCAPE FROM THANGORODRIM) which was map-oriented with borrowed minatures and beating the opposing monster’s dice roll for combat. This was influenced by a copy of STARWEB (a PBM from Flying Buffalo) that I’d gotten a copy of at a convention – not realizing that you could not play it yourself… very puzzling. Did eventually get a copy of D&D and played it off and on for years. Wandered into GURPS, PENDRAGON and SPACE OPERA from time to time. Finally settled down (jeez, more than ten years ago) with a home-brew mix of GURPS, PENDRAGON and D&D for a series of historical fantasy campaigns (Byzantine Armenia in the AD 700’s, The Holy Land in 1100 or so).

The last of those campaigns, “Crusader Earth” became a module in DUNGEON and a series of short stories in DRAGON magazine, having started life as a single-day convention tournament scenario.

It appears you are also a game designer. Would you care to discuss this as well?

As noted above, I’ve always designed games – starting with pen and paper, then some card-based boardgames, then found a spot that worked really well for me in play-by-mail games – most notably LORDS OF THE EARTH, which has been running for over twenty years now, which was nominated for a GAMA Best PBM of the Year award (but did not win) a couple years ago.

house of reedsLORDS is a historical game, usually starting in 1000AD, and runs for as long as the GM can stand it. Campaign One (the original campaign, which I still run (technically…) has advanced from 1000 AD to 1770AD.

Campaign One also serves as the backstory/history for my In The Time of the Sixth Sun novels – so yes, there is a tie-in.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? What has that experience been like?

I’ve worked with two different online words – The Sims Online, and Vanguard, from Sigil. Unfortunately my participation in both of those MMORPG’s never saw the light of day, though it was interesting.

Would you mind elaborating on your involvement with Sigil?

As it happened, Keith Parkinson (the original art director for Sigil) and I share an agent. Sigil wanted to kick off a line of novels to lead up to the release of Vanguard and my name came up as someone with a gaming background, and a fantasy novelist. So we worked up a book series proposal that filled in the pre-history of Vanguard and kind of explained to the players how the world they were playing in had come about. Vanguard is filled with ruins, so I wanted to show what those places had been like a millennium before, when they had been living, breathing cities, etc. Also, as long as the world physics were respected and we wound up where the storyline needed to be for the *game*, I had a pretty free hand… unfortunately, Keith became quite ill with lymphoma and then passed away. Without him championing the books inside Sigil – and in the publishing industry at large – nothing ever came of it.

Would you care to share an amusing and/or interesting anecdote from your gaming days?

I’ve stolen most of the best ones for bits in my books… one that comes to mind now came from a period when I was running a D20 Call of Cthulhu campaign in Vancouver, BC, with some dudes I’d never played with before. I’ve run a fair amount of CoC, but they really hadn’t *ever* done a Lovecraftian campaign – so it was a real treat – but there was a great response when one of the players had his original character horribly done in (Mi-Go sporulates exploding from every orifice) – I gave him about 10 minutes to let it settle in that his carefully constructed dilettante was history (no Raise Dead here, sonny! At least, not that leaves you with a playable character) and then slipped him a new, complete character sheet for a courier zeppelin pilot they had recently encountered… he stared at the sheet, stared at me, and said “I’ve never had a character replaced so smoothly before!”

But then, he hadn’t played a lot of CoC now had he?

How would you say your gaming experience has influenced you as a writer?

It’s provided me with a lot of experience with plotting story-flow, describing things, pacing battles and action… one of the reviews of Wasteland of Flint mentioned that the characters were “well defined” and attributed that to my game design background. This has a bad connotation for non-gaming writers I guess, implying that their characters are not well defined. Doesn’t seem at all correct to me…

Were there ever times when you felt like your gaming got in the way of your writing?

I had to stop gaming, basically, because time constraints in my life boiled everything down to: you can either game, or you can write.

Also, near the end of the period where I did both, I found that if I invested a lot of energy in the gaming, I had less creative juice for the writing. Not a good combination.

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

No TV in the house when I was growing up, so it was reading or playing with sticks in the dirt. Favorite authors/books growing up would be:

JRR Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), Frank Herbert (Dune), James Schmitz (Witches of Karres), H. Beam Piper (Lord Kalvan or Fuzzy Sapiens), Herge (Tintin), Goscinny and Uderzo (Asterix the Gaul), Zena Henderson (Stories of the People), Leigh Brackett (Mars short stories or Eric John Stark), Kenneth Bulmer (Dray Prescot series)… I can think of more, I’m sure!

Grind is a term used frequently in gaming (especially MMO)vernacular referring to something that is rather repetitive or unpleasant that one engages in in order to progress in the game.Would you say there is grinding in the writing process? Please explain.

There’s grinding in terms of actually sitting down and writing every day (if you want to, you know, actually get a book done). But if you’re writing, and it feels like a grind, then you’re in *trouble* because the prose will read the same way. You do not want those words in your book, or those chapters, or whatever… because the reader *can* tell and will put down the book and go hit up some WOW or something instead.

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

The interviews.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

Not a one. That whole real life (family, a regular job…) is really harshing the writing gig. I would love to be working on – another Sixth Sun book (River of Ash), another set of Oath of Empire books (which was my first series, an epic historical fantasy), a new series called Gods In Twilight which is very, very cool..putting my Crusader Earth stories into a novel (Beyond Jerusalem would be the working title), and so on.

So, how does that work for someone in your current situation? Do you have a contract with Tor for X number of books and do they set deadlines for you?

What happened to *me* (and it will be different for other writers of course) is that I signed the contract for Land of the Dead approximately a week before finding out that my wife was pregnant with our first child. So I worked as fast as I could on getting the book done before the baby arrived – and did not succeed. It was maybe a third done, and then the next four years vanished in a haze of sleeplessness, diapers and having to go back to work full time so we’d have health insurance coverage. It was easy to knock out a big book a year when I was consulting, or even just writing full time. Baby plus job plus (for a year) an extra job = no writing at all.

Finally my editor, who had been very very supportive, had to say “we need a book now, Tom”. Luckily, and despite a second child coming along, I was able to take two weeks off from work and then we completely rearranged our lives to get me two free hours a day so I could finish the book. Even so, it was a grind.

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

If you don’t write the damned book, you cannot sell the damned book and no one can read it.

You wake up to a world where your In the Time of the Sixth Sun series has been made into an MMO. What race and class would you play and why?

Um, I’m not sure I would wish that fate on anyone I know… the Sixth Sun universe is grim, brutal and filled with an endless number of ways to die messily. However, because it’s my universe I guess I would want to play a Kroomakh Explorer – they are a triceratopsian race of warm-blooded reptiles who have a brawly and expansionist empire to coreward of the human/Mexica empire – and like to use dreadnoughts as scout ships.

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

Buy my books? Buy three copies each!

Actually, gamers that read my books tend to really like them. Or so they tell me…

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Reading the text: Sean McMullen

Posted by Randolph Carter on June 17, 2009

souls in the great machineAuthor website:

http://seanmcmullen.net.au/

Could you take a minute (is it possible in a minute?) and explain what your Greatwinter series is about?

The Australia of two thousand years in the future is in a rather regressed, post-apocalyptic condition, and is ruled by a caste of psychopathic librarians. They are aided by a human-powered computer consisting of two thousand slaves computing on abacus frames, and they communicate by a signal tower internet, supplemented by a railway network of pedal and wind powered trains. These Dragon Librarians settle disputes by duels with flintlock pistols, but their rule is actually quite responsible and benign. This stable – if authoritarian – society is thrown into disarray when an ancient orbital climate-machine activates itself, and the librarians must revive some other ancient technologies to counter the threat.

What was the process like in getting your first book published?

Very complicated. I decided that I would show off what was in my planned books by getting bits published as short stories. One day Peter McNamara, a friend of mine who had a small press, came to town on business. After dinner I suggested he could sleep in my study instead of looking for a hotel. He asked if I had any new stories to read. I give him several, including the Greatwinter stories The Eyes of the Green Lancer, and Destroyer of Illusions. The next morning he announced over breakfast that he wanted to publish the stories in a collection. Call to the Edge came out in April 1992, one year to the day after that breakfast.

Call to the Edge was very well received and made a profit, so Peter asked if I had a novel in the works. I had what was to become Souls in the Great Machine under development. The first half was already finished and was the length Peter was looking for, so in 1994 he published it as Voices in the Light. The second half came out as Mirrorsun Rising in 1995, then I merged and rewrote them completely, and sold them to Tor as Souls in the Great Machine. As you can see, quite a convoluted process.

Where do you happen to find inspiration for your work?

Everywhere, and I never stop looking. To me the finer points of medieval chivalry and leading edge hard science are equally interesting, and my bedtime reading includes science, romance, mathematics and folklore. In The Measure of Eternity I had the invention of zero and arithmetic progressions as the centrepiece of a 3rd Century love story. Voice of Steel and Tower of Wings were hard SF but had medieval settings. The idea for the Calculor in Souls in the Great Machine came from working in a large, Victorian-Gothic library, and noticing that its functions resembled a computer’s operating system. From this, my human-powered computer, the Calculor, was born. I actually wrote a simulation for the Calculor on a Vax 11/780. It worked. I like my stuff to be realistic, even though it’s pretty weird. The Dragon Librarians? Hey, I’ve been one.

Trying to improve the boring bits in a novel can be a highly productive source of inspiration too. Back in 2003 I had a novel under way that involved a lot of walking, with not much going on. Terry Pratchett and I had been corresponding about the value of hands-on research, so I decided to dress up in 12th Century clothes, chainmail and footwear, load myself up with food, water, shield, battleaxe, bow and arrows, then trek in the Strezleki Desert in midsummer. I’ll never forget the expressions of disbelief and even fear on the faces of the outback police patrolmen who stopped to check on me. When I reached a tourist resort, one lady reached out and touched me as I walked past, presumably to make sure I was real. Overall, I learned that coping with extreme hardship can be very funny, which was quite a surprising outcome. The boring bits in the novel I was writing, Glass Dragons, suddenly became very humourous bits.

Sometimes, just sometimes, I have to force my imagination. The Spiral Briar required a medieval steam engine, so I literally sat down and thought, drew, calculated and scratched my head until I managed to devise a new type of steam engine – one that was within reach of medieval technology. I then tested a model in the bathtub, and it worked. I do not force my imagination very often, however, that’s way too hard. Most of the time I just start writing on some theme, then my subconscious throws up all sorts of cool ideas and forces me to rewrite everything. I sometimes wonder what goes on in my subconscious, but it’s probably safer not to know.

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.)?

When I was very young I played drafts, chess, and various paper-based games that we made up in class when the teachers were not looking. When computer games came along, I played some of the early shoot-em-up games while installing them for my daughter. Then my daughter got so far ahead of me with PC systems that I was no longer needed …

When I play at anything, I like it real. I was once a member of a metal weapons medieval re-enactment group called the New Varengian Guard – and I have scars to prove it. I remember going to my first tournament with real fears of being seriously injured, and you don’t get that from board or computer games. After that I joined the SCA for a couple of years, where I fought in various tournaments, and scored yet more injuries. I have a photo of a bruise about as big as a medium sized dinner plate on my leg after one tournament – which I’d actually won. Sometimes the SCA people would set up games scenarios, but they would be live games with real fighting in real forests. Once I was half of an armed troll in a night-time SCA quest – three legs, two heads, one shield, two swords, and a serious attitude problem. We killed an awful lot of heroes that night.

It’s not as if I don’t like computer-based games, it’s more that I work full time in a rather demanding technical job, I get all the fighting I can handle with my karate students, and then I am also effectively a full-time author. Playing games would be really great, just like getting enough sleep at night or maintaining a Facebook site would be great, but I just don’t have the time. There is also the problem of realism. Allow me to expand on that.

When I was writing Eyes of the Calculor I decided that I wanted to really get the feeling of air combat. My central character had done a few hours in a biplane, and was about to go solo in a rocket fighter. I decided that if I had just as much to lose as the character, it would add more realism to the writing. I had flown a couple of hours in a real Tiger Moth, so we had that much in common. I got out my daughter’s copy of Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, studied the manual for the Me 163 rocket fighter for a couple of days, then decided that I would try a solo flight. If I “lived” through my first flight, then my character would live. If I “died”, well, I was playing for keeps, so my character would have to die too. This was at a very important moment in the book, and killing him would have involved major disruptions.

I waited until I was alone in the house, set up the simulator on my PC, studied the maps that came with the simulator, scanned the manual one last time, then called up the Me 163. I selected the training option, set the flaps and opened the throttle all the way. A couple of seconds later I was in the air, travelling somewhere in excess of 450 mph, and had not yet cleared the airbase. I was already sweating with fear. I decided that I was unlikely to get into trouble if I climbed steeply, burned all my fuel, then glided down again. I climbed at an unbelievable rate for a minute or so, then noticed some black dots in the distance and decided they were target balloons. I steered for them – and they shot at me and put holes in my windshield! They were B–17s, I had apparently selected the wrong simulator option. I shot back. Every shot missed. Then I noticed the fighter escort!

I knew that nothing in the sky could climb as fast as what I was flying, so I continued to climb. I ran out of fuel, but by then I was furious with the guys in the B-17s for putting holes in my windshield. It was all totally irrational. Even in an unpowered dive the Me163 is faster than most fighters, so I decided to dive on the bombers and their escort. I looked around. I could not see them. I could not see the airbase either. Familiar landmarks were also totally absent. I began to descend in an ever-widening spiral, I was sure this tactic would eventually take me over the airbase. It did not. Well, that was cool, I could always bail out. No go. By the time I decided to bail out I was too low.

Remember my pact with myself? If I “died” in the game, my character died. It was highly inconvenient for my character to die at that part of the book, and would have involved months of rewriting. By now I was sweating profusely, and my heart rate was way up. I lined up a road as I lost height. The road suddenly veered away sharply. I was unable to bank sharply enough to follow it. I now decided that if I came down in a field I might have a chance, so I kept the nose up and hung just above stall speed as I dropped. Suddenly everything stopped abruptly and a message came up that I had crash-landed and should report back to my commanding officer – and that was as far as I read. I was alive! I ran up and down through the house yelling that I was alive, waving my arms in the air and laughing hysterically.

Later, when I had calmed down, I wrote the scene where the young pilots land after the air battle, then proceed to run about being hysterically stupid to celebrate being alive. At a more strategic level, my character survived, so he could go on to live happily ever after with the lead girl at the end of the book.

What does this say about me and games? Games have to be like real life for me, because having the option of clicking Start Again and coming back to life makes it all a bit boring. If I drop my guard at karate it really hurts. That is definitely not boring, and it forces me to take it seriously, so I still do karate every week.

Were you a big reader growing up? What were some of your favorite authors/titles?

Oh yes, I read science, literature, history, everything. My father was a civil engineer, one brother worked in industrial electronics, the other was into sport, and my mother really loved the literary classics, so all of that turned me into a very romantic reader who also did a bit of surfing, had a radio telescope, and built rockets (The neighbours were so happy when I joined a schoolboy rock band and stopped landing rockets on their roofs). In literature, I tended to read everything at first, whether it was H.G. Wells or Thomas Hardy, but as a teenager I moved to half SF and half everything else. In the 70s I discovered humourous authors like George Macdonald Fraser, Harry Harrison and Sprague de Camp, and I realised that ultra-serious fiction was not my style. Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz had a tremendous impact on me, because I really love sweeping historical vistas, arcane texts, and a blend of science and medieval settings. Harlan Ellison’s short stories taught me a lot about getting maximum impact from the minimum number of words, and Douglas Adams taught me loads about pace. I was writing my own stories by the time cyberpunk came along, so Sterling and Gibson influenced me as a beginner. I did not discover Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman until the 1990s, which was a pity because I really like what they do.

Seeing how you write primarily in the science fiction genre, would you mind sharing some of your literary influences?

eye of the calculorI have covered a bit of this already, so just bear the forgoing in mind and read on. Wells and Verne were early influences, but I found the romance novels pretty appealing as well. Really intense short fiction became one of my favourite forms, whether it was printed or in series form like the Outer Limits or Out of the Unknown. In the 70s I discovered fantasy just as the big fantasy boom was getting under way. I read a lot of medieval classics about then, which strengthened my liking for romance. One of my favourite literary lines of all time is from the Fifteenth Century, when a young knight is forced to marry a woman about four times his age: “Alas, take all my goods but let my body go!” (Chaucer, The Wyfe of Bath’s Tale). With all that in my background, I am now equally at home with The Lord of the Rings, Ringworld, or Discworld.

It is probably worth mentioning that playing in bands and being a singer influenced my writing considerably. On stage, you have the audience in front of you and there is nowhere to hide, so that makes you very much aware of what you are supposed to be doing. When I write, I am always aware that the words are for an audience, even though the audience is not in front of me. We writers are entertainers, whether we want to admit it or not.

I only discovered Neil Gaiman’s work about the time my first book was released, which is annoying because he has a touch of droll weirdness that is very much my style. I met him at a convention in Adelaide in 1992, and I’d bought one of his Sandman collections to check what he was writing. I liked it so much that I bought them all. He was writing the novelisation of Neverwhere when I saw him again in Perth in 1996, and I was really swept away by that mixture of magic and steampunk in both the book and TV series.

No new authors currently grab my attention, but I have found movies like Sin City, V for Vendetta, Franklyn and Beowulf very engaging. Maybe I am moving away from the printed word to the visual. Maybe we all are.

Grind is a term used frequently in gaming vernacular referring to something that is rather repetitive or unpleasant that one engages in in order to progress in the game. Would you say there is grinding in the writing process? Please explain.

Not for me. I do feel a lot of frustration, because I’ll have something almost finished, then think of a better way of doing it and have to do a rewrite, but that’s a too-many-ideas problem, rather than grind. The most unpleasant aspect of writing for me is finding time to do it. In spite of appearances and output, I am only an amateur writer. I have a tenured, full time, highly technical job in the sciences. The harder the recession bites, the more work I get, and my leave allocation is so far into credit it’s a joke. That certainly puts the squeeze on writing time.

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

Seeing my characters and stories become real for other people. At a signing in the US a guy told me that the Greatwinter books were all that kept him sane during his tour of duty in Iraq, because it gave him such a great place to escape to. That sort reaction is sensational for me as the creator … although the idea of my books keeping someone sane rather than the other way around is a bit puzzling.

What are you currently working on in the fiction department?

A story about an absolutely stable planet with a pure oxygen atmosphere, an uninhabited, planet-wide city that plays music, and no life. After that comes a story about witch hunts and climate change. In the background is a steampunkish novel following on from The Spiral Briar. I’m also doing some TV script work for a science fiction doco.

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

To quote from the X-Files, trust nobody. By that I mean every published author has their own unique path into print, so following standard advice, or even trying to do it like someone else means it will probably not work for you. Try to do what Terry Pratchett did, and you find that the fantasy market is no longer what it was when The Colour of Magic was published. Follow Neil Gaiman’s example, and you soon discover that the comics market that he made his name in is totally different – partly because he helped change it. You have to find your own voice and write things that you love writing, otherwise you will not be able to go on. Write stories that you love, rather than selling your soul to write supermarket fiction about … er … tall dark vampire princes in long blue cloaks who fall in love with goatherd girls with special powers. Lastly, be very, very persistent, never give up, and never stop. Of course, if you are writing what you love, that will not be a problem.

You wake up to a world where the Greatwinter series has been made into an MMO. What race and class would you play and why?

miocene arrowThe aviad race, and the Dragon Librarian class, no doubt of that at all. They are stylish, clever and elegant, which is a desirable way to be. As one reviewer said about Souls in the Great Machine: “Full of psychopathic librarians who fall in love and murder each other in duels at the slightest provocation. Recommended.” The Dragon Librarians also wear such really cool, Goth uniforms, and that is very much my style. I have a whole collection of black military jackets with gold buttons that I wear on the motorcycle, and my girlfriend wears long black coats and black gloves. It makes the commute in to work a bit like being in some Goth steampunk novel. It also makes people a bit uneasy in elevators, committee meetings and seminars.

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

Never buy a book you think you won’t like just because marketing people say it’s cool. They have probably not even read it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Reading the text: Tobias Buckell

Posted by Randolph Carter on June 12, 2009

sly mongoose coverAuthor website:

Tobias Buckell Online

Could you take a minute and explain what Sly Mongoose is about?

Well, Sly Mongoose is the third book I’ve written, and it’s about a Venus-like world called Chilo. The interesting thing about a Venusian world is that although the surface is crazy hot, and the pressure crushing, at 100,000 feet up the temperature is tolerable, the pressure standard. Due to the density and lack of oxygen, air is more buoyant on a Venusian world. So if you take a mile wide sphere, plunk a city in it, just putting the amount of air in it needed for people to breathe would create a giant floating city. With that in mind I created a novel to explore that environment: floating cities, factions, people being lowered to the ground in giant bug-like pressure suits to mine materials. Then the entire world is threatened by outside invasion!

What was the process like in getting your first book published?

My first book, Crystal Rain, came about when I met my current agent, Joshua Bilmes at a science fiction convention. My short stories in various anthologies and magazines had gotten me some attention, and he’d asked if I was working on a novel. I told him I had a few chapters and an outline written about a Caribbean-settled world that had lost contact with the rest of the universe after a war facing down an invasion of re-created Aztecs ruled by aliens posing as gods. He thought it sounded crazy enough he wanted to see the outline and chapters, and when I sent them to him he really dug the whole setup and told me if I wrote the whole book he’d try and sell it for me.

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

I was a big reader, almost a book a day through junior high and high school. I’d read anything that fell in my path. I got into reading SF/F in particular after reading Arthur C. Clarke at 7 or so: Childhood’s End just blew my mind.

I used to read westerns, mysteries, children’s adventure, that sort of thing. I loved Clive Cussler because I grew up on a boat in the Caribbean, so nautical adventure was always really awesome. I think I’ve read every Horatio Hornblower book.

Would you mind talking a little bit about your literary influences?

The cyberpunk writers (William Gibson, Bruce Sterling) had a big impact on me in high school. It was science fiction that acknowledged more than just white collar scientists and suburban audience type stuff, they were street-savvy and aware of the fact that the third world and other environments existed. Sterling’s Islands in The Net really got me wanting to write SF/F because it was set in Grenada, Africa and India. It felt very global, and other than Arthur C. Clarke, who often used a lot of global characters and South Pacific settings, I hadn’t felt like science fiction was interested in people or places like that.

crystal rainAre 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 don’t do board or pen and paper RPGs. I do like console games (I lost 2 weeks of my life playing the original Civilization, so I don’t play games like that either) that I can play quickly and get back out of. So my tastes tend toward things like HALO, Left 4 Dead, and first person shooters like that, racing simulators and so on. I keep looking at EVE Online and wanting to play, it looks like the kind of game I’d like, but I know I’d spend too much time on it and never get anything done (like those 2 weeks of Civ).

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

I spent some time wandering around Second Life, made a couple friends there, did an interview on Second Life TV, which was really cool. I like some of the opportunities in SL to do things like maybe host a virtual con, or a virtual writer’s workshop or class. But finding locations and doing the administrative stuff is always too much for me! Eventually I had a lot of freelance work and novel deadlines to hit, so I pulled back from it.

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

I don’t know about the mechanics, but certainly it had a big affect on my career. My friend Josh Smith talked me into buying an Xbox 360 after my PS2 died so I could play Halo with him over Xbox live. I got pretty addicted, so that when Bungie was looking for a new writer to try their hand and bringing something to the Halo universe, and they were intrigued by the kick ass action and fun of my novels, when I flew out to Bungie HQ I wasn’t just there as an author, but someone who’d spent many hours getting my lame ass sniped and tea bagged online just like any other first timer trying to get his feet wet.

To be serious, I’d played through the games and knew what was going on, and really loved the background concept for Halo, so I arrived with some ideas about stories I thought would be fun to write in the Halo universe. It was easy to be enthusiastic and have fun writing that book, and since it put me on the New York Times bestseller list, I can say that playing video games had a big impact on my writing 🙂

Do you hear that mom?

Grind is a term used frequently in gaming vernacular referring to something that is rather repetitive or unpleasant that one engages in in order to progress in the game. Would you say there is grinding in the writing process? Please explain.

Oh of course, particularly in the middle of a book you’re just putting your nose down and getting through it. People look at you and say ‘oh, but you’re doing what you love!’ But sometimes you end up feeling like a goldfarmer in China (and the wages on some fiction isn’t that far off) instead of someone enjoying the MMORPG just for the heck of it.

A lot of stuff changes when it’s wage-earning, even if you like it. Driving a car around on the weekend and picking up your friends is fun-cool-relaxing. Being a cabdriver is just… work. Unless you’re Jason Statham. In which case it’s frigging explosive awesomeness.

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

For me it’s coming up with the initial ideas, worlds, cool stuff. When I’m in the ‘cool-shit’ phase of putting a novel or story together I’m very chipper. So many possibilities and connections and neat creative things happen at this stage.

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

The biggest part of the word writer is the word ‘write.’ Get thou ass in chair and start typing. I read a couple books recently that pointed out the 10,000 hour principle: that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become reallragamuffiny good at something (baseball, playing a violin, etc), and it’s something people have studied. So if you want to get good at writing, there’s no substitute for practice.

You wake up to a world where Sly Mongoose has been made into an MMO. What race and class would you play and why?

New Anegada Mongoose-men: they have the weapons and kick ass all over the galaxy.

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

I blow up just as much shit in my average novel as any other videogame, and I have a bigger special effects budget 😉

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Reading the text: Mike Brotherton

Posted by Randolph Carter on June 8, 2009

spider starAuthor website:

http://www.mikebrotherton.com/

Could you take a minute and explain what Spider Star is about?

Basically there’s an human colony on a planet orbiting the star Pollux. The planet, Argo, once hosted a technologically advanced civilization that apparently destroyed themselves. The new residents set off a slow but powerful doomsday weapon, and the only hope for the colony itself not getting wiped out itself is a mission to the Spider Star, the ancient alien space station where the doomsday technology originally came from. I’m a professional astronomer, and the story turns on details of stellar evolution, gravity, relativity, and other astrophysical concepts. It was fun but challenging to write.

What was the process like in getting your first book published?

I wrote articles called Writing Star Dragon and Selling Star Dragon about this. In short, I pitched a synopsis of the book (also at the link) at Clarion West to a Tor editor. She liked it and said it was the kind of book she would like to buy. Eventually I wrote the damn thing, sent it to her, and waited over a year but got an offer. After that I got an agent who negotiated the contract and after waiting another year or so the book finally came out. Publishing is a slow business, and the process is often measured in years.

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

Apparently one of my early quotable quotes was “A book can be your best friend.” I don’t know what that says about my social skills as a kid, but I can’t remember not reading and loving books. Philip Jose Farmer of the World of Tiers and Riverworld series was my first favorite author. Others early on were Frank Herbert and his Dune books and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I always read like crazy, mostly science fiction, but books of all sorts. I still read a lot, but don’t have as much time as I once had.

Would you mind talking a little bit about your literary influences?

These are constantly changing and I keep finding new favorites. It’s great that there are more books than a person can read. Can you imagine the opposite? Genre writers who influenced me would have to include Philip Jose Farmer, Dan Simmons, Roger Zelazny, Larry Niven, Robert Heinlein, David Brin, Joe Haldeman, Nancy Kress, Jack McDevitt, Vernor Vinge, Fred Pohl, Poul Anderson, and many, many others. Asimov and Clarke, too, although not as much as someone might expect. From outside genre, I always liked Hemingway and his economy of words. Hemingway shows up as the personality of the ship’s computer in my first novel Star Dragon.

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’ve been playing games a long, long time. I was an avid chess player. My achievements there include winning a $500 chess scholarship for college, scoring a draw against former world champ Boris Spassky in a simultaneous exhibition, and tying for Missouri amateur champion in high school. I played role-playing games starting with Dungeons and Dragons, and expanding to AD&D, Dragonquest, Gamma World, Star Trek, and many others. Later I played Magic the Gathering, although never bought anything later than beta release cards, and sold a handful of my alphas to pay for the entire Magic expenditure. My console gaming started with an Atari 2600 back when they first came out, and later systems included Sega Genesis, Sony Play Station, and now I have an XBox 360. I saved up my lawn mowing money for a year and bought an Apple II+ back in the early 1980s, and played lots of games on that. Things like Wizard and the Princess, Apple Panic, Wizardry, Ultima, and more. I also wrote my own computer games and thought about making a career out of that more than once. I have a few friends in the video game industry and it’s gotten too big and corporate for me now. Back in the 1980s, you could sit down and write the entire game by yourself. Now it is a big team effort and not as easy to control. I’m tend to get hooked on one or two computer games at a time now, things like Bejeweled or strategy games like Heroes of Might and Magic. Diablo was a big time sink at one point as well.

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

I got into Diablo II online quite a bit, which was for the most part fun. Some game hacks and mindless “go go go” players made it less fun sometimes.

I got involved with one MMO with some addiction level: Asheron’s Call. My buddy Eric Nylund (author of various Halo novelizations and the recently released Mortal Coils) invited me to join and play with him and I got sucked down the rabbit hole. I was not a big fan of the spell system, however, which involved a lot of grinding, and waiting on monster spawns was already with us. The biggest dealbreaker for me back in the day was that I was on dial up, and didn’t live alone. Fighting over a single phone line and trying to play MMOs doesn’t work out so well, ultimately. They also suck all your available time like the most ravenous uncaring vampire would suck your blood, so I avoided Everquest and WoW. I’d never have written a second novel!

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

I always wanted to write. Started writing my first stories in 2nd grade. When games like D&D came along, I was usually the Game Master and in high school wound up writing my own original dungeons. There are some creative parallels between that and writing fiction, although the process differs a lot in the details. You do come to realize that readers and players get their rewards in very different ways. Leveling up. setting high scores, or other surrogates for real-life achievement, drive players to play (in my opinion). Readers are driven by tension, the need to know what happens. So, while there are a lot of things in common like characters, plot, setting, the audiences do not have exactly the same needs. A lot of RPG campaigns that were great fun would make terrible novels, and vice versa. And while a skilled gamemaster can make a difference, for me there’s a big difference between performing in the moment and writing everything down exactly the way you want it, in the order you want it, to provide the effect you want.

Similar skills, but far from the same.

Grind is a term used frequently in gaming vernacular referring to something that is rather repetitive or unpleasant that one engages in in order to progress in the game.Would you say there is grinding in the writing process? Please explain.

There is for the writer! There shouldn’t be for the reader. If there is, the writer has screwed up.

For me, the worst grind is line editing. I love plotting and writing a first draft. Polishing that draft, rewriting awkward sentences and catching every little error, that takes a lot of time and isn’t intrinsically interesting. But it has to be done.

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

Seeing your dream come to fruition. I get these ideas for stories and want to see how good they can be, how they can manifest. When you put in that work and see the book you envisioned, it’s magical.

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

Write, write, write. Get feedback from people, ideally other writers, and revise your work. Finally, if publication is the goal, submit it professionally and regularly, and continue writing.

star dragonYou wake up to a world where Spider Star has been made into an MMO. What class would you play and why?

Specialist. Those are the equivalent of Star Fleet officers, I guess, to make a quick and dirty comparison. There’s little left of Earth left to seriously explore. I’m a world traveler, with extended stays in Germany, China, and currently Brazil, and the astronomy job takes me to some pretty remote mountaintops, but I can already read about what these places are like from my own home in the United States. The reality is a little different, but not exactly like challenging the unknown. Science generally, and astronomy specifically, is where I get to play explorer.

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

Buy my books, of course! (Becoming shameless is a lesson for the aspiring writer as soon as they start publishing.) And read my blog which sometimes features gaming, although science and science fiction tend to be my focus.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Reading the text: Karl Schroeder

Posted by Randolph Carter on June 5, 2009

Sunless countriesAuthor website:

http://www.kschroeder.com/

Blog:

http://www.kschroeder.com/weblog

Could you take a minute and explain what The Sunless Countries is about?

The Sunless Countries is a gothic adventure set in my world Virga. I wanted to evoke a kind of gaslight, 19th-century feel of cobblestone streets and strange monsters lurking in the shadows, but do it in Virga, which is a world with no gravity where people build giant wheel-shaped towns that they live in. Leal Hieronyma Maspeth is an historian living in such a wheel; she’s watching the slow collapse of civil society in her country due to the political ascendency of a religious cult, when her life and that of everybody else is interrupted by the arrival of a monster from Outside. All sorts of plans are hatched to deal with it, but only Leal has the historical perspective and rational outlook to know what will work. So she is forced to act on her own.

What was the process like in getting your first book published?

Well, Cory Doctorow and I wrote an entire book to try to answer that question. It took a number of years, and involved abandoning a lot of preconceptions and myths about how the publishing industry works. I had to stop thinking like an artist and start thinking like a businessman, basically. One big lesson: in many businesses, deals are struck on the golf course. The science-fictional version of a golf course is the SF convention. Going to cons proved to be crucially important to getting published.

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

Okay, first of all, I never read Heinlein. There! That’s the big admission that usually makes American fans gasp. Who I did read was Andre Norton—and in fact, I still read her on sick days, and have collected many of her books with the intention of trying to interest my daughter in her books when she’s old enough.

And sure, I was a big reader—coming from a household of big readers, where our mother had actually published two novels before I was born. We would all sit around the living room immersed in our books.

Would you mind talking a little bit about your literary influences?

I don’t have influences in the sense of having authors I’d “like to be like.” There are writers I’ve studied for the purposes of learning various techniques. I would list Mervyn Peake, Michael Ondaatje, Joseph Conrad, Samuel R. Delany… there are others, but the point is these are not necessarily writers I’d read for pleasure. I don’t, as a rule, read much fiction for pleasure. I generally read to study.

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.)?

Well, when I was in my early to mid teens, I got introduced to D&D. At that time, the game consisted of the basic rule book plus Greyhawk. Nobody played it; nobody had ever heard of it, it had never been in the news. My brother and I played a lot of Avalon Hill board games around that time too (my favourite being Third Reich—there’s nothing quite like landing paratroops in London on your first turn when you’re playing Germany).

It’s hard to describe to kids now just how obscure RPG gaming was then. Basically, it didn’t exist. In the same period, I used to hang out at the local University and play Tank on the computer teletype machines; I wrote my first program on punched cards (I think I just copied Hunt the Wumpus). There was no convergence of fandom, computer geekdom, and gaming; I remember that the Star Wars novelization came out before the movie, and I looked at it in the bookstore and thought to myself, “Oh great, another cliché’d SF movie to drive people away from reading serious SF. SF and gaming were utterly marginalized, and utterly disreputable.

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

I’ve spent a little time online, in games like Anarchy Online and in Second Life. Basically, online RPGs hold zero attraction to me. It’s partly because I’m playing in somebody else’s universe, and let’s be frank here, my imagination is better than any of the game designers’. It’s also because of the repetitive nature of the game play, which is utterly unlike the freeform experience you get with a DM in charge.

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

There’s a lot of similarity between game-mastering and writing. They’re both story-telling media. Running a traditional RPG is most closely related to what traditional storytellers of the Homeric era did: their stories weren’t written down, they were memorized and performed, with twists and variations for each audience. There was no such thing as “the” story, there were as many versions as there were audiences and storytellers. So doing RPGs taught me that storytelling is a performance artform, even when things appear to be fixed in the page.

Grind is a term used frequently in gaming vernacular referring to something that is rather repetitive or unpleasant that one engages in in order to progress in the game.Would you say there is grinding in the writing process? Please explain.

Ha ha! Writing is all grind, all the time. That’s why so few people actually do it, though everybody talks about it. In general, writers don’t enjoy writing; they enjoy having written. The key is to enjoy having written so much that you’re pushed to go through the grind every day, just to get that feeling. Excellent question, by the way—one of the most perceptive I’ve ever been asked about the writing process.

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

There’s a point, not always at the end of the project, where the entire thing comes together in your mind, like a vast, intricate crystal. It’s almost preconscious, and is certainly preverbal. I call that vision, or shape, the dianoia, which is a Greek term that Northrop Frye uses to refer to the entire understanding of a work, not just its words or plot or characters etc. Experiencing the dianoia of Ventus, Lady of Mazes and Queen of Candesce—these have been some of the best moments of my life.

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

I’d say perfect your writing now but don’t bother trying to break into publishing at this time. That would be like trying to buy a berth on the Titanic just after it hit the iceberg. Publishing is undergoing a great collapse and rebirth, but right now it’s in the collapse phase, and there’s little value in launching your career in an environment where all but the top three percent of authors are going to still be publishing in two years. Wait. Help evolve the new form that publishing is going to take. But don’t chain your destiny to the traditional business model, because that’s doomed.Ventus

You wake up to a world where your Virga novels have been made into an MMO. What class would you play and why?

In my fantasies, Virga is never made into a movie, but is made into an RPG. If I were playing, I’d have to choose between character classes like Pirate, Revolutionary/Agitator, Spy, Home Guard agent, Airman, Engineer and (to be fair to Leal Maspeth and with a nod to The Mummy) Academic/Librarian. Plus the standard ones of Soldier, Aerial Navigator, etc. I’d travel disguised as an itinerant gravity seller, and get into trouble in wheel-towns with names like Fracas and New Sorrow. Because, to me, it’s the combination of infinite open airs to explore, and labyrinthine political intrigue that gives Virga its potential.

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

Just this: I designed the world of Virga to be played in, and I wrote the stories to showcase the possibilities for adventurous play. I would be delighted and honoured if you set some scenarios and campaigns in Virga. If you did that, I would know that I had succeeded in my purpose for this series.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Reading the text: David Marusek

Posted by Randolph Carter on June 1, 2009

Mind over ship coverAuthor website:

http://www.marusek.com/

Blog:

http://countingheads.blogspot.com/

Could you take a minute and explain what Mind Over Ship is about?

It’s the second book in a series about what the world might be like in a hundred years. And what it might be like to live in it as a member of the lower, middle, and upper classes. What it’s like to be a service clone and have to deal with bosses who are machines. The first book in the series is called Counting Heads. What I am trying to do in this series is build a complete, functioning world. Inside this world is a cohort of characters that give us a nice cross-section of society. One group is trying to build and launch great colonization ships to seed the galaxy with humans. An opposing group wants to park the great ships in Near Earth Orbit and market them to overpopulated Earth dwellers as space condos.

What was the process like in getting your first book published?

It was horrible. It was demoralizing. Counting Heads took me about six years to finish. (First novels are notorious for taking a long time.) During that time, I found an excellent agent through my short fiction. It took him over a year to sell Counting Heads to a publisher. In those days there were about eight SF houses you could sell to, and we struck out at seven of them. By the time we talked with Tor, I was willing to cut off my ear to sell them the book. This is a long, long story that turned out well. If you want to read a blow-by-blow account, go to the archives of my blog and read the earliest few entries.

Where do you happen to find inspiration for your work?

Everywhere and anywhere.

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 before games went digital, and as a youth I played all sorts of games (board games, cards, chess, word games, number games, pinball, social games (like “Lord of the Flies,” and doctor). My Dad was a big game player, and he and my seven brothers and sisters and I spent many raucous evenings playing poker and canasta.

By the time RPG and computer games came along, I was already an adult with a family and daughter to support and didn’t have much free time at all. Then an arcade opened in town and I got hooked on a two-player shooter game. All my time and quarters went into it, and eventually I had to bite the bullet and stop playing cold turkey. Good thing the home consoles weren’t much good yet, or I might not have escaped so easily.

I know people who play RPGs, but I’ve never been tempted to join them because it seems too much like writing to me, which I do enough of on my own. That is, playing RPGs seems to exercise the same skill sets I use when I write fiction. My novels are the records of extended RPGs running in my head in which I play all the roles. I may have ten people in there at once taking their cues and trying to imagine their ways to victory and salvation.

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

I live in a rural cabin without broadband. I plan to explore vurt worlds as soon as I can.

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

See answer above.

Grind is a term used frequently in gaming vernacular referring to something that is rather repetitive or unpleasant that one engages in order to progress in the game. Would you say there is grinding in the writing process? Please explain.

There are several grinds in the writing process. The first one is shutting out the world every day in order to work. A writer has to spend 4 to 6 hours daily completely alone in his or her head. No phone, no email, no browsing or reading blogs. For me the hardest part of writing is not staring at a blank page but being alone. It seems to me that this self-enforced solitude is the job requirement that keeps most aspiring writers from success. It’s a freaking grind.

Another grind is proof corrections. Here you’ve spent a year or so writing something, during which time you’ve read and re-read the piece a dozen times until you are tired of it. You send it off to your publisher, and a few months later it returns as a corrected manuscript, and you have to read it all over again very closely, every word and punctuation mark. Then, a few months later it comes again as galleys, that is, as typeset pages. And you have to read it all over again. This is the last time you’ll see it until it’s printed. Of course when it does hit the bookstores, you never want to read it again.Counting heads cover

I have a novella, “We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy,” that over the years has been republished so often that I was forced to read it over 50 times. It got so that I could not physically force myself to read it again and finally had to ask a friend to proof it for me.

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

When a reader cares so much about a story that they’ll send me an email.

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

Never give up.

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

Stay sharp.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »