Each week, I’ll pester one of my creative colleagues with five questions about his or her work. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.
Amber Scott and I had just missed meeting once or twice before we both finally ended up in Edmonton, Alberta. Before she came back to her homeland, she and her husband, Jason, spent some time in the Seattle area, where they befriended my once-and-future colleagues at Paizo Publishing. Unfortunately, they arrived just after I left, and they left just before I began writing for Paizo’s Pathfinder Tales lines. Fortunately, we met at one of my now-legendary geek pub nights at a local establishment appropriately called The Druid.
Sadly, I don’t make it to the pub as often as I once did, but Amber and Jason are fixtures there on trivia night. We still meet up at parties, conventions, and the latest Iron Man movie. When you meet Amber at a convention, ask her about her love affair with Tony Stark—not Robert Downey, Jr., but Tony Stark.
1. You’ve been on Women in Gaming panels, and I’ve seen you field questions on gender in fiction generally. Could you give us a snapshot of where you think things stand in terms of opportunities for women freelancing in a field that’s still male-dominated?
When I started professionally writing, around 2002, I didn’t know any other women who wrote professionally. I knew they existed, but all my contacts, fellow writers, and editors were men. Now I know many women writers and artists who have enjoyed tremendous professional success and become great colleagues and friends of mine. While I see more opportunity for women freelancers, I still don’t see much vertical movement—that is, women editors and publishers. I think the next big opportunity for women in the roleplaying industry is going to be moving into those power positions.
The roleplaying industry has been an incredibly welcoming and supportive place for me. The vast majority of the people I’ve met have been encouraging and helpful. At PaizoCon 2013, I presented a panel called “Gamer Girls Unite & Write” with Amanda Hamon and Christina Stiles, and I was so thrilled to see all the women and men in the audience who were there to share their experiences. I also met two women editors and a woman publisher that year, so I have a lot of confidence and excitement looking towards the future of women in roleplaying games.
2. You recently wrote an entire scenario for Pathfinder’s Wrath of the Righteous Adventure Path. How did that experience differ from your previous game design? How did the additional pressure and/or freedom influence your work?
Writing “The Worldwound Incursion” was incredible. It felt like the culmination of my years of freelance experience. I started out writing short articles for Dragon Magazine, mainly monster ecologies and short pieces on magic items, spells, or character options. As I developed my freelancer career I started taking on bigger pieces of sourcebooks, where I’d do the same sort of writing but mixed in with setting information and organized around a theme (for example, when I wrote about halfing culture, history, and characters in Halflings of Golarion with Hal MacLean). A few years ago I also started writing short fiction pieces for the Pathfinder Tales web fiction line.
When I wrote “The Worldwound Incursion” I had to draw on and integrate all those abilities. It was intense! I had outlines and spreadsheets galore to keep me organized. I checked in with my editors all the time to make sure I was going in the right direction. I had to keep the story exciting and the mechanics solid, had to look at the adventure structure from both the players’ and the GM’s perspective, and I had to keep in mind the structural requirements of the adventure (for example, how much experience and treasure an average party would receive). There were so many elements to coordinate! Whenever I got overwhelmed I would remind myself that above all I was trying to write something fun. If I got bogged down in details, I’d ask myself, “What’s the most fun thing that could happen here? What would be really cool? What would my group get a kick out of?” And I’d let the answer guide me.
3. You’ve also been selling short stories lately. How does the fiction experience compare with game design?
I adore writing fiction. A lot of my work has been in the Pathfinder Tales web fiction line (my short stories are available for free on the paizo.com web fiction page), and writing in a shared world like that comes with a lot of restrictions. You have to be considerate of the flavor of the world and make sure your writing doesn’t contradict previously published information. It’s more challenging that way, but I love the opportunity to contribute to a world I enjoy so much.
Writing my own fiction is almost overwhelming after having done so much work in an industry that has built in limits. I get my wildest, most bizarre ideas when I write my own fiction. I recently told a coworker a story idea that popped into my head and he said, “What is wrong with you?!” but then started asking questions about my idea and digging deeper into the concept. I love getting that reaction! I’m a bit of a kook but people often get really invested in my kookiness. I make time to write my own stuff even when I’m on a deadline, because it energizes me and I think it keeps my mind flexible. I sold a story to On Spec magazine called “Green Child” that should be hitting the shelves any day now. One of my goals for 2014 is to sell at least three more pieces of original short fiction.
4. Speaking of your bizarre ideas, tell us about Kitty Kitty Bang Bang.
Kitty Kitty Bang Bang is my novel-in-progress. It’s a story of a mad scientist couple who are livid when someone hacks into their laboratory and detonates their favorite robot cat. But as they investigate the attack on their pet, they realize unionized mad scientists everywhere are being attacked, even killed, and they must use their combined genius to track down the villain responsible! key dramatic music
My husband used the phrase “kitty kitty bang bang” one evening to refer to something—I’ve forgotten the original context. The phrase stuck in my head and I wrote the opening scene as a short story to make him laugh. I enjoyed the writing, though, and couldn’t get the characters out of my head.
The problem with developing on the short story I started is that I had no clear idea where the novel was going or even who the villain was. I generated a lot of ideas over the course of the first 50,000 words that necessitated going back and revising the novel’s structure. I now have an outline (probably should have done that prior to the 50k words) and the second half of the novel should be done shortly.
It’s a strange little book and I’m not sure exactly what road it will take to publication—agent, traditional publisher, self publisher, Kickstarter, etc. But I have faith it will see the light of day and the poor little lab cat will be avenged.
5. You recently picked up a degree at one of the local universities. While it wasn’t your major, you told me how much you enjoyed your writing class. As someone who was already working professionally as a writer, what did you take away from that class? How did it change your approach to writing fiction?
I graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce this year, with a major in business management. Over the last four years I took as many English electives as I could and most of them were great. The work was exhausting—I often felt like both halves of my brain were working every day because I’d be taking statistics and accounting classes mixed in with creative writing and literature.
My favorite class was called Creative Nonfiction. We read examples of literary and journalistic nonfiction, then tried writing our own. It was a great class because it exposed me to authors and styles of writing I probably wouldn’t have encountered otherwise—Levi’s The Periodic Table, Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and Breslin’s “It’s an Honor” were some of my favorites.
Deliberately trying to write in a new style really stretched my writing muscles. I’d thought going in that I’d do better than the average student because I already was a writer. But this was a different style of writing that required putting more of myself in the work than I generally do. For example, the first paper I wrote was a creative nonfiction piece on gaming conventions. My first draft was really dreary. I kept putting in facts and describing what a convention looked like as if I were giving someone instructions on “How to Attend a Convention.” My professor gave me some good feedback, and on the revision I included personal anecdotes and wove my own thoughts and opinions into the piece. The finished paper was much stronger. Now I’m more conscious of when I start “reporting” to my reader rather than communicating with them.
I think it’s important to read different styles of writing and engage with perspectives not your own to grow as a writer. That class really challenged me.
I also loved my author series class where we studied the works of Shelley all semester. It was eye-opening to look at an author’s writing in the context of his entire body of work. Of course we couldn’t read all of Shelley’s work but we hit most of the main pieces, and because I’d never done any university-level literature studies before I learned a lot about poetry, the Romantic period, and prosody in that class as well. “Ode to the West Wind” is my favorite.
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