Every now and then, 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.
I first met Erik Scott de Bie on a panel at the Writers’ Symposium at Gen Con. Even then I recognized his name from the cover of Forgotten Realms novels, which I too wrote once upon a time. I’d also seen him via various social media, through which mutual friends connected us.
Thus it was little surprise to see his name pop up over on Paizo’s web fiction, but it was starting to make me suspicious. When I saw his novel Scourge of the Realm was coming out from Broken Eye Books—for whom I’d written a short story for By Faerie Light, which also included a story by Erik—I started to consider the guy might be stalking me.
So, you know, if anything should happen to me, look at his alibi. Look at it real close.
1. Our paths have crossed by publisher and convention. How did you first end up writing fiction for Wizards of the Coast? What brought you to Paizo? And how about Broken Eye Books?
I’ve been writing novels since I was a teenager and gaming in the Forgotten Realms even longer than that. When my friend Jimmy bugged me to submit something, I sent a sample of Realmsy fantasy stuff to WotC. That yielded a very nice rejection letter from then editor-in-chief Peter Archer, encouraging me to submit again. So when WotC held the Maiden of Pain open call, it seemed like a fun opportunity. I didn’t win, obviously, but I did well enough that they reserved my name for a limited call to about 20 authors. When that call came out, I submitted the pitch that became my first Realms novel, Ghostwalker.
I’ve known James Sutter (the fiction editor over at Paizo) for a long time, and every time we’d hang out at a convention I’d make some off-hand mention of writing for Paizo. Eventually that turned into my short story, “Proper Villains.”
As for Broken Eye Books, the publisher Scott Gable approached me to write a novel, in part to help support his Kickstarter. We hit that stretch goal by 5 seconds and $2. We were $40ish short of the goal in the last minute of the campaign, and I did a refresh, saw we’d made it, went “yes!” and immediately realized that meant I had to write a novel in the next couple months. (Which was no problem, of course.) That became one of my novels out this summer, Scourge of the Realm.
2. I was delighted to see Scourge of the Realm is related to “The Night Maiden,” your story in By Faerie Light. Which came first, the novel or the story?
The story came first, inspired by the basic challenge that I set for myself: “Use a unicorn and make it cool.” The whole concept of the anthology is dark stories about fey that aren’t the expected fairy tales we see in Disney movies, and I embraced that wholeheartedly.
3. You like a bit of the dark side of fantasy. How much of that is your natural inclination, and how much is your addressing a desire from the audience? Where do you draw the line between being true to yourself and pleasing the audience?
The darkness creeps in. I don’t set out to write dark stories, necessarily, but as I go along I find myself thinking up dark and twisted ways in which powers work, to make monsters scarier and more effective, and to gray up my heroes a little bit. It’s just how my imagination works sometimes. Maybe I have a little bit of a horror writer in me (a finger I bit off his left hand that I can’t quite digest), and maybe it’s my love of morally ambiguous characters, especially villains. There is good and there is evil in my work, but rarely is either entirely pure.
I think at this point my audience has largely come to expect my work to be a little bit darker than your average fantasy, which suits me just fine. I have always tried to write what is in my heart and mind, and it comes out a little shadowy.
4. Another thing we have in common is that we’ve both written game material and fiction. Which one came first for you? Did one naturally lead to the other? How does one influence the other for you these days?
I wrote fiction long before I started writing game fiction. My first foray into game design was about the time Ghostwalker came out, when I submitted a mechanical article to go alongside the book and it was soundly and wisely declined by then editor-in-chief of Dragon, Erik Mona. I did some early work in the waning days of 3.5, particularly with regard to Eytan Bernstein’s Class Chronicles series (specifically Warlocks of the Realms, parts 1 & 2), but my break into game design for WotC came with Plane Above: Secrets of the Astral Sea.
I think my fiction writing, which has always interfaced well with RPGs, enhances and guides my game design, and vice versa. I play weekly RPGs to boost my creative energy for writing, and I also write in order to fuel my games. I start writing short stories and DMing D&D games about the same time (age 10 or so), and I’ve long had a fascination with storytelling through both media. They are both essential, at this point.
This is not to say that all my writing is game-based, of course. A great deal of my work, like Scourge of the Realm, my various short stories, and particularly my superhero work isn’t part of any game. I can turn it on or off as needed, but the creative energy amping up effect I get from either pursuit is always useful.
5. You’ve been published frequently in prose fiction, but Libations for the Dead is your first comic. What made you try this medium?
Years ago, I invented a character called Lady Vengeance for a short story that I wrote, and she was so rude, bold, and potty-mouthed that I was told by one reviewer that I “wrote women like I had never met one.” I knew right then that I needed to tell this character story. So I wrote several other stories with her in them (you can see them at my website). And when I thought up this particular story, “Libations for the Dead,” it was a comic book, which I’ve wanted to write for years and years. Now, I’m just obeying my creative vision.
Check out the Kickstarter for Erik’s Justice/Vengeance: Libations for the Dead. Do it soon, because there are only a few days left.