Creative Colleagues: Ed Greenwood

Ed Greenwood

Ed Greenwood

Every now and then, I pester my creative colleagues with five questions about their work. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

I’ve been an Ed Greenwood fan since the gray-box release of the Forgotten Realms. His name was familiar from Dragon Magazine, but seeing the entire setting described in a single product solidified my image of him as something between Elminster and Volo. If you’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ed, you know that’s a fair approximation of his persona.

In a way, Ed helped me get my first job at TSR, since the editing test was a deleted chapter of his novel Spellfire. It was there I discovered his love of page-and-a-half compound-complex sentences with nested parentheses, copious em-dashes, and idiosyncratic semicolons. Ed’s elaborate thoughts often needed such architecture, and the work he sent me for Dragon often made me think of Thoreau’s words: “I am large, I contain multitudes!”

And so he does, expressing an unprecedented multitude of ideas with his new publishing venture, The Ed Greenwood Group. On the occasion of the launch of its second setting with his novel Words of Unbinding, Ed agreed to answer a few questions about it.

What’s the origin of The Ed Greenwood Group? What’s the Stormtalons setting?

For years, I’ve been so caught up in working on the Realms every day that a lot of the other ideas that pop into my head all the time have simply been tossed into a “get to someday” pile.

With the Realms product line getting streamlined in 5th edition, I finally have some spare time, so out comes that huge pile of ideas. Story ideas. SF stories, space opera stories, sword & planet stories, modern mystery stories, Gothic horror romances, steampunks, James Bond-ish modern spy thrillers, Cthulhu-like period horrors, urban fantasies, the works.

Now, I could happily sit down at my keyboard and write novel after novel all on my own; that’s just what I’ve been doing for decades, after all. And that’s just what I am still doing, working my way down my idea pile. However, one of the things I’ve learned over the years as a writer, designer, and avid reader is that with sole-source settings, no matter how fast the creator is, that creator becomes a bottleneck; fans of a series or setting inescapably fall into long periods of waiting for the next offering. I’ve also discovered down all of the same years that I like collaborating on big creative projects; my desire for absolute control isn’t as strong as the high I get from seeing talented creative people having fun in a sandbox that we all expand and renovate together.

So was born the immodestly named (but not by me) The Ed Greenwood Group (TEGG): a transmedia publishing collective that will eventually bring to the world over thirty settings in a wide variety of genres in which I and fellow creatives—writers, artists, game designers, artisans, musicians, voice actors, and more—will work as equals to bring to life settings, in all formats we can muster.

So you can read novels and short stories set in Setting X, listen to audiobooks and original audio dramas and music set in Setting X, play roleplaying and board games that use and bring to life Setting X, and enjoy maps and art for the setting that are the usual two-dimensional drawn or painted images, but also extend to sculptures, wearable artifacts, collectibles, and more. In short, you can immerse yourself in the setting.

TEGG’s first setting is Hellmaw, modern-Earth gritty urban fantasy in which humans gradually become aware that there are daemons dwelling among us, treating us like cattle; to them, we are food. There are eight Hellmaw novels out so far, and they range from grim and blood-splattered through love stories and police procedurals to zany comedies. Gamers will recognize some of the authors: Chris A. Jackson, Erik Scott de Bie, J. Robert King, and me.

Cover by Eric Belisle

Cover by Eric Belisle

And TEGG’s second setting is Stormtalons, broad-tapestry heroic fantasy/swords & sorcery in the medieval-cum-Renaissance world of Asmer, where transforming mists roil and shift, mighty sleeping dragons stir, and magic is sparse and firmly controlled (a tyrant archwizard forces all lesser mages to work for him or die, and he is locked in détente with the priests of the Six who rule the land of Rheligor as a peaceful place of stiflingly strict order).

There are many ways in which the Realms and Stormtalons differ, but the most important one is that I designed the Realms to be high magic (lots of powerful magic in many hands) and I designed Stormtalons to be low magic (if you don’t keep your use of magic secret, and if you do anything too powerful, one of the Heirophar’s hit teams is going to be hunting you fast). So there’s plenty of room for just plain folks with their wits and fists to have adventures, not just wizards battling world-shaking menaces.

Stormtalons is not a D&D setting, though you can use the setting for roleplaying games; things that D&D gamers expect to be “true” for a setting, such as the widespread use of divination and teleportation, details of monsters, character “classes,” and so on, just don’t hold true in Stormtalons. Unlike the many, many gods of the Realms (a root design decision of mine, made a good eight years before the Dungeons & Dragons game existed), Asmer has only six gods (though there are cults of others, including dead gods subsumed by the Six). The metallic and chromatic dragon types of D&D are unknown in Stormtalons, which has “brute” dragons that humans hunt as monsters and (rarely) tame as steeds or eat as food, and the legendary Sleeping Dragons, who when they wake might just tear asunder the current balance of power and transform the world.

Stormtalons begins now, launched by my novel Words of Unbinding. It will be followed by a steady stream of novels and short stories; there are 150 novels scheduled so far (but don’t worry that your wallet’s going to get emptied in short order; the plan is that nothing will ever go out of print!).

A month after Words of Unbinding, Gregory A. Wilson brings us Grayshade, the first book in the Gray Assassin trilogy; a month after that, Dileep S. Rangan’s very different The Pirate King’s Daughter appears, the first book in the Jayasudhera trilogy. And in the next month (November), Richard Lee Byers brings us The Ghost in the Stone.

All of these Stormtalons novels will be available as ebooks, as trade paperbacks, as mass market paperbacks, and (whenever we accumulate 250 pre-orders) as collector’s edition deluxe hardcovers. The first three chapters of each are serialized online at Amazing Stories Magazine, and introductory and followup short stories, and other Stormtalons short stories, appear in each issue of Onder Magazine and are narrated for Onder Radio for TEGG Audio.

In short, I formed TEGG to give a lot of talented folks the chance to play together building worlds that we hope many will fall in love with and become fans of. As time passes and many of my favorite writers die, a lot of the “good pulpy fun” that I used to enjoy steady streams of has died to a trickle or faded away altogether; in part, I want to bring it back. New worlds for old, as the saying goes, We have new worlds here! Come see!

How does the creation of The Ed Greenwood Group differ from your creation of the Forgotten Realms? Especially, how does the creative aspect differ knowing you’re bringing in other writers from the start?

If I’m going to open up the sandbox for more than just me to play in, I’m immediately caught in the same struggle that has faced all shared-world creators and projects; the desire for consistency in lore (“canon,” guarded by some degree of editorial control) versus letting creative people BE creative and tell stories with as few fetters and impediments as possible.

And if it’s just me, helming every setting (especially when we get up to twenty-some settings running all at once), I will inevitably be a bottleneck, overwhelmed by reviewing all of the stories flooding in and the queries about flags of these countries and chamberpots of those countries, of how this detail of magic works and where the potatoes (are there potatoes?) are grown that the people in the Dread Pirate Isle eat, and how said potatoes get to them before they starve.

So, each one of our settings has a Lore Guardian (for Hellmaw, it’s Samantha Murphy, and for Stormtalons, it’s Cat Jarrett). These are creative whirlwinds who steer all of the stories in a setting, keep Creatives communicating with each other, and deal with the practical real-world matters of scheduling. If settings get wildly busy, we’ll have Lore Wardens to assist them.

And every setting also has its own Art Director; for both Hellmaw and Stormtalons, that’s Eric Belisle. In TEGG, artists are equals with writers and game designers, not illustrators-for-hire. Art Directors may create all of the covers for a setting, as Eric has done with his daemon portraits that formed the inspiration for Hellmaw, or they may coordinate other artists, but they establish the “look and feel” of a setting.

TEGG is different from a traditional publisher; it is a Sessorium of Creatives using all feasible formats or media to connect stories with fans. We already have TEGG Brazil, publishing our Hellmaw and Stormtalons tales in Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish; we hope to be in many places all over the world, not just English-speaking and -reading ones, involving local writers and giving newcomers a chance to story-tell alongside veterans. We’re setting up mentoring programs, and encouraging cross-pollination where characters and items from one writer’s tales appear or are mentioned in those of other writers; it’s about giving everyone a chance. TEGG Creatives are already of seemingly all races, genders, geographical locations, and backgrounds (yes, a lot of them are my friends and acquaintances, and I hope that through TEGG, many more will become new friends!).

What are the advantages to shared-world settings? How about some of the drawbacks? How do you bring together the best of both?

The major advantages include the richness that many creative voices (as opposed to just one) bring to the table, and the rapidity of output that multiple creators can achieve. For instance, we have an upcoming setting, still secret for now, for which we want twelve novels completely ready before we launch. This can bring forth nuanced, detailed stories fast enough to satisfy most readers and reassure them that this isn’t going to be something they’ve fallen in love with that abruptly ends without warning, or dies away, just when they’re really wanting more!

The main drawbacks are the inconsistencies inevitably introduced by too many cooks at work in the same kitchen, and the very human oneupmanship/“arms race” tendencies of authors trying to outdo each other, and too-similar stories being spun at the same time or in swift succession—all problems that the Lore Guardians have been put in place to try to prevent from the outset, so no creative time is wasted and the fan gets to enjoy the best and most consistent tales we can spin. We’re encouraging our creatives to talk with each other, to hang out together and work up ideas together, so as this thing gets rolling we will all be familiar with what’s going on in every setting, and tales can grow from each other, so the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

What influences from literature and other media are you most aware of?

I grew up voraciously devouring everything in my father’s den, in a family of readers and book collectors. Nothing was censored or hidden away from me, and I was what’s sometimes called a “child prodigy,” reading and writing (mostly terrible pastiches) of what struck my fancy from age five or six, usually because I ran to my Dad (my mother died when I was six) waving something I loved and asked where the sequels were, and he often told me I’d have to write them myself, because the author was dead and gone. Television was just getting going in those days (yes, I’m that old), and movies were a rare treat, but comics and books and magazines of all sorts were available in plenty, and I devoured everything. Notable early influences were Kipling and Lord Dunsany and P.G. Wodehouse and Leslie Charteris (the Saint books) and John Dickson Carr (locked-room mysteries) and Baroness Orczy (the Scarlet Pimpernel) and Robert Louis Stevenson (The Black Arrow) and E. R. Burroughs and E.E. Doc Smith (the Lensman series). Then I discovered Fritz Leiber and then Weird Tales, and Tolkien hit big in North America, and Lin Carter started republishing all the classic fantasy he could lay hands on, and Roger Zelazny rose from the pages of Fantastic (the first magazine I ever subscribed to) and I plunged into sf and fantasy and mystery reading in a big way (Asimov, Harry Harrison, Clarke, Heinlein, James H. Schmitz, et al). I have always been an avid book collector, and have worked in public libraries since age 14 (I’m 57 now), so I have been surrounded by stories, stories, and more stories for as long as I can remember. Everything from Popular Mechanics magazine to the Decameron, the original gory Brothers Grimm fairy tales to Victorian novels of manners; it has all influenced me, as has trying things in real life from diving into water-filled caves to riding bareback at dawn; everything.

In a world of peak television and near constant movie blockbusters, what does prose fiction have to offer that film and comics can’t?

The intimacy of painting mental pictures in solitude (the reader’s imagination turning shaped squiggles of ink on a page into a movie in the mind, images of characters and beasts and places, ordinary and fantastic, and “hearing” dialogue uttered as the imagined story unfolds). This is the reason behind our Stormtalons covers, in which we see the torsos of protagonists but not their faces; we’re leaving readers greater scope to fill in the blanks, in a way that television and film don’t allow.

The time and space to re-read and think.

The time to savor and recast—whereas the moment images are provided, the mental space to envisage a character in the reader’s own way is lost, and the timing of a filmed story is imposed and inflexible; it can rush past moments a viewer wants to slow and savor or sort out.

In other words, if you read a prose story, you can still make it yours, a tale you participate it, and shape in your mind; a television program or movie is pre-shaped and set, and you experience it but can’t participate in the same way. Our imaginations are muscles that need to be used if they are to flourish; young readers of today are learning to imagine, and from imagineers will come the ground-breaking television and film creators of the future.

You’re both prolific guys who’ve worked with a lot of other editors, writers, illustrators, and other creative people. What are some of the most surprising things you’ve learned from those colleagues?

Different ways of doing things (the craft of making stories; processes, discipline, and so on). How different people can read the exact same words and envisage very different things. That creatives work at different paces, in very different environments from each other, and that there is no “one right way”; there are only better or best ways for this individual, on this project, at this time. How universal emotions and conveying humanity can be, across barriers of language and culture and age and gender. How important individual words, gestures, and moments can be—resonating and being remembered for decades. And how slippery creativity can sometimes be, something morphing as it’s worked on in ways that surprise creators.

Keep an eye on Ed’s Blog or the Onder Librum for all things TEGG.

Creative Colleagues: J.M. Martin

J.M. Martin

J.M. Martin

Every now and then, I pester my creative colleagues with five questions about their work. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

I missed my chance to work with J.M. Martin. Editor Nickolas Sharps asked me to write a story for Kaiju Rising, and I initially said yes before realizing I’d over-committed myself that year. The anthology rampaged on without me, not only to Kickstarter success but also to the foundation of Ragnarok Publications.

Along with Tim Marquitz, Joe Martin co-founded Ragnarock in 2013 and serves as its Creative Director. His latest anthology, Hath No Fury, is knocking down stretch goals on Kickstarter.

What impact has Kickstarter had on your creative decisions?

Kickstarter, in a nutshell, allows Ragnarok to publish these anthologies in the first place. We don’t have the operating cash to fund them ourselves, since we pay pro rates to the authors and artists, and the press runs for these books cost several thousand dollars. The great benefit to doing them, of course, is we have an awesome product for the trade market. Blackguards has historically been our best seller, and it wouldn’t even exist without Kickstarter, so yes, definitely new freedom for us, being able to produce books we normally couldn’t otherwise. I am so excited to hold our next books, MECH: Age of Steel and Hath No Fury in my hands.

Ragnarok is a relatively young publishing house, so I wonder what lessons you’ve learned in these first few years.

Tim Marquitz and I are both writers. I hate to say it, but the first contracts to our Ragnarok authors were way too generous. I mean, our intent is to always be author-friendly, to treat authors how we felt we should be treated, however we started by paying up to 60 percent to the author. That sure didn’t leave much behind by way of operating capital, so we’ve struggled a bit through the first couple years. Our contracts are still generous but a little more realistic. Lesson learned.

The most surprising thing for me is the sheer amount of work it takes to run a publishing house. I figured I’d be putting in lots and lots of hours, but I pretty much work 24–7 when I’m not sleeping, and that’s going on a couple years. I’ve pushed through about nine or ten mini-burnouts. Fortunately, Ragnarok has a crew that picks one another up whenever someone is lagging a little. I feel very lucky to have Tim, Melanie, Shawn King, and Gwen Nix as comrades-in-arms. Though Nick Sharps isn’t as heavily involved anymore, he deserves a shout-out, too. Most definitely. I’ve learned not to hold on to everything so tight, to let go (which is very hard for me) and to trust in these awesome folks to carry some of the load. Another lesson learned.

One last answer to this question: the terrifying part. We transitioned to traditional publishing this year (from indie publishing) by signing with a distributor, so long lead times, being beholden to a large company, and book returns all terrify me a little. Okay, a lot. Lesson in progress.

Cover by Manuel Castañón

Cover by Manuel Castañón

As a writer who also buys the work of others, what special insights have you experienced as an editor?

I think the best insight I have is from a threefold perspective, since as a writer, editor, and publisher I get to see something go from draft all the way to sell-through. It’s nearly impossible to predict sales trends in genre fiction, but I think it gives me a bit more understanding of what works in a story, compounded with the benefit of seeing sales figures in real time to help cement a writer’s idea as to what works in the market.

Think back to your earliest literary loves. Now think about the kind of fiction you like to read and buy. How are they different? And how are they exactly the same?

I grew up on the works of Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Edgar Rice Burroughs, C.S. Lewis, Anne McCaffrey, Michael Moorcock, and Tolkien, of course. Those qualify as my first literary loves, though perhaps my greatest love in fantasy fiction is the Big Man, David Gemmell, whose work helped shape me as a young man.

Today, I’ve expanded the circle. I will always love a ripping sword and sorcery, sword and planet, or Weird Western yarn, and where I once poo-pooed science fiction such as Asimov and Heinlein, I find I rather enjoy it these days, especially if the niche has -punk at the end of it. I also enjoy urban fantasy, such as Seth Skorkowsky’s Valducan series, and the dark fantasy works of John Gwynne, Mark Lawrence, and Joe Abercrombie. Lest I forget, I also am a huge fan of Chris Wooding no matter what he writes, be it fantasy, young adult, or the pirate-steampunk adventures of the Ketty Jay.

Booksellers label shelves and in that way also label readers. Using as many book-shelf labels as you think appropriate, what kind of reader are you?

Fantasy – Young Adult – Urban/Paranormal Fantasy – Superhero Fiction/Comic Book – Anthology – Western – Sci Fi – Humor.

Keep tabs on Joe’s latest at his website or at Ragnarok Publications.

Pathfinder Tales Flash Sale

Cover by Matthias Kollros

Cover by Matthias Kollros

The folks at the Paizo warehouse need some shelf space, so they‘re offering their crazy-good Gen Con 50% off sale on selected Pathfinder Tales for online orders. This is for the paperbacks only, not ebooks. I’ve been warned it could be a very short sale, as they’ll stop once they clear the space they need.

That means now is a great time to catch up on the adventures of Radovan and the Count. Or, you know, to stock up on gifts for your favorite readers. As of this posting, Prince of Wolves, Queen of Thorns, and King of Chaos are all part of the sale. You might also want to snag Winter Witch, by Elaine Cunningham and Yours Truly.

 

Creative Colleagues: Melanie Meadors

Melanie Meadors

Melanie Meadors

Every now and then, I pester my creative colleagues with a few questions about their work. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

I first met Melanie Meadors at the Writers Symposium at Gen Con, where she also connected with Marc Tassin and joined the Mechanical Muse team. Her entrée into Ragnarok Publications was more adorable, as both she and her husband secretly bought the other the privilege of a death scene in the Kaiju Rising, Ragnarok’s first anthology.

Both as a publicist and as editor, Melanie is one of the rising stars of independent publishing. Her latest project is Hath No Fury, currently raising funds on Kickstarter. The book is well on its way to initial funding and features an exciting list of stretch goals.

When you choose a theme like “kaiju” or “mechs,” are you looking to upcoming film and television and hoping for a boom? Or is there just “something in the air”?

When I was little, one of the local TV channels had Creature Double Feature on Sunday mornings. I loved these movies more than anything, except maybe Star Wars. At four years old, I was glued to my old Quasar set, watching Godzilla and Ghidorah and Jet Jaguar, Gamora, Gorgo, Mothra… I loved them all. Well, except for Rodan. He was kind of lame. I loved the stories, how humanity came together to try to defeat these monsters. My favorites were when Godzilla would come to help the planet, though. I think I kind of wanted to be the Monster Mistress or something. I used to imagine that I was alone on an island with these kaiju and would send them off on missions. Then, when I started watching Voltron, I felt the same way about giant robots. There is a power there that I think resonates with people. Humans may be small physically, but we have big brains and can build out way to a better tomorrow. We can build mechanical protection for ourselves.

When I saw the Kickstarter for Kaiju Rising, I knew I had to get involved with Ragnarok as a publisher. Not only did they have a Kaiju anthology, but they chose Bob Eggleton to do the cover. That to me showed they just knew the genre and would offer something special. And my instincts were correct!

So for me, at least, the excitement Ragnarok has for these kaiju and mech books isn’t about the current movie trends. It’s about a lifelong passion.

Voracious readers often move on to adult fare quite early. With that in mind, whats the real difference between YA and adult fiction—especially since so many adults read YA?

I read both YA and adult fiction. When I was little, YA was just starting to become a thing, and really, I didn’t read much of it. When I was 12, I was reading Dean Koontz, Terry Brooks, Weis and Hickman, and Douglas Adams. I started reading more YA after the Harry Potter craze started, when I was in college (I’m sorry, nothing is sexier than seeing a college guy reading Harry Potter in the library…). I find that YA often—not always—reads a bit faster and deals a bit more with coming-of-age issues. But having said that, plenty of adult science fiction and fantasy deals with those issues as well. Look at Tad Williams’s Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series. Simon grows up in those books, and we as readers grow alongside him. The same with Robin Hobb’s Farseer series, or Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game (which is now shelved in both sections!). A lot of lighter fantasy books, like Anton Strout’s Spellmason books, are in the adult section but appeal a lot to teens as well because of their fast pace and humor. One could say length might have something to do with it, or voice, but really, I think that the major thing that separates YA from adult fiction is where it’s shelved in the store. I’ve been trying to answer this question myself for some time, because my own novel is on the line. I’ve found there is no clear-cut answer.

Hath No FuryWhy is important for men to read stories featuring women as protagonists?

To be absolutely frank, because they would be missing out on a hell of a lot of awesome fiction if they avoided it! I’ve heard a couple comments from people, when they see that Hath No Fury is an anthology of female protagonists, that it’s just more feminist crap with an agenda. This is so far from the case. When Joe Martin first presented me with the idea for this anthology, I said, “Yes, I would love to be your co-editor. But I want to choose the stories in here on the merit of quality—not just having female authors.” I know there are guys out there who write really awesome female characters, just like there are women out there who can write great men. I wanted to find the next Furiosa—a character I loved because she kicks ass, takes no names, yet is three-dimensional. She is also caring and nurturing of the young women in her care.

I am not going to go out and insult my male friends by answering this question with, “Oh, because men need to understand that women can be strong, too!” Any man worth his salt already knows this—all women can be strong, just like all men can be strong, in their own ways. It’s important for men to read stories featuring women because slightly more than half the people on this planet are women, and why would you want to miss out on their stories? However, less than half of the protagonists in fiction are women—far less. Google for some statistics, go to the book store and check it out, and you’ll see. If more men—and women—read books with female protagonists, then perhaps more publishers will publisher more books with them.

Men and women are equal but different. They have different hormones, they have a different way of dealing with things (and that range is broad and overlaps, of course). So by reading books with both male and female protagonists, a reader will experience the adventures in different ways. And that will help them solve problems in real life more efficiently as well, by being exposed to different ways of thinking.

Geek culture often seems glorious and horrible in equal measure. How does the toxic element of our people influence your publishing decisions?

I am answering this question on behalf of myself, and not speaking for Ragnarok as a whole in any sense—though I do speak about our process a bit when these things arise.

There is a lot of crap happening in our genre. There is also a lot of good stuff happening, and I would argue there is more good than bad. The bad often is louder and attracts more attention, but so many awesome things are coming about, sometimes even as a result of the bad things.

That being said, I do not want to welcome some of the foul aspects into my “home.” Because I do work one-on-one with our authors, I have a direct interest in keeping life pleasant, and that means not interacting with toxic people as much as possible. If I see that Ragnarok is talking to someone I know is a raging bigot, or if it’s someone who was involved in plagiarism or some big scandal that the other members of Ragnarok might not be aware of, I speak up. If it’s someone I’m having doubts about interacting with, if I know them as a diva, I say something. From there, we have a discussion and figure out what is best to do. There are so many wonderful, talented people in our industry. Why would a company want to work with jerks or with someone that would bring them down?

This is cautionary to all authors. Editors, agents, publishers all talk. They talk to each other. If you are a complete jerk, if you have tried to cheat, chances are that word has gotten around. Black lists exist, and it can be very hard to get off of them once they are on. So just make sure that when you are about to take an action, you’ve weighed the consequences. You can do whatever you want, but be sure you’re prepared for the ramifications.

So, toxicity does affect things. There is definitely discussion behind the scenes, whatever the end result is. We at Ragnarok have not always agreed on things, but there is always discussion and in the end we do what is right for the company. We make conscious business decisions. I don’t think that any business can really ignore a lot of the issues out there without alienating a section of their audience. For me, I’d much rather keep the awesome side of our industry going strong rather than risk pandering to the toxic side. Communication goes a long way to make that happen.

Booksellers label shelves and in that way also label readers. Using as many book-shelf labels as you think appropriate, what kind of reader are you?

I’d have to say I’m a Young Fantasy Science Adult Humor SciFi Gift.

What are your ten desert island novels?

The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien

Alchemystic, by Anton Strout (which really did help me in a desert island type situation)

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

Neuromancer, by William Gibson

Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton

Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Watchmen by Alan Moore

 

Follow Melanie on Twitter and keep apprised of her latest projects at Ragnarok and Mechanical Muse.

Creative Colleagues: Dave Barrett

Every now and then, I pester my creative colleagues with five questions about their work. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

Fun and GamesDave Barrett’s It’s All Fun and Games is the first in a series of Young Adult novels from the Nerdist’s new imprint through Inkshares. It features the teenage players of a Live Action Role Playing (LARP) game who find themselves transported to an actual, factual fantasy world. We’ve seen that trick before, but Barrett breathes new life into the conceit. I imagine hordes of young readers discovering LARPs the way so many of my generation got turned on to tabletop RPGs after reading the late Joel Rosenberg’s Guardians of the Flame novels.

I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Dave’s debut, and he kindly agreed to answer a few of my geeky questions.

Please tell us about your earliest experiences with tabletop RPGs and LARPs.

My older brother, Jim, brought home AD&D from high school in 1981. My first character was a ranger named Fred (I was 8). I remember playing White Plume Mountain and the Against the Giants series as solo adventures—it was just poor Fred. Considering the modules were made for full parties, my brother must have pulled a lot of punches to get me through them.

Later during elementary school, it was the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head for math tests. Anything less than a 90, and no D&D for the rest of the week. I did really well in Math that year.

I still try to play whenever I can. I’m mostly playing Pathfinder now.

My LARP experience is a different matter. It didn’t even occur to me it was possible until I got closer to college and learned about groups like NERO. The lack of internet made discovering these things really difficult! During college and just after I attended a couple events I had been invited to by friends and had a great time, though with busy life and young kids, it’s not always easy to find time for RPGs, particularly ones that stretch over full days. I’ve attended Intercon in Massachusetts, and had a lot of fun.

Chance in the form of dice rolls plays a big part in games. Wandering monsters, after all! How do you create a sense of randomness in a story without allowing it to feel like a cheat?

It’s funny you should ask, because I actually bring this up in It’s All Fun and Games. Playing D&D in the RPGA (and other orgs), I’ve gotten used to the idea of Obligatory Thug Attack, or OTA—a combat encounter designed mostly to sap the party of some of their resources so that when they fight the final boss they’re not at full strength. So I actually included that in the story—before the kids cross over into the game world they get jumped by some random monsters, and someone explains the OTA to Allison.

Once they cross over, though, that’s a different thing. If a scene isn’t advancing plot or character, or providing some sort of backstory, I personally don’t want to read about it. Because I wanted to write the kind of book I like to read, things move pretty directly toward the climax. I’m not writing a module, I’m writing a novel.

Why do you think interest in LARPs has grown so much in the past few decades?

I think this is a function of two things. First, mainstream culture has embraced geekdom wholeheartedly in the last several decades. Between the Lord of the Rings movies and the Marvel Cinematic Universe on the Big Screen, the huge successes of webseries like The Guild and LARPs, and of course The Big Bang Theory and World of Warcraft, it’s become OK to get dressed up as your favorite character and go to a convention. For instance, SDCC sells out of passes within minutes each year!

Second, it’s so much easier to find like-minded individuals nowadays. Growing up in Houston, I was able to find our local SCA folks (they were in the Yellow Pages!), but if anyone was LARPing down there, I didn’t know about it. Today, if you’re interested in giving it a try, it’s just a couple clicks away to find a group that’s playing the sort of game you want to get into.

How do you find playing RPGs complements your writing?

Playing RPGs expands your imagination, and without imagination, there’s no writing. I’ve played characters from sneaky rogues to flamboyant pirates to an elderly grandmother who could knit as well as she could cast the evil eye. Getting into a character and interacting with the others in your group—taking what they bring and building on it—is a great way to experience others’ personalities. Personalities that you could then turn into characters!

On the other side, the RPG view does run the risk of making your foils one-dimensional. Players think of elaborate backstories that brought their character to this point in time and spend hours roleplaying with one another. Then, in six rounds of combat they run ramshackle over the baddie and his henchmen, loot the bodies, and move on. Those baddies must have had just as complex reasons for doing what they did, but because they only exist as a speed bump in the overall campaign, we never really think much about that.

For a Young Adult book, where do you draw the line on violence? How about sexuality?

In a fantasy adventure novel, violence is almost a given, simply due to the nature of the genre. Some baddie is going to be defeated by the good guy, who will use swords or magic or both. I’ve used my own kids as my guide—what would I be comfortable for them to read? In most cases, my descriptions are enough to get the point across without being something that will give my kids nightmares. The reader will be creating their own images in their heads, and if someone is envisioning a bloodier battle, their minds can certainly go there with what I’ve provided

Sexuality, I just punted. It’s All Fun and Games isn’t a romance novel (or even a fantasy romance novel). I left myself a little wiggle room if I really wanted to head down that route with sequels, but I’m pretty sure it’s the last thing on their minds right now. Only one of the characters is even old enough to drive, so even if I decide to pair off any of the characters, it’s going to be pretty tame. If readers want a novel that explores teenage sexuality, there are plenty of choices on the market.

Check out It’s All Fun and Games at Inkshares (or on Amazon) and keep an eye on the latest news on Facebook. For your bonus action, follow Dave Barrett on Twitter.

 

Champions of Aetaltis Author Copies

Cover by Mitchell Malloy

Cover by Mitchell Malloy

While I was disappointed to learn that the beautiful handwriting on the package came from Marc Tassin’s wife instead of the Mechanical Muse himself, several gorgeous copies of Champions of Aetaltis reached my door today. And there was much rejoicing.

The book is a thing of beauty, with lovely design, gorgeous cover art, and a spectacular map by master cartographer Mike Schley.

If you love heroic fantasy with that classic 80s/90s vibe, you owe it to yourself to snag a copy.