Creative Colleagues: Howard Tayler

Howard Tayler

Each week, I’ll pester one of my creative colleagues with five questions about his or her work and, if I’m feeling wicked, deeply personal issues. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

Before we met, I knew Howard Tayler’s name on account of his podcast, Writing Excuses, in which he joins Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Dan Wells to dispense 15 minutes of advice each episode. We first crossed virtual paths when we both wrote fiction for Skull Island Expeditions.

We finally met at Gen Con 2013, where we played a game with Lou Anders, Scott Lynch, Saladin Ahmed, and Howard Andrew Jones. A couple of weeks later at Worldcon, I watched him collect a Hugo for Writing Excuses. He was also nominated for his comic, Schlock Mercenary. In person, Howard appears to be the soul of charm and wit.

Don’t let that fool you. He’s got some funny ideas about punctuation and spelling.


1. Can you tell us how much the creative process differs in writing prose fiction from creating your wildly popular comic, Schlock Mercenary?

How much? LOTS. Once I’m past the outline, they’re completely different… right up until the point that I’m writing dialogue, and then it’s kind of similar because of, well, words. But only kind of similar. The “beats” that are so useful in prose appear in Schlock Mercenary as panel borders and “snapshots” of facial expressions.

Also, when I’m writing Schlock Mercenary I have to remember that an establishing shot that features (for instance) a cityscape will mean more time at the drawing table than a series of shots of faces and hands. I have to pace myself. My art budget is not unlimited.

2. You were one of the three best-dressed men I saw at Worldcon. How much of that is your natural flair, and how much is business presentation? What tips would you offer other writers for making a great impression at conventions?

At this point it’s natural. A few years ago I decided to upgrade my look, so I ditched the billboard t-shirts and the baggy jeans, lost a few pounds, and started shopping for crisper shirts and trousers. It took a few weeks to get used to it, but I noticed a change in the way I walked, and in the way people treated me. I took that as a proof positive that the look was working for me, so I stuck with it.

Advice? Be comfortable, be yourself, but don’t think that those mean “grubbies in public.” Upgrading your attire a notch or two may change the way people see you, and whether or not you think that affects how you see yourself, you’ll notice what’s happening if you pay attention.

3. Like some of the other Skull Island Expeditions authors, you were already a Warmachine player. How often do you stop and think about the mechanics of the game when writing? Or do you leave all that knowledge to your subconscious and focus on other aspects of the story?

I had the cards in front of me a lot when I wrote Extraordinary Zoology, and “Heartfire” (from Called to Battle). But I already owned cards for all of the models in question, and knew what I was getting in to.

4. For those who’ve not yet read Tales from the Monsternomicon: Extraordinary Zoology, what’s your version of the back cover copy? In the Iron Kingdoms, what exactly is The Monsternomicon?

The Monsternomicon is Professor Viktor Pendrake’s magnum opus. For some reason, prior to his work nobody had attempted a comprehensive catalog of the more fantastic (and fantastically dangerous) denizens of the Iron Kingdoms. In our universe it’s the IK answer to the Monster Manual. In the IK Universe it’s a real tome that is just as likely to be found cluttering the coffee-table of the well-to-do Cygnaran as it is to be found weighing down the satchel of the enterprising adventurer.

Back cover copy?

“Lynus Wesselbaum would follow Professor Viktor Pendrake to the ends of Immoren if given the chance. When the Professor gets word of a mysterious village-smashing monster, Lynus and the Professor’s other companions assemble an expedition and set off in pursuit. On the one hand, it would be wonderful if this was something new, something exciting, and something reasonably easy to dissect. Unfortunately it’s far more likely that this is something ancient,  something terrifying, and something legendarily impossible to kill.”

5. The Skull Island Expeditions imprint has three subcategories: Warmachine, Hordes, and Iron Kingdoms. What’s the difference between the stories in those categories? The first two seem obvious, but what’s the difference between those two and Iron Kingdoms?

This question is probably a better one for our editor, Aeryn Rudel, but in my estimation the Hordes and Warmachine stories put meat on the bones of the playable models in the game, while the Iron Kingdoms stories galvanize the reader to collect some friends, roll up characters, and set off adventuring in the IK RPG.

Cover by Carter Reid

6. You sold me on finding one of your short stories at Worldcon. Which of your short pieces would you most recommend to readers of Schlock Mercenary or Skull Island Expeditions? 

Well, if you love Schlock Mercenary and have not read Extraordinary Zoology, that’s probably going to be the most like what you’re used to getting from me. If, however, you’re willing to branch out a bit, pick up Space Eldritch II: The Haunted Stars, and read my military-sf-horror novella “Fall of the Runewrought.” It’s a little bit like the movie Aliens, only with less Dumb Lieutenant and more Absolute Badass.

7. You’re also rare among my colleagues in that I have no idea of your literary influences. Can you name a few from both comics and prose fiction, telling us what you love about each of them?

Tolkien, Donaldson, and Niven on the SF/F front. Watterson, Breathed, and Claremont on the comic strip and comic book front. That takes you through me at about age 20, at which point both lists become far too long to be manageable.


You can peruse the essential dossier on Howard Talyer at his website. 


Gen Con 2013 Overview

As has become my custom since my return to the show in 2010, I spent about half of my Gen Con scheduled time at the Writers’ Symposium, which is a surprisingly great convention-within-a-convention. Not only does it draw big names like Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson, it has become one of those events where you recognize almost all of the other participants from other conventions. It’s only a matter of time before it’s considered “part of the circuit” by writers with no connection to gaming.

Special thanks to Marc Tassin, for scheduling me to read beside Pat Rothfuss, and eternal gratitude to those Rothfuss fans who followed me down to buy not one but all four of my Pathfinder Tales novels. You made my weekend as much with your kind words as with the purchase.

A close second to my scheduled time was signing and hanging out at the Paizo booth. I’ve been blessed three out of the past four years with a book released at Gen Con, which makes a huge difference in the number of folks stopping by for an autograph, as you’d expect. This was the first year I felt the jealous eyes of my Pathfinder Tales colleagues burning stripes down the back of my neck, though. For that reason alone, it’s probably good that I don’t have a book scheduled for next August. Howard Andrew Jones probably wouldn’t hurt me, but Chris A. Jackson is a pirate.

I did a very brief signing at the Pelgrane booth for my tiny contribution to Hillfolk. Like most booths, they aren’t really set up for half a dozen writers to sign books, and I have that kind of agoraphobia that makes me itch if I’m caught in a small space by other humans. A couple of short visits to the Privateer booth where I signed cover flats with Larry Correia, Miles Holmes, and Howard Tayler could have ended up the same way, but  they had seats and a counter in front of us, so the close quarters never triggered my flight or fight response. Plus we had a great view of the demo area with its enormous warjack and a good Coleman Stryker cosplayer posing for photos.

The “real” action at Gen Con is always at the parties, where I spent most of my time enjoying the company of people I see only once or twice a year. My favorite function there is introducing people who ought to know each other, and I had plenty of opportunities for that. And I got to meet some folks I’d worked with but never encountered in fleshspace, notably the aforementioned Privateer writers and Scott Lynch, a fellow contributor to the Tales from the Far West fiction anthology.

Scott, Howard, Lou Anders, and Saladin Ahmed, whose work I’ve admired, playtested a new game with a scenario designed and run by Howard Andrew Jones. HAJ and I had already become friends over the past few Gen Cons, but the others were all new to me, at least in person. Playing an RPG is a great way to break the ice and get some inkling of someone’s personality, albeit through the veil of their character. And it was a special treat to play a game at Gen Con, which almost never happens to me anymore. HAJ’s Nordic-inspired scenario drew from familiar legend, letting us focus on the fairly simple game mechanics.

As has become my custom, I caught the con crud early. Fortunately, it put me out of the game only for Saturday night, although the cough persists. If I still have it when I return from Worldcon, it’s time to petition my new doctor for a course of antibiotics.

I went to the show intending to say “no” to all new offers of work, but I walked away with two maybes leaning yes and one yes because the setting is right in my wheelhouse and deadline is so far away. I guess the only way to stop this happening is to cease attending conventions until my desk is completely cleared sometime in mid-2014. I’m just a boy who can’t say no, and I’ve got to accept that and work around it.

While I have no events scheduled for Worldcon, please say hello if you spot me.

Gen Con Sunday

Here at last, it’s the day you finally go around to buy all those wonderful games and books you said you’d come back to buy. Fortunately, there’s still a chance to have some of them signed.

09:00-10:00 WS VIP Panel: Plot Mastery (Room 243)

  • This one is limited to eight people who’ll get a lot of attention from me and my mystery co-panelists about matters of plot. I might do my outlining rant. It’s hilarious if I’ve had enough cappuccino.

10:00-11:00 WS VIP Panel: Selling Your Novel (Room 243)

  • Same as above, only it’s about selling a novel.

11:00-12:00 Signing @ Paizo (Booth 203)

  • By this time, I expect most who’ve come to buy books have already done so. Come hang out! Ask me anything about Radovan and the count. I’ll give you an answer.

13:00-15:00 Signing @ Paizo (Booth 203)

  • Seriously, it gets lonely at the booth around this time. Won’t someone bring me a tasty beverage?

15:00-16:00 Pathfinder Tales Panel (TBA)

  • All the Pathfinder Tales people who’ve survived the weekend will be here. I’m sure that’ll include editor James Sutter and probably two or three of the other authors. 

 Where’s Dave? I have a gift for the first person to wave and say, “Be seeing you.”

Gen Con Saturday

The big day! In addition to several cool panels, I hope everyone can spare at least a few minutes to visit me at both the Privateer Press and Paizo Publishing booths. It’s a short walk between them.

08:00-09:00 WS: Sharing Worlds (M) (Room 245)

  • Larry Correia, Richard Lee Byers, Ari Marmell, and Dave Gross. Three of these men have written in the Forgotten Realms setting. Three of them have written in the Iron Kingdoms. Three of them have written for the Pathfinder setting. Only I have written for all three. It’s like I have the one ring. Wait, no. That makes me Gollum, doesn’t it? Never mind, then. We’re going to talk shared worlds, and we’ve some experience in that arena.

10:00-12:00 Signing @ Privateer Press (Booth 609)

  • Just like the same event on Friday, only better because now it’s Saturday.

12:00-13:00 WS: Reading (Room 243)

  • I get to read alongside a promising up-and-comer named Pat Rothfuss. I think tickets are already sold out. Do you think the audience will let me read for more than 10 minutes? Somebody start a pool. I want $10 on 3 minutes.

13:00-15:00 Signing @ Paizo (Booth 203)

Here’s where the 200 people who showed up to my reading with Pat Rothfuss come down to buy all four and a half of my Pathfinder Tales novels. Right?

Where’s Dave? The first person to find me in the convention center and call me “Boss” wins a prize.


Gen Con Friday

10:00-12:00 Signing @ Privateer Press (Booth 609)

  • I’ll join fellow Skull Islanders Larry Correia, Miles Holmes, and Howard Tayler for a meet & greet with all you fantastic readers and readers-to-be. I’ll be signing  the Devil Dogs novella The Devil’s Buy and the Cygnar vs. Convergence novel, Dark Convergence. How does one sign an electronic book? Privateer has that covered. Even if you’ve already bought the books, it’ll be worth visiting to learn the secret.

11:00-12:00 WS: Magic and Mysticism (Room 244)

  • Lou Anders, Brandon Sanderson, Elizabeth Vaughn, and yours truly will discuss how magic works in a fantasy setting, because it sure as heck doesn’t work in an SF setting. 

12:00-13:00 WS: Government & the Rule of Law (Room 244)

  • Whether you’re a reader, writer, or gamer, here’s a subject that’ll help you understand or flesh-out your fantasy theocracies, oligarchies, plutocracies, or whatever. Richard Lee Byers, Jim C. Hines, and Howard Andrew Jones will wax eloquent on the subject, while I interject about watery tarts and the violence inherent in the system.

14:00-15:00 WS: Pitches, Proposals, and Promises (Room 245)

  • Jennifer Brozek, Jaym Gates, Monica Valentinelli, and my token Y chromosome will share our experiences as editors and writers in how best to pitch stories and novels, and why it’s important to deliver what you promise.

16:00-17:00 Signing @ Paizo (Booth 203)

  • The signings today and tomorrow will include some or all of this lot: Richard Lee Byers, Ed Greenwood, Howard Andrew Jones, Chris A. Jackson, James Sutter, Jim Zub, and Yours Truly. Don’t tell any of us that you like our books best while the others are sitting right there! Unless it’s me. The others have thick skins. They’ll be all right.


 Where’s Dave Friday? The first person to shoot me the tines at the convention center today receives a gift.


Gen Con 2013 Overview

This year’s Gen Con is even busier than this list suggests, but here are my public appearances. I hope to see you at some of them.

WS indicates a Writers’ Symposium event, about which I’ll post more later. The WS rooms are just across the hall and upstairs from the exhibit hall. You can download the complete schedule here. If you have never been to a WS event, make it a priority. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out there’s a whole fantasy, SF, and horror literary convention going on at the same time as the game convention. And it’s huge.


08:00-09:00                             WS: Writing 101 (Room 245)

13:00-14:00                             WS: Ancient & Medieval Combat (Room 244)

15:00-16:00                             Signing @ Pelgrane Press (Booth 101)

16:00-18:00                             Signing @ Paizo (Booth 203)


10:00-12:00                             Signing @ Privateer Press (Booth 609)

11:00-12:00                             WS: Magic & Mysticism (Room 244)

12:00-13:00                             WS: Government & the Rule of Law (Room 244)

14:00-15:00                             WS: Pitches, Proposals, and Promises (Room 245)

16:00-17:00                             Signing @ Paizo (Booth 203)


08:00-09:00                             WS: Sharing Worlds (M) (Room 245)

10:00-12:00                             Signing @ Privateer Press (Booth 609)

12:00-13:00                             WS: Reading (Room 243)

13:00-15:00                             Signing @ Paizo (Booth 203)


09:00-10:00                             WS VIP Panel: Plot Mastery (Room 243)

10:00-11:00                             WS VIP Panel: Selling Your Novel (Room 243)

11:00-12:00                             Signing @ Paizo (Booth 203)

13:00-15:00                             Signing @ Paizo (Booth 203)

15:00-16:00                             Pathfinder Tales Panel (TBA)