Five For Writing – David Niall Wilson

This week’s Five For Writing is with writer, editor and publisher David Niall Wilson. The founder of Crossroad Press, David is also an acclaimed novelist, he’s a multiple Bram Stoker Award winner and former president of the HWA. His newest novel is Jurassic Ark, and he was kind enough to take time from his various projects to sit down and answer some questions. There’s even some bonus content at the end.

So, don’t let me keep you from the good stuff. Here’s Five For Writing with David Niall Wilson:

1-We first met when you were writing White Wolf tie-in novels. was it fun to play in
someone else’s sandbox, or was it restricting?

I really enjoyed writing for White Wolf, as well as Star Trek and Stargate. I learned a great deal, though I admit, my personality grated with it a little. A lot of the ideas I liked the best never got picked up, and several times I was told a thing was not right with the rules of the game, when I’d scoured those rules in the information given to me and found things that were obscure, but there. It was much later that I actually read the rest of the books (when we published them at Crossroad Press) that I got more of a feel for how the different clans had acted in other novels, and I understood the sort of “disconnect.” White Wolf wanted me to write within the formula, and I wanted to find all of the things that were loopholes in it.I think, in the end, that we came to a pretty good middle ground. I never knew the figures, but I know The Grails Covenant was always popular (and still is). One of my favorite books is still the Wraith novel I wrote that you edited. I know it was very different from what was expected. I also know because of it I now publish Johnette Napolitano’s journals, so I’ll take that as a win. Also, we’ve stayed in touch, the two of us, and that is very much a win.

Writing your own work and writing for hire are different animals. I’ve also done ghost writing, which is even more stressful. All of it helped me develop my own style and voice. And, as a later question in this interview might reveal, I owe a lot of my work to White Wolf, at least tangentially.

2-You’ve published multiple short fiction collections, as well as numerous novels. Which form do you prefer, and why?

When I stared writing, I had a hard time reaching 2500 words. Short fiction was all I thought about, and I lacked the commitment and confidence to tackle a novel. As time went on, and as I started getting published, the stories grew longer. Part of it was the incentive of being paid by the word, and part of it was just that my writing was growing and expanding. Things missing from earlier stories matured in the later works.

One of my favorite stories about my career is that I’d sold a vampire novel to a small press publisher, which helped to sell a Star Trek on a pitch, then sold a trilogy to White Wolf, but I’d only written the one vampire novel, which got canceled and sold to a different publisher later on, at that point. The pressure was on.

I love a very good short story. I despise bad ones. I have started writing more short fiction again recently, but for years, every story I started turned into a novel. It might be a curse. Several of my novels (including that first vampire novel) began as novelettes or short stories. It all sort of blends together, when I try to nail it all down, and now even the bulk of my novels connect, cross-over, and seem to be one huge story.

I don’t prefer either format, but I am most comfortable writing novels. That was not always true, so I am working my way backward. I have a story upcoming in an anthology from Cemetery Dance, “Hickory Nuts and Bones” that might t be the best I’ve ever written. Cliché as it will sound, it’s a process. They are all as long as they need to be, and if I write them too short, they bother me until I fix it.

3-You basically described your anthology project from 2020, Voices in The Darkness, as a middle finger raised to a bad year. What was the experience of putting that together like?

I was in a sort of writer’s block at the time. The whole experience of the former administration, diving into the depths of the pandemic and 2020 should have given me time and inspiration for writing. I had all the extra hours I needed. I wrote… very little. I finished a novella I liked that came out in an anthology, and I poked at two novels, but itfelt empty. So, having published a magazine back in the day, I put my editor's hat back
on.

I knew if I opened the floodgates, it would drown me, so instead I picked my authors. People I knew I could count on. I explained to them that I wanted to create something in 2020 that was worth remembering. And they got to it.

The book is very good. Maybe not exactly what I thought it would be, but in some ways a lot more. There is no theme. The final story, by Brian A. Hopkins, who I have been luring back into writing where he belongs, is absolutely fantastic. I met new authors. I read their books. It helped me, even as I worked on it.

The stories are so different it’s hard to explain how they work as a whole, but they do. I’m very proud of that, and through the editing, and the work, I got back down to my own writing, finished the story I mentioned above that sold to Cemetery Dance, and moved on into 2021 completing Jurassic Ark.

4-These days you wear two hats: writer and publisher. Which do you prefer, and why?

Writer, by a country mile, but that’s maybe an unfair question. As a publisher I’ve had the opportunity to make people happy. I’ve helped revive careers. We’e brought countless books back from obscurity to new generations of readers. I love that we do that. The only thing I don’t love about it is that it eats so much of the short remaining time I have to write my own books and stories.

It’s a very difficult balancing act. At times, it seems impossible. I’m getting a handle on it again, though. Simplifying, streamlining, and carving out time for what matters. I feel as if both of the two hats are vitally important to me now, and they keep me hopping, for sure. Someday, if the stars align, I’ll be able to pull back from the day job to only write and publish. That would be simpler, but I just don’t make enough at either of the things I love to comfortably do that so far. It’s frustrating, I admit. Publisher’s Weekly almost always loves me. Most of my reviews are very positive. The readership has never really come back. I had a period where I did not write much because my life wasmessed up, and so, the readers moved on. The fight to get them back is real (lol).

5-Jurassic Ark: How many dinosaurs is too many?

This book was a revelation to me. Back during the former guy’s regime, my wife and I wrote a book together. Remember Bowling Green: The Adventures of Frederick Douglass- Time Traveler. It was a parody of several gaffes by Trump and his administration involving a non-extant tragedy in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and Trump saying that Frederick Douglass was “doing great things.” It was fun, and funny, but not deep.

Later that year I saw some articles about the guy in KY who created a Noah’s Ark theme park. There were cardboard cutouts of dinosaurs. I thought I’d write another parody where it was 6000 years ago, like the Creationists say. Men and dinosaurs sharing the world. Then I started to write.

Noah’s story is full of a very long list of moral questions. His family, the way he treated them, the way the story ends. It’s a very human story. What ended up happening, as I wrote, was that they came to life. They started to matter. I studied. I bought books on Jewish folklore.

Jurassic Ark is, in my opinion, one of my best books. It’s age appropriate down to teens, I’d guess, but complex enough for adults. It addresses issues and questions I had no idea would be a part of it. It even has a subtle nod to the Irish Rovers, for thosewho get the reference. I hope people will love it. But it DOES have dinosaurs. It has giants, and magic. It’s an adventure, with some romance… we’ll see what the world thinks.

FINAL NOTE: I thought I would see something to bring me to the explanation I mentioned above about how White Wolf influenced my career. My series, “The DeChance Chronicles,” was partially inspired by the desire to write something similar to the World of Darkness novels, but without boundaries. At least two of the stories were rejected by White Wolf along the way and modified to my own world, but a lot of the work I did for White Wolf gave me the skills and mindset to make it all work. Writing truly is a journey, and thanks for the opportunity to sit back, think, and write about it.

 

Big thanks to David for taking time to answer these questions. Check out his books at his website and don’t forget to visit Crossroad Press, home of my upcoming novel Ghost of a Marriage.

Next week brings an old friend to Five For Writing. Novelist, RPG writer and video game writer extraordinaire Lucien Soulban will be strapped in for what promises to be a very special edition of the series. See you then!

Ghost of a Marriage Arrives!

The book’s not due out until February, but guess what showed up on my doorstep the other day? That’s right, it’s Ghost of a Marriage. I am thrilled to death, and very much appreciate the kind folks at Crossroad Press who made this happen.

If you want to get your hands on it, too, you can pre-order it here.

Five For Writing – Bridgett Nelson

Bridgett Nelson is this week’s guest on Five For Writing. A rising star in the horror field, she made a splash with her debut reading at Scares That Care ’21. A former nurse, she’s got an ambitious slate of projects lined up, but she’s not so busy that she didn’t have a few minutes to spare to answer five questions. And so I give you Five For Writing with Bridgett Nelson:

1-Your first reading was the opening reading of a major horror convention, Scares That Care. What were you feeling going up to the podium?

I did, indeed, have my very first reading at my very first in-person horror convention, Scares That Care ‘21, and I guess you could say Todd Keisling and I “opened the show.” Shortly before our allotted time, I was standing at the lectern in the conference room, chatting with Todd, as more and more people wandered in and took a seat. And not just any people either. Oh, no. Long-time, fan-favorite horror authors like Jeff Strand, Bob Ford, and Stephen Kozeniewski (not to mention my Bram Stoker Award-nominated partner, Todd) were all there. I was definitely feeling my newbie status. Thankfully, Todd was an amazing partner, very sweetly introduced me, and paved the way for a successful reading. Even still, as I walked toward the podium, my heart was racing, my hands and knees were shaking, and my skin was clammy. I found myself leaning hard against the lectern for support. My voice trembled on and off through the entire fifteen-minute reading. Public speaking is not a strength of mine, and putting myself out there as a writer, for the very first time, certainly added another layer of vulnerability.

All this to say…
Drunk. I felt drunk. 

2-Your reading featured a very memorable sequence involving cannibalism and some severely gnarly toes. What inspired that?

It’s a longstanding family tradition of mine…

Seriously, it wasn’t inspired by anything other than, “What would be a vaguely funny and disturbing body part to force a woman to eat at gunpoint?” Rotten toes, for the win!

That scene unexpectedly got a big audience response. Several people who attended my reading still tease and joke with me about it to this day. For those who weren’t at Scares That Care, the story is called “Reflections” and you’ll be able to read all about the gnarly toes very, very soon. You can also hear my trembling voice reading the story to you on the Necrocasticon podcast.  

3-You were a nurse for many years. Have your experiences there informed your fiction?

I sure was! When I was a senior in high school, my two choices for a college majors included sports medicine (which I’d planned to turn into a physical therapy career), or creative writing. My parents pushed me toward sports medicine, knowing I’d be more likely to find, well, you know…paid work. After a few months, realizing I was bored to death wrapping college athletes’ ankles, I decided to switch to nursing. 

Following graduation, I worked on a renal/urology/renal transplant floor, then on a cardiac step-down unit (where I primarily cared for open heart surgery patients), and finally in the operating room, where I felt most at home. (The stories I could tell after years as a nurse.)

Have my experiences in the medical field informed my fiction? Absolutely! It makes the physiology of torture and death scenes so much easier to write. (For clarification purposes, it’s important to note this is not me saying I tortured and killed my patients.) In fact, my very first short story, “Political Suicide,” is set primarily in a hospital. The main character is 40-something neurosurgeon hell bent on getting revenge for her son. Let’s just say she uses her medical knowledge in a very twisted way.

4-What made you decide to start writing?

I’ve always loved writing. I was the feature editor for our school paper and even wrote a weekly column for our county journal. But life happened. I began my nursing career, got married, had babies (okay, in all honesty, I had babies BEFORE I got married…but let’s pretend I’m all traditional and stuff), and writing became a distant memory. 

Many years ago, I decided to start reviewing the hundreds of books I read each year. Through my reviews, I met the CEO of a new Indie publishing company, R.E. Sargent of Sinister Smile Press. He encouraged me to submit a story for their upcoming anthology, so I did. And it sold. Now I’m happily writing short stories and attempting to fake my way through my first novel.
Life is bizarre, but lovely. I’m happier than I’ve ever been – I feel like I’ve finally found my niche…and my people. Although I loved nursing, I now know I should have been writing all along.

5-You’re putting together a short fiction collection. What can we expect from that?

Yes! And I’m incredibly excited to announce the title here first! My debut short fiction collection, A BOUQUET OF VISCERA, will be available in spring 2022. You can expect dark, diabolical stories, often times involving revenge, and lots of fun twists.

I’d also like to give a HUGE thank you to Rich, who, within seconds of me telling him what I was looking for, came up with that brilliant title.

Big thanks to Bridgett for her thoughtful and patient answers. Up next is writer, editor and publisher David Niall Wilson, the brains and pen behind Crossroad Press! Until next week…

Five For Writing – Eddy Webb

Welcome back to another edition of Five For Writing. This week’s interviewee is award-winning game designer and writer Eddy Webb. The maestro behind Pugmire, Eddy has worked on an insanely wide variety of properties and has the trophies to prove it. He’s also been a standard bearer for accessibility in games, and contributed an essay to Transgressive Horror, a new collection of essays on horror movies that broke the rules. Without further ado, here’s Five For Writing with Eddy:
 
1-What was the inspiration for Pugmire?
It was a combination of things. Like many tabletop gamers my age (i.e., someone who grew up on D&D in the 70s and 80s), I always had visions of writing my own sprawling epic fantasy world that I could run my friends through. The one big problem I kept running into was that I found a lot of fantasy settings more work than fun. It felt like I would have to read fifty pages of “and then king so-and-so defeated the army of blah-de-blah” before I could even make a character. As such, it sat in the back of my mind for a long time.
 
Then, one day around 2014 I was walking my two pugs Puck and Murray, and I noticed their different behaviors. Puck was very friendly with little fear, while Murray was more contemplative and reserved. So, being the geek I am, I started comparing them to D&D classes. My mind started spinning on the idea: how much of dog behavior could I map to Dungeons & Dragons? Turns out, it worked surprisingly well.
 
From there, I knew I had something. Early on I wanted it to be more science-fantasy instead of pure fantasy, as someone who was a fan of things like Gamma World, Thundarr the Barbarian, and Tom Baker’s era of Doctor Who. So, making the world of Pugmire the distant future instead of a mystical past was not only an easy decision, but something that helped the rest of the world snap into shape in my head. From there, it was the challenging work of making the thing!
 
2-You’ve carried the banner for accessibility in gaming. How are you carrying on that fight?
On a couple of different fronts. As someone with hearing loss, I find that it’s a disability that a lot of game companies don’t think to design for aside from “well, we’ve already added subtitles.” So when I’m able, I offer resources and consultation to help add accessibility tools to games. A lot of times, accessibility features are things that even abled gamers like to have too!
 
More commonly, though, I work by trying to include disabled folks in my stories as much as I can. And not in the “oh it’s so inspiring that they can overcome their challenge” kind of bullshit, either — people with hearing loss can be badasses, too! It’s why I was so excited with the inclusion of Amaya (a deaf warrior) in Netflix’s The Dragon Prince, and I’m excited that it seems like Hawkeye will have hearing aids in the upcoming Disney+ show. But I can only name a handful of cool, exciting protagonists that are deaf or hard of hearing — more often, they’re support characters or (even worse) the butt of jokes. So I try to naturally include disabled folks where I can.
 
Since I work in tabletop RPGs, I also work with other disabled writers and creators to helped abled folks authentically and respectfully portray disabled people. Giving advice and guidance on that front not only keeps abled folks from inadvertently being offensive, but also shows that we can be dramatic and interesting characters to portray, too!

3-You’ve won a fistful of gaming awards. How does it feel to be recognized at that level for your work?
Weirdly, it doesn’t really register. Most of the time I don’t even realize it’s happened — someone will point it out to me, and I’ll go “oh, neat! That’s cool” and move on. A lot of the time, winning an award doesn’t move the needle on my day-to-day life: I don’t get more money, I don’t sell more games, and I don’t get asked to talk at more conferences. But it’s something nice to put on my resume.
 
There’s one exception to that: The Robin D. Laws Innovation Award. That’s one where they flew me out to a nice dinner where I got the plaque, which I still have today. It was in recognition of my work in helping to push the tabletop RPG industry in terms of digital and print-on-demand production, something that’s a standard in the industry now. I still remember that award even ten years later.
4-Over the years, you’ve worked on a variety of properties. Which was your favorite, and why?
It’s hard to pick just one. A lot of them were fun to work on, and it seems like my answers change with each new opportunity. Right now, I’m excited to have worked on the official Transformers RPG, because not only has that property been a huge part of my life, but also, I’ve felt the lack of an official RPG was a huge gap — I even ran a homebrew game of it for my friends back in 1999!Similarly, it was a huge thrill to work on and then ultimately manage Vampire: The Masquerade, back when I was handling the 20th Anniversary Edition line. I’ve always had a fondness for the World of Darkness, going back to 1992, so having the opportunity to work on and shape such a property remains something I’m proud of. On the other hand, I really liked working on a Futurama mobile game, because I not only got to work directly with Patric Verrone who worked on the original show, but also with Dave Grossman of Monkey Island fame. I felt like a roadie in a room full of rock stars, but I learned so much about writing comedy from those two, and I’ll be eternally thankful to them for that, even if the game itself has sadly crossed over the rainbow bridge into “unprofitability.”
 
I dunno. Ask me again in a few months. I’ll probably have different answers for you!

5-You’re an avid Sherlockian. What’s the appeal of the Holmes mysteries for you?

It’s a couple of things. On the one hand, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had an amazing gift for description — even though his stories were written over a century ago, the flavor and pace of the stories still resonate even today, and even a casual reader can still pick them up and enjoy them. So as a writer, I have a deep appreciation for how effortless his prose feels compared to his contemporaries.
 
But more than that, I love the relationship between Holmes and Watson. You don’t have many friendships in fiction between two men who just fully and completely respect each other. Granted, Holmes and Watson were curtailed by the social norms of Victorian society, but that didn’t stop them from caring about each other on a deep level. And since the stories are written from Watson’s perspective, his nature as an unreliable narrator gives you peeks and clues as to the real dynamic between them. It’s a lot of depth and texture — so much that Sherlockians like me are still picking it apart 125 years later.
 
And right now, there’s a veritable explosion of Sherlockian creativity. There are, of course, floods of new stories in the classic mode of Doyle’s prose, but there are also so many imaginative remixes on the concept. I often joke that one of my favorite takes is the cartoon Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, because it’s just so audaciously gonzo, but there are also really compelling takes like a queer cyberpunk take in “A Study in Honor” by Claire O’Dell, or a modern spin featuring black men like “IQ” by Joe Ide. It all goes back to that relationship between two very different people who both want to do the right thing and drag horrible secrets into the light of day.
 
 
Big thanks to Eddy for his thoughtful answers! You can find him on Twitter at @pugsteady and at his site. You can find out more about Pugmire at RealmsofPugmire.com. Next week, I’ll be interviewing an up and comer on the horror scene, Bridgett Nelson. See you then!
 

Happy Halloween!

Wishing all of you a deliciously spooky Halloween (or Samhain), and hoping you get to frighten small children (but not too much), frighten large children (ok, a bit more), and hand out giant gobs of candy!

Also, happy book birthday to The Jewish Book of Horror, which releases today! It contains my story “On Seas of Blood and Salt”, along with 21 other great stories. PW called it “a superior anthology”, and who are we to argue with them?

 

Five For Writing – Josh Schlossberg

Joining me today is writer and editor Josh Schlossberg. A member and co-founder of the Denver Horror Collective, Josh is also the editor of The Jewish Book of Horror, which is out in time for Hanukkah this year. He was kind enough to take a moment to answer some questions, so without further ado, I give you Five For Writing with Josh Schlossberg:

1-What inspired you to create The Jewish Book of Horror?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you that I heard a booming voice coming from some flaming piece of shrubbery or a cloud on top of a mountain. I was actually talking with my mom on the phone about how I wanted to push the envelope on horror fiction (without getting canceled), and so I said to her in jest, “I should just do a Jewish book of horror.” And then the menorah in my mind lit right up.

2-Putting the book together, did anything surprise you?

I was most surprised by the many flavors of Jewish horror we received in terms of author submissions. Many of the staples for sure, such as golems, dybbuks, and demons. But thanks to their creativity, THE JEWISH BOOK OF HORROR has redrawn the boundaries of this barely known subgenre.  

3-How does your Judaism intersect with your writing?

I’d say mostly through a sensitivity and awareness of the shadow throughout all dimensions of life. Part of that undoubtedly came from reading about the Holocaust from a young age. Yet the rest may have been genetically passed down through the generations, as in the past, an unwary Jew was often a dead Jew.   

4-Your website focuses on biological horror. How would you define that, and what’s the appeal of it to you?

The definition of biology is the study of “living creatures and vital processes,” so it’s basically that plus horror. Ever since I was a little boy looking for frogs on streambanks and inside sewer grates, I’ve felt very connected to the natural world. And the more you learn about how nature works—from ecosystems to microbes, from wildlife to the human body—the more fascinating and disturbing life becomes. 

5-You talk about “the gatekeeper’s burden.” Editing two anthologies, what have you learned about the gatekeeper role, and how has it influenced you as a writer?

That a gatekeeper has an obligation to treat authors with respect, whether it’s passing on a submission or buying a story, because without them, there is no book. 

In terms of gatekeeping influencing my writing, I now have more of an understanding of how an editor might pass on one of my own stories simply because it doesn’t fit into their idea for an anthology or meet their specific tastes, not because its lacking in story or craft. And that the behavior of editors that tends to peeve authors the most—ignoring emails, form rejections, no feedback—is probably more about poor time management than spite.  

 A big thank you to Josh for taking the time to answer the questions. You can find The Jewish Book of Horror, which contains my story “On Seas of Blood and Salt” for sale just in time for Hanukkah.

Next up is the master of Pugmire, Eddy Webb. Tune in next week for some very good dogs!

Five For Writing – Heidi McDonald

It is a privilege to give you today’s Five For Writing with Heidi McDonald. One of the leading authorities on romance in games, Heidi is a Narrative Designer for Fire Hose Games. An author and speaker, she has received plenty of critical acclaim. That being said, I give you Five For Writing with Heidi McDonald:

1-You’ve staked out romance in games as territory you’re very comfortable in. How did that come to be?

In 2003, I played Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR), which made me want to be a game writer, because it was the first game that ever made me FEEL. Then in 2009, Dragon Age: Origins hit, and sent the feels to a completely new level because of how deep the romance content was (which I found completely by accident). I was so determined to have my relationship with Alistair Theirin turn out the way I needed it to, that I completely re-played 80 hours of the game just so I could end up with him. I’d never been that emotionally invested in a game, ever. I went to school in 2010 to pursue my degrees, and while I was there, Dragon Age 2 came out. In that game, the companions were all “playersexual” (would respond to your romance efforts regardless of the gender of the player).
A professor assigned us to write a paper about “any aspect of any medium we enjoy,” so that meant I was going to write about video games. Right at that same time, there was a big kerfuffle on the BioWare Social Network where a guy who identified as “Straight White Male Gamer” took issue with the fact that there was non-heterosexual content in his game, saying that since he represents the majority demographic, he should be the one catered to. David Gaider (a narrative hero of mine and Narrative Director on Dragon Age at the time) actually came onto the forum and directly answered the guy (which was really SUPER rare) by saying look…that content is optional, you can not play it, or you can play a different game, because our games are for everyone. That’s what made me initially curious: is that how the majority of the players feel? How, why, and who are they romancing, and how does that compare to their romance practices in real life? I had my topic for my paper. I soon realized through an unfruitful search for sources that somehow, nobody had asked those questions yet. So, for my paper, I decided to conduct that research myself, and report the findings.
The paper became a lecture, the lecture became a GDC talk, the GDC talk got picked up in different places around the world; soon I was doing supplemental research that took my original questions further, I co-founded the Romance and Sexuality in Games SIG with the IGDA, and then in 2017 the book came out (Digital Love: Romance and Sexuality in Games). It kind of became my thing because I was the first to ask some of those questions. It’s been really rewarding to see other research sprouting from mine and a real industry genre and conversation spring up around it in the past 10 years. Oddly enough, I’d done plenty of work around player engagement and empathy, and plenty of talking and writing about player behavior relating to romance in single-player RPG’s…but I’d done very little actual game writing of romance content. When I went freelance in 2019, my research experience and my samples began to get me actual work doing that, and for the past three years, I’ve actually done a ton of the actual work. So, having “what the players need for it to be fulfilling” from my research equipped me to be better at writing in that genre, though I’ve also developed science fiction and historical fiction as additional specialties. Right now, as Narrative Designer for Fire Hose Games, I’m working on something that’s science fiction. I do expect to turn out more romance in the future, though!
2-As an experienced game developer, do you think there’s a responsibility to younger developers coming up?
Most definitely. When I was new to the industry, I was able to succeed because I had influential people like yourself holding the door open for me and reminding me that I belong. I try to pay that forward for others (particularly people in marginalized communities) in a number of ways, whether that’s teaching young writers at a university or helping with workshop and curriculum planning for friends who teach others, sharing my knowledge through lectures and chapters in how-to books, recommending a colleague, training more junior writers as a lead or senior in the workplace, helping people with portfolios and interview skills, talking shop with people who ask, whether that’s press people, friends who have cool websites, or talking to some high school student who has encountered my work and contacts me out of nowhere. Some folks might be opposed to giving away knowledge so freely because they feel a sense of competition, because in fairness, it has become way more competitive in recent years. Our discipline is pretty over-saturated right now, professionally speaking…hundreds of applications for every one job…but I am still a big believer in the idea that there’s enough opportunity out there for everyone. Also, game writing is a relatively small community, and you’ll quickly get a reputation if you are cool, or if you are a jerk. I’d rather be cool. Besides, you never know which one of these youngsters will write the next breakout game that sells millions of copies and they get millions of VC dollars, they found a studio, and you have to apply to them for your next job. 😉
3-What says good game writing to you?
If a story can emotionally engage me and offer choices that matter to the outcome, that’s a good story. I also really love it when a writer will take a trope and flip it on its head somehow, like, add an interesting twist nobody has seen before, or handle it in an unexpected way. One of the best screenwriting books I read in college (where I majored in Film and Digital Media, alongside a dual major of Communications) was all about how you have to understand genres and conventions in order to break them (I can’t remember the name of it), and for me, effective twisting and breaking of known tropes when done well is just (*chef’s kiss*) awesome and gratifying. I have tried to do that in my own writing, too. The best way I can explain it is writing for Star Trek Timelines...Star Trekis a 50+-year-old genre with established lore and fans who are very particular and passionate about that lore. What I was tasked with as a writer on that IP was both to give the players enough of what they DO expect, balanced with something believable that fits the lore but is NOT expected. That’s how I feel about writing, in general, as it relates to playing with tropes. You want the tropes to be recognizable enough to be accessible to people, but at the same time you want to bring something unexpected to it.
4-What’s the one game writing trope you hope never to see again?
This is endemic both to romance game writing and romance writing at large, but it irks me when a happy ever, the entire end goal, is heterosexual marriage. Not only do I think that doesn’t have to be true, but I think it propagates unhealthy expectations about marriage being the be-all and end-all, and honestly, it’s hard. Relationships are a lot of work. I’ve been married and divorced three times (yes, the romance writer who keeps getting divorced, it’s ironic, I know…it just means I’m really good at falling in love). Two of them were abusive, and one was a case where over 15 years we didn’t put enough work into US and just, over the course of jobs and children and life, grew apart. The relationship I’m in now is deeper, stronger, and better than any of those marriages were, and we have no plans to marry. We have all the ingredients that matter, we’re doing that important daily work, and don’t want to fix what isn’t broken. Marriage is important to some people, but that shouldn’t mean that it’s required for everyone, in every case. There are happy ways to be which are different from that. I tend to prefer payoffs that are in a very strong single moment of connection which shows that the couple has arrived at some very deep understanding together, rather than a “welp, better book the church, the end.”

Also, if “choice for choice’s sake with no real change or impact” could die in a fire, all of game writing would be better off.

5=Why the obsession with pirates? Is it a Pittsburgh thing?
Actually, no. I’m from Pittsburgh, but not a baseball fan. The only sport I follow is ice hockey (Let’s Go Pens!). The pirate thing started for me in 2003 with the original movie Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. The ride at Disney World had always been my favorite, and when the movie came out, it was everything I thought a movie should be in a way that I hadn’t experienced since my favorite movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. When the second Piratesmovie came along, I and the kids dressed as pirates to see it the first night. That movie had a lot more actual lore in it, and when I went to research how much of it was fictional and how much was not, I ended up learning a whole lot about actual Caribbean piracy and became an accidental expert because I was really interested in the stories. Right around this same time, I started going to GDC as a conference associate (CA), and the CA’s often wear quirky hats, so I wore a pirate hat. Someone dared me to wear the hat during my conference talk — anyone else, I’d have told them to get bent, but it was Jason Vandenberghe, and when the Dark Lorde dares you to do something, YOU DO IT. Then I ended up in all kinds of pictures with it on, and it became a Thing, like an expectation, the thing people came to expect from me. I would be completely in character at work during Talk Like  A Pirate Day, collecting pirate books and paraphernalia, even went so far as to join pirate guilds in Los Angeles, and I walked the red carpet at the Hollywood world premiere of Pirates 5, as the relative of a friend was the person who planned that premiere. (I’m not sure I can top that experience.) I went on to write a spicy pirate romance story for SANA: Interactive Stories, which became one of their most popular series (The Primrose), and I’m in the process of novelizing it now. The pirate love interest in those stories is based on my love interest in real life, with his permission and support.
I will say, though, that for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the pandemic, I’ve been looking to change the whole pirate image a bit. Showboating that way was fun for a while, but I look back on it and find that it was pretty self-indulgent, and that’s ultimately different from how I would prefer to come across from now on. My new aspiration is to focus more on deeper things that matter to the present: helping and showing care toward others, concentrating more seriously on making work that I’m proud of, and being less of an attention seeker. I recently gave away most of my pirate cosplay stuff. I may want to dress like a pirate some other time, but I only need one outfit for that and not a whole closet and hat rack. I will always be interested in the whole pirate thing but I have other, more important focuses now.
Thank you to Heidi for her time answering these questions. You can find her here on Twitter.
Next week in the hot seat is Josh Schlossberg, the editor of The Jewish Book of Horror. See you then!

Transgressive Horror

I’ve got an essay in the forthcoming book Transgressive Horror: Reflections on Scare Films That Broke the Rules. It’ll be out on Halloween if all goes well. My essay is on one of my personal favorite films, Night of the Demon, and it dives into some of the reasons I love it so.

Editor and Ghost Show Press maven Prof. Christopher McGlothlin, had this to say:

The Everyone’s Gone to the Movies series presents writers of diverse background and experience to share their knowledge, wit, smarts, fun, and passion about movies that stand out from the infinite digital choices; films that expand the boundaries of our minds and imagination. Cinema has an unmatched power to entertain and enlighten, and we invite our audience to join us: “Buy the ticket. Take the ride.”