Five For Writing: Mur Lafferty

Mur Lafferty needs no introduction, but I’m going to introduce her anyway. The award-winning host of the I Should Be Writing podcast, she is also the proud owner of an Astounding Award and a noted editor as well. From the humor of the Shambling Guides to the deep space thrills of Six Wakes, she has been a versatile and skilled storyteller. And now she’s consented to answer five questions. Without further ado, here’s Five For Writing with Mur Lafferty:

1-You’ve won a giant pile of awards for your writing and podcasting. Where do you keep them all?

You’re setting me up for a massive hubris fall, aren’t you?
Back in 1998 when my husband and I bought our house we discovered a corner at the top of the stairs that jutted out, creating a small, pleasant shelf. I told Jim that it was the “hugo shelf.” Did I ever think I’d actually put one there? Heck no. But there it sits now, with some other awards around it and hung on the wall above it.

2-Six Wakes is probably your most critically acclaimed work. What was the inspiration for it?

I love stories where people are deep in the void of space. I had been wanting to write a generational spaceship story, but unlike others I had read, I didn’t want the people aboard to gradually lose their memory of why they were there, or even knowing they were on a ship. So I tried to figure out how I could use the same crew generation after generation without bringing in space elves or space vampires.
Then, while playing the spaceship sim game FTL, I noticed the cloning tech that you can put in your ship would not clone a crew member to make more of them, but only cloned them when they died, so cloning was a way to boost immortality. I hadn’t seen cloning treated like that before, and it got me thinking. Eventually I put the “cloning to live forever” idea with the “same crew drives the starship” idea.

3-You did the novelization for the Han Solo origin movie. What was it like to take on that challenge?

It was exciting and a huge honor. People think that the novelizations are just churned out retellings with deleted scenes, but more often than not, those expanded scenes were added by the novelist. For Solo, the scene where Han and Qi’ra hide among in the vat of eels was a deleted scene, but the scenes of Chewbacca taking over Lando’s bathroom (and his rare hair products), and the real reason L3 consented to upload to the Falcon, that’s canon that I wrote.
I discovered partway in that the novelist has a unique opportunity by presenting a different point of view. I was trying to figure out how to write a scene that had already been written in the script, and then written in the middle grade book (which was nearly finished by the time I started the adult novelization). Every character does the same things in all three tellings, so how could I make mine different but still the same? I realized presenting a different POV would show the expected scene, while making it feel new and presenting new information.

4-You’ve also done a Minecraft novel. How did you come up with a story for a game that doesn’t really have a story?

I get asked this a lot! Minecraft was super easy to write for specifically because the game doesn’t have a plot. You can put whatever story you want in Minecraft with one overall rule: the story must follow the rules of the game. I was constantly checking what items or food could be built with what materials, what monsters were where, etc. My biggest hurdle was that I wanted the mysterious journal writer to be terrible at mixing potions, so I had to look into potion mistakes more than potions that helped.

5-You’re an award winning podcaster. How does the podcasting intersect with  your writing?

I wouldn’t have the career I have today without podcasting. Being one of the first in the space allowed me to build an audience and to interview authors and network (I had no idea I was doing the networking thing, fwiw). I started publishing my own fiction via podcast and I started knowing more and more people at conventions as I set up interviews. Those two things finally helped boost my career toward getting published.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t have eventually been published otherwise, but I met my first editor while I was in line for a drink at a private party. I had gone to the private party as the +1 of the writer I had interviewed earlier that day, and he was at the con alone, so he offered me his ticket. Networking is like being tall and playing basketball. Can you build a career without networking? Sure! Does it give you a boost if you can network? Definitely. This is why I encourage all baby writers to get to cons, or at least virtual cons, as soon as they can (taking into account pandemic, money, bandwidth, etc.)
Huge thanks to Mur for sitting down for these! You can find her and her multitudinous projects online at the Murverse.

Five For Writing – John Goodrich

John Goodrich is a a man who knows what he likes, and what he likes is giant monsters. An authority on kaiju, he’s also an accomplished fiction author, with titles like Hag and  to his credit. He lives in Vermont, which is possibly the last state that Godzilla would destroy if given the chance, and he was kind enough to sit down for five (plus one bonus) questions. Here’s Five For Writing with John Goodrich:

1-Why the obsession with kaiju?
Godzilla made a real impression on me when I was young. Kids live in a world where many people are larger, and stronger than them, with often unguessable motives. So kaiju were very much fantasy fulfillment, someone who was bigger than the adults around me?
1A-What about giant monsters speaks to you?
Their general don’t-give-a-shit attitude in regards to architecture and infrastructure. Also that often, in a film, the very common plot resolution of ‘shoot it’ or ‘bomb it’ doesn’t work, so another plot solution has to be found.
2-Why would a toddler take up a life of crime as a hitman?
When someone, even if they are very young, has a very specific set of skills, how else are they going to earn money? My protagonist was barred from the usual legal gun-using professions. He barred from police work because of the height and age requirements. The same for the military. What choice did he have but to turn to a life of crime?
3-You play a lot of roleplaying games. Has that influenced your writing at all?
Absolutely. Sitting at an RPG session listening to how other people perceive their characters is a great mine for characters who don’t think like I do. Further, my first articles were published in role-playing magazines, and several of my stories have been published by Chaosium, who produce the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game. I’ve learned a lot of history to give my games more credibility, and that often finds its way into my fiction.
4-You live in Vermont. What impact does that have on your writing?
Leaving New England for eleven years and then coming back has led me to a greater appreciation for this part of the country. New England has a history of hidden sin and judgment, of old stories like Old Slipperyskin, the bear that walks and talks like a man. Also, the summer of 1770 when northeastern Vermont was overrun by a wave of worms that ate all the wheat and corn.
5-You’ve written for a couple of anthologies centered on the Lovecraftian Mythos. What’s the appeal for you?
The unknown. Vampires, werewolves and ghosts have some pretty strict rules about how they operate and can be destroyed. You can defy those rules, and plenty of writers have, but they have to be acknowledged in some fashion. Lovecraft’s creations are a total curve ball, the scary unknown something we don’t understand. There’s a thrill reading something that is that unknown, and a real pleasure in writing something so strange.
That’s all from John. Thanks to him for taking the time to answer! Next week, my interviewee is someone who needs no introduction, but I’ll introduce her anyway – the mighty Mur Lafferty! See you then!

Licking Roadkill at Pseudopod

I am very happy to announce that my Thanksgiving werewolf story, “Licking Roadkill”, is up for your listening and reading pleasure thanks to the fine folks at PseudoPod. Check it out here!

Five For Writing – Lucien Soulban

What is there to say about Lucien Soulban besides the fact that he’s got one of the coolest names in the game writing industry? Well, I could go into his extensive video game credits (Watch_Dogs 2, Rainbow Six: Siege, Far Cry 3&4 and many more) or I could talk about his tabletop RPG writing (such as Orpheus, or his extensive work on Mutants and Masterminds). Then again, I could mention his fiction, or I could just say that he’s one of the most talented writers I know and someone I am proud to call a friend. So it is with great pleasure that I give you Five For Writing with Lucien Soulban

1-What are the differences for you between writing fiction and writing games?

Ooof, you’re really starting with a “no-easy-answer” right off the bat here. This question has so many moving parts… and you’re smirking. I know you, Richard, you know this isn’t easy to answer and you’re smirking because you’re pleased with yourself. Okay, brother, bearing in mind there’s so much more I could be sharing….

Writing games lies in “interesting” and fluid territory because it’s constantly at the mercy of the technology and business models that drives the industry, and narrative has to adapt alongside it. Fiction is at the mercy of its publishing mediums and distribution networks, but aside from adjusting voice and content to cater to more modern audiences, it’s got its methodology pretty well nailed down, while videogames have to change the very way in which they tell stories.

When narrative became a serious component of production teams, we looked to Hollywood to define our goalposts, but it was mostly linear storytelling. Open world and persistent open world shifted that model again, and then battle royals and team-based shooters and monetization* shook the trees even harder. It was difficult enough that some big companies decided that “single-player games are dead….” Each time the industry re-oriented itself, it’s demanded a near polar shift in narrative structure to adjust and reprioritize what story means in those instances. And writers have to prove adaptable in a way that isn’t demanded of fiction writers (and before anyone flies off the handle, yes, fiction writers have a changing and volatile landscape to contend with, but imagine if the very way you wrote and told stories had to change as well).

On the whole, however, there are some elements that never change despite our fluid craft. Very few mediums allow for the exploration of character like fiction does because fiction gives you access to a character’s thoughts. Videogames need to jump through a few extra hoops to do that, and often getting access to a game character’s thoughts eventually betrays the narrative integrity of those thoughts because they’re coupled with artificial gameplay components: “Where do I go next?” “There must be an axe around here to kill that boss,” “hmm, a puzzle. Maybe the answer was something I read earlier,” etc. 

In short, any item of investment to make narrative work in a game comes with a price tag, and often times, the only way to justify that price tag is by linking it back to gameplay or level design. Thus, our subtext is dominated by contrivance. What fiction can do with a deft and authentic hand, videogames have to work at to create the authentic inner world of their characters.

In today’s market, however, where video game writers have an easier time over fiction writers is that we don’t need to brand ourselves or to pitch work with an eye on creating a full-on IPs. All that stuff is already frontloaded for us. We have marketing teams that do that and our branding and IP is generally built around gameplay. We have a relatively quantifiable customer base that lets us know how many units we can sell and whether they’re into the content we’re creating. Sure, it means steering said content in specific directions to accommodate the brand, but it doesn’t all fall on our shoulders. The burden is shared and even alleviated thanks to the experts we work alongside.

Naturally, that dovetails nicely into the big difference between writing for games and writing fiction… persistent group input. Writing fiction, you’re in this wonderful little bubble, working on your own stuff until it’s done and until you’re ready to share it. Video game writing is constantly scrutinized and evaluated whether you think it’s ready or not. In fiction, the job of the first draft isn’t to stand up to scrutiny… its only job is to get written. The precision comes after that. The story and the novel come after that. Hell, I even read once that Pixar doesn’t know the final themes of its movies until the first draft is written. In video games, a complete first draft of the script isn’t an option. You’re getting feedback from the moment your writing is put to the page, and everyone has an opinion. Everyone. Every. One. If you ever suffered from imposter syndrome, imagine that inner critic has an external chorus verbalizing some of your worst fears about yourself and your ideas. It’s an ongoing battle as people are constantly pointing out the very issues you’re struggling to prognosticate and solve. 

*Caveat time… this isn’t about the storytelling methods being used by Indie studios, but rather what Trip-A and Quad-A games chase as money milking ventures.

2-You started in tabletop RPGs. What did you take from that experience that has helped you in your other writing endeavors?

There’s a high degree is intersectionality between every writing discipline you tackle and its application elsewhere. That’s the nature of writers, right? Cannibalizing knowledge to Frankenstein ourselves? Learning playwrighting in university and continuing to read movie scripts and plays helped me create better scenes for games without relying on camera shots to convey a moment. Working on tabletop RPGs, however, taught me a number of valuable skills, whether I was an editor, a developer, or a writer.

The editor part was I got my mistakes out of the way by practicing on poor RPG writers before I learned what not to do (seriously sorry, White Wolf writers… didn’t intend to sharpen my blunt skills on your sharp talent). It gave me the skills to provide proper feedback to my team… telling the writer what they needed not only to adjust the material at hand, but to change their approach for the future. It also taught me how to keep my ego out of the way and not advocate for rewriting text in my own voice.

When to comes to video games, the lesson learnt from my tabletop years was to leave space for the player. The player matters and is often an unspoken protagonist. It’s an oldie but a goodie in terms of examples, but nobody talks about their gameplay experience in relation to the character. Nobody says “Master Chief jumped out of his Warthog and threw a sticky grenade on the bumper so it exploded inside the bunker.” ‘I’ the player did all this, and the player will recount that story as “I jumped out and I threw a sticky grenade.” 

That means whenever I craft narrative in video games, the player’s experience is foremost in my mind. They are the people who will own the protagonist, not me. So I have to consider how to create stakes that motivate protagonist and player alike. I have to create antagonists that reach through the screen to threaten or discomfort the player somehow without triggering them with bargain basement stakes. The situations have to be understood and universal for the players. And then all that feeds back into my own fiction as I engage with the reader of my novels. How do I tell the story beyond the protagonist’s experiences?

Finally, as a developer, working on games taught me a lot about world building. A universe with its unique “physics” must exist beyond the backdrop of the levels your players are racing through. Not only do they need to understand how that world can exist, but you need to find elegant ways of making that universe relevant and cohesive but without drowning them in exposition. You need to find tricks to impart and reinforce that universe’s logic through passive means until the player/reader absorbs it all through things like subtext and mood and characterization. Fiction writing can help in this way, through principles of how and where to weight your descriptions, but tabletop design creates the most solid framework for creating a world with movement rather than a world frozen by the shutter. Naturally, what you can apply to video games and tabletop games as world building elements, you can then apply to fiction… the cohesion over overarching logic. 

3-Have you ever thought about going back to tabletop? Why or why not?

HA! Did I leave and nobody tell me? I still do work for tabletop games when I can, though I stepped away from contracts during COVID. Working for a video game company that was 3 hours behind me, finishing later in the evening to accommodate their work hours, and then decompressing two feet away from my workstation was mentally and emotionally exhausting, and I quickly recognized the dangers of doing additional contracts during quarantine. But yeah, I love tabletop games and it remains at the heart of who I am as a geek. Writing for tabletop games is not only familiar territory, but it’s also an exercise in joy for me. I get to create something without constant supervision or scrutiny, and I have time (within reason) to craft something that is more or less intact and cohesive before anyone lays eyes on it. Most importantly, I get to write up to my audience, assuming for complex decision-making and theory crafting and reading comprehension. It’s not to say that games or fiction dumb things down, but there is the reality that you’re opting for a wider market share and that market share is in the millions of players. That changes how you make the material accessible and the requirements behind suspension of disbelief. That said, tabletop games (especially as a freelancer), is definitely a hand-to-mouth existence, and me still writing for that industry is definitely an exercise in privilege. I do it because I can afford to do it, because of video games. I know far too many people scrambling and struggling to make ends meet with freelancing, so if I had to do it for survival, my answer would likely be different.

4-You’re currently working on a Dungeons and Dragons video game. What’s your favorite D&D monster, and why?

I know you, Dansky. You want me to say Neo-otyugh, but I refuse. Mind Flayer has always been my favorite. From the moment I saw the image of an Illithid, it stuck with me as this frightening opponent and it resonated with me as the first creature of true horror I’d seen in D&D. Sure, dragons can breathe a variety of cool elemental attacks and are scary, but the Illithid was the first creature for me that stepped outside of that Judeo-Christian mythology box and became something sinister and terrible. That also explains why my runner-up critter is a Beholder. Sadly, in the competition, the Beholder lost out in the Swimming Suit portion of the competition, so the Mind Flayer gets the coveted crown and scepter.

5-Back in the day, we got in trouble when I asked you about gay leading characters in AAA video games. Where do you think we are now compared to then?

Hooboy, we did, didn’t we? We upset some people’s misperceptions about themselves on that one. I was off about the timing when I said it would be about a decade, though I got the Naughty Dog part right as being one of the companies open and unapologetic about their leading character being LGBTQIA+. And I have to give mad love and props to Square Enix for their “Life is Strange” series. I think when it comes to characterization, story, and overall quality of writing, their benchmarks are miles ahead of many narrative-driven games. I keep thinking back on that moment, however, on that question you asked and the situation I was in at the time. You think that when shit hits the fan, it’s all coming from one direction, but nope. One fan, multiple poop trajectories, and a lot of bruised egos.

There was a lot of positive LGBTQIA+ representation already when I made the comment, and I should have caveated my response in regards to the work already being done out there. That’s obviously not where the majority of flack came from, though. Some folks were definitely not happy with my answer, either because I pulled the curtain back on the “wizard” or because I refuted the active spin doctoring or because folks thought I was shitting on their good will; recent news articles and revelations can speak more about the realities of all that if you know how to read between the lines. 

So, compared to then? We’re far more ahead of the curve then I expected. Companies that led the charge on representation haven’t collapsed back in upon themselves in failure, and in succeeding, they’ve emboldened the more risk-adverse among their peers. I’ll be honest… I do worry that some companies in and out of the industry are just doing this to get on the bandwagon, to cash in on a cause that’s been deemed “safe” or acceptable. I hope they understand why proper representation matters instead of painting by the numbers, but kudos to those genuinely working towards it. My paranoid brain keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop, on that pendulum to swing back hard, but… I think it’s no longer a matter of when will we see this or that. The dam’s broken wide open, and now it’s a matter of reach rather than “will-it-won’t-it.”

My final answer… we’re in a good place, but it’s still precarious. Some people get why representation matters, but I think the harm will come from companies buckling and back peddling under the complaints and orchestrated bad-reviews campaigns, or those companies waiting on their inclusion dividends to pay off in sales.

Huge thanks to Lucien for giving such thoughtful and generous answers, even if he doesn’t like neo-otyughs. (Don’t know what those are? Don’t ask.) Until next week, then, when I’ll sit down with John “Deathginger” Goodrich. See you then!

Game Developers Conference Acceptance

I am pleased and proud to say that once again my Game Narrative Round Tables have been accepted for the main track at GDC. I’ve been running these off and on, mostly on, since 2007 or so, and I like to think they’re a valuable addition to the game writing community. Bringing folks who work in game narrative together so they can meet face to face, exchange ideas and best practices, support one another, and most of all have it reinforced they are not alone means a great deal toe me. Narrative can be a lonely job in game development – many studios don’t have narrative teams, so it’s hard for narrative specialists to find community or even someone who speaks their professional language. That I am able in some small way to help provide this is something I’m proud of.

GDC 2022 is March 21-25. The Game Narrative Summit, complete with the winners of the Student Narrative Competition, will run the 21-22nd. The main conference, including the round tables, will run the 23-25th.

Hope to see some of you there.

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

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 Next week, I’ll be interviewing an up and comer on the horror scene, Bridgett Nelson. See you then!