Apple-Obsessed Author Fella

Tag: interview (page 1 of 8)

Ten Questions About Your Story

Here at terribleminds, it’s time we do interviews a little differently.

I want to use the interviews to showcase a story rather than its author.

Now, on the one hand, I really like showcasing the author. Highlighting a storyteller of some medium is a fascinating look at who we are and how we all have variant processes — but the change is necessary for, I think, two reasons:

One, I just don’t have the time to craft the individualized questions for other writers and storytellers anymore. It’s not that it’s some epic time-sink, but I’m looking at a year forward where I have meager splinters of time available to me.

Two, and perhaps the more important reason, I want to specifically showcase a project you worked on that people can check out right now. You have a book coming out? Fuck it, let’s talk about the book. Plus, that allows storytellers to come back here multiple times to talk about multiple projects, which is a thing I quite like about, say, Scalzi’s Big Idea posts.

That’s not to say I won’t do interviews crafted more toward a storyteller than a specific project — but those will be far less common, I think. This is the way forward.

Interviews will still post on Thursdays as usual. I’ll do one a week.

You want an interview? Then here’s how it works. (And again I’m cribbing from Scalzi. If you’re gonna steal, steal from the best.) The rules are:

1) I’m looking for any kind of storyteller with a project to showcase. I assume this will trend toward books and the authors of said books, but I’m happy to talk to comic writers, screenwriters, game designers, whoever. Open to any genre, too!

2) In terms of authors of books, please know that if you’re a self-published author, your chances are slimmer. That’s not to say I don’t think indie is a valuable and meaningful option in terms of publication, only that when I do these things I receive a boat-load of responses from self-pub authors, many of them demonstrating what could kindly be called “questionable talent and/or story.” A story published by a traditional press, even a small one, tends to have met a certain set of standards that self-published works are not required to heed.

3) You need to hit me up no later than one month before your book drops. The earlier you let me know, the earlier I’ll get you on the schedule. I’ll try to get you close to a date of release/publication if possible, though if the schedule starts to fill up, then THE FATES HAVE SPOKEN. Oh, and yes, you can have an agent, editor, publicist, etc. contact me.

4) How do you reach me? Email me at terribleminds at gmail dot com. The subject header should be in this format: TEN QUESTIONS AT TERRIBLEMINDS [Author Name] [Name of Story]. The body of the email should give me a sense of the book, whether it’s flap copy or something else you’ve written to describe the book. Also: please identify your release date. Er, not “from prison.” I mean, the date your story releases to the world like a flock of doves in a Prince video.

5) If the stars have aligned, then I’ll give you the questions (which can also be found below) and I’ll fit you with a set of shackles — er, I mean, a date your interview will land here at terribleminds. I’ll need the answers to your questions the week before they post (i.e. the Thursday prior). I’d also like a copy of your book. E-copy is fine, though print is preferable.

6) Send me the questions and answers inside a document. I don’t need HTML formatted text or anything — .doc or .rtf will do fine.

7) Make sure to send me along any links pertinent to the project. Got a website? I want that link. Got a Twitter account? I want that, too. Also give me any pertinent “buy” links — Amazon, B&N, Indiebound, whatever. I’ll get them in there at the bottom of your post. I’ll also need a link to your book cover — I don’t need the actual file, as a link to the graphic will do fine.

A few notes:

I prefer to stick to books that are new — meaning, I’m not interested in a post regarding work previously published. Them’s the breaks, word-nerds.

Also, don’t just, y’know, answer the questions and email them to me assuming I’m totally gonna bite. I have no idea how robust the response will be to this, but I can’t guarantee a slot.

It’s also possible you’ll write me and I won’t write back. I’ll try to. I promise. But, time may be against us. Or you may accidentally end up in a spam folder. Or I may be trapped under a heavy object, slowly being pecked to death by starving geese. Shit happens, is what I’m saying.

Why would you want to do this?

Well. Terribleminds isn’t the worst exposure you could have: this past year saw just shy of three million views here, with around 8000 daily readers. And that number is going up, not down. Plus, the readers of this site tend to be other writers and readers who dig storytelling in its myriad forms: books, games, films, comics, pornographic manifestos, what-have-you.

So, there’s the rules. Feel free to drop any questions in the comments.

And here, now, are the tentative ten questions all y’all storytellers will answer:

Ten Questions About [Your Book, Film, Comic, Manifesto, Etc]

Tell Us About Yourself: Who The Hell Are You?

Give Us The 140-Character Story Pitch:

Where Does This Story Come From?

How Is This A Story Only You Could’ve Written?

What Was The Hardest Thing About Writing [Title]?

What Did You Learn Writing [Title]?

What Do You Love About [Title?]?

What Would You Do Differently Next Time?

Give Us Your Favorite Paragraph From The Story:

What’s Next For You As A Storyteller?

Eric Beetner: The Terribleminds Interview

I met Eric Beetner recently when he and Monsignor Blackmoore were kind enough to have me read some Miriam Black at the LA Noir at the Bar, and Eric read a slam-bang piece of grimy, gritty crime fiction that assured me he’d be a natural fit to talk about his work here at the site. I’ve hooked the car batteries up to his manly components — let’s see what he says when we turn up the juice, yeah? (You can find Eric at his site, or on Twitter @ericbeetner.)

This is a blog about writing and storytelling. So, tell us a story. As short or long as you care to make it. As true or false as you see it.

I’ve been thinking about this true story since my recent birthday. See, when I was born, I nearly died. I had a fairly common disorder where both my parent’s blood types got into my system, despite being different types. Basically this means my blood is passing by what it sees as a foreign substance as it flows through my veins and it attacks. Red cell vs. red cell. It can be fatal, especially in a tiny baby. There is no telling blood to just get along.

So I was plucked out of utero early. My dad loves to recall the day. This was 1969 (yeah, I’m old. What of it?) right after it became commonplace for dad’s to be in delivery. On the day it so happened that a half dozen med students were there as well to see the possibly tragic birth. Apparently when I emerged all the students collectively leaned forward with their notepads to gawk at the freak.

There was a wall chart for the new-to-the-process dads. It ranked your baby on a scale of 1 to 10. I was a 1. I had my fingers and toes – that was it. I didn’t cry, didn’t respond to stimulus, which at the time was still a hearty smack on the rump. I was discolored, limp, and generally sad to look at. So sad, in fact, the good folks at the hospital chose to dispense with routine and not take a photo of me for the records since they thought there would be no way I’d survive.

Little did they know my Nana was a nurse for an OB/GYN. She enlisted the help of Dr. Frost and they set about swapping my blood through transfusions. In my 20s I found a clipping my dad saved from the local paper in Iowa City where the hospital put out a call for blood donations. Kinda like a pre-internet Craigslist ad. So my blood was replaced with donations from family friends and some total strangers.

It ends with my favorite thing that has ever been said about me. After many transfusions, but no guarantee I would come out of this anything more than a vegetable if I lived at all, my parents met with Dr. Frost. Keep in mind she was a family friend.

They asked what the prognosis was. Dr. Frost said, and I quote, “Well, at this point, Eric is salvageable.”

I life my life in a daily struggle to justify the hard work and sacrifice of total strangers and the feeling I’ve let them all down by not becoming president or a doctor or astronaut. They all banded together to save a floppy little fetus so I could go on to make up stories and make TV shows. I’m grateful and guilty in equal measure every day.

Why do you tell stories?

I spent a lot of time alone as a kid. My parents divorced when I was 3 or 4. I went with my Dad and he worked full time. My sister and I were the classic “latch key” kids, with hours alone at home after school to fill with some sort of self-created entertainment. In a pre-internet, pre-cable TV world I had to invent my own escape. I’ve always seen storytelling as a way to take myself to other places and other times. I guess that notion has stuck with me. I’m never bored. I know how to entertain my brain if nothing else in my environment is doing it for me. That leads to storytelling, at least it did for me. I subscribe to the notion that if you’re bored then you’re boring.

Give the audience one piece of writing or storytelling advice:

I hate giving advice on writing. I know you love it, Chuck, and I know a lot of people have benefitted from your advice. The thing I like about what you tell people is that it is all practical. You don’t tell people how to come up with stories, because you can’t teach that.

That said, I think any advice I’d give is along those same lines. If you want to write – write. Don’t fucking talk about writing. Write. Don’t talk about what you’re planning on doing or what you’re in the middle of doing. My rule is you’re only allowed to speak of it when it’s done. Nothing in the world is more tedious to me than someone talking about a project they’ve been “working on” for years.

And when you finish that thing you’ve been toiling over, start again. Keep writing. Don’t stop and wait for people to discover what you’ve already written. Try to take the stance that the best thing you’ve ever written is the next thing you will write.

What’s the worst piece of writing/storytelling advice you’ve ever received?

Write what you know. That story up top there is about the most interesting thing that has happened in my real life and that all transpired before I was a week old. If I only wrote what I knew I’d be fucked.

What do you like writing more, short fiction or novel-length? And, the obligatory: why?

If I had to pick I’d probably end up somewhere in the middle, like novella length. I’m an impatient person. Not like, prescription for Ritalin impatient, but I like my stories to move along. I blame TV and movies. I work in TV as an editor so my whole job is to sit and watch images moving quickly all day, and to make them move even more quickly. To trim the fat. And with movies, it is possible to see how a fully fleshed story can be told so economically. So most of my books are on the shorter side, relatively speaking. I doubt I’ll ever write anything at 100,000 words or above. On a solo novel I’ve only ever gotten to just over 70K, and I like it that way.

I’ve written a few novellas like Dig Two Graves and my Fightcard books around 25-27 thousand words and those feel right to me in many ways. Not that I could have done The Devil Doesn’t Want Me in that amount of time.

Shorts are fun, but the novel is a more engrossing experience to read and to write. I do like being able to take a character through many paces and develop the changes characters go through. Ultimately I’ll fall back on the idea that a story is the length it “should” be in order to get the idea across. I’ve read flash fiction that does that and many people seem to think George R.R. Martin needs all those pages to tell his story. Both are valid. My preference is to go a little shorter though.

Most underrated crime author nobody’s reading?

Hey, I’m perfect for this since I was voted Most Criminally Underrated Author in this years Stalker Awards. So, the real answer is probably someone even I don’t know about. I’d love more people to discover Jake Hinkson, but that’s only a matter of time. He just announced a new novella which had me so excited I squealed like a little girl. There are several writers on the cusp who don’t have novels out yet, but will, like Keith Rawson, Matt Funk, Jimmy Callaway. [I second that emotion. — c.]

I’m always amazed Steve Brewer isn’t a best seller. He writes so much I haven’t been able to keep up, but I’m such a fan of his standalones like Bullets, Boost, Bank Job. It seems like every writer at some point gets compared to Elmore Leonard, but Brewer should be on anyone’s shelf if they like Leonard.

Of course I still wish there was more of an appetite for classic pulp writers beyond the big three of Cain, Chandler and Hammett. Guys like Harry Whittington, William Ard, Fredric Brown, Day Keene. Even writers still with us who started in that era, or the tail end of it anyway, like Robert Randisi, Ed Gorman, the early Lawrence Block novels.  

Your protagonists are, as they should be, troubled folks — what’s the trick to making an unlikable protagonist work?

It is tricky. In one of my early novels, One Too Many Blows To The Head (cowritten with JB Kohl) I had a guy who did some very morally questionable things and I got worried that people would be turned off by him. But everyone who read it (all six of them) really rooted for Ray and were on his side. I think if you give readers enough of a real life emotional hook to latch on to, they will adapt to the character’s particular moral code pretty quickly. Lars in Devil kills people for a living, but no one has ever told me they think he’s a sadist or a psychopath. His actions in rescuing a young girl and using his skills to protect her give the reader a reason to be on his side. Plus, if the person is funny, charming and fun to be around you can get away with a lot. I can write the head of a charity for blind monkeys and orphans and make him an unsympathetic asshole as much as I can write a criminal who you’d want to sit down and have a beer with.

The master right now of this is Johnny Shaw. His novel Dove Season literally made me teary with the father/son relationship he built with what could otherwise be a potentially jerky character who makes bad choices. I’m reading his second novel Big Maria now and he’s doing the same damn thing, making me feel so unbelievably deeply for some of these characters that I’ll follow them anywhere down whatever criminal path they take and still be rooting for them to make it out on top. He’s like a magician. I’d say he underrated too, but he selling like hotcakes filled with crack.

Where does The Devil Doesn’t Want Me come from? Why is it a book only you could’ve written?

I think it does come down to that notion of writing about a guy with a big moral deficit, in that he’s a killer, and making him sympathetic, relatable, human. I like to think its one thing I’m good at. I had so much fun in the book with the other hitman, Trent, who is a douchebag. He’s the opposite of Lars as a person and he gets punished for it in the course of the story. I just abuse this kid to humiliating levels, and it was a blast. And the readers, I’ve been happy to learn, are loving his humiliation. Does that make the readers evil people who want to see a guy get his nose ring torn out? No. They just know who they like better (Lars) and who deserves to get a kick in the balls (Trent).

Could it only have been me? I like to think my voice comes through. I don’t know that I’m 100% unique in any way, really, but in the same way that I’m average height, average weight, brown hair, brown eyes, I get mistaken for other people a lot, I’m not unique in any way. But to people who know me, I’m one of a kind. I’d like to think if people read my work, they find something unique about it.

What goes into writing a great character? Bonus round: give an example.

Relatability maybe? Every character has to have something a reader can latch onto. It doesn’t mean they have to like your character, they just have to recognize some sign of real human life in that person.

As an example I’d go with Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me. You don’t like at all the things that Lou does in that story, but his actions are explained and justified enough in the twisted logic of his own brain, that you relate to his sick world view.

Likewise people from another era like Old Red and Big Red from Steve Hockensmith’s Holmes on the Range series. Here is a narrator from a time and lifestyle that I have no relationship with, but the voice in those books is so wonderfully rendered that I end up completely relating to them.

And OH! a perfect example is Megan Abbot’s The End of Everything. I have not been a thirteen year old girl ever in my life, but by the end of that book I felt like I knew what it was like to be that girl. A blend of perfect little details and universal truths made that a great example of making me, the reader, relate to someone completely different from myself.

Recommend a book, comic book, film, or game: something with great story. Go!

I’ve worn out my recommendations of Hell On Church Street by Jake Hinkson, so I’ll avoid that. (whoops) I’ll give another shout out to Sunset & Sawdust by Joe R. Lansdale

Why didn’t more people get into Carnivale on HBO? I loved that show. More people need to discover that one.

I love a good documentary and I was completely blown away by Life In A Day. And you might not expect it from me, but I think the Dixie Chicks documentary Shut Up and Sing is brilliant.

Favorite word? And then, the follow up: Favorite curse word?

I love words for their sound as much as meaning. Discombobulate. Reticent. Curmudgeon spring to mind.

I blame Samuel L. Jackson (or maybe Tarantino) for Motherfucker completely eclipsing the more simple and refined “Fucker”. Try that some day, pull out a plain old “fucker” and see if it doesn’t get much more of a reaction than motherfucker.

Favorite alcoholic beverage? (If cocktail: provide recipe. If you don’t drink alcohol, fine, fine, a non-alcoholic beverage will do.)

I am, sadly, one of those jerks who doesn’t drink the booze. I am a serious hot chocolate snob though. I make my own at home and it’ll put hair on your chest as fast as any bathtub hooch you’ve ever had. I use good chocolate (Valrhona, Green & Blacks, Vosages) and I use a lot of it. It’s more like a melted cup of chocolate mousse. I also like to add extras like a few butterscotch chips, a crushed graham cracker for thickness, sometimes a shot of hazelnut syrup. Seriously. I’ll make you one. It’ll change your life. You’ll never touch that Swiss Miss crap again. Oh, and I use half and half. Not water. Not simple milk. I’m in it to win it. I drink a lot of this when I write late at night.

What skills do you bring to help the us win the inevitable war against the robots?

In many ways I am as cold and calculating as our robot overlords. I don’t get overly emotional or sentimental so I’m good in a crisis. I’ll do what needs to be done and not lose my head, even if the right thing to do is leave your ass behind while the rest of us go for higher ground.

What’s next for you as a storyteller? What does the future hold?

Just tonight before I started this I finished another novel. That makes five that are as of now unpublished. So I got the goods to go on for a long while. I get annoyed at the glacial pace of publishing so I need to relax. My new novel The Devil Doesn’t Want Me needs to live a life out there without another book stealing its thunder. But soon . . . very soon . . .

I do have more stories coming out in anthologies. I’ll be in the Atomic Noir collection they are giving out at Noircon this year (and selling on Amazon) I’ll be in a new antho called Hoods, Hot Rods and Hellcats that is coming soon as well as Beat To A Pulp: Hardboiled Vol 2 and the upcoming Crimefactory anthology Lee, which is all stories about Lee Marvin.

(Check out Eric’s books here.)

J.D. Rhoades: The Terribleminds Interview

J.D.’s one of those authors who’s out there in the trenches fighting the good fight. He writes what he wants and finds a way to get it out there, whether that means through traditional means or through DIY channels. Here’s the man himself to tell you what he’s got going on. You can find him at his website: or on them thar Twitters @JD_Rhoades.

This is a blog about writing and storytelling. So, tell us a story. As short or long as you care to make it. As true or false as you see it.

There was this guy. And he lived a pretty comfortable life. Then something happened, and things got pretty scary. He met this girl, and he really liked her, but then things got scary for her too. Things got worse and worse. Some other guy who knew a lot about scary stuff helped him out, and it looked like he might make it, but then a really bad thing happened, and some people got killed, and some other people he thought were his friends turned out to be secretly enemies, and it looked like all hope was lost. But at the end, the guy conquered his fear and the danger and he got the girl. The end.

Why do you tell stories?

I see movies in my head that no one’s ever made. I hear conversations between people who aren’t there. I write this stuff down so I can tell people I’m a writer and not someone having a psychotic break.

Give the audience one piece of writing or storytelling advice:

Other than the obvious (“Get your ass in the chair and write!”), I tell people: always remember that everyone in your book has his or her own story, from the protagonist right down to the cab drivers and delivery guys. Take the time and get to know them, even if you don’t use all of them. You may be surprised when a minor character suddenly takes the stage. It happens to me over and over. Tim Buckthorn, the Deputy in BREAKING COVER, started out as a walk-on. When I was finished, he was a major character. I’m actually spinning him off into a lead. Mimir, the sentient AI in MONSTER, started as a plot device, a McGuffin. Then he became a bit of comic relief. By the end of the book, he takes a much, much bigger role. So big that…

Well, check it out.

What’s the worst piece of writing/storytelling advice you’ve ever received?

“Don’t write (fill in the blank with whatever I happen to be in the middle of writing). No one’s buying that right now.”

What goes into writing a strong character? Bonus round: give an example of a strong character.

Recognizing two facts: (1) No one is a villain in his own eyes–everyone has his reasons that seem perfectly logical and valid to him; and (2) No one is one thing all the time. A complete bastard may surprise you with an act of generosity, or a saint may have a bad day, come home and kick the dog.

Recommend a book, comic book, film, or game: something with great story. Go!

Robert Gregory Browne’s TRIAL JUNKIES. First time in years I’ve gotten to the surprise near the end and said “I totally did NOT see that coming, and yet, it makes sense.” Also, Alex Sokoloff’s HUNTRESS MOON. Great, kick-ass female lead.

Favorite word? And then, the follow up: Favorite curse word?

Favorite word: Kerfluffle.

Favorite curse word: Fuckwit.

Favorite alcoholic beverage? (If cocktail: provide recipe. If you don’t drink alcohol, fine, a non-alcoholic beverage will do.)

Rum and Coke. I started drinking that when I was a club DJ and friendly cocktail waitresses (are there any other kind?) would sneak drinks up to me in the booth. Best damn job I ever had. I’ve had to go with the caffeine free Diet Coke in recent years, though. And give up cocktail waitresses.

What skills do you bring to help humans win the inevitable war against the robots?

I’m a trained and experienced trial lawyer, so I can do that Captain Kirk logic loop thing that ties the robot’s brain in knots and makes smoke come out of his ears until his CPU locks up. If that fails, I just throw buckets of water and hope to short them out.

You’re a “hybrid” author, which is not to say you were grown in a lab, but rather, that you choose to go “both ways” in terms of traditional and self-publishing. What’s the value and danger of each?

The value of traditional publishing is they do a lot of the boring, non-writing stuff for you:  editing, proofreading, cover design, and especially marketing. The danger of it is that how much of these you get–or whether you get picked at all–is too often determined by factors other than how good the work is. Editors at traditional houses will go on panels and conferences  and glibly proclaim “the secret is to write a good book,” then go back and write a dozen e-mails saying “this is a good book, but we don’t think we can market it” or “this is a good book, but no one’s buying this genre right now.”

As for self-publishing, the upside is the freedom. You can write whatever the hell you want, and not have some dewy-eyed recent Ivy League graduate with a marketing degree deciding whether or not it’s “commercial” or “big” enough. The downside is that all that work I mentioned earlier gets done by you, or by someone you have to pay out of pocket. This takes time away from the writing, and it’s easy to let it take up all your time so that you soon find yourself without new product.

Jack Keller is your primary “series character.” What’s it take to write a strong character for a series? Should a series character change? Or is an audience comfortable with inertia?

I think probably some people in the audience are comfortable with inertia; they’d like to read the same book they loved over and over again. There are some great, strong characters that don’t seem to change much book to book. Nero Wolfe comes immediately to mind, as does Richard Stark’s Parker. But I can’t write that way. Real people change. They take damage, they heal or they bear the pain of their wounds, they grow or they regress as a result of the terrible stuff that happens to them (and if you’re not doing terrible stuff to your characters, why not?) I think resilience in the face of all that is what makes them strong, and therefore interesting.

You’re publishing some work under J.D. Nixx — why the choice to go with a pseudonym? What is the power of a false name?

I wrestled with the decision for a while.  I wanted people to know that this was something different from my usual crime fiction.  I’d read some accounts by a writer friend of mine who’d gotten nasty-grams from fans of her previous romance work when she switched to crime fiction. Apparently some people, God love ’em, like their favorite writer so much that they’ll just grab the latest title without checking to see what it’s about. But then they get really upset when the sweet romance they expected turns out to be one of those icky, bloody crime thrillers.

On  the other hand,  I knew there’s some overlap between crime fiction fans and science fiction  fans, and I wanted my previous fan base to know that it was me writing about vampires in space. So I stole an idea from Nora Roberts, who also writes across genres. That’s why MONSTER is by “J.D. Rhoades writing as J.D. Nixx.”

Under the Nixx name you’ve now got Monster: Nightrider’s Vengeance. Sell us on it in 140 characters or less. “Tweet-style.”

Sexy Female Vampire Death Commandos! In Space!  With a sword! Werewolves! Zombies! Sex! Violence! Twisted Science!  Betrayal! Revenge! WHAT MORE DO YOU NEED?

What’s next for you as a storyteller? What does the future hold?

I live by the words of Indiana Jones: “I don’t know, I’m just making this up as I go.” I’ve recently re-released a couple of short pieces under that sci-fi/fantasy pen name of J.D. Nixx.  They’re  legal thrillers/medieval fantasy — think Perry Mason crossed with GAME OF THRONES. As you might have noticed, I love doing genre mash-ups. Right now, I’ve gone back to thrillers and the J.D. Rhoades name and I’m writing a follow-up to BREAKING COVER that reunites Tony Wolf and Tim Buckthorn. That’ll inevitably be another self-pubbed piece, but that’s what seems to be working for me right now.


Chris Baty: The Terribleminds Interview

Chris Baty, ladies and gentlemen: the founder of NaNoWriMo is here just in time to save you and your novel. I met Chris as the Crossroads Conference down in Macon, GA, this year, where the both of us were guest speakers of the con (and what a kick-ass con it is), and damn if he isn’t the nicest and most inspiring dude. Which tells me he’s probably a serial killer, but that’s okay. Who isn’t? Chris harnessed the power of his niceness and inspiration and focused them on an interview here at terribleminds. Find his site at, and you will find him on the Twitters @chrisbaty.

This is a blog about writing and storytelling. So, tell us a story. As short or long as you care to make it. As true or false as you see it.

Almost a decade ago, one of the most active members of the NaNoWriMo message boards died in a car accident. I’ll call her Mary. Mary lived in a small town in Michigan, and on New Year’s Eve, she was driving alone on an icy road when a deer jumped in front of her car. She swerved and skidded, slamming into a tree. We learned about the accident when the executor of her will posted a note about her death on the NaNoWriMo forums.

Everyone was stunned. Mary had been a vital, hilarious presence in the NaNoWriMo message boards. She’d always gone out of her way to be encouraging to everyone, and had been particularly generous with younger participants. Mary had a lot of virtual admirers spread out all over the country, and none of us really knew how to deal with her sudden absence.

A week later, the first bit of weirdness appeared. A fan of Mary’s had posted in the message boards, saying she’d contacted the mortuaries in Mary’s town because she’d wanted to send flowers to the funeral. And none of them were hosting a funeral for Mary.

Thinking “Mary” might have been a pen name (or that Mary was being buried elsewhere), this person called Mary’s local newspaper to get the details of the woman killed in the New Year’s Eve crash. Which is how she learned there had been no New Year’s Eve crash.

This weirded everyone out. I sent Mary an awkward email asking, in essence, if she really was dead. She didn’t respond. Shortly after that, a longtime member of the NaNoWriMo community decided to take matters into her own hands. She found Mary’s phone number online and called it. To her surprise, a woman answered.

“Mary?” the caller asked.

“Yes?” the woman said.

The caller hung up and immediately posted details of the interaction on the NaNoWriMo site. Mary’s sister, who had never posted on the site before, responded quickly, saying that she had been packing up Mary’s house and had answered the  phone. The name thing had been a misunderstanding.

This was fishy enough that, by the time someone found Mary alive and well and posting on another other message board one week later, most of us had already accepted the fact that she’d faked her death, creating the executor and sister to sell the lie.

It was an unforgivable stunt. But as a writer, I had to give Mary grudging props. She’d woven a ridiculous plot twist into the story of her life, and artfully deployed a cast of supporting characters to make it believable. We’d been sucked in by it. Our anger over being so thoroughly manipulated was only slightly lessened by the knowledge that we’d managed to expose her fiction.

As the scandal was dying down, I went into the admin area of the NaNoWriMo site and checked the IP addresses of all the key players in the story. Sure enough, the Executor’s account had the same IP address as Mary’s. The sister’s did as well. I was kicking myself for not checking this earlier.

Then, on a strange impulse, I looked up the post by the woman who had accidentally unraveled Mary’s story by calling the newspaper.

It had also come from Mary’s IP address.

I checked the forums posts from the person who first called Mary at home.


Dumbstruck, I checked all of the other NaNoWriMo accounts involved in the fracas, and they were thankfully coming from places far away from Mary’s small Michigan town. They were legit. Right?

I didn’t know. At that point, Mary’s reach seemed limitless. She’d been brazen enough to kill off one of our community’s beloved heroines and then bring her back to life as a monster. It was brilliant and awful, and for years afterwards I asked myself the question: Who does that sort of thing?

I wish I knew.

Why do you tell stories?

Well, this is going to sound weird after the above tale, but I really like to make people laugh.

Give the audience one piece of writing or storytelling advice:

Make the most of your novel-writing time by only polishing prose that you’re relatively sure will end up in front of readers’ eyeballs.

I’ve found that stories can change a ton between the outline and the first draft, and they can shape-shift again between the first and second drafts. Novels are slippery buggers, and we usually have to write all the way through them a couple times before we pin down exactly what they’re about and how best to tell the tale.

This means that big parts of our early drafts will usually need to be demolished or completely reconfigured to make room for the mind-blowing, award-winning, bestselling creatures our books are destined to be.

Getting rid of utilitarian prose is hard. Getting rid of  polished, bookstore-ready chapters packed with hilarious dialogue and eloquent descriptions will make you want to die. It can be so demoralizing that we can get all Golem-y about it, holding on to our precious sections even when we know they’re sapping strength from our books.

No matter how long you postpone your fine-tuning, you’ll still end up having to cut some golden prose—everyone does. But if you let sentence-fixing and dialogue-bettering be the cupcake you reward yourself with for making it all the way through one or two drafts, I think you’ll be happier (and more prolific) in the long run.

What’s the worst piece of writing/storytelling advice you’ve ever received?

I feel like at every writer’s conference there’s a tough-love expert who gets up and tells everyone to quit. They lay out the dire economics of the publishing world. They talk about how the field is already overcrowded with aspiring writers. They say that, unless you’re among the .1% of writers who are so committed to your craft that blood spurts out of your eyeballs on the days your don’t write, you should just pack it in.

I know it’s coming from a place of wanting to protect people from getting hurt down the line. But we’re all adults here. Life is short. Writing is fun. Why would you discourage anyone from doing it?

How does a writer combat demoralization during writing and editing?

Argh. Yeah. That’s such a great question. I’ve watched some of the most gifted writers I know abandon promising manuscripts just because they lose momentum on them.

This is why I think they should teach the dark arts of project management in writing classes.  If I were teaching that class, my first lecture would be on the Five Truths That Will Make You Less Likely To Kill Yourself or Your Book During the Writing Process.

Truth # 1: Books take longer to write than you think they will. (This one is especially hard to accept for those of us who wrote our first drafts in a month.) Some of the most toxic frustration we dump into our writing process starts with unrealistic expectations about how quickly we should be able to revise our books. Think of your book as a house that you’re building alone. Eventually you’re going to have this supremely satisfying moment where all your friends come over to your finished place and sit in your new hot tub out on the beautiful deck and marvel at your talent, discipline, and vision. To reach that glorious hot tub moment, though, you have to schlep a lot of bricks. It takes time, but the best things always do. As long as you’re continually pushing forward on the project, you should never beat yourself up about how long it takes to finish it.

Truth #2: Momentum is everything. Isaac Newton’s law that objects in motion tend to stay in motion is deeply true when it comes to book building. The more frequently you write, the easier each writing session becomes. Characters work hard for authors who visit them often.

Truth #3: Your book will get better. If you’re feeling despondent about your story, know that many of the things bothering you will be fixed by the time you get to the end of your current draft.  Appreciate your book for what it will become, not what it is now.

Truth #4: Nothing gets done without deadlines. Schedule the hell out of every draft. Share those deadlines with other people and ask them to check in on your progress. Even as you cut yourself slack when the book’s overall timeframe shifts (see Truth #1), be sure to move heaven and earth to hit each mini deadline.

Truth #5: You deserve treats. Celebrate every bookish milestone by doing (or buying) something nice for yourself. Don’t wait until the house is finished to raise a glass to yourself and everything you’ve done.

What goes into writing a great character? Bonus round: give an example.

I love characters who are great observers. Characters who have simple, true insights into themselves, the people in their lives, and the world at large.

As a writer, these are hard to pull off because we have to first come up with the insights and revealing details and then sneak them into the brains and mouths of our protagonists in a way that seems natural to them.

I’m reading The Leftovers by Tom Perrota, a book about life in a small suburb after a rapture-like event has mysteriously claimed a quarter of Earth’s population. One of the characters is a teenage girl whose mom has run away with a Christian doomsday cult that has popped up after the Sudden Departure. Here’s a passage about the girl.

“She missed everything about the woman, even the stuff that used to drive her crazy—her off-key singing, her insistence that whole-wheat pasta tasted just as good as the regular kind, her inability to follow the storyline of even the simplest TV show (Wait a second, is that the same guy as before, or someone else?). Spasms of wild longing would strike her out of nowhere, leaving her dazed and weepy, prone to sullen fits of anger that inevitably got turned against her father, which was totally unfair, since he wasn’t the one who’d abandoned her. In an effort to fend off these attacks, Jill made a list of her mother’s faults and pulled it out whenever she felt herself getting sentimental:

Weird, high-pitched totally fake laugh

Crappy taste in music


Ugly sunglasses

Uses words like hoopla and rigmarole in conversation

Nags Dad about cholesterol

Flabby arm Jello

Loves God more than her own family”

So many rich details that say a lot about who the mom and daughter are. Nice one, Tom.

Recommend a book, comic book, film, or game: something with great story. Go!

Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres has such a strong story that not even the abysmal movie adaptation staring Nicholas Cage could completely ruin it. Such a great book!

Favorite word? And then, the follow up: Favorite curse word?

“And,” when placed at the start of a sentence, is probably my favorite thing in the universe. (Thank you for your use of it in this question, by the way.)

Curse word: Pants. British people say it. Hilarious!

Favorite alcoholic beverage? (If cocktail: provide recipe. If you don’t drink alcohol, fine, fine, a non-alcoholic beverage will do.)

My friend Jen makes a deceptively simple bourbon drink that I would take with me to a desert island. Here’s her recipe:

Pour into a tall shaker filled just over halfway with ice…

  • 2 oz Bulleit Bourbon
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • 1 – 2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Stir aggressively for 20 – 30 seconds to chill and slightly dilute the drink. Taste. Adjust as needed. Place a large ice cube in a glass and pour over.

Peel an orange slice over the glass (you want to get the oils from the peel) and use it as garnish.

What skills do you bring to help the us win the inevitable war against the robots?

I can make weapons-grade coffee.

Where did NaNoWriMo come from?

I’ve always been full of bad ideas, and NaNoWriMo was just one in a series of questionable endeavors that started with me emailing my friends and saying “Hey, what if we all got together and…”

The 21 of us that took part that first year really loved books, but none of us knew much about writing them. From my work as an editor, I’d seen writers pull off miraculous feats when given impossible deadlines. So I jokingly named the challenge “National Novel Writing Month” and came up with the 30-day deadline and the 50,000-word goal (scientifically calculated by counting the words of the shortest novel on my bookshelf.)

To help make the whole thing less scary, we all got together after work and on weekends to write. That camaraderie, coupled with the stupid deadline, gave all of us the high commitment and low expectations that turn out to be a godsend when you’re writing a first draft of a novel. We had a great time and wrote delightfully craptastic (but promising!) books.

It turned out to be kind of a revelation for me. And I knew that if we could do it, anyone could do it. The next year, I put up a website and invited more people to take part. It just started growing from there.

Would you change NaNoWriMo or evolve it in any way?

I think a great next step would be coming up with a fun, collaborative adventure that makes novel revision easier (and less lonely). I know NaNoWriMo HQ is working on a plan for that now, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

What is your NaNoWriMo experience?

I’ve done it every year since 1999. Of the thirteen drafts I’ve written so far, I’ve really loved four or five of them. But even the ill-fated books I’ve buried in my back yard have taught me a ton about writing. I would have thought I’d be sick of it by now, but the process of knocking out a first draft in a month is somehow still just as fun as it was back in 1999.

You’re now promoting a series of posters, right? Where do these come from? What should writers take away from them?

I’m a big graphic design nerd, and I have an endless appetite for cool posters with encouraging messages on them. (My favorite, framed on my living room wall, says “Done is better than perfect.”)

I stumbled on a really neat poster project last year called Advice to Sink in Slowly and it inspired me to team up with illustrators and create some you-can-do-it posters for writers.  I have them printed at a press near my place in Berkeley, and then pack and ship all of them out of my living room (which is now permanently imbued with the aroma of printer’s ink and paper.)

How go your own efforts at writing a novel?

Good! Right now, I’m waist-deep in my NaNoWriMo novel about a monster who finds a VHS tape and sets out to return it. In December, I’ll say goodbye to the monsters and go back to revising my YA novel about a boy who discovers a secret buried beneath his town.  I’m working on the seventh draft of that book, and I’ve been schlepping bricks on it for a long, long time. The end is in sight, though, and I’m hoping to sink into that hot tub this spring.

What’s next for you as a storyteller? What does the future hold?

I’m trying to finish that young adult novel and two screenplays.

As soon as I do that, I’m turning my full attention to the robot apocalypse.

Margaret Atwood: The Terribleminds Interview

Turns out, Internet, that wishes do come true. How do I know? Because I wished on Twitter for Margaret Atwood to consent to an interview here at terribleminds and, in what must have been a fit of temporary madness (or sinister genius), she agreed. (I’m sure by now she’s regretting it.) I know I don’t have to tell you who she is — all I need to say is it is an honor and a pleasure to have someone of her talent and stature hanging out with us roughshod riff raff here, today. You can find her all over the Internet, but let’s start with her website at and, on Twitter, @margaretatwood.

Let the interview commence!

This is a blog about writing and storytelling. So, tell us a story. As short or long as you care to make it. As true or false as you see it.

Once upon a time there was an amoeba. It ate things and divided in two. Then there were two amoebas. They swam around and ate things and divided in two. Then there were four amoebas. This can go on for a long time, and is why we humans developed sex and plots instead.

Why do you tell stories?

Because human beings are not amoebas – having been there and done that – they tell stories, as part of the package. We narrate, therefore we are. (And therefore we are not amoebas.) And I am a human being. Most of the time. Just not before breakfast. So I too narrate.

Give the audience one piece of writing or storytelling advice:

“Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em wait.” – Charles Dickens. Footnote: Maybe make ‘em wait first? But not too long. Especially not for the first corpse, should you be writing a crime story.

What’s the worst piece of writing/storytelling advice you’ve ever received?

“Shouldn’t you give up the idea of being a writer, and get married and settle down instead?” (My undergraduate advisor, 1961. Note the either/or.)

What goes into writing a strong character? Bonus round: give an example.

‘Strong’ as in ‘makes a strong impression and is strongly convincing,’ I take it? Rather than ‘is muscular and does not let people kick sand in face at beach?’ Okay, thought so. Therefore: Has a purpose. Carries it out, albeit in devious ways, and not always with success. And: comes with memorable details attached. Example: Miss Havisham in Dickens’ Great Expectations. Memorable detail: the spider-covered bridal cake. (Not especially arachnidally correct. But memorable!)

Recommend a book, comic book, film, or game: something with great story. Go!

Great story = hooks you at once, pages must be turned? Or: everything in the story is necessary? Or: both?

Let’s see… It was a dark and stormy night…

Maybe not.

I’ll enter Poe’s ‘The Cask of Amontillado.’ Short. Dark. Terse. Or Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Martian:’ suggestive. Both make use of the repetitive patterning so noticeable in folktales.

For cunning choice of narrators to relate an inherently incredible story, hard to beat Wuthering Heights.

Favorite word?

For turning the twist in a story? How about ‘however,’ ‘despite that,’ or ‘nonetheless’? Or ‘meanwhile’?

Or do you mean ‘much-used’? (Thinks of several bad habits, such as ‘thinks.’)

Or maybe just one that comes to mind at inopportune moments, such as ‘mauve’? (Exercise: Use this word in an accusatory sentence, such as: ‘Why do you have to be so fucking mauve?’)

And then, the follow up: Favorite curse word?

Curse words never of course pass my lips, but they must pass those of some of my characters, the times being what they are, alas. Though their swearing is rather banal, I have to say. They say things like, ‘Why do you have to be so fucking mauve?’

However, here is one that I have unfortunately never had occasion to use in a story: ‘Crise de callisse de tabernak.’ It’s from Québec, and is said to be rather strong. As in, ‘Crise de calisse de tabernak, pourquoi cette connerie avec la mauve?’ (Translation: ‘Crisis of the chalice of the tabernacle, why this C-word stupidity with a mallow flower?’) I don’t want you using this in public, Chuck.

Favorite alcoholic beverage? (If cocktail: provide recipe. If you don’t drink alcohol, fine, fine, a non-alcoholic beverage will do.)

A: A single-malt Scotch, straight up. Water of Life. Good for the vocal chords.

What skills do you bring to help the us win the inevitable war against the robots?

A: The knowledge that Robots-R-Us. They’re only what we make them.

(Of course, that’s not very consoling, is it?)

You continue to march up to the bleeding edge of publishing. What do young writers and storytellers need to know about the future of publishing?

First, write the story or book. The rest is presentation and/or amusement.

Second, for every story there is a listener. At least one. Somewhere. Some time.

[check out Fanado. — c.]

You’ve released two installments of your “Positron” e-book serial story so far. Where does this series come from, and where will it go?

It came out of my concerns about the way the prison system is being used in some places — as a job creation scheme.

But then it took on a life of its own. I’ve just finished the third installment… and there is TV series interest. So we will see where it goes.

Watch out for those blue knitted teddy bears…

[you can find the first piece, “I’m Starved For You,” here, downloadable for a buck-ninety-nine. Second part, “Choke Collar,” is available right here. — c.]

I suspect I would be murdered where I stand if I did not ask about the final book in the Maddaddam trilogy. Anything you can share? When might it exist? What’s contained within?

Scheduled for next fall (2013). Called MaddAddam. The world needs more Zeb, or so I’ve been told. I am ever-obliging. (And yes, he does eat parts of the co-pilot.)

It seems to me that there exists a glimmer of The Handmaid’s Tale in the surge of dystopian literature right now, particularly within young adult fiction. What is the power of the dystopia in fiction?

Ah. That’s a whole chapter in a book. Specifically, in In Other Worlds, which oddly enough IS a book. Now out in paperback from Anchor. 🙂

I’ll be coming to Canada for the first time in a couple months. As you are one of Canada’s pantheon of cultural gods, what should I know before I arrive?

Oh Chuck. There is so much to share!

First, Canada’s National Anthem is called “Canada’s Really Big,” by the Arrogant Worms. (Try YouTube).

Second, “poutine” is not what your girlfriend does with her lower lip when she’s peeved with you. It’s a foodstuff, made of… but some things are best learned by doing.

Third, “an Atwood” is a hockey goalie move. If you don’t believe me, see:

And if you want to impress your Canadian hosts, tell them you are a shoe fetishist and you just HAVE to get to the Bata Shoe Museum on Bloor because Margaret Atwood’s blue shoes with carved heels and peacock feathers are in there. They will be astounded by your inside knowledge!

Would I steer you wrong?

You shall not escape this interview without recommending your favorite single-malt Scotch, then. Well?

Whatever Graeme Gibson pours out of the bottle. Right now it’s the Talisker, from the Isle of Skye.

Up yer kilt.

What’s next for you as a storyteller?

A guest appearance on Naomi Alderman’s listen-while-you-run game, Zombies! Run!. I will play the last Canadian standing. Or the last Torontonian. Or the last person left in the Whole Foods on Avenue Road, fighting them off with organic grapefruits. Or something. By the way, Naomi and are writing a serial two-hander that also features zombies, and will appear on the website, beginning in late October. Am I having too much fun for an old person? Does it make me appear flighty?

What does the future hold?

I never predict the future.

Tracy Barnett: The Terribleminds Interview

Tracy Barnett is a creator of games in the old school, including the successfully-funded-on-Kickstarter game, School Daze. (Oh, and he has a new Kickstarter running for a game between only two people called “One Shot.”) You can find him at his online space,, or follow him on the Twitters @TheOtherTracy. Behold his thought-milk, below.

This is a blog about writing and storytelling. So, tell us a story. As short or long as you care to make it. As true or false as you see it.





Wednesday, March 25 53 A.U.

53% left.

I found this old JournalPad in some wreckage near the Scrapyard. The ads claimed the battery would last longer than a single man’s lifetime with one charge. Given what’s happened around here, I don’t doubt that claim for a second. If we don’t find some food and some potable water, we’re fucked.


I used to work up there. I didn’t make the cut. I wasn’t smart enough, or diligent enough, or I didn’t kiss enough ass, or… something. I don’t even know anymore. When the decision came down from the UEG, everyone in the facility assumed they’d be on board. They’d get a lift off thi-4$*#^!ff



#(4495)#&@@!-as the worst. Once the dome perimeter shut down, the fumes started seeping in. And worse than the fumes were the people. The Forgotten. The ones who didn’t even deserve a life in the domes. The ones who were always on the outside. Well, not any more. They’re in the City Center right now. I guess I’m one of them, now. I’ve got a hack-job rebreather, a cough that won’t quit, sores that seep, and I’m always hungry. I guess we’re all Forgotten, niiii#*$))(&^!\



QQQ*23jksday, March 27 53 A.U.

52.95% left.

We managed to get our hands on a purifying until. Nothing fancy, just something leftover from a middle-class apartment. The gangers must have missed it during their initial sweep. Who can blame them? I don’t. Now we’ve got a chance. Now we can stop drinking that irradiated sludge that’s been seeping down the sidewalls of our “home.”

Home. There’s a word that’s lost its meaning. I wonder what they’re thinking up there. You can just make them out, you know. If the smog clears, and the sun’s just right, you can see the reflections off the orbiting hab units. See?


They look like stars. It’s our new constellation. The Abandoner. That’s what I’ll call it.

Friday, May 22 53 A.U.

52.15% Left.


Fucking gangers, fucking abandoners, just… fucking everyone. Maria was crying today. What am I supposed to say to her? That I couldn’t help protect her? That to be able to survive in this new world of ours, you have to out-bastard the other guys? Maybe that’s what she needs to hear. I needed to. I learned the hard way.

We’d made something of a permanent home inside one of the old CO2 reclamation facilities. It hadn’t been completely stripped of parts yet and most of the old equipment was inactive. Sure, we had to get past the defense grid drones first but we figured that would only help keep us safer. The perimeter drones would guard our backs and we might be able to get some more sleep.

We didn’t count on the gangers having a bio0385*$%JF#*



‘’’’’’’’`3958-ard to even wake up during what passes for morning around here. The old domed city has been decaying at an alarming rate now that there’s no one to monitor the systems. The toxicity levels of every substance around us are through the roof. It’s a wonder that we’re still alive.

Sunday, September 27 53 A.U.

51.45% Left.

We did it! We beat them at their own game, the bio-freaks! Sure, sure we had to try some risky shit but we made it. It was like throwing a piece of sodium into a beaker of water back in by early Chem days… except the sodium was a volatile mass of nuclear material and that beaker of water was the gangers’ main hidey-hole.

What an explosion.

Since then, we’ve had strays trickling in. The streets are a little safer and it’s obvious that we’re the ones with the power in the area, now. That’s good. We need to keep the fuckers down, keep reminding them of who’s in charge around here*W%&*%RHHHHGD{“



“!@#(DDDEH(aria wants to have a baby. I argued against it. I mean, I’m no doctor but I’m sure that all of the exposure we had to all of that radiation last year is going to have a permanent effect on our DNA. She doesn’t care. She just wants all of this to have been worth something. And I see her point. We fought the gangers, fought for supplies, hell, we fought against the city itself.

And we made it.

If she wants a baby, who am I to stand in her way?

Sunday, December 26 54 A.U.

46% Left.

Kreena. That’s her name. She’s our gift and we got her on a day that used to mean something. It means everything to us, now. The doc we rescued last month took a look at her and said she’s as well as can be expected. We know better. She’s strong. She’s already more adapted to this new world in one day of life than we are after having been out in it for over a year.


We’ll raise her. She’ll know strength. She’ll know the truth about why our lives are like this. And she’ll know what’s coming. The Departure was only the first stage. There’s more comi_+_{}’455fjdd



+@#_$)$NND&0.5% Left.

i tolddd herr…..

loookkkk to thhee aaaabandonnnnersssd

fffgire coomnes fropm the sssssdky

aabandonertas coomming top resdhapes thje woirtld


Why do you tell stories?

Because I want to see other people react to them. My stories are largely told at the game table. They unfold as people interact with one another, and their pattern is never set. At least, it shouldn’t be. If it is, then the collaborative process that happens so wonderfully in game sessions is just gone. That’s where the magic is for me: seeing a story bloom, unfold, and hang in the air between the players. It may only last for a few moments, but it’s there, and it’s awesome.

Give the audience one piece of writing or storytelling advice.

Trust your audience. In my case, this means people reading the setting, or rules that I write. It also means trusting the players at my game table. I always do my best to never underestimate them. If you give your players or readers room to think and react, they’ll surprise you every time. Surprise is good.

What’s the worst piece of writing/storytelling advice you’ve ever received?

“Write the way they want you to write.” It was simultaneously the best an worst advice. On the plus side, it helped me pass my Freshman Proficiency test when I was in 9th grade. On the downside, that’s the only venue in which that advice hold water when it comes to your own writing. Sure, if you’re freelancing and are given guidelines, you’ve got to follow them. If you’re writing for your own work though? You need to feel free to stretch yourself.

What goes into writing a strong character? Bonus round: give an example of a strong character.

A strong character needs to be flawed. A prefect character is boring unless the point of their perfection is to see it eventually fail. That’d be Checkov’s Gun for the personality set. Intro a perfect character, and your audience should expect that character’s perfection to fall by act three.

But I digress.

Strong characters need to have a life of their own. Love them or hate them, you need to remember them.

Recommend a book, comic book, film, or game: something with great story. Go!

There’s this short story compilation called My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, where every story is a retold or new fairy tale. We forget how powerful such stories and folklore can be. Reading that book helped me remember what it was like to imagine after a while of that part of my mind being ground down.

Favorite word? And then, the follow up: Favorite curse word?

Slough. Pronounce it slew, or pronounce it sluff, it’s a word that sticks with me for no good reason. I’ll sometimes just tweet the word. It’s also one of those words that makes people uncomfortable, like moist.

I wish I had something more creative for this category, but fuck is always a go-to for me. Especially in phrases. “Fuck me running” is especially evocative for me. Just try and imagine how that would work. Doesn’t matter your sex, it’s awkward and delightful.

Favorite alcoholic beverage? (If cocktail: provide recipe. If you don’t drink alcohol, fine, fine, a non-alcoholic beverage will do.)

I love beer. All kinds, depending on the season. I’ve not gotten into brewing my own, but I’d love to. I also like a good whiskey.

What skills do you bring to help the humans win the inevitable robot war?

Win? None. However, once people with more skill than me help us win, I’ll be aces as helping us rebuild society. I’m a people person, so I can get groups together and… ah, who am I kidding? All hail our eventual robot overlords.

School Daze. Give us the Twitter pitch — 140 characters, what it’s about.

Did high school suck? Want to make it not suck? Play #SchoolDaze, and tell awesome stories. Be who you want, and make high school fun again.

(140 exactly. BOOM.)

We are often compelled to do this thing that we do as creators, so what drove you to it? What drove you to make games?

A feeling of inadequacy, combined with a desire to prove myself. That’s a lethal cocktail if you handle it the wrong way. I decided to start working on a campaign setting for Pathfinder after a one-shot adventure for a friend of mine. During the adventure, I had needed a destination for the ship they were on, so I made up this little town called Port-of-Call, a shitty dock town that served as a caravan jump-off for Kage. Kage was a techno-magical metal city in the middle of a desert, and run by a cabal of wizards called the Collegium. Well, Kage— pronounced Ka-shey; I was all clever and used a rough transliteration of the Japanese word for shadow—ended up becoming the focus of this campaign setting.

Because I simultaneously thought that I was making something cool, and wanted people to tell me how crappy my work was, I started just putting my stuff out there on a WordPress blog. Thing is, it turned out that I had some decent ideas. At the least, people weren’t telling me to pack it in. At the same time, I was going through some mental muck. Dealing with that muck helped me grow a backbone and realize for myself that my stuff was pretty good. Then I got ambitious.

I decided to take Kage and split it into three different sections, each of which would be expressed in a different game system—a suggestion from my friend Lenny, and a good one, too; take a look at what Fantasy Flight is doing with Star Wars—and my inability to properly manage that project led to its current on-the-shelf state. So when I was driving home from visiting friends in KC, and I got the idea for School Daze, I ran with it. I had the mental mojo, and the ability to see a project through; and I have done so. I’m super-proud of School Daze.

As for the campaign setting, well, I’m going to come back to it. When is the question.

What’s the difference between telling a story in a passive medium (say, books) and telling a story in a game?

In a book, you’ve got at least some control, or you tell yourself that you do. If you’re doing it right in a book, your characters take on lives of their own and make decisions that surprise you. That’s just good writing, there.

In a game, the narrative doesn’t belong to you if you’re the one running the game. The narrative belongs to your players and their characters. If you forget that, it’s to the detriment of your game. Sure, you plan out plot points, combats, challenges, etc. But at any point, the characters could say “fuck this, we’re going to become merchants.” Then? You roll with that. The game is theirs. You need to try to control the flow, moderate the chaos, but you need to follow their desires, or the game falls flat. It’d be like f the people in your book decided to just leave halfway through; without players, you have no game. If you have no game, you have no narrative.

What’s a pen-and-paper game everyone should be playing, but isn’t?

School Daze!

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?


I really love my game, I think you should play it. But there are other games that inspired it. Normally, I would just shout “PLAY FIASCO!” at you, and expect you to go play that amazing game immediately.

However, the question asked was about a game that no one is playing, but should. For that response, I give you Dread. Dread is a horror RPG that doesn’t use dice. Instead, it uses a Jenga tower for its conflict resolution. Where you would roll a die in most games, in Dread you have to make one or more successful pulls from the tower. If you knock the tower over, even accidentally, your character is out of the scenario.

On the surface, this all sounds hokey. I thought so, too. Then, fifteen minutes into my first session, everyone in the game was sitting about two feet away from the table, afraid to come close unless they needed to make a pull. The tower itself becomes a source of tension, which only adds to the horror of the scenario. It’s a peanut-butter-chocolate moment for me. It’s glorious. I’ve never experienced a game like it.

What’s next for you as a storyteller? What does the future hold?

Next up for me is a new game called Terrorform. The earth is fucked, and humanity is going to fix it. There are orbital stations that can house humanity for generations while we terraform our own planet. Problem is, not everyone makes it off. The players will play those people, and will work to survive the terraforming. But when humanity comes back to their new/old home? It’s likely that the Forgotten will not remember their ancestors fondly.

I’m hoping to get this game written sooner rather than later, and to publish in 2013.