You’ve worked extensively as a designer of role-playing games, which presumably led to your two World of Warcraft novels and the Daemon’s Gate trilogy. How did your involvement in gaming come about? Are there any particular favorites among the games that you designed?
I started in gaming the way most of us do—as a gamer. Back in fifth grade, my friends and I discovered this strange box called Dungeons & Dragons, and my parents were kind enough—and open-minded enough—to get it for me. I played D&D for years, right up into high school, and then when I went to college I discovered that my school (the University of Kansas) had a very strong roleplaying society, so I joined. My friends and I continued to game for several years, and then we got the crazy idea to create an RPG of our own. We debuted it at GenCon in 1994, and I used that as a springboard to speak to other game publishers. That led to a few small projects, which led to bigger projects, and so on. I think I’ve done somewhere around eighty game projects at this point, from short bits to full books.
As far as particular favorites, that’s always tough. I had a great time doing my Warhammer supplement, Lure of the Lich Lord, because it was actually based on the second novel in my Warhammer trilogy—I’d already planned to focus that book on a dungeon crawl, essentially, so I suggested to my editor that it would be fun to do the dungeon as a game supplement and they went for it. Others that I enjoyed writing were my Deadlands supplement, Great Weird North, and the Deryni roleplaying game, plus the recent pieces I just did for the Firefly RPG supplement, The Smuggler’s Guide to the Rim. They’re all fun, though—that’s why we write them, after all, is because we love doing them.
Your media tie-in works include Star Trek’s SCE series (Starfleet Corps of Engineers), a Stargate: Atlantis novel, Hunt and Run, and your two Eureka novels. How did you become involved in media tie-in?
Well, I moved to New York in 1998, right after leaving grad school. One of the people I knew in NY was a fellow KU alum who had gone on to become an editor on the Star Trek line. He invited me to pitch for the all-new Star Trek: SCE line, and that became my first SCE novel, The Riddled Post. Tie-in writing is one of those funny things where it’s really hard to break in but once you have, if you show that you can do good work on time and to direction, you have a good chance of getting offered more. That’s basically what happened with me—I wound up doing five SCE novels, and between those and all my RPG work, several editors invited me to work on other properties, like Stargate: Atlantis and Eureka.
How did you come to write children’s books such as the Pete and Penny’s Pizza Puzzles series?
Back in 2002, an editor I knew at Scholastic was looking for authors for PowerPuff Girls books. I was available at the time, and already knew and loved the show, and I came up with a pitch she liked, so that was my first children’s book. That same year, another editor I knew needed an author to do a young adult educational book on the Bermuda Triangle, and I thought that sounded fun so I said “sure!” I wound up writing a bunch of educational books for that same publisher over the next few years, and then got a chance to do two Transformers Animated books for HarperCollins. Then a friend introduced me to an editor at Grosset & Dunlap, who offered me my first junior novelization, for the movie Bandslam. That book won a Scribe Award, and afterward, the editor asked me if I’d like to do an original children’s book series with them. That became Pete and Penny’s Pizza Puzzles. I still get emails and letters occasionally asking if there are going to be more books to that series.
Can you tell us about some of the educational books you’ve written for Scholastic and Zenoscope?
Ha, I guess I just did a little bit! J As is often the case, once you write something for one publisher, if you do a good job, other publishers notice and keep you in mind when they have similar projects. That’s how I wound up writing for Scholastic, that and because one of my editors at Penguin moved to Scholastic and mentioned me when a fellow editor needed an author. I started writing for Zenoscope because a friend was hired to develop two books for them and asked me and several others to contribute. They liked me enough that they offered me a third book after those two were done. I really like doing the educational books—they satisfy my old teacher urges, they’re a lot of fun, and I often learn all kinds of things in the process! Plus, it’s really exciting to go to schools and see the kids get all excited about things like the Civil War.
What can you tell us about the origins of the Scattered Earth science fiction series and the universe in which the stories are set?
The Scattered Earth began with an email from a buddy of mine, Steve Savile. Steve told me that he and another friend, David Niall Wilson, had been talking about wanting to do an epic space-opera series, and they were wondering if I might be interested in participating. I said yes, of course, so the three of us started brainstorming. Steve ultimately wound up having to step down because he got too busy with other projects, but David and I continued it. The basic premise is that, a long time ago, the Earth was shattered into bits, and those bits floated out into the cosmos. Many of them were restored by other races, and humanity was reseeded on those newly revived fragments, but each place was skewed by its rescuers, so every group is different. And every group believes it is the one and only Earth. Many of them even believe they are alone in the universe—until an event makes them look beyond their own horizons and question everything they know about themselves and their place in the cosmos.
My novel The Birth of the Dread Remora was the first Scattered Earth book, followed by David’s The Second Veil. Our plan from the start was to do distinct but connected series, and we plotted out ways our two storylines would intersect down the road. Then we opened the setting up to other authors, providing a series bible and guidelines so others could write stories that would link up with our own. It’s been a great deal of fun, and we’ve got several more books in the works, both our own and by other authors.
For the Write Stuff conference, can you please give us a sneak peak into what you will talk about in your Saturday presentations, “Trends in Early Reader Books” and “Creating a Captivating Cover”?
For the first one, I’m going to talk about not only how to write a middle-grade or young adult book, but also what publishers are looking for in terms of length, style, genre, series, etc. I’ve had a lot of experience with children’s books, both writing them and working on the publishing side, so I’ve seen a lot of things most writers haven’t. I’m going to provide a lot of tips that will help aspiring authors really focus their work in those areas.
For the second presentation, I’m going to talk about covers, obviously. I’m a professional graphic designer, and the print manager for two different small presses, so I build a lot of covers and work on a lot of covers. Most writers aren’t artists themselves, so I’m going to offer tips on what sort of thing you want for your cover, how to work with an artist, what you need to provide to a printer, and more details to really help writers get the best cover for their particular book.
What have you published recently and what can readers expect from you next?
My latest novel is the third book in my humorous SF series The Adventures of DuckBob Spinowitz, which follows a man who was modified by aliens and given the head of a duck, and who also wound up becoming the unlikely protector of the universe. The novel is Three Small Coinkydinks, and it deals with DuckBob, his friend Ned, Ned’s home world, and its bizarre similarities to Brooklyn, tons of aliens, and, of course, a plot to take over the universe.
Coming next, I’ve got a thriller novel I’m doing with Steve Savile called Lost Cause. It’s the next book in his Ogmios series about a top secret British espionage team that is sent in when the government can’t officially get involved. Lost Cause is set in Japan and centers around a British businessman and a plot to steal the Japanese Imperial Regalia.
I’ve also got short stories coming out for The X-Files, V-Wars, Shadowrun, and Crusader Kings II, the aforementioned Firefly RPG supplement The Smuggler’s Guide to the Rim, an epic fantasy novel set in an Asian-inspired world, and an urban fantasy novel. I like to keep busy. J