Please welcome Richard Dansky to The Qwillery. Richard's most recent novel is Vaporware, which is out today from JournalStone. Happy Publication Day to Richard!
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery.
Richard: Thank you, and thank you for having me.
TQ: When and why did you start writing?
Richard: I started writing professionally after graduate school. I’d actually had an unfortunate encounter with Wesleyan’s author-in-residence while I was an undergrad that stopped me dead in my tracks for years, but eventually, with some help, I got rolling again. Jennifer Hartshorn, who’d gone down to work at White Wolf after college, actually gave me my first break - she needed some chapters in a roleplaying supplement called Haunts for the Wraith line, she knew I wanted to write horror, and she’d been part of my various roleplaying shenanigans. So I ended up writing two haunted house settings for her while proctoring fake SAT tests in the basement of a church in suburban Boston, and I liked it. I liked it a whole lot more than my job at the time, which was doing research and MIS for an executive outplacement firm, so I kept taking assignments, which led to a job at White Wolf, and the rest is history.
TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Richard: There’s a former intern from White Wolf who would claim that it’s my habit of setting my desk on fire as I write, but for one thing, that was a long time ago, and for another, the desk was never actually on fire so much as it was “covered in things that were on fire”. Which, to be fair, was probably against all sorts of zoning regulations and whatnot, but if you added up all the health and safety violations we had going on a day to day basis in that office, it might take a while to run them all down.
These days, I’m much more careful about the flaming objects, as my desk is an antique I inherited from my grandfather, and if I set it on fire my mother’s going to be very disappointed.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Richard: I’m a little bit of both, so does that make me a plantser? A kilter, maybe, though I’ve been told I’m a little off kilter at the best of times. Honestly, I tend to start with a single image, and then the rest is figuring out where that image came from. Who are the characters who got me to the place where that image could exist, and what did they do to get us there. And by the time I get that far, I know the characters well enough to let them take the book the rest of the way home.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Richard: For me, it’s maintaining a consistent writing schedule in what might be described as an inconsistent lifestyle. I do a lot of traveling for work, which disrupts any sort of routine I might get into at home. And video game development is prone to emergency deadlines and late nights and what we call “crunch time”, all of which relentlessly chew through evenings and weekends and other prime writing time. Once I can actually cocoon myself in my office with the door shut and the right music playing and whatnot, I can go head down and channel my inner Matt Forbeck. It’s just a question of defending the time against the forces arrayed against it.
TQ: Describe Vaporware in 140 characters or less.
Richard: What happens when a video game refuses to be cancelled? Blue Lightning is back, and it wants something only its creator can give it.
TQ: What inspired you to write Vaporware?
Richard: I’ve been working in videogames for nearly fourteen years now, and in the time-honored tradition of “write what you know”, I thought there was a lot of good fodder there for a novel. Part of that, I confess, was annoyance - every other video game story I’d read was either “our heroes get dropped into a video game and try not to get eaten” or “something escapes from a video game and our heroes try not to get eaten”, and I thought that knowing the field I could come up with something a little more original and true to the game developer experience. And when I first sat down to start working on the project, I’d had a string of projects I was involved in canceled, which got me thinking about all the effort and passion and creativity that had gone into those projects that would never see the light of day. There are folks who have been in the industry for ten years and who have never shipped a title, because their games keep getting canceled out from under them, and it just seemed natural to say, “OK, what if the project doesn’t want to be shut down?” What if all that passion was the lightning for this particular Frankenstein’s monster? Things just sort of unpacked themselves from there.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Vaporware?
Richard: Beyond my personal experience, I did a lot of talking to other gamedevs I know about their experiences, good and bad. There really is a community in game development, and the big conferences are these big reunions of the tribe. And so when you get together, you sit down and you tell stories, and you hear the good, the bad, and the oh-my-God-did-that-really-happen. All of those stories got distilled down into the action in Vaporware, and when I’ve passed the book on to developer friends of mine, I’ve gotten a lot of “I’ve been there” and “that rings true” feedback from them. Which, really, is the highest praise I could hope for.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Richard: Probably the hardest - and I may be giving a few things away here - is the game itself. Blue Lightning comes to life after its cancellation, and it may look like a person, but it’s not. Instead, it’s this mirror of all of the protagonist’s creativity and passion, not to mention a few of his less savory traits projected into what is essentially his fantasy come to life. So it was a character’s idea of a character, and keeping all the levels of that straight got tricky.
As for the character who was easiest to write, that would probably be Michelle, the protagonist’s foil at work. She’s talented and she’s smart and she’s tough, which in her position she has to be, and the voice that came out of that was incredibly clear. All of the other characters, I had a lot of forward-and-back with, trying to figure out their personalities. Michelle just announced herself, and that was that. Of all the characters in this book, she’s the most likely to turn up in another one.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Vaporware?
Richard: I think it’s when Ryan and his friends are spying - there’s no nice word for it - on a coworker through some webcams. They’re there to try to get a handle on what they think is a fairly basic situation with a coworker who’s falling down on the job. But they see something that forces them to realize they’re dealing with something entirely different, and how they deal with that sets the tone for the rest of the book.
TQ: What's next?
Richard: The game I’m currently working on, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, comes out at the end of the summer, and I’m tremendously excited about that. Beyond that, my friend J.C. Hay and I are collaborating on a project about a sasquatch private detective, so keep your fingers crossed for us.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Richard: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you for having me!
JournalStone, May 24, 2013
Trade Paperback (344 pages) and eBook
Video game projects get shut down all the time, but when the one Ryan Colter and his team have poured their hearts into gets cut, something different happens: the game refuses to go away. Now Blue Lightning is alive, and it wants something from Ryan – something only he can give it.
And everybody knows how addictive video games can be…
Website ~ Twitter @RDansky