Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Random Questions with Richard Dansky

Richard Dansky is one of the hardest-working writers I know, and while I struggle with plotting, story ideas seem to come to him fast and furious. He's the author of the newly released Firefly Rain, a critically acclaimed horror novel he describes as "snowbird gothic," or "a mixture of the classic Southern gothic with the sensibility of a relocated Northeasterner."

When he's not scaring himself and others with his books, Rich works as the Manager of Design for Red Storm Entertainment. Yes, people, he actually makes money writing and designing video games. If you've seen UbiSoft's Tom Clancy games on store shelves, Rich's fingerprints are all over them--he's UbiSoft's Central Clancy Writer. (NB: I actually got to "consult" on an adventure game he developed called
Freedom: First Resistance that had a Latina heroine, and my named appeared in the credits. In the credits! How cool is that?) Prior to joining Red Storm/UbiSoft, Rich developed live-action role-playing game books for White Wolf.

Rich and I met while we were both in the first days of Boston College's M.A. program in English literature. He bowed to me in this elaborate, Renaissance-esque fashion and asked me if I wanted to come to his house and be a vampire with him and a few of his closest friends in the city. I backed away slowly and politely told him to take a flying leap off my universe. And we've been great friends ever since.

In the interest of pimping my friend and amazingly talented writer, here are some Random Questions with Richard Dansky:

TRACY: So, Rich, you have an immensely enthusiastic fan base from your years as a video and role-playing game developer. Consequently, I bet you've gotten some bizarro fan mail. What's the weirdest piece of mail you've ever received?

I think the absolute weirdest one I've gotten was a bottle of Everclear that someone sent me back in the White Wolf days. I'm not sure if the message was "I love your writing, please drink yourself blind" or "If you drink this, you'll stop inflicting your writing on us," but either way, it was a bit on the unexpected side.

Honestly, most of the mail I get these days isn't fan mail; it's people asking for advice on how to get into the video game industry.

TRACY: As mentioned above, we first met at Boston College when you invited me to come to your house and be a vampire. Do you still vampire, and does it help with your writing?

RICHARD: To be fair, I asked you come by and be one of several vampires, though if you'd really wanted I'd have let you be a werewolf instead. (For anyone out there who has no idea what we're talking about, I invited Tracy into my nascent Vampire: The Masquerade tabletop roleplaying game, and she was smart enough to say no.)

TRACY: Just so you know, I'm not making fun. It makes for a great "how we met" story, but the truth is I just didn't trust my ability to make up stories on the spot. I SUCK at improvisational theater (which I discussed recently over at the Intrigue Authors' blog in gross and embarrassing detail), and couldn't even imagine coming up with stories off the top of my head the way you described it. And if you remember, I went, er, LARPing with you all at least once. And had fun.

RiCHARD: I don't actually do much tabletop roleplaying anymore-- with my travel and work schedules, I just don't have the time for an organized campaign--but for a long time running, a game was a tremendous help to my writing. Being in charge of telling a story for five or six players on a weekly, episodic basis can teach you a lot about plotting, character, and narrative flow, not to mention organizing your story ideas. Plus, you get a heck of a lot of practice working with various character voices and motivations, and all of that is invaluable in learning to write better fiction.

TRACY: Tell us more about your day job, because it's cool.

RICHARD: I work in the video game industry, and I wear two hats. On one hand, I manage the game design department at Red Storm Entertainment, which means working with the team here in North Carolina on the design aspects of our games. On the other, I'm the Central Clancy Writer for Ubisoft, which means functioning as a sort of central writing and continuity resource for all of the Tom Clancy-brand games like Splinter Cell, End War, and Rainbow Six. What that can mean on a day to day basis is anything from looking over a script or a story outline to make sure that we're not re-doing something we did in a previous game to actually getting down and dirty and doing the writing for the game itself. As a result, I spend a fair bit of time at Ubisoft's other studios, which means that there are waitresses in a couple of restaurants in Montreal who know me by sight. It's a lot of fun, and I've gotten to visit places like Bucharest and Shanghai that I never thought I'd see.

Now, if only they'd open up a studio in Jamaica, we'd really be talking…

TRACY: When we were at BC together, you were quite serious about horror fiction having significant literary value. So, for the benefit of our readers here, are your books more than just blood, guts, and gore?

RICHARD: I'm really not terribly interested in gore, arterial spray, splatter, or any of the other stereotypical trappings of horror. The horror fiction that I really fell in love with is much more--dare I say it--cerebral, or at least psychological, more about knowledge and consequence than it is about nasty sharp pointy teeth. As much fun as a good old monsterfest like The Thing can be, it's just not something that I want to take a swing at in my writing.

I'm much more interested in people and consequence, if that makes any sense. It's why I like to write ghost stories--they're very much about the consequences of character decisions coming home to roost, and they're deeply human stories. Giant evil monsters from beyond the cosmos don't do much for me, and if they're not interesting to me, then it's going to be that much more difficult for me to make them interesting for my readers. I'd rather write about people--alive or dead.

TRACY: My blog visitors are probably mostly romantic suspense readers and writers (with a few random people looking for Denise Austin crotch shots thrown in for good measure). Tell me why they should give Firefly Rain a try.

RICHARD: Ultimately, I think the best reason to give the book a try is that it's a good story about interesting people. There's certainly some suspenseful elements to the book as Jacob Logan tries to uncover what's going on at the family farm without getting himself killed by whatever's out there, and a lot of the book hinges on Logan's relationships with two of the women he knows. That being said, I don't think the genre labels matter so much as just telling a good story, and I like to think that there's a good enough story in there to keep people interested in what happens next.

Also, the cover's really gorgeous. But you can see that for yourself.

TRACY: Have you ever scared yourself while writing? If so, how?

RICHARD: There have definitely been times when I've been pounding away on a story, and I suddenly realize that it's 2 in the morning, there's no one else in the house, it's dark, and something just made a sound downstairs. So I do get carried away on occasion, but I like it when that happens--it means that I'm really getting into what I'm doing, and the mood is strong enough to drag me in.

TRACY: You're one of the hardest-working writers I know--creating computer games by day, novels by night, and probably some White Wolf freelancing in between, right? How do you stay creative and original without burning out/losing the muse/getting writer's block, or whatever you call it when a writer hits the creative wall?

RICHARD: I actually gave up the game writing freelance a few years ago, but I replaced it with book reviews, blogging, and writing about video game writing. So, yeah, "busy" is pretty much the operative word. Then again, there's always so much cool stuff out there to write about, I don't know if I know how to slow down.

The plus side to all the running around and going in nine million different directions is that I'm constantly exposed to new material that can stimulate story ideas, provide background, or otherwise goose my writing. Jumping on a plane for a week at another studio plays hob with my housecleaning, but it's also a chance to read on the flights, to explore a new city, to talk to new folks, and to shake things up a bit.

As for writers' block, generally I've got enough stuff going that if I'm blocked on one thing, I can jump on to another and hopefully keep the words rolling. Mind you, time spent writing a novel is probably more productive in the long run than time spent on my sports blog, but it's all writing, and as long as I'm putting words down, that can't be a bad thing.


Cathy in AK said...

Great interview, Tracy and Richard. Your work and path to fiction are interesting, Richard. As a former tabletop gamer, I find that it helped my writing in many ways you mentioned, plus with fight scene choreography in my fantasy stuff.

Your book sounds very cool. Another one for my TBB/TBR pile. Thanks!

MA said...

While I've never really considered LARPing, I have played a number of RPGs, both tabletop and online... good experience for plotting, character development and general writing. It's been a long time, aside from my WoW explorations of late... I kinda miss that itch.

Oh, and I LOVE discovering this bit of trivia about you!

Tracy Montoya said...

Thanks for stopping by and appreciating my friend Rich, Cathy and MA!

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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