Welcome to my “About Me” page. This is the story of how I became a published novelist and successful game writer. It is not, however, a how-to, and should not be used that way. The amount of incredibly good timing, amazingly fortunate happenstances, and just sheer, dumb luck involved simply cannot be replicated. You’ll have to go out and make your own luck. That part is possible. It involves working hard, honing your skills, and looking for lucky breaks around every corner.
I get Inspired
I had wanted to be a writer since childhood. Like most authors, I read all of the time, starting with mysteries in grade school and then moving on to science fiction and fantasy as a teenager. Also, like most authors, I had several English teachers who saw in me a desire to explore the world through words and helped nurture that desire. I even dedicated my first novel, Judgment, to them. Thanks Miss Ellenwood, Mr. Parr, and Professor Thompson. Without all of you, I would not be the writer I am today.
After taking every high school English literature and writing course possible, I went to college and two things happened that would change the course of my life. First, I decided that while an English Literature degree would be a great foundation for a writing career, a journalism degree would be a better foundation for holding down a long-term job (remember, this was the 1980s, before the World Wide Web began to kill off the newspaper and magazine industry). Second, I met my future wife, Daneen. She is not just my muse, but my creative partner. Every good thing that has ever happened to me, both professionally and personally, I owe in no small part to her.
The first of these good things came in 1997, but stems back a few more years to 1994. After college turned me into an editor, I stayed on at Purdue University as an editor. I spent the first ten years of my career in the basement of the Mechanical Engineering Building, editing newsletters and instructional manuals for the Highway Extension office. I was involved in publishing, if only barely. But, hey, I was doing something that I was good at, and I got to stick around college for a few more years and play games with my friends. Oh, did I forget to mention I’m an avid gamer? Yeah, that part is important, too.
Magic: the Addiction
Flash forward to 1994, when Daneen brought home a new game that would change our lives. We began playing Magic: the Gathering and were instantly hooked (some might say addicted, a problem that would rear its ugly head again years later and, amazingly, lead to another incredibly opportunity). We played Magic and spent money we didn't have on Magic cards for several years. I began reading Duelist magazine around about issue #4 and began conversing online with their editors shortly thereafter. In 1997 rumors began circulating that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) was going to purchase TSR, the makers of D&D. This is one of those lucky break moments I told you to watch for.
I wrote to an editor on the staff of Duelist magazine with whom I had cultivated a friendship and asked her if the WotC magazine staff might need more editors once they had two new magazines in house (Dungeon magazine and Dragon magazine). My luck (which is somewhat legendary in my circle of friends) held true and although they didn't need editors for the incoming magazines, my editor friend on Duelist magazine was leaving the company. I flew out to Seattle for an interview and began working as a Duelist magazine editor about six weeks later.
Right after I arrived in Seattle, WotC decided to turn Duelist magazine into a monthly publication. Suddenly I was editing (and writing) more words per month than I had ever done in school or in my previous jobs. It was a great learning experience and a wonderful environment. Never before had I worked in a place where everyone got all of my jokes and obscure TV and movie references. As my writer friend, Al, likes to tell me, I was living the geek’s dream.
Pursuing the Dream
And the dream might have ended there, except that luck would have it that the TSR book publishing department had been placed right next to the magazine department at the WotC offices. Smelling opportunity once again (wow, I sure sound mercenary; maybe there is a lesson here), I made friends with the book editors. I even played Bridge with a couple of them every week (yeah, I’m old; I play Bridge). This was an amazing time. I felt completely fulfilled at work and had big dreams of writing novels in my spare time.
Not more than a year later, the book department approached me to see if I would like to write some strategy books for Magic: The Gathering. Now, here’s a free tip from a published author. Never turn down work! At least not when you’re first starting out. Still with an eye on my potential fiction writing career, I suggested to the book editors that it might make sense to produce a piece of short fiction in each strategy guide as a way to highlight the story behind the cards. Thus, my first published fiction appeared in the strategy guides for the Urza's Saga card sets. These stories are re-published with permission from Wizards of the Coast on this site. Check them out on my Fiction page.
Based on the strength of those stories, I was asked to contribute to The Myths of Magic anthology, and co-wrote (with my wife, Daneen) a story entitled “The Lady of the Mountain.” Shortly after turning in that story, Jess Lebow, the editor for Magic novels at the time, asked me if I would be interested in writing Judgment, the third novel in what would become the Odyssey cycle.
My career was going great. I had my first novel contract in my pocket, I was editor-in-chief of TopDeck magazine (the publication that arose from the ashes of Duelist), which had a huge circulation for a gaming publication (over 100k most months), Pokemon was hot, and that made WotC even hotter. Then the bottom fell out of the Pokemon boom and WotC had to start trimming. TopDeck was among the first casualties, as its popularity was primarily founded on the success of Pokemon.
Luckily (again!), Daneen got a chance to follow her dream
of working in the toy and game business and landed a job with Fisher-Price,
which is headquartered in a small town just outside of Buffalo, New York, where
it was founded over 75 years ago. So, we packed up and went back across the
The Freelance Years
While Daneen worked on PowerTouch (cool, interactive books for kids), I cultivated my freelance career. This was much easier to cultivate as I had a novel contract in hand, and an amazing wife paying the majority of the bills. Believe me, freelance is a much less scary proposition when you have a working spouse. After finishing Judgment, I was asked to write the first novel in the Mirrodin trilogy. The Moons of Mirrodin became my second novel. I also wrote several more short stories for Magic: The Gathering anthologies and even tried my hand at co-writing a Dungeons and Dragons source book.
I turned down no offer to write, which landed me some fun and interesting gigs and a few that proved a bit too onerous over the long haul. But I was writing. Of course, I was no longer sitting next to the book editors, so I had to also go out and look for some more lucky breaks. One of those happened at GenCon, when I met fellow author Matt Forbeck for the first time. Matt had written some novels for Black Library, the imprint for Games Workshops that published Warhammer and Warhammer 40K novels. He gave me a contact at BL and I pounced on that opportunity as soon as I could (I think I sent the e-mail from my hotel room that night.
After dancing around with the editors at BL for a month or two about which of their worlds I might be interested in writing about, I got a call in November from Christian Dunn, who told me they had an emergency. Black Library needed a 70,000-word novel for their new Necromunda book line and had lost their author. Could I write the first draft for them by January? Now, think back. What did I say the rule was? I said, “Of course I can write it. Send me the details.”
That was my first Kal Jerico novel, Blood Royale. I would write two more before the line was canceled: Cardinal Crimson, and my personal favorite, Lasgun Wedding.
So, for someone who once shied away from the idea of relying on writing to provide a living, I spent five pretty good years as a freelance writer. In that time, I published five novels, eight short stories, several months’ worth of newspaper columns (before the start-up newspaper went down), one-third of a Dungeons& Dragons source book, two issues of a schizophrenia magazine, and a slew of online strategy articles for trading card games that nobody plays anymore. I most obviously was the writer who could not say no.
New Gaming Addiction and New Opportunities
But Daneen and I both longed to return to Seattle and that chance would come like a bolt of lightning out of a clear, blue sky. But, once again, it was my devotion (perhaps addiction) to a game that really paved the way. While writing novels and short stories and anything else that would bring in a freelance check, I got a note from one of my best friends from WotC about a game that I simply HAD to play. After months of begging off from another time sink, he sent me a "free" copy of World of Warcraft. Much like when we first got interested in Magic: the Gathering, Daneen and I jumped into the addiction with both feet, quickly buying a second copy of the game, two new computers, and new graphics cards so we could stay up until 4 a.m. to play with our Seattle friends.
Fast forward about eighteen months, and my new gaming addiction paid off again as I now had considerable experience with Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs right at the time when another former co-worker, who was at that time leading the writing team at ArenaNet, was looking for a new writer. So, the opportunity presented itself to move back to Seattle, put my writing skills to work on a computer game, and work with some old friends I hadn't seen in years. It really wasn't that hard of a decision,
I joined ArenaNet in July of 2006, smack dab in the middle of the development cycle for Guild Wars Nightfall, and had to immediately dive into text for a campaign I knew nothing about. I learned a lot about how to present story details in computer games (it’s quite a bit different from fiction), while immersing myself in the story of Nightfall, and figuring out how far I could push the limits while writing, re-writing, and editing quests. (translation: I spent the first month floundering in water three feet above my head just hoping I would someday see the surface and get the chance to breathe again.)
Unfortunately, the new day job presented a stumbling block to my personal writing career (especially with the nightly WoW addiction eating up all of my free time). But my creativity had an outlet at work, so I didn’t mind. Over the next five years, I probably wrote just as much fiction in the form of game dialog on Guild Wars Nightfall, Guild Wars: Eye of the North, and Guild Wars 2 as I had in the previous five years as a freelance writer (and the pay was significantly better). Plus, my words were being read (and later spoken by real actors) to an audience in the millions instead of thousands. I even got to have a hand in the publication of the first two Guild Wars novels, one of which was written by my friend Matt Forbeck, who had given me a leg up with my early writing career.
I parted ways with ArenaNet and Guild Wars in 2010 and began writing again. I have a new short story published on the Story Portals website, and am starting to work on another (super-secret) story. For the past year, I also worked at Nintendo on a casual game (to be named later; more on that when I can finally talk about it). What does the future hold for my writing career? I couldn't tell you (at least not until it happens). But stay tuned.