FLURRIES OF WORDS (FLOW) sat down with Independent Author and Gary Gygax (creator of Dungeons & Dragons) collaborator, Jon Creffield, for a one on one chat about his work with Gygax, the Gygax memorial fund and his new novel, Hell’s Door Opens. Here is what we talked about...
FLOW: When did you work with Gary Gygax? Did you consider him a mentor? How has his work influenced you and your work? What prompted you to be involved in his memorial fund? Can you tell our readers a bit about its purpose and goals?
CREFFIELD: In the late 1990s I was very lucky to get an opportunity to start writing and creating role-playing game material with Gary Gygax. I continued to work with him until shortly before his death in 2008. Gary was a mentor. Not just to me but to a whole host of writers and publishers.
Collaborating on projects with him taught me so much. In particular I noted his work ethic, Gary was a real powerhouse, he worked day in and out, putting in long hours and never letting rejection or bad opinions put him off. He believed in himself and what is more he believed in his cowriters.
He produced enormous amounts of material. He could write!
Gary loved sword and sorcery fiction. In the back of the original Dungeon Master’s guide for the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game Gary included a list of inspirational fiction. That list turned me on to a whole of host of writers: Jack Vance, Robert E. Howard, HP Lovecraft, August Derleth, Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber and more. My whole approach to fantasy has been shaped by the genre of games Gary created and by the adventure material he wrote.
Gary’s wife Gail Gygax has set up the Gygax Memorial Fund. It aims to build a memorial statue in one of the parks near Gary’s home in Lake Geneva Wisconsin. The fund also aims to promote Gary’s literary legacy and to set up a scholarship in his name. I’d like to urge your readers to visit the fund’s website at http://www.gygaxmemorialfund.com
As for why I support the fund, in addition to being a great friend to me, a source of advice and help whenever I needed it, Gary has had a massive and largely unrecognized impact on popular culture. A whole host of books, films, and games have their roots in the work he created – I do not think it is an overstatement to say that anyone who has played a MMORPG owes a lot of their enjoyment to Gary Gygax. In addition, so many writers, artists and filmmakers have been inspired by his creations – sadly D&D has a ‘nerd’ reputation in certain circles and perhaps some of those inspired by his work haven’t fully acknowledged the impact role playing games have had on their career.
FLOW: Did you work on Castles and Crusades? How do you feel about the current state of D&D (Wizards of the Coast style)?
CREFFIELD: The game I worked most closely on with Gary was Legendary Adventure, a rules light approach to role-playing. I wrote a series of adventure supplements for that game: The Legendary Road, Dance of the Fairie Ring, Mouth of the Marsh and They Who Watch. I worked on other Legendary Adventure projects too, published and unpublished, including the massive Hall of Many Panes.
We co-wrote two books for the d20 version of Dungeons and Dragons: The Slayer’s Guide to Dragons and The Slayer’s Guide to Undead, released by Swindon based Mongoose Publishing.
I did not work on Castles & Crusades rules. That credit belongs to the Troll Lords.
I did assist Gary with a massive project to detail the City of Yggsburgh for the Castles & Crusades game. The city was described in a hardback gaming supplement but the intention was to further detail each sector. A whole host of writers contributed detailed descriptions of its various districts, high and low. I was the content editor and helped develop and marry up the texts as they were completed. That project went on hold after Gary’s passing.
Although I wrote two books for the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons and I have enjoyed playing 4th Edition games, for me ‘true’ D&D is the rules light earlier versions of the game. I’m pleased to see that WotC are taking a big step back in that direction with D&D Next, what they’re calling the new iteration of D&D. They are aiming to recombine D&D’s fractured fanbase with a version of the game adaptable to different play styles and rules so that players can enjoy it no matter which edition they prefer. The playtest rules for D&D Next are light and flexible and lend themselves well to a fast style of play that concentrates on what is happening outside of combat as well as the down and dirty of man on monster fights. I like to watch players create a story of their own in the fantasy environments I present them with in a game, I think D&D Next is shaping up to suit that style of play.
FLOW: Adaptations to film are always difficult. What did you think of the two D&D movies? The early 80s cartoon series? Has anything, in your view, done a good job of capturing the true spirit of D&D on film?
CREFFIELD: If the two movies hadn’t had D&D in the title I’d think they were okay if mediocre B grade fantasy offerings. As they were supposed to be D&D movies they really deserved a much higher budget. They did not do the game justice and may have contributed to the mistaken impression some people have of D&D.
I did not like the cartoon series. Gary would bop me on the head as he worked very hard on it but for me it did not give the right impression of the game. With that said, I am sure it did much to improve D&D’s reputation amongst parents scared by all the devil worship nonsense that was going on at the time. D&D was subjected to ridiculous accusations in some quarters.
FLOW: You've now delved into the world of Indie Authors. What's your writing process? How do you find self-publishing? How do you reach your audience? What are your thoughts on the current tight POV trend in fantasy? Have you read any other indie fantasy writers?
CREFFIELD: I like to set myself a daily writing target and then work at it until I reach that number. So, I might say “2000 words today” and then work solidly at creating that. If you do that day in day out you produce a solid amount of work. I sometimes use a mental analogy of building a wall, the bricks are the words and I am a dedicated worker putting them in place. Of course I’m not always good like that, in fact I can be quite chaotic, when working on projects with deadlines I have often pulled frenzied all nighters, writing like mad until the wee hours to make up for lazy days spent despondently lurking about by my keyboard.
For inspiration I sometimes listen to appropriate music before writing, maybe a bit of heavy metal, or the Sisters of Mercy, or whatever seems apt to the piece I’m creating. At other times I’ve taken my laptop down to the park and worked there. It is a nice way to write.
Back when I smoked I’d hammer away for 20-25 minutes then make a coffee and have a fag break, pacing backwards and forwards while I smoked and thinking about what I’d write next. I don’t smoke anymore although just writing that has made me feel wistful for my unhealthy but somehow mind-focusing habit.
Now that I’m delving into the world of self-publishing I am coming across some very interesting and helpful people, amongst whom I’d include your good self. There is much to learn. Many valuable lessons. My website www.hellsdooropens.com is intended to be a blueprint for others who seek to take the self-publishing route. The lessons I learn will appear there so others can avoid any pitfalls I stumble into and hopefully benefit from any reliable routes and resources I find. In fact, I’d like to invite your readers to contribute a guest blog, article or idea to www.hellsdooropens.com - if you have a valuable insight, a painfully learned lesson or great idea to share, I’d really like you to share it with visitors to my site. Drop by and leave me a note at the site or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
As for tight PoV, in Hell’s Door Opens I maintain one point of view per chapter, each chapter unfurls from the perspective of one individual protagonist. I like to write that way, it makes the characters and the world feel real. It comes naturally to me and allows the reader to see other characters from different perspectives while following one character’s internal dialogue.
With that said I enjoy reading fiction where so-called “head hopping” occurs. I think it is best to limit the number of heads the reader is supposed to keep up with but I don’t think a writer should feel constrained by any particular style – he should tell his story in a way that flows naturally, is readable, engaging and exciting.
I’m keen to start exploring the work of independent fantasy writers. I’ll be looking for recommendations and seeing what treasures hide in the indie underdark.
FLOW: What do you think of the blending of real world religions with fantasy? Can you have Christians, for example, in a fantasy world?
CREFFIELD: It worked for CS Lewis and on the quiet JRRT was heavily influenced by his Catholicism. For myself, I don’t think such things should be too obvious in case they jar the reader out of the fantasy realm the author is creating. If the reader finds his ability to suspend disbelief challenged then the author is doing himself and the reader a disservice. So, the real world idea or belief, be it spiritual, political, atheistic or whatever should be camouflaged and clothed in the trappings of the author’s world. In addition, it should not be the point of the author’s work either. No one wants to be preached to. We don’t open fantasy books for a sermon. Now, if a valuable spiritual or moral insight comes along as a natural part of the story then that is great – but writers shouldn’t labour the point or heavy handedly try and convince their readers of their own personal convictions.
There are some spiritual asides in Hell’s Door Opens but I won’t tell you from what direction they come or what my personal beliefs might be.
FLOW: Can tell us a little bit about your new book, Hell's Door Opens? What was your main inspiration for it? What one thing would you like readers to take away after reading it?
CREFFIELD: In the main I was trying to recapture something I felt was missing in much of today’s fantasy. The sword and sorcery tales I enjoyed featured horror, the macabre, the weird and the earthy. I wanted blood and guts and fury. I wanted loathsome things that make the hairs at the nape of your neck stand on end. Most importantly I wanted my fantasy to horrify as well as excite. You can only be a real hero when up against something really frightening.
Part of the story’s origin lies in a conversation I had with my sister. She told me about a radio show she’d listened to in which a panel had been asked who they’d rather have for dinner, God or the devil. The panel chose the devil as they thought he’d be a more interesting guest. I thought the panel had no imagination, I figure you should ask the people of Srebrenica what it is like when the devil comes to call. Those thoughts were still mulling around in my head when I wrote Hell’s Door Opens.
I’d say my main inspiration for the book is writers like Howard, Derleth and Lovecraft. With that said I like what a reviewer said at www.flamesrising.com, he noted that the book takes the classic tale of swords and sorcery and turns it on its head.
The male characters are deadly but in the City of Sept the female characters are deadlier still. I hope readers will find all the protagonists well drawn and with deeper psychological motives than sword and sorcery characters sometimes display. The action is fast paced and I really hope that readers are both engaged and carried away by the tale.
The main thing I want readers to take away is a sense of enjoyment – the story exists to provide thrills and chills with some deeper elements thrown in. Amongst the blood, fear, lust, magick and action there are thoughts directed to the purpose of suffering, the question of evil and the nature of the divine.
FLOW: If you had to choose between Campari and soda, a pint of bitter, Asgardian mead, and red wine, what would it be? Why? Which is more powerful: Bigby's Crushing Hand or his Clenched Fist?
CREFFIELD: Bah, I’ll take none of those drinks – give me some Velunian Fireamber, a gill of Keoish Brandy, some Ulek Elixir liqueur or any other beverage served at the Inn of the Welcome Wench. As for Bigby’s mighty spells I cannot recall which is the higher level but the words of Princess Leia to Governor Tarkin spring to mind, “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” Not that such wisdom applies to facing off hordes of enemies in some DM created hellhole – I guess I’d go for whichever would most effectively splat the opposition.
What I really need is Bigby’s lesser-known spell Bigby’s Typing Hand – I’ll have my next book online in a trice!
By the way, you can make D.P. Prior jealous if you tell him I’ve explored the first level of Castle Greyhawk with Gary as the DM and I was captured by goblins.
FLOW: He is very jealous! ;-) What do you have planned next?
CREFFIELD: The hardcopy print version of Hell's Door Opens will soon be released. It will be for sale on Amazon and also at DriveThru Fiction. After that my intention is to release a series of sequels to Hell's Door Opens that will complete its tale of dark swords and sorcery horror.
I've been canvassing reader opinion - would they prefer a series of shorter novella length releases? I've read that the eBook reading public prefers shorter works of fiction. Do your readers agree? I would then combine the novellas two at a time for print release.
My ultimate aim is to complement the Hell's Door series with other books set in the same world. I have a number of them in different states of development, from fairly well fleshed out manuscripts down to mere sketches and ideas.
FLOW: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
As I mentioned above, I'm very interested in hearing the opinions of your readers where it comes to the length and format of eBook fiction. I wrote a guest blog on the subject for Flames Rising: http://www.flamesrising.com/
If anyone would like to share their preferences with me they are welcome to visit the Hell's Door Opens FaceBook page at http://www.facebook.com/
pages/Hells-door-opens/ 174883742557884 or to drop by my websitewww.joncreffield.com
I'd also like to invite readers to share their experience of independent publishing on my site. I would welcome guest blog posts describing the ups and downs of self-publishing. Readers can contact me at my site or via email -email@example.com
FLOW: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. :-)