Matt Forbeck is the author of countless games and many stories. His 16th novel, Carpathia, hits stores in March. He also has a man plan called 12 for ’12, in which he plans to write a dozen novels in 2012. His first Kickstarter drive for his Brave New World Roleplaying Game novels hit its first funding level, so he starts writing the first book in January.
SFFWRTCHT: Where’d your interest in SFF come from?
Matt Forbeck: I was an early reader, and it wasn’t long until my parents introduced me to science-fiction and fantasy. My father was and still is a fan of science-fiction, and I remember him handing me Dune and challenging me to read it.
Something about genre fiction just caught fire in me. It wasn’t a long leap from there to playing Dungeons & Dragons, which in turn led to a long career as a game designer too.
SFFWRTCHT: Who were some of your favorite authors/books growing up?
MF: I was a voracious reader then, and I devoured everything I could get my hands on. I remember loving Sherlock Holmes, The Lord of the Rings, The Riddlemaster of Hed, The Great Brain series, and many many more. These days, my time is a bit more limited than it was then, but I still read as much as I can.
MF: I started out with gaming conventions when I was 13 or 14. This past year I attended my 30th Gen Con in a row, and it was the 9th in a row at which I’ve been a guest of honor. I absolutely love going to conventions, meeting new people, and catching up with old friends.
I never did much in the way of cosplay, although I have worn a number of costumes at conventions. I used to be the president of an RPG company called Pinnacle Entertainment Group, and we would dress up for a day or two at Gen Con and Origins (the other big US gaming convention) every year.
SFFWRTCHT: When did you decide to start writing? How did you begin?
MF: I was in 4th grade when I won a story contest with a Star Wars parody. That was the first time I remember thinking that writing was something I could do and be successful at it. I tried writing some other things in grade school and high school, but I didn’t get too serious about fiction until I got into college.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you study writing in college? How did you learn your craft?
MF: I started out publishing my own gaming fanzine when I was in high school, and when I was in college, I began writing and editing games as a freelancer. I took up both electrical engineering and writing when I was in college, but I eventually dropped the engineering and graduated with a creative writing degree instead.
It got me out of college in a total of three years, which was a huge incentive by itself. I loved college, although I didn’t always care much for the classes. I went to the University of Michigan too, which was expensive, so I got out as fast as I could.
How long did you write until your first sale? What was that?
For games, the first thing I saw in print was an honorable mention in Polyhedron Magazine for a gadget I’d invented for the Top Secret RPG. That happened back when I was 15 or so.
My first fiction sale was “Crocodilopolis,” a short story in Strange Tales from the Nile Empire, an anthology based on the Torg RPG. That was back in 1992. My first novel was The Big Dance, a short book I wrote for Reaper’s C.A.V. (Combat Armored Vehicle) miniatures game. That was published in 2002.
SFFWRTCHT: Where did your involvement with/interest in RPGs come from?
MF: When I was 12, the mother of the kids who lived across the street from me gave them a copy of Dungeons & Dragons for Christmas. Come that summer, we had some time to play it, and I was hooked good!
SFFWRTCHT: When did you start writing RPG stuff? Was it just as a fan first or did you wait until they’d pay you?
MF: I started writing for fun, of course, making up my own house rules and such. When I was 16, my dad told me I had to either start a business or get a job. I put my life savings to that point into starting up a fanzine called The Quill and Scroll. It lasted a whole two issues before I ran out of money, but I never regretted a dime of it. That was better spent than any tuition I ever paid.
I wrote some adventures for the RPGA when I was in high school, and I did those for free. It didn’t take me long to move up to paying work, though, once I was in college.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you have a lot of characters or a few core ones you loved to play? Who were they?
MF: I had more characters than I could count. We made the mistake in our early days of playing D&D characters through Advanced D&D adventures, and we had our heads handed to us on a regular basis.
I often played a cleric called Holy Man, and every time he got killed, I’d roll up another cleric and call him Holy Man but with a +1 to the number after his name. I think we were up to Holy Man 28 or so before I finally gave up on that.
SFFWRTCHT: How much does your RPG experience influence your writing and vice versa?
MF: A lot. I don’t fall into the trap of just writing up an RPG adventure and hoping it hangs together as a proper novel, but there’s a good deal of overlap between being an RPG writer and a novelist. For one, working in RPGs teaches you a lot about world building and about constructing many different kinds of characters. It even trains you to come up with ideas for all sorts of different plots and to think from several different viewpoints at once.
As a novelist, you have to come up with an excellent story, and you do that by whittling away the other possible stories until you come up with the best one you can. When you design an RPG, you have to come up with dozens of premises for stories, but then you have to let them hang there for other people to complete.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s your all time favorite RPG experience?
MF: I’ve had so many that I couldn’t begin to list them all. A couple of favorites have been in the live-action True Dungeon adventures run at Gen Con. They’re set up in these huge ballrooms the team carves up into a dungeon by means of curtains and some amazing puzzles and special effects. They’re just so much fun, and I’ve had the pleasure of playing with people who are both world-famous game designers and fantastic friends. Plus, this last summer my eldest son Marty joined me for the first time, and we had an absolutely wonderful time.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you ever roleplay scenarios for scenes or stories to see where they go and use that in writing them?
MF: Not really. An adventure and a story are two different animals in many ways, and I don’t think it does you much good to try to replicate a game too faithfully in a story. Sure, you have to respect the rules that define how the world works, especially with regard to supernatural or magical elements, but you never want to be able to hear the dice rolling in the background as you read.
MF: The title itself comes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. There’s this moment when Miranda, the daughter of the wizard Prospero, first lays eyes on a man other than her father, and she says, “O Brave New World that has such creatures in’t.”
As for the game, I started out reading comics when I was four or five, and I’ve never given it up. I love books from Marvel, DC, IDW, Image, Top Shelf, Archaia, and many, many more. I even got to revise The Marvel Encyclopedia for DK Publishing back in 2009.
When I sat down to create Brave New World, I wanted to come up with legitimate reasons for all the tropes you see in so many comics: fictional cities, secret identities, and so on. So I reverse-engineered all that and then rebuilt it back up from the starting point it led me to. It was a world of fun.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you start with characters or plot?
MF: I’m more of a plotter. That doesn’t mean I neglect the characters at all, but to me there’s nothing fun about having interesting people that don’t actually do anything or have anything happen to them. Conversely, putting average people into extreme circumstances makes for tremendous entertainment.
SFFWRTCHT: Pantser or Outliner?
MF: Outliner every time. I suspect that comes from my years as an RPG writer when I had to get everything outlined and approved before I set to work, but it’s served me well over the years. That said, I never feel wedded to my outlines. An outline is just a rough map that shows you where you think you want to go. It’s not the journey itself.
SFFWRTCHT: Tell us a little about the plot of the BNW novels please.
MF: They start in 1999 (the year the game originally came out), and they launch with the capture of Patriot, the main hero in the story. The US has been under martial law since the foiled assassination attempt of President Kennedy in 1963, and all unregistered heroes have been outlawed since Chicago was destroyed in a super-battle in 1976. As a super (or a delta, as I call them), you have to either work for the government or go to jail.
Patriot used to be part of the government, but he’s grown disillusioned with it over the years. When we catch up with him, he’s switched sides and is working for the underground resistance, known as the Defiance. And it doesn’t go well for him.
SFFWRTCHT: Which genre would you fit them into?
MF: I call them dystopian superhero novels. I suspect they’d fit best on the urban fantasy shelf.
SFFWRTCHT: What are the key tropes for you of that genre?
MF: Besides the things I mentioned before? Secrets that eat away at the people who keep them. Desperate people doing terrible things in the name of justice.
The central theme to the entire setting is the ongoing debate over what’s more important: safety or liberty? I wrote the game before 9/11, but that’s been the most important question of this millennium, and I’m enjoy tackling it.
SFFWRTCHT: Have you done short stories for the games prior to attempting novels?
MF: Not as such, but the game books do contain a great deal of fiction. The core rulebook also features an eight-page comic book to set the tone.
SFFWRTCHT: Is there a demand for these novels?
MF: I sure hope so! That’s one of the reasons I’m using Kickstarter though. It’s a great way to trot out ideas and see if anyone would like to get behind them.
Kickstarter is a crowdfunding system run through Kickstarter.com. As a creator, you come up with an idea and make a little video to tell people about it. Then you create a list of things you want to sell based off that idea. In the case of the 12 for ’12 project —
Wait, let me back up. Earlier this year, I decided I wanted to write a dozen novels in 2012, one per month. I’m going to make them shorter books, about 50,000 words each, which makes it a bit more manageable. I also decided to break them into trilogies I can later package together in omnibus editions that will be thick enough for anyone who might want to complain about the thinner books.
I chose to write a trilogy of novels based on my Brave New World RPG to launch the series. For my Kickstarter drive, I set a list of rewards that backers get when they pledge their money at certain levels. These include things like ebooks, paperbacks, and hardcovers, personalized and not.
Once you get all that set, you post your project, and you set both a funding goal and a time limit. If your backers pledge enough to meet your goal by the time your limit runs out, you get the money, and you get to work. If you fall short, though, no one gets charged anything, and you shrug and move on to the next idea instead.
SFFWRTCHT: What are the key differences between writing fiction and writing RPG modules?
MF: With RPG modules, you have to try to come up with an amazing situation and figure out all the various ways that players might react to it, forming a plot for the game. WIth fiction, you just have to figure out a single plot and how your characters will react to it. It’s more a matter of broad scope versus narrow depth than anything else.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s your writing time look like? Planned time? Grab it when you can?
MF: I’ve been a full-time writer and game designer for over 20 years. I generally start writing after I get my kids off to school in the morning, and then I quit for a bit when they come home. Then I start up again after everyone’s in bed, and I write until I’m too tired to keep at it any more. Then I get up in the morning and do it again. I love it.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you use any special software or music playlist?
MF: I used to write everything in Microsoft Word, but these days I use Scrivener for my novels and for my comic scripts. I’m writing the Magic: The Gathering comic for IDW these days, and Scrivener makes everything about it so much easier. I don’t think I’m ever going back.
As for music, I don’t have a set playlist, although I’ll often come up with one to suit the project I’m working on at the moment. In general, I tend to listen to either wordless soundtracks or too songs I know well enough that there’s no threat that hearing the lyrics might pull me out of my own writing to pick at someone else;s.
SFFWRTCHT: What role do beta readers play, if any, in your process as a professional author?
MF: Very little at this point. I’ve been at this for a while, and I trust my own instincts about what I’m doing. The fact that I spent many years as an editor helps ensure I turn over clean drafts, and I’ll often go through two or three drafts before I turn anything over to an editor or to my wife, who likes to read my original works.
SFFWRTCHT: What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?
MF: First, of course, there’s the 12 for ’12 project, which you can find at forbeck.com/12for12. That’s just the Kickstarter page for the first trilogy, and then I’ll be putting up a new one every three months to help fund the later trilogies.
In addition to that, the Magic: The Gathering comic launches at the end of December, and I cannot wait for people to start reading that. Working with the folks at IDW and Wizards of the Coast has been tremendous fun.
On top of that, my third original novel (my 16th overall) comes out from Angry Robot in March. It’s called Carpathia, and it’s about the ship that picks up the survivors of the Titanic. In the story, it happens that the ship — which also shares the name of the mountain range in which sits Castle Dracula — is full of vampires. And it all spirals out of control from there.
For other details, I encourage folks to check out Forbeck.com, at which I post regular updates.
Interviewer Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.