Writer Wednesday: 5 Questions with Richard Dansky

Richard E. Dansky is a writer and a designer of computer games and RPGs who lives in Durham. A former game developer for White Wolf Inc., he worked on Wraith: The Oblivion, Mind’s Eye Theatre, Vampire: The Dark Ages, Kindred of the East, and Orpheus game lines. He is currently the Manager of Design for Red Storm Entertainment in Morrisville and the Central Clancy Writer for UbiSoft, Red Storm’s parent company. Which means that in some way, shape or form he’s involved in the storylines and content of most Tom Clancy-themed computer games. Mr. Dansky’s authored over a hundred short stories, novels and role-playing sourcebooks, contributes to several websites including The Escapist and The Green Man Review, and knows more about Cthulhu than you do. He also encourages his friends to do terrible things

1. On your website, you said that, “The last time I’d driven to Charlotte and My Little Ponies had been involved, bad things happened.” Care to elaborate? 

My wife is an old-school My Little Pony fan. Our guest room is liberally decorated in classic MLPs, all of which are carefully positioned so that their wide, staring eyes are focused on the pillow of our guest bed.
Very few people spend multiple nights in our guest room. I have no idea why.

In any case, back in the day she was invited to an unofficial My Little Pony convention at a house in the Charlotte area. This was before Friendship is Magic, so MLP-fandom was still organized along the lines of the French Resistance – small cells in secret communication, clandestine meetings, you get the idea. And when Melinda mentioned she wanted to go to this, she also mentioned that there was going to be a place for the husbands to hang out in the basement with an XBox and whatnot while the Pony festivities took place, and if I wanted to come along that would be fine. It turned out that there was in fact no man cave, that the husbands were herded into one room of the house and not permitted out for fear of disrupting the festivities, and that there was no XBox. (And yes, I am aware of the irony of using “herded” in this context.) So while the MLP fans were trading ponies and playing MLP games and eating cake off MLP-themed plates, I was trapped watching a couple of guys cheat newbies at HeroClix. I’ve been back to Charlotte since, but only in secure, pony-free environments.

2. How did a structuralist analysis of the work of H.P. Lovecraft, an MA in English, LARPing and an interest in cut glass lead to a life of action adventure writing?

Through nepotism, of course. You meet the most interesting people when you’re discussing the Bakhtinian Carnivalesque whilst simultaneously dressed up in furry pants and a fake-antler helmet while waving around a foam sword and trying to remember the Old English word for “Charge!” Or possibly the Elvish one.

(And let me categorically state in those days my knees were in much better shape, the furry pants were hand-sewn, and running around the woods with a foam sword pretending to smite orcs is great exercise. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

More seriously, I was always very lucky in that my parents actively encouraged my intellectual curiosity in any direction I wanted to take it in. That brought me into contact with a great many wonderful and talented people, and it also put me in position to take advantage of opportunities as they arose. Or, to put it another way, the reason I came to Red Storm’s attention was my work in tabletop RPGs at White Wolf; my RPG work at White Wolf came from Jennifer Hartshorn being familiar with my LARP and tabletop RPG sessions in college, where I also got to inhale Lovecraft and literary theory simultaneously and work that into my writing; and the reason I was playing RPGs in college is that when I was a kid my mom brought home a giant pile of RPG books she’d found on sale because she thought they’d stimulate my imagination. When you look at it from a distance it’s a very strange career path, but all the steps along the way made perfect sense at the time, and I’m endlessly surprised, pleased and humbled by the direction my life has taken.

As for the cut glass thing, I have no idea where that came from, but I’m sure I’ll write an Orrefors-themed thriller one of these days.

3. How is game writing different from other writing?

The biggest difference between game writing and other forms is whose story you’re telling. There are immense procedural and technological differences as well, but what it really boils down to is this: When I’m writing fiction, I’m writing the story that I want to tell, to my exact specifications. You can read it, you’ll like it or you won’t, but it comes to you in finished form. Writing for games is all about enabling the player to experience their story by using all the narrative elements you put out there for them, and even in a really constrained game narrative they’re progressing in their own way.

It’s a vast oversimplification, of course – I could go on for hours about the technical and collaborative aspects of game writing that don’t exist in fiction – when I’m writing a short story I don’t have to worry about the number of character voices that can be loaded at a given time, and when I’m working on a game I don’t have to write description – but really, it boils down to whose story are you telling. Understand that, and I think you can move back and forth between the media pretty seamlessly. Forget that, and you’ll frustrate your audience and yourself.

4. Would you tell us a little bit about your recent projects?

VAPORWARE out since May 24, then the video game SPLINTER CELL: BLACKLIST out in August, and I’m very excited about that. Beyond that, my friend J.C. Hay and I are working on a series of novels about a private detective who happens to be a sasquatch, and I’m also writing steadily for magazines like Green Man Review, and, hey, there’s this comic book I’m working on and a vampire novel and a kickstarter stretch goal for James Wallis’ marvelous RPG ALAS, VEGAS, and…

Honestly, I’m really terrible when it comes to saying “no” to projects, or cool ideas, or pretty much anything that I could be writing.

5. What are your three favorite monsters (and why)?

“Monster” is such an interesting word. I’m of course extremely partial to Bigfoot, as anyone who’s unlucky enough to be following my Twitter feed on a Sunday night when “Finding Bigfoot” is on can tell you. There’s actually a long history of Bigfoot sightings here in North Carolina, and my nephew has made me promise to take him ‘Squatching one of these days.

Beyond that, I’m a big fan of ghosts. My take might be spoiled by my time working on Wraith: The Oblivion, a ghost-themed game, but I’ve always seen ghosts as the manifestations of unfinished business. They’re aspects of humanity separated from the day-to-day business of being human, and that makes them fascinating to me. 

And finally, while the temptation is there to take the easy way and go with Lovecraft’s best-known creation, I’ve never been a big fan of Cthulhu itself. The big guy’s just not that interesting to me – it’s more what he stands for. If you look around the Lovecraft canon, the idea of something like a nightgaunt – winged, faceless, described largely in terms of their texture – that’s much more interesting to me. 

Of course, when you get right down to it, the only real monsters we have are people. Zombies, vampires, werewolves, shoggoths – they all come from us, and they all represent aspects of humanity we’re simultaneously afraid of and attracted to. So if I wanted to give you the most honest answer to this question I could, I’d have to say, “us”.

About JLHilton 12 Articles
J.L. Hilton is the author of the post-cyberpunk Stellarnet Series published by Carina Press and a jewelry artist featured in the books "Steampunk Style Jewelry" and "1000 Steampunk Creations." Find out more at JLHilton.com or JLHjewelry.com.