Reddit AMA Transcript

My AMA on Reddit /r/Fantasy a couple of weeks ago was a rousing success. I received a ton of support and questions, so I thought I’d post an edited transcript here, since it’s effectively an author interview. It’s a nice mix of serious and goofball questions, and I had a great time answering them. Hopefully this is a better format for some of you Reddit-averse readers out there.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.

A: I grew up on fantasy. My dad shoved The Hobbit into my hands at a very young age, and while I liked it, I wasn’t really a huge Tolkien fan. The first fantasy that really struck me was David Eddings’s The Belgariad. It’s pulpier than most, but it’s still my favorite, and holds a very special place in my heart. I quickly fell down the fantasy and sci-fi rabbit hole, and never climbed back out.

I’m a geek of nearly every stripe. I’ve been a video gamer since the Commodore Vic-20. I’ve been playing D&D and other RPGs since I was eight years old. I LARPed for almost fifteen years (mostly in NERO and Amtgard). I love board and card games. I read a ton of comic books (and host a comic book podcast called Trade Secrets).

I worked in the gaming industry – first at Wizards of the Coast, then at Nintendo – ever since graduating college in 1998. Due to the good graces of my wonderful wife, I left Nintendo in 2013 to pursue writing full time.

Random (Not-Necessarily-Geeky) Things:

  • I play a lot of poker, and have a weekly home game.
  • I’m a Seattle Sounders and Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
  • I absolutely love to cook.
  • I love craft beer and scotch.

Q: What were your positions at WotC and Nintendo? As a follow up, do you think working within the tabletop and video gaming industries informed your writing at all?

A: I held several positions at both.

I started at WotC as an intern, moved into customer service, and then worked in R&D for about a year-and-a-half before being laid off in one of their recurring purges. At Nintendo I started as a game tester, then moved over to Lotcheck – their version of certification testing. My last position there was part of the 3-person team under Dan Adelman that handled the distribution of all of Nintendo’s digital titles for WiiWare, DSiWare, and the eShop on 3DS and Wii U.

I definitely think my time at WotC influenced my writing. Getting to see the nuts-and-bolts of RPG development gave me a fantastic view into the process of building a world from scratch. Even though I wasn’t directly involved, I had access to a lot of meetings and materials that gave me a ton of insight.

Although my time at Nintendo didn’t directly influence my writing, being a game tester for seven years had a direct effect on my editing and troubleshooting abilities. I’m super detail-oriented and anal about quality, and used a lot of those skills when creating and bug-testing the eBook versions of Construct.

Fun Note: Although the idea for Construct predates my time at WotC by a bit, the first time I was spurred to actually write any of it down was during a call for novel submissions that was open to WotC employees. Although he didn’t have a name yet, in that version my main character Samuel was a warforged in the Eberron setting.

Q: Did your time at Wizards of the Coast inspire to write about Constructs rather than people?

A: Not specifically, no. The idea for Construct came to me in college, a couple of years before I started working at WotC. For many years the idea was pretty amorphous, though, teetering back-and-forth between fantasy and sci-fi (the sci-fi version centered around an android rather than a construct). It’s always been a story about an artificial being’s plight.

Q: Character Development in Construct is very well done. Will we see more twists and turns for Eri, Pare, and Jacob?

A: Thank you for the compliment! Characters are important to me, so knowing that my character development worked for a reader is fantastic. To answer your question: Absolutely, yes. We’ll see all of those characters again in roles of varying importance. I don’t want to get too specific for fear of spoilers. If you know how the first book ended you know why I’m being a bit vague here. 🙂

Q: Being a long time comic book fan, is Samuel more of an anti-hero, a forced hero, a distraction for the readers?

A: Hrm. This is a tough one. I definitely wouldn’t call him an anti-hero, and he’s not intended as a distraction. I’d say Samuel starts off as a somewhat archetypical forced hero, but eventually overcomes his reticence and starts driving his own narrative. That was really my intention: I wanted Samuel to take charge once he garnered some inkling of what was going on; to overcome his doubt and fear and start taking charge of his own fate.

Q: What are your preferred scotches?

A: One of the best I’ve ever had was Glenfiddich 21, but I can’t afford it regularly. Glenlivet Nadurra is pretty fantastic, as is Glenfiddich 18. One of my wife’s favorites is Dalmore 15, which I also enjoy. She brought back a bottle of Tomintoul 16 from a business trip to Scotland that I’m very fond of. I don’t usually like very peaty scotches, but she also brought back a bottle of Jura Prophecy that’s really fucking good.

Q: What do you find are some of the biggest hurdles for indie writers to over come?

A: Exposure, hands down. Discoverability for indie books is a bitch. Readers need to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, and most don’t have the time or inclination to sift through thousands of books. Right now, there isn’t a solid mechanism for curating self-published content.

Since indie authors don’t really have advocates or (man, I hate this term) gatekeepers, we have to walk a razor’s edge between self-promotion and professionalism. It’s something that’s constantly at odds, for me. I struggle to strike a balance between pimping my own work and not being “that guy”. Finding the right signal-to-noise ratio is probably the hardest thing I’ve dealt with.

Q: If you could collaborate with any writer, living or dead, who would it be?

A: Fhew… My knee-jerk answer is David & Leigh Eddings. The Belgariad and The Malloreon are such a huge part of my childhood and reading life that I would’ve loved to have collaborated on a story set in that world. I recently participated in a giveaway that asked what character I’d like to see a short story based on, to which I answered Silk from The Belgariad. I’d love to have worked with the Eddings’s on such a story.

I’ve been introduced to a ton of fantastic authors since The Belgariad, though. Some of my recent favorites have been Ann Leckie, Daniel Abraham, and Kameron Hurley, so they might make the list, as well.

Q: How did you get the cover made for Construct?

A: When I decided to self-publish, I began looking online for cover artists. There are so many. One of my favorite artists from RPGs and my time at WotC is Wayne Reynolds, who is currently the key cover artist for most Pathfinder books. On a whim, I contacted him – just to see, you know? – and I was quoted a $8,000-$12,000 for a full-color cover commission. I had my little chuckle, and continued searching.

I contacted Jon Schindihette, whom I knew from working at Wizards. He used to be their managing art director. I didn’t know Jon super-well – I’d spoken with him a few times at WotC and I’m friends with him on Facebook – but he was extremely helpful. I gave him the parameters of the cover and told him my price range, and he was able to give me a short list of up-and-coming artists who fit the bill.

Of the artists he suggested, it only took one look for me to land on Carmen Sinek. Her work is fantastic, and she was right in my range. My collaboration with her was absolutely amazing. We had a great dialogue through the whole process, and the final cover completely exceeded my expectations. I go into a little more detail about the process in this blog post. You can check out her work at

My advice for indie authors looking for good cover art:

  1. Be willing to pay for a good artist. There are plenty of decent, affordable artists out there, but set your expectations of cost higher than what you see spoken of online if you want real quality.
  2. Don’t be a control freak. The image of your cover in your mind is great and all, but give the artist leeway to create. They’re the one with knowledge of design, color, and composition; let them use it. You’re not just paying for a finished piece of art, you’re paying for an artist’s skill, experience, and expertise, which you do not possess.

Q: There are writers who write short stories and share them freely on their websites to maintain interest in their books between novels and to create buzz when a novel is near completion. Would you consider writing some stories about the secondary characters in Construct? Also, you can offer free short stories on Amazon to promote your book. What are your thoughts on this?

A: The idea is fantastic… I’m not sure it would work for me, though. I don’t have many ideas for short stories surrounding these characters that I wouldn’t just incorporate into the main narrative. On top of that, I’m – frankly – not very good at short fiction.

There are several things I also have to consider:

  1. My production is pretty slow as it is. Every moment I spent writing and revising a short story would feel like time I could be spending on the main book, and would be hard for me to justify in my own mind.
  2. I’m a quality freak. One of the most elucidating experiences of my life was the editorial process I went through on Construct. I’d feel the need to have my short works professionally edited before publication, which is an expense I can’t afford, at the moment.

All of this is not to say that I’d never do something like this, but at this early stage of my writing career I just don’t think I’m really capable of it.

Q: What’s your favorite board game? Favorite sport? Favorite superhero?

A: Favorite…

…Board Game: Right now, it’s probably Lords of Waterdeep. It’s such a fantastic implementation of the Euro-style resource-management mechanic. I can’t get enough of it. Small World ranks really high, too. In fact, we just received our copy of the Small World Designer’s Edition. It’s the best board gaming product I’ve ever seen. We have a ton of board games in our house, though, and beyond those two, I’d have a hard time ranking.

…Sport: It used to be football, but now it’s soccer. A while ago, I had a ton of friends who were into soccer. I had trouble getting into it, because I didn’t have a team to root for (I have trouble watching any sport in which I have no stake). That problem was solved when the Seattle Sounders got a MLS franchise. We decided to become season ticket holders, and over the course of the last 6 seasons, my wife and I have become pretty hardcore soccer fans.

…Superhero: Hm. There are lots of ways I could answer this question, but one of my all-time favorite superhero comics is Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley’s Invincible. I love that character and book. In movies, Captain America has become one of my favorites, which is really odd because I can’t stand Cap in the comics.

Q: Earlier, you mentioned that discoverability for indie books was a struggle. What did you do to overcome this?

A: To be honest, I can’t say that I have. I’m a new author, and new to the realm of self-promotion. I’m very lucky that the mods here at /r/Fantasy offer a platform like Writer of the Day for guys like me to try and make my voice heard, but I’ve had a hell of a time trying to get my book in front of readers and out from under the standard self-publishing stigma.

For me, it starts with quality – the first step is a well-written, well-edited, professional product. My ego tells me that I have a story to tell and that I’m the only person who can tell it right. My experience backs that up, but also gives me the vision to realize I can’t do it without editors and artists. So, Construct went through multiple rounds of developmental editing and copy editing, and I spent an immense amount of time designing, building, testing, and tweaking both the eBook and tree-book versions.

The two go hand-in-hand, for me: All the promotion in the world doesn’t matter if the product you’re selling is garbage, and putting effort into a fantastic product won’t matter if no one ever sees it.

Reviews are extraordinarily important to indie works. Reader reviews, yes, but I’m talking about reviews on blogs and bookish publications. Part of the importance is showing readers that someone other than the author is willing to put their voice behind a work. The other part is giving the author a) a platform and b) quotes and tools to add to their self-promotion arsenal. Getting those reviews is the issue, though. I’m not going to go into a lengthy complaint, but I’ve sent out literally hundreds of review requests and have received exactly one website review.

I think sites like Fiction Garden and Genre Underground are steps in the right direction. Websites willing to sift through indie works and provide a place where readers can access curated content that has been vetted by a third party. I’m lucky enough that Construct has earned a spot on Fiction Garden’s “Recommended Reading” list (which, incidentally, is that one review I mentioned earlier). We could use more spaces like this, on a much larger scale.

Q: Who is your favorite Star Trek character?

A: Riker. All the modernity of TNG combined with all of Kirk’s swagger. Second in line, oddly enough, is probably Neelix, and that’s solely for a single line from Voyager (a show I actually don’t like very much): “This ship is the match of any vessel within a hundred light years, and what do they do with it? Oh well, uh, let’s see if we can’t find some spatial anomaly today that might RIP IT APART!

Q: What are your feelings on curry?

A: I haven’t met a curry I don’t like yet. I make Japanese curry rice at home all the time, and I’m working on a home recipe for Thai panang curry at the moment that I haven’t quite perfected. I love Indian food, as well, my favorites being paneer saag and lamb shahi korma.

Q: What’s the best edition of D&D?

A: Oh, what a trap this question is. I grew up playing 2nd Edition Advanced D&D. Usually, when this question gets asked, if the answer is anything that came after, you’re stoned and burned as a heretic.

However, my favorite edition is 3rd Ed./3.5. Granted, I’m a bit biased, having worked at WotC during the development and release of 3/3.5, but I honestly do think that it’s the best of all worlds. It retains the flavor of the older versions but streamlines some really dumb rules and makes the game more accessible to more players.

Like any version, though, the sheer volume of supplements and expansions and extra rules cause the game to drown in its own shitting of the bed, but as a core rules set I loves me some 3.5. I have not yet played 5th Edition.

Q: You are stuck on a deserted island with three books. Knowing you’ll be reading these three over and over again, what three do you bring?

A: This is a supremely hard question to answer. The vast majority of books that I absolutely love are parts of series’, so if I’m restricted to three books and not three series, I have a very hard time figuring out what I’d take. But here’s my go at it:

Belgarath The Sorcerer by David & Leigh Eddings. I’m so in love with The Belgariad that this had to be on the list. I can re-read this book pretty much infinitely.

Timeline by Michael Crichton. I’m a giant Crichton fan, in general, and this is, without question, his best book. An amazing adventure.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Even though this is part of a series, it stands well enough alone on its own, and is one of my favorite individual novels of all-time.

This whole list goes out the window if I can pick series instead of individual books, though.

Q: I was in choir practice in my primary school and we always had to pay attention to our conductor. There was a boy in the year above me who always got very confused because his name was Luke and the man was always shouting ‘LOOK’ at us instead of ‘Luke’. Except for the times where he’d actually shout Luke. As a result the poor kid was always on his toes.

Has there ever been a time where you have had your name confused with the word ‘look’? If so, what happened?

A: Not in the way you describe, no.

However, you’d be surprised at the sheer number of times someone has attempted to spell my name “Look” when I tell it to them. It’s shocking.

There are really only two ways to spell Luke: L-U-K-E, or L-U-C if you’re French. And yet, somehow, I’ll tell people (bank tellers, especially) my name is Luke and they’ll try Look and Luck and Leuk and Louk.

Every single one of those has been an actual attempt by someone to spell my name.

Q: What is your favorite way to eat ice cream?

A: For most of my life, my favorite way has been the most simple: in a bowl, drizzled in chocolate syrup.

But about a year-and-a-half ago, I was on vacation in Australia and was introduced to a new favorite:

French toast, made with cinnamon-swirl bread (or a slice of cinnamon roll), topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, drizzled in butterscotch, with crushed macadamia nuts sprinkled on top.



Q: I’ve long been interested in the differences between writing short fiction and novels. What do you think are the main differences between the two, and do you think your writing mind works better with novels?

A: I once saw the basics of storytelling split into four overarching parts: prose, character, plot, and world-building. In my experience, short fiction must be primarily focused on prose and plot, where long-form fiction has more leeway to concentrate on the other two.

(Note: An argument can be made, with which I tend to agree, that world-building should exist as a supplement to the other three, and should never overshadow any of them.)

A short story is a vignette; an interesting moment in time. It tends to explore a single decision, an individual or a small group of people, a particularly stirring style of prose, a focused experience. Longer (novel-length) works are concerned more with action, reaction, and consequence, and long-term development of plot, world, and character.

Where long fiction allows the author to explore how their characters’ actions affect their fictional worlds, successful short fiction – at least standalone short fiction that’s not supplemental to a longer work – either a) isn’t always concerned with the larger ramifications or b) is willing to leave the extrapolation of such implications to the reader.

I tend to be a fairly linear writer, primarily because I’m always concerned with the downstream effects as I’m writing. Even if I’m developing or writing a scene out of order, my mind is always swirling both with “How did we get here?” and “Where does this lead?”. I struggle with presenting a short snippet of a story, because my mind is always framing it in a larger context. I haven’t yet been successful in settling myself down to just present that interesting vignette, at least not without burying it in obvious cliche.

Q: What types of characters do you generally play in LARP?

A: Healers and fighters, mostly a combination of the two. You asked me a nerdy question, so this is going to be a sufficiently nerdy answer:

Most of my LARPing history was concentrated on games like Amtgard and Belegarth, which are more skill-intensive than LARPs like NERO or Legacies, which are more roleplay-intensive. And I mean “skill-intensive” literally: their combat systems tend to be more athletic in nature, rather than built to support a roleplay framework.

So, in both environments I found myself playing what is affectionately called a “regenerating warrior”. In the case of Amtgard, this meant that I played the Healer class, but spent a ton of my skill points on weaponry (sword and shield, to be specific), eschewing all but a few healing spells that allowed me to keep moving after taking a wound.

I found myself leaning in this direction regardless of the game I was playing. I just enjoy the play-style. I spent a lot of time and energy becoming a decent fighter, and supplemented that with in-game abilities that let me repair or ignore an opponent’s attacks.

Q: What made you go a different route than the usual war/mages/farmboy route? Did you consciously try to write a book that was different?

A: Absolutely.

When I first had the idea, it was nothing more than “Artificial being with scrambled memories being chased for something he’s seen.” As time passed, the more I read and the more I learned about writing, I started thinking about the stereotypes I wanted to avoid, and how I wanted my story to progress.

I wasn’t – and still am not – looking to write “epic” fantasy. My books – at least The Chronicler Saga – aren’t about huge battles or ancient mages returning to glory or adventurers surviving amongst warring gods or the ascension of a lowly nothing to the ranks of legendary heroes. I want to tell more character-centric stories, and focus on some non-standard protagonists.

Hopefully I succeeded.

Q: How far are you on Book 2? Will it be out before George RR Martin’s next book?

A: Jesus, I hope so. 🙂

I’m definitely a slow writer by self-publishing standards, but I’m trying to work on that. I’m currently on chapter 4 of Book 2, and have ramped up quite a bit in the last week.

I was about to make a comment about when I hope to be done with it, but that’s just silly, so I’m going to keep my trap shut.

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