Interview with Matt Forbeck

Matt-on-Madeline-IslandMatt Forbeck is an award-winning and New York Times-bestselling author and game designer. He has twenty-seven novels and countless games published to date. His latest work includes the novel Halo: New Blood, the Magic: The Gathering comics, the 2014 edition of The Marvel Encyclopedia, the Monster Academy YA fantasy novels, and the upcoming Shotguns & Sorcery roleplaying game based on his novels.  You can find him online at forbeck.com.

Shauna Kosoris: What came first for you?  Working in game design or working on fiction?

Matt Forbeck: I wanted to be a writer since I was in grade school, but I discovered games in 7th grade, and they hooked me good. I started working on games professionally while I was in college and made a career out of it. It wasn’t until years later that I sold my first novel.

That said, tabletop roleplaying games often contain a lot of fiction. Even while I wrote those games, I was always working at honing my fiction skills, and I think that paid off well in the end.

SK: So how did you get involved with comics?

MF: I started reading comics before I even entered kindergarten, and I’ve kept up with them ever since. When I was with Pinnacle Entertainment, developing the Deadlands RPG, I wrote the first ever Deadlands comic for Image Comics.

Before even that, though, I co-designed the WildStorms collectible card game for Jim Lee’s division of Image. I even sold an inventory issue of WildC.A.T.s to WildStorm way back in 1995 or so, but that was just before Alan Moore took over the title, so it never saw print.

SK: Have you had other projects that haven’t seen print?  Do you have hope that they someday will?

MF: Most of my work has found its way out. At the moment, I have two novels I wrote for the Dust miniatures game that haven’t been released, but I believe that’s still just a matter of time before they come out.

As I said, I also wrote an inventory issue of WildC.A.T.s for WildStorm, Jim Lee’s division of Image Comics, which he then sold to DC. The artist didn’t get very far on it before Alan Moore stepped in to take over the series, way back in the mid-’90s. I don’t think there’s any hope of that ever seeing the light of day, but I had a great time writing it—and I was paid for it too!

SK: That’s the main thing!  You’ve written fiction and comics for some large game companies such as Wizards of the Coast, White Wolf, and Games Workshop.  Has your background as a game designer helped with these assignments?

MF: Very much so. It means that I’m comfortable with the source material and the fans who enjoy it. Also, because I understand exactly how the games work, if I need something in one of my books that doesn’t yet exist, I can design it myself and put it into the story with some level of confidence it’ll fit well.

It also didn’t hurt that I knew people in the fiction departments there from having worked on those companies’ games. Knowing that someone will answer your email does wonders for a writer.

SK: Most definitely!  What was it like to work with 343 Industries on the new Halo novel, Halo: New Blood?

MF: Fantastic. Honestly, I’ve written lots of novels for different companies, and 343 was an absolute pleasure to work with. Their love for the Halo universe shone through in every interaction with them, and their feedback was always helpful and constructive.

SK: That’s wonderful to hear.  Are there any particular challenges when writing a novel set in someone else’s fictional universe as opposed to your own?

MF: When you write a novel for an existing universe, much of the work of building the setting out has already been done for you, and if you’re lucky the universe is already popular and has a huge fan base hungry for your story. That’s all a fantastic help. However, it also means that you can’t just make things up as you go along, as that same fan base is sure to know the universe at least as well as you, if not better. Also, you can’t change things in that universe without permission.

When you write your own original books, you have total control over everything, but you also have to do every bit of the work. It’s daunting, but it can be more rewarding in the long run.

SK: In 2012 you ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in which you were going to write 12 novels in 12 months.  Why did you decide to tackle this amount of writing?

MF: I’m a pretty fast writer. When I’m cooking, I can usually crack out 5,000 words a day and maintain that pace. Writing a dozen short novels in a year came up to 600,000 words, which I figured I could hit.

Of course, I also had to run the Kickstarters, produce the books, market the books, design the covers, and handle dozens of other little details. It was an exhausting but rewarding year.

SK: Would you do anything differently if you were to run another Kickstarter campaign?

MF: I’d not tackle a project that size. It devoured my life, and I’m still playing catch-up with it. However, I will get back to Kickstarter again. My next drive will probably be for a short-story collection, which will include lots of my tie-in work, which my publishers graciously gave me permission to reprint. The great benefit of that project is that it’s already 90% done.

SK: You’ve been involved with a couple of Kickstarter campaigns as a game designer recently (specifically The Titan Series and the Shotguns & Sorcery RPG, which were both successfully funded).  I know you’ve designed board games, card games, miniature games, and roleplaying games throughout your career.  Do you have a favourite type of game to work with?

MF: I always seem to come back to roleplaying games, which are fantastic fun. Collectible games are probably my favorites though, mostly because I like to watch them develop over time and design new wrinkles to breathe fresh life into the game with each release.

SK: Was there a game designer who inspired you to make games?

MF: I followed in the footsteps of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson (who co-created Dungeons & Dragons) of course. The guys who showed me I could make a living at it, though, were Troy Denning and Will Niebling, who both worked at TSR (which published D&D back in the day). They just had so much love for the industry and had so much fun working in it that it became contagious.

SK: Finally, I have a few questions about what you read.  What book or author inspired you to write?

MF: My three biggest influences were J. R. R. Tolkien, Ernest Hemingway, and Raymond Chandler. I loved Tolkien for his worldbuilding, Hemingway for his brutal honesty, and Chandler for his incredible style.

SK: And what are you currently reading?

MF: I just finished up Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls, an excellent time-travel serial-killer thriller set in Chicago. Great, twisty fiction. At the moment, I’m starting Ramez Naam’s Crux, the sequel to his incredible Nexus, which was one of my favorite science fiction novels of the past decade. Great, realistic near-future SF that explores some of the hardest questions about how technology affects us all.

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