Bruce R. Cordell enjoyed six years of biotech research while pursuing his biology degree, and for three years after achieving it. But ultimately, it was the call of fantastic which captured his heart. Bruce is the author of many books, including Plague of Spells, City of Torment, Key of Stars and Lady of Poison. He lives in the Pacific Northwest and writes RPGs and tie-in novels while working for Wizards Of The Coast. His latest Forgotten Realms novel is Sword of The Gods. Besides writing books and games, he enjoys mixed martial arts, practicing healthy dietary habits (vegetarian but not crazy), pursuing the occasional adventure, trying new things, and reading like a fiend. Find Bruce online at http://brucecordell.com/ and also on Facebook and Twitter as @brucecordell.
SFFWRTCHT: Where´d your interest in SFF come from?
Bruce R. Cordell: Probably from my Mom; it was her habit to check out 2 sci-fi books every 2 weeks from the library, which I promptly read as well.
BRC: When I was a kid, I read everything with equal interest; I didn´t have enough discernment for taste. Perelandra by Lewis was equally as interesting to me as all the Oz books by Frank Baum. But I suppose my favorite authors became those authors which were most represented in the grade school, public, and junior high libraries: Niven, Zelazney, Heinlein, Dickson, Norton.
SFFWRTCHT: Were you involved with cons and fandom? Cosplay?
BRC: Not as a kid–not much opportunity for that in the 70s in SD. But that´s changed as an adult. Though I´m not a hardcore cosplayer, I did spend a con season showing up as Dr. Horrible.
SFFWRTCHT: When did you decide to start writing? How did you begin?
BRC: I started writing comic books and radio plays in grade school, based on comic books and radio plays I´d read and heard. Though I don´t suppose I really thought of it as writing. It was just something I did. Later in High School I did it “for real.” I think I loved what I was hearing and seeing so much, I just wanted to be a part of it.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you study writing in college or school? How did you learn your craft?
BRC: Nope, I studied molecular biology and later climate biology. I learned the craft first by being a reader, then a writer who was willing to listen and studiously apply all the feedback I got from every one of my editors.
BRC: My first RPG freelance sale was probably in ’92, for a sci-fi game. For something called Spacemaster. My first fiction sale was Oath of Nerull, under house name T. H. Lain, in 2002.
SFFWRTCHT: Spacemaster. Gotta love it. So 80s/90s power title. Where did your involvement with/interest in RPGs come from?
BRC: My interest in RPG’s came from a chance encounter in Boy Scouts, watching older scouts play. It was magical. I’ve never looked back.
SFFWRTCHT: When did you start writing RPG stuff? I assume you wrote them on spec as a fan for fun without worrying about being paid first?
BRC: I was the game master for my scout group, and later for my group of friends–that involved a lot of writing for no pay. But I was lucky enough to never write anything on spec for RPGs (unlike fiction).
SFFWRTCHT: Did you have a lot of characters or a few core ones you loved to play? Who were they?
BRC: Oh, I meant to say I was a sometime DM for my later group of friends. Anyway, as to characters, In RPGs I usually stick with one or two at a time. But I’ve been playing for so long there are myriad to choose from.
SFFWRTCHT: Does having played RPGs shape or influence your non-RPG fiction now, or when you were a developing writer?
BRC: I suppose it must have, in getting into the habit of writing if nothing else. But both kinds of writing are much different–RPG is all about over-explaining.
SFFWRTCHT: What´s your all-time favorite RPG experience?
BRC: Favorite is tough. So many early stories don’t really come out well in this format. So, I’ll go with my first Boy Scout one.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you ever role play scenarios for scenes or stories to see where they go and use that in writing them?
BRC: No, table-play is too different than writing a character in fiction. The players rarely do what you expect in RPGs. Plus, the time commitment for RPGs as an adult is difficult.
BRC: Forgotten Realms is essentially a fantasy world with a huge scope, large enough for nearly any classic fantasy to be told in it. It’s a shared world. Both novels and games take place there. And sometimes consequences of one story affect other stories. It depends, really. As you noted when you read Sword of the Gods, you really didn’t even have to know anything about it in order to enjoy it.
SFFWRTCHT: Is there a Forgotten Realms world bible you use in writing stories in that setting?
BRC: Yep, there is a Forgotten Realms bible for novels set there.
SFFWRTCHT: How´d you wind up working at Wizards Of The Coast? Is that a dream job come true?
BRC: Luck, mainly. I convinced the editor at the time I could probably write, and after a few odd starts, I started. I was hired at TSR in ’95 to write their first multi-user text based game for D&D based on my programming experience. That fell through the moment I showed up at the door! But, since they hired me, they set me to working in print instead.
SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about writing RPGs. How much originates with you? How much is a team effort?
BRC: For RPGs, it varies. I’ve written projects completely and utterly by myself, and I’ve written them as part of a team/
SFFWRTCHT: Your first novel, Oath of Nerull, written as T.H. Lain, was it from your own idea or did they give you a predeveloped story?
BRC: Oath of Nerull was my own story. All that was required was that I use a D&D character or two. In the case of Oath, a specific named character at that time being used in game expressions. I chose Ember, a monk. And, it was only 50,000 words!
SFFWRTCHT: Where´d the idea for Sword Of The Gods come from?
BRC: My editor, Susan J. Morris, wanted to start FR authors with memorable characters that might carry several novels. Demascus, the “Sword of the Gods” came from that. Someone who could be both human and have failings, but also be something else. Demascus will be in a follow-up novel Spinner of Lies in April. Spinner of Lies has already gone through final draft. I’m actually taking a writing break to focus on other things.
SFFWRTCHT: Sword of the Gods is the story of a deva, Demascus, an executioner for the gods who wakes up with amnesia each time he´s killed. In Sword of The Gods, which is Demascus´ nickname, he teams with a pawnbroker and thief to fight of a demon cult. You have a deva, a pawnbroker, and a genasi thief. Are these typical player character types for the RPG Forgotten Realms?
BRC: Typical? Hmm, I think they’re typically atypical actually . I’m not certain too many other people have done these though.
SFFWRTCHT: So based on what you’ve said, I take it you start with characters over plot?
BRC: Plot vs. characters… I’ve done it both ways. But I’ve discovered that a good plot is really a good character arc (or arcs).
SFFWRTCHT: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing for you now?
BRC: The most challenging thing remains the same–coming up with character arcs that speak to people’s experiences.
SFFWRTCHT: How difficult is it to develop a character for a story knowing someone else might write the next episode?
BRC: Though that could happen, it never has. When an author writes a character, that character becomes that author’s.
SFFWRTCHT: Since these are tie-ins, do you have to turn in an outline or can you write by the seat of your pants?
BRC: Outlines are paramount, not to make certain that I’m following world canon, but to make certain I’m writing a coherent story.
SFFWRTCHT: I had no idea what a D&D tie-in would be like. I didn´t expect to enjoy it like I did. It´s essentially Sword & Sorcery/heroic fantasy. There´s no discussion of charisma, dexterity, strength, etc. No die rolls. It really pulled me in.
BRC: Glad to hear it! That’s right, they’re tie-in, but they’re also novels that can be judged on their own merits.
SFFWRTCHT: Well, you set yourself up for a challenge. It’s hard to hook us with a lead character who doesn’t know who he is.
BRC: Yes, writing someone like that could really bog down –it was a challenge. It is a trope with a lot of room for fun. Nine Princes in Amber, anyone?
SFFWRTCHT: Or Lord Valentine’s Castle, a favorite of mine. What´s your writing time look like? Planned time? Grab it when you can?
BRC: I normally get between four and eight months to write a first draft (and about three for second!). So I write every day before work, setting word count to where it needs to be to hid draft deadline. If it’s 500 words I’m happy. 1,000 words, less so.
SFFWRTCHT: That brings up a question. Do they hire you for a set word count or give you leeway? I don’t see a lot of 600 page tie-ins.
BRC: Most contracts want you to hit 90,000 words, give or take 5,000, for Forgotten Realms anyway. My novel writing is completely separate from RPG writing. It’s freelance, and I get a book contract like any author.
SFFWRTCHT: You’ve written all these tie-in novels. Have you worked in short story form?
BRC: Yes, I have four short stories in various anthologies. All fantasy too. Which is odd; really, I like scifi at least as well.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you approach short form any differently than you approach novels?
BRC: Yes. Short stories are much harder I think—to get to a specific, visceral point within 7,000 or less words. I probably spend as long pre-planning a short story (before actual outline, anyway) as I do a novel. So many short stories don’t seem to have a point. So why read them? I put pressure on myself.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you use any special software or music playlist?
BRC: I do have a ‘writing’ playlist, but I vary it up quite a bit. Fallout soundtrack, Tales of Brave Ulysses, other bits.
BRC: I am part of a writer’s group that has been very helpful for me with Sword of the Gods and Spinner of Lies.
SFFWRTCHT: You write, but do you still regularly play the games?
BRC: Oh yes, I very much regularly play D&D even though I have been a free-lance novelist for 9 years now.
SFFWRTCHT: Final question, what future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?
BRC: Well, to name drop one final time, Spinner of Lies (next Demascus novel), and some D&D work that’ll be announced… soon.
Interviewer Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, 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.