Grasping for the Wind Rotating Header Image

[SFFWRTCHT] A Chat With Author-Game Designer-Comic Writer Matt Forbeck

Matt Forbeck has worked with top companies, including Angry Robot, Wizards Of The Coast, Mattel, Random House, Penguin, TSR and Decipher. He’s authored short fiction, comic books, novels, screenplays, and computer game scripts and stories. His projects have won 14 Origins Awards including the Best Roleplaying Game for Deadlands and The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game. He’s been nominated for 3 Scribe Awards and won 5 ENnies and Special Gaming Scribe-Adapted for novelizing The Mutant Chronicles film. Matt lives in Beloit, WI with his wife Ann and their children: Marty, Pat, Nick, Ken and Helen. Those last four are quadruplets. His latest novel is Carpathia from Angry Robot Books. He can be found online as @mforbeck on Twitter, on Facebook and via his website at http://www.forbeck.com/.

SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about where your interest in spec fic and gaming came from please.

Matt K. Forbeck: I started reading Science Fiction and Fantasy as a kid, in 4th grade or so, and fell in love with it. I started gaming in 8th grade with D&D.  I love games, and the confluence of fantasy and RPGs was too much to resist.

SFFWRTCHT: Who were some of your favorite authors/books growing up?

MKF: I read everything I could get my hands on, but I loved Burroughs, Heinlein, Tolkein, Gibson, Chandler, Hemingway, AC Doyle.

SFFWRTCHT: What were your favorite games growing up?

MKF: Favorite games: Chess, D&D, Dungeon, Car Wars, Dawn Patrol, Squad Leader, video games too. I’ll play anything once.

SFFWRTCHT: Were you involved with cons and fandom? Cosplay?

MKF: I’m huge into cons. Been to Gen Con 30 years running. Dressed up for a few games I released, but not cosplay as such.  Cons are my favorite times of year. Get to see all my friends, make new ones, play games, talk books. Great fun.

SFFWRTCHT: How did you get your start as a writer? Did you study writing in college? How did you learn your craft?

MKF: I have a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. Wanted to write out of college but became a game designer.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you start out writing RPGs for fun or get a contract first?

MKF: I actually had an RPG magazine I ran in high school, that was mostly for fun. Never earned a cent. Contracts came later.

SFFWRTCHT: I enjoyed Carpathia. I love that period of history. I was hesitant because I think vampires are just done to death and so is Titanic era, frankly. But let’s talk about Carpathia. It tells the story of the Titanic survivors on board the Carpathia who then face an even more horrifying threat.Where’d the idea come from and how long did it take you to write?

MKF: The connection between the name of the ship that picks up the survivors of the Titanic and the mountain range in Transylvania. That made the book’s premise. From there, I took my love of Dracula and history to create the book. Carpathia was a Cunard Line ship.

SFFWRTCHT: Interesting. I didn’t know that. How much research did you have to do and do you do that before or as you write?

MKF: I did a ton of research and used deck plans of both the Carpathia and Titanic as references while writing the book.

SFFWRTCHT: Why vampires? How do you write a vampire story and keep it original and fresh?

MKF: You can’t make original vampires, just riffs on what’s been done. Otherwise, they’re not vampires. However, for Carpathia, I went back to the source. Mine work essentially like those in Dracula, which seems terribly novel now.

SFFWRTCHT: Your protagonists are named after characters from Stoker’s Dracula, even related to him. Has that book been an influence?

MKF: Dracula’s a huge influence for me. I even designed a game called Dracula’s Revenge and wrote comics on it for IDW.

SFFWRTCHT: Well your focus on the humans and the love triangle was quite smart. The vampires as background kept it interesting. What are tricks to writing good horror?

MKF: Thanks for the Carpathia praise. Making the characters real helps keep the book meaningful. To write good horror, you need heroes readers can care about and threats that they can understand. Smart heroes helps too.

SFFWRTCHT: You also have Amortals out. Is that horror as well? Tell us about it please.

MKF: Amortals is actually near-future SF. See http://t.co/4t2jNltlAmortals is about the world’s oldest man being revived from his murder and being charged with solving it.

SFFWRTCHT: Very interesting. Where’d the idea come from and how long did it take to write? 

MKF: Amortals idea came from snuff films (which aren’t real, but) I wrote about for John Scalzi’s Big Idea. http://t.co/5HHnkA1D For Amortals, I wondered what would happen if a snuff film victim could be brought back to solve murder without memory of it.

SFFWRTCHT: Let’s talk about your gaming tie-ins. You’ve done several. How do you go about choosing the stories to tell & characters to use?

MKF: I’ve written lots of games: WildStorms, Brave New World, Lord of the Rings, Ghost Recon Online, Silent Death, D&D, many more. Tie-ins are fun. I usually just read the backstory and come up with the characters and story that speak to me from that.

SFFWRTCHT: How much input does the company assert over the tie-ins. Does it vary? 

MKF: Company input varies, but they always have approval over tie-ins. It’s easier with tabletop companies, looser rules.  Computer game companies have much larger audiences, so they watch their IP development like hawks.

SFFWRTCHT: You’ve also created games like Brave New World. How do you go about creating a game? What steps do you follow? 

MKF: I usually start a game with a metaphor: what’s the game about? Then come up with mechanics to fit. Other designers do vice versa. I’ve done many tie-in games too. Always fun to figure out how to make a game feel like it fits with its story.

SFFWRTCHT: How do determine things like mathematical formulas for characters, dice usage, etc.? 

MKF: I try to keep the math in games simple, at least for the players. There can be a lot behind the scenes. Fun trumps all.  I used to write only games, but it’s gone down to just 2-3 a year these days. Mostly novels and computer games now. Toys too.

SFFWRTCHT: How involved are you with computer game programming? Do you do story only? 

MKF: These days, I do story and dialog for games. I studied computer science for two years though, so I can read code. Helps me be able to talk to programmers too, understand limits, etc., that come with computer games.

SFFWRTCHT: So game creation tends to be more collaborative than solo like novels? 

MKF: Games are far more collaborative than novels. Especially video games. They can have staffs as big as any film.

SFFWRTCHT: Let’s talk about the Magic comic. What’s that about? How did it originate?

MKF: When John Rogers started writing the D&D comic, I realized IDW had the license, and I told them I’d love to write some too.  When the Magic license came up, they had a few writers come up with pitches, and they went with my take on it.  It doesn’t hurt that I’ve known the IDW Publishing guys since I co-designed the WildStorm CCG for them and Jim Lee.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s the difference in writing comics as opposed to novels or other prose? 

MKF: Comics have a very rigid structure. 22 pages, limited number of panels and words. Very complex to do right. Like rhyming poetry.

SFFWRTCHT: How would a person go about getting a career in game design/writing?

MKF: It’s fairly easy to break into the tabletop games field, but many people just jump straight to self-publishing these days. It’s competitive, sure, but fewer people jockey for games compared to novels, comics, tv, etc.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you enjoy that formalism in writing comics, though? 

MKF: I do like the formalism of comics’ structure. It’s a big change from writing novels. It keeps me fresh.

SFFWRTCHT: How much involvement do you have with the artist when writing comic books? 

MKF:For comics, I give the artists guidance and reference through the script. It’s the editor’s job to wrangle them after that. I’ve been very fortunate to work with some amazing artists, though, and excellent editors like Denton Tipton and Carlos Guzman.

SFFWRTCHT: You also have written Complete Idiot’s Guides for the series as well as Star Wars V. Star Trek. How fun are those to write? And who wins: Star Wars or Star Trek?

MKF: The nonfiction books are fun to write too. There’s less invention and more description. You can’t just make things up. To find out who wins Star Wars vs. Star Trek, you gotta buy the book. I’ll tell you, though, it’s damn close.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you pitch your ideas to Idiot’s Guides? Or did they come to you? Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating D&D Characters. 

MKF: For the CIG books, IDW packaged those and asked me to write them.

SFFWRTCHT: You’ve currently got two kickstarters going.  Tell us about those please. 

MKF: My Kickstarters are part of this 12 for ’12 plan I have to write a dozen novels this year. I Kickstart each trilogy as I go. Books are 50k words each. First was based on my supers RPG. Second is fantasy noir. 3rd will be thrillers set at cons. For details on the 12 for ’12 series, see http://t.co/8NPDWBgn.  The Kickstarters last 30 days or so each. Then we move onto the next a couple months later. 2 down, 2 to go. The latest is for Dangerous Gameshttp://www.kickstarter.com/projects/forbeck/12-for-12-30-dangerous-games-novels

SFFWRTCHT: What’s your writing time look like? Planned time? Grab it when you can?

MKF: I write full-time. I start when the kids go to school and stop when they come home. Then I start again when everyone sleeps. I am a fast writer and editor. I edited professionally for years, and I write 5k+ per day when cruising.

SFFWRTCHT: Does that mean you never sleep?

MKF: I don’t get to sleep much, but my NYE resolution was to get to bed by midnight. I make it most nights.  Honestly, the quads destroyed my sleep schedule, but they’re 9 now, so less trouble in the night.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you use any special software or music playlist?

MKF:  I write in Scrivener, and I use all sorts of playlists when writing, mostly soundtracks, stuff I know by heart.

SFFWRTCHT: Quads. Do you have a history of multi-births in your family? I’m a twin.

MKF: My wife’s mother is a twin, but we struggled with infertility for years. Tried to be very cautious about multiples. Still…

SFFWRTCHT: Well congrats on conquering the infertility with a vengeance then. Speaking of vengeance, how do you deal with writer’s block? Or do you?

MKF: Yeah, total victory achieved. I don’t get writer’s block. I outline my books ahead of time though, so I always know where I’m headed. I deviate all the time.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? And the worst?

MKF: Best writing advice? Don’t stop until you’re done (from Mike Stackpole). Worst? You can’t make a living at it.

SFFWRTCHT: Are there any properties you’ve always wanted to work on but have yet to get the chance?

MKF: I haven’t done a Star Wars book yet, and I’d love to write Spider-Man too. I’ve done some Marvel games though.  I revised the Marvel Encyclopedia for DK Publishing a couple years back too. Lots of fun.


SFFWRTCHT: What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?

MKF: I’m writing many more books in the 12 for ’12 series this year. I’m writing the 1st Leverage novel too.  Also, more Magic The Gathering comics as the year goes on. Leverage is a TV show in which the heroes are con artists and crooks who work to steal things back for regular folks.  Leverage is fantastic fun. It’s on TNT, and it’s run by John Rogers, who also writes the D&D comics for IDW. I don’t always think in series. My three originals for Angry Robot Books are each standalones. Each could have sequels though. As of Carpathia, I’ve had 16 novels published to date. Add 12 for ’12 to that, and it grows fast though.

SFFWRTCHT: Are any of your kids old enough to check out dad’s work yet? Have they enjoyed it?

MKF: My kids have read some of my novels and played my games. My eldest, who’s 13, is a huge gamer. I don’t push my kids toward what I do, but it’s fun when we can enjoy it together. Some of them have started writing stories at school and claimed they want to be writers.

SFFWRTCHT: Any final words of wisdom?

MKF: Have fun, keep at it, enjoy it while you can. Life’s too short to spend on things you hate.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.