🍳Welcome to the Sunday Brunch Series! As an introduction, can you tell everyone an interesting fact about yourself that isn’t in your author bio?
🎤I’ve taken part in several sediment drilling expeditions on ships. The longest one was for two months on the JOIDES Resolution off the coast of Brazil as part of the Ocean Drilling Program.
🍳What’s your brunch order like?
🎤Pretty much waffles, french toast, pancakes – anything with syrup. And at brunch you can usually grab a bunch of bacon or sausage when nobody’s looking, if it’s a buffet. Otherwise, I have to order a reasonable amount. My grandma used to make me bacon nearly every morning when we visited, so it always reminds me of those times out in California.
🍳I know this is a Daros interview but Snood was the first game that anyone in my family ever got hooked on – and you were the designer? That’s amazing! Can you talk about it?
🎤Sure! Snood was a really great experience for me, and it still gives me a little bit of third-rate celebrity, although it’s faded a bit from the public mindset. It started as this game I made for my wife, and then I ended up releasing it as shareware using the free web space they gave all Michigan students back in 1996. I had released a couple other games that way, games I wrote when I was supposed to be working on my research. Snood really took off that year and the next, mostly among Mac users on college campuses, and it became a national thing a few years later after an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that got picked up in syndication and hit newspapers all over the country, back when newspapers were a primary way people got information. There have been at least 30 million downloads of the game (although that’s a little hard to calculate). The number of people who actually paid for it is significantly smaller.
My favorite part of the whole experience was hearing from players who were having fun with the game. For the first few years, all of the payments came in via postal mail, because nobody was used to paying for things online. That meant I would go out to my mailbox every day and find a few letters, sometimes more (the biggest day I remember was over 30 different letters), from all over the world, many of them with crumpled $10 bills inside, most of them with a nice note.
The weirdest thing that ever happened to me was actually being identified from my grainy website picture at a movie theater in Ann Arbor as the Snood guy. I had no idea people were even paying attention to that. Once we had T-shirts and other clothes, I liked wearing them to public places like amusement parks. Sometimes people would point at the shirt and say, “Hey, I play that game,” and I’d be able to say that I wrote it. It was super cheesy and self-indulgent, but it was really fun, and I got to meet some players that way. My favorite one of those was in a random motel elevator in Wyoming when I was with my dad. He thought that was really fun.
🍳There are a ton of gamers here too, can you tell us some pearls about your game design life/career/etc?
🎤 I don’t know about pearls, but I’ve always been a gamer and a game designer. Video games were born (at least in mainstream life) during my childhood, and I would save all the money I had to go to the local video arcades with my friends. Once we got a computer, I taught myself programming and started making games. They were terrible, but it was really fun, and it’s a hobby (and eventually a business) that I’ve kept up ever since. Even before that, I loved playing board games and card games, and I used to design them when I was a kid and make my friends and family play them. Some of them were really spectacularly bad. I can remember this Roy Rogers game I made, where you moved around this track with events happening to you, and the way I designed the board, you had to roll a 3 and then a 6, or you’d get sent back to the corral and have to start over. It was impossible. My parents played for maybe 20 minutes, and my brother for a little longer, but that wasn’t one of my successes. More recently, I’ve put out a set of puzzle card games, the Dr. Esker’s Notebook series. Getting a bunch of those printed and starting to sell them has been really fun (and a little scary, sending a bunch of money overseas), but it has all the excitement of the early days of Snood.
🍳 Ok, Daros! Your book did pretty well in the inaugural SPSFC!? How was the competition experience for you as an author?
[Note: Daros was a semi-finalist – didn’t make the finals. Placed 15th out of 377]
It was really, really fun. My fellow authors formed a really strong community, reading and promoting each other’s books. The judges are all volunteers, and they put a ton of work and thought into their reviews and evaluations, and most of them ended up being big supporters of the indie authors who took part also. I’m so grateful to Hugh Howey and Duncan Swan for running it, and also to the fantasy precursor to the SPSFC, Mark Lawrence’s SPFBO. I’ve entered that a few times, and it has a similar supportive community and really neat vibe.
🍳I love asking authors why they chose specific magic or precious or valuable items – so the valuable green Chevron that Becca was in possession of – a random choice or a real life object??
🎤That was just something I added when I wrote the second chapter of the book. It has nothing to do with real life, just an object. I usually write without a firm plan in place (in writer lingo, I’m a pantser), so when I added that, I knew it should probably end up being important to the story, but I had no idea what it was or what it did. I didn’t really figure that out until about 70% of the way through the book, when I started figuring out what the big story was and how it might end.
🍳Daros is pretty funny despite some tough subject matter! I love the chapter titles! Did you originally set out to write a book with humor or did it get more or less light as you went?
My kids and my students and my long-suffering wife will tell you that I’m nearly always looking for a way to make a joke, so I like to include humor in all of my books. Some of them are funnier than others, but I try in all of them to include a full range of emotions – they’re not just full of gags. In Daros, the relationship between Brecca and Lyra was a great spark for humor, and Frim’s unusual situation was also a way to get at some humor, sometimes pretty dark.
The silly chapter titles are something I do in all my books. I started with Flames Over Frosthelm back in 2019, and I had a lot of fun with it, so I’ve done it in every book since. Daros has some of my favorites, some of them real groaners.
🍳Do you have favorite themes to write about, and if so how did they manifest in Daros?
🎤I love reading books where the main character is somebody you can cheer for. I don’t need them to be perfect, but I do need them to be trying to help others and have a strong sense of right and wrong and of justice. So, that’s what I tend to write. I love an interesting villain, but I’m much more drawn to heroes, especially people who are forced into challenging situations and have to muddle through. That’s why Frim is how she is in Daros – I wanted to include somebody from the invading alien force as a narrator character, but I hit upon the idea of having that person be a secret rebel. That let me like Frim (and it also put her in danger, which was cool) while still revealing more about the Zeelin’s culture and goals.
🍳Here is the rapid-fire round of bookish questions: favorite author? A book or series that you always recommend? Favorite literary character?
🎤Favorite authors are numerous. Some that I like a lot are William Goldman, Nnedi Okorafor, Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Scalzi, and Ursula K. Leguin. I’m a total sucker for the John Carter books – I loved them as a kid, and they’re obviously dated and sometimes problematic today, but they were romantic, thrilling, and exciting as anything. I try to model my writing after The Princess Bride – an engaging story that you end up caring a lot about, but with a lot of fun along the way. A lesser-known personal favorite is Bridge Of Birds by Barry Hughart (and the sequels). A really great story about a charming pair of friends having a grand adventure in ancient China.
🍳Thank you for joining Sunday Brunch! If there’s anything else you want to add or say about anything at all, please do so here!
🎤Thanks so much for having me – these have been fun questions to answer. If anybody wants to write, I love getting email from readers (or Snood fans) – just drop me a line at email@example.com