Wednesday Writer – Novy Interviews Matt Forbeck

I have decided to do a weekly interview with various writers for several reasons. One, I find that writers are interesting people, two, I can learn from them, and three, I often ask things that other people don’t.

Matt Forbeck is a guy I recently met through Twitter because of a common bond with Wisconsin (and certain Wisconsin sports teams). Not long after I virtually met him, he announced his 12-for-12 project, which I ask him about during the interview.


For readers who have not yet read any Matt Forbeck, what do you write and how would you describe your fiction?

It’s fast and fun with tight plots and intriguing characters. I like to write high-concept books, the kind that hook you with just the idea. Then I wrap compelling stories around them. While they often have some fantastical elements to them — even lots of them — I always try to keep the stories grounded and gritty to make them seem that much more real.

In the past, I’ve written fantasy novels for Dungeons & Dragons and (with Jeff Grubb) Guild Wars. I also created and wrote much of a YA series of D&D books, plus a series of humorous fantasy novels based on the Blood Bowl game.

I’ve written three original novels so far, all published by Angry Robot. Amortals is a science-fiction thriller about the world’s oldest man, a Secret Service agent, who is revived after his last death and sent out to solve his own murder. Vegas Knights is an urban fantasy in which a couple of college students try to break the bank at the blackjack tables in Vegas with a little bit of magic. Carpathia, which comes out in March, is a historical horror novel in which the survivors of the Titanic are rescued by a ship filled with vampires.

So, I’m all over the place and clearly need to focus, but I have a great time.

You have been a game designer and a novelist. Which hat is more comfortable for you to wear?

I enjoy wearing both. Many of the disciplines they require overlap, particularly when it comes to building believable yet fantastic worlds. Great games often have a great story too, and some of the best stories have a bit of mystery in them, which is a game that authors play with readers.

Are there any aspects of game design and prose fiction writing that satisfy corners of your mind that would me missed if you only engaged in one of these?

Definitely. Game design tickles the left side of my brain a bit harder, as you need a solid grounding in mathematics and at least a passing knowledge of how statistics work. Also, you need to be able to guess how other people might approach the elements of your game, which often differ wildly from how you might do it yourself.

Novels, on the other hand, stick harder in the right side of your brain. They require you to get deep into the characters and the plot in a way that most games don’t ask of anyone. They also demand a sense of style and pacing. Rather than providing players with tools for telling their own stories, you have to tell one better than anything they could come up with, so it’s a real challenge.

You and I both have experience in the corporate world. In the past, we have chatted about how in that arena you are chained to a desk and expected to produce while on the clock. Then we turn to the creative world of the aspiring writer and there seems to be an expectation that the workload is significantly less. Can you comment on this?

That’s silly. I work harder for myself and out of my house than I ever did working for anyone else. That said, I’ve only worked in an office that I wasn’t running a couple times in my life, once at Games Workshop and then later at Human Head Studios, and both times I was still itching to get out on my own again.

As a freelancer, I produce on demand, but I do it at the pace I enjoy. No one gives me a harder time about failing — or even coming close to it — than I do, so I try to avoid it as much as I can. Working on my own means it’s hard to lay the blame at anyone else’s feet, so I spend a lot of extra time making sure I don’t have to.

Emerging from that corporate mindset of productivity, you recently announced that you plan to write 12 novels in the space of 12 months. Why are you doing this and what do you think your probability of success is?

I’m doing it because — despite how much I truly love Angry Robot as a publisher — I wanted to get back to doing it on my own. I ran a tabletop game company for four years back in the ’90s (Pinnacle Entertainment Group, which I co-founded with Shane Hensley), so I know a lot about publishing, and I’ve long wanted to return to it. The 12 for ’12 project is my plan for getting back to that.

The fact is it’s hard to make a living selling a single novel. Once someone reads it, they might have to wait for months or years to see anything more from you that they’d like to purchase. I don’t have a backlist of out-of-print novels to bring out as ebooks, so this is my way of developing my own backlist fast.

I’m writing a dozen 50k-word novels, so that’s 600k words in a year. I write full time, and I’ve written that much fiction in a year before. I’m confident I can manage it.

Am I sure? No, but that’s part of the fun, I think.

Did you hesitate at all committing to this bold plan?

Of course! I know it’s insane, and I kicked it around in my head for months and chatted it over with my family and friends for a long time before I decided to pull the trigger on it.

The biggest concern isn’t whether I can do this, honestly. It’s whether I can keep it up and handle the other gigs I have, like writing the Magic: The Gathering comic for IDW. Plus, there’s always the possibility that some sort of incredible, can-miss-it opportunity for something else might drop into my lap, and that’s bound to put me in an even tougher spot.

Tell us how you used kickstarter in conjunction with this project.

I decided to take pre-orders for the books on Kickstarter to get things going. To make it easier on my fans, I broke up the books into four trilogies, and I plan to run a Kickstarter for each. Of course, when you’re doing something new like this, plans may change as you go, but that’s what I have in mind at the moment. I may decide to toss a few singletons into the bunch instead.

2013 is a year and 12 books away. Do you have anything in mind after the dust settles on the 12 for 12 project?

More books! More games! More comics! I’m already working on a few projects that may not bear fruit until 2013 or later, but it’s too early to talk much about those right now. At the moment, I’m going to keep my nose to my keyboard and look forward to starting in on January 1.

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