what is your name?
how would you describe what you do?
I do a few things. Journalism takes up most of my time. I cover technology policy and various other topics for Wired.com.
Besides that, I write fiction, design–or at least hack–table top role playing games, and compose noise art. These are just hobbies though. If I’m known for anything, it’s for journalism.
what are you currently working on?
I’ve been covering the FCC’s net neutrality and internet privacy rules closely lately. Besides that, I’m wrapping up the alpha versions of a couple of games: a “cyberpunk-present” game and a mini-game about police officers experiencing cognitive dissonance.
what has had the greatest influence on your work?
I have so many influences it’s hard to narrow it down to just one one. In journalism, I’m constantly inspired by the work all of my colleagues both at WIRED and at other publications are doing.
In fiction, William Gibson and Haruki Murakami come to mind first.
My main audio influences are Pan Sonic and Merzbow.
In role playing games, I’m inspired by the entire indie gaming scene, but especially by Vincent and Meguey Baker’s Apocalypse World, which is the model for most of what I’m doing now.
what is the greatest misconception about you or your work?
I think most people recognize how hard writing for a living is, but I do occasionally meet someone who’s under the impression that there’s nothing to it. Someone once told me they were interested in getting into professional journalism because they wanted to live the “writer’s lifestyle” and went on to describe a refrigerator magnet they once saw of a man with his feet up on his desk next to a type writer. The caption read “Is it a writing day, or a write-off day?”
I can assure you, there are no write-off days in professional writing. If you spend a day goofing off, you’ll make it up later. It’s nice to have that sort of flexibility, and writing is definitely a way cushier job than teaching or construction or any number of other stressful, dangerous, and/or low paying jobs. But it sure isn’t easy.
The biggest misconception about role playing games is that they’re all Dungeons and Dragons style fantasy games. I think some people are not even aware that there are other RPGs besides D&D, but there’s a whole galaxy of other types of games that vary enormously both in form and content.
There are games like Frederik J. Jensen’s Montsegur 1244, where you play heretics burned at the stake in 14th century France. Or Jason Morningstar’s Night Witches, where you play members of the all-woman Soviet bombing squad during World War II. Or Jami Jokinen and Jori Virtanen’s live action game Ground Zero, where players assumed the role of people sitting in a bomb shelter in Cuban Missile Crisis, waiting for the world to end. There are serious games, funny games, romantic games, scary games.
I like D&D as much as the next nerd, and I have some ideas for old school adventures I’d like to develop. But role playing and story gaming is as varied a medium as film or television.
what do you see as the main strengths and weaknesses of the medium you work in?
I work in a few different media, but mostly I’m writing text. The obvious upside to text is that your production budget is essentially unlimited. You just need a computer or a pile of cheap notebooks and pens, and you can write whatever you can think of. You don’t need to worry about buying expensive art supplies or video equipment.
The downside is that text asks a lot of its audience. Reading text, whether it’s a few hundred words or a few hundred pages, is an investment, and you need to make it worth the reader’s while.
how has technology impacted upon the work you do?
Technology has reduced the barriers to entry for just about everything I do, especially noise art. The money you would have spent on just one synth 20 years ago can now buy you a good-enough computer and some decent software. There’s an amazing number of free instruments, effects, and other audio tools available online legally. And you can do all your recording on your computer, so there’s no need to shell out of recording gear or studio time. I’m just barely old enough to remember how expensive it used to be to get into making electronic music, so it’s awesome to see how much that’s changed.
There are downsides to lowering barriers to entry in journalism, as we’ve seen with the fake news epidemic. But running a blog for several years helped me hone my writing and reporting skills while I was working in IT. I suppose if I were a few decades younger I would have been a zinester, or going further back, I would have been making underground newspapers. But the digital world makes it so trivial to get started that you really have no excuse not to publish your own stuff.
what’s the greatest piece of advice you would like to pass on?
I love this bit of advice for would-be professional writers from an interview with Neil Gaiman: “If you can do anything else, do that. You know, there are lots of other things you can do that are an awful lot more fun, pay a lot better, will let you sleep far easier.”
I don’t think of it as discouraging. It actually helped me realize that, yes, this is what I want, need, to do for a living. I also read it as permission to do something else to pay the bills. If you’re a writer, you don’t have to make your living writing. It can really suck the joy out of writing. There are other things you can do that are important or satisfying.
where can we find you online?
what are you reading at the moment?
Tales from the Loop by Simon Stålenhag. It’s mostly an art book, but there are these fantastic little text pieces in it. I love how much story Stålenhag compresses into his 250 word vignettes.
what are you listening to at the moment?
Ellen Alien’s Nost
Mika Vainio’s Reat
Alessandro Cortini & Merzbow’s self-titled album
Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood’s Nancy & Lee
anything else we should know?
I think I’ve blabbed on enough for now.
any suggestions for who we should interview next?
Laurie Pennie, journalist and fiction writer.
Kaleb Hortonm, writer of, well, stuff.
Deb Chachra, materials scientist and newsletterist extraordinair.
Vincent and Meguey Baker, the duo behind the groundbreaking RPG Apocalypse World.
Jason Morningstar, story game designer and publisher.
Avery Alder, designer of the RPG/story games like Monsterhearts, Abnormal, and Brave Sparrow.