Durham author Richard Dansky has helped hawk Bull Spec to passers-by at the Bimbe Cultural Arts Festival while wearing a vintage Montreal Expos shirt; he let me excerpt his novel, Firefly Rain, in Bull Spec #2; he’s been pressed to participate in several NC Speculative Fiction Night events, most recently in April, where he read from his new collection Snowbird Gothic; and he’s written a long list of reviews, interviews, and articles for Bull Spec, most recently a tribute to the late Ray Bradbury in issue #8. Here, Rich takes part in the guest author series “The Hardest Part” as it applies to his just-released novel, Vaporware.
Vaporware by Richard Dansky
JournalStone, May 2013
By Richard Dansky:
The hardest part of writing Vaporware was knowing where to draw lines.
It’s the subject matter that made things difficult, as well as interesting. Vaporware is set at a video game company, and I am a video game developer by trade. I have been for fourteen years, give or take, with four years in-house at a tabletop game company before that. That’s a lot of years spent making games, a lot of games worked on, and a lot of years hanging out with other people who make games.
And here’s something that probably shouldn’t be a surprise: not every game development cycle goes smoothly. Even the best ones demand long hours, hard work, and sacrifice of personal time. As for the ones that aren’t the best, well, the less said about those, the better. I’ve seen good and I’ve seen bad, and just as importantly, I’ve swapped stories with friends and professional peers. I’ve heard their stories of the good, the bad, the ugly, the really ugly, and the “why did this not produce an armed insurrection?”
All of which is an extremely long-winded and ominous way of saying that I know a fair bit about how video games get made, the people who make them, and what it takes to get a game from “I have an idea! Let’s have the game star a robot ninja Dimetrodon!” to finished product. Not everything, not by a long shot, and I’m constantly aware that different studios have different ways of doing things so that no experience is universal, but it’s something I feel comfortable talking and writing about.
Which is where the notion of lines comes in, and yes, I said “lines”, as in “plural”. Because on this project, there was the creative line that had to be drawn, and there was the professional line, and there was the emotional line.
The creative line took the longest to draw, but in a lot of ways, it was the easiest. Basically, it’s the manifestation of the question: How much accuracy is too much. Sure, there are technothrillers that drown the reader in jargon; that’s part of the appeal to an audience that likes that sort of thing. But there are other audiences that don’t like it, or who get overwhelmed by it, and while the urge to get every last detail juuuuust right was strong, so was the urge to not frighten off readers who don’t necessarily want to internalize data check-in procedures along with their fiction. So a line had to be drawn there, one that delineated how much realism was too much for readers who weren’t subject matter experts, and how little was too little for people to understand what goes on during game development. So one draft had a little too much inside baseball and confused people; another didn’t have enough and genericized the game development aspect of the book too much. It was, as they say, a process.
The professional line that had to be drawn was about what I could or couldn’t say. The book was never intended as a roman a clef about my employer, and I didn’t want it to be taken that way. I also felt I had a professional obligation not to whitewash some of the craziness that happens making games; to do less would be to do a disservice to my peers. But again, the question was “how much is too much” – how much could I include without doing my profession a disservice, or creating misapprehensions about what I was trying to do.
Then there was the personal line – how much of myself was I willing to put out there before it was too much. Vaporware was in many places a difficult book to write, dredging up some old memories and rough patches. And when you’re writing material you’re intimately familiar with, what goes in may not be what you intended. I don’t view the book as autobiographical, and I don’t view the protagonist – who is not, in my opinion, a hero – as a stand in for yours truly. But in writing him, in watching the behaviors that he exhibited, it was easy to see echoes of my own in there, or of places I could have gone. Self-examination was unavoidable and, to be honest, not particularly pleasant.
In the end, I think it was worth it to wrestle long and hard with the question of how much to show – of the biz, of the details, of myself. It wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t easy. But if you wanted to hear about the easiest part of writing the book, well, that’s a whole other piece.
Briefly known as the world’s greatest living authority on Denebian Slime Devils (a true fact), Richard Dansky works as the Central Clancy Writer for Red Storm/Ubisoft. In 2009 he was named one of the Top 20 Videogame Writers by Gamasutra, and his numerous credits include the acclaimed Splinter Cell: Conviction, Far Cry, and Rainbow Six: Black Arrow. A prolific fiction author as well, Richard has published five novels and a short fiction collection, Snowbird Gothic. His latest novel, Vaporware, was released in May by JournalStone, and he writes regularly for magazines such as Bull Spec and Green Man Review.