Please welcome Richard Dansky to The Qwillery. “Beer and Pennies” will be published in GENIUS LOCI: Tales of the Spirit of Place from Ragnarok Publications.
This is the twelfth in a series of interviews with many of the authors and the artists involved in GENIUS LOCI. I hope you enjoy meeting them here at The Qwillery as much as I am!
I am a backer of GENIUS LOCI which is edited by Jaym Gates. You may check out the Kickstarter here. GENIUS LOCI has been funded and there is less $2000 to go to the Deluxe format of the printed edition!
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What are the challenges in writing in the short form as opposed to the novel length? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Richard: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be (virtually) here.
I think the biggest challenge in writing short fiction instead of novel length is that you have a lot less room to spread out in. Because you're working in a constrained space, you don't have room to chase tangents to see where they'll go. This is actually something that writing for games helps with tremendously, because for all that game scripts can be massive, the actual writing has to be incredibly tight and focused. There's no room for fat in video game dialogue, because that gets in the way of the player playing, and keeping that mindset is tremendously helpful when it comes to flensing off all the extraneous clever phrasings and asides that can put drag on a short piece.
As for the plotter/pantser question, I think I'm still a plantser. I'll plot meticulously, then get into the story, meet the characters, and find that they've hot-wired my car and headed for either Vegas or the world's largest ball of twine. It's not always predictable, but it is always interesting.
TQ: You also work as a game designer and writer. How does this affect (or not) your novel and short story writing?
Richard: Writing fiction and writing games are, for me, such functionally different things that in a lot of ways they serve as breaks from each other. There's a ton of stuff in my fiction toolkit that I never need to unpack for game writing, and when I'm writing fiction I never have to worry about player agency or collaborating with developers in other disciplines. So when things are going well the two sorts of writing kind of serve as a break from one another, and I can recharge the fiction side while I'm doing game work. And if things aren't going well, I always have a project on the other side of the fence to flip to and work on while giving the problematic story or game a break.
TQ: Which question about your writing do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Richard: Why do you write the scary stuff?
(or, as my mother phrases it, "When are you going to write something nice?")
One of the more interesting things my wife has said about my writing is that the real horror of it is that people don't change. And there's a lot of truth to that, and it calls out the fact that the stuff I find scariest - to write about or in real life - is people. What's interesting to me to write about is people, not tentacle monsters or werewolf ninjas or whatnot, and horror fiction lets you put people - well, characters - under some unique and interesting stresses. That's where I find stories, in the moments when people get pushed into an impossible place by something impossible and they either shine or break - or a little bit of both.
TQ: Describe “Beer and Pennies”, which will be published in Genius Loci, in 140 characters or less.
Richard: The problem with investigating a place like the Devil's Tramping Ground is that sometimes you find the Devil there, and you catch his eye...
TQ: Tell us something about “Beer and Pennies” that will not give away the story.
Richard: It features the same main character as my story "The Man Who Built Haunted Houses" in the Haunted anthology, and "A Meeting at the Devil's House" in The New Gothic. In fact, this is his origin story, so if you want to know how a nice guy like that got tangled up with the Devil, this is the place to look.
TQ: What was your inspiration for “Beer and Pennies”? Have you ever encountered a Genius loci?
Richard: The story is set at The Devil's Tramping Ground, which is a legendary site here in North Carolina. It's a large circle of bare dirt that nothing has grown in for well over a century, and according to the stories, if you leave anything in the circle overnight, come morning it will have been thrown out past the edge by...something. Other stories say that the reason nothing grows there is because that's where the Devil spends his nights, walking in circles and thinking up new ways to bedevil mankind, and that he's the one who throws out whatever's left in the circle. And that imagery was absolutely irresistible to me. Once I had the idea of the Tramping Ground in my head, I could sort of walk it to its logical extreme - what happens when someone decides to spend the night in the circle - and then go beyond that.
I can't say I encountered the spirit of the place when I finally went out there with my wife and some friends, but I did try to be respectful, and we picked up some of the trash other passers-by had left at the site. You know, just in case....
TQ: Give us one of your favorite non-spoilery lines from “Beer and Pennies”.
“You can call me the Devil,” he said with a grunt. “I don’t hold with being too familiar.”
TQ: In which genre or genres does “Beer and Pennies” fit? In your opinion, are genre classifications still useful?
Richard: If "inspired by a deep admiration for Manly Wade Wellman" isn't its own genre, I'd have to say it's very much a Southern Gothic. It doesn't have all of the checklist gothic touches - no crumbling old houses or deep family secrets - but it has that sense of lushness intertwined with shadows and rot that you get from Southern Gothics.
As for genres themselves, I think they're useful as guides, less useful when they become barriers. If a genre description is a help to the reader in that guides them to work they're going to like or an approach they want to try, then they can do a lot of good. It's just when they get used as cannon fodder in culture wars that they have a negative impact - "Oh, I never read science fiction/horror/romance/mysteries/stories about guys who shove fish down their pants", when said with disdain, is that sort of negativity in a nutshell, and all it does is keep people away from reading they might genuinely enjoy.
TQ: What's next?
Richard: I'm working on the 20th Anniversary Edition of Wraith: The Oblivion. That's the RPG I really cut my game design teeth on, so to speak, so I'm having a ton of fun working on that. I've also got fiction coming out in anthologies like Achtung! Cthulhu: Dark Tales from the Secret War and Gods, Memes and Monsters from Stoneskin, not to mention the Exalted tie-in anthology from Onyx Path and a few more beyond that. And the day job is keeping me busy with all sorts of fun things I can't talk about...yet.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Richard: Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.
About Richard Dansky
Writer, game designer and cad, Richard Dansky was named one of the Top 20 videogame writers in the world in 2009 by Gamasutra. His work includes bestselling games such as Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Far Cry, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3, and Outland. He has published six novels and the short fiction collection Snowbird Gothic, and is currently hard at work as the developer for the 20th Anniversary Edition of classic tabletop RPG Wraith: The Oblivion. Richard lives in North Carolina with his wife and their amorphously large collections of books and single malt whiskys.