Joe Dever Interview
Dear Joe Dever,
Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions from both myself, and the members of ChooseYourStory.com. On behalf of the site I would like to share with you our excitement at getting this opportunity. These are the questions that were compiled by our members. Please take as long as needed to answer them.
Lone Wolf Series
1. When you created the Lone Wolf series, what did you do first? Create the character and build a world around him? Or create the world and put Lone Wolf within it?
In 1976 I began developing the northern hemisphere of a fantasy world that would later become Northern Magnumund . I began by drawing the maps, and while I was working on these, I conceived the mythos of the Kai and the Darklords. Next I worked on a bestiary, then a gazetteer, and finally a timeline which tied all the concepts together. Southern Magnamund did exist but it was not as well developed as Northern Magnamund at the time I wrote ‘Flight from the Dark’, which was back in 1983.
2. How much time is normally spent on each story?
For the Lone Wolf gamebooks, the process of creation goes through three stages: Outlining, Flowcharting, and First Draft. On average it takes me about eight weeks to complete an adventure. One week is spent on outlining the adventure. This is where I determine what it's going to be about and what modifications I will need to make to the rules. I prepare a rough map and I sort out any of the elements that I need to carry over from the previous books. I make a lot of rough notes during this period which I then refer to during the second phase - flowcharting. In the flowcharting phase (normally about three weeks) I write the adventure out in rough, usually on large sheets of paper that are often taped or stapled together. The page numbers are allocated to each of the entries and I play test each of the encounters to make sure that the game part of the story works. This is probably the most creative phase as I have to determine what happens in every section. When the flowcharting is finished I then go back to the beginning and start writing everything up. This is the first draft stage. I begin with the "Story So Far...", then the rules changes, and then the adventure proper. My flowcharts prompt me as to what I must establish technically in each of the sections, and during the first draft phase I elaborate on this and work on the descriptive prose. First drafting takes me about four weeks. When it's complete I then play through the manuscript using strong, median, and weak character profiles and make any necessary revisions. When that's done I submit it to the publisher. After submission, I prepare a detailed art brief for the artist so that he can begin work on the cover, page illustrations, and vignettes.
3. Was there an inspiration for the series
Originally I had intended Lone Wolf to be a RPG system, akin to RuneQuest. But then I realized that it would make for an ideal solo role-playing campaign in paperback book format. I suppose the real inspiration to produce it in this format was the fact that it had never been done before.
4. How many stories are there in all of the Lone Wolf series?
I planned for there to be 32 books in the Lone Wolf series, 20 with Lone Wolf as the main character, and 12 featuring the a New Order Kai Master as the central character. Twenty-eight of the planned books were released. The last one in this line (The Hunger of Sejanoz) was published in 1998. I am very pleased to be able to say that I have recently agreed to complete the series over the next two years. Mongoose Publishing UK Ltd, the company which brought you the Lone Wolf d20 RPG system, has picked up the rights to the entire gamebook series (1-28) for re-publication in English over the coming year. They will distribute the new editions in bookshops and gamestores throughout the U.K and US. And they have also commissioned me to complete the series with books 29-32.
5. What was your connection with the Grey Star series?
I originally created the character for my AD&D campaigns set in Magnamund. My good friend Ian Page, who had been a long-time player in my campaigns, agreed to pick up the character and develop it further for a sub-series of adventures set in Southern Magnamund . I coached Ian in the ‘how to’ of gamebook construction and I edited the work he produced prior to publication.
6. Why did that not take off as much as Lone Wolf?
Grey Star was very popular and sold well internationally. But Ian was a busy professional musician (he still is BTW) with his own career in music to pursue, and I was already heavily committed to working on the core Lone Wolf gamebooks, so Grey Star was never developed further than the original 4-book mini-series, despite considerable demand.
7. When you were publishing the series, did you submit your work with illustrations or did the publisher take care of that?
I chose the artists who worked on Lone Wolf and then my publisher commissioned them. I prepared a detailed art brief for them as I worked on the manuscripts, then I sent them this guideline with a finished manuscript once my work was completed on each book.
8. How heavily did editors change your work? And how much creative input did you have in your early career?
Fortunately I was able to maintain complete creative control over my work right from the start. One of the main reasons I agreed to sign up with Hutchinson (Beaver Books) – my first publisher – was because they agreed not to meddle with my work. My manuscripts were submitted to one of their copy editors, but this was mainly to have them typeset. It seems archaic now, but the first Lone Wolf books were written before the advent of word processors, and typesetting was an important, albeit laborious, part of the editing and publishing process.
9. There’s a rumor that you had at least 4 more books planned in the series. Truth or fiction?
Absolute truth! As I stated earlier, I’m delighted that they have finally been commissioned. I will be writing them over the course of the next two years. Delivery of the first manuscript is set for 30th June 2007, so I would expect to see it published sometime around Christmas of next year.
10. Any truth to the rumor that you got your Magnamund world from an AD&D campaign?
I didn’t “get it” from an AD&D campaign – it was the setting I created for an AD&D campaign that I game-mastered for friends between 1979-1983. It was also the setting for a fantasy wargames campaign that I ran during 1979-1981. All of the games that I prepared and hosted during this period were set in Magnamund. This is how I was able to develop the world and its history in such detail. By the time I began writing the solo role-playing campaign that was to become known as Lone Wolf, I had probably hosted over 70 role-playing sessions and a dozen major tabletop battles in Magnamund.
1. When did you write the first Lone Wolf story?
2. What other series have you written?
Freeway Warrior, Combat Heroes, and I contributed as editor to Grey Star
3. Are you still writing new Choose Your Own Adventure stories? If so, what are they?
I am currently writing a revised version of the first Lone Wolf gamebook – Flight from the Dark. It incorporates new events that I’ve scripted for the PC game of the same name, for which I am Lead Designer, and is due for release in 2008. I am scheduled to begin work on writing Lone Wolf 29 in January of next year, for delivery before 30 June 2007.
4. What new projects are you working on?
I’m Lead Designer on a Lone Wolf PC game. I’m currently based in Singapore , which is where the game is being developed.
5. What environment do you enjoy writing in? Do you have an office, or do you write in the park, i.e.?
I prefer to write at home, where I have an office with all my books and reference materials readily to hand. To be more precise though, I should say “homes” as I now have residences both in London and Singapore . I have the same type of PC at each location, and I use an external hard drive to store my files. The external drive gives me great flexibility and freedom, as this is all I need to carry with me. I simply plug it into whichever PC I’m working on and away I go.
1. What advice could you give a new writer in regards to getting published for the first time
Begin with the idea. It's a bad mistake to hack out 80,000 words or so in the expectation that a publisher will be unable to resist such obvious dedication and effort. He/she will resist, only too easily, with a rejection slip that could seriously damage your self-esteem. The fact of the matter is that publishers are inundated with unsolicited manuscripts. In the case of the big publishers, these run into the tens of thousands every year. They have neither the time nor the optimism to wade through them looking for something that might turn out to be the blockbuster of the century, but more probably will not. A synopsis and a sample chapter is all that is needed for a publisher to make a judgment. Preparation is critical. It is possible for a bad book to follow a good synopsis but it is rare for a good book to follow a poor synopsis. Publishers know this better than anyone. If you're serious about getting into print I'd recommend you contact The Society of Authors (U.K.) or The Writers Guild of America (U.S.). They are very good at helping prospective authors and they can supply literature which deals with the thorny subjects of literary agents, publisher's contracts, subsidiary rights, marketing, and publicity etc.
2. Do you think its best to start with a small world and build on it? Or start with a fully developed world and write about it?
The latter option is probably best, as has proved to be so in my case, but it’s the longer and harder route for a writer to take. It takes a great deal of discipline and dedication to fully develop a fantasy world before using it as the setting for your stories. Of course, the big advantage of developing the world in detail is that, when you come to set adventures in it, you know this world intimately and you have no need to make things up as you go along. This will give your writing an added degree of confidence and authority which, in turn, will encourage the reader to believe in your creation and, hopefully, become fascinated by it.
3. What are some does and don’ts that you have learned when writing Choose Your Own Adventure stories?Never skimp on the preparation. Time spent flowcharting and outlining is never wasted. Aim for 60% preparation and 40% execution and you’ll not go far wrong.
4. What other stories could you recommend for writers wanting to learn about Choose Your Own Adventure stories?
CYOA writing and first-person computer games design are very closely related disciplines. I’d recommend would-be game book writers to have a look at the many excellent professional manuals that have been published by, and for, computer games designers. Check out the design section of the pro-gaming community website www.gamasutra.com for a list of titles.
5. How do you flesh out your novels so that they are longer?
I have a personal maxim when it comes to book writing and games design: “maximum impact; minimum words” Therefore, I consciously try not to pad out my novels with any unnecessary filling. As previously stated, preparation is vital. With novels, it’s important that you have a clear idea of what it is you want to say, and that you plan in advance how you are going to say it over the course of, maybe, ten chapters or so. Begin with the high level concept and then work your way down through all the low level detail until you have several pages of notes and guidelines for each of your chapters. Once you are absolutely sure about what it is you are going to say in each chapter, what it is you have to convey to the reader, only then should you begin the first draft writing. Thorough preparation will make it far less likely that you’ll suffer from writer’s block, and it will increase all probability that you’ll really enjoy the creative writing process.
6. A teacher once told me, “Deadlines encourage inspiration.” Is that an accurate statement in regards to dealing with Writer’s Block? If not, what’s your take?
Very accurate, at least it has been so in my experience. It’s all too easy to get distracted when you should be concentrating on putting words down on the page. I’ve found that nothing focuses the mind quite like an impending deadline.
Finally, I have been asked to give you space to write whatever is on your mind. Whether it is more advice, more information that we missed, or what you had for lunch. I would also like to thank you once again for taking the time to talk with us here at ChooseYourStory.Com
I’d just like to take the opportunity to thank all my readers who have shown incredible stamina and steadfast loyalty to Lone Wolf over the past twenty years or so. I really am delighted that, at last, their loyalty is to be rewarded with the completion of the game book series and the release of a Lone Wolf PC game. As Lone Wolf himself would say… “For Sommerlund and the Kai!”