Author interview 139 – Glen Dahlgren


Glen Dahlgren

USA

Age 53

Glen Dahlgren is an award-winning game designer and the author of the book series The Chronicles of Chaos, which fantasy legend Piers Anthony called „what fantasy fiction should be.”

Glen has written, designed, directed, and produced critically-acclaimed, narrative-driven computer games for the last three decades. What’s more, he had the honor of creating original fantasy and science-fiction storylines that took established, world-class literary properties into interactive experiences. He collaborated with celebrated authors Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (The Death Gate Cycle), Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time – soon to be a TV series from Amazon), Frederik Pohl (Heechee saga), Terry Brooks (Shannara), and Piers Anthony (Xanth) to bring their creations to the small screens. In addition, he crafted licensor-approved fiction for the Star Trek franchise as well as Stan Sakai’s epic graphic novel series, Usagi Yojimbo.
Nothing can break the stranglehold the gods of Order have on the world . . . except a roll of the dice.
 
An irresistible longing drags young Galen to an ancient vault where, long ago, the gods of Order locked Chaos away. Chaos promises power to the one destined to liberate it, but Galen’s dreams warn of dark consequences.
 
He isn’t the only one racing to the vault, however. Horace, the bully who lives to torment Galen, is determined to unleash Chaos–and he might know how to do it.
 
Galen’s imagination always got him into trouble, but now it may be the only thing that can prevent Horace from unraveling the world.
 
„This is no ordinary sword and sorcery story. This is what fantasy fiction should be. [Glen Dahlgren is a] novelist who I think will become more widely known as his skill is appreciated.” –Piers Anthony. New York Times best-selling author of Xanth.

Romelia:   WHAT IS A SIGNIFICANT WAY YOUR BOOK HAS CHANGED SINCE THE FIRST DRAFT?

Glen Dahlgren:   I tend to think about my story’s plot and world first. I knew much more about my world and what was going to happen there than I did about my characters. After receiving some much-needed feedback from my early readers, I dived into both my protagonist and antagonist to figure out what made them tick. While I love the large, world-changing, momental events that stayed from draft to draft, it may be that my favorite parts of the book deal with exploring the hidden layers to each character and watching those push the story forward.

Romelia:   WHAT PERSPECTIVES OR BELIEFS HAVE YOU CHALLENGED WITH THIS WORK?

Glen Dahlgren:   The idea that originally inspired me to write this novel is that, here, Good and Evil (intentionally capitalized) aren’t much different. They’re just two of many temples, just two tools for both Order and Chaos to use. And, indeed, both hero and villain are playing parts in a game that they have no clue about until it all comes to fruition.

Romelia:   WHAT INSPIRED THE IDEA FOR YOUR BOOK?

Glen Dahlgren:   I designed a computer game called Wheel of Time, based on Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series at Legend Entertainment. At one time, we were searching for funding from a publisher—any publisher. One of those was Activision, but the night before I was supposed to pitch it, they called and let me know that, while they liked the game idea, they weren’t interested in the license (WoT). So I had one night to come up with an alternative premise for the game. Under tons of pressure, I did exactly that, and I was really happy with the result.

We ended up going with another publisher for Wheel of Time, one that actually wanted the license—which meant that I back-burnered the new premise. Once we shipped WoT, I revisited the concept to see if there was another game that could use it. But the more I explored it, the more I realized that it was a novel, not a game. Twenty years later, I published the Child of Chaos.

Romelia:   HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR BOOK’S IDEAL READER?

Glen Dahlgren:   The novel is YA fantasy, but it has a number of dark (non-gratuitous) moments, so I hope my reader enjoy a little visit to the dark side. That said, I’ve had people of all ages truly enjoy the experience, even people completely new to fantasy, so I would hope that everyone could give it a chance.

Romelia:   HOW MUCH RESEARCH DID YOU NEED TO DO FOR YOUR BOOK?

Glen Dahlgren:   Aside from the countless fantasy books I’ve read in my life, I have a library filled with references on medieval living. Often, I’ll write something and then research after the fact to see if I got it right—and much of the time, I do!

Romelia:   HOW IMPORTANT WAS PROFESSIONAL EDITING TO YOUR BOOK’S DEVELOPMENT?

Glen Dahlgren:   I’d say, developmentally, the book owes more to my insightful beta-readers than editors. That said, I’d never publish my manuscript without an editor’s eyes on it. For my next book, I’m using an editor who is deep into YA to leverage a new perspective. I’ll let you know how that goes, but I expect it to enhance my target reader’s experience.

Romelia:   WHAT WAS YOUR HARDEST SCENE TO WRITE, AND WHY?

Glen Dahlgren:   While it was personally difficult to write a lot of Horace’s scenes (because he’s particularly cruel), I’d say it was Galen’s realization of why he was so broken, and how to deal with his fear and get out from under his own perception of himself. It started out as one scene, then expanded to an entire chapter with each rewrite. I’m proud of the final result, though. While some people praise Horace (he’s a very compelling villain) as their favorite character, I truly enjoy Galen’s journey.

Romelia:   WHAT CHARACTERS IN YOUR BOOK ARE MOST SIMILAR TO YOU OR TO PEOPLE YOU KNOW?

Glen Dahlgren:   Galen, the main character, is a creative child who just wants to express himself in a world that won’t let that happen. There’s a little of both me and my son in that character, and many others have identified with his struggles.

Romelia:   HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE THIS BOOK?

Glen Dahlgren:   The Child of Chaos took twenty years to write and publish. There were a lot of reasons for the lengthy development, including a demanding day job and the amount of learning I had to do in writing, editing, publishing, and marketing (all of which I’m still learning about). That said, the prequel only took me about nine months to write. The quarantine had something to do with that, but also I was able to apply all the lessons to this new project. I’m hoping the sequel takes even less time.

Romelia:   HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE TITLE FOR YOUR BOOK?

Glen Dahlgren:   The Child of Chaos is the character that Order is deathly afraid of, the one prophesied to make the choice that will change the world forever. I brainstormed a bunch of other titles, but nothing stuck like the original—so I kept it.

Romelia:   WOULD YOU AND YOUR MAIN CHARACTER GET ALONG?

Glen Dahlgren:   We’re quite different ages, so I’m hoping he’d put up with me (teens tend to live in their own worlds and let us older folk in only for visits).

Romelia:   IF YOU COULD MEET YOUR CHARACTERS, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THEM?

Glen Dahlgren:   “I’m proud of you.” As an author, I tend to put my characters through some incredibly demanding events for everyone’s amusement—but they find the strength to get through it all. I guess the other thing I’d say would be, “It will be worth it.”

Romelia:   WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS LIKE? ARE YOU MORE OF A PLOTTER OR A PANTSER?

Glen Dahlgren:   Both. Three books in, I’m still trying to figure out my process. I cannot start writing until I know what I’m going to write. That means I need an outline of the whole shebang. So, with outline in hand, I start—but then my characters inform me that my plan sucks.

It’s like when I was playing Dungeons and Dragons. When you’re the dungeon master, you create the map for a party, but these living, breathing, obstinate people decide they don’t want to follow the map to the quest; they’d rather track down an errant dress maker. Sometimes, my characters can be just as obstinate. So as they say, no plan survives contact with the enemy, but I still can’t go into battle without one.

Romelia:   WHAT DO YOU NEED IN YOUR WRITING SPACE TO HELP YOU STAY FOCUSED?

Glen Dahlgren:   Uninterrupted time and appropriate music. I can work just about anywhere with my iPad and magic keyboard, so place isn’t a problem (which is good, because my wife took over my office when she started working from home). I also like music, but nothing with lyrics—only movie soundtracks truly do the trick. I listen to a lot of Hans Zimmer (Pirates of the Carribean and Gladiator). I find they put me in the right mental space to write.

Romelia:   IF YOU WERE TO WRITE A SPIN-OFF ABOUT A SIDE CHARACTER, WHICH WOULD YOU PICK?

Glen Dahlgren:   That’s an easy question to answer, because I’ve already done it! There was a breakout character in Child of Chaos that fans wanted to see more of: Dantess, priest of War. He’s the true action star of the story. His training and access to the experiences of generations of priests before him make him exciting and a bit mysterious. While the story makes Dantess and Galen unlikely allies, it’s not exactly clear what in Dantess’ past drives him or why he’s making the choices he does.

What’s more, a lot of the thinking I was doing about the sequel, the Curse of Chaos, involved Dantess’ past, so it made sense to fully explore it. I did this in the upcoming prequel, the Game of War. It truly exceeded my expectations and I want to put it on the required reading list for any fan of the Chronicles of Chaos.

Romelia:   IF YOU COULD SPEND A DAY WITH ANOTHER POPULAR AUTHOR, WHOM WOULD YOU CHOOSE?

Glen Dahlgren:   Neil Gaiman. I’ve appreciated his work ever since I bought the first issue of Sandman. He has influenced every medium he has touched: comics/graphic novels, television, and movies (and more, I’m sure). A conversation with him would be fascinating and last for many hours.

Romelia:   WHAT IS YOUR SCHEDULE LIKE WHEN YOU’RE WRITING A BOOK?

Glen Dahlgren:   Again, I’m still trying to figure out how to make my process more predictable. I am not an author who churns out books every month. I’m not interested in becoming one, nor do I think I’m capable of it. I write the stories that touch me, that inspire me, and I haven’t found the formula that captures that yet.

I will say that I’m loosely trying to complete at least a novel a year—but to that end, writing is just one part of it, and much depends on others’ schedules too (like beta-readers, editors, cover artists, etc.). So I’m figuring those out as well, and hopefully, future books should be faster because of the progress I’m making now.

Romelia:   HAVE YOU EVER TRAVELED AS RESEARCH FOR YOUR BOOK?

Glen Dahlgren:   I’ve not traveled specifically for a book, but I have used my travel experience in my writing. Specifically, when I was courting my Italian wife, I visited quite a number of places in Italy including some medieval castles and the churches of Venice. In my book, you’ll see some references to those kinds of places if you look hard enough.

Romelia:   WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE WRITING SNACK OR DRINK?

Glen Dahlgren:   Sunkist Zero Sugar soda. I’m kind of addicted. And during COVID, they stopped producing it, so I had to travel far and wide to find it—or make do with alternatives that so failed to deliver (like Fanta).

Romelia:   HOW DO YOU CELEBRATE WHEN YOU FINISH YOUR BOOK?

Glen Dahlgren:   I celebrate privately with my family: dinner out, movie, and anything else that we can pack into a day. Publicly, I’m so looking forward to actually throwing a launch party. I had one planned for Child of Chaos, but COVID hit and shut everything down. I’m hoping that, now that the vaccination is freely available, I can give it another try with the Game of War launch!

Romelia:   WHAT RISKS HAVE YOU TAKEN WITH YOUR WRITING THAT HAVE PAID OFF?

Glen Dahlgren:   This may not be what you’re referring to, but I decided to throw caution to the wind when it came to asking for endorsements from any famous creative people I knew. Way back in the day, my company, Legend Entertainment, made a game based on Piers Anthony’s Xanth books. So I decided to contact him to see if I could get a quote from him. I heard back, but he told me he was too busy to read anything, and if he did respond, I probably wouldn’t like what he said (most people don’t). I took a chance and emailed it to him anyway.

The day after, I got a note saying that he started reading it and the book hooked him. He finished it the same day and produced an amazing, lengthy review that included the quote, “This is what fantasy fiction should be.” From Piers Anthony, one of my fantasy author heroes!

I guess the moral of the story is to try and keep trying. There are plenty of other authors I didn’t hear back from, but a few did respond, and I don’t regret any of the effort I spent chasing them all down.

Romelia:   WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU GOOGLED YOURSELF AND WHAT DID YOU FIND?

Glen Dahlgren:   I do that occasionally, just to see if new reviews have popped up for my book. And indeed, I found a review on Dragonmount (a site dedicated to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time – https://dragonmount.com/news/fantasyreview/child-of-chaos/) and Indie’s Today (https://dragonmount.com/news/fantasyreview/child-of-chaos/)—both of which were wonderful. I also tend to see a lot of links relating to my time as a game designer, but my book is slowly overtaking those.

Romelia:   WHAT IS YOUR KRYPTONITE AS A WRITER?

Glen Dahlgren:   I’ve heard advice that instructs writers to keep barrelling through the first draft. Get to the end, no matter what.

I don’t dispute this. I tell my game design students to just do something so you can change it. You can’t make ‘nothing’ better.

That said, I cannot leave writing behind that I know is wrong. If something major changes in the story, I need to fix the previous chapters before moving forward. I cannot even imagine not doing this. So much in the remainder of the book depends on what came before that I need to see the results of the rewrite.

That’s why my first draft ends up being kind of my 1.5 draft. I’ve already smoothed out a lot of the problem areas before I complete it. But it probably slows me down a lot.

Romelia:   TELL US SOMETHING FUNNY FROM YOUR ADULT LIFE.

Glen Dahlgren:   I wish I had something poignant on the tip of my mind to describe, but I will tell the rather recent story of the neighbor’s gardener, since others seem to find it amusing.

Our neighbor is a nice guy (even after all this happened, I still firmly believe this). He has a gardener that takes orders like a soldier, and does not question. One day, our neighbor told him to trim not only the bushes and trees in his yard, but our back-yard tree that hung over the fence.

Wires got crossed. Instead of trimming our tree back so it didn’t hang over the fence, following the vertical plane of the fence, he trimmed the tree on the horizontal plane of the top of the fence. This wasn’t just a few branches; fully the tree’s top half was cut away. And that tree was one that my wife and daughter planted together many, many years ago.

Well, after a discussion with both the neighbor and gardener, we decided to make him replace the poor half-tree. The neighbor also volunteered the gardener to prune the mammoth tree in the front yard that also hung over his property line. It was something we needed anyway, so we agreed.

We should have seen it coming. Instead of actually trimming the tree like someone who was working for us, he hacked a single huge branch off—exactly on the vertical plane of the property line. Then he called it quits, leaving the poor hacked tree behind. We yelled after him to finish the job, but he and his men just got into his truck and drove off.

The people who laughed the loudest at that story were the actual tree trimmers we brought in to fix his botched job.

Moral of the story? Make sure anyone doing a job for you knows who they’re working for.

Romelia:   DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN A FEW SENTENCES. TELL US SOMETHING WE DO NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU AND SOMETHING YOU HATE ABOUT THE WORLD.

Glen Dahlgren:   Most everything creative I do and have done in my life revolves around storytelling. I used to type (with a typewriter) my own science fiction and fantasy books when I was about eight, and then bind them with cardboard, fabric, and thread. Even then, I wanted to make a professional product.

When I entered high school, I began to design computer games. Even those were heavy with story, especially adventure games.

In Legend Entertainment, I designed some award-winning games that told stories in other author’s worlds: Jordan, Weis, Pohl, and more. And while I was in love with the written word (and still am), I realized that the agency of games gave me access to a range of emotions that books just couldn’t. While you can identify with main characters and empathize with their experiences, you aren’t actually making choices. You aren’t responsible. Games allow players to feel things like pride and guilt—because they decided to pull that trigger or betray that friend. For many players, stories become more powerful the more they contribute to them.

What do I hate? Without getting too political, I’d say I hate that some people choose to live in an alternate reality that harms us all. Conspiracy theories shouldn’t keep people from trusting our elections, or getting vaccinated, or believing in climate change. I’m all for people having the freedom to keep and express honest political views (even if they conflict with my own), but if they aren’t based in facts, then they aren’t expressed in good faith. And we all suffer.

Goodreads Book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54239375-the-child-of-chaos

Bookbub Book: https://www.bookbub.com/books/the-child-of-chaos-the-chronicles-of-chaos-book-1-by-glen-dahlgren

Audiobook: https://www.audible.com/pd/B08W8GKDLF/?source_code=AUDFPWS0223189MWT-BK-ACX0-236240&ref=acx_bty_BK_ACX0_236240_rh_us

Blog: http://www.mysterium.blog/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gdahlgrenauthor

Amazon: https://amazon.com/author/glendahlgren

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20441786.Glen_Dahlgren

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/glen-dahlgren

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GlenDahlgren

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/glendahlgren/

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/glendahlgren

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