SBT Author Spotlight: Byron Leavitt

We’re so excited to give you all a look inside the mind of Byron Leavitt, one of our newest authors! In addition to being the author of one of our newest Deep Dives, Deep Madness: Shattered Seas, Byron is one of the fantastic folks over at Diemension Games who helped make the Deep Madness board game possible. How does working on a board game differ from writing a novel? We’ll let Byron explain it…

What inspired you to create Deep Madness, the board game?

I actually didn’t. The game is very much the baby of Roger Ho, along with Cherry Li and Yichuan Wang. Chauncey (another game designer) and I came along later to help flesh it out. In fact, the game was only about a week away from going to Kickstarter when I got involved. I saw the team’s posts on Facebook and sent them a message saying I loved what they were doing, but their writing could maybe use some help. They agreed, and the rest is history.

What made you decide to write the accompanying novel?

Roger and Yichuan came to me at or just before our second Gen Con (the US’s biggest board game convention), when we were starting to think about the reprint campaign for Deep Madness. They wanted to know if I would be interested in writing a novel about Deep Madness that fleshed out the world a bit. I jumped at the chance. They had two fuzzy ideas in mind for the book: one took place in Kadath (the underwater setting for the game) and revolved around a new character called K. Meanwhile, the other featured a group of people trapped in a big building who had to find some sort of ancient relic, while an enormous monster prowled outside. I took both those ideas and ran with them, and Shattered Seas was the result. Fun fact: the hotel/shopping center in the tower is based on the Hilton hotel/shopping center in Indianapolis, Indiana, a couple of blocks from Gen Con’s convention center. That was where we had some of our first talks about the book.

How does the creative process differ when creating a board game vs. writing a novel?

They are very different beasts. For instance, you can write a book by yourself, but it is challenging to make anything beyond the most basic game alone. There are so many moving parts in a game (sometimes literally): the art, the game design, the graphic design, sculpting (if there are miniatures), the theme/flavor text, etc. A novel can be a pure act of creation, whether it’s off-the-cuff or carefully planned. But a board game – or any game – is a far more methodical, systematic endeavor. They may have the most in common when it comes to revisions, but there are differences even in that. Both require multiple iterations, of course, but it’s maybe more pronounced with a board game, where you are trying to ensure that all of the mechanisms function together in harmony; and they rarely do. Lastly, a novel can be many different things and still be considered a success, but if a game’s not fun, it’s a failure.

What are the themes you cover in Deep Madness: Shattered Seas, and why? How do they relate to the themes of the game?

There are a lot of themes that I cover, or try to cover – whether I succeeded or not is a different story. An idea that has deeply interested Roger and the team is consciousness fusion, which is when multiple minds combine and become one. It is one of the dominant themes in Deep Madness, and even more so in its prequel, Dawn of Madness. So that is consequently a dominant theme in the book, as well. I also seem to love playing in multiple dimensions or worlds simultaneously, which was an implicit idea in the board game. Now it’s very much explicit. Apart from those, you’ll find faith in the face of oblivion, sacrifice, redemption, the slow spiral into madness, the wonder and horror of exploring the unknown, and the terror that comes from the human body becoming something… else. Other themes could be the consequences of embracing the darkness, learning never to trust a corporation run by a cult, and monsters (are monsters a theme? INTERVIEWER’S NOTE: They are if you want them to be!).

What are your top five favorite books (by other authors)?

That’s a dirty, unfair question, but I’ll try to answer it anyway – though I fully intend to cheat. I’m not sure if I can genuinely say my top five, so I’ll just name the ones that pop into my head first. The Dark Tower series by Stephen King is up there. The ending of the final book is indelibly etched into my mind. That series certainly influenced Shattered Seas, too (and, yes, I realize it’s 7+ books. I said I was going to cheat). Stardust by Neil Gaiman is a beautiful little fairy tale. Uzumaki by Junji Ito is one of the best cosmic horror stories I’ve read, even if it is a manga. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is literally art masquerading as a haunted house novel. And probably the Bible, for good measure.

If you could have any ability or superpower, what would it be and why?

I mean, who wouldn’t love to be able to fly, have x-ray vision, get super strength, or gain invulnerability? I think, though, that my chosen superpower would be to make living beings. I would then create dozens of strange, bizarre creatures and keep them as my friends and/or pets. There’s a race of octopus people I would especially love to bring to life.

What genres do you enjoy outside of Horror, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi?

There are genres outside of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy? I kid, I kid. Sort of. If I’m not reading something in those three genres, then I’m probably reading nonfiction – most likely something in the general subjects of science, theology, or self-improvement.

How do you find that the experience of listening to an audiobook differs from the experience of reading a book?

Well, in the case of the Shattered Seas Deep Dive, it differs quite a lot! In all seriousness, though, audiobooks are a lifesaver for me. A lot of my “reading” now is through audiobooks. I love how a narrator can bring a book to life – though, conversely, it’s always tragic when a lousy narrator makes a good book a slog. One advantage to audiobooks I’ve found is that they can be a communal experience. I listen to many audiobooks with my wife and kids. I also adore the visceral experience you can get from full-cast audio dramas. That was one reason I was so excited to hear Jeff’s ideas for the Shattered Seas Deep Dive; many of my favorite audio experiences – the ones that have stuck with me for years – were with productions along those lines. It’s astonishing to have something I initially wrote transformed into an experience as magnificent and captivating as those dramas I’ve loved in the past – and arguably even surpass them.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors or game creators?

If you get an idea for a project that you genuinely believe in, then fight through the self-doubt and the excuses to make it happen. It’s too easy to let all of your best creations languish in your head, so do what’s hard and make them real. Also, if you’re serious about your craft, take the time to get proficient at it. Read countless novels. Play hundreds of games. Take note of what makes the good ones soar and the bad ones suck. But don’t stop there; read the how-to books, too. Learn the industry. Some good ones for board game design are The White Box: A Game Design Workshop In a Box by Jeremy Holcomb, The Game Inventor’s Guidebook by Brian Tinsman, Things We Think About Games by Will Hindmarch and Jeff Tidball, and The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design by Mike Selinker. For writing, check out On Writing by Stephen King, and, if you have the money to spare, get the Masterclass video series by Neil Gaiman; it might be the best writing seminar I’ve ever seen. And everyone should read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. One other thing: don’t be depressed by the rejection when it comes – because it is coming. Edit incessantly, but at some point, you also must decide your project is good enough and ship it (deadlines can work marvelously toward this end). I believe it was Stephen King who said that no art is ever genuinely finished; there are only the pieces you’ve abandoned.

In short, many people want to write a novel or make a game, but only those who treat it as a serious endeavor will actually do it, and do it well. Be one of the individuals who has the grit and perseverance to bring your dreams to life. You can do it.

Give us a fun fact about yourself!

I’ll give you three: I have a butler named Egad who stoically waits on my family in my dining room. I also have a genteel life-sized gremlin called Brain in my living room. Lastly, I feel like my life’s purpose is to cultivate wonder.

To learn more about Byron, visit his website or follow him on Facebook. We also recommend you check out Diemension Games on their website or Facebook page. Want to join the Deep Madness community? Click here!