You might know Charles Dean as the author of some of your favorite SBT classics, including the wildly popular War Aeternus series. Or perhaps you know him as the most vocal champion of bacon and beer within the GameLit/LitRPG community. But do you know which video games have most inspired him?
To celebrate the fact that Jeff and the team are currently hard at work producing The Heroic Villain 3, we wanted to give all of you a firsthand glimpse into the mind of one of LitRPG’s most boisterous figures.
Why do you write LitRPG as opposed to other types of SFF?
The reason I choose LitRPG as opposed to other forms of science fiction or fantasy is two-fold. The first is that it explores what I hope tomorrow looks like. I want to see a world where we spend our days immersed in games that represent the idealized version of fantasy, not what fantasy life would have really been like. The beautiful scenic views, the sprawling capitals, the amazing landscapes – video games are a lot more visually appealing and condensed than the real world, and especially the world that would have existed back in the medieval ages or might exist in a fantasy environment. The other reason is I like the guardrails that keep me honest. I write with a system of very concrete numbers, where physics, skills and other things have a set effect. This prevents me from waving my hand too much as an author just to achieve what I want with the story, and, by showing the numbers, it lets the readers check my work.
If you had to pick a videogame that’s most similar to one of your books or has most influenced your writing, what video game is it and why?
Dark Ages of Camelot or Shadowbane. They were big, but not too big. For my books – as in the games – the scenery is usually somewhat realistic, but still has that video game feel, and towns sprawl up that are player-made and influenced. Each of the books I write also generally has a safe zone, with the exception of War Aeternus. Not to mention, unlike other video games, Shadowbane and Dark Ages of Camelot both had a very player-versus-player focus that defined the goal of the game, with factions sprouting up around geography and race.
What are your top five favorite books (by other authors)?
I have more than five authors on my friends list, so I’d rather not answer this with LitRPG books. I’ll instead say I grew up with the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli, Milton’s Paradise Lost, the Harry Potter series, and the Animorphs series. Each of those books I had read more than once by the time I finished high school, and I still love them today.
What are the themes you write about in your fiction and why?
This is a hard subject to tackle, as each book has its own unique theme. I like to try to take on something people don’t usually discuss, like PTSD, and see if I can slide it into the book and make it a central aspect of a character’s personality without shouting my goal to the reader. I feel as though, if I have to say, “Hey, I want you to see how someone would likely actually react to having to murder people he didn’t know every day with zero mental preparation,” then I’ve failed as a writer.
In the case of PTSD, I do, of course, consult with friends and acquaintances who have actually suffered from it as I write. This is true of all conditions I have not personally experienced but choose to include in my writing.
If you could have any ability or superpower what would it be and why?
Likely something time/youth related. I imagine if I could go back in time (and become as young as I was back then in the process) I could likely finish all the books I wanted to. Not to mention, I could have spent more time with a few people before they died. That would be a great power.
How do you find the experience of listening to an audiobook differs from the experience of reading a book?
It’s more frustrating. Listening to audiobooks is a lot slower than reading a book and it can be harder to focus on the story. At the same time, I feel as though the characters are all more vivid and real in audiobooks. I don’t get to define them the way I do when I’m reading and using my imagination, but they feel more fleshed out at the same time. Each character feels more unique.
What has your experience been with the GameLit community as you’ve grown as a GameLit writer?
My wife says the GameLit community is a giant bacon, beer, video game, and woman-loving cult that I’ve either started or joined. I think that sums it up well. I love the community. To me, it’s like all the kids who were never really understood in high school – because they chose to spend their weekends leveling up characters in Diablo or an MMO – stuffed into a room and given common themes to bond over. It’s a blast. I sometimes think of them as my closest friends and family; but that may just be because, as an author who’s usually stuck in front of a computer, I talk to myself too much and need more friends and family.
What genres do you enjoy outside of GameLit and/or LitRPG?
I like Wuxia light novels, portal fantasy, or novels where the main character is transmigrated, and I like romcoms on television. Other than that, I stick to my GameLit.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Don’t do it. I don’t need more competition. Joking aside though, if you always put your reader before yourself, you might not make it as an author, but you’ll at least be able to sleep well at night and be proud of yourself. This means doing the research and taking the time to make sure each sentence says what you want it to say. It also means thinking about how they’ll feel reading a scene, not just about the scene you want to make. Not every book is loved by millions, but as long as you focus on the people who do love it and keep them happy, then you’ll have something to show for it.