Geek Speaks Fiction: Learning You’ve Grown Up

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Image: Melanie R. Meadors

This week on Geek Speaks… Fiction!, fantasy author Gregory A. Wilson joins us to talk about what made him geek out when writing his latest epic fantasy novel Grayshade!

Like every other God-fearing, red-blooded geek in the ’80s, I had the basic items which marked me as a soldier in the cause. NES, with Super Mario and Zelda (gold, obviously) cartridges included. Wooden sword. Fantasy books from The Hobbit to The Sword of Shannara to the entire Dragonlance series, plus the entirety of the Fighting Fantasy and Sorcery! gamebook lines. Board games, from Dungeon to Talisman (2nd Edition, thank you) to Gammarauders to Car Wars to Dark Tower. And of course, RPGs, from James Bond to Indiana Jones to Tunnels and Trolls to, most important of all, Dungeons & Dragons. I began with that aforementioned Red Box in the mid-’80s (not counting a sixth-grade experience with Keep on the Borderlands, which I enjoyed but didn’t really understand)—picking it up either from Paperback Booksmith or Kay-Bee Toys in the local mall, I can’t remember which—and was, not surprisingly, immediately hooked. I became a member of the RPGA, where I read articles by Jean Rabe and Ed Greenwood and wondered about this mysterious “Gen Con” happening in Wisconsin, a state which I knew little about except that 1. there was cheese involved and 2. I had no money to go there. I picked up all the first edition handbooks, including Unearthed Arcana, obediently went out and got the second edition books as soon as they were available, and amassed an impressive collection of modules, from campaigns like Against the Giants to individual gems like The Ghost Tower of Inverness. And naturally, I got some dice.

I also got maps—some from the Greyhawk setting, some from the Forgotten Realms—and plastered them on my walls. In the early days, I didn’t have a lot of people to play with (our regular group wouldn’t really get going until high school), so usually it was my long-suffering father who got to be the guinea pig for my early, hesitant attempts at Dungeon Mastering. But I took anything I could get, and I had an absolute blast playing what I considered (and still do) the greatest game ever made. At that time the names of the people writing these adventures seemed like mystical powers to me, along with the letters “TSR” symbolizing the company they worked for. They were very much adults, professionals, and I very much wasn’t. But I was part of the stories they told, and that was an extraordinary experience.

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Image: The Ed Greenwood Group

Fast forward thirty years: I’m no longer in a small town in northwestern Connecticut, playing D&D with my friends around a table in our dining room. I have a wife and two children of my own now, and a tenured position at a university in New York City. My “disposable income” is now used up on such exciting things as tolls and taxes and insurance policies and diapers, and parent-teacher conferences are about my children, not me. And of course, my friends have scattered—though I’ve gained many others. Game nights happen maybe twice a year, if we’re lucky and someone’s business brings them somewhere near the Big Apple.

But there are compensations, beyond the wonder of raising my own children and watching them grow to extraordinary human beings (you’re allowed to hyperbolize about your own kids; it’s part of the contract). I can travel to conferences and conventions now, and do so quite frequently as a professional author—and online is a thing now, as is Twitch, where I can play games, just like I did when I was a kid, with people weighing in on the game as we play it. And somehow, through a confluence of those circumstances, I’ve been able to meet and become friends with those mystical names: Mike Stackpole, with whom I share space in several anthologies, and Jean Rabe, who gets me involved in the Gen Con Writers’ Symposium and buys my books, and Ed Greenwood himself, who invites me to become part of his new publishing venture with which I sign a contract to publish a trilogy—after which he praises my writing, in public. I even arrange an event on my Twitch channel where Ed DMs for me and multiple bestselling authors, all geeks, all friends, with hundreds of people watching and commenting and generally having a great time.

And then it occurs to me, somewhere in the midst of Ed weaving one of his crazy stories about a tavern brawl involving a multi-eyed scorpion and multi-headed chimera, everyone planning and talking and laughing, that I’ve grown up. Somewhere along the path of college and first job and marriage and parenthood and love and loss and happiness and grief and everything else, I’ve grown up. I belong in this world now, somehow, not just reading the material of others with their magical names, but interacting and playing with and even writing for, and with, them. They respect me as an equal, not simply a fan. And it’s hard to explain why that matters quite as much as it does, not just to me now, but to the memory of the twelve-year-old kid who first saw a red dragon on the cover of a red box and wondered about the world it inhabited. But I think about the maps on my walls and the names I read on them, and I know that if I could speak to that person now, he’d understand. He’d doubt what I said, and he wouldn’t fully trust me, but he’d understand.

Even if it would take him another thirty years to grow up and get there.

About Grayshade:

For ten years the assassin Grayshade has eliminated threats to the Order of Argoth, the Just God. The Acolytes of Argoth are silent and lethal enforcers of the Order’s will within the sprawling city of Cohrelle, whose own officials must quietly bow to the Order’s authority while publicly distancing themselves from its actions.

Grayshade is the supreme executor of the Order’s edicts, its best trained and most highly respected agent. But when a mission doesn’t go as planned, Grayshade starts to question the authority and motives of his superiors, and as he investigates, he soon finds himself the target of the very Order he once served without question. Now it will take all of Grayshade’s skill, intuition, and cunning to find the answers he seeks… if he can stay alive.

“In Grayshade, we have a complex mystery that unfolds with the care of a craftsman, a rich city that envelops us in its dark streets and maze-like rooftops, and a protagonist as skilled and brutal as he is thoughtful. It’s Jason Bourne meets Assassin’s Apprentice. Fans of traditional fantasy and spy thrillers should give this book a whirl.” — Bradley P. Beaulieu, author of The Lays of Anuskaya and The Song of the Shattered Sands series

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Photo: Gregory A. Wilson

About Gregory A. Wilson:

Gregory A. Wilson is Professor of English at St. John’s University in New York City, where he teaches creative writing and fantasy fiction along with various other courses in literature. His first academic book was published by Clemson University Press in 2007; on the creative side, he has won an award for a national playwriting contest, and his first novel, a work of fantasy entitled The Third Sign, was published by Gale Cengage in the summer of 2009. His second novel, Icarus, will be published as a graphic novel by Silence in the Library Publishing in 2016, and he has just signed a three-book deal with The Ed Greenwood Group, which will be publishing his Gray Assassin Trilogy beginning with his third novel, Grayshade, in 2016. He has short stories out in various anthologies, including Time Traveled Tales from Silence in the Library, When The Villain Comes Home, edited by Ed Greenwood and Gabrielle Harbowy, and Triumph Over Tragedy, alongside authors like Robert Silverberg and Marion Zimmer Bradley, and he has had three articles published in the SFWA Bulletin.

He is a regular panelist at conferences across the country and is a member of the Gen Con Writers’ Symposium, the Origins Library, Codex, Backspace, and several other author groups on and offline. On other related fronts, he did character work and flavor text for the hit fantasy card game Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, and along with fellow speculative fiction author Brad Beaulieu is the co-host of the critically-acclaimed podcast Speculate! The Podcast for Writers, Readers and Fans, a show which discusses (and interviews the creators and illustrators of) speculative fiction of all sorts and types. He lives with his wife Clea and daughter Senavene–named at his wife’s urging for a character in The Third Sign, for which his daughter seems to have forgiven him–in Riverdale, NY.