Today we’ve got another Tyche Books author! And this writer, Patrick Weekes, has two awesome jobs: a day job at BioWare (a video game design company), and The Palace Job.
Unfortunately, due to some bad timing on my part, I wasn’t able to catch Weekes before he launched his first full-length book, but I’m happy to catch him now, while he’s still glowing.
This is another one of those fun interviews where I have certain expected answers for each of my questions, and the respondent surprises me every time.
Here’s a fun new addition: check out his book on the Tyche Books webpage, and while you’re there, read an excerpt!
PF: On top of being a fifth-degree Kenpo blackbelt vegetarian who practices Reiki, you write video games at BioWare (and fantasy novels at night). I’ve never met someone who writes video games, and until now, I hadn’t really given the video game story craft much thought, but I would guess the whole production entails a great level of complexity. How would you describe a normal day at BioWare?
Patrick Weekes: There’s really no such thing as a “normal day” at BioWare, which is part of why I love it. It really depends on which stage of a project we’re in. Early on, in the stage where a novelist would be outlining or researching, the team has a lot of meetings and creates a lot of documentation, so that everyone on the team is working toward the same vision. Later, while a novelist would be writing, the team is making content and iterating — everything from dialog to level art to the flow of our combats goes through different approval processes, again to make sure that everything is moving toward that same vision (you don’t want a level designer aiming for horror while the writer is aiming for an action thriller and the animation team is trying for comedy). And finally, when the novelist would be revising and doing line edits, the team is aggressively playing through the game and finding and fixing bugs.
Also, sometimes the studio declares that it’s Ice Cream Day, and we get sundaes in the afternoon. Very few people surprise me during my novel writing with free sundaes, so I have to take care of that myself.
PF: I get the sense that you get to throw a lot of your own martial arts experience into your writing. How do you translate that kind of action into narration? Do you ever have to conscript family members into choreography, in order for you to frame the action into words?
PW: For me, the hardest part isn’t putting my martial arts experience in, but leaving enough of it to the reader’s imagination. In my earlier writing — both my old trunk novels and the early drafts of The Palace Job, I always went into way too much detail about how people blocked or what hand position they were using. It ended up being very accurate, but a ten-second fight would take five minutes to read, which totally kills the flow of the action. (Also, anyone who wasn’t really into fight scenes ended up bored by those scenes.)
So now, while I absolutely choreograph my fights to a ridiculously unnecessary extent, my deal with myself — and the reader — is that what makes it to the page is only what you need to get the flow of the action. Ideally, people who think about fight choreography in detail can see something like what I’m seeing in my head, but it doesn’t take longer to read than it would take to watch in a fun action movie.
PF: I understand you have a couple of short stories out there, too! Where can we find some of your short works?
PW: I do! A few of my short stories are online at Vestal Review and Strange Horizons:
Why the Elders Bare Their Throats:
No Questions Asked
I’ve had short work in Amazing Stories and Realms of Fantasy, among other magazines, but the old back issues might be tough to find. I’ve got a few stories in anthologies that are still in print, though:
“I Am Looking For a Book” in the Shelf Life bookstore anthology:
“Unleashing the Flyers of L” in The Anthology from Hell:
PF: I take it this is your first full-length publication too, and despite the raw nerves of the upcoming launch, you’ve got to be on Cloud Nine. What’s going through your mind right now?
PW: Aside from “Eeeeeeeeeeee!”, it’s mostly alternating between basking and nervously searching for reviews. When somebody sends me a tweet telling me that they stayed up too late to finish it, I get a goofy smile.
PF: Which came first, a love for fantasy or writing video games?
PW: It was video games for me. I played really early stuff on my Commodore 64 as a kid, but I actually was more into mysteries than fantasy until I was about nine or ten, when my mom got me to switch over from the Hardy Boys books to David Eddings and The Hobbit.
PF: Tell me a little about the genesis of The Palace Job. How did you end up with such a rag-tag bunch of adventurers in this one swashbuckling tale?
PW: On one level, it was when my wife got me to start reading J.D. Robb’s In Death series — it’s a mystery series in a near-future SF setting with a strong romance plot line and characters that built throughout the series. It showed me that if a story was good, the genre didn’t matter. If I had an idea that was going to make people stay up too late to finish it, I could mash up genre distinctions if it fit the story.
As to the specifics: one night, I found myself thinking about the old fantasy idea of the prophesied hero to whom nothing bad can happen because the universe has decreed that he is literally unkillable until he gets to the final fight. Prophecies are kind of an issue for me — unless they’re really well done, they almost always strike me as lazy, a way for the author to force something to happen in a novel when it doesn’t really make sense. They also reinforce the issue that some people are just inherently better and more important to the world than others, and I think that’s a dangerous idea. “Hey, don’t worry about learning, training, or working with a team — fate has decided you get to save the world just because, and everyone else can hold your coat while you do it.”
It struck me that it might be kind of fun to play with prophecy, then, not as the main storyline, but as this minor subplot in a novel that was about something completely different. I’ve always loved heist capers, and the idea of tweaking the prophesied hero so that he was just riding along as a glorified insurance policy in what amounted to Ocean’s 11 in fantasyland sounded like a ton of fun.
PF: What (or who) really gets you up and motivated to write?
PW: That’s a fascinating question. I’m really not sure. I’ve always had too many ideas, and been too attached to sharing them with everyone, to have any trouble getting myself to write.
In the old days, I used to try to hit a given word count at a sitting, but I stopped doing that, because it resulted in me writing padded clunky scenes. Nowadays, when I write, I just try to set a goal of finishing a given scene or chapter by the end of the week, or the writing session, or whatever schedule I’m on.
PF: Have you had any advanced reviews in yet? If yes, what’s been the most exciting bit of feedback you’ve had so far?
PW: We’ve gotten some wonderful reviews, Frankly, the happiest thing for me has been hearing that I’m not the only one who wanted to see a heist caper that included a unicorn and a talking magical warhammer. I’ve also seen some nice comments on the fact that I didn’t make Loch, the hero, a white dude. I wanted to write a book with a diverse cast and a woman of color as the protagonist, and I was really worried about doing it justice.
PF: What’s been the biggest surprise for you so far, now that you have a full-length book out on the shelves?
PW: I’d have to say that having people I don’t know repeat my jokes to me online has been the most surprising experience. I put a lot of myself into the novel — most writers do — and hearing people really get that has been amazing.
PF: Is The Palace Job one of a set? Is this just the beginning for Patrick Weekes? What’s your next big challenge, and how soon can we read it?
PW: I have no idea! If enough people like it, I would absolutely love to do more novels with Loch and the crew. I’ve also got another fantasy novel that I’m shopping around — one with a more traditional fantasy tone, albeit with some tweaks, because apparently I can never just play it straight along genre lines.
Right now, though, I’m just seeing what people like. I’ve got ideas that range from “Hunh, that’s quirky” to “Good Lord Patrick, No”, and I can quite happily write any of them. That might sound odd to people who think of writing as a purely artistic endeavor, but I’m used to writing for video games, where you pitch a lot of ideas and then see which ones work within the needs of the project. Seeing what people enjoyed most in The Palace Job should give me some ideas of where to go next.