Six Questions: Matt Forbeck

I know a lot of interesting people. Some I’ve worked with, some I’ve met while traveling the world, some just owe me money. My name may be on the website, but it seems kind of boring if I’m the only person whose voice is heard here. So I’m bringing some of my friends to the site, as time permits. I’m not a podcasty kind of guy, so I’m just keeping things simple: one guest, six questions.

Today my guest is MATT FORBECK. I turned to Matt for advice when I was just getting started out as a freelancer, and his words of wisdom helped me get to where I am today. You might know Matt from his work with TSR, Pinnacle, AEG, Wizards of the Coast, Green Ronin, Games Workshop, White Wolf, Human Head, Reaper Miniatures, or an appalling number of other companies. Prior to 2012, Matt had written over a dozen novels, including The Lost Mark trilogy of Eberron novels. In 2012 he decided to up the ante and get Kickstarter support to write twelve novels in the course of the year. But let me speak for himself…

Hi Matt! So… what’s your story?

Which one? I got lots of ’em.

Oh, you mean this crazy project I’m working on in which I’m writing a dozen novels this year? I call it 12 for ’12 (a dozen books in 2012, see?), and it’s a way for me to get a whole lot of self-published books out fast. I’m a fast writer, and I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, but I didn’t know how I could take the time out of my schedule of writing books for regular publishers to do it. Then Kickstarter came along.

Kickstarter’s a crowdfunding platform on which you can post an idea for a project and ask people to back it with pledges of cash. If you hit your minimum goal for the project, you’re off and running. I decided to break 12 for ’12 up into four trilogies to make it a bit more manageable, and I ran a Kickstarter drive for each of them. They all went way past their goals, and I’m writing the books now as fast as I can.

How do you top it in 2013? Or do you just keep going with 24 for 24?

I think I’m going to top it with something entirely different. In addition to writing novels, I also design tabletop games, create toys, work on video games, and write comics. After a year of mostly focusing on novels, I may just go back to mixing it all up again.

Or I’ll do 13 for ’13 and work my way up to 24 to ’24. That gives me a dozen years, right?

What was the inspiration for the different trilogies? Did you sit down and brainstorm them all at once, or does each one have its own history?

Each has their own history. Like most writers, I have more ideas than I can possibly tackle. I always find it funny when people ask me where I get my ideas? I wonder how come they don’t have them, or what did they do to make them stop?

Let me run through the trilogies in order.

Matt Forbeck’s Brave New World. I created a tabletop roleplaying game back in 1999 called Brave New World, which has been out of print for a while, although you can now get PDFs and even the core rulebook in print through DriveThruRPG.com. I hadn’t worked much in that world — a dystopian USA In which superheroes have been outlawed unless the works for the government — for years, with the exception of a script for a feature film that’s currently searching for funding. I wanted to get back to it and tell the stories it demanded.

Shotguns & Sorcery. This was originally a setting for the d20 RPG that I’d licensed to Mongoose Publishing back in 2001. My wife got pregnant with quadruplets in 2002, and that threw the plans for that out the window. I decided I want to return to it in novels and explore this fantasy noir setting in which the Dragon Emperor has set up a walled city that he protects from the hordes of zombies that scratch at its walls, all in exchange for his subjects’ fealty. It’s been a load of fun.

Dangerous Games. I made my living as a freelance game designer for many years, and I still go to Gen Con — the largest tabletop gaming convention in America — every August. As writers often do, I’d often wondered what would happen if things went horribly, terribly wrong there. That’s what Dangerous Games is: a trilogy of thrillers set at Gen Con, my favorite event of the year.

Monster Academy. I created the first YA series of novels for Dungeons & Dragons back in 2004 or so. As that wound down Wizards asked me to pitch them some ideas for new series. I came up with this one about a reform school for young monsters based in the center of a kingdom in which good has triumphed over evil. I decided to keep it for myself and pitch it around to other publishers, but I never got around to actually writing any of the books. Now I finally get to do that.

You’ve written in many, many shared universes. Which one was the greatest challenge for you?

The Guild Wars universe, I think. I had a wonderful time working on Guild Wars: Ghosts of Ascalon, but when I was writing it, the game wasn’t even close to finished. Things seemed to change on a daily basis. I’ve often said it wasn’t like trying to hit a moving target so much as an exploding target.

Fortunately, my pal Jeff Grubb was one of the main lore creators at ArenaNet, which develops the Guild Wars games. They brought him in as a co-author to help with the details I didn’t have a prayer of getting right, and it’s a much better book for all his efforts.

You’ve managed multiple successful Kickstarter campaigns. What challenges have you faced? Do you have any advice for people who want to dive into the Kickstarter pond?

The real trick is guessing how much you can line up in the way of pledges before you start. This helps define everything about the drive, from the kinds of rewards you can offer to your stretch goals to the length of the drive. It’s almost impossible to get exactly right, but some basic research and comparisons with other projects in the same category that are similar to yours can shed a lot of light.

As for advice, I have metric tons of it, and I get asked to share it all the time. I’m happy to do so, but I could hold forth about it for several chapters of a book. In fact, the final stretch goal for my last 12 for ’12 drive was to get me to write such a book about writing those books and running the Kickstarter, so look for that in 2013, after I’m done with the novels.

Finally, given the season… what are you thankful for?

I have a lot to be thankful for, not least of which is the fact I get to entertain people for a living, but in the end I always come back to my wife and kids. Ann and I struggled for years to have kids at all, and when they came, they were a bit more challenging than we could have expected — especially since four of them arrived at the same time as quadruplets.

Even in the hardest moments, though, I focused on the fact of how lucky we were to have them at all. While raising them has been the greatest challenge in my life, it’s also been by far the most rewarding and has given me a sense of purpose that nothing else ever has. I’m more thankful for that than I could ever express in words, so I spend a good part of my day trying to show them that instead.

Now look. I’ve gone and got something in my eye.

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