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Nexus Nine Interviews

Nexus Nine Interviews: Jason Richards

Jason Richards is perhaps the most well known Freelancer working for Palladium Books today. He is the author of World Book 28: Rifts Arzno - Vampire Incursion. He is also a super contributor for Palladium, having his name credited in the Rifts Book of Magic, as well as eight different Rifters.

Nexus Nine: Jason, thanks for agreeing to do the Interview. Let's start with some background. Where are you from and what do you do?

Jason Richards: No problem. Always glad to talk about writing. I'm from Terrell, Texas, originally, but right now I call Dallas home. My day job is as a structural engineer for a firm in Dallas, where I do design work for projects all over.

N9: Does your day job give you any unique insights into the things you've written for your freelance work, or things down the pipe?

JR: Well, I think so. Engineering trains you to think in a certain way, so at least it gives me a different perspective. That, and it gives me a certain compulsion for details; I just can't write something that is half-baked... I have to really get down into the nitty-gritty. For example, for Arzno, I spent a lot of time making sure that maps were to scale, and that certain economic and population dynamics worked out for the city. These are things that most people don't notice, I guess, but I hope that add to the "realness" of a setting. It also trained me to be good at research, of which I do quite a bit.

N9: About how much research do you do for a project?

JR: It depends how often I change my mind about what I'm writing! It's hard to quantify, it, though. I spent a lot of time at map tables when working on Arzno; that was probably one of the biggest things. A lot of the research is into existing game material as well. I have a copy of Chaos Earth that is almost unreadable with all of my marks in it, all color-coded depending on what they're for: red for errors, green for notations, blue for emphasis, etc. Right now I'm deep into designing a sort of Golden Age mobile hospital for a Chaos Earth project, so I've been doing a lot of research online to see what sort of medical equipment it should have, how big the procedure rooms should be, etc.

N9: Do you tend to spend more time doing research, more time writing & revising, or is it about 50/50?

JR: For me, I probably spend more time writing and editing, just because I write and rewrite and edit and rewrite over and over again. The research tends to get done, and then stay done, with just occasional revisiting. Probably 35/65, research/writing and editing.

N9: Who or what has inspired you most to become a writer?

JR: I had some great teachers early on, and have always just enjoyed it. It's amazing to me how many people just hate to write. I think that, being the oldest kid in my family, and living outside of town so that most of the time I was on my own for entertainment, it just sparked a good imagination from an early age. Plus, my parents were always very supportive and encouraging me in my writing, and there's no substitute for that.

N9: Who are your literary role models? And what are you reading right now?

JR: I read a lot of different people, but in recent years I've been revisiting some of the classics, and in many cases reading them for the first time: The Odyssey, The Iliad, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Kipling, and others. I also love more contemporary authors, particularly Stephen Ambrose and his histories. I'm between books right now, but I've asked for The Aeneid by Virgil and a copy of Kipling's Just So Stories for Christmas, so here's hoping that I pick those up.

When it comes to my writing and who I take after, I try to just sort of pave my way. Role-playing writing is unique in that it's about 50/50 prose vs. technical writing, so it's different than writing a novel or short stories because it's almost like writing copy for a magazine, in a way; short text blocks, etc. Mostly I look at other authors and how they have spent their careers, and I look ahead and try to avoid pitfalls that many authors fall into, like getting too involved in your own literary world and not wanting to try anything new, or even to keep writing about the same characters when it's clear that you have nothing left to say.

N9: Do you practice your writing skills? Do you have any tips or tricks to help hone your craft that you can share?

JR: My biggest weakness as a writer is not practicing enough. One of my New Year's resolutions is to enter at least 6 writing contests next year in an effort to gain some more experience and variety in my writing style. But, I think that you can go a long way just in the way you correspond on a daily basis. You can practice good writing simply in the emails you type at work or at home. I also try to write something every day, even if it's just notes about the book that I'm working on or character descriptions, or whatever. I often spend the last 15 to 30 minutes before bed writing.

N9: How long have you been playing RPGs?

JR: People always ask me this, and I can never remember. I started when I was in sixth grade, probably, so that was about 14 years ago, give or take.

N9: Were you mostly a player or GM?

JR: Early on a game session consisted of myself and one other person, or maybe two other people, so we actually ran a character when we GMed. All through college and since then, I've been a GM pretty much exclusively.

N9: A game with one GM and one player: that's not a combination you hear about too often. Was it born out of necessity or design? Any tips to running a game like that you can share?

JR: Welcome to life in Terrell, Texas, my friend. A buddy of mine was introduced to TMNT by a friend who then moved away. Then my buddy got me involved and we stumbled through on our own for a couple of years, then we added another guy so there were three of us. It was actually fun. We were good friends and it's just what we did when we hung out. One of us would think up an adventure and GM for the other one, keeping our character as basically an NPC. When it was just the two of us we played a sort of munchkin hybrid of TMNT, Heroes Unlimited, and Ninjas and Superspies like this forever, plus the old D6 WEG Star Wars. As for tips, I don't know what to say. It probably stunted my growth as a role-player a little bit due to the lack of variety, but I don't lose any sleep over that. We were just hanging out and having a good time. The rest of our friends were just veging out or playing video games, so we just did our own thing.

N9: You mentioned WEG Star Wars. Do you play, or have you played, any other non-Palladium RPGs titles?

JR: D6 Star Wars is the only other pen-and-paper RPG that I have played extensively. I've tinkered around with Guardians of Order's Tri-Stat system and their Silver Age Sentinals game, but never really got into a game. I'm probably the only RPG author on the planet to have never played a single game of D&D, or any D20 game for that matter.

N9: Do you have a favorite RPG, Palladium or otherwise?

JR: I think the best game out there is Rifts Chaos Earth, but I say that with the caveat that it does need some work and support. The new printing that's at the printer right now will have some edits, but I don't know how extensive that will be. Eventually, it needs to be "Ultimized" and brought into line with the new edition of Rifts as far as the rules and such go. It is, however, the best setting that I've ever read. It's so dark and hopeless, which gives you the chance to really do some great role-playing and tell some great stories.

From a system standpoint, I think that the D6 system was great for short-run campaigns, but poor for a game spanning months and years. Palladium's system has its quirks, but it allows for good, long-term gaming and character-building.

N9: Are there any O.C.C.s or R.C.C.s that you really like, but haven't written about yet?

JR: I've got a huge treatment for the NEMA Fire and Rescue coming up for Chaos Earth that I'm really excited about, and I have some D-Bee races that I'm looking forward to developing. The upcoming D-Bees book for Rifts has some really neat stuff in it that I think everyone will love as well.

N9: Can you tell us a little about the project you are currently working on?

JR: Projects, actually. First up is a book that I think will be called "First Responders," focusing on the very first days after the Coming of the Rifts and the response by local police, fire and rescue, NEMA Roscoes (elite fire and rescue), and even common citizens. I think this will be a great book because it will provide a couple of things that Chaos Earth is missing, namely some insight into the life of the average person during the Cataclysm. Plus, it will give a sense of the desperation that hasn't been really portrayed so far, since all player characters have basically been armor-wearing, Mega-Damage-wielding exceptions to the rule. I had hoped this book would be done by Christmas, but it won't be. The end of January, hopefully.

The other book is "Brothers in Arms," focusing on the Golden Age militaries of the three NAA nations, and their response to the Coming of the Rifts. This one will be done in May. I have plans beyond that, but I'm waiting to see where these two go before moving too far forward. Obviously Psychic Storm needs to be written at some point, so if First Responders and Brothers in Arms do well, and Kevin hasn't gotten around to a book about psychics, I'll probably beg him to let me write it.

N9: What's the one PB title you want to see written, but don't want to write yourself?

JR: I would run to the store during a hurricane and break in through a window in order to get my hands on a Rifts book detailing either Chi-Town or Lazlo, but I wouldn't touch either project with a 10-foot pole.

N9: What advice can you offer to someone who wants to get published by PB?

JR: Rifter, Rifter, Rifter. Write up your best and brightest idea that you can do in less than about 20 typed pages and send it in. It would also be a bonus to have it be for something other than Rifts, since they get a lot of that. If I were to start today, I would try writing material for Beyond the Supernatural. It's a great game that doesn't get nearly enough attention. Once they scout your talent in the Rifter a few times, then write up a book proposal and send it to Kevin.

N9: I’ve got a question here from Josh Sinsapaugh: The upcoming D-Bees of North America sourcebook is in part a collaboration between multiple freelancers. Other recently published and upcoming books, such as Madhaven, Delta Blues, and even Tome Groteque, among others, are collaborations between different writers as well. What are your thoughts and opinions on projects collaborated between different authors, as opposed to those done as a solo gig?

JR: First off, I feel obligated to note that there is no evidence that this Josh Sinsapaugh person even really exists, since he refuses to show up at conventions or the Open House because I owe him a punch in the arm. Beyond that, I think that co-op projects are great, but I think you need one of a couple of arrangements. First is the most common, I think, where each person writes their own material with input and feedback from the other author(s). The second arrangement, I think would have to be a situation where it was one person's book, but that head author and overall idea guy designated tasks to other authors to write up and retained editorial control. If you have two people working on the same material at the same time, I could see that getting a little messy for a large project. Writing solo obviously has its advantages in terms of the cohesiveness of a project, but there is also nobody there to spot you and keep you accountable.

Personally, my ideal situation for writing RPGs would be to have a couple of other authors working for me on projects that I ultimately had control over. I get so ADD sometimes that some things are tough for me to get through and having someone to delegate to would be helpful. So, hear that? If anyone wants to quit their day job and be my lackey, shoot me an email. Josh Sinsapaugh, I'm looking at you!

N9: Speaking of Josh, Why is he such a hack? We understand you have bestowed upon him that nickname.

JR: "No-talent hack" is his full name, I believe. "Hack" to his friends. I actually don't know how that got started. All of the freelancers give each other a hard time. I guess my deal with Josh started when people on the Palladium message boards got the two of us confused somehow, and thought that he was writing Arzno, even though at the time he wasn't even a freelancer, I don't think. Also, his unwillingness to show his face to the rest of us at some sort of con or something probably has something to do with it.

N9: Jason, thanks again for taking the time to discuss your writing with us. One last question: What are your goals for writing in the next 5-10 years?

JR: Well, immediately I want to get these next two Chaos Earth books published, and enter a few writing contests as I mentioned before. Over the next several years beyond that, I want to publish something on a national scale that's not gaming related every year and start to grow a reputation in wider circles. As with any writer, the ultimate goal is to write a best-selling novel, so I guess that fits into that 10-year timeframe. I'm 27 now and by the time I'm 50, I want to be able to retire from engineering to write full-time. Hopefully it will happen sooner than that.

Thanks again. This was fun. Let's do it again sometime.

N9: For more information on Jason Richards and his works, or if you want to get in contact with him, visit his website at www.jasonrichards.net.

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