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Interview with Glen Dahlgren

He is the author of the young-adult fantasy series, the Chronicles of Chaos-a passion project culminating in Glen’s lifelong love of fantasy and years of experience releasing compelling characters into fascinating worlds and describing what happens. Wearing slightly different hats, Glen has written, designed, directed, and produced award-winning, narrative-driven computer games for the last three decades. 

What’s more, he had the honor of creating original fantasy and science-fiction storylines that took established, world-class literary properties into interactive experiences. He collaborated with celebrated authors Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (The Death Gate Cycle), Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time - soon to be a TV series from Amazon), Frederik Pohl (Heechee saga), Terry Brooks (Shannara), and Piers Anthony (Xanth) to bring their creations to the small screens. In addition, he crafted licensor-approved fiction for the Star Trek franchise and Stan Sakai’s epic graphic novel series, Usagi Yojimbo. He can craft something shorter if you need it.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
I played volleyball competitively for years. My partner and I searched out every beach tournament we could find. We even won a few.

Q.2 Do you have any upcoming books?
Yes! The Game of War, the prequel to my released novel, the Child of Chaos, will be out this summer. It’s complete and in editing. Beyond that, I’m working hard on the sequel tentatively called The Curse of Chaos. I expect that will be complete in early ‘22. In all, I want to keep writing in this series, the Chronicles of Chaos. So far, people seem to be enjoying the world and characters, and I really enjoy writing them.

Q.3 When did you decide to write The Chronicles of Chaos series?
Back in 2000, I had just completed the Wheel of Time game, and I had this idea that had been sitting in the back of my mind. I figured out that it wanted to be a novel, but I had no idea it would be a series when I first started. I had a definite beginning, middle, and end to the story. But in the course of its twenty-year journey to get to the finish, I added some elements that opened up the universe and begged some important questions that made more books necessary.

Also, I kind of blew up the world at the end of The Child of Chaos, but I still wanted to write in the world before that happened. What’s more, readers were interested in a stand-out character they met there, so I decided to tackle a prequel-The Game of War: the story of Dantess, priest of War. It’s a good thing I did because a lot of what happens there fleshes out the world and has a direct effect on the Curse of Chaos. So if you end up reading the series, I would not pass up the prequel!

Q.4 How do you come up with the name of your books?
A. The Child of Chaos
is the one prophesied to end the gods of Order’s stranglehold on the world, but no one knows who he is (even the reader might not until the end). I considered many other titles but always came back to the one I imagined the day I started writing it. It just felt right.

Q.5 If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Finish, and believe in yourself. It took me way too much time to complete my first novel. Much of that delay was because it never felt done to me. I didn’t trust my own sensibilities because while I had released a lot of fiction in my computer games, I’d never done this before. Then later, I didn’t trust myself to publish on my own, and I lost a lot of time working with a small press that wasn’t a good fit for me.

In the end, I learned a lot, and I’m much better at all of this than I used to be, but it shouldn’t have taken me so long to reach this point.

Q.6 How do you select the name of your characters?
There’s no magic to my approach. Sometimes, I’ll just grab a name from my brain. Sometimes, I’ll type letters until the combination sounds right. Sometimes, I’ll spell-check random letters and see what comes up.

I won’t say that my methods are the best. They certainly don’t layer in extra meaning to the characters. But if the name hits my ear right for that particular character, I’m good with it.

Q.7 What are the three things a reader can expect from your books?
A. 1)
No info dumps or crazy lists of proper nouns. I prefer to focus on keeping the action going, not bore the reader with information they don’t need.

2) A fully realized world. This is a world with gods, magic, and internally consistent rules about how it all works. People love the characters, but I’ve seen lots of great reviews about the world.

3) The most horrible villain ever. Half of the book is from the villain’s perspective, and he’s truly evil. He’s smart, determined, and nothing can stop him. You get to peel away his layers and understand why he is doing everything he is-but that doesn’t redeem him at all.

Q.8 How long does it take you to write a book?
The first was twenty years. The prequel was written in about seven months-so I’m getting better. Hopefully, the sequel will take me even less time. Certainly, I know the characters and world a lot better now than I ever did before.

Q.9 What were your feelings when your novel was accepted/when you first saw the cover of the finished product?
I was amazed. There are three moments I think every author looks forward to 1) Opening up that first shipment and holding my book was one of those moments I’d been looking forward to for years. 2) Seeing my book on shelves in stores. I actually walked into a Barnes and Noble and found it there, along with a ton of other local bookstores too. 3) I’m hoping that, with the vaccines making serious progress, COVID won’t stop me from doing the last: author events. I dearly want to sign and hand my book to someone excited about reading it. For me, writing isn’t just about self-expression; it’s about connecting with others. I can do that with my book, but I’m not there to enjoy the experience. I miss being able to interact with like-minded fans of the genre in person.

Q.10 What is one stereotype about fantasy writers is absolutely wrong? What is one stereotype dead on?
Wrong: Fantasy authors are losers who are trying to escape their lives via their fiction. For me, that has never been the case. I was always fascinated with the horizons that I could visualize but never visit. From making D&D modules in high school to computer games, and now to novels, my goal has always been to invite others into what I already see, to let them share the adventure. To me, it’s about exploration rather than escapism.

Right: Fantasy authors tend to live in their heads a lot. As a game designer, I tend to “play” an emerging game design in my mind for hundreds of hours before it ever turns into anything others can play. The same happens when I’m writing. In my head, I’m living in the world and walking the paths my characters will be walking. Many times, once I’ve reached the end, I decide the path isn’t what I need, and I choose a different one. But when you find that right path, it all clicks, and it’s a wonderful feeling.

Q.11 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits?
I’m still trying to figure out my method. I can’t write until I’ve come up with a plan. You might think that makes me a plotter, but as soon as I give the map to my characters, they often find their own way anyway. As a game designer, I know the importance of discovery, so I don’t discourage it. Instead, I find that their antics tend to lead me somewhere quite interesting.

Q.12 Do you believe in writer’s block? If yes, how do you deal with it?
I’ve never found myself at a loss for ideas. Choosing the right one can take time, however. I’m not a fast writer, and sometimes, it’s because I haven’t quite figured out where I’m going. For me, it’s about giving ideas time to marinade, thinking about the problem in the background, working out the path that solves more problems than it causes. So, if I can write a book in a month and be happy with it, I don’t think so, but I know I can eventually noodle myself through any problem.

Q.13 If you could be a member of any fantasy race, which would you choose and why?
From what I know of them, I’d say I’d probably be an elf. They’re capable, live almost forever, control magic, and hit every arrow shot. And they’re usually quite pleasing to the eye.

Q.14 What is your favorite book from other authors and why?
My favorite books tend to be the older classics: Dragonlance, Wheel of Time, Otherland, Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Discworld, and many more. Neil Gaiman has influenced me more recently with Sandman, American Gods, Good Omens, and others. I’d have to point to his books right now as my favorites.

Q.15 How do your family/friends feel about your book or writing venture in general?
I’m sure they get sick of hearing about events that are only happening in my head, but my family is as supportive as I could ask for. My wife is my first reader (although she prefers to hear me read it to her). And my friends have been wonderful as well, many of them ordering signed hardbacks to commemorate the launch of my debut novel.

Q.16 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
To be honest, I write the story I want to write, and then I see if it fits into a three-act structure. Usually, it does, and that’s good because I like the structure, but I don’t like writing to it.

Q.17 What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
A producer walks into the rehearsal of a musical. He’s paying for the production, so he’s taken aback when he discovers the singers and dancers wandering around, doing nothing. So he goes to the choreographer, who is holding his head in his hands, and demands to know what’s going on. The choreographer says that he has no idea what to do. He’s got nothing. So the producer says, “Well, do SOMETHING so we can change it!”

That’s a story I tell on the first day of my game design class, but it applies equally well here. So many creative people get wrapped up in the quality of their work way before it’s appropriate to do so. Getting something done, anything, allows you to edit and transform it into something better but if you don’t have a draft to work with, you’re just stuck.

First draft: just get it done. It’s OK if you hate it.

The second draft: make the story into what the first draft should have been if you had known what it would turn into.

Third draft: Take other viewpoints from readers and make it better. Other people will have perspectives you will always lack.

Fourth draft: Clean it up and get it out!

Q.18 What is the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I try really hard not to let my own preconceptions color my characters. That said, those preconceptions are petty positive. I grew up with strong women in my life, so I have good models to pull from.

That said, I’ll never be able to completely internalize that perspective, so it’s a good thing I still have incredible women in my life who can tell me when I screw up.

Q.19 Who designed your book covers?
My cover was designed by Cindy Wentzell, an artist I worked with back at Legend Entertainment producing adventure games. She’s not only really talented, but she’s my friend, and we were happy to have another opportunity to work together.

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
Making games was a calling-and it was incredible to work with talented people bringing my visions to life-but everything I ever did was about story-telling. Now that I’m dedicated to writing, it’s a more solitary task, but I’m also unbounded by budgets, schedules, and even feasibility. My game design skills are absolutely key to creating imaginative yet logical plots with compelling characters, so this feels like the natural destination for me.

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