This week’s installment in my author interview series brings us Rich Wulf. Rich is best known as being the long-time story scribe of Legend of the Five Rings, a collectible card game, roleplaying game, and fiction property that has been going strong since 1995. He has since passed the L5R writing duties to Shawn Carman, who might find his way into this interview series in coming months. These days Rich writes mostly for Wizards of the Coast in their Eberron series of novels. Rich’s brain is capable of containing vast quantities of encyclopedic knowledge, and be possesses a great talent for conveying it in entertaining and witty fashion.
RW: Well if the people reading this have heard about me at all, then it’s probably because of Legend of the Five Rings or Eberron.
I was the lead writer for the Legend of the Five Rings game setting for about four years, and worked for it a bit longer than that. From about 1999 to 2005 I wrote enough imaginary samurai fiction for any one person’s lifetime.
As for Eberron, I wrote the Heirs of Ash trilogy for that setting. I‘ve been told it‘s one of the best introductions to their novel series. I‘m pretty happy to hear that general review, since it was my intention to write books that, while deeply invested in the setting, didn‘t require any foreknowledge to enjoy.
TH: What is The Story of Rich? Is it a novel? A short story? A poem? A limerick?
RW: It‘s a joke that goes on too long and that nobody thinks is funny, but I don‘t care because it amuses the hell out of me.
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you know?
RW: I‘ve written stories and comics since I was six years old. Shifting gears to focus purely on writing happened slowly in the years between high school and college, as I realized that the story was what interested me more than the artwork. It actually affected my drawing style negatively, as I tended to make things very choppy and sketchy out of a desire to get on with telling the story.
TH: Do you have a stack of crap-writing stuck away somewhere? I‘m talking about stuff that helped you learn and develop your craft, but will never see the light of day. Most established writers seem to have something like this, like the five novels he or she had to write before they could get to the good one. Describe yours.
RW: D.J. Trindle, my editor for the vast majority of my L5R tenure, always told me that â€œA writer needs to write a steamer trunk full of bad fiction before he‘s ready for publication.â€ I really believe this. Too many people think that a good idea is all you need. Writing is like anything else. Talent helps, but you need to practice. You have to develop a style, develop a voice, develop pacing, figure out how to sound like other people, figure out a way to make a story immediately appealing, figure out how stop writing rambling sentences with too many commas. I’m working on that last one.
But to answer the question, yes I still have them. I have several milk crates and boxes full of old notebooks dating back to grade school. A chunk of my hard drive full of even more. I almost had a heart attack a few months ago when a large number of the older files read as corrupted. I was elated when they were finally recovered.
TH: Of course, most writers want to have a bestseller or make some sort of artistic or literary impact, but do you have an immediate close-range goal? Is there some accomplishment that you’re striving for in the near future?
RW: I would like to be in a position where I can support myself comfortably from writing. There’s always a danger that in being paid for what you love to do, you may come to resent what you used to love, and I’ve certainly danced with that a time or two. Deadlines don’t care if you‘re inspired or not. I caused a lot of stress for myself from time to time. But having been paid for what I love to do and paid for what I hate to do, the former is a great deal more fulfilling.
TH: What are some of the things that most inspire you?
RW: I get my ideas mostly from music and from other people. Most of my main characters are mosaics of people that I know or have met. If someone says or does something really odd or striking around me, chances are I‘ll work it into a story sometime.
TH: What are the most successful ways you have used to promote yourself and your work?
RW: Internet, hands down. I wouldn‘t be anywhere today without the internet. Google â€œRokugan 2000â€ â€“ all of that is from a site that my friends and I worked on years ago. I haven’t hosted any of the stories or images personally in over five years, but somehow they’re all still out there. That‘s how I started.
TH: Do you have some promotional ideas or avenues in mind that you haven’t tried yet?
RW: Yes. Working on finding more ways to get my work out where people can see it, and figuring out things as I go. Suggestions are always welcome.
TH: Have you considered podcasting your fiction, like authors such as Scott Sigler and Mur Lafferty? How do you feel about this new venue for authors to get their work out there?
RW: Not very familiar with this, but podcasting in general is intriguing to me. I’ll have to look into this.
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Have you reached that point? How do you handle the financial side of writing?
RW: I hate the idea of branding for so many reasons. It‘s one of those marketing buzzwords whose definition seems to change depending on what the person talking wants you to think. However, some sort of public identity is definitely important. I am definitely not to the point where I‘m a recognized brand name, except maybe to a very small and select audience. I‘d like to reach that point, because it‘d make it easier to pick and choose what I work on. Theoretically.
TH: Do you have goals or a timeline toward setting yourself up as full-time fiction writer, or are you hoping that the work will just come your way in more and better quality?
RW: Just working at it bit by bit and hoping things gradually improve. It’s the only way I know how to do it, and it seems to be working so far.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
RW: I‘m currently working on another novel set in the Eberron world. I’d like to do more work for Wizards of the Coast, as Eberron is a great deal of fun and the people I’ve dealt with there are very friendly and professional. We‘ll see what happens!
On a personal level, I‘m working out a way to put a large amount of my unpublished fiction online. Most of it is stuff that nobody has heard of before (steamer trunk) but there are a couple things here that I’ve kept under my hat that are recognizable. Some of the older L5R fans might be excited to see what I’ve been messing around with in my spare time.
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your writing life?
RW: The first time I stood up before a crowd at a convention and read the story results of a Legend of the Five Rings tournament. I‘m a very shy person, so it was an extremely difficult thing for me. One of the players hugged me after it was done, which was kind of a shock, but it was that sort of close-knit community.
TH: Presumably all of your novels to date have been work-for-hire projects for Wizards of the Coast, set in worlds of their intellectual property. Do have your own projects that you‘re currently working on, or are all your creative juices being used up on work that pays immediately?
RW: I constantly come up with stuff on my own, most of which just sits around in my computer. Back in college I was kind of notorious for making up new settings with a ton of characters/backstory and then abandoning them a week later to make up a new one.
TH: Is there anything else you would like to talk about that I haven‘t mentioned?
RW: Keep an eye out for my new Eberron book! Also I‘m hoping to be able to attend Gen Con again this year, after taking a few years off from conventions. So if anyone wants to chat, get books signed, or ask me Rokugan-related questions that I probably don‘t remember the answers to, be sure to find me and say hi.
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