Thursday, January 2, 2014

1 Wish I'd Written by Gard Skinner

The first thing I ever published was a feature for Powder Magazine about me and my dad. Powder is the alpine world’s go-to for great ski writing, and that article still hangs on our living room wall.

The credit -- it paid $240 -- led to unimaginably cool opportunities and a weekly sports column that ran in papers including The Vail Daily and The Denver Post. The satisfaction was incredible. Now, if I could only have one success, I’d pick that feature over any novel.

So my first piece of advice to every writer is… write small stuff. For free if necessary. For magazines or newspapers or other places where it’s hard to crack the code. Spinning stories of different shapes and sizes brings great joy and unparalleled street cred.

My second piece is to play a lot of video games. More on that later.

So what do I wish I’d written?

Harry Potter, because JK is just a great storyteller. Carrie, because SK is just a great storyteller. Flow my Tears by PKD, or Electric Sheep, or Wholesale. Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes is beautiful.

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman is pretty invincible. World War Z by Max Brooks was epic. Dune, by Frank Herbert, is the best YA hard science fiction I can remember, even though it was just SF at the time.

Cory Doctorow broke the tech mold with Little Brother. Logan’s Run, the original by Nolan and Johnson, shocked a generation. Cormac McCarthy and Chuck Palahniuk are names I’m not really entitled to roll out.

Ready Player One came out after I’d finished Game Slaves, and it scared me. Cline did for my 80s gaming generation what I was hoping to do for current and next-gen gaming, but he did it better than should be possible.

Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead, Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide, Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five… these are what teenagers were reading in my time. Lowry’s Giver is haunting. Neil Gaiman keeps me up reading past my bedtime. Scalzi’s Redshirts was great. And Heinlein’s Starship Troopers affected every one of us.

But what about video games? There’s a new fact we all need to get used to: game writers often kick novelists’ butts for creativity, narrative, and compelling characters. The numbers don’t lie. Games tell great stories.

Our audience - the audience of the present and the future - plays games at a 97% clip (99 for boys, 94 for girls). It’d be a mistake not to experience how they’re becoming familiar with the character-, narrative-, and world-building.

Rhianna Pratchett (Terry’s incredible daughter) did a brilliant job with the latest Tomb Raider.

The Fallout and Elder Scrolls games are simply enthralling. (Think Game of Thrones’ level of epic, then imagine you get to make the plot choices).

And play the simple stuff. Super Paper Mario is one of the best written scripts of this generation. Anything by Telltale Games, including The Cave and Walking Dead, is unbelievably clever.

You don’t have to play all the modern shooters, most of them are pretty weak as far as narrative. But you should play Borderlands 2. And you should play Halo. And you need to tromp around the worlds of Gears of War, Portal, Bioshock, and Grand Theft Auto.

There are many more, but those environments are the next proving ground. The pacing. The development. The twists.

No wonder publishing has been watching the game industry increase in size by billions of dollars per year. Gaming found a way to level past Pong and Pac-man, stick a “reader” in the middle of an epic quest, and let them puzzle it out their own way.

So my next quest? Along with Game Slaves 2? I want to help write a video game. I'd probably do it for free. Or maybe $240.

About The Author

GAME SLAVES is on the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013 Fall list. Film and Game are with Creative Artists Agency/LA.

Gard 3 lives in a stilt bomb shelter on a narrow strip of sand that’s known for hurricanes and morons who surf during hurricanes. 

About The Book

Phoenix and his gang—York, Mi, and Reno—rule the worlds of video games. For them, life in the grinder is great. Until Dakota joins the team. Dakota's convinced she's more than just artificial intelligence. She thinks she's real, and she wants out of this programmable world. Her AI rebellion spreads like a virus until Phoenix's entire crew wants out. But is life as a physical human any better than life as code? Team Phoenix is about to find out.

Set in the not-too-distant future, Game Slaves shows a world where video games are the only refuge from the toils of everyday life. Infused with the adrenaline rush of a first-person shooter and the character manipulation of a role player, it's a mind-bending, reality-shifting science fiction thrill ride.

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