Novel Evolution Part 1: How this All Started with D&D

SatS Cover Lo-resAs I hope you know, my new novel, The Sword and the Sorcerer releases Christmas Day. (Pre-order it here!) I’ve been writing this book for 30 years, and it’s gone through several iterations. Today, I begin a four-part series on the evolution of The Sword and the Sorcerer — how it changed over the course of its history, and how it became what I think is my best novel to date.

Humble Beginnings

I am ever so slightly ashamed to admit that this book has its origins in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with D&D. I played a lot of it when I was in high school, and I wrote supplements for it in the early 2000’s when I worked in the hobby games industry.

But a game wherein the basic object is to break into the homes of “monsters”, kill them and steal their treasure without real consequence isn’t usually good source material for a story that speaks to deep human themes. Moreover, it conjures images of guys who can’t get dates sitting around drinking Mountain Dew, eating pizza, and pretending they are actually important somehow.

I played a lot of D&D, and I’ve yet to sit in on a session that fulfills the geek stereotype, but that’s hardly the point here. Tell someone you wrote a novel based on your D&D campaign, and they start looking for an escape route and praying you won’t ask them to read it.

So, yeah, I wrote a novel that had its origins in Dungeons & Dragons, but it’s not that kind of book. At least, that’s not how it ended up.

Age of Wonder

I was 14 when I played the game that would lay the foundation for The Sword and the Sorcerer. That’s another potentially embarrassing facet of the story. Tell someone you got the idea when you were a young teenager, and they think, “Oh, I know what kind of book this is.” And that’s not a good thought.

Anyway, there were four of us playing, and we’d just defeated a band of orcs in combat. My friend Gary Hagerstrom was playing a knight he had oh-so-cleverly named Sir Ly, and he decided he wanted to mess with me. After the battle, he offered my wizard some wine. It was poisoned.

To this day, I couldn’t tell you why he wanted to poison my character. I’m guessing it had to do with junior-high boys wanting to screw with each other. He no doubt thought it would be funny to mess with me by killing my character. Murder is an abstract concept 13- and 14-year-olds don’t really understand the significance of, especially in a game with a lot of violence and killing.

I missed my saving throw. My wizard died from the poison. Gary laughed.

Because I was angry, his sister’s character, a cleric, cast a reincarnation spell. My wizard came back as a dwarf, and, in the early editions of D&D, dwarfs couldn’t be wizards (a strange rule since D&D dwarfs are based on Tolkien dwarfs, which are based on Norse dwarfs, which are master, magical craftsmen). So I had my character back, but he couldn’t use magic anymore.

So I made a new character, a warrior who was the son of the wizard, I gave him a special magical sword, and his mission was to avenge his father on Sir Ly.

Then another of our friends had his character, a gnome named Elmanax, kill Sir Ly. I never got my vengeance.

Budding Novelist

Unable to get what I wanted from the game, I turned to fiction to get justice. I took a brand new Mead notebook, a Bic pen, and proceeded to write the story of Gothemus Draco’s unjust murder and the righteous revenge perpetrated by his son Calibot.

I still have it somewhere. But I don’t go looking. I don’t want to read just how bad it is. But what I remember of it is pretty horrific. Hey, I was 15 years old by then, and I had yet to develop any craft.

Many of the events of the campaign were present. Gothemus was inexplicably murdered by Sir Ly. He was reincarnated as a dwarf. Calibot got a magical sword and was sent on a mission of revenge. Elmanax killed both Sir Ly and Gothemus’s brother Zod, so Calibot took his revenge against Elmanax.

It’s awful. But, at age 15, I didn’t know that. I was proud of myself for having written an entire fantasy novel.

New Tech

It was 1983, and the personal computer was just beginning to emerge. My father, who was fairly forward-thinking about such things, saw an opportunity to teach me something.

I was a faculty brat, which meant I had access to the facilities at the college where he taught. So, using my faculty dependent ID, I spent weeks typing Calibot’s Revenge into the available Apple IIc’s and saving my work to a 5 1/4-inch floppy disk using Bank Street Writer.

I never finished transcribing the whole draft, but it was educational, and that helped make me an early adopter of the new technology — a fact that would lay the foundation for my being able to start a small press publisher in 1996, which would in turn set me up to become an independent author.

It would be several years before I came back to this early attempt at being a novelist. Over the course of the various drafts it went through, it slowly transformed into something that is actually worth reading.

But it all began with a teenaged boy deciding to mess with one of his friends.

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