Interview with Steven Schend
By Kimberly Moser <Chittlin@aol.com>
Steven, you are known to many Realms fans as a Senior Designer for the Forgotten Realms Campaign world. You are well-respected as an open-minded and communicable fellow on the lists. Certainly you weren't born this way, so, tell us who is the man behind the designer?
Well, that's Dale Donovan, whose desk sets about 12 feet behind my chair in our collective cubicle.
Oh, wait. Sorry.
Gosh, these questions make me nervous, simply because I'm naturally a very shy person. I can be gregarious at a convention, but that is about work, so I'm not revealing much about myself there. This is a question better put to others about me, but as I can't get a ghostwriter on this, here goes.
Rather than bore y'all with the details, here's the mini-memoir. I was born 32 years ago in Madison Wisconsin, and I'm a Midwesterner by heart and nature. I lived in Wisconsin for 26 of those years, Michigan for 4, and the last 2 in Washington. I'm single, and I'm enjoying life more now than I have for years. The most important things in the world to me are my family, relatives extending from California to Massachusetts, and my friends, the families we build for ourselves. In my opinion, the most important things one can give to and ask of a friend are loyalty and honesty. All else is secondary or less so.
Obviously, I'm a big reader, and bookstores of any stripe have a pull on me that I regret only when I get the credit card bills. I think that abridged books are an abomination, and that novelizations of movies based on novels are even worse. I enjoy museums and libraries, especially when there's that tiny hint of mildew and dust to let you know that the knowledge has been waiting just a little too long for someone to discover it.
I'm a huge comic book fan, having been a fan since 1975 (and been reading the Legion of Super Heroes non-stop since then). Some fans (and colleagues) point out where I've slipped in comic book references into the Realms and other work, while I profess that it's rarely intentional. I may be gilding the lily here a tad, but I believe I'm a better writer because of them. What comics have given me is a more visual sense of telling stories and a more dynamic approach to character development. If nothing else, they've shown me and others how to modernize or adjust heroic archetypes to make them more accessible to our modern audiences. My favorite creators among comics pros are Jack Kirby, Gardner Fox, John Broome, Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson, Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan & Tom Palmer (Tomb of Dracula could serve as a great campaign for any AD&D game), Chris Claremont & John Byrne (though a bit less so as individual creators), George Perez, Roger Stern, Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, and Alan Moore.
A few more random vignettes and then on to the next question. I love sports only if I can attend a game in person (and then, I'm a fan of college hockey and football). I love movies of a wide variety, but I'm unforgiving if the writing is poor or the direction haphazard. Depending on my moods, I've been described as pragmatic or cynical. My favorite word is passion. Nothing irritates me more than politics of any kind. I'd love to try my hand at sculpture or painting, though my hands shake slightly and I've not the patience for such pursuits. Favorite color is green, lucky number is 7, and while I don't put that much stock in astrology, I was born under the sign of Taurus.
That a haphazard enough answer to give y'all a peek inside my horribly disorganized and chaotic brain?
Obviously your work requires a deep, abiding passion and a belief in what you are doing. How did you become interested in fantasy gaming and how did this interest evolve into your career?
My mother used to read to me when I was much younger, and one of my favorite books was L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I swear I must have made her read it to me at least ten times before I was five. That was my introduction to fantasy, and it's kept its hooks in me since then. I think my mother got so sick of it that she taught me how to read using that book so she wouldn't have to read it again. I read Baum's other Oz books, C.S. Lewis' Narnia books, Lloyd Alexander's Black Cauldron and all that, but my favorites became (and remain, at least nostalgically) Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan books and the Barsoom books with John Carter of Mars. Later on (both before and during my gaming years), I found books like Martin Caidin's Cyborg series (which most folks saw only as "The Six Million Dollar Man" on TV), Tolkien's Middle Earth books, and Katherine Kurtz's Deryni books.
Since the age of seven, I've been a huge fan of monster movies, good or ill (and most of them to the latter). While my tastes have matured and I do look for more writing and better plots, I'm still a sucker for a good ol' monster movies. By this, I mean I'll nostalgically watch and love all the old Universal, Hammer, or Toho films. I still think the new Godzilla film stunk on ice, especially when compared to some modern good films such as Fright Night, Scream, and the original Alien. I'm SO looking forward to the Blair Witch Project right now, as it looks like it can deliver what I want out of a scary movie.
Like many other children of the `70s, STAR WARS made indelible imprints upon my 10-year-old mind. No other movie has made quite as much an impact on me since then, though The Big Chill comes close for reasons I'm not going to elaborate publicly.
With all this fantasy in my background, it was only natural that seeing Dave Sutherland's box art grabbed my attention just before my 14th birthday. That red dragon looming atop its treasure hoard and facing a knight and a wizard just looked so cool that I had to have it. Got that box and some modules (G1 and G2, as memory serves) for my birthday, and then promptly read the rules four times and then put them on the shelf. While I have been a fan of D&D since 1981, I really didn't start playing until I found a gaming group in my sophomore year in high school in 1983. Many of our original player characters and non-player characters have since been co-opted by myself and placed into the Realms. Of my characters, my first and best character - Gamalon Idogyr the wizard - has been placed in the Realms since my first published work; like Elminster for Ed, I used Gamalon as a mouthpiece for a SPELLJAMMER article I wrote for the July 1990 DRAGON, and since then, he's become more cemented into the Realms with Lands of Intrigue. Other former campaign characters in the Realms now are Nura D'agor and the entire Emerald Brotherhood (in Realmspace), most of which were PCs of my friends David Gehring and Alan Holverson.
I gave up gaming for a while, believing I wouldn't have time, or I wouldn't find a group to play with, or a million other reasons while in college. Well, slowly but surely, I kept wandering into a game store in Madison, Wisconsin to look at the original FORGOTTEN REALMS Campaign Set ... but I never quite made it to the counter with my money. I'd bought a few boxes in the past that promised me a complete world for gaming, and I'd been disappointed after opening them. So I waited, and my skepticism kept me from enjoying the Realms until I saw FR1 Waterdeep and the North. It intrigued me, so I thought, "I'll try this supplement, and if I like what I see, I'll pick up the main set and start up a game." Well, I began reading, and ... well, I was lost to the world for too many hours (as I found out on an exam the next day). Needless to say, Waterdeep swept me off my feet, I bought the boxed set, and was blown away by the Realms put together by these two guys named Ed Greenwood and Jeff Grubb. I was back into gaming for good! [paraphrased from my introduction in City of Splendors where I first told this story]
I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1989 with a degree in Secondary Education of English, and then promptly couldn't get a job as an English teacher. After spending five months of interviews or sending out four resumes daily to various job prospects and publishing houses, I sent resumes to Roger Moore and Karen Boomgarden at TSR, mostly on a whim which allowed me to rewrite my resume more creatively. I never expected to hear from them, although Roger called me about 10 days later and set up an interview for an assistant editor's job at DRAGON. While that job ultimately went to Dale Donovan, the interview was my first exposure to TSR headquarters. After some of the stark office settings I'd seen on other interviews, this place was different and more welcome immediately - Roger had the Jolly Roger pirates' flag hanging outside his office.
I went back two weeks later to interview with James Ward, head of the Games Division, Roger having sent along a kind word or two. I landed an editor's job two months later when the budget opened up for new hires. My first day at TSR was February 5, 1990, and the first thing to land on my desk, other than reference materials, were galleys for the FORGOTTEN REALMS Adventure's hardbound. I was in the Realms from the get-go. In the next five years, I worked on nearly every line TSR had, from SPELLJAMMER and GANGBUSTERS to TOP SECRET S.I. and the Known World that would later become MYSTARA. My longest tenure with a game line other than the Realms was with MYSTARA and MARVEL SUPER HEROES, of which I'm still quite proud of the work I did therein, including the compilation of the D&D Cyclopedia and my first design on the Avengers Archives.
In 1994, I became a full-time designer after switch-hitting as a designer and editor for the previous two years. Since then, I've been working in the Realms almost full time, with occasional forays into other worlds and lines. In all this time in writing and editing and working on fantasy games, the one thing that remains constant for me is the need for the products and the ideas to make me get that faraway feeling, that sense of awe and wonderment. THAT, to me, is the driving force for why I do what I do - I want someone else out there to read what we've done and say "Wow!" and let the dreams come alive for him or her.
As a designer you are required to walk many paths, most of them razor thin. How do you juggle the requirements of the editorial staff, the wants of the gamer, the needs of the company, and your own vision? Are the compromises difficult to come by or are there similarities that make your job just a bit easier?
This might be a more difficult question if I actually separated out these requirements whenever I was working on a project. As it is, my entire professional career has been spent at TSR and thus the only way I know how to do a project is how TSR trained me. Thus, I rarely think about a project in such concrete terms. I'll give you my opinions on each step, even though they're rarely individual steps of the creative process for me.
As I've been an editor in the past, I know what the job entails and what I disliked when I would get incomplete or poor design turnovers. I try to avoid ever doing to my editors what I'd seen in the past, and aside from my unfortunate habit of overwriting, I think I've avoided those pitfalls (though you'd have to ask my editors to be certain). If by requirements you're meaning word counts and such, that's still a problem for me, as I like to write until the idea is spent, and then trim things back to fit. Such trimmings often end up in files and get placed in later products whenever possible. Some materials that never saw print in Lands of Intrigue have gone into Empires of the Shining Sea and other future products.
The wants of the gamer I address first and foremost when we're in product planning and pitching mode each year. We sit down and hash out potential products for the next year, and I find myself unconsciously playing devil's advocate. After we toss around ideas and possible formats, I always ask myself "Would I as a consumer be willing to pay $X for this product?" Anytime I find myself saying no, I try and find ways to make each product useful and attractive to every gamer. This is the most important test of a product in its initial stages, and where I'm most conscious of what the gaming consumer finds important.
In terms of each individual project I write and addressing the wants of the gamer, I can't be totally swayed by any one source of opinions, as what I produce has to suit the widest range of tastes and needs. I ask the mailing lists leading questions at times, to see the reactions and the opinions. We ask our fans at GenCon their opinions on product ideas and solicit feedback on product releases. I take all of these opinions and comments into account when planning and brainstorming, as well as opinions from fellow designers, editors, and the product team. However, we always have to temper the opinions with the fact that we have a far wider audience than we can reach and talk to and we have to attend to what they want and need. I realize that no product can please everyone at all times, but many of the decisions I make in a product I make on gut instinct and trust that what I'm writing has the most applicability and usability for the widest number of fans. Like movies, we shoot for the widest audience and make things for AD&D fans and FR fans equally, and hope we include enough for the faithful loyalists already in love with the Realms.
In other words, my primary focus for the needs of the gamer is to make sure there's always adventure potential in all sources as well as internal logic and continuity. That's why we don't yet have a caravan supplement for the Realms. It's not enticing to the broad spectrum of D&D fans (or to the sales department) who want adventure and excitement, not trade tables and details that mean little to their warriors and wizards. It's not to say it's unimportant. It's just less attractive to the audience than a sourcebook on the Cult of the Dragon or the Twisted Rune.
The needs of the company are handled early on when we pitch concepts and products broadly for a 3-year-plan and specifically for the following year. If it's not something that sales or marketing or management can't get excited about, it doesn't happen. Many things happen or fail based on sales projections or management choices. The needs of the company are already addressed long before the design phase, although if certain designs or formats do well or poorly, the future of like products improves or fails based on sales and retailer response. As examples, many fans love the ARCANE AGE subline, but soft sales ended the products after 4 releases. Likewise, sales on the initial DUNGEON CRAWL modules were and are strong, which is why we've continued with the DC releases among the Realms' top sellers.
As for my own vision, I've never felt limited in any way while designing for the Realms. Ed and others created such a huge sandbox in which to play, there's little need or worry about going beyond the box for toys with which to play. I've sometimes felt constrained by my personal need to make things fit and work in continuity, so after I've untangled all the conundrums and made the source material consistent and logical, there's only so much room left for the pure "sense of wonder" stuff. Still, that's not so much a limit as a challenge to work in all the material of the past and still move the setting ahead toward new horizons and new adventures for all players. The most "personal vision" I've ever had in a Realms product so far is the upcoming Sea of Fallen Stars, simply because next to nothing has been done with it as yet. However, in terms of personal pride and an example of how best to balance the needs of the many to this one, my favorite and proudest achievement remains Lands of Intrigue.
It is well-known that Ed Greenwood developed the FR Setting for his home use and it was purchased by TSR as the new flagship line over a decade ago. Do you believe the line has remained true to the original while deviating enough to make it worthwhile for all? As a designer, have you maintained contact with Ed to get ideas and springboards when working on new territories for the Realms?
Has everything remained exactly as Ed might have done it or conceived of it? No, of course not. No project with as many hands in it as the Realms could remain solely focused on one person's vision. Yet, I truly believe that the Realms has remained true to itself throughout its entire publishing lifetime. Ed mentioned in his interview which specific pieces changed totally from his established Realmslore, so I won't reiterate. Be that as it may, the Realms was adopted as the official 2nd Edition AD&D world for one simple reason: Anything you want to do in AD&D can be done in the Realms. If you can conceive of any type of fantasy, you can find it in the Realms.
The Realms, as Ed dreamt it, was and is a great canvas of classic fantasy ideas, and whenever another type or style or mood of fantasy was needed, it was found somewhere on the map or off in hidden lands. While Ed's Calimshan and Endless Waste might have differed from what has been printed, the spirit has remained constant, as he created a world with enough skeleton to support more than a dozen designers' and authors' individual visions. What's under the Inner Sea is almost wholly my creation, and what the Moonshaes became are pure Doug Niles. Elaine Cunningham can lay claim to much elven lore and Evereska, while Jeff Grubb's vision of the halflings still lurks, awaiting its time in the sun. The lands of the Underdark are a patchwork vision from Ed, Bob Salvatore, Eric Boyd, and other designers, while Anauroch comes fully grown from Ed's head alone. All of us have found a home and a place of creativity in the Realms, and I'd say that every single one of us who have left some stamp on the Realms, no matter how large or small, found the experience worthwhile and fun.
One great thing I can say about the Realms is that it is a seamless patchwork. Despite its creation by dozens of hands, it's hard to find the patches and the stitches that mark something as not originally there. The Realms is one grand place that's far more than just a game world, and that's been true since Day One.
As for contact with Ed, yes, I remain in almost constant phone contact with him every few weeks, if not moreso. He's among the most important people to consult for anything Realmsian, and it's always fun to find out minutia and obscura about the Realms past. While I first started working with Ed on Ruins of Undermountain way back in late 1990, it was a strictly professional relationship that quickly became friendship. Anyone who's ever met this ebullient, irrepressible, and thoroughly happy man cannot help but embrace him as a friend. I have immense respect for Ed (and Jeff Grubb) and the first step in nearly any FR design or planning I do is sit down and chat with Mr. Greenwood for a few hours, picking his brain for what has come before and his thoughts on whatever topic is at hand. Of course, becoming friends over the years, the chats degenerate into as much silliness as business, but y'all don't need to know all the naughty limericks Ed creates for Storm ... or about the specifics of noble parties in Waterdeep. Suffice it to say, due to certain publishing standards that allow us to sell products to minors, we can never fully reveal Ed's true Realms in a publication no matter how much the characters like to reveal themselves. ;)
We've all seen this happen, a product is released and there is a wave of praise and a wave of criticism. What type of feedback helps you most in the creation of the next product and what would be the most effective way for us to present the feedback to you?
To be honest, criticism and praise are equally helpful and harmful to me as a designer. I enjoy any feedback whatsoever from our readers, whether I had a hand in a project or not. That's why I lurk on far more mailing lists and message boards than folks might think. However, the way you present the feedback has a greater impact only if it goes beyond "I loved it!" or "This sucks!"
In order for your feedback to be most useful and effective, give us both your reactions and why you had those reactions. It doesn't help us to know you didn't like a product if we don't find out specifically what you didn't like. Equally important are to tell us if the product met your expectations based on advertising, cover copy or other things. I've seen people slam products because they expected something totally counter to anything ever promised or said about them. If you like something, tell us what you liked and why. Did you like Fall of Myth Drannor for the details on the war and the magical items, or did you dislike it because you expected a more standard adventure set during the Fall with only a little background?
I've received feedback on lots of products, though the ones most fraught with emotion were comments on Hellgate Keep and Fall of Myth Drannor. The best compliments I've every received as a writer came from Fall, which apparently made a few folks weep over the tragedy of it all. The fact that what I saw as a dry accounting of a war touched people that deeply totally surprised and honored me as a writer (though I do apologize to those truly bothered by the tragic events). However, other than the tragedy and the ruination of what I'd built with Cormanthyr, far fewer folks could give me much critical feedback as to what made it good or bad (other than it not being the adventure that was advertised).
By far, however, the best critical feedback I've ever received during my 9+ years at TSR came from Lyndon Baugh after the release of Lands of Intrigue. His 12+ reviews he posted to the FR mailing list let me peer over his shoulder as he read through the entire product, showing me what he thought about each section, what he liked or not, and how he planned to use the section/product in his campaign. That, by far, told me more about my blind sides as a designer than any other review or commentary.
While I don't think it's necessary to go to such lengths to review products for good feedback, realize that we can't read your minds, and we don't know you personally, so spell things out for good or ill. If something doesn't fit your campaign and game style, tell us that and what you'd like to see in the future to prevent such a problem (i.e. more magical items, less spells, more mini-adventures and hooks, less role-playing info, etc.). If there's a scene that's tired and overdone in an adventure, call us on it and suggest new ways to do some old tricks. If a product made you look at a situation or an adventure or a setting in a new way, we'd love to hear it (especially since I've been trying to make the history more consistent for years and I don't know if the effort's paying off).
In short, tell us what you're feeling about a product and then tell us why you feel that way and what we can do to either avoid or repeat such an experience.
Forget you are a designer for TSR/WotC for a moment. As a gamer, what would you like to see develop in the Realms? What do you like and dislike about the setting?
This is different - a reversal of the "If I wrote games for TSR" seminar at GenCon, hm? Well, even though I haven't gamed in the Realms other than one short Cormyr campaign since 1989, it's a piece of cake to blither about what I "could've" or "should've" done if the Realms were exclusively my own game world.
Off the top of my head, I'd develop some smaller areas, as the Realms has the difficulty of scope. I need a Village of Hommlett and a place to call home (and a place where my guys can be local heroes). I've been thinking about that for a while, and it's most often handled by generic AD&D modules that we've assumed can be easily fit into the Realms.
I'd map out and expand all the activities of various power groups (good and evil alike) and see where and when the PCs (or the NPCs themselves) trip over each other. It's especially chaotic in my games as everyone's got a political agenda and the good guys are almost as ruthless as the bad guys. However, as the PCs only know one small sector and/or group at a time, the focus remains small even though the planning would be quite broad.
As a writer, I'd love to have all the scattered segments of the world come together into one cohesive whole, in other words, let's look at Kara-Tur and Zakhara and Maztica with the same importance that we've given Faern. I'd love a unified and coherent world, both historically and sociologically.
Oh, and I'd pit the churches against each other in many places. The faithful of Talos go up against Umberlee's priests , as her worship skyrockets after the Threat from the Sea in 1369, upsetting the power balance that Talos needs to keep her subordinate to him and equal to Malar and other destroyer powers. Oh, for reasons I can't go into now, the rivalry explodes between Iyachtu Xvim's church and that of Cyric the Trickster, leading to much blood-letting across the Realms. Last of all things religious, Mulhorand's gods move one step closer to joining the Faerunian pantheon as their armies march across the eastern and western Inner Sea lands ...
One last thing. While I would have the Chosen and other major NPCs up to major things in the background, the PCs get little to no knowledge of them or their actions, aside from those activities that become events and rumors from far-away lands. In my opinion and attitude, the nine Chosen of Mystra and other major good guys are responsible for such great feats and tasks that their activities ensure that the sun rises the next day or that the Nine Hells don't spill over onto Impiltur. The PCs and other local heroes are there to protect their friends, their towns and cities, and to deal with threats and dangers at the more mortal level up to and including preventing flights of dragons. Once PCs become major political figures in their own right, then they rub shoulders with King Azoun, Elminster and others. It's then they find themselves at the bottom rung of a whole new ladder. It's not that "they're the heroes and you're not" but rather "each to her own abilities." They've all been at it for decades if not centuries, and your heroes have to go through the learning curve just like they did. When it comes to the point that PCs can save the world without Elminster's help, he'll happily sigh, put his feet up, and think of retirement (And officially speaking, the only reason we highlight them in products at all is to show you what major and minor things are afoot, not to belittle PCs. If they can handle what we've attributed to the Chosen, let them do it and they'll be more than happy to pass the torch.)
PS: None of this should be construed as things that are actually happening in the Realms canon. Honestly. It's just how I view a pantheonic culture with opposing viewpoints and no apparent lack of zealots. There's no way much of these ideas could be done in the Realms and keep it stable enough to be a sellable product line, but you did ask what I'd want or do as a gamer in the Realms.
As for likes and dislikes about the setting, here goes (though this list can never be complete, as I can find millions of things to love about the Realms). Its strengths are in its versatility and scope, as the Realms allows any and all types and moods of fantasy and they fit. Its richness and depth are omnipresent. As we often present it to novice managers, "Turn over any rock in Faerun and you'll find a story." Unlike other game worlds, there is no one story to the Realms. It's the world of a thousand stories and one epic among them is yours (DMs and players alike).
Among my only dislikes are the fact that there's never enough room to explore things as fully as we all might like. The world is so broad and enormous, and we've never fully explored it as a coherent world, only pieces of it at any given time. I've worked with this world for nearly 10 years, and I'm still wrestling with its timelines, its characters, and its many settings and sites. While I don't wish it any smaller or less detailed, I just wish I had the time to pull it all together - an impossible dream in anything less than 2,000 pages. Still, I keep hoping and plugging away.
You have been an enormous help to many individual gamers and projects over the years. What in your opinion makes a successful project? Is there any advice you can share with those who desire to do what you do? Any pitfalls to avoid, or goals to strive for?
Hmmm. Interesting questions, Kim. A successful project, to me, is any body of work done on time to planned specifications that meets or exceeds any expectations placed upon it. A successful product is more elusive, as there are so many ways in which success can be measured. I've had products that I've poured my heart into and they've not sold for one reason or other. I've seen other things sell like hotcakes and wonder why no one saw the flaws I saw in it. (and for that matter, how exactly do hotcakes sell, anyway?) Still, since you asked my opinion, I'll just talk about what makes something a success for me.
For me, the most successful projects are those in which everyone involved has given their all and the completed package is far greater than the sum of its parts. For me, City of Splendors, Faiths & Avatars, and Lands of Intrigue (and certainly not limited to these.) really exemplify that, as numerous folks put their individual stamps and hard work on these products and all the work came together for great results. While I might be the guy who puts the words on paper, I'll be the first to praise my editors to the heavens for making what I'd scribbled down at 3 a.m. readable before it went out to the printers. And let's not forget the typesetters, graphics folks who deliver the art and maps, and our great cover artists. All of us working together make the product, and no matter how strong one person's vision, it takes a team to make it reality.
As for advice, the best advice I can give people on finding a job like I've got is this: Study and plan on something else you'd be willing to do for a living. Game designers and editors are as scarce or moreso than astronauts. I've met a number of folks at GenCons who ask me what courses to take in college to become a game designer, and I'm always at a loss. I guess that's the long-winded way of saying "I can't suggest a course of study that will get you a game designer's job because no one set of skills is alike among us all."
Most, if not all, of us have degrees in other things or simply fell into this life, not unlike falling down the rabbit hole. What got us here was a combination of luck, skills, and timing. I was hired as an editor from an unsolicited resume simply because I passed the test and they needed people at the time. I work alongside former teachers, former marine biologists, former engineers and mathematicians, and even an ex-FBI agent. We're an incredibly mixed bag here at WotC and while the minimum skills can be quantified as to what it takes to do the job, what matters most is what other experiences and knowledge and skills you can bring to the job. I still approach my job mentally as if I'm a teacher, even though I've not taught a classroom since 1989. I see writing a sourcebook more as an exercise in showing someone a place, its people, its history, etc. and teaching them how to look for more beyond that (i.e. learning via examples like Tethyr's Restoration, rather than directly teaching "how to construct a medieval kingdom"). The fact that I'm a writer by trade now just alters how I reach my audience, not necessarily what I try to communicate. Everyone has methods and strengths, and the variety of experience only makes things better.
If you really want to do this (writing, working in the fantasy or gaming industry) as a living, my best advice is to read. A lot. I know Ed and Eric both said this, and I'm repeating them because it's crucial.
Read fiction, so you know where cliches lie and why they're used. Read all types of genres, so you can find the common stories and plots and threads in noir, fantasy, romance, horror and even children's fiction.
Read nonfiction, especially biographies and histories, and your characters and events will have far better grounding in reality than they might if made up from whole cloth. Heck, some of the things I've done in the Realms came out of the newspapers. Whether it's real or unreal, it always has to feel real for your audience, whether you're a writer, an actor, a singer, or what have you.
All stories come from experience and myth, and many say myths rise from other long-lost experiences. The truth of it is-the more you can learn about the real world, the more you can find and learn about any and all fictional worlds.
While there's quite a bit to be said about TV and alternate media as sources of inspiration, I see them more as fine starting points to find topics of interest to study via books - The History Channel, A&E, Bravo, and Discovery are my four most frequent channels scanned, and I've gone on and studied the Great Wall of China, Kellogg and alternative medicines, various persons in history, and more because of such programming. (Oh, and then there's my guilty pleasure of watching "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," which I consider one of the best scripted shows I've ever watched in years.)
Skills and knowledge to study include (in my experience) writing, literature, drama and acting (if that appeals to you), psychology, history, education (if only to learn how people process information and how to make that easier) and sociology. Other people bring other topics and things they love into the Realms, from Elaine Cunningham and her musical background to Troy Denning and his knowledge of fight choreography and martial arts. Effectively, anything and everything can find its way into what you write and what can be in the Realms-just follow your own interests, learn how to write, and you may yet find yourself in a chair answering questions from fans of your own.
If you really love writing stories, do that on your own (or as part of your gaming experiences), and you might find yourself a chance to do it as a living somewhere. If not, it's still a thing to love and enjoy that's part of your life and you'll never lose that. After all, a certain someone studied and became a librarian for a living, but he kept on writing and adding to his fictional world, and it eventually found its way to us via DRAGON magazine and FR.
To wrap up, what can we expect the future to bring from Steven Schend?
Who knows? I certainly don't, as I've not seen where my schedule goes after GenCon. I can't remember who exactly said it, but I love a saying I ran across recently: "A planned life is a dead life." If someone had told me ten years ago when I was searching for a teaching job in the Midwest that I was going to be in Seattle writing games for a living, I'd have laughed. Thus, I'm going to wait and see where the fates take me. In that way, I'm just enjoying the ride of life.
In terms of immediate work and career, however, I'm currently doing some work in the ALTERNITY line for the STAR*DRIVE campaign setting. I'm enjoying the change of pace, though it's more of a challenge than I expected. My background is lax in terms of science fiction. Most of what I called science fiction came from Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Adam Strange, Hawkman, Star Trek, and Star Wars. Thus, it's great to stretch my writing muscles and brain into new ways of thinking and working in a more plausible and scientific way. I'll admit I'm homesick for the Realms and the easy designs of worlds with which I'm far more familiar. I've done a Realms project for release next summer with Eric Boyd and Sean Reynolds, and although we can't discuss it yet, I really think it's going to appeal to a lot of Realms and AD&D fans alike and should correct what some folks see as a "lack of bad guys" in the Realms. As for future design work, I'm hoping to be back amid the dusty tomes of Candlekeep sooner than you can say Ao, as my heart and mind are forever entwined with the world of the Realms. As always, the future always holds possibilities, just like the Realms.
Mail interviewer (Chittlin@aol.com)