December 2, 2016

Between White Wizards and Evil Girlfriends: an interview with Jon Del Arroz, author of "Star Realms:Rescue Run"

Since being court-martialed by the Star Empire, smuggler and thief Joan Shengtu has done what she needed to do in order to survive—gaining a reputation along the way. When a new client’s mission goes sideways, Joan finds herself caught in the middle of dueling gambits between the Star Empire and the Trade Federation. Recruited to perform the heist of a lifetime, the fate of the Star Empire rests in her hands. 

On the opposite side of the galaxy, Regency BioTech manager Dario Anazao sees an unsustainable situation brewing that promises a full-scale revolution. The megacorporations of the Trade Federation have kept the population in horrible working conditions, violating their human rights. With no one else to help, Dario must take it upon himself to rescue the workers of Mars. 

Can two heroes from warring factions come together to make a difference in the galaxy? 

Star Realms: Rescue Run is the first novelization of the critically acclaimed Star Realms spaceship combat deckbuilding game. You can check out the game here:

Gef: How did your involvement with Star Realms come about?
Jon: I started playing the card game of Star Realms right after the Kickstarter copies came out in 2014. It’s been a staple of a game that I’ve played hundreds of times since then both in person and on the app. Last year I started talking with the White Wizard Games folk about my ideas for a deeper background for their world. They liked it, and we got together with a phenomenal publisher in Evil Girlfriend Media. 
Gef: Was there anything in your writing process of this book that you approached differently from previous titles?
Jon: Absolutely. I had more than a hundred different cards to look at with beautiful images of ships, bases and heroes. This helped me to envision the world more clearly in my mind and the naming conventions of the game dictated a lot for coming up with the world. White Wizard Games had to approve a lot of the ideas and background as well, so they gave input on the world building and writing process, which is usually much more of a solitary endeavor.
Gef: What's the greatest challenge when it comes to adapting an RPG/tabletop game into a novel? Is there much of a balancing act in catering to diehard fans and those unfamiliar with the game?
Jon: The way games flow, at least in a board game capacity, don’t always make sense from a narrative perspective. There’s a balance and speed that don’t quite work for stories, especially in long form version. This particular game focuses a lot on battle and mostly on ship to ship combat at that. I took a route of drilling down and focusing on characters who live in that dangerous world, and how they would act to different situations. The balancing act ended up mostly being how much slice of life do we see versus how much action. 
I think the story itself can be read and enjoyed by anyone who likes military science fiction. If you’re a player of the game, you’ll get a ton of Easter eggs that should make you happy, but the story stands very well regardless of your knowledge of Star Realms. I dropped a lot of references to some of my favorite sci-fi works as well for those coming from that perspective. That said, I highly recommend playing the game. It’s about as fun as it comes!
Gef: What's the biggest misconception of space opera from what you've heard from readers--and writers for that matter?
Jon: Most of the younger generation doesn’t seem to know the term at all and I get blank looks when I mention it. If you are talking to someone of a certain age, they seem to view Space Opera as a derogatory term, which I don’t view that way at all. I still remember being a kid and scanning through a bookshelf and finding an Elizabeth Moon book on the shelves which said: “Space Opera is back! And Elizabeth Moon writes it!” I pretty much dreamed of writing Space Opera from that point. 
I think a lot of the old stigma changed with Star Wars and Babylon 5 for the term Space Opera, but it persisted through some of the literary field. I proudly hail my work as Space Opera, though many of my more established author friends tell me I should refer to my work as Military Science Fiction. I tell them that my characters aren’t in the military so that seems like false advertising.  Naming conventions for sub-genres are tough, is what I’ve learned!
Gef: What is the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?
Jon: Writing is really tricky. I’m not certain there is such a thing as bad advice – unless that advice makes writing such a chore that it makes you stop writing, and that hasn’t happened to me. I’m very firmly of the belief that writing is a learn by doing and repetition skill, and so repeating and doing writing is what’s most important.

A lot of what works for a person won’t work for another person. Some people just write on the fly, some do a lot of prep before starting writing (I’m in that camp). My processes wouldn’t work for a lot of people and a lot of people’s wont work for me. I’ve paid for online classes which some great authors swear by that I feel like didn’t help me at all. I’ve also had some friendly critiques of my work change my process completely. I’m hesitant to call the stuff that didn’t work for me invalid or worst because it might just work for someone else and I wouldn’t want to take away that exploration of the process for someone coming up.

Writing advice I wish would go away is a different matter. There’s a list of words in a book called Self Editing for Fiction Writers which I like to seek and destroy after a couple of passes. It is excruciating to do so, so I certainly wish I would go away, but it won’t because it’s darn good advice!

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?
Jon: I love Twilight and Stephenie Meyer! I don’t feel guilty about it though. I think she’s taken a ton of undue flack because she had the nerve to get too popular. Every interview I’ve read of her she seems like such a nice, humble person.  I am certainly looking forward to her new book, The Chemist.
Gef: How intensive does the research process get for you? What little tricks have you picked up with approaching the research phase of writing?
Jon: I go pretty intensive. My current work in process has a character who has a masters degree in botany, and so I’m spending hours watching Youtube videos on plants and flowers, reading academic papers. I want to pick up some of the lingo so it comes across as authentic. Star Realms was a bit easier because I play that game so often I know the cards like the back of my hand. But we can call all of those hours I spent playing a game research now, right? Seems justified.
Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?
Jon: I mentioned my work in progress already, which I’m at about 25,000 words for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I’m not sure when that will be ready for publication. I have a few short stories out there in anthologies you can find on Amazon with a quick search for Jon Del Arroz.  I aim to spend December/January editing a novella which I’d like to release in ebook form in February 2017, along with another Space Opera novel which I wrote before Rescue Run which is going to be a lot of fun. 
I’m at:
@tbr_otomo on twitter – I do periscopes periodically talking about games and writing
And I’m a season ticket holder for the Oakland A’s. I’ll be in section 124 in the summertime.

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