Posted on May 6, 2016 by Aeryn Rudel
One of things people ask me on a fairly regular basis, more so lately, is how did you get started with writing and editing, and how did it end up being your “job?” Well, my career trajectory has been kind of all over the damn place, and there really isn’t a straight line between Point A (non-writer) to Point B (writer). So, I’ll try and sum it up here. Despite the title of this post (which is most definitely tongue firmly lodged in cheek), I am NOT trying to tell you I’m some kind of hot-shit famous writer, because I certainly am not that.
Okay, here goes. (FYI, this is gonna be long, and it’ll really test your endurance for my particular brand of “wit.”)
Let’s get the cliché stuff out of the way first. Yes, I’ve always wanted to write, ever since I was a wee lad. My first memories of trying to write are from when I was five or six. I would grab these big reference books on marine biology or dinosaurs (my two favorite subjects at the time), open them up to a random page, and then start copying the text onto a piece of notebook paper. I’d usually get a couple of paragraphs done in my huge, shaky five-year-old handwriting, not having clue one what the fuck I was actually writing, then run off to display my authorial prowess to my mother. Mom did not think she had a marine paleontological prodigy on her hands, but she did get what I was doing, and encouraged my interest in writing from early on.
Okay, jumping forward a lot. I started dabbling with poetry in my teens, writing angsty rhyming verse about dragons and demons and vampires throughout my junior and senior years in high school. This evolved into something a bit more marketable (i.e., not total shit) in a few years, and I sent out my first poetry submissions in my early twenties. I promptly collected my first rejections letters, but I kept at it, and I eventually got some of my poems published in a few zines here and there. Sadly, those publications are lost to history—I lost my contributor copies and every single magazine that published me folded a long time ago. I know that kinda sounds like, “Yeah, I totally published all the poems in magazine, but they’re all in Canada, and you probably haven’t heard of them.” Sorry.
The poetry muse left me in my mid-twenties—I still don’t now why—and I really didn’t start writing again until I was nearly thirty. I started writing again because I had become enamored of the newest edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game (3E for my fellow gamers out there). The new rules set allowed for a lot of customization, and better yet, the publisher of D&D, Wizards of the Coast, had created something called the Open Gaming License. I won’t bore you with the details, but the OGL basically allowed third-party publishers (and individuals) to create and sell material for the game.
Anyway, I really liked making monsters, and I especially liked taking existing monsters and making them unique in some way (again, for my fellow nerds, I was really into the templates that 3E introduced). I started adding little stories to my monstrous creations and then posting the whole thing on the forums of a popular D&D website called EN World. This eventually grew into full blown short stories and even novel-length creations, and I gained a bit of a following there.
Turns out, it wasn’t just fellow gamers reading my stuff on the EN World forums; a couple of publishers had taken an interest in my stuff too. These publishers included Skeleton Key Games and Goodman Games. I was offered some writing and editing gigs, working on various D&D-related projects. That started my career as a freelance game designer/editor/writer in the tabletop gaming industry, and I did that for a couple of years. My biggest publications during that time were with Wizards of the Coast in Dragon and Dungeon magazines, and it was pretty damn cool (and kind of a dream of mine) to get published by the folks that created the “official” version of the Dungeons & Dragons game.
Eventually, I parlayed my freelance gigs into a fulltime writing and editing position with Goodman Games, a company I’d done a lot of freelance work for. While with Goodman Games, my duties included running an in-house gaming magazine called Level Up, where I learned a lot of valuable skills. As luck would have it, my experience with Level Up prepared me for the next big step in my career.
In early 2009, I was laid off from Goodman Games as a fulltime employee (the RPG market had taken a real nosedive at that point), and I went back to freelance writing and editing. Those were lean times, let me tell you, and sometimes I wonder how the hell I survived. But one of the great things about the tabletop gaming industry is that it’s close-knit, and if you have some skill and experience and conduct yourself like something resembling a professional, one of your pro friends might think of you when a job opens up somewhere.
In early 2010, I got a call from Ed Bourelle, a guy I’d worked with off and on for years, and we’d grown pretty chummy. The year before he’d taken a position with Privateer Press, a tabletop miniature company that produced the award-winning games WARMACHINE and HORDES. Turns out, they had an in-house magazine called No Quarter that was in need of an editor-in-chief. Ed knew I’d done a similar gig with Goodman Games, although on a smaller scale.
Ed asked me if a) I would be interested in the position, and b) could I come out to Seattle to interview. I think my answer to both questions was something like “Are you fucking kidding?! Please, say you’re not kidding.” The wife and I were living in my home town of Modesto at the time, and we were not exactly loving it. The prospect of an exciting new job in an exciting new city was just what the doctor ordered. Anyway, I flew out to Seattle, interviewed, and was offered the position, which I immediately accepted.
I served as the editor-in-chief for No Quarter magazine for three years, and I learned A LOT about editing and writing from the fantastic editors and writers at Privateer Press, folks like Darla Kennerud, Douglas Seacat, and Privateer Press owner and CCO Matt Wilson. That was a cool fucking job. Running a magazine is challenging, but it is never, ever boring. Every issue brings new obstacles to overcome and new accomplishments to achieve. You learn to think outside the box and get things done FAST. The Deadline is your unforgiving deity, and you must do all in your power to appease this hungry god.
In 2013, I became the publications manager for Privateer Press’ new fiction imprint, Skull Island eXpeditions, serving in a capacity that combined managing editor and acquisitions editor. Heading up Skull Island eXpeditions was a fantastic experience, and I had the amazing opportunity to work with some of the fantastic writers, as well as hone my own editorial skills.
Throughout my time at Privateer Press, I was writing a lot. I contributed fiction to No Quarter magazine and to the various core books for Privateer’s premier miniatures games WARMACHINE and HORDES. In addition, I was working hard on my own stuff, writing and submitting short stories to various horror and fantasy magazines. As much as I loved working at Privateer Press and running Skull Island eXpeditions, I really wanted to make writing my full time gig, so, in 2015, I took my shot and resigned from Privateer Press. Of course, my relationship with Privateer Press and owner/chief creative officer Matt Wilson didn’t end there. Privateer Press signed me to write a bunch of novels for them in their Iron Kingdoms universe, a setting with which I had become intimately familiar over the last five years. To say I was thrilled for that opportunity is the understatement of the century, and I’m super excited about the release of my first novel Acts of War: Flashpoint in June.
So, that takes me up to the present. Writing is now my fulltime occupation, and I’m working on novels for Privateer Press, writing horror short stories to submit to the many online zines and even a few print magazines, and I still do the occasional RPG and gaming project. If you’d like to see some of the stuff I’ve written over the years, there’s a fairly complete list of my writing and editorial credits on this blog.
There you have it, a stumbling, fumbling, meandering, sometimes ass-backwards path to the glories of writing for a living. Maybe you’ll find something of use here, but please note, I sure as shit don’t mean this to be a roadmap to a career in writing.
If you’d like to share your own tales of wonder and woe in the writing world, have at it. I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
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Thanks for sharing. Congratulations on your success. I’m sure there will be much more to come.
Interesting how many of us can step away from writing, sometimes for years at a time, but something eventually draws us back.
I wrote a short story when I was in the 8th grade, showed it to my mother, and told her I was going to be a writer. Contributed to my junior high school and high school literary magazines. Wrote for and later edited my high school newspaper. Wrote for an underground newspaper while in high school. With my best friend published a science fiction fanzine and contributed to other fanzines. For many years worked as a typographer, bouncing back and forth between printing companies and publishing companies, where I learned the ins-and-outs of book and magazine production. Made my first pro fiction sale as a teenager, but it took many years before sales began to outpace rejections. After a job loss in April 2003, became a full-time freelancer and now support myself writing short fiction, advertising copy, and public relations material, as well as editing non-fiction for two regional publications and picking up various one-shot editing gigs.
Great stuff, Aeryn. What a fight, man. You’ve done well for yourself.