Deaditorial: Rising From the Grave

(How Writing The Risen Changed my Life)


Heather Grove

Writing half of The Risen for Wraith: the Oblivion was a very strange experience for me.

It was 1995, and I'd dropped out of college (MIT) just three years earlier. I was working there as a secretary and writing in my spare time. I'd gotten a real rush that summer - the first ever response I got from a magazine was an honest-to-god acceptance letter. Okay, sure, it was for a poem, and I only got paid $5, but that didn't matter to me at all!

I happened to know Richard Dansky at the time - this was before he became the developer for Wraith. He used to leave books outside my door so I could read the likes of Ligotti and Powers. To this day those loans have influenced my taste in reading material.

After he got the job as developer and moved down to Atlanta, he asked me to send him a few writing samples. I shrugged and did so. It had been a few years since I'd done any tabletop roleplaying, and at the time I didn't have a huge interest in writing games - I didn't even know what it involved, much less how to do a good job of it. But it sounded intriguing, and - why not?

Some time later Richard called. Did I want to write half of a book? I was stunned; I'm pretty sure I was speechless for a brief moment. Half a book? You're joking, right?

I was sure I didn't have the time for it, writing in the evenings around work and so forth. I also knew I could be erratic - I have bipolar disorder, and I can't always know in advance when I'm going to be too moody to get things done (particularly at that time, when I was less well-medicated than I am now).

I was sure I should say no. So of course, I said yes. But first I had to learn what on earth Wraith was. That's right, boys and girls, I had never played a White Wolf game before in my life! I'd watched one for a little while (a Vampire game that took place in my living room, that my housemate was involved in); I even played an NPC for a night. But that was about it. So I quickly crammed in some heavy-duty research.


The Wackiness That Is Writing

I worked hard on The Risen, even though I only had a half-assed idea of what I was doing. At the time I could write about 1,000 words in a full day of work, and I thought that was pretty damn good (ha!). I played songs like Oingo Boingo's "Skin" on infinite repeat to keep me in the right mood, and spread books out all over the couches (to my housemate's annoyance).

I learned about the ups and downs of working with a co-author. Elizabeth, whom I'd known for about five years, was tackling the rules crunchies, and I was more than happy to let her. Dealing with the intro story, sample characters and the like was more than enough for me!

Eventually we turned in our first draft, and Richard marked everything up with a red pen and sent it back. Never think that just because he was a friend, Richard went easy on me. I like to say that he left gaping chest wounds with his editorial chainsaw. He's one of the harshest editors I've ever had - but then, it was my first RPG-writing, so it was probably also my roughest. I'm sure it deserved it, and he was fair, and his comments definitely made me a better writer.

So I dug in and did everything he suggested, overhauling my manuscript to the best of my ability. And somehow, magically, everything turned out well. To this day the opening story is one of the pieces of writing I'm most proud of, although of course, with the experience of seven years of writing added on, there are things I'd go back and change.

After the book came out and I read the story again, I realized I'd never be able to show it to my father - I'd subconsciously modeled the abusive husband after him. (A few months later I got an entire paper for an evening psychology class out of that one.)


The Game

Meanwhile, Elizabeth started up a crossover World of Darkness game so that we could test the mechanics. One person played a Risen, other people played various critters (she likes big gaming groups), and I got to play the Risen's shadow-guide and take notes on anything that seemed significant.

I developed a deep and abiding love for the task of shadow-guiding during that game; I got very good at driving wraiths to their doom. Later in the game a couple of other characters got killed and players decided to play either Risen or wraiths. It got to the point where, any time someone's shadow-guide was absent for the night and I got to take over, there were wails of dismay and delight.

You have to understand, though, that the game had its creepy parts. For instance, the person playing that first Risen disappeared. He stopped showing up one week, and a couple of weeks later his phone was disconnected. We never heard from him again.


Oh, the changes...

My life took a ninety-degree turn to the left on the day that Richard made that offer. Let's see the ways in which everything has changed since then: I got hooked on RPG-writing. I now have more than 10 co-authored RPG books to my name, and quite the big website, not to mention an email zine with more than 900 subscribers. It never would have happened if Richard hadn't made that call - I do believe this.

I write full-time now. If that opportunity hadn't jumped into my lap, I'm not sure I ever would have gotten the point that I could write more than just short stories and poetry. Certainly it would have taken a lot longer. I have a lot more confidence in my own writing. I survived Richard's editorial chainsaw. I've survived Justin Achilli's legendarily vicious red pen. I've worked for a handful of White Wolf's lines and one other game, and I've gotten additional offers that I've turned down.

I probably would have gone on thinking I wasn't that good at writing if I hadn't started on this path. Now, while I know that there's always something I can do to improve, I also know that I can write well.

And, weirdest of all, I got married. Oh, didn't I mention? I became friends with one of the people who showed up for Elizabeth's playtest game. A couple of years later we started dating. And last Spring we got married. Maybe I never would have even met my husband if Richard hadn't called and Elizabeth hadn't started that game.


The End

I no longer freelance for White Wolf; I finished up my last project for them a couple of months ago, and it'll come out next year. I've decided it's time to work on my own stuff for now, no contracts, no deadlines except the ones that I set for myself. Maybe I wouldn't have ended up with the chance to do that, either, if this long and winding road hadn't started with a single phone call.

And that's how working on The Risen changed my life.