Books and an Interview with Jerry Holkins from Penny Arcade

I’ve been reading Penny Arcade for years. More than a decade, really. They’re funny, funny people, and I’ve recommended or referenced their comics in the blog several times over the years.

In brief, I’m a fan.

This year is the year I officially made contact with them. Mike mentioned my book on their page and talked about how he used some of the ideas out of it in his D&D campaign. So when I was at San Diego Comic Con I plucked up my courage and went over to their booth to talk to them.

This took a little bit of doing on my part, because in the realm of the geeks, these guys are… well… monolithic. They’re bigger than Oprah.

And, as I’ve said, I’m a fan. When you’re a fan of someone’s work, it’s hard to approach them and make small talk.

But small talk we did. Then we quickly moved beyond that and started in on the geek talk, which is more fun. At the end of it, we formed a little mutual admiration society.

Later on, Jerry was nice enough to read a beta version of WMF and give me feedback on it. Then I donated some books to their charity: Child’s Play. (I was delighted to chip in, as watching them start Child’s Play was one of the things that made me realize I could maybe run my own charity.)

They, in turn, donated some books to my charity, Worldbuilders.

  • Two Hardcover copies of The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade. The 11.5 Anniversary Edition. Signed by Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins.

Lastly, I asked if Jerry would like to do an interview to go along with his books. He graciously accepted. He’s cool like that.

*     *     *

Heya Jerry.

Is that cool? Can I call you Jerry? Are we at that point in our relationship?

I think so.  You did let me look at your book before it was done, which I imagine was difficult, and it’s my policy to simply reflect the way people treat me, so yes.  We tight.

Okay let’s just jump right into the meat of things here. When I was younger, I played Zork. King’s Quest. The original Fallouts. Games that made you think. Games where you could occasionally screw things up so badly that you destroyed your chance of winning without even knowing it. Games that were at times so hard that I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what to do.

In short, these were awesome games. They were games I was proud of when I’d finished them.

So here’s my question. Are games today predictable pap compared to that, or am I just being a curmudgeonly fuck?

My worldview allows for people who are curmudgeonly fucks and a game industry that offers predictable pap.  As far as games go, though, there were plenty of bad ones then as well.  There are bad books, too, not your books of course, but they’re out there!  Watch out for them.  There are both mediums, with all the standard ratios.  I can help you find what you want, though.  This is a service I often provide.

That’s one of the things I’ve always admired about y’all at PA. If you think something is crap, you say so. Boldly. With many invectives. That’s a freedom I don’t really have as an author….

Yes, well, you’ll have to content yourself with the fabrication of entire universes, then.

We all have our cross to bear.

What were your favorites games as a kid? Did you play Infocom games too?

Oh, sure.  And not just Infocom games, but the Trillium series that was based on much-loved science fiction and fantasy novels, all the way through the Sierra adventures that build a graphical world atop the parsers of old.

When I was trying to remember the name “Trillium,” I came across the following link:

It’s one of the most interesting/funny/sad things I’ve read in a long time.  We were, at one point, genuinely worried – there was an actual debate – about whether or not the introduction of graphics was a boon or a curse.

Heh. I remember back in 1994 when I used to MUD. I was out for dinner with some friends and the concept of a graphic mud came into the conversation. Everyone dismissed the idea as absolutely ridiculous. As technologically infeasible as teleportation. Everyone also agreed that the addition of graphics would remove much of the social element from the game.

Fast-Forward to now. It’s hard to even imagine a world without WOW, or The Guild for that matter…

At the PAX keynote, Warren Spector said that art forms are either disappearing from view or are co-opted by the larger culture.  I think it’s pretty clear which way it went.

So at this point you have a following that can legitimately be referred to as a horde. Does it ever get a little weird for you?

Well, if they were here underneath my desk all the time, maybe.  As it stands, it’s only a couple times a year that I’m genuinely exposed to the extent of the enthusiasm/antipathy for the site.

Extra points for use of the word “antipathy.”

I didn’t know we were writing for points.  I would have done everything differently!  I would have used an augur; I might have held forth on the Uyghur.

Man. Even I had to look that last one up.

When did you first realize that you were famous?

When people started asking me questions like that, and worse, when they started expecting me to know the answer.  Fame, as a force, is an external entity.  I’m sure you know what I mean; you were working at night all the time on the book, more or less alone, and I’m certain that didn’t feel especially famous.  That felt like work.

Yeah. That was pretty much when it hit me too. One of my friends looked at me and said, “You do realize you’re a celebrity now, right?”

Of course, he immediately followed it up with, “A tiny, kinda shitty celebrity. But still…”

Indeed.  We need a stupid word to denigrate this state of quasi-importance.  Cewebrity, maybe?  I feel like that more or less destroys any pleasure to be had in the concept.

Be honest now. Do you ever get up in the morning and think to yourself, “Fuck, I’ve got to go to the office and play Videogames again…”

Good Christ, I wish that I could say something like that and have it be true!  This week, just to give you an example of the kinds of things I’m tasked with generally, is:

Generate Names For  (Top Secret)
Write 6-Page Animated Comic For (Top Secret)
Finish Penny Arcade: Book Seven (“Be Good, Little Puppy”)
Precipice

This is in addition to strips and posts and descriptions for the store and any other thing that needs text.  I’m not complaining; I like doing this stuff.  But there’s always lots to do!

Ah. That’s embarrassing. I made the same mistake about you that most people make about me. People assume being a writer is just divine inspiration, book tours, and rolling around in money. But a ton of time goes toward the business end of things, talking to translators, contracts, talking to the publisher.

I always pictured you a living in some sort of sybaritic pleasure dome. Your days filled with nothing but Fallout and Doritos.

Straighten me out. Roughly how many hours a day do you spend playing video games?

On a good day, with a game I want to play more than I want to paint miniatures or write, and no outstanding projects I can get a head start on, I can put in two and half/three hours. That’s the time from “after my bride goes to bed” up until midnight.

Wow. That certainly puts things in perspective.

So I’ve recently managed to spawn and I’m finding it to be a surprising amount of fun. I know you’ve got a youngins of your own… How old are they again?

I’ve got Elliot Jacob, who is five, and I’ve got Ronia Quinn, who is a wee lass of sixteen month.

How are you liking it so far?

I have a high opinion of the process, in general.  I was reading a book with Elliot yesterday, the Big Little Book For Dads or something like that, and it had a recipe in there for something called “Tennessee Corn Pone.”  I don’t know what Pone is, I’m good on Corn, but the regional distinctions specific to the various Pones are not known to me, and for some reason Pone just as a clump of sounds wadded together is funny on its own, and the two of us laughed uncontrollably at exactly the same thing.

That’s one example from a day full of incredible challenges and the occasional fleeting success.

That’s right, she’s just about the same age a Little Oot. He learned how to say “no.” Has Ronia figured that one out yet?

Nope, not yet.

Lucky duck. It was really cute at first, but he quickly realized that he could use that word to effectively re-shape reality. It’s like he’s leveled up and sunk all his points into this one ability: Power Word No, unlimited uses per day.

Is Ronia much of a talker? Oot pretty much sticks to “No” and “duck” at this point.

She’s started in with the compound signs – “more bye bye,” means let’s go, “cookie give cookie give cookie give,” that’s one we see a lot.

In all fairness, “cookie-give” really should be its own word.

I wish we would have done more baby-sign with Oot. There are times I can see that he’s frustrated because he wants to express himself and just can’t make the right words yet….

Okay. Serious business. I’ve been reading the stuff you’ve been writing: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness.

What’s the deal with that? I’m feeling a little threatened here. You’re supposed to make with the funny comics. I’m the one that writes the elaborately interwoven narrative thingers.

In the future,  I will try to interweave the thingers in a less elaborate way.  I’m horrified to think that my bullshit is in the same category as your work, on the same Internet.  Precipice is  process I’m using to learn how to write.  Like I said before, text is my responsibility, and I strongly suspect I’m going to be called on to make a book for Lookouts at some point.

Oh man. I loved Lookouts. That would be the coolest.

Seriously though. You have a hell of a turn of phrase. And not only can you write funny, which is the hardest kind of writing there is. But you manage to get some touching and disturbing in there too. A lot of folks can do one or two of those, but all of them? Not so much…

Truth is, your stuff reminds me of a unholy hybrid of Douglas Adams and Lovecraft. That’s never a combination I expected to see in my lifetime.

I don’t want to make a habit of quoting myself, that’s not who I want to be, but after I got Wise Man’s Fear in the mail to read through, I wrote this:

“I could never decide if I wanted to be Douglas Adams or H. P. Lovecraft when I grew up, and now that I’m grown up, I’ve decided that I don’t have to choose.”

That’s exactly who I want to be, so the fact that any of that is coming through at all means that maybe I’m doing okay.

Could you ever see yourself writing a novel?

A very, very short one maybe.  It might be that writing comic strips isn’t good training for longer form writing, because it’s my instinct to take a belt sander to every phrase until it’s ready for three tidy panels.

It shows. You’ve got a tight grip on your language. Usually that’s something I only see in folks that write a lot of poetry. It never occurred to me that you could develop the same sort of thing writing comics. Makes sense though. Limited space makes for a tight line.

The arc of my life thus far has been that something needs doing, and I become the person who is needed to do it.  I think we’ll need someone to write a book someday, maybe someday very soon.  I am preparing myself for this eventuality.

If it happens, I’ll come over and we can celebrate and/or console each other, depending on how well our respective projects are going.

Thanks so much for being willing to do this little interview. I really appreciate it.

Any parting words?

Congratulations on finishing your book, Pat.  I can’t wait to read version 1.0!

Aw shucks… I’ll make sure to send you and Mike a copy once it’s off the press…

*     *     *

Remember folks, for every 10 dollars you donate to Heifer International, you get a chance to win cool books like these.

In addition, Worldbuilders is matching 50% of all donations made on our Team Heifer page until noon on Dec 17th.

For more details, or to see the other books you can win, you can head over to the main page HERE.

Stay tuned folks, the final blog of the fundraiser will be posted in just a couple hours…

pat

This entry was posted in a few words you're probably going to have to look up, cool things, Me Interviewing Other Folks, Worldbuilders 2010By Pat12 Responses

12 Comments

  1. Gnavin
    Posted December 16, 2010 at 6:52 PM | Permalink

    That’s awesome, Pat. I love penny arcade too, and I’m constantly impressed with the way he handles words, whipping them into shape and rounding them up into a… a…

    See? I just can’t do it the way he (or you) can. That’s an incredible talent. And this was a great interview! I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for doing this for us, Pat. It’s appreciated.

    • Oliver Stein Inc.
      Posted December 19, 2010 at 9:30 AM | Permalink

      well you know what they say, coming up with a good analogy is as hard as…

  2. SunTzu
    Posted December 16, 2010 at 7:18 PM | Permalink

    Oh god, now i have to start hassling the PA guys for an early review of WMF, you know that right? My days and nights will have to be devoted to the endevour, until i either succeed or perish.

  3. Sokol
    Posted December 16, 2010 at 7:56 PM | Permalink

    And the awesomeness just keeps on coming.

    Well, I couldn’t procrastinate any longer, and finally made my pledge to Heifer International.

    Wonderful job everybody.

    • redbronze
      Posted December 16, 2010 at 10:23 PM | Permalink

      I gave too… Smile… tonight… Cigarette money to a great use…. I quit smoking so I could do some good things.. This is my first…

  4. Posted December 16, 2010 at 7:58 PM | Permalink

    Great interview, how I’ve managed to let /Precipice/ slip me by, I have no idea! Read-good-time. Man, I miss text-based games.

  5. naran
    Posted December 16, 2010 at 8:50 PM | Permalink

    Hi Pat,

    this is not really related to your blog post, but I had a question about international editions of Name of the Wind. Has there been a release of mandarin version of this book. I went through your past posts, and didn’t see any mention of a chinese edition. Thanks!

  6. Kyndig
    Posted December 16, 2010 at 9:37 PM | Permalink

    I’m almost afraid to ask this….

    I don’t suppose you’ve played/heard of Medievia, have you? That atrocity sucked away more of my life than I’d like to admit.

  7. eatfoss
    Posted December 17, 2010 at 4:47 AM | Permalink

    PA’s recommendation is the sole reason I bought your book. Before that point, I couldn’t read stories. My imagination would spin elaborate scenes before each paragraph had a chance to unfold, and what I was reading conflicted with my pre-formed brainthinks.

    On Jerry’s recommendation, I threw some virtual money at Amazon and bought Name Of The Wind. It was different to the crap I’d failed to read in the past; it taught me to trust the author.

    I guess what I’m saying is thank you Pat for writing such an amazing tale, and thank you Jerry for recommending it to me in the first place.

  8. Posted December 17, 2010 at 9:23 AM | Permalink

    You said, This took a little bit of doing on my part, because in the realm of the geeks, these guys are… well… monolithic. They’re bigger than Oprah.

    And, as I’ve said, I’m a fan. When you’re a fan of someone’s work, it’s hard to approach them and make small talk.

    This sums up my reaction to when I met you at a book signing. My mind disappeared and I mumbled a few things and asked for a picture. That’s it. I squandered my chance, though hopefully I’ll get another one of these days…

  9. Posted December 17, 2010 at 2:04 PM | Permalink

    I’m afraid that my mastery of Power Word NO! is either simply inferior compared to Oots’ or that I am dealing with a legion of opponents well versed in Counterspell. /sigh

    And yes, “cookie-give” definitely needs to be a word.

    That was a great interview, Pat. Two distinct and yet greatly creative minds coming together …. hell that’s like a Geek version of Reese’s right there.

  10. ChaosAthena
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 2:01 AM | Permalink

    Heh.

    Tennessee corn pone is also known as cornbread, but it also inexplicably has beans in it. Pone is a quasi-measurement/description of shape. It’s a pan of some foodstuff (usually cornbread, usually round).

    The first time I heard my dad use the word pone, I was very confused. I thought he was saying p3wn, but I just wasn’t hearing the silent 3.

    Good times in Georgia.

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