Sean was born on Krypton, Zenn-La, or Planet Vegeta, depending on which one of his kids is asking and what mood he is in. He served in the USMC straight out of high school before going on to obtain a highly useful degree in ancient languages. Then, onto the mission field to work at an orphanage in India with his wife and 2.5 kids before returning to the US and surrendering to the dark side. Some say Sith, but his business card reads attorney. Now he lives with his wife and nine (yes 9) children in central Illinois. Although to be fair, some of the kids are moved out and now he has version 2.0 called grandkids–which are even more fun, despite still having a 4 year old of his own. When he isn’t serving justice, moving furniture for his wife, or playing with his kids, he is busy trying to force all the stories in his head onto a piece of paper. Sean’s first full length novel to be published early spring 2020. Check his website to hear about it first. (Editor’s note: The book, Watcher’s Test, is now available!)
When did you first start writing fiction?
I officially started writing fiction on May 21st, 2019. It was a desire of mine for approximately 28 years but not something that I ever thought I could do. There were the usual obstacles of time, family, lack of knowledge about the process and so on. Of course the biggest obstacle was a lack of self-confidence. What is so ironic is how many great authors I have heard felt the same thing. Finally, litrpg resonated enough with me to make me think that I could do it. So I told my wife I was going to try this. She gave me a double thumbs of encouragement and I ordered a chrome book on Amazon for $200. Two days later it arrived and I officially started writing that very night.
What kind of books do you enjoy reading? Paper or eBook?
Paper books were always my thing. I rebuffed attempts by various people to convince me to read e-books. I ignored their salient points and buried my head in the sand as the world changed around me. That all went away when I did the math on a Kindle Unlimited subscription. If there is one that that I am more than stubborn it is cheap. So now all I do is read e-books.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated LitRPG novel?
This one is easy. My favorite underappreciated litrpg novel is Guildmaster, the first book of the Tower of Power series by Ivan Kal. It’s portal fantasy and great in my book. Love his system and the set up and the fact that it is part of a much larger universe involving sci-fi and all sorts of stuff spread out over thousands of years.
Of your books, which is your personal favorite? Why?
Again this is an easy one. I have one published short story and just had my first full novel come out on 4/17/20. So it would be The Watcher’s Test: Life in Exile. It is intended to be the first book of a trilogy, which is meant to be the first trilogy of three to tell the full story. So maybe in the future I will like some of the other books more. Book two is written and off to the publisher and I will say that some of my beta readers said they liked it better than the first one. Who knows….
You can make one LitRPG book (not your own) a movie. Which is it and why?
Probably Life in the North by Tao Wong. It is one of my favorites and I think the post apocalyptic story along with the blend of technology and magic would make for a compelling movie. Sci-fi has traditionally done much better in movies than pure fantasy so if a litrpg book was going to be a movie, I would want a strong one to be put forward. One which could cross genres and expand the audience of litrpg.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
So I believe in writer’s block the same way that I believe in PMS. I have a wife and eight daughters so despite never experiencing PMS, I know that it’s real. Writer’s block isn’t something that I have experienced yet, but then again I’m still something of a noob so who knows what the future has to offer.
Are you an outliner or pantser?
Perhaps the anorexic outlines which I prepare don’t really count for outlines. My outlines read like this:
Chapter 1- perspective: Sara
ER- preparing to repel attack
Combat at the wall
Gunidar and Jackson appear
So, I don’t know if you count that as an outline, but that is my actual outline for Chapter 1 of book
I consider myself to be more of a pantser as the story goes where it goes and I swear the characters decide not me.
I like to say that I’m loose and free with the flow of my book, but my wife would laugh at that and remind me that when we were first dating I literally used to have a written schedule for our dates which included a designated time for spontaneity, usually in 15-30 minute blocks. So I’m as loose as someone with that kind of neurosis can be.
What is your writing process like?
My writing process has evolved over the past few months. I have a general idea of where things are going and then I start writing. There isn’t any one location that I write at. This past week alone I have written in a chair in my bedroom while my wife was watching British tv or in 2 different chairs in my living room while “watching” Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman on dvd with some of my younger kids who are finally old enough to watch it. I’ve also written from a laptop in my car while waiting outside of a courthouse for a hearing, at my grandfather’s nursing home, and over my lunch hour in five different restaurants.
What I can say is that I try to put myself into the mindset of whichever character’s perspective, I’m going to be writing from for that chapter. That means, I might be a drake, an eight year old girl, or a forty year old lawyer from one chapter to the next. To me these characters are so real and I don’t honestly think about how they would respond, I just sort of organically write in their voice.
Perhaps the thing which has most shocked me about the writing process is how natural it has been for me. The words tend to just flow out and if they don’t then most of the time I know it’s not time to be writing. The characters wants and needs takes the tale where it is supposed to go and so far they haven’t let me down.
In contrast the thing that seems to shock other people the most is that apart from my spelling, grammar, and typographical errors which abound, whatever I write remains about 98% the same from the first time the words appear on the page to the final edited copy. So far, I have made next to no changes. I guess that either means I really understand my inner story or that I’m a monkey pounding on a keyboard and trying to reproduce Hamlet.
How many hours a day do you write?
I try to write 2+ hours a week but the demands of life can change that. I write in the morning before work at least a couple days a week. I write over my lunch hour. I write sometimes while watching tv with the kids, and I write after they go to bed. My goals though are not set in hours of writing but in words written. I dream of 3000 words per day, aim for 2500 and have as my hard goal 2000. So however long it takes to get those words to manifest themselves.
Who are some of your favorite authors of all time?
Favorite authors of all time is a fun question. There have been different stages of my reading over the years, but once I found sword and sorcery fantasy I have rarely cheated on it. The first author I truly loved was Edgar Rice Burroughs. His tales took me away whether that be in steamy jungles or distant planets. After that I loved Susan B. Cooper and Ursula K. Leguin. The idea of magic in language eventually created such a love in me that my highly useful undergrad is in Ancient Languages. My next phase was typified by Weis and Hickman.
In the end if I were to list my favorite authors it would be:
C.S. Lewis- both fiction and non-fiction
Raymond Feist- great fiction in bite sized morsels and the belief that not all nobles have to be bad
Jim Butcher- but I’ve never read a Dresden book, only his Codex Alera
Brandon Sanderson- who I think is a good stepping stone from general fantasy to litrpg
and first and foremost: Robert Jordan- some hate him, some love him but for me his books are the best fantasy I have ever read.
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In terms of litrpg authors- honestly there are too many to name but here are some that come to mind in no particular order:
- James Hunter
- Aleron Kong
- Troy Osgood
- Blaise Corvin
- Hugo Hueseca
- Tao Wong
- LM Kerr
- Dave Willmarth
- Charles Dean
- Dakota Krout
- Jonathon Brooks
- Cameron Milan
- Chris Carney
- Carrie Summers
- Jay Boyce
Gah, maybe this list is becoming too long- but there is still so much more
Where do you get your ideas?
I have DM’d games of various sorts since I was 16. There have been many years where that just wasn’t possible as part of my life, but the habits of world creation never went away. I have created world after world which no other eye or ear ever learned over but now writing gives me a way to release some of the trapped worlds.
What are your thoughts on how VR will affect the future of humanity?
VR in the future to me is going to be a way to keep the unemployed masses occupied much as the coliseum was in ancient Rome. I believe it has potential for training in fields like medicine, combat, engineering etc… as well as being the drawing board of the future. Art will likely at least in some part be expressed in VR. How much of this is good and how much is bad is still up in the air, yet I feel that it is human nature to twist and abuse even the best of things. So in my mind VR bears close scrutiny and as exciting as the gaming aspect of it might be, we need to be careful not to let the fox into the hen house.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
So far all of the worlds I am writing in have already been fleshed out. Most of the research I do occurs whenever a situation arises and I need to learn about it. For example I spent quite a bit of time researching how the human body is actually affected when struck by lightning or the cost and availability of spices in a medieval world. I worry that some of my google searches might look bad if I was ever suspected of foul play but at least I get to learn all kinds of cool things.
First video game memory?
Hmmm… first video game memory. I think I want to answer that in two ways. The first video game I played was Pong on whatever that old system was called. Yet my favorite early gaming memory was of one week where my brother and I took turns sleeping in shifts so that we could level up our characters in FFII. Our parents limited our playing time, but weren’t very attentive to what we were doing late at night so we took turns playing it at night.
I think an honorable mention- while not an early video game memory it is one which I think people can relate to. I was playing Everquest and was soloing with my level 60 shaman for gold. While running from one point to another I started to zone into Southern Ro and just as I was some of my real life friends were crossing the zone line in the other direction with a party of their low level alternates.
Immediately my chat box lights up as they are all calling out my name “Oog” (character’s name was Oogliefrank) and asking me to help them finish killing whatever train they had chasing them. I just remember it being this amazing nexus of gaming and real life relationships.
What can fans expect from you next?
For the future, hopefully book 2 is releasing shortly after book 1 as it was finished in the middle of February 2020. At the time of preparing the answers for this interview I am working on two projects. The first is book 3 of my Life in Exile trilogy number 1. The second is a different series with the working title of Ten Gates. This is a cultivation/martial arts heavy litrpg involving a virtual world and its interaction with the real world.
Other projects in the works include some side stories for Eloria along with the second and third trilogies of the main story line. I intend to write a side series which covers the Nelson children and their growth into adulthood during the years which separates trilogy one and two. Also, I really want to tell the story of Maxwell Smart and Leyna Odergeiss both before and after they meet the Nelsons. Just as much I am excited to tell the story of the main villain of the story, but I won’t go into that as it would require too much in the way of spoilers.
Beyond Eloria, I intend to write novels in the world introduced in the short story: A Fairy Tale in Reverse which I wrote for the Warrior’s Tribute anthology. I really want to flesh out the adventures of Princess Katie, the girl who won’t let herself be defined by her birth and the dragon orphan she helps save. There is one other world that is firmly in my head but I haven’t spoken about it to anyone else and am afraid to loosen the lid on it too much now as even talking about these other projects is making my skin itch. There simply isn’t enough time in the day to write about it all.