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Interview with Michelle Lyons

Posted on November 24, 2004 by Flames

How did you get into gaming?

I had an abortive attempt at gaming in 6th grade, when a teacher brought in a copy of the old D&D basic boxed set, and I couldn’t find anyone who was interested in trying to figure it out with me. >From there, it took me until college to start gaming. I ended up in a D&D game run by my boyfriend, where the players were myself, my roommate, and my suitemate. Guy GM, three girl players. An unusual intro to RPGs at the time, but a total blast.

What do you feel is the biggest issue facing the gaming industry today?

I feel that the biggest issue is really two-fold. First, we have to decide whether we are an industry or a hobby and act like one or the other. A lot of people do this in their spare time because they love it, as either creatives, publishers, or retailers, whereas others do it full-time, also because they love it but with an eye to making a living at it as well. It’s a whole different mindset between the two of what’s acceptable and what amounts of effort are required to make a professional product, or business, or industry. As long as that disagreement exists, I think it keeps the group as a whole from being taken seriously and making any sort of major inroads into the mass-market, where the money is.

The second half of this is that especially with d20, but also affecting the rest of the market, there’s just a glut of product right now and it’s affecting the market in overall negative ways. I believe things will eventually right themselves, but it’s going to be slow going for a while.

Where do you get your inspiration? How do you keep your ideas fresh?

Movies, books, TV, the people I work with… all of these things inspire me. There’s nothing like a round of brainstorming with people who are more brilliant than you to get the creative juices flowing. 🙂 As to ideas staying fresh, there’s a whole world of people and things out there, and they’re constantly changing. Even if I only copy what I see around me (in various interpretations, of course), I could have fresh ideas for a lifetime.

What has been your most challenging work in the RPG industry?

Well, this is the sort of answer that changes every few months, but I think my most challenging so far was Ex Machina, the cyberpunk setting book for Tri-Stat. I wrote a chapter of that book detailing an original CP setting of my own. It not only hit during a turbulent time for me, making it difficult to begin with, but I was also given a huge amount of creative freedom. For the first time, I wasn’t writing to accommodate anyone else’s setting or history. It was wholly my own creation, and that was both exhilarating and frightening, all at once. Second to that would be Races of Stone for Wizards of the Coast. It’s daunting writing for the core D&D line, but I really enjoyed writing it and I feel like it’s going to be a really good book.

What has been your most rewarding work in the RPG industry?

I think it’s currently a toss-up between Slayers D20 (a comedic anime-based D20 game), for which my husband and I co-designed and wrote the system, and Ex Machina. I’d worked with Shadowrun for some time, but this gave me a chance to really play with the cyberpunk genre and start tabula rasa, as it were.

Having done both, how would you explain the difference between editing for a game and writing for a game? What do you look for as an editor vs what you expect to get back from an editor?

Editing for a game is… nitpicky. When you’re writing, you have to get ideas down and make sure the core creative push behind the work is solid. You want to get the mechanical end right as well, but you have to make sure the creative foundation is solid. As an editor, you have to make sure the rest of the construction is to code, basically. You have to make sure rules are stated clearly (and mesh with the rest of the system), you have to make sure that presentation is consistent, you have to make sure all the numbers add up, and on top of that, you have to make sure that the text is solid in style and execution, accessible to the reader, and preferably not something the author won’t recognize or wince at when he or she looks at the final book.

My goal in writing is to make sure the editor has to do as little work as possible — it’s sort of a karmic effort, I guess. What goes around comes around, that sort of thing. Typically my redlines are pretty light, though I do have a couple of developers who really push me to do the best I can. I appreciate that, too. I expect to see my own stylistic problems corrected (I have a penchant for unnecessary commas, a few words I can’t spell if my life depends on it, and way too frequent usage of things like “being” and “however”) and any errors in math fixed, though I try not to leave any. I don’t expect to see my work wholly rewritten, but thus far that hasn’t been much of a problem.

As an editor, I look for authors who can give me solid text with a minimum of grammatical or stylistic errors, and who understand the game system they’re writing for. These people I praise generously to the developers and try to get them more work. 🙂 I have a pretty aggressive editing style, but I always try to keep in mind what the author is trying to say. When I can, I keep as close to the original text as possible, just fine-tuning it for meaning. I think the biggest compliment I can get is for an author to tell me how pleased they were with how I handled their work.

You’ve worked on a variety of Sci-Fi, Horror and Fantasy products, do you have a favorite? Why?

Y’know, I don’t really. I started to try and pick one, and realized I was coming up with a list nearly chosen at random from the books I’ve worked on. 🙂 I’ve enjoyed most of the work I’ve done, and I’m proud of pretty much all of it. It’s really like trying to pick out a favorite among your kids. I just can’t do it. My rule of thumb is that if I don’t like a company or a line, I don’t try to work for them. Ergo, I like the stuff I’m working on before I even start.

What RPGs are you currently playing? if any?

Right now things are a little up in the air here, as my husband just graduated from college and we’re going to be moving this summer most likely, as soon as he gets a solid job offer. I have been playing in a Call of Cthulhu game, which was a lot of fun, and I’ve been running an on-again, off-again D&D game for my husband set in the Iron Kingdoms. I’m also playing the old Vampire: the Masquerade — Redemption PC game, and I’ve got Neverwinter Nights hanging out around my computer as well. We haven’t had a lot of gaming opportunities since we’re currently living in a rural area, so I’m hoping that wherever we move to will have more going on, gaming-wise.

What’s next for you?

I’ll be doing a fair amount of work for Guardians of Order on their various lines. I should be doing some more writing for White Wolf and Wizards of the Coast as well. I’m hoping that this fall I can slow down a bit and take some time to work on my fiction as well. I have no intention of leaving the RPG field, but I’ve got stories in my head that have gotten a bit more insistent about getting onto paper of late. Hopefully I can find a way to make that happen soon.

Visit Michelle Lyon’s Website for more information on her latest projects.

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