Old School here with another entry to our interview series. This time, we are very excited to bring you Mike Lee. We were lucky enough to be able to interview Black Library Author, Mike Lee during the Dropzone Games Grand Opening in Glen Burnie, MD. We had a great time and really just shot the breeze about stuff we love - from wargaming to the Heresy Series, RPGs and Horror.
For those of you who don’t know about Mike, he is best known for the Chronicles of Malus Darkblade and the Time of Legends; Nagash series. He also wrote Fallen Angels from the Horus Heresy series and has also worked as a game designer for White Wolf Publishing’s Demon: The Fallen. With no further delay, let’s get into this interview, but before we start I really have to give it up to Mike Lee for going so in depth with us. This was a great interview and really blew my expectations away ... if only everything was publishable!
During this article, the red script will be Mike Lee. Regular script will be myself.
During this article, the red script will be Mike Lee. Regular script will be myself.
DFG: Thanks for shooting the breeze with us at the grand opening, we are fans and many of our readers are as well. Can you tell us what inspires you as a writer? Are there any other authors that really inspire you?
You’re welcome! I had a great time at Dropzone Games, and I always enjoy the chance to talk to folks about books and writing.
As far as inspiration goes, I think that most writers are sponges. Everything we experience in our day-to-day lives tends to get filed away as potential inspiration for future stories. Interestingly, though, in the case of writing for Black Library, it’s less about figuring out the main story, because often that’s already something that’s been covered in the lore. It’s about the little details, the nuances, which bring the story to life and make it unique.
In the case of the Malus Darkblade books, for example, I started off with five short comic stories that Dan Abnett wrote for Warhammer Monthly back in the day, and had the challenge of expanding them into five connected novels. So I started off with a skeleton of the story already established; from there, it was up to me to put the meat on the bones. My job was to get into Malus’s head and find a way to make his story something that readers would want to follow. The same can be said for the Nagash books; his story is already a very well known part of the lore; what I had to do was fill in the details and create a context for the story to take place in.
I draw inspiration from lots of writers, actually. A good writer is always trying to learn ways to make his or her work better. For me, the writers that have most influenced my work would be, in nor particular order: Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, who taught me how to build immersive worlds and plot fast-moving, energetic stories; H. P. Lovecraft, who continues to teach me lessons about conveying an atmosphere of brooding horror and mystery; and Glen Cook, who is probably one of the most underrated fantasy authors of our time. He taught me a new way of looking at dark fantasy, telling stories from a gritty, personal level that readers can relate to. You see a lot of Cook’s influence in the Malus stories, for sure.
DFG: What are you working on right now?
At this point I am just getting back into writing for Black Library, after taking about a year off to recharge my creative batteries. Right now, I’m focusing more on 40K than Warhammer Fantasy, and have just completed a novella about the Crimson Fists that should be out sometime next year. I’m following that up with a 40K novel, but the details of that book haven’t been finalized yet, so I can’t say too much about it. It should also be out sometime next year. I’m also playing around with a couple of other novellas that I might submit to Hammer and Bolter as episodic stories, with a new chapter appearing each month. Those, too, would be probably be 40K stories, but lately I’ve been thinking about revisiting a certain Dark Elf character and seeing if I’ve got a story or two to tell about him as well. We’ll see.
DFG: Do you have any plans to head back to the Time of Legends or Horus Heresy Series?
I don’t have any plans to at the moment. At this point, the vast majority of the books I’ve written for BL have been fantasy novels, so I’d like to work on something different for a while. I’d certainly like to return to the Horus Heresy series at some point, but it would depend on the project.
DFG: If you could write about anything at all in the 40k Universe, what would be your choice and why?
I’d love to write about Inquisitors. That would be my first choice, hands down. They appeal to me because you’ve got very human, very flawed characters fighting what is ultimately a losing battle against the forces of darkness. You’ve got horror, intrigue, heroism and adventure – what’s not to like?
DFG: Now, from what I understand, you have a Black Legion army. How long have you been collecting miniatures and what brought you to the Black Legion?
Oh, man. I’ve been collecting miniatures since the 80’s – everything from FASA’s Battletech and Star Trek Space Combat Simulator to Renegade Legion and Crimson Skies. A friend of mine got me into 40K when 3rd Edition first came out, and I naturally gravitated to Chaos because villains are just more fun. J The Black Legion is definitely the most “vanilla” of the Chaos Legions, but their story is the one that is most compelling to me. I’m definitely one of those gamers that make choices based on the background and the characters rather than min-maxing my army.
Also, their base color is black. That’s dead easy for a terrible painter like me.
DFG: How often do you get to wargame and what draws you to the hobby aspect of the game?
I don’t get to game anywhere nearly as much as I used to – maybe three or four times a year, if I’m lucky. When you’re a freelance writer, you’re working all the time. There are no such things as holidays or weekends, unless you make a special effort to schedule them. I’m trying to do a better about that, because I really miss getting to hang out with friends and spending an afternoon wargaming.
As to what appeals to me about the hobby…wow. That’s an interesting question. I’ve been wargaming since I was about ten or eleven, and so it’s been a big part of my life for more than three decades now. I love tactical challenges and love the spectacle that a big, sprawling wargame creates. Most of all, I love the storytelling aspect of the game, whether it’s re-fighting a historical battle, or waging war in the far future. Every game is a narrative, with its heroes and villains, it’s dramatic reversals and unexpected twists of fate. Heck, some of my first stories grew out of home-brew sf wargames I played with by best friend when I was a kid.
I also love creating systems and watching them work. I was a game designer before I was a writer, and to this day I create wargame and RPG rules in my spare time, just for fun.
DFG: Are you into any other games or RPGS? If so what draws you to them?
I ran weekly RPG games for my friends for decades, but not so much any more. Back in the day I ran everything from GDW’s Traveller (still the best science fiction RPG, bar none) and Twilight: 2000, to TSR’s Top Secret and Gamma World. I also ran a homebrew dark fantasy campaign for many years that used a heavily modified version of Iron Crown Enterprise’s Arms Law, Spell Law and Character Law RPG system. And of course, during the days when I worked for White Wolf Games I ran a number of Storyteller chronicles, including an epic, five-year Werewolf: The Apocalypse chronicle and playtest chronicles for Hunter: The Reckoning and my own game, Demon: The Fallen. So I’ve been kind of all over the map when it comes to the kind of games that I’m drawn to. If the setting and the characters appeal to me, and they spark my imagination, I’ll give it a try and see what kind of stories I can come up with.
As for miniatures games, right now I’m playing Hail Caesar and Black Powder, both published by Warlord Games. I’m debating on trying out Flames of War, because I love WWII games, but don’t really have the time to start another army. My friend Ken Cliffe, owner and proprietor of All The King’s Men Toy Soldiers (www.allthekingsmentoysoldiers.com) has a free rule set for the horse-and-musket era called Armchair Generals that I play a lot, too.
DFG: Outside of your current work for the Black Library, is there anything that you strive to do as an author or even as a game designer?
Well, in addition to writing for BL, I am also a freelance writer in the video game industry. Most recently I contributed to the co-op campaign for Splinter Cell: Conviction, and wrote a DLC mini-campaign for Ghost Recon: Future Soldier that will be coming out later this year. I’ve also recently partnered with Onyx Path Publishing (http://theonyxpath.com), which is publishing new editions of White Wolf’s World of Darkness games, to write a new Werewolf: The Apocalypse novel in support of the upcoming 20th Anniversary edition of the game.
I’ve also got a number of my own fiction projects in the works, but I can’t go into specifics yet. I’ll be talking about those on my blog, probably early next year.
DFG: Is there anything at all you would like to add?
Thanks for giving me this opportunity to connect with your audience! If you’d like to keep up with what I’ll be doing in the months to come, you can find me on Twitter (@RocketPatrol), Facebook (www.facebook.com/mike.lee.3367), or check my blog at http://clockworkrockets.blogspot.com. The blog hasn’t been updated in months (ahem), but that will be rectified shortly.