Welcome to our story-themed interview, Once Upon a Time with… where we interview a fellow author.
Today, we’d like to welcome Bill Bridges, co-creator of the Fading Suns RPG and developer of Werewolf: the Apocalypse and many other White Wolf games. He is currently writing a new novel for Werewolf.
So, let’s get started. Like any good fairy tale, let’s begin with Once Upon a Time. What’s your “Once Upon a Time”? Tell us about your beginning as an author. Where did you live and what sparked you to decide to write?
I was just out of college at VCU in Richmond, VA, when I started writing for RPGs, back in 1990. I meandered through school shifting majors, but my real studies were games. We were always playing or thinking about them. I few of my friends had already been writing for RPGs, but I initially never considering following their example. I wanted to draw comics. It’s only after I got sick of trying to turn my middling art talent into a career that I tried writing. It was one of those revelatory experiences; I enjoyed it so much that I can’t believe I hadn’t done it before.
Sometimes a fairy godmother appears to make dreams come true. In this case, the dream involves becoming a published author. Let us know how you got your first break.
My initial attempt was actually spurred on by professional jealousy. A friend of mine was editing the Pendragon game line for Chaosium, and he put out an open call for writers. A few of my gaming friends who had also never attempted writing all decided to try out. Well, I couldn’t very well let them get published without me! My proposal was accepted and eventually became — with much editorial advice and revision — a published RPG adventure.
Ever since then my advice to beginning RPG authors has been 1) do the work, and 2) make friends. I doubt that I would have made the step I needed without the example of friends who had done so before me. It was also a friend who gave me my next big break, writing for Vampire: the Masquerade just after it was first published.
Now, no story would be complete without an adversary. In the story of your writing career, what’s your biggest nemesis? What do you struggle against… fear, doubt, a mortgage, time, ice cream? What tactics, allies or weapons do you use to win those battles?
Is there any writer who isn’t wracked with self-doubt? Whose inner critic isn’t turned up to a Spinal Tap-style 11? It’s very easy to let this critic stop you in your tracks, or convince you to revise and revise that first chapter over and over, stopping your momentum on the rest of the work. And it doesn’t help when there are hordes of online critics stampeding through your web browser to tell you exactly how stupid you are. But I had an ally, and a powerful it was: deadlines. For years and years I’ve worked in a deadline-driving publishing industry. Under the harsh gaze of the ever-looming deadline, you simply don’t have the option of letting the inner critic have more than his initial say. He’s necessary for helping you revise your work, but the deadline will shut him up soon enough. The work comes first.
That said, living under deadline pressure for too long can lead to epic burn out. Be careful.
As we all know, the hero can’t ultimately triumph without a few defeats along the way. Can you share a defeat that you suffered in your writing career and what you learned from it?
I suppose the defeats I regret are the paths not taken. There’s all sorts of things I want to write, from comics to movies to TV shows (and White Wolf did have a licensed TV show back in the day), but gravity (and those deadlines) has kept my nose to the grindstone in the game industry. It’s certainly been rewarding, but I’ve let time defeat me too often in branching out and trying new things. I’m only now finally getting to do that. It’s a bit scary, like starting over, but it’s also creatively exhilarating.
We’ve heard about your defeat, but what do you see as your greatest victory as a writer? This may be a professional victory or a personal one.
Each game has been a victory. It’s always exhausting to get one out, but once it’s done it’s an amazing feeling. I’ve been very privileged to be able to invent and reinvent many game worlds, from fleshing out Werewolf: the Apocalypse to adding the Frankenstein mythos to the World of Darkness. I consider Fading Suns, the science fiction universe I co-created, to be one of my favorite personal achievements. I did it my way and grew it from a background conceived for a strategy computer game into a fully realized universe of roleplaying games and fiction.
Great. There have been defeats and victories. Where do you see yourself today? What’s happening in this chapter of your career? What are your current projects and what can we look forward to in the next year?
I continue to work on game projects on a contract basis, but my energies are currently running with the wolves for the novel I’m writing. It was one of the stretch goals for the Werewolf: the Apocalypse 20th Anniversary edition Kickstarter, and since the fans demanded it, I must deliver! Once that’s done, I’m turning my attention to a new dark fantasy setting I’ve been working over in my head over the last year. It’ll begin as a novel (maybe a trilogy) and then work its way into a new RPG game. I can’t say anything more about it yet, but I will hopefully have a teaser online before the year is out.
Every story should end with a Happily Ever After. If you could write your own “Happily Ever After”, what would it be? Tell us where you’d like to go and have fun with it.
I’d like all my new work to get as much attention as my old work for White Wolf, as well as reaching new audiences. Onward and outward! Of course, it’d also be nice if someone wanted to make a movie or TV series out of my forthcoming projects, but that’d be a bonus, not the core reason to write.
I often wish tabletop gaming had more attention paid to it as an art form. There’s only now some history finally being written about the field, but I’d like to see more. I think it’s been a secret inspiration for creators in other fields for a long time now, and I’d like to see it get the recognition it’s long deserved.
Here’s hoping those dreams come true. So, for everyone out there wishing on a star hoping to be an author, what advice would you like to give them based on your experience?
Do what you love but do it with others. Writing is a lonely field, but there are many of us out there. The wonderful thing about RPGs is that they require you to bring others along for the fun. One of the exhilarating things about working at White Wolf was the “Marvel bullpen” effect, where a bunch of us got to write and design games together, not just in the office but also with collaborators all over the place. While I am now very involved with my own projects, I keep looking for ways I can bring others in on them with me, to share the experience. The greatest heroes come in groups — the Roundtable knights, the crew of the Enterprise, the Rebel Alliance.
If we’d like to learn more for the About the Author section of your story, what’s the best way for everyone to keep up with you? And is there any last message that you’d like to share?
You can check out my website and occasional blog at bill-bridges.com, where you’ll also find a link to sign up for my email announcements list and hear about my future releases when they come out. There are also links to follow me on various social media platforms.
I want to thank you for inviting me over to your cozy online fireside. May all your dice rolls come up critical and your word ring true.
Bill, thanks for sharing your story with us. May the Galliards always praise you in song!