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Holden Shearer Speaks!

August 11, 2010

This is an interview I’ve had a hard time not posting, since I got it Friday right after my post that morning. However, I’ve stuck to my schedule, and I hope you all feel the wait was worth it. Today, I have the honor and pleasure to present the fruits of my interview with none other than the Ink Hamster himself, Holden Shearer!

Octopoid: First, for the audience, can you tell us who you are and what you do?

Holden Shearer: My name’s Holden Shearer (Holden at the White Wolf forums, HLS at rpg.net). I’m presently a college student pursuing an AA degree, a freelance writer, and working at becoming a novelist. I’m not otherwise employed at the moment, though I prefer the term “freelance bum.”

My lance is very free indeed.

Also, Ink Monkey.

O: Can you tell us what products, specifically, you’ve worked on?

HS: Sure. I started off helping playtest, balance, tighten the screws on, and ultimately edited The Manual of Exalted Power—The Infernals.

My first actual paid writing gig for White Wolf was The Manual of Exalted Power—The Alchemicals. I got to do chapters one, three, four, and co-wrote chapter five, so this was basically my dream job. After that, I did the Alchemicals and some Dragon-Blooded in Scroll of Exalts, and chapter six and part of chapter seven of The Return of the Scarlet Empress. I got to stat Big Red.

PDF-wise, I did the non-Incarnae Charms in Glories of the Most High, and the martial arts styles in Debris From the Fallen Races. I helped Michael Goodwin write Under the Rose, though he did most of the work on that. And I co-authored the revised material in Dreams of the First Age with John Mørke.

I also got the ball rolling on Ink Monkeys, if that counts.

O: I’d say it counts!  Can you describe for us the specifics of being a freelancer for White Wolf? What does your job typically entail? Do you find yourself writing more mechanics, fluff, or something else entirely?

HS: It’s nerve-wracking and wonderful. I’m kind of high-strung by nature and a firm believer in Murphy’s Law, so it’s mostly a matter of watching my inbox, waiting for the next job proposal to appear, and hoping I didn’t screw something up and get blackballed by mistake. The company tends toward crazy-short deadlines for whatever reason, so when a contract does appear, it usually means a mad scramble to get the assignment lined up and knocked down.

As far as what I handle, I think of myself primarily as a crunch guy—I like the system, I’m a system-centric thinker, and finding new ways to make it sit up and dance is my hobby, it’s what I do to amuse myself. John Chambers appears to think of me as Alchemical Guy, since I seem to have landed all the Alchie-centric material for three products running, and that’s fine by me. I could write about Autochthonia and its Exalts all day, every day. Scroll of Exalts is by far the hardest assignment I’ve ever had to tackle. I’d say writing adventure modules is my weakest point, while Charm design and setting exploration are where I’m happiest.

O: From what sources do you tend to draw your inspiration?

HS: Whatever I’m exposed to at the time tends to appear in what I’m writing. Watching Bleach? Solars end up with flash step Charms and Infernals are pulling Arrancar tricks. Reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms, back-line War Charm ideas bubble up. The 2e Soulsteel Caste was largely inspired by Rorschach from Watchmen. Setting writing tends to be a mixture of inspiration from various histories, and, depending on whether I’m doing interesting grit or hopeful heroics, that gets filtered through either Deadwood or Turn A Gundam.

I’ve started watching Doctor Who during the last few months. Well. Powered through 18 seasons of it. It hasn’t started leaking into Exalted yet, thankfully.

I’m busy chewing my way through the canon, as well (Lord Dunsany, the Elric and Conan stories, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Night’s Master, etc), but I’m not the line’s best guy for taking the game back to its mythic roots yet.

O: Who would you say are your favorite authors or writers are in the gaming field? What about your favorite artists or designers?

HS: Jenna Moran is an unending fascination and inspiration for me. I bought Weapons of the Gods just because I missed her writing voice. 1e Sidereals was a revelation for me, taught me things about interwoven design I’d never even imagined before. She’s by far my favorite person in the industry. As far as artists go, I’ve always loved the artwork of Melissa Uran, Kiyo and Omar Dogan. Geoff Grabowski and Justin Achilli remain inspirations to me as far as designers/developers go. I have tremendous respect for the “sober-but-awesome” approach they take to intellectual properties, and their focus on realpolitik.

O: Can you tell us a bit about how you first got into freelancing? What advice would you offer to others who might be looking to follow in your footsteps?

HS: I got in by accident and by grace. Michael Goodwin and Neall Raemonn Price grandfathered me in; I attracted Neph’s attention, according to the man himself, due to some particularly insightful setting commentary on the White Wolf forum, which caused him to ping me as a potential playtester for the Infernal Charms. We clicked from there.

I have no idea how one gets in through the front door, as a consequence. My advice would be, do what you love, and put your work out there where everyone can see it. Go where the people you want to impress are. They are always looking for talent. There’s no ivory tower. This is an industry hungry for brilliance.

O: What is your favorite creature from Exalted? Your favorite Exalted type? Why?

HS: I’m rather fond of the chillikin. We had a very fun couple of sessions revolve around one of those.

My favorite Exalt type to write about are the Alchemicals, followed closely by Infernals. Back in First Edition, Sidereals were my hands-down favorite to play; these days, it’s a toss-up between those three. I love the unique setting position of all three Exalt types, as well as the idiosyncrasies of their Charm sets.

O: What would you say is your favorite part of freelance writing? Your least favorite?

HS: My favorite part? Watching the fans go bananas during a new release, tied with hearing about what kind of awesome thing they’ve done with material I inserted into the game. A close third would be getting my author copies of a new book in the mail, and seeing the awesome illustrations that have been produced to go alongside my prose.

My least favorite part is the way getting behind the curtain changes the way you look at the material. It’s hard to read the output of my coworkers as a fan any more, you’re always going “no, dammit, that’s wrong! Agh! I would have done that so differently! Oh hell, that gets all in the way of what I was wanting to do with Setting Element Z!” Sometimes I can still just sit back and enjoy it, but having future plans and worrying someone else is going to invent his way across the middle of them with no warning is always scary.

O:  What message would you want most to give to frequent readers or forumites, given your position as both freelancer and frequent forum-goer

HS: Stay tuned, you haven’t seen anything yet.

(Okay, you’ve seen Dreams of the First Age, that was something. But still! Better things still to come.)

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