A warm love bytes welcome to author Mason Thomas joining us today to talk about new release “The Shadow Mark”.
Learn to Write by Rolling Dice
I can barely remember a time when Dungeons and Dragons was not part of my life. My friends and I discovered the game when we were in our teens, soon after its inception back in the mid-seventies. (I’m dating myself there, I realize). At the time, AD & D (as it was called then) was rather controversial. TV news suggested the role-playing game was responsible for various aberrant behaviors among youth, and was even blamed for the strange disappearance of a college student in 1979. It was messing with the occult, many would say, and would lead to satanic worship. It was the subject of many loud arguments I would have with my father. Instead of playing a game in someone’s basement all night, he would have preferred that I was out drinking or getting into trouble like normal teens. That was behavior he could understand. Dungeons and Dragons was something that would never make sense to him, no matter how I explained it.
Of course, we didn’t care about any of that. It didn’t matter what our parents thought or what society thought. As soon as we learned how to play, we were hooked for life. It tapped into something in us that at the time we couldn’t understand or articulate.
It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized that the place in my brain that is satiated by the game was the same place that my drive to write comes from. The two have always occupied a similar place in my life, like sister planets orbiting an invisible star.
A quick primer for the game: for those who’ve played before, feel free to skim this next part and skip ahead. Dungeons and Dragons was the very first tabletop RPG, which stands for “role playing game.” Many exist now, but D&D was the first and is arguably still the best. It is a game built on one’s imagination. There are rules to give a structure to the game play, but everything takes place in the “theater of the mind.” In a way, it functions much the same as an open world video game—think Skyrim on a table—or like a group participation “choose your own adventure” novel.
Those involved in the game are either the players, who create and play the characters that are going on the adventure, or the game master or GM. (Also referred to as the dungeon master or DM.)
I typically am the latter. Playing the role of GM has always been my favorite part of the game. It puts me in charge of the world. Godlike, I play the role of the forces against the players, always at odds with them, but at the same time, neutral and unfeeling. It is my job to provide them the adventure and make certain that it’s fun and satisfying.
That is a tricky line to dance. Take it too easy on them, and the players aren’t challenged and get bored. Push them too hard and they will get frustrated, or worse, their characters will die—something surprisingly difficult for a player to deal with when that happens.
The challenge for the GM is to have the threat of catastrophe hanging over them at all times. If there is no danger, there’s no adventure. It is in that thin grey twilight that creates the best experiences. You may not ever actually kill off one of the characters, but your players damn well better believe that you would!
This is has made me a far better writer. It’s easy to see where this skill translates. I’ve learned over time when to push, and when to back off. When writing the adventures for my own novels, I’ve learned that it’s okay to push the characters farther and harder, and put them through hell. If I don’t, the reader is not going to feel the danger, or worse, get bored and put the book down. I’ve taken characters to the very brink—and the reader along with them. You may not plan to kill off that character, but your readers damn well better believe that you would.
You also can’t keep the dial at a nine all the time. It’s the ebb and flow of the threat level that keeps people engaged and on their toes. And on the same token, don’t take your foot off the gas entirely—there should always be some level of tension.
Premade/pre-written adventures are out there, in print form and digital form. Some are free, others you have to purchase. But I’ve always been one to create my own homegrown adventures. This means that every couple of weeks I am forced to come up with new ideas. I have to expand the main plot line of the story, create side adventures, invent people that they meet on their adventure, build a culture for a society, and provide opportunities for the characters to grow and evolve with their own personal stories. This means that my idea machine must always on, well oiled, and running at full efficiency. If it isn’t, I show up with a weak adventure.
All of this has helped me fill the pages of a novel with the good stuff. If I need a compelling character to help move the plot forward, I can invent someone on the fly that suits the purpose of the scene. Need a challenge for my protagonist? No problem. I’ve been training how to throw out story road blocks my entire adult life. I understand how aspects of a society interact to create a living and believable culture because I’ve been designing them since I was sixteen.
There is a solid reason why I still the game, and will continue to do so until I’m too old to roll dice. Dungeons and Dragons has always been my training ground for how to craft a better story.
Cover Designer: Maria Fanning.
Auraq Greystone, once a military officer with a promising future, exists on the fringe of society. Accused of murder, Auraq is on the run from the ax—until two fugitives crash into his solitary life. One is a young man named Kane. The glowing marks on his arm pulse with an otherworldly power, and they have made him the target of a sinister organization called the Order of the Jackal. When the old man protecting Kane dies in an ambush, Auraq swears an oath to take his place.
But the runes are far more significant than they realize. They are a message from the shadow realm, a dark memory of the past—one holding evidence of a bloody massacre and its savage architect; one that will shake the kingdom to its foundation. Risking arrest and execution, Auraq fights to get Kane to the capital city where the cryptic marking can be unlocked. And with assassins close on their trail, Auraq might never get the chance to show Kane what’s in his heart—or the way their journey together has changed him.
The Shadow Mark is an epic tale of magic, murder, conspiracy, betrayal, and—for the two men tasked with unraveling the mystery—love and redemption.
Mason Thomas began his writing journey at the age of thirteen when his personal hero, Isaac Asimov, took the time to respond to a letter he wrote him. He’s been writing stories ever since. Today he is ecstatic and grateful that there is a place at the speculative table for stories with strong gay protagonists.
Mason, by all accounts, is still a nerdy teenager, although his hairline and waistline indicate otherwise. When his fingers are not pounding furiously at a keyboard, they can usually be found holding a video-game controller, plucking away at an electric guitar, or shaking a twenty-sided die during a role-playing game. Mason will take any opportunity to play dress-up, whether through cosplay, Halloween, or a visit to a Renaissance Faire. He pays the bills by daring middle school students to actually like school and encouraging them to make a mess in his science classroom. He lives in Chicago with his endlessly patient husband, who has tolerated his geeky nonsense for nearly two decades, and two unruly cats who graciously allow Mason and his husband to share the same space with them.