Today’s Tell Me comes from the ever fabulous, incredibly talented Marie Bilodeau. She is a storyteller, author, gamer, and so much more. She tells me how she borrowed from her gaming experience to write The Guild of Shadows series. Also, she seems to have a small obsession with baked goods.
Roll for perception. Sneak attacks. Curse damage…after more than a year of playing our regular Dungeons and Dragons campaign, I didn’t want it to end.
Around the table, gathered by writer and podcaster Brandon Crilly, were some of my closest friends: Jay Odjick, Derek Künsken, Evan May, Nicole Lavigne, and Tyler Goodier. All of these people are writers and creators, so the creative energy around the roleplaying table reached stratospheric levels of high.
So much so that our campaign somehow built itself in arcs, and we knew we were in the final arc. My character Tira Misu was cursed. One of our good friends, the druid Gwriad, was gone. The Spider Queen was about to be reborn (deities are often bored in D&D).
It was all coming to an end, and I started blogging about it, wanting to keep our Sunday gaming sessions going for a bit longer.
This wasn’t because the world was so amazing (it’s basic secondary fantasy), nor the gameplay mechanics unforgettable (I love D&D and many other systems, too). It was because the characters were so well fleshed out. Because the amazing group of creatives around the table were giving them motivations, thoughts, catch phrases…forming a ragtag crew of wanna-be-heroes.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and so did our campaign.
But the characters lived on in my head. I wanted more of their adventures, their company and insanity. I decided to base a story on them, but didn’t want to fall into the trap of “writing my campaign.”
First thing I did was look at the setting, which is so important to speculative fiction, subgenres leaning completely on magic vs tech vs both(!). Not to mention earth vs. the plants are eating people vs. kingdoms warring all the time. Also now (leather) vs. future (jumpsuits) vs. past (hoop skirts). …I’m oversimplifying, but you get the idea.
I looked at my main character, Tira Misu, and focused on her since I knew her best. I decided to import her into our world (leather!), but a different version of it. I quite literally imported her and her buddies via portals appearing all over the world, replacing babies in their cribs, a play on the old changeling stories.
So now it became urban fantasy, a comfortable departure from secondary world fantasy RPG.
Next were the arcs. Story and character arcs in D&D are flexible and at times messy, depending on character rolls and other players around the table to define characters and events. For a fiction book, which needs a strong narrative and motivations to entice the reader to flip the page, I needed to clean it up, pick a few traits of each character, and go from there.
I plotted and schemed even, and ended with a six-book arc. Some characters don’t show up until halfway through the arc. And not all will necessarily make it to the end. The central mystery pulls the characters along the whole way through, but there are side mysteries and adventures demanding their immediate attention in each book, too. So, six mini-story arcs all feeding one giant arc.
That one felt more like the game, in a way. Side quests on the way to the main reveal.
Because I already knew the characters’ emotional beats and personalities, the first book in The Guild of Shadows series, Hell Born, practically wrote itself. It kept me up. I couldn’t shake it. Same with the second book, Hell Bent, and now the third, Raising Hell (coming soon!).
Once all six books are done, I’m not sure what will happen. But I do know that we’re about to start a new arc in our campaign. Most characters are returning to the table. The players are all geared up. Characters have evolved and changed. New adventures await.
And, in their dusty, potentially bloody wake, I have a feeling that more books will follow.
Marie Bilodeau is an Ottawa-based author and storyteller, with eight published books to her name. Her speculative fiction has won several awards and has been translated into French (Les Éditions Alire) and Chinese (SF World). Her short stories have also appeared in various anthologies.
In a past life not-so-long ago, she was Deputy Publisher for The Ed Greenwood Group (TEGG). Marie is also a storyteller and has told stories across Canada in theatres, tea shops, at festivals and under disco balls. She’s won story slams with personal stories, participated in epic tellings at the National Arts Centre, and adapted classical material.
Marie is co-host of the Archivos Podcast Network with Dave Robison, co-chair of Ottawa’s speculative fiction literary convention CAN-CON with Derek Künsken, and is a casual blogger at Black Gate Magazine.