Matt Forbeck is an award-winning and New York Times-bestselling author and game designer. He has over thirty novels and countless games published to date. His latest work includes the Star Wars: Rogue One junior novel and The Marvel Encyclopedia. Matt Forbeck has worked full-time on games and fiction since 1989 when he graduated from the Residental College at the University of Michigan with a degree in Creative Writing. Matt Forbeck is a proud member of the Alliterates writers’ group. He also belongs to the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers and the International Thriller Writers and is a member of the International Game Developers Association. In addition, Matt Forbeck serves on the board of the IGDA’s Game Writing SIG and the Gen Con Industry Insiders advisory panel. Projects Matt Forbeck has worked on have been nominated for 28 Origins Awards and won 15. This includes the Best Roleplaying Game for Deadlands and The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game, Best Miniatures Rules for Warzone and The Great Rail Wars, Best Roleplaying Adventure for Independence Day, Best Roleplaying Supplement and Best Graphic Design for Redhurst Academy of Magic, Best Fantasy Board Game for Genestealer, and Best Short Story for “Prometheus Unwound” from The Book of All Flesh. Please enjoy my interview with Matt Forbeck.
How do you describe your occupation?
I call myself a writer and game designer, but I’ll tackle anything that involves stories. I’ve designed collectable card games, roleplaying games, miniatures games, board games, and logic systems for toys, directed voiceover work, and written short fiction, comic books, novels, screenplays, and video game scripts and stories. Among other things.
Talk us through a typical day for you…
I get up in the morning as my wife — who’s a school social worker — takes my kids to school, and I check my email over breakfast and coffee. Then I set to work. I usually stick to it until everyone gets back from school, at which point I stop for the evening and help out with dinner, chores, homework and so on. Once everyone else has gone to sleep, I usually get back to it for a bit. Unlike some writers, I don’t write fiction every day. I try to write regularly, to hit my deadlines, but I can go weeks without it, working on other things instead: video games, comic books, game designs, and so on. But I always love getting back to it.
What are you reading at the moment and what made you want to read it?
Drone Warrior: An Elite Soldier’s Inside Account of the Hunt for America’s Most Dangerous Enemies by Brett Velicovich and Christopher S. Stewart. It’s research for a modern-day thriller I’m about to start writing, in which the main character is a drone pilot.
Can you remember the first book you read by yourself?
Probably not. I was a voracious reader and devoured everything I could get my hands on. One of my favourite early books, though, was Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I loved it as a kid, and I read it to my own kids so often I could recite it by heart.
Are you a page folder or a bookmarker?
Bookmarker! Dog-earing a book damages it!
When did you fall in love with reading?
At a terribly young age. I had awful asthma nearly from birth, which meant that I spent a lot of time either sitting down and trying to catch my breath or sitting in a hospital, waiting for treatment. We didn’t have smartphones or Nintendo DS’ back then, so the best way to entertain myself was through books.
If you could gift yourself books at age 16 and age 25 – what would they be and why?
Ideally, I’d give myself my own books so I could save myself all the bother and struggle of actually having to write them. Other than that, I don’t know. Even at those ages, I just went ahead and read the books I wanted to read, things like Neuromancer by William Gibson and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. They shaped me into the writer I am today. I don’t know that I’d want to mess with that too much.
What are perfect reading conditions for you?
I’ll read anywhere I can find a quiet moment. If I had to imagine perfection, though, it would be reading while lying in a hammock by a lake in the Northwoods, late enough in the summer that all the mosquitoes have gone away.
For someone starting out in your career, which three books would you make required reading and why?
That’s a tough question, mostly because I have less of a career and more of a collection of wild projects I’ve strung together. Still, I’d go with:
As with all advice books, though, I would suggest you follow the parts in each of these that works for you and disregard the rest. There is no one-size-fits-all advice for creators. We all figure out what works best for us in our own times and ways.
If you could invite 5 authors (dead or alive) to a dinner party – who would they be and why?
Ernest Hemingway, J.R.R. Tolkien, Harper Lee, Douglas Adams, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Hemingway and Chandler taught me tons about style, and Hemingway, in particular, knew how to live large. Tolkien showed me how to explore the depths of imagination and treat it with the rigour you would show anything else you considered vital. Lee was such a recluse, but I love To Kill a Mockingbird and would be thrilled to be able to talk with her about it. Adams was one of the funniest people in writing and life, a brilliant man gone way too soon. Coates is one of the best writers of my generation, a man who excels at casting matters in their proper perspectives.
What was the last book you purchased, and why did you buy it?
As an ebook, it was Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. It was on sale, and I’ve heard such great things about it that I couldn’t resist. In print, it was Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier by Mark Frost. I’m a huge fan of Twin Peaks — along with my kids — and I just had to see how Frost managed to cap it all off.
What is your favourite thing about reading?
The way it transports you out of your own head and into someone else’s. When it’s done well, it’s almost invisible. In a way, the thoughts you read become your own. It’s the best kind of empathy engine around.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
I really loved Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier by Mark Frost, but for a more traditional narrative, I’d go with The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin. This is the third book in her Broken Earth trilogy, and I loved the first two so much that I absolutely could not wait for it to come out. I swallowed it whole.
If you could insert yourself into any book, which would you pick and why?
I actually did that in my Dangerous Games novels, a trilogy of thrillers I set at Gen Con, the largest tabletop games convention in the world. That’s mostly because that’s been such a huge part of my life for decades that I couldn’t bear to imagine the convention without me at it, so I became a minor character in my own stories. Honestly, I don’t know if I’d want to be a character in most books. They’re usually packed with people at horrible points in their lives because those are the bits that are most interesting to read about. They’re fun to read, but generally not so fun to actually live in. Maybe I’d go with Tales from Margaritaville by Jimmy Buffett. He’s had a fun life, and I wouldn’t mind riding around in his seaplane for a while.
1984 by George Orwell. It was prescient when he wrote it back in 1949, and it’s even more useful as a means of understanding our political environment today.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life? What impact did it have?
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. It essentially created the entire fantasy genre, in which I’ve written all kinds of stories and games. The popularization of such worlds made it possible for me to fashion a career out of warlike fairy tales.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
Countless ones. Some of my favourites include:
Trouble Is My Business by Raymond Chandler
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
Dune by Frank Herbert
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Which book sat on your shelf are you most excited about reading next and why?
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, which is brilliant. I started it but had to put it aside, and I’m dying to finish it. It’s a book that demands your full attention, though, and I feel like I need to carve out some time to attack it.