NAME: Jeff Deck
PLACE OF ORIGIN: New Hampshire
CURRENT BASE: South Berwick, Maine
GENRES: Sci-fi, fantasy, horror
NEWEST BOOK: Player Choice, a sci-fi gaming adventure novel.
It’s 2040, and game designer Glen Cullather has a plan for the most ambitious virtual-reality game ever imagined. But as he begins to jump among alternate realities in his own life, Glen must figure out what’s real and what’s fantasy — for his own survival. “Player Choice” is a fast-paced gaming sci-fi adventure that dares to ask:
What happens when unreality becomes our reality?
Find Player Choice on Amazon as an e-book (http://www.amazon.com/Player-Choice-Jeff-Deck-ebook/dp/B00T01SAWA/).
THE TELLING DETAILS
So I’ve had experience now in a couple of different genres. The Great Typo Hunt was nonfiction, the true story of my typo-hunting journey across the U.S. Meanwhile, my new book Player Choice takes a big left turn from that, not just into fiction, but into sci-fi, jumping ahead to the year 2040.
Why such a change? Well, as much I love the truth, I love making stuff up even more. And fantasy, sci-fi, and horror have always held a particular fascination for me. These genres have always struck me as an opportunity to approach important revelations about ourselves from, well, a sideways direction.
Take sci-fi. Player Choice is a story about a virtual-reality game designer in the year 2040. But, of course, it’s also about us in the year 2015. It’s about how technology can change a society. It’s about advertising and gaming and identity and memory and corporate power. It’s about the promise, and horrors, of our potential. Genres like fantasy and sci-fi let us play with our own reality through a funhouse mirror. Sometimes the reflection shows truer than a normal mirror.
Does location influence your work?
I used to be a city person. Living in D.C. and then Boston unsurprisingly led me to write a lot of stories in an urban setting. It was like, while living in that setting myself, I had a hard time imagining stories happening in small-town or rural environments.
So I wound up with the first draft(s) of Player Choice, about a guy in a (future) Northwestern city. And then the first draft of The Pseudo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley, my next novel (coming this summer),is about a guy in D.C. It’s similar to how the publishing industry being based in New York City is the reason we end up with endless piles of novels set in New York City. Wherever you are becomes the center of your universe.
Why did I move to the suburbanish countryside here in southern Maine? I guess I wanted to change the center of my universe. Now you’ll probably be seeing a lot more stories from me that are set in small towns. I’ve got a Portsmouth (N.H.) horror series in the works …
Writing environment plays a big part for me (and I suspect for other writers as well). I work from home for my day job, and I’ve found that I can’t work on my fiction at the same desk that I use for my regular work. For one thing, I’m using the same computer — I don’t have that mental changeover if it’s the same computer, same desk, and same time of day.
I can get away with using the same computer at a different desk. Then I can get into the fiction-writing (or fiction-editing) mood. Particularly if it’s dark outside, or (if it’s morning) if the shades are drawn. The more I can disappear into the world on the page (helped out by earbuds or headphones with the appropriate music), the better.
And speaking of music, it really helps if I can listen to something relevant to the story. During the editing phase for Player Choice, I was fortunate enough to listen to a music mix prepared by my good friend Benjamin (who’d read several drafts of the story) as a kind of soundtrack for the book. In that spirit, I’m putting together a big list of songs from 2004 as I edit my next book, The Pseudo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley, which is set in that year.
I’m privileged to live in an area where I can reach either the ocean or the mountains in a relatively short amount of time. So there’s a lot of scenery within reach. My getaways the last few years have revolved mostly around European destinations, places with a lot of history and culture attached to their ridiculously gorgeous landscapes. It’s that cultural/historical factor that can make the real difference.
Here in New England, we do have a lot of history compared to the rest of the U.S., but … it still pales in comparison to the thousands of years that have shaped most places in Europe. Those places can be a real inspiration for writing speculative fiction, particularly fantasy.
Ooh. As I’ve gotten older and grayer, I’ve tried to become less critical, at least in public. There’s nothing uglier than writers sniping at each other in a public form. I mean, we’re all (we should be) on the same team.
The more writers can stick together, the more we can potentially form partnerships against harmful practices on the part of big publishers. It’s not really a case of every writer for herself or himself if we’re all bound to the same detrimental contract boilerplates. We do have the potential to make a difference …
And yet you see Big Five authors crapping on each other all the time in high-profile articles. Focusing on literary fiction versus genre fiction and other meaningless divisions. Rather than, say, asking themselves, “Don’t we all deserve a higher percentage here?” It’s like Stockholm Syndrome.
On the other hand, in the indie publishing world, you see an immense amount of writers supporting other writers. It’s collegial. It’s a recognition that the game doesn’t have to be zero-sum.
How about favorite causes?
Solipsistic creature that I am, I can’t hold my interest in a nonprofit cause or organization for long unless it directly relates to my own obsessions. So, of course, it usually ends up being writing-related.
I recently joined the board of trustees for the New Hampshire Writers’ Project, a statewide organization for supporting authors and literary arts. The NHWP has been great at recognizing the lifetime achievements of prominent New Hampshire authors — for example, the inaugural ceremony for the New Hampshire Literary Hall of Fame that just took place recently. The stuff I’m working on for NHWP is support for the other 99 percent of New Hampshire authors.
Most authors are still struggling to reach an audience for their work, because the pool of written work available for readers to purchase these days is so vast. It’s hard to stand out. I’ve created a New Hampshire Author Map that local readers can use to find local authors (who are NHWP members). We’ll be rolling it out to the reading public in the near future.
A favorite hangout?
You’ll find me almost every Thursday afternoon at the Book & Bar in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Where else can I drink beer while surrounded by books and friendly faces? It’s pretty much my favorite things in life bound up in one convenient package.
The Book & Bar isn’t where I write — but it’s certainly where I’ve gotten a lot of great story ideas. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no hangout in Portsmouth more welcoming to writers. At least half the staff are working on their own literary projects in their spare time.
Describe your significant other in one word or phrase.
My wife! As of April 1st.
When it comes to writing, who are your patron saints – the people you turn to for energy or inspiration or admire the most?
I’m just going to list them by genre: you can’t go wrong (for the most part) with any of these folks. Science fiction: Lois McMaster Bujold, Neal Stephenson, Ursula K. Le Guin. Fantasy: George R.R. Martin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Susanna Clarke. Horror: Stephen King, Mark Z. Danielewski, H.P. Lovecraft. And Michael Chabon and David Benioff, who jump around genres a bit.
There are a ton of other authors I still need to follow up on who wrote at least one book that I loved. I feel like I need to have at least a few favorite books by a particular author before that author can join the firmament of most inspirational for me. But, of course, in the list above, Clarke and Danielewski break that rule, since each of them wrote one incredible work that contains whole worlds in itself.
Every day I see more evidence that what we used to regard as The Future is now very much the present. Several different virtual-reality devices are set to hit the market later this year. Augmented reality is on its way, too. The world of Player Choice may arrive even faster than I speculated while writing the book. Part of the value of science fiction is giving ourselves the chance to run thought experiments about our potential future, before it arrives and bites us in the ass.
Player Choice, excerpt from Chapter 1
Attention: This is an oblivion-bound train. The next stop is: Agonizing death for everyone on board. Stand clear, the doors are closing!
Glen sat up in his seat and slapped his temple. Now where had that thought come from? He didn’t have time to waste on vague feelings of dread. Not this morning. The most important meeting of his life awaited him.
But the doomsayer in his brain persisted: Get off at the next stop, Cullather.
The doors slid open as the train stopped at the Swiftwater/Fourth Avenue Station. He stayed in his seat.
I said hit the bricks, private! Don’t you remember what’s going to happen?
Glen waved the thought away, grimacing. He’d commuted on the checkered line about eight hundred times before today with exactly zero incidents of death, agonizing or otherwise. All he had to fear from the creaky Kamukamp Public Transportation system was the occasional service delay.
Just nerves, he thought.
“Your sister’s calling again, Glen,” Sophie said. “Should I connect you?”
Ugh. There was only one reason she would be calling — the same reason she kept trying to call him over and over again. She needed bancors for her next fix.
“No,” he said, in a near-whisper so he wouldn’t disturb other passengers. “Tell Tara I’m … no, just make her go away.”
“How about I take a message.”
“You’ve refused her calls numerous times,” Sophie added. “Should I add Tara to your block list?” The celph helper’s voice was crisp, authoritative, but with a little bit of honey underneath.
“No, let’s figure that out later.”
He refocused on preparing for the meeting. He had to reach the right mental state. That left no room for fake premonitions. No room for grasping siblings. Just … serenity. And utter confidence, to pitch the aether game that would blow the doors off the whole industry.
No room for pressure, either.
“Novamundas” was the game: a sprawling fantasy epic with nearly infinite player choice. A game that would energize and inspire its players, and even help them to reclaim agency in their own lives. “Novamundas” could make a difference where so many other efforts had failed.
Glen had dreamed of the idea for a decade. During all those years he spent building his reputation in conventional game projects at Planet Beyond, he’d dedicated his off-time to grueling through the “Novamundas” concept and groundwork. Now, he was finally ready to sell the game idea to his bosses.
But he’d only get one shot. Right now he had influence and great press on his side, sure. But reputations were fleeting. What did that one awful review say about him? “Thinks he’s a king-shit writer but is really just Ye Olde King of Shit?” Ar, har, har.
Now, I start the presentation with the joke …
As his mind paddled through the selling points of “Novamundas” in sequence, his eyes wandered across the aisle. A surly older man with salt-and-pepper hair sat there, in a rumpled polyester shirt and checkered pants with the fly halfway down. Unless a change of clothes and a bar of soap awaited this guy at his office, he wouldn’t be heading to one of Kamukamp’s gleaming downtown towers. Nor would he be strapping on a Cozie Coffee apron or ringing purchases at a ValuChunk.
An artist, maybe. Or a beggar. Or both? The lines blurred in this city.
Too many artist-beggars. Too much money stashed in the pockets of the too few. Not that Glen’s own pockets were empty …
The passenger picked at his teeth with a long wooden splinter. His seatmates shifted and muttered in disgust, but he seemed oblivious. One woman, a beautiful, proud member of the ten percent, slumming it on the train, rolled her eyes and sighed with gale force.
The tooth-picker turned to the woman. “Go ahead, call me a revolting old pig. God knows you’ll feel better afterwards. Don’t you know that too much repressed bile is bad for your liver?”
“Piss off, jarvis,” she said.
Glen grinned. He never let a good bit of dialogue go to waste. Even if it did sound familiar. He summoned the image of his celph display into his mind. A second later, the display showed in his vision. With a flick of his finger, he selected the notes icon, and he looked down. A pen and a battered, spiral-topped notebook appeared in his hand. He jotted a few quick words on the “paper.” Sophie would take care of filing the note.
The train stopped again. The doors opened to admit a new sampling of characters.
Earlier in the ride, a young black woman had stood in the middle of the train car and recited a poem about her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, who had apparently been owned and abused by a Mr. Barton Cotswold in the nineteenth century. The poet had spoken in a monotone, but with smoking, furious eyes. Like her poem was a ritual to summon the shade of old Cotswold to this train, just so she could kick it in the spectral nuts. When she finished, she held up her old celph handset to receive donations.
Nobody had really cared. A supposedly “post-racism” society didn’t dwell on the fact that, a long time ago, humans had owned other humans. Slavery was such old news. But still, those surprising turns of language should have earned her at least a few bancors.
Glen had taken down a note on his pretend notepad then, too: Cotswold = Avian?
“Tara doesn’t want to leave a message,” Sophie reported now, dry as ever. “In fact, she has promised to do some very rude things to me if I don’t patch her through.”
Gods’ hooks, Tara was persistent. “You’re letting humans intimidate you, now?” he snapped. “Don’t give —”
A rippling boom drowned him out and reverberated through the train car. White light flashed outside the windows.
The train juddered and bucked.
The next couple of seconds slowed down and treated him to phantasmagoric sights: a whole box’s worth of fancy doughnuts from O-Face Bakery soaring through the air; the tip of the aging man’s big toothpick bursting through his cheek; a woman gripping her toddler by his feet as the little boy flipped up out of her lap and hung in the air …
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