The youngest of seven children, Cinema Sentries contributor Chad Derdowski survived the harsh Michigan winters by pretending he was on Hoth fighting the Empire. He grew to manhood, continued to do imaginary battle with AT-ATs every snowfall, and eventually ended up writing this biography. In addition, he co-created and authored the acclaimed young adult science-fiction post-apocalyptic buddy comedy novel All Robots Must Die! and has contributed stories to the Eisner Award-winning Aw Yeah Comics! and the Spacepig Hamadeus and the Captive Planet anthology. He used to write the weekly Comicscape column for the now defunct Mania.com, but he mostly just reads comics and watches a lot of cartoons and pro wrestling with his kids (his wife watches the cartoons, but not the wrestling). He has just written the branching-path gamebook, Fortune Favors the Bold: Saga of the Scissorwulf (Volume 1)
What was the genesis of this project?
I was a child of the ’80s, so Choose Your Own Adventure and similar branching-path game books go hand in hand with G.I. Joe, He-Man, and Transformers. It’s one of those iconic things that a lot of us grew up with and looked back on fondly. I’ve enjoyed writing both for fun and occasionally for profit (but mostly for fun) for some time now and the idea of working in this style, but taking a more adult approach to it, has been gestating in my head for a while now.
I love pulps and I love comics – I grew up with those overly wordy comics where you get the impression that the writers are poets at heart, just slumming it in the world of superhero books. And I mean that with love and reverence, but some of that stuff is written in such a grandiose style that is kind of unnecessary for a medium that is more “show” than “tell”. That was the era – you had an editorial mandate at Marvel which stated that every issue should be treated as someone’s first, so writers had to reintroduce every character every time. These guys had to come up with a lot of creative ways to say “this dude is a badass with sharp claws”. It’s funny and redundant when you read a big chunk of them as an adult, but as a kid, I just ate it up.
I made mine Marvel when I was a kid so that sounds familiar.
But I do love the language of it, just as I love the language of pulps – The Shadow, Doc Savage, Conan the Barbarian, or any of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, as well as those “men’s adventure” books from the 1970s like Remo Williams or The Executioner. Oddly stilted wording and archaic language…the stuff is a joy to read, even if some of it isn’t necessarily considered “good” writing.
So I wanted to sort of try to do my own version of that stuff. Lurid writing appealing to our baser instincts – but with my tongue planted firmly in cheek. I wanted to create my own mythos and have fun in a world (or worlds) where it wasn’t necessarily about the growth of a character on their journey from point A to point Z, but more about picking something up that was just fun to read. I don’t want to sound like I’m mocking or insulting any of that stuff; I love those worlds and obviously we all owe those writers a great deal of gratitude. The sole intent of Fortune Favors the Bold is to put a smile on the face of others who also enjoy them.
I wanted to play with the tropes and clichés of those genres. The repetitive nature, the old fashioned language, the aggressive manliness and grand mythology. I want to poke fun at it, but with love. Fortune Favors the Bold is not a parody because it is a fantasy/sword n’ sorcery book – but maybe it’s safe to say that it gently teases those genres a bit.
What was your process in writing the book in terms of plotting and layout?
Initially, I was very organized and detailed. I got a big piece of posterboard and some Post-It notes and tried to map out out every single step of the book. But honestly, that was no fun and it didn’t allow the book to come to life the way it needed to. So the second time around, I dug out some old CYOA books, I drew a grid and proceeded to “break the book down”. On my grid, I wrote the page number in the top left corner of each little rectangle, and in the bottom corner, the page options where the story advanced to. In the top right corner, I wrote the page which had led you there. So I broke the method down that way and then made a blank grid and just started writing it longhand in a little journal, keeping track of which pages I had written on and just filled in the blanks. That probably sounds really complicated, but the long and short of it is this – each page has to end in a cliffhanger, so you’re compelled to keep reading, or in a question, so you have to make a choice. Bottom line.
Writing in a CYOA style appeals to me for a number of reasons. I have a very short attention span and a million ideas running through my head at once. I’m incredibly indecisive – I hate choosing which restaurant to go to or what to eat for dinner. And since I work full time and have two young children, it can be hard to find time to write. Instead of looking at these things as disadvantages or complaining about my lot in life, I decided to use them to my advantage.
As for the story, I had a few vague ideas in mind – as I said earlier, I knew there were certain tropes and clichés I wanted to touch on. I knew there would be a female pirate. I knew there would be wizards, unicorns and dragons, gibbous moons and Cyclopean Horror that would drive a mortal insane if they tried to comprehend them. Some elements that I came up with on day one made it to the final draft. But as I wrote, and as I reached the choices, new ideas sprung to mind and took the story in crazy directions, which you’ll see when you read it.
Who do you see as your audience?
I have no idea! At first, this was just for my friends and I to have a laugh over, so I wasn’t thinking that far ahead. But upon finishing it and getting feedback, I am aware that there is an audience, even if I’m not sure who they are.. I’m sure that anyone in my age range who grew up with CYOA books, Conan and Dungeons & Dragons, and was around for the whole “Satanic Panic” thing would get a kick out of it. Geeks and stoners with a good sense of humor. I’ve been told that I’m probably looking at the same demographic that enjoys Adult Swim; but to be honest, I’ve had a few readers who are absolutely at the opposite end of that spectrum and they’ve given me a lot of positive feedback as well. So hopefully there’s a little something in it for everyone.
Did you always intend the self-publishing route? What are the advantages/disadvantages?
Well, the biggest advantage with Create Space is that it is free! I’m not a rich man by any means, so that’s actually a pretty big deal. I mean, anyone can do it, which I think is really awesome if you have a story that you want to get out there and share with others. There’s no overhead, so anything that I earn goes right back into buying stock and hopefully getting a table at a convention or something along those lines.
I guess the disadvantages are that you’re editing the book yourself (or you’re forcing your friends to do it for you). I proofread that damn book a thousand times and as soon as I got my final copy, I found a spelling error. So there’s not like, an army supporting you while you try to get this thing out there.
The interior of the book lists it as Volume 1. Will there be further adventures of The Scissorwulf or just further FFTB books?
Both. I’m currently working on Volume 2 and it’s definitely a Scissorwulf story. As with the first one, certain choices will reveal more and more of his backstory as well as the mythology of the world. But this one is going to be bigger and now that I’ve got a handle on how to write one of these, I’m going to try to play with the format a bit and also include more artwork. I don’t want to just repeat what I’ve done before. But I have always intended on writing more of these and I have a few other concepts and characters I want to introduce.