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Sunday, June 14, 2015

An Interview With George Ivanoff: The Gamers Trilogy

A confession here. I've known fellow Ford Street writer George Ivanoff for many years. We met in Star Trek fandom. George has gone on to be able to make a living from his writing, unlike most Australian writers. Now that he has made it to the YABBA shortlist, I thought it more than time to celebrate some of his work, and let you, dear readers, know what great stuff us coming out from Ford Street Publishing. The books mentioned are all available online, including ebooks from the Baen web site.

Your Gamers trilogy began as a short story in Ford Street's Trust Me! anthology. It was on the theme  "where do computer game characters go for their holidays?" How did you come up with this idea? And did it ever occur to you at the time that it might make the basis for a novel?

It all started with a documentary on the ABC. I was channel surfing and came across a doco about computer gamers gathering together in a massive warehouse to play games. What struck me about the interviews was that so many of the gamers talked about playing exciting games full of death, destruction and adventures, but then spoke about how dull and boring their lives were. It made me think about what sort of games would be played by computer game characters whose lives were filled with death, destruction and adventures.

At the time it was just a short story. I never considered expanding the idea into a novel until fellow-author Meredith Costain suggested it. 

2. When you did begin work on the trilogy, how did you plan it out? Did you know right at the beginning how it would end? 

When I started on Gamers Quest, I assumed it would be a stand-alone novel. So I just planned the one story. Of course, I knew what the consequences of that story would be. So when I was asked to write a sequel, it was just a matter of structuring a story around those consequences.

Writing Gamers Challenge was a bit different in that I was hoping I’d get to write a third book. It just seemed logical in my mind that the story would now be a trilogy. In the first book the two main characters, Tark and Zyra, don’t realise that they’re characters inside a computer game. So it’s a journey of discovery for them. In the second book, they know they’re in a game and they want out. It seemed only natural to me, that there should be a third book in which they did get out.

So while writing Gamers’ Challenge, I was planning for a third book and seeding things.

When I eventually got the go ahead for Gamers’ Rebellion, I was all ready to go.

3. Tell us a bit about your main characters, Tark and Zyra. How did you create them? Were they perhaps inspired by any other characters - or anyone you might know in real life? 

They weren’t inspired by anyone in particular. In the short story, they were intended to be clichés. What I did work at in the novels was progressing them from being stereotypical programmed games characters, to real teenagers. In the end, I wanted then to be typical teenagers in an atypical situation.

4. Tark and Zyra speak in a rather strange manner (we eventually find out why). What did you have in mind when you were devising their speech pattern? 

Initially in the short story, their speech patterns were meant to simply designate them as lower-class game characters. I was trying to play with clichés. In the novels I went on to develop this further… and the way they spoke became an important part of them overcoming their programming and becoming real.

5. Did you play any computer games on which, perhaps, The Game in your trilogy is based? (Or did you play some as research?)

As a teenager, my game of choice was Space Invaders (yes… I’m old). I played a few text based adventure games as well. But the game in the novels came about because I was amazed at the complexity of some modern games — too complex, I might add, for me to get my head around. I tried to take things a step further — a multi-world, virtual reality game. But right from the start, I knew it would be more than just a game, that there would be an ulterior motive behind it all. I finally got to reveal all that in the third book. 

6. When I was reading the trilogy I noticed some rather cheeky references/tributes to such things as Dr Who. What were some other tributes you paid? 

I’m kind of obsessed with pop culture and inserting pop culture references into my books. Each of the Gamers books has references to Doctor Who, because that is my biggest pop culture obsession. The other two major references in the Gamers books are Star Trek and William Gibson’s amazing cyberpunk novel Neuromancer.

7. You wrote another Gamers story for Ford Street’s second anthology, Trust Me Too!. How does this story relate to the novels?  

“Gamers’ Inferno” is a stand-alone story set inside the game. It has a completely new set of characters and is set in a game-world that doesn’t feature in the novels. I love the Gamers world that I created for the books, and this story was a chance to play in another part of it.

8. How have kids responded to these books so far? 

Response from kids has been great. They particular seem to love the villain in the first book, the Fat Man. He is an over-the-top cliché. And he was a huge amount of fun to write. While I aimed these books at myself as a 14 year old, they have been more popular with a younger audience of about 10-13, which I think is interesting.

9. I know you've done four Choose Your Own Adventure style books recently, of which one is on this year's YABBA shortlist (congratulations!) How difficult is it to write this sort of book? (Our Year 8 students had to write their own for English and it looked pretty hard to me!)

Actually, I’ve done eight You Choose books so far. Four came out last year, two earlier this year and another two are due for release in August.

These books are a lot more difficult to plan out. Rather than simply writing an outline, as I did for the Gamers novels, I plotted these out on a whiteboard. But because the planning was done in so much more detail, the actually writing was a lot simpler.

I am over the moon about the YABBA shortlisting. Unlike other judged awards, this one is voted on by kids. It is so exciting because the book has been nominated by my target audience.

10. What are you working on right now? 

I’m working on a new four-book adventure series that will be published by Random House Australia in 2016. I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything more about them, as they haven’t been announced yet. But I’m having a lot of fun researching and writing them.

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