Jason A. Holt, board game writer and translator, is fluent in Czech and lives on a remote Montana cattle ranch. He’s worked on the Galaxy Trucker board game and is author of the Edgewhen series of fantasy novels. His first Galaxy Trucker novel, Rocky Road, was just released! Holt recently took the time to answer some questions:
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Wes Platt: How and when did you discover that you wanted to be a writer?
Jason A. Holt: Let me just say that I hate the way writers answer this question, because the answer is always something like, “When I was in second grade, my poem got published in a teachers’ newsletter. I got paid two dollars, and I’ve been a writer ever since.”
It’s so intimidating. I was several years out of grad school before I seriously sat down to write novels. How can I compete with someone who’s been a professional writer since second grade?
But the truth is, I always loved creative writing when I was in school. I wrote for the student newspaper at Montana State University. I just forget all that stuff when I start comparing myself to other writers.
And, yes, I did get paid 2 dollars for that poem I wrote in second grade.
WP: Share some writers whose work you enjoyed growing up.
JAH: Robert A. Heinlein and Alan E. Nourse. Not sure if anyone remembers Nourse, but his hard science fiction solar-system exploration adventures were fascinating.
When I was ten, I think I spent the entire summer in Oz. And when I discovered historical fiction, I read every Patricia Beatty novel I could get my hands on.
Then in high school my cousin introduced me to Douglas Adams.
WP: What was your first tabletop gaming experience?
JAH: My mom got sick of playing Candyland, so she taught me Cribbage and Yahtzee when I was five. I’ve been a gamer ever since.
My first role-playing game experience was when an older kid showed me the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide. A while later, my aunt gave me a bookstore gift certificate for my birthday and I knew I had to buy this:
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Image credit: Sierra Stoneberg Holt
Strictly speaking, though, I don’t remember my first tabletop experience because we usually played on the floor.
WP: Do you prefer to be a player or a GM? Why?
JAH: Back when I was playing regularly, I loved being the GM because I wanted to build worlds, make up stories, delve into characters’ back stories, and generally be in charge. Those are exactly the same intellectual muscles I use in writing novels, so now I’m grateful when someone else is willing to run a game for me.
WP: How did you connect with Czech Games Edition?
JAH: Czech game designer Vlaada Chvátil was my boss when we worked for a Moravian computer game company. We had this RPG that needed a story. Vlaada wrote the story in Czech, and I translated it to English so we could pitch the project to investors. That game never got made, but when Vlaada was looking for someone to translate his board game rulebooks, he asked me. I’ve been working with CGE since before they were CGE.
WP: What do you enjoy about Galaxy Trucker?
JAH: In cardboard, I love building a great ship, rebuffing everything that threatens it, and finishing the flight with lots of money. Against the AI in the app, I have a lot more trouble, but I like the way the app streamlines everything while still retaining that tactile feel of building a space truck piece by piece.
WP: What’s your favorite rule in the game?
JAH: The last one.
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Image credit: Czech Games Edition
I like that rule because it acknowledges that some players set their own victory conditions.
WP: Congratulations on the release of “Rocky Road”, the new Galaxy Trucker novel! How did that project come about? Can you describe the process of developing a story like that within the parameters of someone else’s intellectual property?
JAH: Well, I don’t think Galaxy Trucker: Rocky Road is like other gaming tie-in fiction. I asked my friend if I could write a novel in his universe. He said that would make him very happy. So I wrote this thing straight from the heart, and only once I had it written did we start dealing with details like Who is going to publish this?
I’m the guy who wrote the English-language version of every rulebook and I also worked on the app, so I knew the setting pretty well. The only worldbuilding element Vlaada asked me to change was the ship-building scene. I had written it more like it is in the game, and he envisioned something more chaotic. So I rewrote it, and I think it works great.
I’m used to working with Vlaada as the presenter of his ideas, but that wasn’t really the dynamic this time. This time, the ideas were mine, and he was the editor of my novel. He’s a great editor. He had a lot of story suggestions which made the book better.
WP: Is writing a full-time occupation or do you have a day job? What’s your day job, if you have one?
JAH: I also write the Edgewhen series of fantasy adventure novels.
I’ve been working on novels for as long as I’ve been working on board games. Neither is a hobby, but I’m not sure which is the day job. Now that the novelist and the board game writer have merged, I guess it doesn’t matter.
WP: How do you describe success as an author?
JAH: I measure success financially, as does the main character in Galaxy Trucker: Rocky Road. This is one of the reasons she’s so messed up.
I have to say, though, when a board game reviewer posts a photo of our latest rulebook and gives it the caption, “CGE rulebook writer Jason Holt strikes again,” I feel pretty good.
WP: Do you prefer the nuts and bolts of rulebooks or do you feel more at home writing fiction?
JAH: Well … CGE rulebooks can be quite a bit nuttier than a normal nuts-and-bolts rulebook. And even a straightforward rulebook like the one we did for Tzolk’in is fun to write. But if all I wanted to do was write rulebooks all the time, I’d be looking for more freelance work instead of writing novels.
If I had to choose either novels or rulebooks, I’d miss the other one. I’m lucky I get to do both.
WP: Share some current writers whose work you currently enjoy.
JAH: After Brandon Sanderson finished Robert Jordan‘s Wheel of Time, I decided I never needed to read epic fantasy again because I had finished the best possible epic fantasy ever. But Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive has really gripped me.
Steven Brust writes wonderful fantasy adventures.
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of P. G. Wodehouse. I guess Wodehouse hasn’t been current for a long time, but he’s still the best humor novelist in the English language. There’s no way I can compete with him. … But I guess my goal was to write a funny novel, and I did. So what if some other jokers are funnier?
Thanks so much to Jason for sharing his thoughts and experiences! I’m always interested in hearing from other writers and their perspectives, so feel free to reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.