["This Thing That I Do" is a feature on Destructoid where I interview people who work in the gaming industry or people who have achieved something noteworthy to give us some insight into how it all works.]
It is not unusual for video games to impact our own imaginations in such a way that despite finishing a game, our minds are still racing at 100 mph. For many, that is enough, but a select few have the ability to allow their creativity to follow and anything from fan art to fanfiction is created.
Sadly, fanfiction isn't normally the most respected of creative outlets, with many seeing it synonymous to poorly written fantasies of highschoolers who have an abnormal obsession with cloud and Sephiroth. However, this isn't strictly true. In amongst the poorly written fantasies of highschool girls can lie some literacy gems and Tom Church is the perfect example. Tom Church is a long-time gamer whose imagination was sparked while playing the MMORPG RuneScape. His fanfiction was quickly picked up by Jagex, and Tom now has the title of published author under his belt with not one but two RuneScape books.
I interviewed Tom to find out how he took those steps from being a gamer to being an author, how the Jagex community responded and of course, advice for those wishing to follow in his footsteps. On top of this, Titan Books have given Destructoid an exclusive excerpt from the latest RuneScape book, Return to Canifis.
Firstly Tom, tell me a little bit about yourself; how you got into gaming and of course your time with RuneScape.
I am in my early thirties now, which means I grew up in an age where gaming was migrating from being based around a player's imagination, with books and dice, to computers and online. I hadn't played any of these games since my school years and my curiosity was piqued by RuneScape. After I signed up, I played it for a few months and thought, "If books based on pen and paper games can do well, like those of DragonLance or the Forgotten Realms, then a set of novels based on an online community such as RuneScape could do well also. Furthermore, they could provide an interaction with the player that books based on the older, pen and paper model could never attain." It was, and still is, an exciting prospect.
Titan Publishing informed me that originally the book was written as a fanfiction. Tell me, where did your ideas for your story come from?
The idea for the very beginning of the book actually came from an in-game event when my character was still at quite a low level. I was defeated by one of the Kinshra (also known as the Black Knights), and I had forgotten that I was wearing a Ring of Life, which teleported me to Falador when I was only a moment away from death. It was a totally unexpected surprise, and gave me, in that very instant, the intriguing idea for the start of the novel. After that, it was a process of partly joining the dots that existed in the game.
How did your fanfiction get picked up by Jagex? Did you contact them or did they find you?
I contacted them. My brother and I run our own company and we printed a few copies off at a local publishing firm. We made our pitch to Jagex about what the books could do for their company and image and then it was handed over to the content teams, where the story was enhanced and edited to be compatible with RuneScape lore.
What was the process like taking a fanfiction to actually be published? What was expected of you?
It was a very interesting project, and I ended up becoming a publisher as well as an author which meant that there was a great deal more hands-on control in the day-to-day running of the project than if there was a third-party publisher. From a personal point of view, it was a great opportunity and responsibility in sourcing editors and proofreaders and printers to put the entire package together.
Now it seems to feel like pretty common knowledge throughout the Internet that fanfictions are often a bit of a joke, full of bad writing and a hell of a lot of yaoi. As someone who has taken that step up to being a published author, how do you feel about fanfiction writing and the way it is viewed?
Well the Internet is the great leveler of our time, and as a medium for ideas to be transmitted and published then fanfiction is here to stay. Part of the greatness of the Internet (which can very easily become a weakness) is its anonymity, and this can give people the shield they need to expose their ideas to the world at large. In my view, fanfiction might be a good place for people to develop their interest in writing, but the truth is that they would learn a lot more developing their own worlds and characters from scratch. Having said that, anything that inspires people, or gives them the interest to exercise their imaginations in such a way is something I believe to be a good thing.
What has the reaction been like from the RuneScape community? Have they been supportive of the book? They are a pretty hardcore community...
There was a small negative element who were hostile to the project when it was first announced, before the book was even available. That is always annoying, when someone judges something without even reading it, but it is the world we live in. If you do anything that goes out to a wide audience, you should expect this. However, when the book began to bring in real reviews that minority was swiftly marginalised. On the whole, the reviews have been very good, which I am obviously very grateful for.
Tom, what are your plans as a writer? Will you continue to explore gaming worlds like many others are doing or was this for first step to writing original stories and universes?
I will endevour to complete what I started three years ago with Jagex and now Titan. I want to be able to provide a set of books that essentially offer a contemporary history of RuneScape with interesting characters on ever-more dangerous adventures. After that there are plans for original works but they are far in the future.
Finally, many others have tried their hands at writing fanfiction and websites like fanfiction.net show us that, but what is your advice to those who are writing fancitions that really want to see themselves as published authors in the future?
I would repeat what I stated above, and that that is the best way to get published is with your own work. Many franchises will not even read work based on their universes. So the first step would be to identify a literary agent who has dealt in similar work to which you are writing, and then follow their guidelines exactly in regard to submissions. Having said that, fanfiction is a great place to get general feedback for your work, and in writing shorter stories which will help build up your appetite for longer fiction. If you like it, then do it.
Find out more at www.tschurch.com
Excerpt from RuneScape: Return to Canifis:
"It was afternoon, and a grey light shone through the high windows of the palace’s great hall. The sweat on Theodore’s clothes was cold against his skin after the exertion of overseeing the training of twenty recruits for the knights.
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