You’ve entered into this year’s SPFBO — who would you say is your target audience and what would be your elevator pitch?
Target audience: The Child of Chaos, my entry for this year’s SPFBO, is a YA Fantasy book. That said, the darker elements push the suitable age to the older readers in that range (and actually make it more appealing to adults as well).
Elevator pitch: Writing the blurb for this book took forever. At first, I was convinced the star of the show was the world and I got bogged down in explaining the difference in social classes (priests versus faithless) and describing a society ruled by the gods of Order. I mean, isn’t the fact that there’s no fundamental difference between Good and Evil interesting? (My first-blush tagline was, “It doesn’t matter if you’re good or evil… as long as you’re something!”)
But I came to realize that people don’t care about any of that at first; they want to know about the characters, specifically the main character. And of course they do.
So here’s the blurb, the most concise description of the book I have:
Nothing can break the stranglehold the gods of Order have on the world . . . except a roll of the dice.
An irresistible longing drags young Galen to an ancient vault where, long ago, the gods of Order locked Chaos away. Chaos promises power to the one destined to liberate it, but Galen’s dreams warn of dark consequences.
He isn’t the only one racing to the vault, however. Horace, the bully who lives to torment Galen, is determined to unleash Chaos–and he might know how to do it.
Galen’s imagination always got him into trouble, but now it may be the only thing that can prevent Horace from unraveling the world.
“This is no ordinary sword and sorcery story. This is what fantasy fiction should be. [Glen Dahlgren is a] novelist who I think will become more widely known as his skill is appreciated.” –Piers Anthony. New York Times best-selling author of Xanth
All of that said, I’ve heard that people respond to a few elements of this book: 1) it’s not formulaic, 2) the world/mythos is original, well-built, and an important part of the story (rather than acting as a backdrop), 3) the underlying themes are thoughtful and provoke some discussion on the nature of Chaos, creativity, and balance.
And it doesn’t hurt that Piers Anthony endorsed it and the book won the gold medal for YA Epic Fantasy in the Readers’ Favorite competition!
Congrats on winning Gold in Reader’s Favorite Book Award Winner in the YA Fantasy Epic category! Have you entered your book or others into any other contests? What are the differences like between contests as a contestant? If there are any.
Thank you! I was floored by it. The gold medal was my first major win, and Readers’ Favorite is a well-respected and international competition.
I have entered the Child of Chaos into other contests, and I’m entering my newly released book the Game of War into a few as well. Winning the gold on my debut novel gave me the confidence to keep trying.
Of course, every competition is different. When I’m measuring them up, I first look at how each views the importance of the fantasy category. Many contests don’t recognize fantasy at all. Others lump it in with Paranormal or Science-Fiction, or worse, Fiction in general. Those I tend to avoid.
I was drawn to Readers’ Favorite because they clearly understand and value fantasy—so much so that they provide a significant number of sub-genres, like the one I won gold in: YA Fantasy – Epic. It feels better knowing that judges are reading and evaluating my book based on expectations for my genre, not all genres.
How long do you think you would survive if you got sucked into the world you wrote?
If I had a Longing (drawn to one of the temples), I’d do fine as a priest for one of the gods of Order (at least, in the books I’ve released so far). If I was faithless (more likely), I’d have a hard time. And since I identify a lot with Galen who is defined by his imagination and is drawn to Chaos, I’d probably find myself pulled to the vault and killed by the high priest of Evil.
So, not long.
It says you’re from Washington, currently living in California — What are your favorite spots in one or both areas?
In Washington, I love the small town of Richland mostly because I was born there. Even when I was on the other coast, I took my now-wife there to propose standing on a dock on the Columbia River. Apart from that, Seattle is where most of my relatives live and, if you don’t mind a little rain, it’s a wonderful city.
My wife and I love all of California’s greatest features: Carmel, Tahoe, the National Parks, and even our home city of San Francisco. I, personally, am a big fan of the theme parks as well. However, we’re not as excited about the wildfires and droughts. Global warming is no joke.
I see you like Star Trek — have you watched any of the new series like Picard, or the new animated series? Which series is your favorite and why?
I not only like Star Trek, I’m a huge fan that also got to be Creative Director of Star Trek Online (the MMORPG). When I helmed that project, I dove deep on every series available at the time. I watched TOS, TNG, DS9, and then Enterprise (which got surprisingly better toward the end). I got to write licensor-approved fiction in that universe, which was awesome!
That said, I’m so grateful for the new series, which breathed new life into the property that the movies failed to. I love Picard and Discovery—but, right now, Lower Decks is definitely my favorite (although my family hates it when I explain all of the inside jokes, which are plentiful and some of the best parts of the show).
You’ve liked a lot of bookstores on FB — do you have a favorite place you stop by on a regular basis?
COVID hasn’t made frequenting book stores easy for a while, but some of my favorite shops include the Railroad Book Depot in Pittsburg (they are incredibly local-author friendly) and Dr. Comics and Mr. Games in Oakland. I was a weekly customer there for about a decade.
It appears as though you play video games — which ones have you sunk the most time into?
Of the games I’ve designed, I definitely played the Wheel of Time the most. It also has the most dedicated fan base; people are still playing it over 20 years after its release. Also, with the Wheel of Time TV show about to drop, I expect the game will receive some added attention. I can’t wait to get back in and start demolishing the newbs!
Two games that I’m playing right now are Hearthstone (an online card game similar to Magic: the Gathering) and Call of Duty: Warzone. I’m quite good at the former and not good at all at the latter, but I’ll keep practicing!
What’s your favorite Pixar movie?
That’s a tough one. I love most of their work. I guess I would have to select one or two based on what they meant to me at the time.
Toy Story changed everything. I thought it was so smart to use the (at the time) rather primitive 3D rendering tech to animate toys, thereby avoiding the uncanny valley. But it was the writing that made it timeless and inspired so many sequels. And Jessie’s song in TS2 actually made me cry.
But then there’s Finding Nemo. At the time, some called it the perfect movie. I still quote it on occasion. And how could I not: it was my then-toddler daughter’s favorite movie and she watched it every day, especially on trips. It became another character in our family life.
Do you have any pets? Names, pics, favorite story if yes.
My first cat was named Misty. She’s no longer with us, but I do have a wonderful story about her.
Misty was a rather skittish cat. I was the only one she really warmed up to. She would run from almost everyone else. Internally, I renamed her Miss T. Kitty, where the ‘T’ stood for ‘Terrified.’
Back in Virginia, Misty and I lived alone in a townhouse, waiting for me to marry the love of my life and move into a larger house together. On the day of the move, I instructed the movers to keep the front door closed as much as possible and keep an eye out for Misty. I didn’t want to trap her all day in a carrier, and I figured she’d find a place to hide until I could get her out.
Once the movers emptied the house of boxes and furniture, I looked for her—but she had disappeared. I checked every room, but she wasn’t there. I even yelled her name into the air ducts, just in case.
Turns out the movers hadn’t kept the front door closed, and one of them recalled scaring her out of the closet where she was initially hiding.
I was devastated. It was obvious what happened. Misty must have bolted out the door and into the neighborhood. She was an indoor cat, so this probably scared her even more.
As the movers took our stuff to the new house, I walked along the streets, shaking a can of cat treats and calling her name. But no cat appeared. I couldn’t find her. And since I didn’t live there any more, the chances of me stumbling into her were plummeting. I was convinced I’d never see Misty again.
I finally went to the new house and directed the movers where to place the furniture and boxes, putting lower priority items into the basement. When it was all done, Sabrina and I were both physically and emotionally exhausted. We went to sleep.
The next morning, we needed some kitchen stuff that had been put into the basement by accident. As Sabrina opened a box, I saw a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye.
“Misty?”, I whispered.
At the sound of her name, Misty jumped out from under the boxes and ran to me. I couldn’t believe it. She was here!
To this day, I have no idea what actually happened. No one brought her. I can only guess that maybe she got inside a box or piece of furniture that a mover carried into the basement, as unlikely as it seems. Regardless, I had my cat back and she was with me for many years after,
When she passed, Goldie joined us as a kitten (so named because our youngest was taken with her golden eyes). She’s my constant companion, especially during the lockdown. I don’t know what I’d do without her.
I couldn’t find pictures of Misty, but here’s one of Goldie.
You teach international students at UK Berkley, what’s your favorite and most challenging part about that?
My first challenge was figuring out how to teach effectively. I got the job because of my industry experience designing games, but I had no experience teaching the fundamentals to kids.
While the person who taught the class before me had the kids actually code a game, I wanted to focus on the fun parts of design, not just spend time fixing bugs. I wanted them to DO things, play games and deconstruct them into their loops or reconstruct them with new rules. And I didn’t want to constrain their imaginations to what they could code; I wanted them to envision their dream games and convince me why they were worth making (which was their final project).
I’d say my favorite moment in that class is this: on the first day, I ask how many students would consider game design as a career. Usually, I get 0-1 hands up. On the last day of class, I ask the same question and half of the hands go up. The first time it happened, I was floored, but so happy to have inspired that many.
Does your kid still like to draw? Have you ever written your kids into your books or left hints for them since they’re YA and they seem to read them?
Yes, absolutely—and he’s improved a lot since then. Emmett actually supplies me with a new character to reveal with every one of my author newsletters, and some of them are positively spectacular. Here are just a few (and even these aren’t very current; I’m seriously blown away by his newest material, but I don’t have permission to share that):
I haven’t made my kids into characters in my stories, but I definitely incorporate observations about that age range. And having them to bounce ideas off of is invaluable.
Your bio says, “He collaborated with celebrated authors Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (The Death Gate Cycle), Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time – now a TV series from Amazon), Frederik Pohl (Heechee saga), Terry Brooks (Shannara), and Piers Anthony (Xanth) to bring their creations to the small screens. In addition, he crafted licensor-approved fiction for the Star Trek franchise as well as Stan Sakai’s epic graphic novel series, Usagi Yojimbo.” — how did this come to be?
I started writing and designing games when I was 16. I started my own company in college called Sundog Systems, which produced games for the Tandy Color Computer. Then I leveraged that experience into a job with Legend Entertainment Company, an adventure game company.
Legend had some amazing story-tellers in its ranks. We did original titles for a while, but we knew that there were properties out there that could offer their own audiences. Not only that. but we were real fans of some of the best science-fiction and fantasy literature of the time and were champing at the bit to tell new stories in those incredible worlds. We did this as an experiment with Frederik Pohl’s Gateway, which turned out to be enough of both a critical and commercial success that it changed our whole business model.
I personally wanted to chase the licenses of some of my favorite authors: Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Piers Anthony, and Robert Jordan. I got to design two of those games (Death Gate and the Wheel of Time), while the Xanth game went to another designer.
I learned a lot, working in those worlds. And telling interactive stories in general isn’t easy (can you imagine your reader suddenly deciding he doesn’t like how the plot is going so he decides to work against it)? This experience allowed me to figure out what connected with people, what kept them engaged and motivated, and what moved them emotionally.
I bring all of that to my books. These lessons are especially important to a YA audience. This audience wants to be entertained and engaged constantly. You’ll see in my reviews that my stories are page-turners and they move quickly. That’s intentional (and also, it’s how I like my stories too).
How long have you been playing volleyball?
I’ve played ever since high school, but I didn’t really dive deep until after college. I met my team (called the Killer B’s) and became lifelong friends with all of them, especially Brad Platt. He and I were the best men at each other’s weddings, and we played numerous doubles tournaments together, including some beach competitions that we actually won.
Now, my daughter Amanda is carrying the torch. When I took her to her own tournaments during club season, I was the loudest dad in the stands. And in fact, she just found a team to play with at her new college (and she named them the Killer Bees in honor). I hope to see one of her games soon.
I reviewed his book for SPFBO HERE