Welcome, one and all, to the first MDM Projects author Interview of 2017. Over my time writing fiction, I’ve been fortuante enough to meet some awesome people out there in the publishing world. Among them is Belart Wright, a multi-time published fella whose work I first became aware of when I reviewed Average Joe and the Extraordinaires. My review of his latest novel, Hell’s Glitch: Into a Dark Adventure will be posted on Firday 10th March, but before that, it is my absolute peasure to welcome Belart aboard today to talk about his current projects and everyday likes.
Hi Belart! Before we get on to the nitty-gritty of your literary works, tell the readers a little about yourself.
Hello, Matt! I just want to start by saying thanks to you and your readers for this interview. My name is, of course, Belart Wright and I was born and raised in Detroit Michigan. My upbringing in the city affects much of what I write today and my fictional preferences. I’ll usually take an urban fantasy story over a pure fantasy story any day of the week. I’ve always been a big fan of videogames, books, and martial arts. Luckily I’ve found a genre that appeals to just about all of my likes and that’s LitRPG.
The Hell’s Glitch series falls under the LitRPG genre. Prior to speaking to yourself, I wasn’t actually aware of the genre myself. For those reading who are as in the dark as I was, can you elaborate on what LitRPG novels are?
As far as I know it, LitRPG is short for Literary Role Playing Game or Literature Role Playing Game. The goal of the genre is typically to provide a fully immersive experience of living in a world ruled by the laws of role playing gaming. So far there’s usually a heavy emphasis on questing, building the protagonist’s strength and skills, and collecting cool loot, but the genre is by no means set in stone and many books are incredibly experimental. It’s a genre still in its infancy, but by now there are a ton of books due to how popular the genre is becoming. Many point to a Russian author known as D. Rus, who wrote the ever popular Alterworld series, as the progenitor of the genre. I believe it was with him that the term LitRPG first came into prominence, but trapped in role playing game books and stories have been around since at least the seventies with the Dungeons and Dragons books. My own experience with the genre came with my love of the .hack series in the early to mid-2000s. Many point to a Korean light novel called The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor by Nam Hi-Sung as being what started the current trend and beyond that you have Sword Art Online, Log Horizon, Overlord, and countless others.
You’re very open about Hell’s Glitch: Into a Dark Adventure being influenced by the game series Dark Souls. What was it that made the series so inspiring for you, and does this influence help you stand out among other books in the genre?
Dark Souls was a game that I only begrudgingly played. I had heard about it for a long time, but I always thought the game looked clunky and old. I’m skeptical of gaming trends and when I saw this all over social media I just thought it was another weird thing that everyone latches unto for unexplainable social reasons, but then Xbox offered it for free one month and I downloaded it. The opening cutscene intrigued me, but the gameplay felt as clunky as I expected it to be. Unlike most modern games, there was no tutorial and the game’s control scheme was like nothing else. Needless to say I didn’t have much fun with it and I dropped the game for several weeks. Strangely though, it stuck with me. I think it was something about the tone, something that made me feel that I had to give it another chance. I can’t remember what that was, but I did try it again and I haven’t put it down since.
I’ve always been into bleak and bleary tales that question just what humanity really is. My favorite videogame series, Legacy of Kain, handles much of the same subject manner as Dark Souls. But even beyond that, it’s hard to explain just what about Dark Souls is so appealing. You can’t (at least I can’t) break down just one thing that makes it stand out, because for the most part it takes a wide variety of disparate ideas and creates its own genre from them. It’s similar to Grand Theft Auto in that aspect, but its tone and themes and even the amount of intrigue found in the item descriptions alone somehow give it a lasting impression. I think things that give us pause to ask questions and piece out a puzzle will always last like that. They’re on our minds because we want to solve them, obsessively in some cases just like the Dark Souls community who to this day are still trying to piece together the mysteries of that first game.
The influence is plain to see in my books, just as Berserk’s influence is plain to see in Dark Souls. I think that tone, that grit, that questioning of humanity and human nature does help me stand out from the rest of the pack, which are mostly tried and true fantasy tales. I’ve read many and they’re really good mind you, but the dark themes that are available in properties like Berserk, Legacy of Kain, and Dark Souls are not very prevalent in the genre. I hope to insert some of that, not for shock value but because those themes bring forth important questions.
One of the things that really stood out for me with Hell’s Glitch was the sheer amount of detail that you put into the gaming system, and in particular, the stat displays and progression. How much time did it take to map it all out? Was it a case that once you got one set of stats and descriptions down, the rest could follow quicker, or did each one need meticulous planning?
Before a single word was written for the book, I had my game system completed. I’d read a few LitRPG books already and wasn’t so impressed with some of the systems I’d seen, which actually took me out of the story. I didn’t want to give that impression as well so I put priority on figuring out just about everything I needed for the game ahead of time. That’s everything from starting classes to enemies to locations to even where items were placed. It was long and tedious, but ultimately I’m satisfied with what I’ve done with it. I know I did heavy work during October of 2015, just before NaNoWriMo, but I’d been working on it for a few months before that as well.
It was all nightmarish and meticulous work. I’m not normally a stickler for details so this was a herculean task for me. I was hoping it would all fall like dominoes after I’d completed work on one area to the next, but instead a new system would somehow introduce a contradiction to one I’d already created and I’d have to go back and fix it, sometimes changing it completely, which would then change something else and so on. Usually that frustration came whenever numbers were involved like stats affecting weapons and such. Sometimes those multipliers got out of control, like the critical hit damage. I also had to keep track of all the number changes in each chapter, like when Sam gained or lost souls. I never liked math, but now I really don’t like math.
When I reviewed your debut novel Average Joe and the Extraordinaires, one of the things that I loved was how natural the lead characters were in their interactions. I thought that that carried over here to Sam and Alex. Were these two characters inspired any anyone in the real world, or are they entirely self-created?
Thank you! Alex is somewhat inspired by a real life person, not in personality or looks but in her tech support role. Other than that she and Sam are complete self-creations. Sam was created as a gamer analogue, someone we all know or maybe even are or have been, and he has his own history as well. It’s the same with Alex. To me she feels like someone I know or have known, but I’ve never met anyone exactly like Alex in real life.
Hell’s Glitch: Into a Dark Adventure is a strong start to the series, and the second book The Glitch Fiends was released recently. Can you tell us a little about what to expect in this second installment?
Book two, The Glitch Fiends, is the direct continuation of the events that transpired in book one, only there’s another threat lurking under the surface of Project DH that wasn’t touched upon in book one. Fulton Milner has decided to introduce some major changes into his game, including opening up a new area with new enemies and gear. He’s also decided to update the gaming system, calling the first “a training exercise.”
Did you have a plan in place for how long the series is set to be, or are you planning to keep on writing until things hit a natural conclusion?
I have a strong idea of how the series will flow and how long it will be. Real life does throw some wrenches into the mix, but I’ll stick closely to my goals for the series. I mention that because book two is now split into two parts due to how long it became when before I was aiming for a trilogy. There are set character arcs, but because of the concept, the series has a lot of life in it, a lot of stories to tell.
Are you working on any other titles at the moment, or is your focus entirely on Hell’s Glitch right now? If you do have anything else in the works, tell us about it.
Average Joe 2 is at the start of the editing phase and it’s been completed for a while now. I had some plans for Psy-Hunters going forward too, but there’s not a lot of interest in those two books at the moment. I also find it takes a little extra time to jump from one ‘verse to the next, especially when it comes to these stat heavy LitRPGs that I’ve made, so for now all my efforts will go into Hell’s Glitch. I’d like to release more than one book a year for that series. I’m very scatterbrained when it comes to projects though. At any given point my mind is on one of about seven that I want to start writing right then and there, but plans must be followed. I often get ideas for my other projects that I’ll write down in the form of notes. Some of my other works such as Hell Warriors (my darling) can be found on Wattpad, others such as Story of K or Liandra can be found on Amazon and other sites.
Outside the Hell’s Glitch series, you also have several other books available. Can you give us a run-down of these and where readers can purchase them?
Certainly and thanks for the plug! You can find them all here on Amazon or the paperbacks here on Barnes and Noble. Liandra’s on Kobo, Smashwords and many other sites that I’m not even aware of at the moment. They’re all my favorites from Average Joe to the Glitch Fiends. There’s also the story that started all this for me, Hell Warriors: A Hero in the Flames on Wattpad, which is a particular favorite for a handful of reasons.
You have a habit of having some eye-catching covers for your books. Do you have a go-to cover artist, or do you mix it up depending on the title?
I have two that are my go-to’s and they are Fiona Jayde for the Average Joe series and Kinohara Kossuta for just about everything else. Fiona has an exaggerated photo realistic style that I like for the Joe books whereas Kinohara has the keen eye for action shots that I like for the LitRPGs and Story of K. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to work with them until the end of my days.
I am of the view that there’s always more to learn, especially when it comes to creative ventures. That being the case, is there any advice that you’d give to upcoming authors trying to get a footing in the industry?
Mostly that you’ll make a lot of mistakes and that those mistakes will make you better. If you go at with the idea that you’ll be hot stuff right out the gate, I’d suggest slowing it down and just taking a little time to research even more. Research publishing success stories, failure stories, the online stores and their various algorithms, other books in your chosen genre, and whatever else you can. If you fail, realize that it might have just been due to poor timing. I’ll just say that it’s best to not fail the same way twice, whatever you do. Always strive to try something at least a little different with each publication. And I only speak of failure because it’s hit me in the face a lot, for some of you, you’ll hit it out the park at the very start and for you I say study your success as much as I studied my failures and other’s success (obsessively for a time). Replicate it as best you can, every single aspect of it. Sometimes lightning does strike twice if you have all the ingredients to create it yourself. And please, put an emphasis on making your projects as high quality as possible meaning: professional editing, covers, and interior design. Professional doesn’t always have to mean paying an arm and a leg either. There are low cost high quality outlets all over the web and if it comes to it, learn it yourself, but don’t settle for good enough. Make sure to master everything that you touch if you plan to do it all yourself.
Historically speaking, Indie Authors tended to be lumped into the category of simply not being good enough to be picked up by agents or press houses, and many believed that being an indie author was a sign of poor quality. Success stories like Hugh Howie’s have helped dispel that a little, I think. I know from my own work that there are a lot of positives to utilising self-publishing too. In your view, what are the biggest advantages to taking the independent route, and do you see yourself working with traditional publishers down the line?
With online markets, indies have been elevated to the same level as traditional publishers. At some point I felt that this was awesome then when inundated with low quality books I felt it was a mistake, but soon after I once again and ultimately found it to be a great triumph. Ultimately there shouldn’t be a gatekeeper limiting authors from reaching an audience no matter what. My own feelings are that an author should at least have a quality product to share, but that’s just how I feel. The truth of it is that it is simply wrong to silence the words of any author.
Getting back to the point of your question, the biggest advantage in self-publishing is the direct connection you’ll have with writing, publishing, and making your own money. It’s all been simplified so much that there’s very little need for a middle man. It’s just you, your book, and your audience, and if you’re a little savvy you’ll find your audience, connect with them and rake in the profits then rinse, wash, and repeat. I think that traditional publishing has advantages too, mostly for those strapped for time or who just feel overwhelmed by wearing so many hats self-publishing then there’s the distribution deals and advances, but overall I feel that as long as you have a capacity to learn you’ll do just fine taking advantage of the freedom of self-publishing.
What are your main goals with writing? Are you writing purely for pleasure, or planning to take over the literary world, one novel at a time?
I’m in a good place with my writing at the moment. I used to dream of mega success, but now all I want is an opportunity to do what I love and make a living wage from it. If I can continue to do what I do just as I have been doing it then I will be content. I guess the new goal is to be able to completely quit the day job and write full time.
Moving away from writing for a minute, do you have any other interesting hobbies or talents?
I’m a scatterbrain whose interests run the gamut of random. I like too much stuff and have time for none of it. Sometimes I get so spilt with what I want to do that it tires me out and I do nothing. To combat that nowadays I just do the first thing that comes to mind without thinking about it like I usually do. Lately that’s been drawing. Sometimes I feel that I’m improving with it, other times it feels like I’ve never made any progress. I usually practice doing some form of homebrew martial arts every day, just bits and pieces I’ve picked up over the years. I’d like to soon get into an official dojo. I’m strangely athletic for someone so lazy. I also like breaking down the systems in videogames and figuring out what makes them so good. I’m also a political junkie. I don’t have time to keep up with everything, but I manage to depress myself on the daily with the latest tidbits. Maybe I’ll replace that with something more productive one day.
Over on your blog, Belart’s Corner, you often talk about gaming, as well as covering such luminary anime/manga titles as Dragonball Z. If pushed, what would be your top three games, anime and manga?
Very tough question. To make it easier for myself I’ll add the qualifier of most influential. If we’re talking top three favorite fiction then I’d have to say that Batman: The Animated Series, Dragon Ball Z, and Legacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2 are my top 3 favorites of all time. If we break down the categories it’s different again. Top three games would be Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2, Borderlands 2, and Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne. I could play those all day any day. Top three anime would be Dragon Ball (the original series), Yu Yu Hakusho, and Big O. There’s a ton of honorable mentions though, it almost hurts to leave them out. Then for manga I’d have to go with Berserk, Claymore, and Fist of the North Star but I haven’t read too many. Take all that with a pinch of salt because it changes from day to day to be honest.
What about film, TV and music? Any favourites of which to speak?
For the longest it was Batman Returns, that crazy movie with Danny Devito as penguin, until Batman Begins came out. I used to be a bigger film buff in my childhood and teens, but games, books, and anime took over. I remember being obsessed with Office Space, Austin Powers, Leon the Professional; Me, Myself and Irene; and Rumble in the Bronx. I used to love Star Trek: TNG along with Batman the Animated Series and Justice League, but then I grew to love stuff like Dexter, The Wire, The Sopranos, Daredevil, and Breaking Bad. Like everything else my music tastes are all over the place but I usually settle on Heavy Metal and Electronic/Techno music as being my favorites. Soul is right up there followed by 90’s Hip Hop, but I can promise you that I like just about every genre though pop does annoy me more often than not. System of a Down, Kittie, Zero 7, Sia, Kurt Harland, Air, Deadmau5, Linkin Park, Scarface, A Tribe Called Quest, Hot Chip, Hans Zimmer, Daft Punk, Bruce Falconer, Chris Geehan, and tons of Japanese composers such as Motoi Sakuraba, Koji Kondo, Yuzo Koshiro, Yoko Kanno, Kenji Kawai, Iwata Masaharu, Yasunori Masuda, Kaoru Wada, and others whose names escape me at the moment. Now it’s all about Stoner Metal, a recent pleasure of mine with instant classics such as Bong of Cthulhu by Bong of Cthulhu and Funeralopolis by Electric Wizard.
Finally, I wanted to thank you for not only taking part in this somewhat-longer-than-planned interview, but for the entertaining books that you’ve been putting out. Whereabouts on the web can everyone find you if they want to know more? Feel free to link to anything you want.
The best place to reach me would be on Google+ or Twitter. I’m not a super social, social media user, but I will gladly answer any questions and post updates on my projects. I look forward to meeting any and all of you on these here interwebs. Thank you all and take care.