‘Vol’jin: Shadows of the Horde’ Interview with Michael A. Stackpole

Michael A. Stackpole has written dozens of sci-fi and fantasy novels, but Vol’jin: Shadows of the Horde marks his first World of Warcraft novel. To commemorate the event, we asked Mike how he got the chance to dive into the WoW franchise, the challenges involved and whether he got the chance to play the game. Without further ado, we present our interview with Michael A. Stackpole.

How did the opportunity to write Vol’jin: Shadows of the Horde come about?

Michael A. Stackpole: Back in 2011 a friend suggested I get in touch with Blizzard about writing a WOW novel, since he thought my style would work for them. It wasn’t until a year later that another friend put me in touch with Blizzard. They were interested, had a tight deadline, and a big hole had just opened up in my schedule. It was just serendipity, I guess, but an opportunity I did not want to miss.

Were there any requirements on what characters, settings and events had to be included in the novel?

MAS: From the start I knew the book would be set on Pandaria, and that it would involve Vol’jin and Chen Stormstout. Being handed characters to use is not something I’m foreign to, and being entrusted with two iconic characters like that was a huge honor. At my first meeting we discussed the nature of the story Blizzard wanted told to advance Vol’jin’s story arc. I said all of that was fine, but if I was going to do that, I needed to add in another character or two, and some parallel lines. Thus Tyrathan and his saga was born and interwoven. The process was really fantastic, as Blizzard was supportive and very cool with the things I wanted to do. We all had the goal of making as great a novel as possible.

In the book’s dedication and acknowledgements, you alluded to playing World of Warcraft. With this being your first World of Warcraft book, how much did you have to familiarize yourself with the setting (be it playing the game, reading the other books, or utilizing reference materials)?

MAS: It would be YES to all of those. I logged a lot of hours, I read through tons of support material and read over some of the other books. In addition I was given a crash-course in Warcraft Lore. I felt like I was back in college again. The setting is so vast and dynamic that it really let me tell the kind of story I wanted to tell, and had tons of hooks that let me link my story back into the world.

Changing gears a little, there was a tea scene in the beginning of the novel. In that scene, Chen uses his talents as a brewmaster to make a pot of tea that impresses Master Taran Zhu and Yalia. Having read your eBook Mysterious Ways not too long ago, which also featured the art of brewing tea, I cannot help but ask where the interest with tea came from?

MAS: A couple of different spots, really. My interests in tea ceremonies goes all the way back to my first BattleTech novel, Warrior: En Garde, where I got to write a tea ceremony. My taste for teas began in earnest when doing research for the Merlin Bloodstone stories, including Mysterious Ways. If you’re going to write a character who is an expert on tea, you have to develop that information. (For my next trick, a character who is an expert on Scotch.) What’s fun is when research in one area spills over and is useful elsewhere.

I have to admit that I had some trepidation heading into the novel because I knew one of the main characters was going to be a talking panda bear. However, you surprised me by being able to take that cartoonish concept and transcend it. By the story’s end, I cared about those characters as much as any other. How challenging was it to overcome an obstacle like talking pandas, and to turn them into believable, likeable characters that readers would bond with?

MAS: I recall, in that first meeting, asking, “With the Pandarens, we’re talking more Jackie Chan than Jack Black, right?” Chen, as established, has a lighter side. The folks at Blizzard made sure I understood that the monks were seriously kick-ass. Once I knew what their vision was, the trick became presenting that vision, but giving all those characters an emotional reality. Chen, for example, goes through a lot in the novel and does a lot more than just cracking wise or playing the clown. Moreover, his friends understand exactly what he’s doing and why, so the reader learns who he is inside. That’s the trick: give every reader a chance to see the emotional reality of characters, be they man, monster or talking pandas. Once you see who they are beneath the skin, everything else kind of fades into the background.

And, boy, do the Pandarens kick ass. :)

Through the spiraling journey of the story, the main characters Vol’jin, Chen and Tyrathan continually run up against two elements. What inspired you to make balance and self-discovery such central themes in this story?

MAS: First off, those themes are buried in almost any novel you care to read—if the characters grow at all, that is. Second, those two philosophical elements are critical to the Pandaren world view. They are fundamental concepts without which attempting to understand Pandaria is impossible. Third, because those concepts are so key to good stories and this slice of the Warcraft world, having my characters in position to deal with them just happened naturally. Plus, the ability to compare and contrast opinions and outlooks really draws characters into sharp relief.

What can readers look forward to next from you?

MAS: Next up on the docket is a Pathfinder novel. I also just completed some shorter stories in my In Hero Years…I’m Dead universe, exploring the early years of some of the elder heroes from that novel. Both of those stories were published this summer in anthologies released at the Origins Game Fair. I’m also finishing up designing two creative writing courses that I’ll be teaching next year through Arizona State University’s Piper Center for Creative Writing. So, I have a full plate and full employment. (Which is good, since I’m way too old to move into my parents’ basement.)

Once again we thank Mike for taking the time to answer our questions. Fans can find out more about Michael A. Stackpole on his official site, stormwolf.com, or they can check him out on Facebook and Twitter. Vol’jin: Shadows of the Horde, published by Gallery Books, is available here in hardcover, audio and digital formats.

Posted By: Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.

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