How pizza, beer and late night “Dungeons and Dragons” sessions started my writing career

dungeons_dragons-5I was first introduced to Dungeons and Dragons in 1981, as a college student at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. I got in with a small group of friends who spent their weekends eating pizza, drinking beer and playing D&D. One of my friends was nicknamed Frodo, which tells you a lot about them.

I was hooked instantly. I played constantly, learning everything I could about the game. I bought all the manuals, dice, Dungeon Master boards and graph paper for drawing out dungeons. I even had a Crown Royal bag for carrying my dice, something most D&D players from that era can relate to. It was an obsession.

Unfortunately, I think my over-indulgence in D&D led to troubling issues of living on my own for the first time. I left college and returned home, but I brought D&D with me. I introduced it to my friends at home and we started having all-nighters. That led to low job opportunities and zero prospects of returning to college.

Are you starting to see a pattern here? Well, so did my parents. My father, a retired U.S. Marine, pointed me towards military recruiters. Reluctantly, I did and I soon found myself enlisted in the U.S. Navy; and guess what, I brought D&D with me again.

After I graduated boot camp, I was assigned to Journalist “A” School, where I introduced my shipmates to D&D. We spent our off duty hours playing the game, drinking beer and eating pizza. My first duty station as a young Sailor was the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal, where once again, I got in with a group of Sailors and played D&D.

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Me in the SITE-TV studio aboard USS Forrestal circa 1986

I think you can see my obsession forming here. D&D consumed my time, especially when we were underway and there was nothing to do. You have to remember, this was before the Internet, email, satellite TV, or video game consoles.

I know you’re wondering why I went to all this length to tell you about how, as a young adult, I was obsessed with D&D. Well, that’s where the story really begins. It was all those late night, weekend long, D&D sessions that led to me writing my two novels, Forever Avalon and The Dark Tides.

I tell this story every time I’m interviewed about my novels, but I wanted to tell it one last time so everyone can understand where the ideas for my stories came from.

I always thought that I had a big imagination. As a teenager, I was creating my own superheroes and I originally wanted to be the next Stan Lee or Jack Kirby.

Playing D&D took it to a whole other level. As a Dungeon Master, I created whole worlds, ever-changing scenarios and formidable characters to challenge the players.

During my first deployment on the Forrestal, I was playing almost nightly, every day while off duty. At the same time, I was missing my wife and newborn baby girl terribly. It was the first time I was separated from family and it was heart-wrenching. That led to some seriously disturbing dreams.

I started dreaming about being stranded on a deserted island; an island filled with the magical fantasy found in D&D. Soon, my wife ended up on the island with me and we had to survive and adapt to living there together.

Over the years, as my children grew, they started to invade my dream. I had that same dream nightly, whenever I was underway, at-sea, away from home; even though I stopped playing D&D altogether in the 90s.

One of the strange things was that, in my dream, I found myself living as one of my best characters I ever created in D&D, a half-elf, chaotic good, fighter/thief/magic user called Luna Moonstone. It was that character that started it all.

After my last deployment in 2001, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, I decided to start writing the dream down and developing it into a story. It took me almost five years to finish my first novel, Forever Avalon, but I did it. I based the Drake family on my own and the rest just fell into place.

After I finished writing Forever Avalon, the dream ended. I haven’t had the dream since then. There was a purpose behind the dream, super-charged by an imagination fueled by D&D and the separation of a family. This is what gave birth to the world of Forever Avalon. I know I can continue the story for everyone to enjoy the adventures of Lord Bryan MoonDrake, the Gil-Gamesh, and his family.

The main thing I wanted to say, through all of this, is that whatever your inspiration is, follow your dream and it will be there for you.

Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.The Dark Tides is now available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iUniverse.

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