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Critical Hits

The First Column

by Dave Smith
Dec 04,2003


The First Column

My name's Dave Smith, and I'm a writer. I'm also a gamer, though my writing predates my gaming, and I do a lot more writing than gaming these days. I'm 24, and my debut novel, Axis Mundi Sum, has recently been published by the Invisible College Press. Among the characters are a group of gamers, although role-playing games aren't necessarily one of their driving passions. In fact, they'd be better described as miscreants on a mission, who happen to enjoy role-playing.

Such is not the case with the characters in the novel I'm currently writing, in which almost all the characters are gamers, and for whom gaming is a way of life. See, this new novel, which is currently (and most likely will always be) known as Critical Hits, is a book about role-players, comic book fans, and all other species of geek. Set in an unnamed suburban town during the summer of 2002, it revolves around a gaming store called, unsurprisingly, Critical Hits.

I doubt anyone reading this has read my first novel, Axis Mundi Sum, which is almost 500 pages of conspiracy theory, socially unacceptable behavior, drug use (which, I suppose, could fall into the former category), and what Ken Hite would call "High Weirdness." None of the characters live anything remotely resembling normal lives, and the book is crammed with their ludicrous adventures. This past April I was offered a publishing contract by the aforementioned Invisible College Press, who specialize in weird fiction- not necessarily in the Lovecraftian sense of the phrase- and, seeing as how the only thing I've really ever wanted to do with my life was write, I couldn't say no.

So now I'm a published writer, and my main goal in life has pretty much been achieved. However, since I take my writing more seriously than most things that come my way, I'm not completely satisfied, so I continue to write. Critical Hits, the book I'm working on, is far more important to me than Axis Mundi Sum, because it's what is being written right now. On top of that, it's a reflection of and paean to one of the most important influences on my life: geekery. Alas, since it deals with a comparatively mundane subject, I won't be able to talk Invisible College into publishing it once I'm done, which I hope will be at the end of this year.

It's strange to be a writer. I have a day job- I won't get into that now- so I don't really feel like a writer. My goal was to have something solid published by the time I was 23, just like Philip K. Dick. Mission accomplished, except that PKD quit doing anything else and became a professional writer. I wish I could do the same thing, and until I do, I won't feel like a full-blown writer. Of course, I'm not living on horse meat, and hopefully won't pick up a gargantuan amphetamine habit, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't occasionally feel willing to buy my dinner at the pet store, or snort it off a mirror, if I could be a full-time writer.

Critical Hits, I think, could be the book that gets me going down that path. (Not the substandard food-and-speed path, but the writerly one.) Compared to Axis Mundi Sum, it's tighter, the characters are stronger, and I'm writing about a subject I'm pretty damned familiar with. I don't know of any other books that focus exclusively on role-players and their ilk without sneering or moralizing heavily (viz. Hobgoblin, by John Coyne), so I might even be able to claim my book is "unique." I just don't know how to get it published.

Nix that. I know how to get it published, but actually finding a publisher is a different story altogether. I'm not a salesman, which is part of the reason Axis Mundi Sum isn't selling as well as I'd like. See, my publisher is very, very small, and doesn't have any sort of promotional machine to cram my work down the reading populace's throats. Ergo, I've got to shill for myself, and since I'd rather spend my time working on Critical Hits, drinking beer, and debating whether or not to try playing 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons (that last remark made me sound far older than I should), my sales aren't what they could be.

To be honest, selling books is part of the reason I'm writing this column. It's not the main one, though, since the book I want to sell is the one I haven't finished yet. Simply put, as much as I love writing fiction, I want another outlet, and I want to be able to discuss things with other folks. I want to milk the minds of gamers for source material, much like one would milk a mugwump for its grotesque, addictive secretions. I also want to offer what little help and advice I can to anyone interested in writing, which I hope everyone knows ain't a cake walk unless you pander to society's lowest common denominator. Ultimately, I'd like to provoke some thought- any thought- in both you and myself.

What should you expect in the future? I'll give a rundown of where Critical Hits comes from, and what I'm trying to do with it. I'll supply some, ahem, tips for any writers who want them. I'll comment on any games I run or play in, and how they might affect my writing. I'll discuss my influences, positive and negative. I'll inevitably ramble, too. Whatever I might put into this column, my main goal is to have fun, because, as a character in the excellent film Waking Life notes, "everyone knows fun rules."

Feel free to drop me a line at the address below, and hey, check out my first novel.

Take it easy, Dave Smith


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