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15 Minutes of Fame: Pulp sci-fi author shoots 'em up in WoW

15 Minutes of Fame is our look at World of Warcraft players of all shapes and sizes – from the renowned to the relatively anonymous, the remarkable to the player next door. Tip us off to players you'd like to hear more about.

Let's jump right in – because appropriately enough, that's the modus operandi of this week's profile subject, blogger/cartoonist/gag writer/self-proclaimed "older" player/sci-fi writer John Zakour. With a WoW column at Pink Raygun, a daily web comic with some 50,000 readers, a 2180-rated Mage and a steady stream of published sci-fi books, Zakour keeps the one-liners flowing.

A recent review of Zakour's The Flaxen Femme Fatale does a neat job of summarizing his outlook: "I'm always glad to see new books in this series come out, as there's a serious deficit of comedic hardboiled science fiction adventures on the market, and John Zakour has filled that niche quite adeptly," wrote the SF Site reviewer. "It's goofy, it's quirky, it's iconic in its own way, and it's way too much fun. Like the rest, The Flaxen Femme Fatale borders on parody, but maintains enough good-natured charm to maintain an air of legitimacy. It may be a world full of robots, psychics, aliens, genetically-engineered superhumans, and wacky technology, where anything is possible, but it has the internal consistency and earnestness required to sustain such a setting."

How does he manage to stick it all together, with time left over for WoW?
Main character Zapperz ("Yes, very original name.")
Guild Time Well Wasted ("a very patient guild")
Server Rexxar-US

15 Minutes of Fame: Gaming, writing, sci fi -- where did it all begin? How did you end up twining it all together professionally?
John Zakour: Quite frankly, I like making things up. I like it even more when I get paid to make things up. It's still surprising to me when people give me money for all these stories that have been roaming around in my mind.

Readers always want to know how long it takes for someone to "make it" in a creative field. Can you tell us a little about the path that brought you to where you are today?
Wow, this is a very complicated question. I started out in the 1980s as a database programmer for a major university who would program video games on the side. Then one day, I lost my job in state budget cuts. I took my summer of unemployment to bum around. I found a book about "gag writing." I read it and started to write gags and send them to cartoonists and comedians. I was surprised that I sold thousands of them.

I then married a graduate student from Costa Rica. She owed Costa Rica years of service, so we moved there. We had our son. So I acted as a gag writer/house dad in Costa Rica for three years. I started working on my first novel, The Doomsday Brunette, then.

My wife took a post-doc position in the United States in 1994, and we moved back. I took a part-time job working on this new thing called the World Wide Web. I figured out this web thing was going to be big. A friend suggested I publish Doomsday Brunette on the web. I did, with his help. It did okay, so that made me decide to try other web publications. I did a comic called Computtons, and I also started on kicking ideas around for my next novel, The Plutonium Blonde. I didn't really know what to do with this novel. I figured not being an actual novel writer, no publisher would want it. So I kind of sat on it.

One day while web surfing, I found the Sci-Fi Channel web site and asked them, "Hey, how would you like some original content?" I listed all the cartoonists and comedians I wrote for (some of them had TV shows). Sci-Fi said, "Sure." So I wrote The Plutonium Blonde as a weekly web serial.

Once the story ran its course on the Sci Fi (now called syfy) site, I figured, "Now maybe a book publisher will like me." I sent the story to an agent I knew. The agent sent it to all the major publishers. They ALL REJECTED it. So that was that. I figured writing over. I figured I would become a full time web guru.

Then in 1999, my cousin Larry Ganem (who works for DC comics) sent me a note about this little e-book publisher called Peanut Press. Larry had helped me with Plutonium Blonde and thought Peanut might be interested. I just sent them an e-mail. They responded in hours. They had read the story online and loved it.

So TPB became an e-book. The e-book sold great; it was their number one-selling e-book for many weeks, until some guy named Stephen King wrote Riding the Bullet. So then I figured, "That's it -- I've had my 15 minutes ... Time to put the writing to rest."

Then one day in early 2000, I am sitting at my cubicle doing web stuff, when I get an e-mail saying, "READ YOUR BOOK, LOVE IT. I THINK I WANT TO BUY IT. LET'S TALK." I thought, "Ok, some lady wants to buy my book." I sent the e-mail to my agent friend. My agent told me this was actually the owner of Daw books and I really should talk with her. Turns out she really did like my writing so much she wanted me to expand Plutonium Blonde into a full-length novel. I did so with Larry's help; after all, in those days, I was a web guy not a writer. I didn't know about things like when to use a ; and fancy writer stuff like that.

The rest is kind of history. In late 2001, I quit my day job very dramatically, stating, "The web is sucking my soul." I haven't looked back. I think I am on book 12 now.

How long have you been producing your daily online comic, Working Daze?
Too long (started in 2004). I've burnt through three cartoonists. It's more of a labor of love that generates some income.

And how long have you been writing at Pink Raygun? What's the focus over there?
I started back in June with them. They give me a nice spot to blurt on and on about my thoughts on WoW when I feel like it. My thoughts usually consist of stuff like how WoW could improve, what I enjoy about WoW, things that drive me crazy (begging) ... How sometimes being 50something, I feel too old to be playing WoW (a sentiment shared by my wife and agents).

And your books? Can you characterize your work for us?
Sure, that's easy: "bubble gum for the brain." I mostly write fun, light, pulp sf.

It's the "Day in the Life of John Zakour" question. Go!
I wake up (good days always start with waking up). I do all the typical morning wake-up maintenance stuff (check e-mail, wash, eat), then take my son to school. I will then check my WoW mail to see what sold in AH overnight.

Then I will be a good, dedicated writer and write something. First, I update my Twitter tweets. I Twitter as myself and as Roy from Working Daze. If it is Monday, I must make sure my Working Daze for two weeks from now are done. If it is Friday, I will update one or two of my blogs.

Other days, I will work on any number of projects, pretty much depending on my mood. I usually have a book in editing or marketing stages, one in writing stage and one in thinking stages. Plus I have a TV show I am working on and a number of comic books or comics for DC Comics' Zuda Comics that are in varying stages of development.

What project is on the front burner right now?
I usually have three front burners. I am working on a new Zuda project called Kiss 'em Deadly, and my co-creator is writer/actress/model Shannon Codner. It is about a lady with a touch that kills the living and revives the dead (think Rogue meets Pushing Daisies). I am also working on a book on hypnosis with hypnotist/writer/filmmaker Elena Beloff. I have also pitched my next Zachary Nixon book to Daw.

And so with all this going on, how did you get into WoW?
I started playing around February '08. My son wanted to play, and I wanted to check it out. Being an old D&Der, I got hooked. (I still call Priests "Clerics" sometimes.) When I am on deadline, I try ("try") to limit myself to an "hour or two" a day. Some days, I take off to give my brain a rest. When I start having WoW dreams, I take more than a day off. I am a casual raider.


Does WoW offer up inspiration and ideas that make it into your writing? Anything that's made it into print?
For Working Daze, yes. All the time. Much of the character's Roy's WoW experiences have been similar to mine, only Roy is a much better player than I am.

One of my next books is going to be about a dwarf PI set in the 1980s on a parallel Earth, where creatures of magic and myth still exist and collaborate with humans. The dwarf (who I am calling Nor Strongarm) is investigating the death of Old York's mayor, as the mayor's wife (a retired Mage) believes the mayor was killed by his secret succubi mistress. I like to think a lot of that is WoW-inspired.

You consider yourself an "older gamer." What does this mean to you -- is it about your general outlook, your approach to gaming, your approach to fantasy, physical limitations ...?
My general outlook is it is only a game. It's a fun game but not one that should be taken too seriously. If we wipe, we wipe. No real harm done. To me, the secret of being successful in life and WoW is being persistent and hanging in there.

Whenever I see somebody boasting about their DPS or PvPing, I am always tempted to say, "Congrats -- you push buttons really good. I am sure that will transfer into other life skills." But I don't. Part of being an older gamer is having patience and being understanding.

I'm 51 years old now, but I think my fingers are a little older. I did a lot of judo and karate until recently, and so pretty much each of my fingers has been broken at least once. I can't remember the number of times I've broken my little toes (but luckily I don't need those very often in video games). The old age and broken fingers are my main excuses for hardly ever being about to get much above 2.7K on the DPS charts. The funny thing, occasionally I will break 3K DPS (Arcane Mage) in 10-man raids, but never in 25. I think I focus better in 10-man. Ah, old age. I have no idea how these young whipper-snappers do 5K.

We have a feeling Zakour remains quite capable of whipping and snapping all he needs to. Keep an eye on his latest projects at JohnZakour.com.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- neither did we, until we talked with these players. From an Oscar-winning 3-D effects director to a custom action figure artist, catch it on 15 Minutes of Fame.

Filed under: Features, Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

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