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15 Minutes of Fame: Vampire Empire novelist duo writes, games as one

From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.

Talking about Clay and Susan Griffith means talking about partnerships. Clay and Susan are husband and wife, WoW partners and co-GMs, and authors of The Greyfriar: Vampire Empire Book 1 -- "married in all things, for better or for worse," as they put it. Together, they've worked on comics and prose with such pop culture icons as The Tick, Kolchak the Night Stalker, The Phantom, Allan Quatermain, and Disney characters, too. "Granted, we are casual WoW players due to time constraints, but we both have level 85s," says Susan. "We enjoy questing and the lore of the game, as well as a fair amount of RPing. When time and fair winds permit, we even have a family raid group."

What the Griffiths have learned from collaborating on the page, they say translates directly to playing WoW as a group: trust, respect, and distribution of power and roles. From the Vampire Empire to Azeroth? According to this couple -- absolutely.

Main characters
Susan
Zoltarah (level 85 ret pally, Alliance) and Widdershin (level 68 disc priest, Horde)
Clay Gattamelatta (level 85 prot warrior, Alliance) and Opencasket (level 69 prot warrior, Horde)
Guild Never Tell Me The Odds (Undermine, US-A) and Down with Pants (Farstriders, US-H)

15 Minutes of Fame: Writing books together, playing games together, being a married couple ... What brought the two of you together? How has all this collaboration come about?

Susan and Clay: Frighteningly enough, Disney brought us together. Clay got a contract with Acclaim Comics to write some Disney comics but didn't know Disney like I did. We collaborated, and the level of creativity and new direction of concepts was dizzying. We both saw strengths we lacked in the other. We've collaborated on all our projects ever since.

And you've been playing WoW -- together, of course -- for six years. Is this your first MMO?

Clay: We cut our MMO teeth on City of Heroes. We are both comic book fans (as well as comic book writers), so that game was a natural for us. The character creation function in CoH still blows all others out of the water. We created more costumed superheroes than Marvel (we miss Madame Surge and Savage Kitten). It was great fun, but lacked the immersive environments and storylines we were after.

Once we played WoW, we never looked back.

So what's your playstyle? What do you enjoy doing together most in game?

Susan: Our playstyle is ultra-casual. Personally, I enjoy doing achievements, pet and mount collecting, having a drink in an inn with Gatta, and questing whether solo or with a friend. I love being part of a storyline, or having one in my head as I explore. The thing I enjoy most about WoW is the variety of playstyle allowed. It's diverse enough to fill your every mood swing, from late night solitary farming to madcap family raiding.

Clay: I'm also more of a quest-oriented player, and not the fastest player in the world. Gattamelatta has always had a reputation as a loveable underachiever, someone who wouldn't have decent gear if family and friends didn't help him. But I like experiencing the different zones and towns. The design of the world and the blending of environments is always fun. There are certain zones I really love and others that don't grab me as much. I tend to prefer Alliance settings to Horde.

But in any case, I never understood the power-leveling gamer. Why play a game with such a rich environment if you're just going to rush through it? I also enjoy interacting with other players, hanging around the big cities chatting, and generally acting the fool. I do enjoy raiding with groups that I know, because I can joke around, but I'm not a big pickup guy. I don't like raiding just for its own sake.

So ... some raiding, yes? What's your focus as a guild?

Susan: Having fun, mainly! On Undermine (Alliance), we consider ourselves more of a sight-seeing tour rather than a raiding guild. Many of us aren't savvy, high-end raiding types. We know just enough to get us all killed. However, there are a few in the guild who run with actual competent guilds or read WoW Insider and other blogs extensively, and they pass that knowledge on to the rest of us. Over time, we figure out the mechanics of the fight and do a pretty good job. We have a standing order to always wipe on the first try, just to get it over with. The majority of us are visually oriented players, so all the description in the world doesn't matter until we see it in action.

Don't get us wrong, we work hard to get the right gear and enchants and gems to make the raid possible, and we all try to help the other in achieving those aims. But we run at a slow pace to fit in with the busy schedules and life-altering predicaments we all have. It's meant more to keep folks in contact with each other and spend time together when we can.

On Farstriders (Horde), our guild is even smaller and weirder. We are leveling it old school with some questing and running 5-man dungeons. But Farstriders is an RP server, and much of the time, we are in town making a spectacle of ourselves. Opencasket (Clay) and his brother Closedcasket (a very good friend) work hard to make themselves notorious in parts of Azeroth.

Sounds fun! Who belongs to the friends and family bunch?

Susan: Our family guild on Undermine is a mix of family and friends. My sister and her family play, as well as various friends from North Carolina, New York, and Canada. Players flit in and out, though there is a core of about six or seven players who play regularly to run quests, dungeons, and heroics.

What about other video games?

Susan: I play PC games mainly, now through my Mac. Bioshock and Monkey Island still remain my all-time favorites. Occasionally when visiting with family guild members, we will dabble with the console games like Rock Band and any in the Mario series.

Clay: I was never a big gamer. Susan and I both played old-school tabletop RPGs years ago, which I loved, but I never really got into arcade or computer games. We don't own a gaming system. WoW has been a real change for me. It's pretty clear that it isn't the "gaming" aspects of WoW that attract me! And my love of WoW hasn't really sparked any curiosity in other games. My interest really is about this game rather than gaming per se.

How then does gaming inform your creative process, if at all? Would you say that's more based on your experiences as a player, your experiences as a character, or the lore and game world itself?

Susan: Any rich environment can spawn a wealth of ideas, and Warcraft is certainly that. The creative spark can come from anywhere, from the setting to the character. At the heart of creation, there is that part of your character that is blended from your experiences, where a bit of reality bleeds into the fantasy world. Who's to say how Greyfriar, the lead character in our novel, came to love cats? It could be from Gattamelatta's penchant for his Cornish Rex or from Clay's affection for our own cat, Marlowe.

Clay: Gaming can spark creativity on some level. I think, however, tabletop RPGs sparked more creativity because we, as a player or game master, could impact the environment of the world through dramatic choices, unlike games like WoW where, if we kill a character, he's back 10 minutes later. (Though the phasing mechanic in Lich King and Cataclysm has helped!) I think how WoW can spark my creativity is to provide a wonderful example of a vast, immersive world with surprisingly effective characters and interconnecting history and lore.

We understand that you enjoy roleplaying in game. Is that intertwined at all with any of the characters or storylines from your own writing? Does WoW RP ever become a test bed for new ideas?

Susan: Our style of roleplaying is a bit odd, which maybe harkens back to our days playing tabletop RPGs or writing The Tick and Bart Simpson comics. We're more about one-liners and schtick. Sometimes we get people to play along with us. The undead Casket brothers on Farstriders started a random conversation with a tauren once, and the whole thing cascaded into a series of encounters where that tauren somehow became the Caskets' father, known as Cowdad. He was just a guy we ran into at Brewfest, a nice tauren (originally, brilliantly named Hooves McGee, but later with several different names). Though I do engage in some slightly more "serious" RP occasionally.

In terms of whether characters have ever been born in WoW, I do dabble in archetypes that can be used wherever, like the handsome blood elf hero transformed into a hideous troll could be Gareth, our tortured vampire prince. Or the privileged heroine in a rush to grow up and see the world may be our scrappy princess, Adele. But it's not really a conscious effort.

Clay: I wouldn't say I've ever tested book ideas in game. I don't do the "real" RPing in WoW. I prefer to riff on odd events or weird character names. It's fun to get strangers involved in crazy scenarios. I try to get other players to look up from their damage charts and gear percentages for just a second to realize they're playing a fun game, not studying for the SAT. But that's just me; others are more serious about it.

You've handled a good many pop culture icons in your own work. What's your take on Blizzard's handling of other pop culture figures within the confines of Azeroth?

Susan: I enjoy seeing a little homage to pop culture, and that's even in my RP state of mind also. It doesn't jar me out because I'm never that immersed in the world that I can't have a private chuckle at something clever. Everything has a place in WoW because it has to appeal to such a broad spectrum of players from the kids to the casual player to the dedicated raider. Warcraft can get very intense, so it's always good to have a laugh at something clever in game.

Clay: Yeah, I love the references, although I'm sure I only get a small percentage of them. As a writer, what amazes me is that WoW is able to sustain a consistent world by blending drama and real heart-breaking storylines, like the Lich King, with pure tongue-in-cheek winks at pop culture. You get pathos when you want it (if I could stomp those mean wolvar bullies in Dalaran who play keep-away with the poor oracle's toy, I would!), and you get the silly eye roll when you want it. Mixing melodrama and slapstick is very tough to pull off. But Warcraft makes it all work.

What are your secrets for balancing all of your self-directed activity? How does writing, gaming and married life all fit together?

Susan: To me, balance is found through cooperation and trust all the way from the writing standpoint to the gaming perspective to being happily married. You have to trust your partner when they're pushing for a morbid death scene of a main character or advocating a little romance between unlikely characters. You have to trust your party member when he's tanking one mob or two or when I'm healing my little butt off to keep him alive. You have to trust your spouse when they cook a meal or attempt to fix the lawn mower. The stakes may be different, but the end result is the same.

Trust and knowing what we are capable of doing will lead to a better book or raid or marriage. We each have our strengths, whether it be character development or world building. Or tanking or healing. Or cooking or appliance repair. Only with assigned roles, support, and trust can you write a novel or down an insanely difficult boss or achieve wedded bliss. (Though sheer luck helps, too!) We know our strengths and our weaknesses, and we trust the other to recognize those traits and fill in the weak spots, either with a speedy edit or a quick mana pot or a sudden kiss.

Clay: What she says is right. But in real-world terms of balancing self-directed activities, it's a delicate juggling act. Real-world commitments must come first in order to meet deadlines and address family matters. But every once in a while, you need a fun distraction. The trick is limiting yourself. Sometimes we play too much WoW when we should be working. I'm sure we're not the only ones.

Have you met many other gamers from among the authors and other publishing industry folks you work with?

Susan: We know our copyeditor, Deanna Hoak, is also a WoW player. (Editor's note: And guess what? We've already profiled her!) We wouldn't be surprised if after this, we find a lot more out there.

We'll raise a glass to that sentiment! And if you'd like to find Susan and Clay on the web, look no further than their own blog or their Facebook page. Their novel The Greyfriar: Vampire Empire Book 1 is in stores now.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Aron "Nog" Eisenberg to an Olympic medalist and a quadriplegic raider. Know someone else we should feature? Email lisa@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

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