Thursday, November 8, 2007

Interview with Shelly Mazzanoble, Author of Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress

From Cerise Magazine

By Robyn Fleming
After reading her book last month, I contacted Shelly Mazzanoble, author of Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress: A Girl’s Guide to the Dungeons & Dragons Game and employee of Wizards of the Coast, to ask if she might like to do an interview for Cerise. Happily, her answer was yes. I hope you all will enjoy reading what she has to say as much as I did.

Robyn Fleming: Before I ask you anything else, I have to know – how’s Astrid? Still alive and well?

Shelly Mazzanoble: Yes! Astrid is relaxing on a much-deserved hiatus. In fact, she plans on retiring from this whole adventure business to take up teaching sorcery at the local charm school.

RF: So how did Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress come about? Did you think you’d be writing a book about it when you first started playing D&D?

SM: If someone told me two years ago that I would write a book about D&D I would have thought it the most preposterous thing I had ever heard. I’m still surprised I wrote a book–let alone a book about D&D. I keep thinking back to that fateful day when Teddy asked me to join the group. What if I had said no?

I was a theater major in college so roleplaying isn’t completely foreign to me and I’ve worked at Wizards long enough to have a basic understanding of what D&D is but even so, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed my first few sessions. I wrote an essay for an editor I had worked with at The Seattle Times about “my secret life as a dragon slayer.” Although she was amused, the editor had a hard time grasping the whole “I’ve got a Balenciaga mace and I’m not afraid to use it” story angle. I showed it to some people at work who unbeknownst to me where already exploring ways to reach out to women—gamers and non-gamers. Someone thought my essay could be expanded upon so I wrote up a proposal for a “How to” book written for the woman who has no concept of roleplaying games or the fact you could actually role a fifteen on a single die. Realizing that so much of D&D’s core comes to most women so naturally—storytelling, socializing, even roleplaying—I wanted to highlight that aspect. I tried to write the book that would have helped me learn. A lot of people are turned off by D&D because they think it’s too complicated but it’s really not. I firmly believed that if more women knew what D&D was really about, they’d be inclined to give the old d20 a spin.

RF: What was it like to work on the book? Did you find it very different from your past writing experiences?

SM: One very big difference was that I was writing a book actually scheduled to be published. What a luxury! But I have to say it’s a very odd experience to be writing a book that will be published by the company you work for. It definitely had its advantages like I got to weigh in on selecting the illustrator for the cover and interior art and the marketing team are actually people I play D&D with. Talk about metagaming. How about “Astrid’s going to fireball you in your sleep if she doesn’t get an ad campaign!”

But there is also such as thing as too much information. It’s a fine line between co-worker and ubiquitous, annoying author and one I’m sure I crossed often.

RF: There’s a lot of focus on making D&D more appealing to “girly-girl” types in Confessions – can you explain a little bit about why you think this is important?

SM: My intention was to appeal to all women who have the slightest interest in D&D—girly-girls, girls who like video games but who had never heard of D&D, my friends . . . my mom! I am a girly-girl so that part of me can’t help but seep through. But that’s also just one part of who I am. I volunteer for women’s organizations and animal shelters. I’m a homeowner. I enjoy rearranging my 401K plan almost as much as I do my closets. Almost.

Learning D&D can be information overload so I wanted to outline the basics in an entertaining, less daunting way. I figured comparing daily spells to M&M intake is more entertaining than explaining the game theory behind it.

Sure I said those things in my game about having a designer haversack and getting our food rations at Costco but that was all very tongue in cheek. I know there wasn’t a Cheesecake Factory back in the Middle Ages. Come on! They couldn’t possibly have had enough variety of cheesecake to warrant one.

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