by Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle
Following last week's review of Legend of the Syndicate - a written history of a guild called The Syndicate over its 10 years of existence - we contacted the guild leader and author Sean "Dragons" Stalzer and were thrilled when he agreed to a brief follow-up interview. We discussed Sean's inspirations and motivations for writing the book, the guild's reaction to the book's success, the ongoing partnership between The Syndicate and the charity Youth Opportunities Unlimited, and the future of the guild. And as an extra bonus, you'll see below that Sean revealed a recent piece of art commissioned by The Syndicate for the first time right here at Ten Ton Hammer.
Ten Ton Hammer: Legend of the Syndicate struck us as the first book of its kind – a candid memoir of the joys and frustrations of creating a long-lasting online gaming community. Were you influenced or encouraged by any other writers or books?
Sean: Legend is pretty unique so it is hard to pin down a source of influence for the book overall. It actually began as an internal project where I wanted to create something for newer members of the guild to fully understand the history that came before them and why/how things evolved into what they are today. There were some tough lessons paid for in the past and we want to avoid repeating those mistakes.
After being approached by Avari to write a book about gaming, our history and what it takes to make a successful, long lasting guild, things took on a different focus. One of the features of the book is mixing up different factual chapters with fantasy stories that illustrate key points in our history or in the history of gaming. You could say those stories were loosely influenced by The Game of Thrones type of writing. I say loosely because the whole book isn’t set in that model but the general idea of having chapters almost being stories in and of themselves yet also part of a greater whole is influenced by George R. R. Martin’s style.
The first public reveal of art recently commissioned for The Syndicate
Ten Ton Hammer: Writing a book is no small task, especially for one with such a full vocational and recreational life. What was the process of writing the book like? Was the actual writing easier or harder than you expected at the beginning, and were there any unexpected challenges apart from writing the book- publisher relations, legal considerations, promotion, etc.?
Sean: Writing the book was both very easy and very challenging at different times in the process. The overall topics of the book (Online Gaming, The Syndicate and Guild Management) are ones I had lived for the previous decade so my opinions on them were well formed. I knew what I wanted to get across on any given topic.
Since the book is chronological the order of things also was fairly intuitive. But making the topics fit together such that each made their own coherent thought yet advanced the overall thread of the book was something entirely new to me. There were chapters that ended up being scrapped because they didn’t mesh with the overall flow yet individually they were all things that were important to me. There were ideas that had to be reworked and thought processes that had to be looked at from different angles. So, in a few cases, I found myself looking at something I thought was one way only to realize from a different angle it might actually be perceived as something else. All in all it was a very enjoyable process.
Ten Ton Hammer: Can you point to a particular event or incident that prompted you to write Legend of the Syndicate, or was the desire to write the book more the kind of impetus that starts small and gains momentum over a period of time?
Sean: Probably the first inkling of doing a book like this came at our third guild conference in 2004. We had been around for eight years at that point and we had already done two very successful conferences. As we were all in Vegas sharing stories of years gone by and I was fielding questions on the guild I realized that there were years of backstory that went into us being where we were then. Those that attended the conferences and had five days of concentrated discussions about the guild learned a huge amount of that and left those conferences with a very deep understanding of the guild.
That led to the guild taking on a whole new meaning for them which in turn made it better for their friends. So there was great value in sharing this information but unless I could get every member to a conference there had to be some other way. So that’s what got me thinking about writing an internal book just for us. Avari approaching us about a book with a wider topic allowed me to leverage that idea and expand upon it into something that not only benefited our members but was of value to the community as a whole.