by Christopher Rowe
Apparently, it happens in a different way for pretty much every Wild Cards writer. Some of us (a lot of us but not me), were there at the beginning, when a bunch of people in New Mexico decided they should launch a shared world anthology series based on the sweet role-playing game they’d been running. They’re the ones who came up with the Consortium Master Agreement, the document that governs this ungovernable bunch, which, I swear this is true, has something about the House of Windsor in it (if I’m remembering correctly, and I think I am). (Don’t tell George I can’t find a copy of the Master Agreement in my files. He’s a lot bigger on files than I am, but then he probably has a fulltime filer. And a filing cabinet.)
Others were younger writers living around the same area that came on later, like Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who buggered off to write some science fiction series under the shared name James S.A. Corey. Godspeed and good luck, suckers.
At least one of us (okay, just one of us), wrote a kickass fan letter to George about Wild Cards when she was a kid, became the great writer Carrie Vaughn, and then jumped on board at soonest opportunity. And that great writer Carrie Vaughn, friends, is the great writer Carrie Vaughn.
I was part of sizable influx of new writers from around the time of Inside Straight, which was a sort of rebirth/new beginning/in-no-way-a-reboot-or-retcon book released almost exactly thirteen years ago as I write this (thirteen? is that right? that can’t be right). Here’s how it worked for me.
One day, I came home from the community college I was attending in an attempt to rehabilitate my academic career from its hilarious beginnings, which involved kicking the dust of the family farm off my boots at seventeen, heading to the big city to study Elizabethan poetry and drama, and promptly changing my major to punk girls and pot, which turned out to not be a recognized major at the University of Louisville, that decision costing me all three of my full-ride scholarships and resulting in a kind invitation to do something else with my life.
The something else turned out to involve years of bookselling and also writing science fiction and fantasy stories. I had a pretty good side gig going doing just that when, like I said, one day I came home from school and logged on to my email.
“Dear Christopher,” the first one I opened read. “This is George RR Martin writing.” I’d have to dig pretty deep in my inbox to get the particulars, but it basically boiled down to George saying, “Some friends of mine say you’re a pretty good writer, so I checked you out and I agree, and do you want to join the Wild Cards Consortium?”
What would you do? I, of course, immediately fired off a response.
“Who is this, really?”
“This is George RR Martin. Some years back, some fellow writers and I launched the Wild Cards series, the most popular and longest running shared world anthology series in science fiction. We got Howard Waldrop and everything and our contract has the Queen of England.” (I’m paraphrasing.)
My immediate response. “Chuck? Is this Chuck?” (Chuck was my old roommate who pressed all the first Wild Cards books into my hands in the mid-90s.)
Supposedly George: “Look, I don’t have to do this.”
Definitely me: “Who are Jon Snow’s parents?”
Definitely George: “Don’t cross the streams, kid.”
Anyway, ultimately, he convinced me (obviously it didn’t take much convincing as I was a longtime fan of the books) and eventually I started creating Wild Cards characters and writing stories and even the longer interstitials for a couple of volumes (the recent Joker Moon and the upcoming Sleeper Straddles).
When all this started, I was already living with the deadly-but-beautiful Gwenda Bond, who was to become my wife and the eventual launchpad of my meteoric rise to fame as Mr. Gwenda Bond. She was writing screenplays at the time, but eventually decided to pursue a Masters of the Fine Arts degree in Children’s and Young Adult Writing at the graduate school that boasts the coldest flipping temperatures in the world, the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Awhile after graduating, she sold her awesome first novel (first to be published, at least), then her awesome second, and then DC/Warner Brothers came calling and she wrote an awesome trilogy of novels about a teen Lois Lane, then she wrote the critically acclaimed Cirque American series, which included a graphic novel, then more awesome books, then the first, New York Time’s bestselling novel based on Stranger Things, which is a television program about children fighting a mindflayer.
This is how it happened for Gwenda.
One day, I opened up my email and found an email from George RR Martin.
“Dear Christopher,” it read. “Do you think if I asked Gwenda very politely she would think about writing something for Wild Cards?”
History, babies. The rest is history.
Gwenda had read the first volume of Wild Cards in a modern science fiction and fantasy class as an undergraduate at Eastern Kentucky University, and of course, everything I had contributed to the series. I approached her about George’s idea, and she said, “Sure! They’ve got Howard Waldrop! And also, Lew Shiner! And Cherie Priest! And Diana Rowland, a hero-for-our-time (according to the Washington Post and everyone who knows her)!”
(Diana is a hero for many reasons, and famous for her White Trash Zombie novels and for her epic annual inflatable dragon displays that pissed off one apparently super-dull neighbor who wrote the cranky anonymous letter heard round the world.)
Lew, Cherie, and Diana are friends of Gwenda’s. Howard, of course, is a Beloved American Treasure. Seriously.
Now, we have different working styles, the deadly-but-beautiful Gwenda Bond and myself. Here’s how she did it. Using her initially limited knowledge of the series, wild enthusiasm for new projects, and undeniable innate talent, she jumped right in and started creating characters and sketching out stories.
Gwenda, Gwenda, Gwenda.
One does not simply walk into Jokertown.
Here’s how I do it.
I have read all of the Wild Cards books. At least three times each. I have tracked down and read, at least three times each, the legendary roleplaying game supplements based on the property produced by Steve Jackson Games, where, I’m reliably told, Keanu Reeves got his start (okay, “reliably” might be a strong word, but Steve Jackson Games definitely had some kind of government raid thing that happened involving cyberpunk, possibly led by that one guy, the elf, Liv Tyler’s dad.)
I have read the modern RPG books from Green Ronin, more than once. I have read and continue to read every Wild Cards story that appears outside the anthologies, mostly at tor.com, but also Caroline Spector’s contribution to the great Dangerous Women anthology.
Comics! There are comics! New comics coming out from Marvel, but also a four-part mini-series released by Epic in 1990 that I paid stupid money for and Daniel “buggered off to write a science fiction series with Ty” Abraham put out a fantastic hardcover from Dabel Brothers. That last one is a complete novel, all for a dime! (Prices not guaranteed.)
I even have the legendary “proto” Wild Cards story, “The Bag Lady,” by Walter Jon Williams, as collected in his NESFA Press book, Frankensteins and Foreign Devils, which I am not going to advise you to track down because I’m going to respect your intelligence and assume you’ve already got a copy.
What I’m trying to say here, is that I’ve done the reading. Off the top of my head, I can at this point only name two Elizabethan poets besides Willy Shakes, but I can tell you Jube the Walrus’ favorite meal. The vast, all-encompassing, decades-spanning, cast-of-thousands world of Wild Cards, all of that, all of that which has covered every conceivable subject, plots uncountable and stories night-infinite, all of that is contained in the intricate memory palace of my mind (which also serves as filing cabinet). (Gwenda questions whether this filing cabinet works all that well, see above.) You can’t take that away from me.
Looking up from her computer, pausing from busily creating super cool characters and writing super cool stories for Wild Cards you’ve not yet had the opportunity to read, Gwenda said to me, that first day, “How much do you know about this series, anyway?”
Yes, yes. “Mr. Gwenda Bond,” they called me. Who is the master now?
“What can I help you with you, my sweet?”
“Tell me everything there is to know about [redacted] in the Wild Cards universe.”
“C’mon, my sweet. My sweet, sweet walking Wild Cards encyclopedia. Everything there is about [redacted.]”
“There is nothing about [redacted] in the published Wild Cards lore.”
(To my credit, you can tell I’m an expert because I call it “lore.”)
“Well, there is now.”
And George RR Martin saw it. And it was good.
All of which is to say, here in our house built in 1900, with our many dogs and cats, our thousands of books and more bicycles than might seem strictly necessary for two people, we sit in our shared office, desk facing desk, and remember where we were when Jetboy died. And then we move past that, on down the years and into the future, doing our best to contribute exciting new stories and fascinating new characters.
And (if we do our jobs right, and study the lore carefully, and think of the Queen), it is good.