Community Spotlight: David Craddock's Stay Awhile and Listen post-mortem
David Craddock has been a part of Shacknews for many years, as both a writer and as a part of the Chatty community. He most recently released the first book of Stay Awhile and Listen: How Two Blizzards Unleashed Diablo and Forged a Video-Game Empire, his labor of love chronicling the creation of Diablo and the evolution of Blizzard Entertainment.
Mr. Craddock was happy to offer a bit of a post-mortem for the first part of his trilogy, which is available now through the Google Play store, Nook shop, and Amazon. He also offers some insights on his time at Shacknews and how much the community's feedback has been instrumental to the making of his book.
Shacknews: For those unfamiliar with your work and for newcomers to the site, can you offer an introduction? How long have you been around Shacknews, as both a writer and as a poster?
David Craddock: I stumbled across Shacknews in late 2003, I think it was. This was before Shack produced unique content (or at least produced it on a regular schedule), so Jason Bergman, the site's main writer, used a nightly column called Late Night Consoling to round up stories from other sites and offer his commentary on the day's events. I enjoyed his insight and voice, and made Shack a regular stop on my late-night rounds.
In early 2004, Jason jumped to the other side of the desk and became a producer in the industry. That left the LNC position vacant. I applied and interviewed with Steve ("sTeve") Gibson over the phone. The interview was pretty funny. Steve came across on the phone exactly how he came across in his semi-regular evening columns: a chill, regular guy who ran his gaming website with a calm, "Oops, I dropped a server; better fix that" sort of mentality. He asked what types of games I liked to play, and then quizzed me on designers. I nailed four of the five questions, but I only remember the question I got wrong: Who designed the Dead or Alive series? I blanked, even though I loved DOA (DOA 2 Hardcore was my first PS2 game).
I didn't get the job, but the guy they hired didn't last long, so the position opened up again. I applied, and that time, you better believe I was ready to slap the buzzer and shout "TOMONOBU ITAGAKI!" when the DOA question came up. And it did. But I lost out again, this time to Chris Remo. A few months later, Steve hired me on as a freelance editor. He figured I had something to contribute since I'd made the finals twice over.
I grew as a writer at Shack, but slowly. I'm one of those people who needs to hear something a few times and put it into practice several more times before it sinks in. I wasn't discouraged, though. I moved out to the Bay Area in 2007 and started writing for Official Xbox Magazine, PlayStation: The Official Magazine (RIP), Games Radar, and Joystiq's network of sites. I even wrote game manuals for EA. With each client I took on, I got better.
It was around the same time that I started tracking down ex-Blizzard Entertainment/North folks and began research for the book that would become Stay Awhile and Listen.
Stay Awhile and Listen was in the works for a very long time. Did you ever bump into any setbacks or anything issues along the path to publication? And was there ever a point where you felt like the project wasn't going to get done?
Yes, and yes. The biggest setback was money. Researching, tracking down developers, conducting interviews, checking facts, writing, editing, and rewriting SAAL was a full-time job that paid zip, zilch, nothin'. That was in addition to balancing a growing roster of freelance clients. I was like a juggler trying to keep half a dozen jobs in the air, but I was writing, so I was happy.
In 2009, the economy bottomed out, and every few weeks, I found myself with one less ball to juggle. On several occasions, I had to stop working on SAAL for weeks at a time and scramble to pay the bills. I was minutes away from accepting a job at Taco Bell when I landed a long-term, high-volume freelance gig. Not that there's anything wrong with working fast food. You do what ya gotta do. But it was very discouraging to know that I was driven and talented enough to succeed in an industry that lacked the budget to give me work.
In December 2011, I determined I had enough material to start a first draft of SAAL. I finished the following May, took a month off (from SAAL), went back to it, and the scope just seemed so daunting. I received request to extend the book's focus beyond Blizzard North to include Diablo III--which was a great idea, but required me to squeeze in several more years of history.
That summer, John Keefer, formerly of Shacknews, contacted me and asked about running a chapter from the book. Creativity is a funny thing: it's so private and intimate, but eventually, you get to a point where you NEED to show your stuff to someone. John and I coordinated two months' worth of coverage that culminated in a full chapter parceled out at the end of October.
A few months later, my wife, Amie, broached the subject of splitting SAAL. I took a step back and reexamined the story, and realized that the three Diablos embodied perfectly the eras in which they were made. Three unique eras, three books. That, and the feast-or-famine pendulum was wearing me down. I needed to release something.
A large number of Chatty posters have been reading the book. How's the reception been so far from the Shacknews community? How has their feedback helped?
The only complaint I've received related to the material had to do with the ending feeling too abrupt. I'd like to talk about that, so for those who haven't finished SAAL and want to avoid spoilers, skip down to the next question.
SAAL is a trilogy, and each book tackles a different motif. In Book I, we see people from disparate backgrounds and skill levels unite to create a fun product. Most of them had no experience making games before joining one of the two Blizzards, but they were passionate and driven, and they achieved their goal. They made something.
Book I ends with the Blizzard North team finishing Diablo. Not releasing; just finishing. They declared it done, toasted their accomplishment, and went home to sleep. Why end the story there? Because that's where THAT story ended. Book I is about people coming together and pouring their heart and soul into a product. You meet the people. You learn about where they came from, see them form tight bonds, and cheer them on as they make their game. And they do. Whether Diablo succeeded or sunk like a stone has no bearing on THAT story. It stands alone. The End.
Book II picks up immediately where Book I leaves off. We see the two Blizzards explode in popularity, and explore what happens to their cultures and people as a result of that explosion. Rather than plant the seeds of change at the end of Book I, I opted to keep all like material together and plant them at the beginning of Book II, where the theme develops.
Last time we spoke to you, you mentioned the possibility of SAAL as a physical book. Have readers shown interest and are you more willing to go down this path?
We've gotten several emails from readers who would love to hold SAAL in their hands. And honestly, no one wants to hold SAAL and leaf through its pages more than I do. My wife and I founded DM Press, our publishing company devoted to the video-game industry, and started out publishing eBooks largely because of economic reasons. Instead of pouring our money into printed books that may or may not sell (never assume success), we were able to allocate that money toward professional editors and marketing campaigns for the eBook versions.
Our plan is to roll the money we make from SAAL's eBook sales into printed editions. So, if you're waiting to pull the trigger on a printed version, please don't. Supporting us now will give us the funds we need to make your wildest dreams come true. Or, just release a printed version of SAAL.
You have some other books in mind, which you spoke about last time. How are those projects coming along?
They're in various stages of development. I can't speak to those projects specifically, but I'll drop some hints as to each one: X-Files, @, and bubblegum.
Is it possible that you will re-visit Blizzard down the line for a future book, given how much they have coming up with the continuation of Diablo and new franchises like Hearthstone?
I revisit Blizzard Entertainment more and more frequently over the course of Books II and III--not only to explore their story, but because each of the two Blizzards affects the other in myriad ways. Book II explores StarCraft, WarCraft III, the early stages of World of WarCraft, and the first version of Diablo III in development at Blizzard North--what I like to call "Diablo III 1.0." You'll also see Bonus Rounds (my version of extra chapters) dedicated to a number of lost and cancelled Blizzard games.
Book III will focus on Diablo III 2.0, the game Blizzard North's team was working home before the studio was shuttered; and Diablo III 3.0, the version of the game that finally made it to shelves physical and virtual. I plan to cover other games in the third SAAL book as well, but that book's a little hazy. It needs a lot of work yet.
How do you feel you've grown as a writer over the course of this project?
This is one of the best questions I've received over the gauntlet of interviews I coordinated for the launch of SAAL. Thank you for asking it. I actually spent a day mulling it over before finally putting anything down.
I believe that an unexamined life is not worth living. As a freelance writer, I hate that I have so little time to examine my craft. You have to write-write-write and then submit your work so you can write-write-write on the next assignment. I'm ashamed to say there are times where I finish something and send it off without giving it more than a cursory once-over. There's just no time. I write the last word, I click "send," and I don't look back. I can't.
With SAAL, I took my time. I revised Book I twice, with the first revision entailing a complete restructuring. Each revision took less time than the last, and that was good, because it meant the book was getting better. I focused on different aspects of my writing during each round: the three-act structure of the book, which my editor-in-chief helped me construct; transitioning between topics; deciding how much I should say versus when to let the developers do the talking; and the nitty-gritty of writing--developing my voice, balancing active writing versus a conversational tone that gave the book its wide appeal, hitting on the right word instead of the almost-right word, and so on.
However, there comes a time when creators must release something. You can't pick at your work forever; eventually, it gets worse instead of better. Case in point: I touched up sections of Book I's prologue here and there. Consequently, I made a typo that a reader caught within hours of the book's release. That was incredibly frustrating. My editing team did a great job, I'd worked so hard for so long, yet the first thing someone points out was a blemish that wouldn't have been there had I stopped tinkering.
There was talking of delaying the book past Halloween, but I wouldn't entertain the idea. I was tempted, though. We had to come up with money to pay professional editors (no book is perfect, but I vowed to give my book its day at the spa), we had to learns the ins and outs of digital platforms n, we needed to pay for copyrights and advertisements... I'm fortunate to have a wife and business partner who believes in my writing as much as I do, and who opened up her pocketbook when my fluctuating workload didn't allow me to invest as much into SAAL and DM Press as they needed.
There was so much to do, and, yes, we probably could have benefitted from holding off another month or two. But isn't that always the case? There's a warm, cozy feeling of relief one feels when one decides to put something off. "Tomorrow. I'll do that tomorrow." I resisted that. I put my foot down. Halloween or bust. We have to release this book someday, so let's make it this day.
Sometimes you can afford to mosey along life's road, smell the roses, and maybe learn a little bit about who planted them. And sometimes you need to start a fire to get your ass in gear. I'm still learning to tell the difference, but I like to think I'm getting better.
SAAL author David Craddock