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Joe Dever

The man who is subject of this page, needs no introduction. The contents of this page do. Herein you will find a question and answer session with Joe. In January 1998 Joe contacted Jonathan Blake, host of Desert Lynx's Oasis. Once the celebrations of this momentous event had subsided, the members of Kaiwisdom all put their heads together and came up with a selection of questions to mail back to Joe. Below you will find Joe's answers. They make for some very interesting reading. They are divided into a few sections:

Unfortunately, some of the hopeful predictions about future publishing of Lone Wolf have not materialized. But, don't curse Naar just yet! Joe has graciously offered to allow us to transcribe the text of all the books he has rights to (at the time of this publication that was books 1-20) and publish them on the web for exclusive download from a single website! You can read more about this generous offer below the text of the interview.

About Joe Dever

Q: What sparked your interest in D&D when you first discovered it?

A: It was the first set of fantasy game rules to provide a structure for collaborative team play and unfettered creativity. Gygax and Arneson, the authors of the original three-pamphlet set, were historical wargamers with an interest in fantasy. At this time so was I, and so I guess I automatically empathized with what they had created and what they were trying to achieve.

Q: Was D&D the beginning of your interest in fantasy literature?

A: No. My interest began in my early teens when I started reading the works of Micheal Moorcock (Stormbringer, The Stealer of Souls), Tolkein (Hobbit, Lord of the Rings), H.P.Lovecraft (The Dunwich Horror, The Colour Out of Space), and Mervyn Peake (Titus Groan, Gormanghast). I was lucky to have an enlightened English tutor at High School who introduced me to Science Fantasy.

Q: Who's your favorite author? Favorite book?

A: My favorite author is probably Mervyn Peake -- his style is so original and his stories simply drip with gothic atmosphere.

Q: After college, you started out as a musician. What kind of music did you play?

A: I joined a studio-based record company orchestra (Pye Records) in London and most of the work we did was providing the accompaniment to well-known 1970's solo singers & artists who were signed to the record company. It was a 9-5 kind of job but it taught me a lot about the recording process. I was with the orchestra until is was disbanded eighteen months after I joined. I then freelanced for about a year or so before joining Virgin Records as a Recording Engineer at their Manor Studios in Oxfordshire. I was with Virgin for about five years and worked with some interesting artists, including Mike Oldfield, Frank Zappa, Peter Gabriel, The Sex Pistols, and Public Image Ltd.

Q: What projects do you have for the future?

A: Increasingly I've been working on computer game design and interactive scripting since January 1995. Sony also regularly use me as their European role-playing games consultant for relevant Playstation projects. I'm currently finishing some work on a project for Team 17 Software (the company who brought you Worms) called Twisted Union. It's a "point-and-click" detective adventure set in a cyberpunk-style near future. It's scheduled for release in October, 1998. Team 17 also want me to write a novel based on the game scripts. I'll start work on this in April. They plan to include the novel with the game. I've one other major project scheduled to start this summer. Unfortunately, I'm bound by a tight non-disclosure agreement with the publisher so I can't say anymore about it . . . for now!

The Origins of Lone Wolf

Q: Why did you originally start to create Magnamund?

A: To provide a consistent setting for my AD&D campaigns.

Q: What different forms did Magnamund take during those seven formative years?

A: Geographically, the world first consisted of the Northern Continent only. Originally I called the world "Chinaraux" but I was never really happy with the name. I always felt it was just a "working title" until I came up with something better. That "something better" was Magnamund.

Q: How did you finally decide to make Magnamund into a gamebook?

A: Originally my idea was to turn Lone Wolf into a RPG system, something akin to RuneQuest. In 1983, I was working with Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone at Games Workshop in London. By this time I'd already spent six years developing Magnamund and the saga of the Kai. Ian and Steve were very keen to have Games Workshop publish it, but the deal they proposed to me was so insultingly bad that I decided I would quit and go it alone at the first opportunity. In August 1983, they published the first of their Fighting Fantasy books and it was a huge success. Still seething from the derisory offer they'd made me for Lone Wolf, I decided to redesign my RPG system and turn it into a solo RPG campaign. I asked Gary Chalk (who was also working at Games Workshop at the time) to illustrate some of my manuscript for the first book, Flight From the Dark, and then I approached three London publishers with the first 50 sections or so. The response was fantastic. They all wanted it and they all started outbidding each other for the rights. Hutchinsons offered me the best deal which I duly accepted. I then quit Games Workshop and started work immediately on Fire on the Water. Gary resigned shortly after I did and we collaborated on the first eight Lone Wolf books between 1984 and 1986.

Q: How developed was Magnamund when you wrote Flight from the Dark?

A: Northern Magnumund was very well developed, including the mythos of the Kai and the Darklords. I also had a well-developed bestiary, gazetteer, and timeline. Southern Magnamund did exist but it was not as well developed as Northern Magnamund at the time I wrote Flight From the Dark.

Q: What advice do you have for prospective authors especially about being published?

A: Begin with the idea. It's a bad mistake to hack out 80,000 words or so in the expectation that a publisher will be unable to resist such obvious dedication and effort. He/she will resist, only too easily, with a rejection slip that could seriously damage your self-esteem. The fact of the matter is that publishers are inundated with unsolicited manuscripts. In the case of the big publishers, these run into the tens of thousands every year. They have neither the time nor the optimism to wade through them looking for something that might turn out to be the blockbuster of the century, but more probably will not. A synopsis and a sample chapter is all that is needed for a publisher to make a judgement. Preparation is critical. It is possible for a bad book to follow a good synopsis but it is rare for a good book to follow a poor synopsis. Publishers know this better than anyone. If you're serious about getting into print I'd recommend you contact The Society of Authors (U.K.) or The Writers Guild of America (U.S.). They are very good at helping prospective authors and they can supply literature which deals with the thorny subjects of literary agents, publisher's contracts, marketing, and publicity etc.

About the Books

Q: What do you do when you sit down to write a book? What is the writing process like?

A: For the Lone Wolf gamebooks, the process of creation involves three stages: Outlining, Flowcharting, and First Draft. On average it takes me about eight weeks to complete an adventure. One week is spent on outlining the adventure during which time I determine basically what it's going to be about, what modifications I shall need to make to the rules, I prepare a rough map and I sort out any of the elements that I need to carry over from the previous books. I make a lot of rough notes during this period which I then refer to during the second phase, namely... flowcharting.

In the flowcharting phase (normally about three weeks) I write the adventure out in rough, usually on large sheets of paper that are often taped or stapled together. The page numbers are allocated to each of the entries and I playtest each of the encounters to make sure that the game part of the story works. This is probably the most creative phase as I have to determine what happens in every section. When the flowcharting is finished I then go back to the beginning and start writing everything up. This is the first draft stage.

I begin with the "Story So Far...", then the rules changes, and then the adventure proper. The flowcharting prompts me as to what I must establish technically in each of the sections, and during the first draft phase I elaborate on this and work on the descriptive prose. First drafting takes me about four weeks. When it's complete I then play through the manuscript using strong, median, and weak character profiles and make any necessary revisions. When that's done I submit it to the publisher. After submission, I prepare a detailed art brief for Brian Williams so that he can begin work on the cover, page illustrations, and vignettes.

Q: The threads of choices in the books can be very complex, especially in the earlier books. How do you plan these out?

A: I work on these during the flowcharting phase as described above.

Q: Some of the enemies in the series seem very difficult, i.e. Zakhan Kimah, the Chaosmaster and the Deathlord of Ixia. How do you decide how strong an opponent will be?

A: By playing through the manuscript using strong, median, and weak character profiles as described above.

Q: There seem to be disagreements between earlier books and later ones regarding the future course of Lone Wolf's quest. What did you envision his quest like in the beginning? How did this change over time?

A: I'd already outlined the first twelve books when I began work on Flight From the Dark and I think that this really impressed the publishers. The Grand Master series started to take shape about the time I was working on The Kingdoms of Terror, book 6. I wanted to bring the character Roark back into the saga at a much later date, and this started me thinking about what was going to happen once Lone Wolf had defeated the Darklords. By the time I'd finished The Dungeons of Torgar, book 10, I had already put together extensive notes which later formed the basis of the Grand Master series.

Q: The Caverns of Kalte seemed like it could have ended the series. Lone Wolf had killed Zagarna and banished Vonotar to the Daziarn thereby avenging the massacre of the Kai. Was there any thought of ending the series there?

A: Definitely not. For one thing, my first publishing contract was for four adventures. Secondly, I had already prepared extensive synopses of the first 12 adventures.

Q: What is your favorite Lone Wolf book? Least favorite?

A: My favorite one to read is Dawn of the Dragons, book 18, as I consider this to be the quintessential Lone Wolf adventure. I'm also fond of Mydnight's Hero, book 23, and Shadow on the Sand, book 5, as I really enjoyed writing those. My least favorite? It's got to be Legends number 6, The Sacrifice of Ruanon. This is mainly due to problems I had with Paul Barnett (aka John Grant) over the Epilogue. I must say that I wanted it cut from the manuscript as it outlined a future history of Magnamund that was definitely not my vision. As far as I'm concerned, Magnamund does not have a technological future. Paul was adamant about keeping it in and I eventually agreed to its inclusion, but I've always felt since that I made the wrong decision. I don't want to give the wrong impression here about my working relationship with Paul -- he's an excellent writer and we get along very well as collaborators and friends. It's just that on this occasion creatively we didn't see eye to eye.

Q: If this isn't giving away future story lines, what ever happened to Grey Star? Will we see him again?

A: Grey Star was originally my creation but Ian Page developed the character for the World of Lone Wolf sub-series. I've always felt he was a strong character and I'd planned on re-introducing him in the New Order series which, as you know, is set predominantly in Southern Magnamund. But I've since shelved the idea as the series developed in a completely different way to what I had originally mapped out for it.


Q: How did you get hooked up with Gary Chalk, Brian Williams?

A: Re: Gary Chalk, see the The Origins of Lone Wolf section.

Re. Brian Williams, I'd first noticed his colour work in White Dwarf magazine (circa issue 50), and later in the Real Life Adventure book series by Jon Sutherland. Jon is an old friend of mine, and when Gary and I split up, he introduced me to Brian who was my first choice as a replacement illustrator. Luckily, Brian was very much into Lone Wolf and he was very keen to work with me. We started off with The Cauldron of Fear and have worked together ever since.

Q: Why didn't Brian Williams illustrate Voyage of the Moonstone?

A: Because he was working on The Skull of Agarash graphic novel at the time we needed to complete the Voyage of the Moonstone art.

Q: What is Gary Chalk up to now?

A: Gary left the U.K. and went to live in New Zealand in July 1994. We didn't stay in contact and I'm afraid I don't know what he's up to now.

Q: There are quite a few inconsistencies between the Lone Wolf series and the Legends of Lone Wolf series. Which, if any, should we take as authoritative?

A: The Lone Wolf gamebook series has always preceded the Legends novels chronologically and therefore it should take precedence in authority to the Legends series.

The Future of Lone Wolf

Q: We had heard that the current contract will be up after The Hunger of Sejanoz. What is the future contractual situation with Red Fox?

A: Red Fox have decided that they don't want to publish any more Lone Wolf gamebooks. As far as they're concerned the interactive gamebook genre is no longer popular enough to warrant publishing any more titles after Lone Wolf 28. I can't say I'm happy with their decision but I can understand the thinking behind it. Since 1994, all of the editorial staff who had worked for years on the Lone Wolf series either resigned or were sacked. Naturally, their replacements were keen to impress their bosses and thereby keep their jobs. I feel the newbies neglected Lone Wolf which they considered to be part of the old Red Fox regime. This neglect manifested itself in falling production standards (e.g. the loss of the colour maps in the U.K. editions from book 25 onwards, without any commensurate drop in cover price) and the allowing of certain titles (e.g. book 19 and book 22) to go out of print. I received dozens of letters from fans about book 22 at the time, and I passed on these inquiries to Red Fox with a request that they act. Unfortunately no reprint was forthcoming. I've demanded, as is my right, that Red Fox reprint the missing titles, but so far they've fobbed me off with vague excuses and have made no written commitment to reprint despite having received orders (in the hundreds) for those titles that are now out of print. Frankly, I've had enough of their procrastination and I've given them notice that I will be revoking their rights unless they reprint within the next three months. Legally, the rights to all of the books will revert to me on October 18th 1998. On that day I can legally offer the series, and any future Lone Wolf works that I care to produce, to another publisher. I have recently been in discussion with a publisher who is interested in picking up my entire backlist (over 50 books) when the rights revert to me in October so, fingers crossed, we may well see Lone Wolf get a new lease on life this year.

Q: How many more books are planned in the New Order series? What would these future books be about?

A: I've outlined 12 books in the New Order series. Red Fox will be publishing 8 of these. I'd rather not say anything about the outlines to books 29-32 at present as they may well change.

Q: What hope do U.S. fans have of getting Berkeley to continue publishing the series?

A: Very little I'm afraid, unless Lone Wolf suddenly becomes a blockbuster film or TV series, or something else happens to revive their interest. Legally I think they are already in default of their contract by failing to reprint.

Q: How can we get out-of-print books like The Buccaneers of Shadaki, the Legends of Lone Wolf series and other hard-to-find books? Any secret caches?

A: Senator Publications, who have always specialised in Lone Wolf books, do have some stocks remaining but they're rapidly depleting. The only other route is via second hand bookshops who specialise in hunting down out-of-print titles, or by putting a request on the usenet system and hope that someone picks up on it via their search browser.

Q: Many of us enjoyed the Freeway Warrior and World of Lone Wolf series. There have been suggestions of creating a new series about the Elder Magi, the Brotherhood of the Crystal Star or even Sun Eagle. What do you think about starting a new spin-off series?

A: I'm not adverse to the idea, but publishing-wise the circumstances would have to be right.

Q: If you had your way, what future projects would there be?

A: A Lone Wolf computer RPG and a gamebook sub-series based upon Banedon and the Brotherhood of the Crystal Star would be equal top of my list.

Q: It seems that publishers are losing enthusiasm for the Lone Wolf series. What can we do to keep publishers interested?

A: Write letters addressed to the editor in chief of Berkeley and Red Fox telling them just how much you value the series, and how much you'd like to see it continue. I can't guarantee this will work, but it will make them think twice about letting the series slip away. Meanwhile, as of October, I shall be working to place the series with a new publisher who will re-launch the back list and publish, hopefully, the remaining titles in the New Order series. If this happens then I would definitely write four completely new adventures for a new sub-series.

Q: You seem to be very involved in developing computer role-playing games online and for the Sony Playstation and PC. If Magnamund was to make the transition from gamebook to computer game, it might renew interest in the gamebooks. What do you think about Cyber-Lone Wolf?

A: This is a strong possibility and may well happen at some time within the next three years. The latest RPG's for PCs (e.g. Final Fantasy VII) have set standards for depth of background that far outstrip anything that's gone before. As the demand for massive RPG's grows, so software publishers will look to use relevant literary works where the background is already well established. It's a cost thing -- it costs them far more in time and money to develop rich game worlds from scratch than it does to buy the licencing rights to an already-published fantasy world. With Lone Wolf there's the added bonus of having the dialogue and locations already written in the second person (as most computer RPG scripts are), and the game system is already integrated into story.

Q: There's a lot of new fan activity online. There have been thoughts of an official website, a newsletter, a Lone Wolf club online, etc. What are some of the things that you'd like to see? In what ways would you be able to participate?

A: My greatest pleasure has been seeing what a positive effect my Lone Wolf stories have had on the lives of so many readers over the past 14 years or so. My current and foreseeable work schedules are so demanding that I simply do not have time to host an official website of my own, and that's why I'm so grateful for all you're doing to keep the spirit of the Kai alive on the 'net. Realistically I can only participate on an ad hoc basis, supplying you with material and information as and when I can. What I'd really like to see is steady and sustainable growth of interest in your sites. I very much like the way you collaborate with each other, sharing links etc., rather than setting up in competition against each other. The success of your sites will greatly help me when the time comes to pursue a re-launch of Lone Wolf, probably with a new publisher.

[Emphasis added]

Copyright Issues

Q: Some of the online information about Lone Wolf is in a rather grey area of the copyright law. Is what we are doing okay? What should we not do?

A: Just as a matter of courtesy it would be nice if you acknowledged my copyrights and trademark by putting the following line at the bottom of each web page:

[Editor's note: here are the HTML codes to generate such a line: Lone Wolf &copy; <SUP><FONT SIZE=-1>TM</FONT></SUP> Joe Dever 1984-2000]

Of course I fully understand that you have no intention of abusing my creations, it's just that legally I'm obliged to protect my trademark (or the Trades Mark registry could revoke it) and contractually I'm obliged to protect my copyright (or my publisher could sue me for technically condoning the infringement of their exclusive publication rights). It's all boring legal stuff, but by inserting the above acknowledgement you'll keep everyone happy (and you'll keep the publisher's lawyers at bay).

Internet Publication of Lone Wolf

In late 1999, Joe Dever contacted Jonathan Blake again and made the most staggering offer: he would allow the online community to transcribe the books and make them available for download from a central site. No redistributions would be permitted, but anyone could have free access to copies of all the books through the web site. You can get more details about this at The Aon Project website.

© Julian Egelstaff 1997-2000
Lone Wolf © TM Joe Dever 1984-2000