Tuesday, 7 April 2020

The Hippo Hangs Out . . . . Chris Hepler

It's a strange time for everyone the world over right now, with the majority of us confined to our homes looking for things to do to keep us occupied. If you're a bookworm like me you may be in need of more books to read and that's where I'm looking to help, not just readers but authors as well. Let me explain.

I was pottering around on twitter a few days ago when I stumbled across the hashtag #IndieApril and discovered lots of people asking Indie authors to share links to their books to help spread the book love. (I recommend that you check out the hashtag next time you're on Twitter.) I've always been a big supporter of Indie's so I thought it would be a great opportunity to host some of them here on The Hippo and we can get to know them, and their books of course, together.

To kick things off I'd like to introduce you all to Chris Hepler.

Photo courtesy of Chris Hepler

Chris Hepler got his start writing roleplaying games when he was in college, working for such titles as Shadowrun, Earthdawn, and Legend of the Five Rings before pursuing screenwriting. After a stint on CBS Television's drama The Agency and a Top Cow comic called M.I.T.H., he began work for the Bioware Corp. on such video games as Star Wars: The Old Republic and the Mass Effect trilogy.

There, he cemented his position as "that writer who actually cares about the science," creating much of Mass Effect's Codex, Galaxy Map, and Daily News. His launch-day Twitter event for Mass Effect 3, "Emily Wong Reports Live from UCLA," made #solcomms the top-trending worldwide hashtag of the day, and yes, that means you can blame him for killing off several beloved characters.

Most recently, Chris worked for Seasun Games on a Pirates of the Caribbean project. He enjoys dragon boating, herpetology, and as many martial arts as he can get his hands on. He lives in California with his wife, Jennifer Brandes Hepler, and their two loud children.    

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Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing etc. come from?
My parents' basement was plastered with speculative fiction books, and I think around age 5 I had the Advanced D&D hardcovers, which arguably got me into creating my own stories. My parents also set up a system that in return for getting A's on tests and report cards, I could get credit towards D&D modules, and so I ended up savoring them like prizes. After they got me an electric typewriter, I started making my own, and unsurprisingly, I started off my professional career writing roleplaying games. It was a nice way to break in, since you didn't need an agent.

What's your favourite under-appreciated writer/book?
It always shocks me when I hear that the writers who win awards like Hugos and Nebulas still have to maintain day jobs that aren't writing, because so many of them have original, well-told stories in spades. But if you walk into a video game writer's room, all anyone wants to talk about is movies and TV. So I think my favorite underappreciated writer is Nancy Kress, because she makes the research into her speculative technology sound so convincing, and she does a lot of biotechnology stories, which I find more relevant than outer space. If we can't develop FTL, a lot of space stories are more parable than prediction.

What's your favourite motivational phrase?
The one that sticks in my head is because it's part of a song, and has earworm potential. "When you've had enough/Is when you're getting tough." It's from the Scorpions' song "Hit Between the Eyes." It's encouraged me to stay up late working many, many times. Getting me up in the morning is another matter entirely.

If you could spend time with a character from your book, who would it be and why? What would you get up to?
The easy and therefore wrong answer is Infinity, because she's a super-fun hot mess who's about as organized as Axl Rose's sock drawer. I'd be afraid that she'd start hitting on me just to get at my blood supply, which is kind of her M.O.. Then I'd have to explain to my wife how I got infected with Virally Induced Hematophagic Predation Syndrome. So no.
Ranath, on the other hand, knows lots of stuff I don't, and if you're not infected with VIHPS, he's no threat to you. So we could have conversations about martial arts, SWAT tactics, and applied medicine. It would probably be fun to go on simulated house-clearing practice runs with paintball guns or the equivalent, so we'd probably do that.

What did you edit out of your last book?
My last project was a comic called Mythkillers, and there was supposed to be a wall of text in it in which the heroine rants for a panel, saying, "I'm going to cut off your toes and bake them in a pie and serve them to you. Then I will take the pie away and eat it myself just so you can never say, 'yeah, I lost my toes, but at least I got some pie out of it.'" It got cut because the artist went with actually drawing the background instead of comedically putting the wall of text behind the characters as the background. But we made the script available to the fans, so it's not like I'm regretting the call.
With Civil Blood, the novel you're probably asking about, I edited out a phone number at the last minute. I'd gotten it off a website that supposedly had defunct phone numbers so you don't have to put "555" in them, but it was wrong. I called the number just to make sure, and it rang. Someone must have gotten it assigned since the website went up. So I used (202) 703-whatever. 202 is Washington, D.C., and 703 is northern Virginia... but the system never assigns a neighboring area code as the first three numbers of the residential number. So it's a bogus number, and always will be, but I didn't have to use "555."

Do you often hear from your readers, and what do they say?
Not super often, but the most common two works of mine that bring in the fan comments are Mass Effect, which makes sense because it sold a lot of copies, and Legend of the Five Rings. "L5R," as it's called, is sort of a niche samurai fantasy tabletop game, but my wife and I wrote some free adventures for them a million years ago and they're kind of a cult hit. People are still playing it four editions later, so I made sure to have the adventures on my website.

What do you think is more important: characters or plot?
If you want to impress me? Plot, because I find it harder to hang together in a coherent way. If you want to viscerally grab a reader, characters. There's been psychological studies done that people remember characters much more than they can recount plots in their favorite entertainment. And many good plots come out of the characters anyway.

What is your guilty pleasure?
In May of 2019, some gamers revealed that they've kept alive a massively-multiplayer online roleplaying game that was shuttered in 2012. It was... and now is... called City of Heroes, and the company that holds the copyright seems to be turning a blind eye. So there's this totally free MMO maintained by the fans, and I recreated some of my old characters in it. Then my son started playing with me, because he's  totally into superheroes, and so we form crime-fighting duo teams. We've even designed a user-created mission for it using its tools, a fun project now that we're at home so much during the pandemic.
I've been inspired to write a few lighthearted superhero short stories as a result, but mostly, it's a vice that makes me happy because there's no pressure involved. So that's my guilty pleasure.

You've transported me into a whole other world after that Chris! I feel like I need to get myself a cape and join a team but should I be on the side of good or evil? 😉
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Chris mentioned his book called Civil Blood so let me tell you a little more about it.

It's a generation from now, and justice may be dead.

In a future America still recognizable as our own, the outbreak of a vampire virus becomes front-page news. An infected trial lawyer named Morgan Lorenz sues the corporation that tried to conceal the existence of the virus, claiming medical negligence on a massive scale.

Facing potential bankruptcy, the Benjamin Rush Health Initiative files a unique motion. They say Lorenz cannot sue, because he's no longer human. For him, and all vampires like him, the Constitution simply doesn't apply.

Infinity DeStard and her "Forced Protection" team are assigned to kill Lorenz before the case reaches the Supreme Court. It's hard to fake enthusiasm ever since her own infection, but she has no choice. If she breathes a word about her condition, her team will execute her.

In the face of injustice, how long can she lie to them... and herself?

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You can find out more about Chris, his books and connect with him using the links below:

Amazon Author Page US
Amazon Author Page UK

I'd like to thank Chris for taking the time to stop by and chat with me today. It's been really interesting hanging out with you and I hope my readers have enjoyed it as much as I have.

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