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Chaz Engan Interview
This is an old story, you've probably heard it before. Back in 1992 or so, my wife Janyce and I ran an email-based discussion group called “Strange Aeons” for all matters Lovecraftian, but focusing mostly on the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game. When Chaosium announced that development of a scenario book based on HPL's At the Mountains of Madness everyone was very excited, including me: AtMoM was my favourite HPL story and I was eager to see what they'd do with it in the game.
Time passed, however, and nothing appeared. In 1994, fellow list member and awesome gamer Hugo Barbosa wrote an open letter to Chaosium and sent it around the list. Where were the Mountains of Madness? He asked. Any news on the promised scenario?
Lynn Willis replied, saying that the author team that had taken on the job had pulled out. Unless someone else was willing to take up the challenge, there would be no Mountains of Madness scenario book any time soon.
Janyce wanted the job. “I've never done one of these before,” she said, “but I'd love to give it a try!” She and Lynn met several times over the next few weeks; he gave her the materials produced by the first team, as well as a list of other interested potential contributors; they discussed plot content, word count and schedules, and the project began. Took us four years to finish it too – but when we finally went to press in 1999 it was quite a hit. Well worth the effort, and a real learning experience for us.
YSDC: What was your development process like?
CE: That changed quite a bit over time.
When we started, Janyce had a lot of source material and a long list of people who had expressed an interest in being a part of the project – writers, subject matter experts and fans. The first month or two was spent, as I recall, just ironing out who was responsible for what, and producing a detailed story outline for the “mission bible.” The contributor list was rapidly winnowed down to a dozen or so writers, each of which took a chapter or subject; these were mapped into the story as they were proposed. Janyce herself planned to edit, coordinate, and write some of the introductory material, I wasn't planning to write at all in the beginning, just help Jan out here and there and be a subject-matter go-to guy on Antarctic exploration and period radio practices.
So, in the beginning, it was not so different from what we'd been doing with the mailing list: lots of correspondence, back and forth, with folks all over the world. Jan and I brainstormed the plot, building proposed outline bits and sending them to the group for reactions; other folks added ideas or signed up for a plot thread or a chapter.
Once we had a final outline things got more streamlined. The section writers sent Jan their stuff, she replied with edits and suggestions, consulted the other subject experts and adapted the plan to fit. This went on for a year or more. Not so much interaction with Lynn at Chaosium either; he seemed to love what we were doing and was very supportive, but made few suggestions. “Finish it,” he kept saying. “Tell it as it needs to be told. Then we'll see.”
Eventually the well dried up. We had submissions for about half the chapters, but no more coming in. In particular, we had no one to write the sections dealing directly with the City, and no ending. Jan asked me if I'd write a chapter or two.
By then, I'd been deeply involved in the plot design for many months, and had a lot invested in the vision. Of course I said yes. After that, for the next year and a half, it was all Janyce and me. I wrote, she edited, working backwards through the outline and filling in the holes; then when that was done, I worked through all the other chapters one more time, bringing the whole work into a more cohesive style.
By that point the Mountains project had taken over our lives. There were no separate meetings, or particular hours of the day set aside for it; we talked about it, dreamed of it, exchanged emails from work and reviewed drafts on the bus coming home. I don't know if it would have worked if we hadn't been married to one another – but it certainly was a heady thing.