Interview with Jim Trent

This week we are talking with Jim Trent, creator of steampunk card game, Twisted Skies, from Mad Raven Productions.


Airship Ambassador: Hi Jim, it’s great to catch up with you again after Teslacon IV.

Jim Trent: Great to catch up with you! Teslacon was great and I enjoyed meeting so many diverse Steampunks! It really inspired me for my games.


AA: What is the premise of Twisted Skies?

JT: Twisted Skies is a tabletop card game in which players each have a magnificent Airship that they staff with a Steampunk crew and arm with fantastic Steampunk gadgets in order to complete exciting Missions in the Steampunk Mutliverse! The initial set is based around the adventures of the Airship Isabella but the game has been designed in such a way that any and all Steampunks can be included in future card set expansions.


AA: What was the motivation for creating Twisted Skies? How did it all come about?

JT: I’m already very involved in Steampunk gaming and work on a variety of Role-playing projects with other Steampunks. My friends at Airship Isabella had queried me about possible gaming merchandise that wouldn’t cost a lot and would be popular so I recommended a card game. Before I knew it I was designing the thing and it just kinda took off from there.


AA: Why a card game?

JT: Card games are fluid, they progress and adapt to accommodate new concepts and new influences. They are inherently collectible and fun to trade. As such a card game is something that folks easily gravitate to in gaming and enjoy not only as an activity but as a collectible. Plus who wouldn’t like to see their Steampunk character featured on a card?


AA: Why steampunk?

JT: Steampunk is the genre of gadgets and fantastic characters. Both lend themselves to card games very well. Most existing and successful card games on the market today feature cool characters and fantasy items. In addition the Steampunk genre is an active genre. Steampunks are adventurers, scientists, makers, explorers, and dreamers. As such they are always DOING things, and card games are all about simulating action and adventure in a card play so Steampunk is a great genre for a card game!


AA: That’s a great way to bring in the players interests and creativity. Creators often talk about how elements of their own lives influence their projects. How did this play into Twisted Skies?

JT: Before I decided to try my hand at professional game design I was a game store operator for over 15 years. I saw a lot of card games come and go in that time. Some good, some not so good. When I sat down to design Twisted Skies I wanted to incorporate some of the more successful, fun, and unique aspects of other card games I had seen in my career.


AA: What kind of back story is there for Twisted Skies which didn’t make it into any of the current sets?

JT: At first there was discussion of giving a great deal of background material and storyline information about the Multiverse with the game. It was later decided to hold a lot of this back and instead release it slowly over several expansions allowing not only interest to build up but for players to write in and influence storyline elements something I really love. When fans get to take part in story development they are invested and feel a bit of ownership for the product.


AA: So it’s a game and a story which can expand. Are there any plans for expansions?

JT: We’re very excited to have a lot of expansions in planning. The two categories of expansions are Storyline Expansions and Community Based Expansions. Storyline Expansions expand on the basic world and themes of the game and are mostly designed by our staff. Community based Expansions are developed in cooperation with local Steampunk communities usually on a state wide or multi-state basis, featuring the local Steampunks and the cool gadgets, vessels and adventures they’ve come up with. This allows just about any Steampunk to get their own card in the game and to be recognized and encouraged by players all around the globe. We also offer special promotional sets featuring makers, performers, conventions, and vendors in the Steampunk community. These small sets include website information and promote the products and services of those featured so they make great giveaways and some even use them as their business cards!


AA: Oh, and look at the special cards in the Teslacon expansion set 🙂 When I get my nieces and nephews to play Twisted Skies, what do they need to know?

JT: Twisted Skies is a game where interaction is expected and required for victory. The mechanics encourage players to help each other at the start of the game and then thwart each other towards the end as they near victory. Those who decide to “go it alone” and not cooperate with the other players early in the game will find it hard to move towards a win. In fact in play testing and demonstrations players that try going solo always lose.


AA: Cooperative and competitive play at the same time. What kind of research went into creating the Twisted Skies world?

JT: Twisted Skies is based on the Steampunk Multiverse concept which is very popular and a community cooperative idea in the south central US. The idea that there are multiple universe, worlds, and dimensions in Steampunk that are all connected by the mysterious energy source known as Aether. Brave Steampunk vessels and crews travel between these worlds chasing adventure. The Mutliverse is under threat from The Order, a powerful faction seeking to conquer all universes in the name of ending chaos. Against them stands the Grand Alliance of Free Worlds a beleaguered cooperative of universes that squabble with each other as much as they fight the order. Also in the mix in the Renegade Armada, equally opposed to the Order they are not necessarily nice people as they are made up of pirates, smugglers, and mercenaries.


This whole setting was first developed by Airship Isabella and then allowed to grow with the input of hundreds of Steampunks and is the primary storyline used by most Steampunks in the south central US. In fact all of the characters and most of the airships featured in the game so far are real Steampunks from the area Steampunk community. We’ve never had to invent a character for Twisted Skies and I hope we never will.


AA: What elements did you specifically include to create the world of Twisted Skies? What got left out (so far)?

JT: At the start, centering the game around the concept of Steampunk airships seemed a good idea as it is so popular in the greater Steampunk community, so that was a big part of the initial design. During development the idea of other vehicles was addressed such as sea ships, trains, tanks, etc. and adaptations for those were discussed but left out of the initial release, however they will be included and in fact will be the focus of future expansions.


AA: You’ve run several game sessions at conventions and other events. What are some memorable fan reactions to Twisted Skies which you’ve heard?

JT: The best one was running a demo at a large anime con in Texas. We had 8 guys locked in a pretty close game and they came to the realization that one of their friends was about to win after a pretty epic struggle. They came to the barter stage of the game and the player who’s turn it was announced “I can’t win the game but I can stop him from winning, I’m dying of thirst, I’ll block this guy from winning with my cards if someone will get me a coke.” The player two seats over jumped from his seat an sprinted out of the game room and down two flights of stairs to the concession stand and back with a cold soda in hand. It worked and he ended up winning. Probably the only time a gamer sprinted to win a card game.


It’s a terrible thing to do to you, readers, but we’ll stop for the moment in Chatting with Jim.

Check in next time when he talks about games play and reactions.

Until then, get your copy of , Twisted Skies today!


Published in: on March 31, 2014 at 6:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Jean-Christophe Valtat, Part 3

Welcome back for the continuation of our chat with Jean-Christophe Valtat, author of The Mysteries of New Venice series, which includes Aurorarama and the new sequel. Luminous Chaos
Part one can be read here.
Part two can be read here.


AA: How have you and your work grown and changed over time?
JCV: My French writing used to be a bit tormented, a bit too sophisticated perhaps.. Changing languages had made me write in a simpler, more narrative way than in French. And writing fantasy, in the general sense of the term, allows me to be as weird as I want and blame it on the genre. Quite simply, it’s more fun, now.

AA: Weird is a good thing, I think 🙂 When the words and ideas don’t just tumble out in a torrent, what is your solution to overcoming that?
JCV: Leave it alone. I hate to be at my desk without having anything to say and I suspect life is too short for that. I’ll take a walk, take a nap, and come back when I actually have the urge to write- and it if takes weeks, or months before that happens, or if the book just dies out meanwhile, so be it. That’s the good thing when you’re not a professional writer –your income doesn’t depend on your output.

AA: How is Paris, France for your work? Certainly, it is a city with major history and present day presence. Does location matter for resources, access, publicity, etc
JCV: I don’t live in Paris anymore but in sunny, pretty Montpellier. It saved my life when I came to Paris at 17 but after 25 years of living in Paris, I came to the conclusion that I like the literary myth better than what the real city had become. I took pleasure in walking around where the characters and writers of the past had trod, but I have it with me now and I don’t need more of the XXIth centurty Paris. This is incidentally what Luminous Chaos is about. From the character’s point of view, the question would be: what’s left of a city when you’re away from it, how does it keep on living inside you? Affecting you? From a personal point of view, it’s also a book about leaving Paris – although I did not know it would when I started it.


AA: Those are good questions for all of us to ask and answer about where we live, and why, and where we might want to be and to visit. Most of the authors I’ve talked with have some type of day job and that writing is their other job. What has that situation been for you as a professor and how has it helped/hindered begin a published writer?
JCV: It depends on the context. In France – in the way I see things, perhaps, more than in reality – there tends to be a strong symbolical divide between academia and writers. So I strove two keep the two activities as separated as I could. Writing in the U.S context makes thing a bit different, the relationship between both worlds being a little more porous. Similarly, my English writing tends to be closer to my research topics –it has even altered them a little, I guess.

AA: You’ve given talks on Verne and Proust; for those of us who have so far missed those, what are some of the ideas you relay to the attendees?
JCV: I am a latecomer to Verne, whom I did not read much as a kid, but I eventually found that some of his concerns were well suited to New Venice. He wrote a lot about the Arctic and survival, and I like the way he’s a stickler for very concrete details both to ensure the survival of his characters and launch the flight of his own imagination. I think New Venetians would mostly relate to his obsession to maintain a modicum of bourgeois comfort and social life in the worst possible conditions.
Proust is a different animal. He is the opposite of Verne in the sense that, for all the quaintness and preciosity, he is a very daring and ruthless writer, taking a lot of touchy subjects into mainstream literature. It’s a good reminder that you can always push the limits a little.


AA: There are other books, plays, and movies on your list of accomplishments. Would you share a bit about those other works? How did they come about and become part of your story telling?
JCV: The French novels Exes and 03, seems a bit far away, and quite different, but I realized that they were about the same things as the Mysteries of New Venice – about consciousness, mental life, fantasy, the need for fiction and so on. There’s also a movie, Augustine, [see the trailer] which I co-directed with Jean-Claude Monod, about a patient undergoing hypnotic and electrical treatment in a women’s hospital circa 1875. It’s very dear to me as I wanted to make movies before I realized I was better suited to writing. So I got this chance and I’m grateful for it.

AA: Do people outside the regular reading, steampunk, and convention communities recognize you for New Venice? What kind of reactions have you received?
JCV: As my first published book in the U.S was a rather “literary” work (whatever that means!) I think I got a little curiosity from non-genre readers, if such people exist. I hope the book is mostly for those who think this sort of divide is rather meaningless, as it does not reflect their own reading practice. It certainly doesn’t reflect mine.

AA: Looking beyond steampunk, writing and working, what other interests fill your time?
JCV: Daydreams, relationships, travelling, walking around foreign cities.

AA: How do those interests influence your work?
JCV: Well, thinking about it, it seems I have daydreamed a novel about relationships in a foreign city.


AA: And what better way to use real life in your stories? Who or what do you count as your influences, motivators, or role models?
JCV: I have always always been wary of authority figures . I’d rather say I’m somewhat faithful to the tradition that goes through shamen, gnostics, neo-platonicians, romantics, surrealists or situationnists. They’re the family I want to belong to, even as an idiot third cousin.

AA: Three quick fire, random questions – what is your favorite pastry, cheese, and historical site?
JCV: As a New Venetian I’d say for the pastry: seal-eye ice cream with arctic berries and a Chantilly Berg. For the cheese, Baffin Blue- it’s a caribou milk cheese fermented with lichen usually found in the second stomach of caribous. A rare delicacy with high protein content. As to historical sites : the wretched ruins of Fort Conger, a few miles east of New Venice, and its faint memories of cannibalism, are always a subject of deep meditation for the arctic stroller.

AA: Any final thoughts to share with our readers?
JCV: No thought is final, I guess. But thanks for your time.

Thank you, Jean-Christophe, for joining us and sharing your thoughts!
Keep up to date on his website and get your copy of Aurorarama and Luminous Chaos today.


Published in: on March 27, 2014 at 7:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Jean-Christophe Valtat, Part 2

Welcome back for the continuation of our chat with Jean-Christophe Valtat, author of The Mysteries of New Venice series, which includes Aurorarama and the new sequel. Luminous Chaos
Part one can be read here.

AA: I was recently on a world building panel at a convention, talking with authors about their methods for their stories. What elements did you include so readers could feel the New Venice world and history?
JCV: First it’s in the Arctic, snow and ice are the best background for clear vision. Then New Venice is itself a kind of museum: its monuments are culled from world fairs and failed architecture projects. It is full of references, down to its very name, so it will appear oddly familiar instead of just foreign. I guess that’s one of the many reasons of steampunk’s currents success- it’s very visual simply because it’s easier to remember the past than the to envision the future.

AA: What items absolutely had to be in the story and what kinds of things were sadly edited out?
JCV: Everything that goes through my head has a right to be in the book: If you’re focused, or in the kind of right trance, it will necessarily have a link, conscious or unconscious, with the rest. It is the beauty of world building that is sufficiently elastic to accommodate all your whims – what would it be good for otherwise? I am also of the minority who thinks that products of the imagination are as real as ”real” events –they are actual mental events in a real brain, after all- so I hate to change what I wrote, because I feel that’s cheating with some sort of reality. So, in the end, there’s nothing much that’s edited out – some jokes, perhaps, that I fail to find funny after the umpteenth reading.

AA: What are some memorable fan reactions to both books which you’ve heard about?
JCV: My favorite comes from a bad review, about my female characters: “Where does he meet women like that ?”. I thought that was cute.


AA: What kind of attention has Aurorarama generated?
JCV: Writing in foreign language has this downside that you can’t really be sure of how it would appear to native readers. So I was somewhat worried about the critical reception and I was very relieved and happily surprised to find it mostly positive and supportive, be it in blogs or magazines. It was a great help in starting the second book. Regarding readers, Aurorarama started slowly, but managed to stick around to this day –which I also take as a good omen.

AA: Every author I’ve talked with has a different journey to seeing their works in print. What was your publishing experience like?
JCV: A dream come true. I had this French novella, 03 translated out of the blue by F,S & G, and so I suddenly had people to come out about my English writing. I was first very hesitant about sending it, because I did not want to look like a fool, but one morning I woke up and I finally took the chance. The next thing I hear about is that Meville House wants to publish it. As Ezra Pound says in substance – string a few words in an way that’s not too boring and marvelous things will happen, with no other explanations.

AA: For the aspiring writer, what lessons did you learn about having an agent and editor, their feedback, and your writing?
JCV: I have no agent –so what I learned is that you don’t always need one! Not being a native speaker, I desperately need editors to make sure that the English is spick and span and fluid and as visual as I want to make it. Beyond that point, I tend to be a little wary of suggestions. Any book is like Tom Riddle’s horcrux diary in Harry Potter. It’s your soul that is there and you don’t want people to mess too much with it.

AA: You seem to have done well with your books using an editor, and not having an agent to shop it around. If you weren’t a writer, what else would you be doing now?
JCV: Still trying to become one, I suppose.

AA: What have book tours and conventions been like, and the in-person fan reaction? Where did you go on this recent tour?
JCV: I have been to litquake in San Francisco, California, and then in Durham (N.H), Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Austin and New York for a few events. They were more or less successful, as these things are, but there’s always a chance to discuss a little with people- as this very conversation goes to prove. Steampunk conventions are always something special–they tend make me lose my bearings completely.

AA: (Laugh) Conventions cause many people to lose their bearing in all the activity! What do you do to keep a balance between writing, touring, and the rest of your life?
JCV: Nothing special. But then, balance has never been much of a concern for me. I’m lucky that way!


AA: Do you get to talk much with other writers and artists to compare notes, have constructive critique reviews, and brainstorm new ideas?
JCV: I sometimes exchange with close friends about their writing, or mine, but not really in any kind of professional or organized setting. Personally, I prefer not to show my books before they’re finished, as I’m not too sure I like advice. Writing is too deeply personal to trust others about it.

We’ll break here in our chat with Jean-Christophe Valtat.
Next time, he’ll talk about location, interests and his other works.
Keep up to date on his website and get your copy of Aurorarama and Luminous Chaos today.



Published in: on March 25, 2014 at 9:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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