By Alise Secor, 2019 Red Sofa Intern
M.G. Velasco identifies as a recovering Magic: The Gathering addict. His first novel, Cardslinger, is an adolescent 19th century western thriller set in a world where the card game Mythic has inexplicably spread across the nation. The story follows Shuffle Jones, the young boy who helped create the game, as he embarks on a quest to find the other creator of the game, his missing father. Cardslinger debuted August 6, 2019. A huge thank you to M.G. Velasco for chatting with me about his writing, creating a card game from scratch, and worldbuilding. Cardslinger is available at any bookstore near you, and order if it’s not there, the bookstores love your local suppor!
After reading a bit about you on your website, I learned you were influenced by Choose Your Own Adventure books and games with a decision-based storytelling aspect. How did you use these influences to write your novel?
Choose Your Own Adventure books and storytelling games helped me understand characterization and decision-making within a narrative. Characters should dictate the story, not the other way around. Sure, there are powers beyond their control, but unless your main character is an observer being pulled through the story, their choices should be in-line with their characterization. They won’t always make the best decisions, and the multiple paths to different endings of these games highlighted that for me. And, anytime during the drafting process, if my characters did anything stupid that got them killed, I just backed up to page-whatever and rewrote.
Did you have any unforeseen hang-ups while writing Cardslinger?
The game play scenes were the most difficult to write and remained blank up until the draft I sent to beta readers. Also, being told by an editor at a conference that the story would not work left me sour on the project for months.
What resources did you rely on most heavily when you were researching for Cardslinger?
Books, mostly. World Mythology edited by Roy Willis, The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell, and the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Myths and Legends by Arthur Cotterell. The books focusing on comparative myths of different cultures helped the most. And of course, Homer’s The Odyssey. I referenced a few books about the American West, but the best resources were old newspaper articles, first-hand accounts, and political cartoons, most of which I found on the internet beyond Wikipedia. In addition to some websites, people more knowledgeable than me provided insight to unfamiliar cultures, mythology, and history. Oh, and playing lots and lots of Magic: The Gathering.
What is your favorite part about creating (and mapping) an entire world? What is the most difficult part?
My favorite part is creating the details. The most difficult part is making sure it makes sense. Although it was my American West, the world was still bound by known history. I couldn’t make everything up, but the stuff I did had to be believable.
What advice do you have for artists or writers who feel like they haven’t found their “niche” yet?
Write the book you want to read. Don’t worry about what is selling or what is on everybody’s #MSWL. As you work on craft, tighten your manuscript, and hone your voice, you’ll have a story that someone will want to read even if they didn’t know it, and finding your niche will happen naturally.
If you could you go back in time and tell Past You any piece of advice before you wrote CARDSLINGER, what would it be?
“Hey Past Me, write down that dream you just had. And focus on character, be clear on motivations, and double check your coded messages.”
I’m getting Dark Tower vibes from the imagery and style of Cardslinger (perhaps the similar name with the first book in the series, The Gunslinger). Have you read Stephen King’s epic series?
I read The Gunslinger once, when I was a freshman in high school. I haven’t read the rest of the series, so I guess it maybe influenced me on a subconscious level. I do like the darker, more dangerous feel when it comes to books, and the cover artist, Mónica Armiño, captured that vibe perfectly.
Though you don’t state it explicitly, I have a hunch that Cardslinger is the first book in a series. Will there be a sequel or a series? Have you already decided Shuffle’s fate?
If my editor and publisher want a sequel, I will write a sequel! There’s treasure still to find. I have an outline and character builds ready! But in all seriousness, I’m happy where Cardslinger ended. Besides, I’m not gonna spoil it, but something happens that changes the story’s landscape.
Did you research any western TV shows or movies while writing Cardslinger?
Absolutely. I watched True Grit and Tombstone a few times as I crunched through drafts. They have top notch production, especially True Grit, which helped me visualize characters and their gear. The little details enrich characterization and world-building. The movies also helped tune my ear to the wild west vernacular. In order to come up with unique turns-of-phrase, I had to know the common ones. Although I wanted to stay away from going too heavy on cowboy-speak, I needed it to sound somewhat authentic. Godless and Hostiles are really good, too, but they came out after I was done with Cardslinger. I also played a lot of Red Dead Redemption.
Did you truly invent an entire game within the world of your novel with rules and everything? What was that process like? Did the idea for the story come first or the idea for the game?
Story first, but there was always going to be a card game. I invented Mythic from scratch, first choosing the style of play (card battles like Magic:TG) and then applying the mythology theme. The next step was to draft some rules, which had to be simple for story’s sake. I came up with victory conditions, actions, resources, all that geeky game play stuff. Once I had rules, I bought note cards and played around with the feel of game to mimic a duel at high noon, but with heroes and monsters.
It’s cool that you offer Mythic cards when people pre-ordered Cardslinger. How heavily were you involved in designing the cards?
I’m no professional artist, but I love to draw. I also love character design, and drawing the characters was a blast. I did most of the cards. Fellow Red Sofa author, Tom Torre, created art for three of them. They’re perfect. My daughter made art for one. In addition to the portraits, I came up with the game-style special abilities for the characters. The card game templates are from the makeplayingcards.com.
How do you feel about your fans using their creativity to make their own fan art Mythic cards?
Oh dang, this is the coolest, most wonderful thing ever. The students killed it, and every card is precious. I especially love how some of the kids put their own spin on the characters, like robo-llamas and Ninja Katana!
Favorite Game of Thrones house/character?
Tyrion, but just like Tyrion, I follow Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, the Mother of Dragons, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, the Breaker of Chains. Also, House Mormont of Bear Island. Atalanta would be from House Mormont.
Do you have any grandiose writing dreams? What’s your ultimate goal as an author?
I don’t know, maybe write an epic trilogy or series and then adapt them into screenplays for animated films as awesome as Spider-Man:Into the Spider-verse. That’d be cool right? Ultimate goal? To keep writing, keep being published, keep receiving awesome fan art!
M.G. currently resides in Texas with his wife, kids, and his inordinate amount of board games.