Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the name Margaret Weis should, at the very least, ring a bell. One of the most influential women in gaming, she authored Dragonlance (with Tracy Hickman), and her company - Margaret Weis Productions, Ltd – publishes Leverage, Smallville, Marvel Heroic RPG and several other games.
She was kind enough to answer our questions. Enjoy the read!
Everyone has different aspects of their life, and usually only one or two get noticed – in your case, your writing and game publishing. Is there something else in your life that you feel passionately about or are deeply interested in?
I am involved in flyball racing with two of my dogs, Dixie, a border collie, and Joey, a Sheltie. I have been involved in flyball for about ten years now. I am with the BC Boomerang Flyball club representing Wisconsin and Illinois. We race in about a five state area. We have too much fun! You can find videos of the Boomerangs on YouTube. For more information visit the National Flyball Association site: http://www.flyball.org/
Do you have a favorite era of history?
When I was a teen I was a Sherlock Holmes fan. I always longed to live in Victorian England. But I think I’m happy to be where I am!
What sorts of things inspire your creativity?
Because writing is my livelihood, I can’t wait to be inspired! I write every day that I’m home and as much as I can when I’m traveling. I find ideas in lots of things, such as eavesdropping on conversations in restaurants.
Your writing figured highly in my high school experience, between the Dragonlance books and the D&D cross-over materials. Who did you look up to as a young woman? What authors framed your early life?
My mother and father were book readers. We went to the library every Saturday for as long as I can remember. I blew through all the books in the children’s section and started reading adult books. Because I wasn’t old enough for an adult library card, my mother checked out the books for me. I remember one of my proudest days was when I got my adult card! I read Dumas, Doyle, Louisa May Alcott, Gene Stratton Porter, books on WW II and the Korean war, Esther Forbes, Victor Hugo, Ian Fleming. So many! My parents never censored my reading, though I remember my mother was a bit flustered when I asked her what a prostitute was!
One thing you are known for is not reading fantasy, despite having written very successful fantasy lines, and you’ve even been credited with creating the entire genre of gaming-related fiction. What do you read?
Right now I’m reading Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. I just finished the Barchester Chronicles series by Trollope. I like the classics, mysteries (Rex Stout, Ellis Peters), books by Mary Renault and Chaim Potok—a bit of everything.
What advice could you give to a young person on writing strong female characters? Is that advice different for young men than for young women?
In general men have a much more difficult time writing female characters than women do writing male characters. I’ve read studies that say this is because women tend to study men, trying to determine their thoughts and feelings,more than men study women. I don’t think of writing characters as being necessarily strong. I just try to make them as realistic as possible with strengths and weaknesses.
Being a women in the gaming industry
When you started writing fantasy professionally, you were one of very few women to break into a male-dominated realm. What was that like?
I was a tom-boy, always preferred playing with the boys instead of the girls. (This is the1950s when play-time was segregated.) In the third grade, I fought to join the boys in playing softball. So I’ve always been “one of the boys”. When I joined TSR in the early 1980s, I knew so little about the industry I had no idea it was “male-dominated” Certainly I never felt that at TSR. Many women worked at TSR as game designers, editors, writers. Laura Hickman worked with her husband, Tracy, on some of the early D&D modules. (Fans thought they were two gaming sisters! Tracy used to receive love letters from smitten men!) I have to be honest. It never occurred to me I was breaking ground for women! I was simply doing something I loved.
Were there early supporters of yours, or was it an uphill fight? Who were your women contemporaries that younger women might not know about or remember?
The biggest battle Tracy and I had was to convince TSR that Dragonlance Chronicles could be successful despite the fact that the world had never heard of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman! Again, the fact that I was a woman made no difference to anyone.
Have you seen a change in how women writers and gamers are treated in the years you have been in the industry?
I can only say for myself that I never felt any sort of inequality (except some bitterness that the game designers and editors got to play-test games every Thursday afternoon and those of us in the book department had to work!) .We were part of the squirt-gun battles, we were included in design meetings, we were editors, designers, writers.
In 2011 you were the ONLY female Guest of Honor at GenCon. What can we do to increase the visibility of great women writers and gamers?
LOL! I’m a Lifetime Guest of Honor. I think it’s because I’ve been around so many years, they can’t get rid of me! To be honest, I’ll bet it never even occurred to the Gen Con people that they need to spotlight more women in gaming.There are enough of us around (Lisa Stevens comes to mind!). That said, I remember how many women in the industry were thrilled when people stopped running panels on “Women in Gaming”. We felt we had arrived.
Personal experience in gaming
Tell us a little about your gaming background. How did you first get into gaming, and what did you play?
I played games since I was little. The first I remember were Sorry and Monopoly. My family played poker around the table on Saturday nights. When I was in college, I was hooked on bridge. (Damn near flunked me out!) When I first started reading about D&D I was enthralled. I thought it would be a wonderful way to foster creative story-telling with my kids. A friend of mine ran a D&D game for us. We had a great time. That was before I worked at TSR. But I knew then I’d love to work for that company!
Who is your favorite character that you’ve created – in games or in fiction – and why?
That’s like asking a mother which of her kids is her favorite. I like them all for different reasons. Some of my favorites are Raistlin, Lady Maigrey, Tasslehoff, Kitiara, Lord Soth, Xris, Haplo—I’ll stop now.
Do you still role-play?What kinds of games do you like?
Don’t have time for gaming, much, since I’m involved in flyball. Which is a game in itself!
Do you have a favorite RPG? If so, what makes it your favorite?
Back in the day, I loved playing Toon with my kids and my TSR friends. I like the Serenity game my company produced a lot. And, of course, our new Marvel Heroic RPG. I like games that promote story-telling and role-playing over rules mongering.
If you were going to run something for the Gaming As Women crew, what would you run? Would you be interested in running or playing with the GAW crew? Because for some of us, that would be almost too amazing to contemplate.
LOL! I never run games. I’m always a player. (Someone always has to me what dice to roll!) I’d probably be in a Serenity game.
Do you think there is a distinct gamer culture? If so, what do you think are the best and worst parts of it?
Back in the day, TSR did a survey of those who bought their games. In the early 80s, they were predominantly male, above average intelligence and creativity, and even back then 90% owned computers. I have always found “gamers” of both sexes to be warm, inclusive, open to new ideas, interesting, accepting.
How has gamer culture changed over the years you have been around it?
My first Gen Con in 1984 in Kenosha, WI had about 5000 people. Far more men then women attendees. I once saw a young woman holding a DMG walking down the hall surrounded by about 20 adoring men. The women we first saw in gaming tended to be girlfriends and wives who wanted to be included in the fun. I always thought it was interesting that men were eager to include women. Over the years, we’ve seen more and more women involved in all aspects of the industry. Now, at Gen Con, we’re seeing more family involvement. I really applaud Gen Con for starting Family Day on Sunday. I think instead of promoting more women in gaming, I’d be inclined to promote more families in gaming.
You’ve been a shaping force behind fantasy and gaming for many years. What do you feel is your legacy?
That I told a hell of a good story!
What sorts of things would you like to see Gaming As Women write about? Would you like to write something for GAW?
As I said above, maybe promoting families in gaming; how to involve children in role-playing games at an early age, the use of RPGs to promote reading, math, research; tabletop games as socialization, etc.
More broadly, what sort of changes would you like to see in the gaming community?
I love the community as it is. I always have.
What’s next for you in game or fiction publishing?
My company is involved in producing the Marvel Heroic RPG with a lot of products coming out in the next couple of years. We have some ideas for other projects, but they’re secret.
As far as books, I’m working on the Dragon Brigade series with co-author Robert Krammes and the Dragonships series with co-author Tracy Hickman. I have ideas for other projects, but those are secret, too!
Where can fans order your work?
I’m all over the place! Amazon, Barnes and Noble, local bookstores, hobby stores.
What are you plans for future cons this year?
My only other convention is Gen Con. I have flyball tournaments in the spring, summer and fall months.
What is the one question you wish people would ask when they interview you, and what’s the answer?
Advice to aspiring writers:
Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep your day job.