On the Reading Lists

Over at The Reading Lists, Phil Treagus interviewed me about the books that inspired me to become a writer and that influence my style and my craft to this day. It was different than many of the interviews I’ve done in that it made me think back to how I got to where I am, not just in terms of my personal history but in what I’ve chosen to put into my head.

Check it out, not just for the details about me but for the recommendations for my favorite books. There’s some good stuff there, and you should put it all inside your head too.

1

My Mother’s Eulogy

My sister Kim, my brother Mark, my mother, me, and my sister Jody.

My mother’s funeral was on Sunday, January 21. While it was a somber affair, the fact that I had my entire family around me helped buffer the sadness. We all held up well by leaning on each other.

I have to thank my wife and kids for being so supportive and understanding throughout this whole experience, and I’m especially proud of how my brother and sisters and I banded together to help Mom out in her final weeks and days—and how well we worked together once she was gone too.

Over a hundred people braved the cold Wisconsin weather to join us for Mom’s funeral. Her sister Joanie spoke first and did a wonderful, heartbreaking job. My nephews Henry and Leo played a few songs in her honor, including a haunting rendition of “Danny Boy” on the guitar. Their father—my sister Kim’s husband Todd—spoke second and brought some smiles to faces that badly needed them.

I wrapped it up with a longer eulogy, and I want to post it here for you to read.

I actually wrote two eulogies. The first was a fine piece of writing, with a clear progression and theme. In the end, though, it was drier and less personal than I wanted it to be, so I scrapped it and wrote a new piece from scratch. Here’s what I wound up with:


Hi. My name is Matt Forbeck. I’m Helen’s eldest child.

I want to thank you all for coming here this afternoon to remember my mom with my family and me. It’s no surprise that you all showed up to send her off. She made so many wonderful friends over the years and treasured every one of them.

I especially want to thank my mom’s sister Joanie and her brothers Tom and John, and my brother Mark and my sisters Kim and Jody and their families, plus my wife Ann and our kids, for all their support over the past several weeks. It was a rough time, and I couldn’t have picked a better family to weather it with.

I’d like to tell you about my mom.

She was a spitfire. She always believed that if you weren’t part of the solution, you were part of the problem. And she set out to solve problems.

She was one of the fiercest, strongest people I ever met, and I had the privilege of knowing her my entire life. By every account, even from folks who knew long her before I was born, she’d always been a force of nature, ready for anything at any time.

She was always ready for a discussion — an argument, even — and never failed to speak her mind. At the same time, she always kept her mind open, and she always remembered to treat people who disagreed with her with respect. She was a card-carrying Democrat, but she counted many Republicans as her lifelong friends. She learned how to manage that at her childhood home in Menasha, where she was the lone liberal, arguing for women’s rights, even as a girl.

She took time to teach us about the history of women’s rights, and she put those lessons into practice. When there wasn’t a local equivalent of Cub Scout softball for girls, she helped set up the Beloit Girls Softball league. She served as the president of the League of Women Voters here in town, and she was the first woman president of the Beloit city council too. She always fought for equality and fairness for people of all kinds.

Nothing stopped her. Ever.

When I was a kid, we needed a coach for our soccer team, which was a new sport for us at the time. No one around here was up for it, so Mom stepped forward to volunteer, even though she’d never played the game. She just got herself a book from the library, read the rules, and set to it.

She loved to play games of all sorts. She was a champion tennis player when she was younger, although she took it a little easier later on. Moe Carroll reminded me recently about how they made their way to the championship round of a mixed-doubles tournament here in town. Mom kept taking a smoke break between sets, and despite winning to that point, they forfeited the final match because they were too beat to keep at it!

She played games like Farkle — which we called Dice — and Thirty-One with us and her grandkids for money, which was a family tradition from my father’s side. But if anyone happened to be shy of the quarters we needed, she’d pay for every pot.

Still, she never let us win. We had to earn it. When she won, she’d smile and give us the chance to win it back.

She loved this game called Speed Solitaire, in which you each play with your own deck and have to slap down cards on each other’s piles in the middle of the table. She was so sharp at it that my wife gave up playing because she wanted to keep her fingers.

Mom believed that politics were the way to change the world. When my brother and sisters and I were little kids, some of us barely able to walk, she used to cart us around Beloit with a little red wagon full of political campaign literature and have us stuff it into doorways across the city with her.

When she worked at the Department of Defense under President Clinton, the people in her office called her the Conscience. She was their own Jiminy Cricket, always speaking up whenever they considered doing something potentially sketchy. They knew they could run things past her to see if they passed the Helen test.

When Governor Walker set out to destroy the public unions here, she joined the protests. My wife and kids and I marched with her both here and in Madison, with the kids carrying signs that pointed down to clearly mark them as Union Thugs.

She was always engaged. Never distant or removed. She was passionate and intense. She ran hot.

While my wife Ann and I lived in Virginia in the mid-‘90s, Mom invited us to Bill Clinton’s second inauguration. That night, we went to the Midwest Inaugural Ball, held in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The highlight for her was when Stevie Wonder came through, and she snapped several pictures of him. I can still hear her shouting at him as his security team swept him past us. “We love you, Stevie!”

When my wife Ann became pregnant with our quadruplets, we were terrified, of course, but Mom — who was living in Virginia at the time — knew exactly what she had to do. She came straight back to Wisconsin to help out full-time with all five kids. As part of that, she slept on an old twin bed in my unfinished basement for six months.

Most kids worry they might someday wind up sleeping in their parent’s basement. She volunteered to sleep in her kid’s basement to help out with her grandchildren, and she didn’t hesitate about it for a second.

That’s dedication.

She loved with a wild abandon that knew no limits. You saw that with her family and friends, but also with her Irish heritage. She loved Irish music, Irish beer, and the place where you got them both: Irish Fest.

Maybe the only thing outside of her family that equaled that was her love for the Packers. You knew where to find her on game days.

She loved us all so much — her family and her friends — that she strove make the world a better place for us to live in. She dedicated her whole life to that in every way.

We should all do our best to live up to her legacy.

I’d like to leave you with an Irish blessing that hung in a frame by her door. It reads:

May there always be work for your hands to do.

May your purse always hold a coin or two.

May the sun always shine on your windowpane.

May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain.

May the hand of a friend always be near you.

May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.

Thank you.

My Mother’s Obituary

Helen Forbeck with my son Marty and my (then newborn) quadruplets in 2002. 

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this later, but for now:

My mother’s obituary:

Helen Fink Forbeck of Beloit, Wisconsin, passed away at her home on January 14, 2018, surrounded by her loving family.

Helen was born in Appleton, Wisconsin, on December 7, 1944, and was raised in her family home in Menasha, Wisconsin. She graduated from St. Mary’s High School in Menasha in 1963, and she then attended Marquette University and graduated in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree.

She taught middle school in Milwaukee until she moved to Beloit in 1970, where she was a devoted mother to her four children. She later worked as a job developer at OIC. She was an active member of the Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters for decades, and she served on the Beloit City Council from 1985 to 1991, during which she was elected the first woman president of the City Council. She left the Council to work for US Congressman Les Aspin as his ombudsperson. When he became Secretary of Defense in 1993, she moved to Alexandria, Virginia, to work at the Pentagon for the Department of Defense. She returned to Beloit in 2002 to help with the arrival of her quadruplet grandchildren and spend more time with the rest of her children and grandchildren. In 2003, she opened the Beloit office of US Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and ran it until her retirement in 2013. She became interested in genealogy many years ago and spent countless hours researching her family’s history. She volunteered regularly at Caritas and spent much of her retirement visiting with her children and grandchildren, playing games (especially multiple-hand solitaire) and doing jigsaw puzzles.

Survivors include her children Matt (Ann) Forbeck of Beloit, Wisconsin; Mark Forbeck of Lake Mills, Wisconsin; and Kim (Todd Dunsirn) Forbeck, and Jody (Nanni Marta) Forbeck of Shorewood, Wisconsin; brothers Tom Fink and John (Sue) Fink and sister Joan (Dick) Kuhn; grandchildren Martin, Patrick, Nicholas, Kenneth, and Helen Forbeck; Savannah and Delaney Forbeck; Murray, Henry, and Leo Dunsirn; and Luke and Matteo Marta, along with several beloved nieces and nephews.

She was preceded in death by her sister and brother-in-law Mary C. (Fink) and Charlie Atchinson; sister-in-law Barbara Fink; nephews Thomas and Gregory Fink; parents Berenice (Murray) Fink and Ray J. Fink; grandparents Mary (Daly) and Martin Murray, and Bridget (Finnerty) and John B. Fink; great-grandparents Winifred (Kelly) and Thomas Murray, Ellen (Hogan) and John Daly, Anna (Lauterbach) and Herman Fink (Vinkenvleugel), and Catherine (Keating) and Thomas Finnerty.

The greatest hope she had for this world as she left it is that our current president leaves office as soon as possible, along with any other bigots, homophobes, and racists. She asked those who support such beliefs to not dare to attend her visitation or funeral.

A memorial service of remembrance for Helen will be at 2:00 p.m. Sunday, January 21, 2018 in the Daley Murphy Wisch & Associates Funeral Home and Crematorium, 2355 Cranston Road, Beloit, WI. Visitation of remembrance will be from 12:00 p.m. until the time of service Sunday in the funeral home.

In lieu of flowers, she requested that donations be made in her name to Caritas Community Resource Center or Beloit Regional Hospice.

Hard Times in the Neo-Noir StoryBundle

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I spent mine up in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, hanging out with my mother, my sisters, and their families. We played lots of games (Codenames, Bears vs. Babies, and also D&D with the younger kids), hung out in a wood-fired sauna and wood-fired hot tub, ate way too much turkey, and watched the University of Wisconsin football team complete their first undefeated season ever.

While I was there, the folks at StoryBundle launched the Neo-Noir Bundle, which includes ten amazing novels packed with noirish flavors, including my own Hard Times in Dragon City. Indie editor and publisher Kate Sullivan (founder of the acclaimed small indie press Candlemark & Gleam) curated this boundary busting, pay-what-you-like bargain.

The initial titles in the bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:

  • The Concrete Goodbye by W.H. Lock
  • Trouble in Double by Laura Anne Gilman
  • Mr Blank by Justin Robinson
  • Gods of Chicago by AJ Sikes

If you pay at least the bonus price of just $15, you get all four of the regular titles, plus six more!

  • Hard Times in Dragon City by Matt Forbeck
  • The Coconut Swindle by Matt Abraham
  • Fresh Hell by David Bussell
  • Green Light Delivery by Anne E. Johnson
  • City of Devils by Justin Robinson
  • Deep Space Dragonet by Alex P. Berg

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books. Bundle buyers also have the chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.

So, shake off those post-tryptophan blues and hustle over to the Neo-Noir StoryBundle page so you can pick yourself up some great reads for a few fins. You won’t regret it.

Halo: Legacy of Onyx Debuts Today!

Today is the launch day for Legacy of Onyx, my latest novel in the universe of Halo, the bestselling science-fiction first-person shooter video games from 343 Industries (and Bungie before them) and Microsoft. This is my second novel in the setting (the first was New Blood), and my third story.

I wrote a prequel to Legacy of Onyx called “Lessons Learned.” It’s the lead-off short story in the anthology Fractures. It features a few of the characters that play large roles in Legacy of Onyx. You don’t need to read that, though, to enjoy Legacy of Onyx. Nor do you have to read any of the other Halo novels or play the Halo games — although it certainly doesn’t hurt!

As it says on the back of the book:

Molly Patel was only seven years old when the alien alliance known as the Covenant destroyed her homeworld and killed her family. As one of the few to escape the glassing of Paris IV, and despite the United Nations Space Command winning the war on behalf of humanity, Molly never forgot how much she had lost.

Nine years later, when her adoptive parents—research scientists specializing in ancient Forerunner technology—are called to the mysterious and wondrous place known as Onyx, Molly vehemently objects. It’s not so much that Molly’s concerned about relocating to inside a spherical construct the diameter of an entire solar system, but the fact that she also has to live alongside members of the same alien species that murdered her family. And when the Servants of the Abiding Truth—a violent ex-Covenant sect under the guidance of the notorious Pale Blade—somehow makes its way inside this supposedly impregnable sphere, Molly is now forced to consider if she and her new parents have made a terrible and fatal mistake in coming here….

That’s Molly there on the cover, along with Spartans Tom and Lucy. The alien is a Sangheili (one of the Elite) named Bakar, and you’ll learn all about him inside the book. Benjamin Carré provided the stunning cover, and Scott Brick once again reads the audiobook to you.

I dedicated this one to my friend Stewart Wieck, who passed away unexpectedly earlier this year, far too young. He lived like a warrior-poet, always dedicated to his family, friends, and fans—in that order. And he died with a sword in his hand.

This book may have my name on the cover, but it’s the collective effort of an amazing team of people. Once again, I owe huge thanks to my editor, Ed Schlesinger, whose love for both writing and Halo shines through in the polish he lends these pages. He and his team at Gallery Books work hard to bring amazing stories into the world, and I’m thrilled to have the chance to join them on such sorties.

Believe it or not, the collective aid of the people at 343 Industries—especially Jeremy Patenaude, Tiffany O’Brien, and Jeff Easterling, as well as the rest of the writing team—was even more vital for this story than for New Blood. Exploring a place as large and wild as Onyx occasional requires a few course corrections, and they were always as patient and helpful as possible with their efforts to guide me along at every step of the way. Their passion for bringing fantastic Halo stories to fans around the world is as infectious as the Flood.

You can find it on sale at all the usual places. I put a lot of work into this one, and I hope you enjoy it.

 

Heading to Gamehole Con!

This weekend — November 3–5 — I’ll be at Gamehole Con, one of the best tabletop gaming conventions in the country. They manage this by inviting a slew of (nearly 50) amazing guests and treating them right. They also are one of the only conventions (outside of Gen Con) to host True Dungeon, an amazing kind of live-action fantasy roleplaying game. Better yet, True Dungeon now is set within the world of my friend Pat Rothfuss‘s amazing Kingkiller Chronicles books.

Honestly, the whole show is loads of fun. My public schedule for the convention includes:

  • Brave New World RPG demos on Friday at 12 PM and 2 PM and Saturday at 12 PM. There are still tickets left for these. Fair warning: I haven’t gotten too far on the second edition of the game yet, so we’re going to be shaking the dust off the first edition instead.
  • A signing on Saturday at 3 PM.
  • A panel on “Games & Stories” on Saturday at 4 PM, with James Lowder and Doug Niles.

I’ll be running around the hall with a few of my kids for the rest of the time, as well as hanging out and playing games. If you’re anywhere near Madison, Wisconsin, this weekend, you should join me there!

M+DEV and Menomonee Falls

I have a busy weekend coming up. On Friday, I’m going to be at M+DEV, the inaugural Madison Game Development Conference. If you’re anywhere nearby and are interested in working on video games for a living, this looks like it’s going to be a phenomenal conference. The keynote speaker is Warren Spector (Ultima, Thief, Wing Commander, System Shock, Deus Ex, Epic Mickey), and the endnote speaker is Tommy Palm (Resolution Games, Candy Crush Saga). Other guests include Sheri Graner-Ray, Allison Salmon, and my old boss at Human Head Studios, Tim Gerritsen.

If you’re interested in video game development and you live in the Midwest, do yourself a favor and join us. It’s going to rock.

On Saturday, I’ll be at the Menomonee Falls Public Library Comic Fest, talking about comics and games. My fellow guests include Steve Sullivan, John Jackson Miller, and Rich Koslowski. Everyone who shows up gets a free comic!

The weekend after that, I’m at Gamehole Con in Madison once again. It has a slew of fantastic guests, and it promises to be loads of fun, just like every year.

After that, I’m done with appearances for the year. Keep your head up for my next novel, though, Halo: Legacy of Onyx, which launches November 14!

 

 

I’m in a Wall Street Journal Video About Gerrymandering

Earlier this month, Madeline Marshall of the Wall Street Journal came out to interview me for a piece she’s doing on gerrymandering and the corrosive effects it can have on democracy. You can see the results here.

I may be on the splash image, but I’m only in it for a handful of seconds. If you’re the impatient sort, my part starts around the 3:46 mark.

Maddie lives in the DC area and flew out to Wisconsin to grab some interviews. Mark Spreitzer — who would be my assemblyman if not for the ridiculous way my house was carved out of my neighborhood by partisan gerrymandering — recommended she chat with me. Maddie landed in Chicago and picked up her mother, who lives there, to come along for the ride. She also pressed her into service as her camera assistant, which was honestly adorable.

We talked for about an hour about all sorts of things, occasionally waving at passing cars on my street. That seems long considering how little of that actually made it into the video, but as someone who works in all sorts of media, I totally understand. You have to grab as much as you can and trim it all down into whatever works best. In any case, I had a wonderful time chatting with Maddie and geeking out over things like games and craft beer.

Be sure to watch the video in full. Gerrymandering is one of the greatest assaults on our democracy, and Wisconsin’s playing a big role in it. A case about our troubles is going before the US Supreme Court next week, and the results are going to be vital. See this article at FiveThirtyEight.com for a summary, and the Wall Street Journal has a companion piece too.

Honestly, it’s things like this that make me think we could use more game designers with a strong sense of fairness in the legislature. People who know how to create something balanced, who can anticipate problem players and fashion a set of rules that works for everyone. That’s just a pipe dream, of course, but putting an end to partisan gerrymandering would be a good step in that direction.

Here’s hoping the court does the right thing.

Going to Grand Con (and Other Places)!

Thanks to everyone who came out and joined me at Gen Con. We formed the largest tabletop gaming convention in history, with over 60,000 unique (counted once all weekend) attendees and more than 200,000 turnstile (counted each day). It was an absolute, exhausting blast.

I’m almost recovered from that and a trip I took to Sweden last week, so now I’m ready to head out this weekend to Grand Con! This is a wonderful, smaller convention held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was a guest there a few years ago, and they finally managed to pull me back in. I’m showing up on Friday and staying through Sunday, so show up and drag me into a game! I’ll be there with other luminaries including Paul Peterson, Chris Leder, Kevin Wilson, Shane Harsch, Tom Vasel, Adam and Brady Sadler, Keith Matejka, Richard Launius, and Albin Johnson, among many others.

In October, I’m going to be a guest at a couple of nifty events. The first, on October 27, is M+DEV, the first video game developers conference in Madison, Wisconsin. The keynote speaker is none other than the legendary Warren Spector, so expect lots of great stuff from that.

The day after that, I’m a guest at the Menomonee Falls Library Comic Fest. Admission is free, and every attendee gets a free comic and a swag bag, while supplies last. Come out and join us for a bunch of four-color fun!

Then, to close out my con season, I’ll be a guest once again at Gamehole Con in Madison, Wisconsin. This is one of the best shows in the Midwest, and I love attending it every year. They have a stunning array of guests, plus they have True Dungeon!

After that, I’m hunkering down in my den until sometime in the spring. After all, those books and games don’t make themselves!

Anyhow, if you’re nearby any of these events, I hope to see you at one/all of them. Every one of them is guaranteed fun.

Gen Con 50!

Gen Con starts tomorrow! This is my absolute favorite time of the year. I get to see old friends, make new ones, talk books, play games, and stay out all night — and these days, I even get to enjoy it with my wife and kids.

This is the 50th year for the show — as well as my 36th time attending in a row (I started young!) — and the folks at Gen Con are going all out to celebrate. As part of the coolness, Jon Peterson (author of Playing at the World) is curating an amazing Gen Con museum that’s going to be built in the center of the Indianapolis Colts’ football field at Lucas Oil Stadium. It’ll be inside a replica of the location of the first Gen Con, which was held in Lake Geneva back in 1968: Horticultural Hall.

I’m thrilled to say they’re going to have three of my things on display in the museum, which you can see in the photo below. They include:

  1. A copy of my Brave New World RPG, which debuted at Gen Con 1999,
  2. The mask that was worn by David Ross when he played Patriot (the main narrator of the game books) at that Gen Con Debut.
  3. A copy of an award certificate I won for being part of the winning team in the first Gangbusters tournament, run by designer Mark Acres, held at Gen Con XV back in 1982.

So, go see that!

Ooh! Also, check out a new game I worked on that’s debuting at the show: Apocrypha. The creator of the setting, Rian Sands, hired me to help him write the background for it many years ago, and it’s finally real! (If you squint, you can see my name on the front of the box, right next to that of kick-ass author and Worldbuilders founder Pat Rothfuss). Mike Selinker and the fantastic team he assembled at Lone Shark Games designed, produced, and published the game, and I can’t wait to actually play it.

Amazingly, Gen Con has sold out this year, for the first time in its history. If you’re lucky enough to have a badge and can make it into the show, you have a lot of fun ahead of you. While I’m there, I’m taking part in the Writer’s Symposium, the Industry Insiders program (I’m on the advisory panel that selects the panelists), and the Gen Con 50 Retrospective program — as well as doing business meetings, catching up with friends, and playing games with my kids.

Here’s what’s on my public slate.

Wednesday, August 16

  • The Diana Jones Award party. (This is a private affair I host every year for industry professionals. If you’re one, ping me for details.)

Thursday, August 17

Friday, August 18

Saturday, August 19

By the way, some of my friends have been posting things about how to deal with them at Gen Con. It’s a high-stress, chaotic, germ-strewn environment, especially for us folks who usually spend all day alone in front of a computer, and hey, you deserve to know what you’re getting into when you approach them. For me, I have two suggestions, which you can take advantage of as you like:

  1. Buy my books (available at the bookseller in the back of the convention hall) and games (like Apocrypha).
  2. Buy me a beer.

Hey, I try to keep it simple. Hope to see you there!