James L. Cambias: ODDER JOBS

James L. Cambias recently contributed the short story The Vampire Brief to the Dark Horse Books Odder Jobs collection.

How did you get involved with ODDER JOBS?
I found out about it from Kelly Link, who knew I’m a big fan of the comic. She suggested I contact the editor and send something in on spec.

I would describe “The Vampire Brief” as a light, tongue-in-cheek Hellboy tale. My favorite part is the fact that the villain (a vampire) advertises his vampire services. Credit cards accepted. Is there some social commentary there?
Oh, certainly, on several levels. First, I find the way vampires have been romanticized a little, well, creepy. What’s next? Zombie romance novels? And the ad is also there to tell you a little about what kind of person the vampire is — self-important, greedy, a little pompous.

The story takes place in New Orleans and has an interesting combination of voodoo and vampirism. I’ve never been to “N’Orleans”, but I understand there are some interesting shops like “Mother Juliana’s”. Have you actually been into one of these places?
Yes, there were a couple I used to look into, although of course they’re not as interesting in real life as in horror fiction — the back room with the real stuff is only fictional.

We’re you a big Hellboy fan before you wrote this story, or are you new to the Hellboy universe?
I’ve been a roleplaying game designer for many years, and was approached by the people at Steve Jackson games, asking if I’d be interested in working on their Hellboy roleplaying game. I had never heard of Hellboy at that time, and had a bunch of other stuff to work on right then, so I begged off. Sometime later I happened across a copy of (I think) Wake the Devil in the local comics shop. Because of the game writing offer, I picked it up and looked inside. After that I was hooked. Needless to say, I’ve been kicking myself ever since for _not_ working on the roleplaying game, although the team they picked did a splendid job.

How did you start your career as an author?
I had been writing bad science fiction stories since about age 14, but of course none of them sold. After college I got a job in publishing in Chicago, but when my fiancee (now wife) started graduate school at Duke University I moved to North Carolina with her. There weren’t any publishing jobs available, so I started doing freelance roleplaying game writing, first for Game Designers’ Workshop, then for Iron Crown and Steve Jackson Games.

I didn’t abandon fiction writing, though, and in 2000 I made my first professional sale to Gordon Van Gelder at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

You’re known as a “Science Fiction” writer. Is there a difference between what people call “Science Fiction” and the folklore-driven stories of Hellboy?
Less than one might expect. In both cases one is balancing the needs of a good story against the desire to be authentic to a particular background. In SF that background is simply the world as understood by modern science, while in Hellboy it’s that world plus Nazi weird science, traditional monster lore, and so forth.

You also write a lot for RPGs. What are some of those games, and how did you get into writing RPGs?
See above. Games I’ve written solo or with a single collaborator include:
Arabian Nights: A Sourcebook for Rolemaster (1994)
GURPS Planet Krishna (1997) — based on L. Sprague de Camp’s “Krishna” series
GURPS Castle Falkenstein (2000), with Phil Masters
STAR HERO (2002), with Stephen Long
GURPS Mars (2002)
Terran Empire (2003)
GURPS Planet of Adventure (2003) — based on Jack Vance’s “Tschai” series
GURPS Space, Fourth Edition (fall 2005), with Jon Zeigler

I was also part of a larger team working on the Star Trek roleplaying game for Last Unicorn (they’ve since gone out of business and the franchise is now published by Decipher), the team for In Nomine from Steve Jackson Games, and a boxed Star Wars adventure set Tapani Sector from West End. In addition to those I’ve done dozens of articles for gaming magazines, especially Challenge (from the now-defunct Game Designers’ Workshop), and Pyramid (now Pyramid Online) from Steve Jackson Games.

What other projects are you working on right now?
I’m working on a science fiction novel, tentatively called A Darkling Sea, and am a partner in a new game company developing science and nature based card games. Our first product is called Bone Wars and is scheduled for release in late summer. I’ve also got a couple of short stories making the rounds right now.

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