A Bit of a Chat With Shelly Mazzanoble

We’ve got a big interview today on the blog. Shelly Mazzanoble, the Player-In-Chief kindly graced us with her time, answering all kinds of questions about her new book, “Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Dungeons & Dragons” (review forthcoming), her mom, her perceptions of D&DNext, as well as how she sees the portrayal of women in games. This is the woman who single-handedly got my wife, Bridget, into gaming. She was interviewed by Bridget almost two years ago for the blog, and I was happy to talk to her again. I hope you enjoy the interview.

1.   Hey Shelly! It’s been a while since we’ve chatted. It looks like you’ve been busy since we last chatted at GenCon. You have Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard, wrangling the celebrities of D&D for events, you’ve gotten married, and now you have your new book “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Dungeons and Dragons.” So here’s my question: Do you sleep?

Oh yes, I sleep like a champ! That is one thing I have always excelled at. Too bad there aren’t many careers that center around napping.

Yeah, it does seem like a lot happened in the last six months of 2011, doesn’t it? Fortunately the work that went into each of those projects was staggered throughout. “Everything I Need to Know…” was handed off to the editor in early spring, just in time to start the wedding planning, which was just about complete by the time Gen Con rolled around. The book was published four days before the wedding so it was like my mom had a grandchild and wedding all in one week. All her dreams came true! Plus we gave copies of “Everything I Need to Know…” to all of the out of town guests so they’d have something to read on the long flight back to the east coast.

2.   I’m about halfway through your book right now, and really enjoying it. This one feels more like a memoir than “Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress”, which was more of a how-to for women and D&D. What motivated you to write this one?

You’re absolutely right—this one is definitely more “memoir” and less “how to” although if someone learned “how to” make their life better with the aid of D&D, then that’s fine too!

The motivation behind this book was partially to unearth the reason as to why D&D has been around for nearly 40 years and has such a positive impact on so many lives. Regardless of whether or not they’re still playing, when you mention D&D to a child of the 70’s or 80’s and they get that glazed look in their eyes and that whimsical smile spreading across their face, you know they’re being transported back to their friend’s dining room table or cousin’s crawlspace or backroom of the local comic book shop. These are lasting memories, often lasting friendships, and certainly lasting impressions. What started as a learning expedition sort of became a quest to enrich my own life by incorporating D&D principals into my own life. I thought that if I could live my life like a D&D character, would I be able to have such a positive impact on my own life? Would my mother finally stop sending me self-help books and forwarding me emails from the Universe? Granted I was about 30 years behind schedule but better late than never, right? It was worth a shot.

3.   Your mom features pretty prominently in the book, not always in the most flattering of lights. Did she get a chance to see what you were writing about her before it got published?

Here’s the thing about my mom: She’s the most amazing, funny, wonderful, smart, passionate, generous, strong human being I know. We have an incredibly close relationship—some (Bart, my hubby) might say co-dependent. Even when I was a teenager and supposed to be making her life miserable full-time, calling her mother (which she hates), rolling my eyes, telling her at least 22 times a day that she was ruining my life, we got along. For the most part. (I had my moments, to be sure.) I think our relationship will be familiar to a lot of women but I’m finding a lot of men are absolutely horrified by it. Whatever my mother says and does it’s rooted in love and a sense of humor. I sent her unedited chapters to read as I was writing them. She loved it! At first she thought I was such a brilliant writer for “coming up with this stuff” and then I’d gently remind her that I was just cutting and pasting an email she sent that morning and putting quotation marks around it. Subjects with serious short-term memory issues can be a wonderful gift to a writer! Overall, she’s thrilled with her portrayal. She thinks she’s absolutely hysterical and sage-like. And she’d like Kathy Bates to play her in the movie.

4.   You do a fantastic job of showing that D&D goes far beyond just a simple game, and can actually be used to treat your own insecurities and problems. Talk to me about how D&D has helped you, if you don’t mind.

Thank you! That means a lot, especially coming from a long-time D&D player. I was hoping to capture even just a little bit of what you all already know.

First and foremost, D&D has helped me cultivate some of the strongest friendships of my life. I’m the only member of my original D&D group (the one I wrote Confessions about) that still works at Wizards and yet I’m still in touch with all of them. The cleric from my current game was even the officiant at my wedding. The experiences you have on the playing field definitely impact the ones you have off it. I feel closer to this group of co-workers because of our side-by-side experiences in the dungeon.

D&D gives you a creative outlet to explore different facets of yourself. I might be a bit—shall we say—uptight in real life but I can play a character who throws caution to the wind and lives by the seat of her scale mail. I might find something in that character I want to emulate in real life, such as leaving the house with just my wallet, keys and cell phone and not my own private Walgreen’s packed in a steamer trunk. That was a tough one.

 5. This book has a less girly-girl vibe than your last. Was this a purposeful choice?

Yes, it was, because it wasn’t written for a specific audience other than “anyone who has ever played D&D.” It’s still pretty “girly” at times but…well…I can’t help it from seeping in. I hope regardless of your gender, there’s something in this book everyone can relate to.

6.   If you had one piece of advice to give D&D players from your book, what would it be?

Never split the party! Lean on one another, know your role and respect everyone else’s. Sometimes you’re the hero, sometimes you get the assist. Just remember the common goal. And should your rogue accidentally set off a trap because she failed her stealth check, then by all means forgive and forget! It was an accident! I was learning the wily ways of rogues!

7.   Have you gotten to play D&D Next a bit? What are your impressions of it?

My first impression was “Can I be a wizard? I can? Okay, I’m in!” So yes, I am in a playtest but it’s still pretty new to me. D&D Next has some lofty goals, all of which are incredibly exciting. I only wish that I had more experience playing previous editions to have a better feel for how much it resonates, but as a 4th Edition player, I’m very impressed so far. The parts that I really enjoy are still there and if possible, my little elven wizard is even more bad ass.

8.   Are you currently in a campaign? Are you still playing Tabitha, your Tiefling Wizard?

Well, Tabitha retired when New DM “dumped” us. Thankfully, that was right around the time we started a weekly D&D Encounters game, which was great because even I left my comfort zone and started playing other races and classes (see “rogue reference” above.) That group became the D&D Next playtest group where I’m currently playing an elf wizard (surprise!).

9.   There’s been a lot of talk recently around the blogosphere about women’s portrayal in the art of RPGs. They’re seen as eye-candy rather than as serious warriors like male characters are seen. What’s your opinion?

I think this is a very worthy discussion and one that our Art Director gets into every day. Not too long ago we were looking at art from 1st edition books and laughing hysterically. The women were not warriors. They looked like victims, complete with palms over forehead and looking upwards at their male counterparts to save them. Since when does being well-endowed imply weakness? But that was a product of the time and the times are a changing. In a good way. The art of D&D today will look very different from the art of D&D tomorrow. And it will look very different ten years from now. Art will continue to change and evolve as long as these discussions are happening. Why does the armor on a barbarian female leave her navel exposed while her male counterpart is fully covered? Why does the female wizard look like she stuck her dry-clean only robes in the dryer? First and foremost, your armor should protect you! It’s not an accessory you put on to go clubbing.

Personally I would never let my character go out in tight leather armor and a breastplate. I’d be like “Button up, young lady! You’re not going into the dungeon looking like that!” But that’s just me.

Thanks for your time, Shelly. You can currently find Shelly over at Wizards with Confessions of a Full-Time Wizard, and read her book, Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Dungeons & Dragons.

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