Robert E. Waters is a science fiction and fantasy writer. Since 1994, he has worked in the computer and board gaming industry as technical writer, editor, designer, and producer. His first professional fiction publication came in 2003 with the story “The Assassin’s Retirement Party,” Weird Tales, Issue #332. Since then he has sold stories to Nth Degree, Nth Zine, Black Library Publishing (Games Workshop), Dark Quest Books, Padwolf Publishing, Mundania Press, and Rogue Blades Entertainment. Between the years of 1998 – 2006, he also served as an assistant editor to Weird Tales, and is still a frequent contributor to Tangent Online, a short fiction review site. Robert currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with his wife Beth, their son Jason, and their cat Buzz.
Now that’s the skinny of who I am and where I’m at. If you wish to know more (and you have some time to spare), please continue…
… I was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1968 and spent the first eight years of my life between the west-side suburbs of Westlake and North Olmstead. At the tender age of five, I tried writing my first story (some weird thing about a switch-blade and some bad guys; thankfully that’s the only thing I remember). But we left there and moved to Camden, Tennessee, where I spent my entire middle- and high-school years discovering the joys of reading. First, it was a series of semi-biographical fiction about important people in American history: Sam Clemens/Mark Twain, Alexander Graham Bell, The Wright Brothers, Squanto, Thomas Edison, etc. In fourth grade, I tried reading The Hobbit. I got about ten pages into it and put it down. I just wasn’t ready yet for that level of reading. Luckily, a couple years later, I returned to Middle-Earth and gave it another go. I’m glad I did.
In the sixth grade, I was recruited into the junior high band, where I got pretty proficient in playing the baritone. I enjoyed it so much that I decided I’d make a career in music, either as a performer, a composer, or a music teacher. I stuck with that idea through high-school and into college, but all the while, I was reading, writing stories, and making a good case (subconsciously at least) for a career in writing.
In the seventh grade, I discovered the wonders of horror fiction. Authors like Nick Sharman, James Herbert, Peter Straub, and Stephen King occupied every free moment as I’d sit, wide-eyed, in the living room of my parent’s house and jump every time a tree frog or an over-zealous moth struck the full-panel window overlooking our 40-acre farm. I was so moved by the creepiness of Sharman’s novel The Surrogate that I called my brother (who was a reporter for the Memphis Commercial Appeal at the time), and asked him to do a feature piece on it. He never did, but I kept reading, writing, and being influenced without even knowing it.
Then came my freshman year in high-school. Two important things happened that year. First, I picked up a collection of science fiction stories by Robert Sheckley; second, I played my first Dungeons & Dragons game. Sheckley introduced me to the sheer fun of writing short fiction; role-playing games introduced me to what would ultimately become my career: working in the computer and board game industry. But in high-school, I was still trying to figure it all out.
Other authors came into the picture: Clifford Simak, CJ Cherryh, Robert Silverberg, Robert E. Howard, Stephen R. Donaldson, Orson Scott Card. I read just about everything I could find by these greats. The fiction I was writing at the time was pretty bad, oftentimes weak pastiches. But I kept at it, playing games, marching in the band, and working toward entering college. To that end, I also served as the first editor of Flights Magazine, my high-school’s literary journal. I put out the first three issues, and to this day, it’s still going strong. It was my first experience with reading other people’s poetry and fiction, and deciding whether it would be accepted or not. It was a lot of fun.
In 1986, I attended Memphis State University (now called University of Memphis). My only direction at the time was marching in their band (The Mighty Sound of the South). But I knew that that part of my life was coming to a close. Music had played an important role in my youth, and still does in many ways, but writing and playing games were the focus now. At first, I tried journalism, but the curriculum there was not very good, and I just didn’t like that kind of writing. I wasn’t good at it. So I decided to try for a degree in English, and I found that their English department had a pretty good technical writing program. Tech writing is like journalism: a dry, dispassionate prose that gives facts and little more. But I loved the teachers. They made it fun, and I enjoyed trying to figure out how to explain how to use a product, how to play a game, how to screw in a light bulb, etc. In 1991, I graduated from MSU with a Bachelor’s Degree in English, and spent that summer looking for work.
Later that year, I found a gig as a tech writer at the auto-parts giant, AutoZone, working in their communications department. I learned a lot there, not only about my own writing abilities, but about politics in the work-place. The corporate culture at AutoZone at the time was pretty intense, and although I enjoyed the people I worked with, I realized that that kind of environment, doing that kind of writing, was not what I ultimately wanted to do. So about a year later, I went back to Memphis State in pursuit of a Master’s Degree.
Gaming was quickly becoming my dominant preoccupation, and I wrote very little fiction during this time. Weekends were spent playing games… games, games, games. Computer games, board games, role-playing games. If it had dice or cards or could be installed, I played it. Then on one lazy Sunday afternoon, I decided to go to the local game shop to see if they had anything new. And there on the shelf was a game called Road Kill. It was a card game about cross-country demolition racing in a post-apocalyptic world, published by Avalon Hill. I got it home, tried to read the rules, and realized that they were quite difficult to figure out. Being the cocky graduate student that I was, I decided to revise them and send them back to Avalon Hill with an offer to write their rules for them. Naturally, I figured I’d never hear from them again, but their head of research and development, Don Greenwood, replied to my letter. I did not get any writing assignments, but he offered to take me on as one of his play testers. I accepted, and two years later, I was hired as the Managing Editor of their quarterly magazine, THE GENERAL.
So in 1994, I headed north, through the Smokey Mountains, the Shenandoah, and across the river at Harper’s Ferry, until I rolled into Baltimore, Maryland, under the cover of darkness. That first night, I slept in the cab of my U-Haul. The next day, I moved into my apartment and have remained in Maryland ever since.
I did not stay at Avalon Hill for long, however. In 1996 I went to work for Stanley Associates, a government contractor in Alexandria, Virginia. It was then that I began writing fiction again in a serious way. One year later, I sold my first story to Charlie Ryan at Aboriginal SF. It was a small piece about a woman in an alien concentration camp and the relationship she strikes up with one of her guards. Unfortunately, that story never saw the light of day, because the magazine went out of print. But I sallied forward, kept writing, and, in 1998, I got the opportunity to be an assistant editor at Weird Tales, the Magazine of Fantasy and Horror. I jumped at the chance, not only because of the reputation of WT, but for the opportunity to work with real editors. I did this job for eight years, and it was an invaluable experience.
In 1998, I left SA and went to TalonSoft, a publisher of several award-winning computer wargames. I stayed there as producer and tech writer until 2000, when I came to work for BreakAway Games in Hunt Valley, Maryland. And there I remain to this day, as writer, editor, designer, producer, and voice-actor of commercial and so-called “serious” games for government and medical use.
My first official fiction publication came in 2003, with “The Assassin’s Retirement Party,” Weird Tales, Issue #332. The next came in 2004 with “Sister Sonata” in Nth Degree #11. The next came in 2007 with “Ill Met in Mordheim,” Black Library Publishing, Games Workshop. Since then, I’ve published several stories in Nth Zine and the anthologies Bad-Ass Faeries 3, Dragon’s Lure, Barbarians at the Jumpgate, Hellfire Lounge 2, The Grantville Gazette, and many others.
Hopefully, I’ll keep right on going…