Playing in Someone Else’s Sandbox

- by Laura Resnick


As explained in my July 13th blog, “Writing Media Tie-In,” my July release, The Purifying Fire, was a different sort of project for me. One wherein Wizards of the Coast, the company that owns this intellectual property (i.e. the gaming character of fire mage Chandra Nalaar and the Multiverse setting of the popular fantasy game Magic: the Gathering) asked me to write a book about their character, using their premises, set in their world.

So how does one do that?

Well, since I had never done anything like that, this is exactly what I was wondering when I said, “Yes, I can.” And since someone was paying me, I had to figure it out–and quickly!

Although The Purifying Fire is a fantasy novel, I found that my early background as a category-romance writer helped a lot. I started my career my by writing a dozen novels for Silhouette Books, a division of Harlequin, under the pseudonym Laura Leone. And Harlequin/Silhouette provided detailed guidelines about what sort of books they wanted, including guidelines about preferred settings, characters (their ages and personalities and professions and characteristics), the length the books should be, the preferred level of sensuality, and so on. Writing for Harlequin/Silhouette was, in that respect, a bit like writing for TV: there was a specific structure or format for Har/Sil novels, and the publisher was looking for talented writers who could do an interesting variety of tales within those parameters.

Another thing that helped me a lot was that I’ve written about sixty short stories, and almost all of them were on a commission basis in themed anthologies. This means that an editor says to a writer, “I want a fantasy story of 4,000-7,500 words about someone who affects history by traveling through time. Are you in?” Or: “I want a science fiction short story of 3,000-6,000 words about a war on an alien or alternate world. Will you do it?”

So although I wasn’t used to working this way in book-length fantasy, I was used to working this way in other fiction formats (category-romance and short fiction).

And although I’d never before had to write a novel about something I was so totally ignorant of (i.e. the Multiverse of Magic: the Gathering) I had recently finished a year of graduate school, where you spend most of your time writing authoritative research papers about subjects that were totally unfamiliar to you only a few weeks earlier. So getting up to speed fast on a subject, and figuring out just how much background material you need to learn and command, and avoiding certain pitfalls that appear when you haven’t had time to learn a subject like the palm of your hand… these were all habits I had developed in academia and now applied to my gaming tie-in novel (since, among other things, the deadline was also much tighter than what I’m used to).

So it was by cobbling together these various skills, which I learned in other aspects of my work, that I figured out how to write a fantasy novel in (for me) a relatively short time-frame, using a character and a setting created by someone else, and incorporating major story elements requested by someone else.


  1. Laura, you know I already think this is totally cool. :)
    I wanted to comment on the Harlequin thing though…just mention that times have changed and while there are books that are part of a series so there is some kind of “bible”, etc. The vast majority of category books today are 100% out of the individual author’s brain, like any single title book.
    I’m posting this just so I don’t have to go to another stinking conference and have someone look down their nose and explain to me how my books are basically fill in the blank….uh, yeah, no.
    And for that matter NONE of these books shared universe or not are fill in the blank.
    If they were they wouldn’t hire writers, they’d hire a computer.
    OK, mini rant over…for now…
    p.s. Your drink is cool too.

  2. Intersting little story, but one, I think, that just goes to confirm the genre of ‘fantasy’ is not something that sits outside the circle of normality. The fact that it can, and usually does, include romance, historical comment, crime, humour, adventure, philosophy, in fact any genre you care to mention, suggests that it should really be called ‘extended reality’ rather than fantasy.

    If you want to see extended reality in being, you might want to have a look at my recent publication – Randolph’s Challenge Book One – The Pendulum Swings.

    Chris Warren
    Author and Freelance Writer