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Nigel: The Genius That Could Have Been

by Ronin

I first met Nigel Findley in the fall of 1992. By this time, he was already a renowned writer in the world of roleplaying games. As well, he was starting to make a strong move into the science fiction and fantasy markets. I was surprised to find out that he lived in the same city as me. At the time, I was an avid roleplayer and I was familiar with many of his books. His output was staggering. Within the space of a year, he would put out fifteen to twenty roleplaying supplements (about 100,000 words each) as well as a few novels! I was curious to know how he did it.

A mutual acquaintance of ours, Fraser Cain, ran a local roleplaying convention. Fraser had obtained an old AD&D® (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons®) module adventure from Nigel; one that had been previously rejected. I was one of the gamemasters to run the module as the main event of the convention. Fraser held a party afterwards and it was there that I first met Nigel. He was tall, athletic, and charismatic. Somehow I had expected something different from a fantasy writer - perhaps a timid, scholarly type. Since that time, I have met quite a few successful writers and I've been surprised at how many are part Isaac Asimov, and part P.T. Barnum.

Over the next several months, I started making my own initial tenuous steps to get into writing. In February, I showed some of my ideas to Fraser who passed them on to Nigel for criticism. They invited me out for beers at their favorite watering hole. I became gradually drawn into a circle of writers who met with Nigel on a regular basis. There, with Nigel at the center, we would gather at the pub and discuss each other's writing ideas. Through our weekly discussions, I learned one reason why Nigel was so prolific. He had a tremendous variety of conceptual knowledge and experience. He boasted two degrees in such diverse fields as Creative Writing and Genetics. He had been a professional bass player for some years. One band he was in even opened for George Thoroughgood and the Destroyers on their local stop in their North American stadium tour. To top things off, he had lived in a variety of places including Venezuela, England, and Canada. Using every last bit of his knowledge, Nigel was often able to avoid the nebulous situation called 'writer's block.'

Another characteristic of Nigel was his thorough knowledge of writing technique and the writing process. When I did my first journalistic piece (it was for a alternative music magazine), I asked him for advice on interviewing and how to tie a story together from interviews. Over the phone, he gave me a crash course. He had a talent for getting right to the core of the matter. In fifteen minutes, he gave me the information I needed and I proceeded confidently to interview my sources then write my article. Upon completion, he proofread my article and recommended a few changes. Nigel illustrated the difference between literary writing and journalistic writing. I made the changes and submitted the article. It was my first professional publishing credit.

Then, in the summer of 1993, I got the chance to work directly with Nigel. He was pitching a science fantasy novel set in Hawaii as part of the Shadowrun® series. Nigel felt the pitch would be stronger if he could attach an adventure module and sourcebook for the Shadowrun® roleplaying game. I had spent my honeymoon in Hawaii and was familiar with all the islands, especially Kauai. I wrote up an outline and pitched it to Nigel. Nigel liked it and, in turn, pitched it to FASA. We got the go ahead in the middle of June. But, the deadline was tight; I needed to finish it by August. I had a lead role in a movie at the same time so I had to work many days and nights to put the whole thing together. When I was finally done, Nigel made a spot edit so that my writing would better fit the style of the rest of the Shadowrun® series. We split the writing credit but in an act of generosity, my name was placed first.

Unfortunately, my workload was getting too tough for me. I had a nervous breakdown in the fall of 1993. Before my mental collapse, I had assisted Nigel on a couple of other projects and I wanted to continue working with him. However, I needed to take care of my mental health first. Nigel told me he took what happened to me as a cautionary tale. He was used to pushing himself to his limits often and never thought anything of it. So did I. Now, I was in desperate need of therapy. Nigel didn't want to end up there. He decided to take three months off for some much needed rest and recreation.

After my mental recovery, I realized I had to give up writing for a while. My first passion was still my music and I needed to record my first CD. I lost touch with Nigel and his group of writers. From time to time, I'd visit the hobby stores in my area and see his name appear on new titles. I always hoped that some day, I'd get to work with him again. I was shocked to hear that he died of a heart attack in February, 1995. He was only 35.

Nigel was already a legend in the roleplaying field. His novels were crossing over into the mainstream market. Undoubtedly, if he had kept going, he would have become a best-selling author. I remember once during our collaborations, I went to his apartment to deliver a manuscript. He was working away as usual on some last minute project. Loud, heavy, oppressive industrial rock was blaring over his speakers. Nigel told me the music helped drive him onward and helped him write in a sinister mood about the dark characters he was so fond of creating. His writing room was a tribute to divine chaos. Scattered all over the floor were books and courier packages. Nigel would fish out the appropriate papers, reference books, or computer output out of this mess with a frenzied quickness. Watching him work, I was surprised to see he didn't type very fast, no more than forty words per minute with his strong but hopelessly rigid bass player hands. This made his prodigious output seem all the more incredible.

I learned a lot about writing from Nigel. Looking back, I realize I didn't actually spend much time with him but I still valued his tremendous insight and intellectual generosity. I have more than two dozen of his books in my collection. It's a shame I never got around to asking him to sign them. It's a shame that Nigel didn't get worldwide acclaim for being the talented genius that he was.

To sum up, I'll pass along the quote the Nigel told me when he decided to take his three-month break after hearing about my nervous breakdown. "Even a fool can learn from his own mistakes. It takes a wise man to learn from the mistakes of others."

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