An Interview with Shelly Mazzanoble

A while ago I had the chance to read and review Everything I Need to Know I Learned by Playing Dungeons and Dragons. Having zero familiarity with the book, the genre it comes from, or the author, I felt like I should try to get to know Shelly Mazzanoble a bit. What follows here are the few questions I came up with, and the responses that followed on some very nice letterhead from Wizards.


Have you always referred to your mom as Judy?

In my family we’re all about nicknames so if you have one (or 120) then it means you’re accepted and well-loved. Judy has lots of nicknames, most of which I gave her and all of which I’ll refrain from listing because one of these days I think she really will act upon that lawsuit she’s always threatening.

When I was in middle school, my parents insisted all of my friends call them Judy and Tom so I figured it was safe to follow suit. My rationale was “I’ve known you for 14 years. We should be on a first name basis.” At first she was like, “Oh no you don’t” but got over it quickly. It was better than being called MOTHER which she absolutely hates.

Usually if I’m talking about her, I’ll refer to her as Judy. If I’m talking to her, I’ll probably just call her Mommy because there is nothing wrong with a woman who is almost 40 calling the woman who gave her life, “mommy.” Right?


2. Tell me about Yes, No, Maybe. This seems to be a reasonably large departure from gaming and other assorted stuff. Is this a natural progression? An experiment?

Yes, No, Maybe is a collection of inter-locking short stories that I’ve been working on since the dawn of time. Actually “working on” is kind of an overstatement. I haven’t actually revisited it in a while, so thank you for the reminder. I had an editor friend critique it once and the first things he said was, “why not just write a novel?” Because novels are daunting! Interlocking short-stories are much more obtainable! (And about 1,000x harder to market but hey—it’s not a novel.) Two of the stories from this collection, I adapted into one-act plays. Both of them were produced in Seattle and one in Seattle and Manhattan. I can’t help but think perhaps writing short stories is just a very long road to writing a play. I do love writing dialog and tend to get stuck on narrative.

I started Yes, No, Maybe long before I ever owned my first d20 so yes, it’s a huge departure from gaming. None of these characters are gamers, at least not in the current iteration. However the mother in these stories will sound very familiar. Sometimes the line between fiction and reality is a blurry one.


3. 4th edition D&D seems to be your bread and butter. Have you delved into any other tabletop experiences? Earlier editions? Board games? The offshoot of (gasp) Pathfinder?

I learned to play D&D with 3.5 so I’ll always have a fondness for it. However, it felt incredibly overwhelming, like there were way more obscure rules and the character creation process was mind-boggling. Granted, I was brand new to roleplaying games so I’m sure that is to be somewhat expected, but with 4e things seemed to be much more intuitive and streamlined. Also it moves quicker which is nice for someone like me who has a short attention span. I remember with 3.5 getting all amped up for my turn only to discover the monster we were fighting was dead by the time I was up.

All that being said, I was curious to see what previous editions were like. I heard so much about these D&D glory days I decided to take a trip back in time and play 1st Edition. What a blast that was! At first I thought I couldn’t get over the whole “no maps, no minis” thing but to my surprise I found the lack of accoutrements and accessories made it easier to pay attention and therefore more invested in the game. We were all much more creative too. We even used voices for our characters. My wizard wasn’t exactly sturdy but she was way more powerful than any wizard I played before or after. Also there was something about playing 1st edition that made us feel like we were back in the 80’s for some reason. There were a ton of Facts of Life and leg warmers references.


4. One of the biggest challenges I face with my gaming group is setting the schedule. How does yours get around this?

I think we all feel a tremendous sense of guilt if we miss a game. It’s almost like you’re really abandoning your friends in the wilderness to fend for themselves—and you’re the only one with a light source. Most of my gaming takes place at work during lunch so all we have to do is walk a few feet to a conference room and we’re in. We don’t have the added pressures of finding a babysitter, working late, walking the dog, running errands… I can imagine how hard it is for people who don’t have that luxury. Missing a dinner party or a concert or a sporting event is one thing—those will go on without you. But if you have to bail on your game there’s a noticeable void. I think just recognizing how much people are counting on you goes a long way to keeping gaming sessions on track.

There have been a few occasions where I’ve had to miss out on a game because of actual work and it’s pretty painful to walk past the room where my friends are playing. I’ll just stand in the window, making sad faces at them. It makes me feel like I’m grounded.


5. As a fellow dweller of a smallish condo space, the quantity of gaming…stuff I accumulate can be problematic. Where do you keep your minis/dice/books?

Oh yes, that’s a challenge, especially considering there are two gamers living here, along with a cat and dog. Thankfully dice are small and can double as cat toys.

Our bookshelves are overflowing to say the least. When Bart (my husband) moved in we thought it would be a short-term situation until we bought a house, so he put most of his stuff in storage. Here we are over a year later and not only is his stuff still in storage but he’s since accumulated a plethora of new items. He’s got a huge box of minis that he stores in his trunk, we’ve got board games under the bed and dungeon tiles doubling as coasters. Fortunately we can keep a lot of things at work because that’s where we both play the majority of the time. Here it’s not weird to see a copy of The Book of Vile Darkness  or Monster Manual on your desk. The same might not be true for my friends who work for Prudential or Colgate Palmolive.


6. How do you feel about the reception of this book compared to the first?

Well, for both occasions I have felt incredibly weird, vulnerable and neurotic. I can only imagine this is how parents feel when they leave their kids at kindergarten on the first day. Will they be okay? Will they get picked on? Will anyone want to eat lunch with my book? With Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress I was a bit naïve. I guess I thought the book would sneak quietly into bookstores without anyone noticing. When it was first listed on Amazon nine months before the release date the community was all atwitter trying to figure out what this very pink book was doing with a D&D logo on it. There was a lot of “why do we need this book?” and “Who the hell is this person?” I was shocked that anyone would even care about it. People Googled me and unearthed my high school yearbook picture. My coworkers were hysterical when that, along with some very detailed commentary, was posted to a D&D fan site. (Mock turtlenecks and teal eyeliner were in style back then, thank you very much.)

This time around, I have a whole crop of big-banged high school pictures out there thanks to the magic of Facebook tagging. Have at them! The reception has been much more low-key probably in part to having been writing a column for Dragon for 4 years and no longer a stranger to the D&D community.

Also Everything I Need to Know isn’t targeted to a specific audience so it’s got a broader reach. That, in it’s own right, is also terrifying. Kind of like your baby going to college.


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Author: Zach Snell View all posts by

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