Creator Spotlight: Neal Litherland
"It’s always energizing to see a big response from readers. As long as people want to see more stuff I’ll be happy to keep writing it up."—Neal Litherland
Neal has been part of our community for a while now. His love for storytelling goes way back—from newspapers and magazines, to short stories, novels, and tabletop roleplaying games, he’s done a little bit of everything a time or two. Since joining Vocal, his stories have captivated many, but especially those in our Gamers and Geeks communities. Neal is what we could say an RPG extraordinaire, and has shared this, and many other insights, through his stories on Vocal time and time again. We had the opportunity to learn more about him and his passions and are excited to share this with you.
On how he got started:
I’ve been blogging on several platforms for many years now, and though I’ve seen a lot of websites shutter their doors, I’ve never had an experience as positive as Vocal so far. To date myself a bit, I first started writing articles like this when I was in college and a friend told me about a site called Associated Content (which later became Yahoo! Voices). So I’ve been steadily writing, refining, and learning how to tell good ideas from bad ones for a fair while, now.
With RPG, it’s honestly something I stumbled into by accident. I wrote about games casually, putting out some blogs here and there, but when I came across a link on Paizo Publishing’s website that asked, “Would You Like To Write For Paizo?” I sent in an email. I figured the worst they could tell me was no.
They didn’t say no. I wrote the short story The Irregulars for Paizo, and then after that was given a chance to work on the supplements Blood of The Moon and Bastards of Golarion. With those projects under my belt I was able to go up to companies I met at events like Gen Con and hand them my business card, telling them I’d recently done some work for Paizo, and I was looking to branch out. As I got more and more paying work, I felt more confident that my thoughts, feelings, and articles might be something the audience would like to see.
It’s always energizing to see a big response from readers. Sometimes it’s unexpected, since you can’t always guess what’s going to be popular. But as I so often tell readers who reach out to me, as long as people want to see more stuff I’ll be happy to keep writing it up.
On RPG—a quick intro:
Well, RPGs (roleplaying games) have been going through a new Renaissance lately. For those who haven’t seen Stranger Things, or come across the wildly popular show Critical Role, the idea behind these games is that everyone around the table is collectively telling a story with their personal characters and their actions. Whether you’re a green-cloaked ranger stalking the forests, or a cyborg soldier from the 82nd Skyborne, the game is all about your adventures, and what stories you want to tell. One of the players takes on the role of the storyteller (dungeon master, game control, they’ve got all sorts of titles), and they control the world, the cast of villains, the supporting character, all that. In short, they do the job the computer would normally handle in a game like Skyrim, say.
The rules (and the funny-shaped dice you roll) are there to keep things fair. It provides the framework for the sort of actions you can take, the powers you can use, and how successful your attempts are. It’s this framework that makes the activity a collective game, instead of just you and some friends writing a novel together.
On one of his favorite characters:
The one I enjoyed the most (and have had to update a time or two) is probably still my guide for The Incredible Hulk. With that said, I felt that the Game of Thrones cast were some of the easier guides to write. One part of the project that I really enjoyed (but not a lot of my regular readers did) was my Badasses of History guides. For these I took historical persons of note and put together an article that was one half gaming guide, and one half history lesson. The most popular one from that series, so far, was my Andrew Jackson conversion, due to a bit of controversy around him as a historical figure.
On his hope for the RPG world:
Something I want to see more of is an embrace for more complicated rules systems. These games are often very intimidating for players who feel overwhelmed by all the options, and all the minutiae of the world’s physics, especially if they’re newer to the hobby.
That’s actually something I try to help with. By breaking down stereotypes with one hand, and providing rules options and choices with the other, part of my hope is that I can get players who would normally have given a pass on a complex system like Pathfinder a reason to sit down and try it out.
On his stories on Vocal:
I really enjoy weird trivia, and odd facets of history. One of my big surprises in popularity was actually my article about The Supercomplication, which is a unique pocket watch famed as the most complex ever made without the aid of a computer. I also enjoy writing about genre stories and films, particularly horror. Of course my most popular article to date was about the horror movie The Ritual, and a mythological theory behind what the monster we see really is.
It just goes to show that there’s no real way to tell what’s going to end up being popular, once you’ve got it out in front of the reading public.
One of my favorites is It’s Okay To Admit There Are Problems in Your Hobby. This piece was my first big success on Vocal, and it addressed something I’d been trying to articulate for a long time as a gamer, and a general fan of most things geek. Because too often we take the things we like, and make them a part of our identities; so when someone criticizes a thing we like, we take it as criticism of ourselves. However, if self-identifying geeks really want to make our hobbies more expansive and popular, then we need to be more welcoming, and keep our own houses in order when it comes to gatekeeping, sexism, homophobia, racism, and other things that can drive people away.
Don’t think about it—the first thing that comes to mind:
What is one thing you couldn’t live without? My work; if I have a pure day off, I don’t know what to do.
Cats or dogs? Cats, but both are good.
Go-to late night snack? These days, popcorn
All time favorite movie? Conan the Barbarian (Schwarzenegger or Momoa, I’m not picky.)
What are you currently binge watching? The Witcher, like most of the rest of the world.
If you could go anywhere for vacation, where would you go? A convention I could never afford.
If you could speak a new language, what would it be and why? Probably German, just for travel purposes.
Favorite story you read on Vocal? Maybe not my favorite ever, but one that caught my eye the other day was 10 Cursed Objects That Really Exist.
Playlist you’re currently loving? Mmm… I’ve had Brothers of Metal on Spotify a lot lately, does that count?
Thank you for sharing, Neal! We're very excited to see what you create next. Keep up with his work by following him on Twitter, and read his latest stories below: