Critical Intel

Critical Intel
How White Wolf's "Murderer's Row" Carved Its Mark on Genre Fiction

Robert Rath | 7 Aug 2014 16:00
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Given how the company helped these writers develop, it's probably no accident that many White Wolf themes like monsters, hidden worlds and the afterlife continue to crop up in their fiction. Lafferty's most recent novels, The Shambling Guide to New York City and Ghost Train to New Orleans deal with an out-of-work writer hired to edit a travel guides for vampires, zombies, sprites and demons. Though the tone is different - more sly humor than gothic nightmare - the clandestine monster community shares a little DNA with World of Darkness. Wendig's novel The Blue Blazes also deals with the theme, as knee-breakers from New York's criminal underworld come in violent contact with the legendary underworld of goblins and demons. His Miriam Black series, about a psychic who can see someone's death by touching them, reads like the coolest Hunter game in history. By contrast, the demanding environment of the game industry directly inspired Richard Dansky's most recent novel Vaporware. In it, the creative director at a video game studio finds himself haunted - literally - by a killed project come to life. But while the digital ghost provides the antagonist, the real horror lies in how much the main character is willing to sacrifice his life to the long hours and stress of the job. It's a candid and unusually realistic look at working in the game industry.

It would be facetious - even offensive - to suggest that the World of Darkness inspired these novels. Perhaps it would be more correct to say White Wolf attracted writers already interested in urban fantasy and the supernatural and gave them a framework to explore and grow. When the writers left, they took those lessons - and a deeper appreciation for the genre - with them.

Lafferty's sure working on the WoD line affected her on a subliminal level. "I don't consciously think, 'I'm going to use that nugget of wisdom I got from writing for Vampire in this story,' but I'm sure there is some influence in my current work."

Danksy, on the other hand, credits his time at the company with teaching him to write for an audience. Before he worked at White Wolf, he spent his time drafting academic papers for Lovecraft Studies and Studies in Weird Fiction. WoD, to some extent, brought him down out of the ivory tower. "Working in it gave me a real appreciation for what people wanted to experience in their horror - the places they chose to take their campaigns and the elements of the world that they picked up on. It taught me to write for an audience's reaction and engagement, more so than for the intellectual idea of horror."

White Wolf has many legacies, from Onyx Path continuing their work, to the fans that still enjoy their games, but chief among these has to be the writers the company fostered and trained. Much like White Wolf's books encouraged players to grab onto plot hooks and take their own journey, these writers and freelancers took the skills White Wolf gave them and explored outward to find and tell their own stories. Through recruiting talent and training them, the Wolf indirectly made its mark on genre fiction.

Now White Wolf is gone. The cells in Dansky's "murderer's row" sit empty.

But that means the murderers are loose. And I look forward to seeing what havoc they'll wreak next.

Robert Rath is a freelance writer, novelist, and researcher based in Hong Kong. His articles have appeared in the Escapist and Slate. You can follow his exploits at RobWritesPulp.com or on Twitter at @RobWritesPulp.

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