This is Part 2 of my interview with Joel Stottlemire, founder of The Dryden Experiment. Alder’s World (Part 2: Chlorophyll Probes) releases this Thursday, October 29. To celebrate the release, I invited Joel to answer some questions about his book and his adventure into a new model of publishing. If you missed Part 1 of this interview, you can find it here. Below, Joel talks about his vision for The Dryden Experiment, how it’s come together so far through the use of Creative Commons, and what the future holds.
When did you first start thinking about making a shared universe?
Joel: I spent several years in the 90’s and early 2000’s selling short stories and articles to magazines. For a while, it was pretty fun. I’d write a little story, send it off to a few places. Eventually, it would sell and I’d see it in print somewhere. I started getting really frustrated with the rights structure. If a publisher buys your story outright, they own it, just like you’d sold them your car. Even if they buy just first rights, no one buys second rights. I sometimes get pretty attached to my characters and it felt like, if I sold them, I was pretty much assuring that I could never visit them again.
I’ve always really admired big universes with books and movies, and lots of different media in them. I thought I could write a big world into a novel, but how to get it out there into other media and how to keep it from getting caught in the rights dead end?
The answer, of course, is Creative Commons. In the spring of 2013, I laid out the background and history for a science fiction universe, put the whole thing under the Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 (then 3.0) license, and started recruiting authors and artists. Essentially, I decided that I would give my material to my fellow creatives where it can live on forever, rather than sell it.
What’s the most surprising thing that’s happened since you created The Dryden Experiment? What’s something you really didn’t expect?
Joel: That it worked! And that it worked! The Dryden Experiment has grown so fast. We’ve expanded beyond science fiction and are working to develop horror, steampunk, post-apocalypse, and fantasy environments.
Tracy Vincent, Gavin Revitt, and I started Dryden House publishing this year. We service the Dryden authors and artists exclusively. While our 2016 schedule hasn’t been finalized yet, we expect to release more than one project per month. Just looking at science fiction, 2016 should bring:
Alder’s World (Part III: Technoprey)
Alder’s World, the full text (untitled)
The Bleeding Mind expansion for the Big Damn Dryden RPG
The Big Damn Miniature space combat game (untitled)
“The Ms. Okuda Appreciation Society” Collection (Short Stories)
The Dark Abyss by Daniel Hunt
Additionally, still just in sci-fi, there are several “in development” projects that might or might not make a 2016 date:
Untitled novel by Laura Konrad
Untitled novel by Eugene Kelly
Untitled novel by Kitty Sarkozy
Small organizations rules expansion for Big Damn Dryden RPG (untitled)
Since the beginning, I’ve been preaching that, using Creative Commons, we could really build awesome environments for all of us to share and work in. I don’t think that I was really able to process just how big we were getting until I saw the full layout, with full color maps, of the Big Damn Dryden RPG. That game is based on my universe, using rules written by Nicholas Moll, with art by Gavin Revitt, Charlotte Garneau, and Don VanAusdoll, and fiction by Dan Hunt and me again. That list covers four countries on three continents. Damn!
When you put out a call for stories for the Rise of the Europan anthology, what kind of vision did you have for the book? Now that we’re almost done with that project, how does it compare to your original concept?
Joel: The Rise of the Europan, which releases on Nov 30th, is a key moment in the Dryden Universe history. The alien who lives in the under ice ocean of Europa, decides it’s had enough of humans…this is very bad for the humans. When I suggested we do the book as a collection of short stories by our authors (including our host Damian Roache), I guess I sort of imagined the Jaucques Costeau kind of adventure where the under ocean creature gets concerned about the environment, etc. etc.. The shockingly real stories of human struggle against an inhuman alien startled and impressed me. That book in no way reflects what I thought the event would be like. Two of the stories don’t even happen on Europa. Seeing it all come to light was pretty staggering and really impressive. There are some very talented writers in Dryden.
What does the future of Dryden look like a year from now? How about five years?
Joel: Look at my answer to question six [where he lists all those upcoming Dryden projects] and add, “Conquest of all creation!” to the end.
Our growth has just been so amazing. Seriously, we’re in year three and we’re beyond any real goals I had. I hoped we could build a cadre of authors, artists, and game designers who could riff off of each other and back each other to help gain market share. Yeah, got there last year. Started a company to support them all this year. Next year? I don’t know. Maybe someone will make a movie or video game? That would be cool.
I really, really hope that, whatever happens to those of us directly involved in Dryden, we have set a precedent. There is so much talent out there in the creative community. It is just terrible that we sit around and wait to get discovered. The two things that I would like for everyone who touches Dryden to come away with is first, the idea that their work has value. That the line between creator and consumer is dissolving, and it’s great fun to bring your vision out where others can see it. I hope that there’s an equally valuable lesson taken that cooperation is better than competition. As much as anything for myself or for Dryden, I’d like to see more and more people believing in themselves and working with their peers as we move forward into the future.
Is there anything you want to say, or that you want to let other people know about?
Joel: Yes. I think it’s terribly important that everyone spend at least a few minutes each day working on whatever it is that you are passionate about. If you let ‘life’ keep you from being and doing the things that are truly in your heart, you are letting your fears and the opinions of others decide the value of your life. That’s never going to be fulfilling and it’s never going to be authentic. The things you do and create out of your passion have a quality and a strength that can’t be matched. Whatever it is, go for it, do it. Just remember to take the rest of us who are also working on our passions with you.
When I adopted these two simple rules, the stories in my head in my head became novels, games, videos, music. Literally music. Check out “The Secret Life of Lucy Okuda” on soundcloud. Yeah, Okuda is a character that I created for the Big Damn Dryden RPG. Gavin Revitt drew her. Nic Moll gave her game stats, and then Gavin came back around and wrote a song for her. The character in my head…she has her own song. It’s pretty kickass. Everyone really should live like this.
See you in the stars!
If you missed it before, here’s my review of Alder’s World (Part 1). To learn more about The Dryden Experiment, check out the Dryden Author and Artists page on Facebook.