Today I am interviewing Titus Chalk, author of the new non-fiction novel, Generation Decks: The Unofficial History of Magic: The Gathering.
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DJ: Hey Titus! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Titus Chalk: Sure – I’m a British writer living in Berlin, who’s spent most of the past decade or so writing about sport and culture for outlets in the UK and here in Germany. At the moment, I’m trying to work on my fiction-writing chops, whilst also doing some news writing to pay the bills. Oh – and of course, I play a highly addictive fantasy game called Magic: The Gathering!
DJ: What Generation Decks: The Unofficial History of Magic: The Gathering about?
Titus: As the name suggests it’s the story of Magic – an iconic card game that came out in 1993. But more than that, it’s also a memoir of my time playing the game. It might sound like a very specialist subject, but really it’s as much a history of the birth of the internet age as anything else, just told through a specific lens. It’s the story of how one business grappled with the rapidly changing world – and how a whole community was suddenly formed by it and thrived, myself included.
DJ: How long have you been playing Magic for?
Titus: I’ve been playing since roughly late 1994 or early 1995 – the exact date is a little foggy at this point. My family were going through a tough time, had left England and had washed up in New Zealand. I had to start at a new school – a daunting prospect when you’re 13 – and I hit upon the game as a way to make a new friends. I wouldn’t have survived that time in my life without it and in fact, I’m still good friends with one of the guys I used to play with back then. I think many Magic players have a similar experience in their past – the game helped a whole generation of awkward teens make friends, get good at something and garner a little self-esteem in the process.
DJ: What were some of your influences for Generation Decks: The Unofficial History of Magic: The Gathering?
Titus: Looking back to 2013, when I wrote the majority of the book, it’s quite hard to remember exactly what I was reading. I think it was more the culmination of a few factors in my own work. I’d turned freelance and moved to Berlin in 2010 (having worked in-house at a magazine publisher in London before that). Doing so really helped me discover my own journalistic voice and as I gradually gained more experience, I realized I could tackle a book like this. A lot of what I had been doing up until that point though was sport writing – and I think that came out in the book, especially covering Magic’s competitive scene. Otherwise, I delved into what had already been written about Magic at the time. I should definitely mention David Kushner’s Jonny Magic and the Card Shark kids, which was also a stab at telling a Magic story to a wider audience – in this case, the story of the game’s most emblematic player, Jon Finkel (nicknamed Jonny Magic). Kushner’s book was incredibly helpful in cementing my belief that Magic did have mainstream appeal. But for me, it felt a little bombastic in parts and came across as written by someone who wasn’t themselves part of the Magic-playing community. So while I took on board what he’d done in terms of story-telling, I tried very hard to do justice to Magic fans, too. Hopefully I’ve managed that.
I also had a lot fun trawling through old Magic magazines like The Duelist, which was the game’s official magazine in the 90s. I had loved it when I was growing up (it’s long out of print now), and it was wonderful to dive back into its pages – it was just such a different time in the game’s history. Before the internet really took off. A much more innocent time – and a real nostalgia trip for me as I was researching the book.
DJ: Is Generation Decks: The Unofficial History of Magic: The Gathering a book for fans of the games, those who are new or want to know what its about it, or is it for both?
Titus: It’s absolutely for non-players too. I can’t stress that enough. Like I said, Magic might sound completely foreign to a lot of people who have never played it, but it has a great story and was made and is played by a lot of wonderful people. I wanted to legitimize all the hard work and passion that has been poured into the game and just explain to readers: “Look, there’s this amazing game here and it deserves to be understood as part of our pop culture – as much as any film, book or TV series.”
Along with that, I also hope that long-time players can pick up Generation Decks and give it to their partners, their friends, or their family. This book should help explain a big part of who they are, what makes them tick, why Magic is so special to them. It’s for all those players who have ever had to deal with a blank stare when explaining their hobby. Or who have ever felt embarrassed by playing this very geeky game. It’s a positive statement about the identity we share as Magic players and I hope it helps all the muggles out there understand us better!
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Generation Decks: The Unofficial History of Magic: The Gathering?
Titus: I think I just really loved having a very focused project to get my teeth into. I was at a point in my life where I could dedicate myself to it almost full time and, while I was working weekends to earn money, the intensity of it all was a lot of fun. I was just so passionate about the subject matter and had a pretty clear sense of what I wanted to achieve, if felt like a lot of things coming together at the same time – where I was in my career, choices I had made like moving to Berlin and so on. It was a hell of a lot of work – but writing it was also a real blast.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Titus: It’s very hard to say – I think any writer would tell you, there’s a certain trepidation that comes with writing a text and then putting it out there for readers to make of it what they will. At the same time, having published a previous version of the book as an e-book, I’m lucky to have had some positive feedback from readers, who felt that the story resonated with them. I got one email from a reader who said the book had really helped her understand her Magic-playing boyfriend a lot better – and that really touched me. Although anyone looking specifically for relationship advice may be disappointed…
DJ: What was the most shocking or interesting piece of information you found while doing research for Generation Decks: The Unofficial History of Magic: The Gathering?
Titus: For me, I think the most rewarding part of my research was interviewing a famous early professional player called Mark Justice. He’s been out of the Magic limelight for a long time and hadn’t been interviewed for 15 or so years. Magic catapulted him to a level of celebrity in the game that he wasn’t ready for – and he had a catastrophic burnout that involved a lot of drink and drugs. It was wonderful to talk to him very candidly about that period in his life – and to hear, despite all his travails, just how much Magic still meant to him. I remember literally punching the air when I was sat in the library writing the chapter about him – I felt so stoked to be sharing his story and thought people would love it. It was one of those moments, when you feel incredibly grateful as a journalist to be a conduit for someone’s story. We all have one to tell. And getting those stories out there is so important – especially at a time when empathy seems to be in such short supply.
DJ: Now that Generation Decks: The Unofficial History of Magic: The Gathering is released, what is next for you?
Titus: I’m hoping to head to the US this summer, to meet as many Magic players there as I can and to spread the word about the book. After that, I’ll be heading back into the library to work on some short stories, with the goal of hopefully getting on a creative writing MFA or similar course. I really want to tackle a novel at some point, but fiction is such a different beast to journalism, I feel like I’m starting my writing career all over again at the moment. It’s incredibly challenging, but I hope to get there eventually.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: Don’t have a full-blown author page yet, but you can order the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Generation-Decks-Unofficial-Phenomenon-Gathering/dp/1781084904/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1490801594&sr=1-1
Twitter: @tituschalk is the best place to find me.
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Generation Decks: The Unofficial History of Magic: The Gathering that we haven’t talked about yet?
Titus: That it couldn’t have happened without the support of a great community. I met so many fantastic people while I was writing the book, so many Magic players who turned out to be accommodating, helpful, candid and fun…it actually made me realize that I was pretty proud to be a Magic player – something I wasn’t sure of when I started writing the book. Really, the whole notion of community is undervalued these days – or just subsumed into virtual social networks. But being part of something, having people around you who can support you and share a passion with you…it’s incredibly empowering, whatever you want to do in life. Even if readers find that Magic isn’t the community for them, I hope they feel inspired to seek out the tribe that is, and that they too can share something amazing with a bunch of people, out there in the real world.
DJ: Actually, I lied 😄
I am a Magic player myself, so I’m curious: Earlier you said you started playing Magic in 1994; what has been your favorite set that you’ve played so far? I’m going to the GP Vegas come June, if you’ve ever gone to a Grand Prix in the past, what was your favorite thing about it?
Titus: Grand Prix are a lot of fun – for those who don’t know what they are, they’re big Magic tournaments that both professional players and amateur players can compete in together, with the chance to win some great prizes. It’s a lot of fun to compete like that – and to rub shoulders with some of the world’s best players, so I would recommend it to anyone who’s an intermediate player looking for the next step up. Grand Prix can also be a lot of fun if you travel with a bunch of friends and make a bit of a holiday out of it. You get to hang out together and share in each other’s successes or commiserate each with other when things are going badly. And, at the end of the day, you can just sack off the competition and go grab a nice meal together or sink a few drinks. That human contact is what Magic is all about – and I think what makes the game so special. As I said above, Generation Decks is about the birth of the internet age – Magic came out really on the cusp of that. So while it exploded because the internet could help make it incredibly popular, it remained first and foremost about getting together for real – and that remains a huge part of the game’s appeal.
As to my favourite set, it’s impossible to pick one. Let’s say Ice Age, not because it had great cards in it by modern standards, but because at the time, it was the first release I got to experience and the anticipation, then excitement when it finally arrived was brilliant. It made me realize how compelling the game was – and that it would hold my interest for many years to come
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Titus: No problem! With any luck, I might join you in Vegas!
DJ: Hope to see you there next month! 🙂
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*** Generation Decks: The Unofficial History of Magic: The Gathering is published by Solaris and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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The incredible true story behind the global gaming phenomenon!
Generation Decks tells the story of the mould-breaking fantasy card game Magic: The Gathering.
The brainchild of misfit maths genius Richard Garfield, Magic combines fiendishly complex gameplay with collectability. When it came out in the early ’90s it transformed the lives of gamers who had longed for a game that combined challenging mechanics and kick-ass artwork with a chance to connect and compete with likeminded people.
Titus Chalk’s tale is part biography, charting the author’s own relationship with the game, part history, and part love letter to the card game that made it cool to be a geek.
Prepare to meet Generation Decks, a community like no other…
About the Author:
Titus Chalk is a freelance journalist based in Berlin, Germany. He writes and broadcasts about sport, culture and games for outlets including Deutsche Welle, Tagesspiegel and FourFourTwo. He has been playing Magic since Revised Edition and even occasionally wins. He is on the wrong side of 30, but coping, thank you.
You can follow Titus on Twitter: @tituschalk
Or contact him via e-mail: tituschalk [at] gmail.com