Philip Athans

Best-selling author Philip Athans started writing stories the second he became literate. Most of those early illustrated “books” were lost, but a few survived, and one can be experienced here. Moving seamlessly from Star Trek and Lost in Space to Major Matt Mason toys and Big Little Books to science fiction novels like Lester Del Rey’s The Runaway Robot, Phil has always—from his very first memories onward—been a raging all-in science fiction fan. When one of his friends brought a Fantastic Four comic to class in fourth grade, Phil was all in on what’s now called “Bronze Age” Marvel Comics—and that was how he met a certain Cimmerian of ill repute and added fantasy to his list of obsessions.

Thanks to Star Wars, a movie that was made specifically for Phil, age twelve, he started to read up on special effects and filmmaking in general and decided he wanted to become the next Steven Spielberg. He made good on that by going to film school where he switched to wanting to be the next Martin Scorsese, but then graduated, moved back to the film industry free zone of suburban Chicago broke, clinically depressed, twenty years old, and rudderless.

That’s when he really started writing, inflicting short stories and poetry on innocent magazine editors all across America, Canada, and the UK. Convinced that the rejection letters he received showed a lack of intelligence and refinement on the part of those editors, not his own, let’s say, “developing” skills as a writer, Phil, inspired by the punk fanzines he’d been reading for a while, started a literary magazine of his own. In its short, five-issue life span, Alternative fiction & poetry, went from complete obscurity to semi-obscurity. Still, there’s never been a better crash course in running a creative business than just diving in and doing it yourself. This is also where Phil realized he had become one of the unintelligent, unrefined editors rejecting the work of many a literary genius. But, concentrating on the positive, he also said “yes” to a whole lot of fantastic authors.

Of course, that magazine lost money—kind of a lot of money for a young, unemployed would be writer—and reality finally closed in. By then he’d met a girl who he wanted to take out on dates, so he got a job in a record store to at least earn a little money, and Af&p ultimately fell by the wayside.

While still selling records he married that girl, had his first of two children, and set out to turn a hobby (role-playing games) into a career. A number of freelance assignments ended up getting him his first paying job in publishing. He sent a proposal for a freelance project (Greyhawk: 2000) to TSR, Inc. and the vice president of the games division (Jim Ward) was so impressed by the proposal and Phil’s resume that he passed it on to the executive editor of the publishing division (Brian Thomsen), who was looking for a new editor. Phil apparently said the right things in an interview he was sure he completely tanked and in September of 1995 he became the newest editor for TSR Books, one of the premiere publishers of fantasy fiction in the world.

His editing job moved to Seattle two years later when TSR merged with Wizards of the Coast, and Phil moved with it, finding a new home and a string of successes in the Pacific Northwest.

The best thing about that job was the intense, hands-on development of complex intellectual properties that went way beyond traditional genre publishing. His passion and skills in that regard are exemplified in the great leaps forward that the Forgotten Realms novel line made under his care. Phil worked with established authors like R.A. Salvatore (whose FR novels, The Two Swords and The Pirate King, broke the top five on the New York Times hardcover fiction best sellers list), but he also had the enviable opportunity of discovering new talent and starting some outstanding young authors on successful careers. Though he wrote his first novel in 1985, he published his first, the successful-in-sales-only computer game novelization Baldur’s Gate, in 1998 and has gone on to publish a bunch more since.

Thanks to the success of the Pokémon trading card game (which Phil had nothing to do with) and the bonuses it spat forth, he had a second child in 2000, because now he could actually afford it.

When Wizards of the Coast became part of Hasbro (also thanks to the success of the Pokémon trading card game), Phil stayed on for another ten years or so, rising up the ranks from editor to senior managing editor. Then the entire global economy almost slipped off a ledge into oblivion, a new edition of D&D tanked, book retail lost Borders and a lot more, and the company decided they didn’t want to pay Phil anymore, or really publish any books anymore, so off he went into the wild blue yonder, and by “wild blue yonder” I mean the impossibly cruel economic wasteland of 2010.

Things got a bit iffy there for a few months, but who says there’s no second acts in American life? Unhireably old, Phil went into business for himself, and after a couple of bad ideas and blind alleys finally settled Athans & Associates Creative Consulting into a busy, successful freelance editing, ghostwriting, and consulting business.

And he’s only just realized that he’ coming up on twenty-six years of actually making a full time living reading fantasy, science fiction, and horror novels and working closely with their authors.

Not bad for a sci-fi/fantasy/horror/comic book/RPG nerd, eh?

Oh, and he ain’t done yet.

29 Responses to Philip Athans

  1. J.T. Burgin says:

    Very informative and helpful book, with a good slice of humor along with the great tips. I very much enjoyed this book and recommend it to my fellow writers!

  2. brian dunn says:

    I have just recived this book in the post all the way from America. And as a new writer am finding it a real eye opener, on all aspects of fantasy writing , and through I have not yet read it all ,There is so much to learn from this book. But my favorite part so far is this passage. The flickering blue lightning that traced the blade edge reflected in a single tear that rolled down the king’s cheek. Thought I fear this is so much to live up to I will never give up writing.

    • Brian Dunn says:

      Omg I had forgot I wrote this it was so long ago, I have since then wrote my own fastasy novel, The City of Light using that book as a bible and am near to publishing it just some edit left to do and a map to be send to me for the inside cover and maybe as its cover not decidered yet.
      I still love that line and hope to find that some one thinks one of mine lines will be as elegant.

  3. Mark Tierno says:

    Just stumbled across your site and noticed you give mention every now and then to books by other authors. Well, I have one I think is worth a mention, if you’d be so kind. “Maldene”, Volume 1 and 2, is the first of an epic fantasy series and in dire need of some notice. The web site has a plot synopsis, info on the characters and world, and Chapter One as a free to read teaser.

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  6. Terrance says:

    I would love to read your book “The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction” on my Kindle. I think it would be a huge help to me with a story I’m sketching out now and plan to start writing a first draft of soon.

    I downloaded a sample of it to my Kindle a few weeks ago, and I enjoyed it so much that I clicked the “Buy now” link to purchase the full book on the Kindle store, only to get a message that it’s no longer available.

    I don’t know if you know why this is or how soon it will be available on Kindle. If push comes to shove, I’ll buy it in paperback, but reading on the Kindle has become my preference, for a number of reasons. (Mainly, because I can keep 2 or 3 books going and switch between them at will, without having to lug them all around.

    So, I hope it becomes available on Kindle again soon.

  7. Curious why possessive(singular) -v- plural

    Author’s or Authors’ — matters not at all: great site; thanks for sharing!

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  10. Kyle Barclay says:

    Greetings! I’m a college student (currently studying 3D animation) but have been an avid SF/fantasy novel reader since my father read me LOTR when I was 8. I personal dream of mine is to one day write a fantasy novel (or series) and fell in love with your Guide to Writing Fantasy. But that’s for another time. I am currently in the midst of school project and am reaching out to fantasy authors world-wide. I was hoping for about 10 minutes of your time for a quick interview. About 10 questions, can be done via e-mail. If you would be willing, I would be forever in your debt. Regardless, please keep sharing your love, passion, and talent with the world. Thanks for your time.

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  13. Shawn says:

    I started reading your blog after I read The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction and after unofficially following it for a few months now I finally decided that I would make my own blog here on WordPress (my first blog ever, in fact) and follow your officially.

    All of this mention of following sounds a little stalker-ish, huh? You should be flattered. I don’t stalk just anybody. The judge can confirm that.

    Okay, okay. Jokes aside, I really love your work and I cannot begin to explain how much you have helped me to not just further my skill as a writer but to better understand my favorite genre. I was actually looking for a good writing guide (something I do not like to do very often) and when I saw your book on the shelf I knew this was the one for me. How did I know? Was it because I flipped through the pages and recognized what a gifted and talented writer you are?

    No, that wasn’t it. You ARE a gifted and talented writer (I’ve read more and more of your work since reading the guide) but the real reason I picked it up was because I noticed that it included an introduction and original story by one of my favorite authors, R.A. Salvatore. Yet after reading and re-reading your book I came to realize that Hugo Mann’s Perfect Soul was but a bonus when compared to the wonderful things your book taught me.

    But I did not come on here simply to stroke your ego. I have actually come on here for two reasons. The first reason is because I would like to get your opinion on Wikipedia as a viable source of information. I have already formed my own opinion of it that I do not likely see changing any time in the future but I would like to hear the thoughts and views of an experienced writer, editor, and world-builder. While I would appreciate any sort of reply, I am rather hoping that you might make a blog post of it. Then again, if you have little to say on the matter then I suppose it would not be worth a whole blog.

    The second reason for my comment is because I noticed that you often suggest books to aspiring writers and I would like to make mention of a wonderful book I came across many years ago that helped me just as much as your own did and is in fact meant to help any fiction writer regardless of genre. A Field Guide to Writing Fiction by A.B. Guthrie Jr. is something that I think even veterans of the craft should read. It is a sweet and to-the-point kind of book that can be read and re-read in about an hour (though naturally each person must read at a speed that is reasonable for their own level of comprehension).

    If you have not already read this, then I implore that you find a copy (e-books, maybe?) and give it a go. I would absolutely love to hear your opinion on it. As far as I know, the book is not in print any more but I found my own copy on Amazon easily enough and for a reasonable price. I do not plan on covering the entire book on my own blog but you can rest assured that I am going to give it more than just a few honorable mentions any time I talk about the craft of writing (this includes your own book, too).

    Okay, I’m done. I promise. Sorry for this comment being so long. I have not picked up any of your Abyss series just yet but I look forward to reading them when I do. Keep up the awesome work! Love and appreciation!

    • Philip Athans says:

      Thanks for all the kind words, Shawn!

      I’ve heard of that book by A.B. Guthrie and will check it out–thanks for the recommend.

      Good idea, too, for a post regarding Wikipedia and other online sources for research. I’ve had mixed results with Wikipedia, to be sure, but it’s not a total loss. I see it as a jumping-off point. Always confirm with AT LEAST one additional source!

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