Betting the Odds: Kenneth Hite on Taking Risks in Writing

A few short pages into Kenneth Hites’ Cthulhu 101, I thought, “This guy must’ve gone to University of Chicago.”  (Hite, not Cthulhu.)  They train the mind in wondrous ways at U of C, and Hites’ work bears the tell-tale stamp.  Whether writing non-fiction or gaming supplements or children’s books, Hite layers his work with humor, literary allusion, and incisive analysis.  You get the sense that he has read everything and understood it.

Take, for example, his essay “A Random History of Dice,” which appears in Will Hindmarch’s The Bones: Us and Our Dice.  On the first page alone, Hite references Einstein, God, H. P. Lovecraft, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  He goes on to quote or paraphrase Homer, Sophocles, and Charles Bukowski.  If you read only one history of dice – heck, one history of Western thought – this year, I recommend it be Kenneth Hites’.  It will drive you insane.  It’s that good.

Kenneth Hite is a freelance writer and game designer.  He’s also a regular contributor of non-fiction to Weird Tales magazine.  Below, Hite and I talk about betting the odds, fixing the game, and taking risks.

What is the importance of taking risks, of rollin’ dem bones, in writing?


Kenneth Hite:  Creatively, I think the smart play for a freelancer is not so much to take the risks as to bet the odds. Figure out what the winning throw is and load the dice accordingly — if you know the RPG market responds well to Cthulhu, brush up your Lovecraft; if you have a setting that could go anywhere, aim it at an active, growing player base. Figuring those odds is work; fixing the game is even harder work. As you keep hitting your point, though, you can build up a stake that lets you take a flutter on a real roll — you can start taking the creative risks that sometimes pay off artistically, even if they crap out in the marketplace. But when they pay off — even artistically — they let you buy into better, sometimes bigger, games than you knew existed before.

Now, if you’re like James Bond in Casino Royale and someone else is backing your play (to switch from dice to cards momentarily) then that’s the time to bet as big as you can.


Can you tell us about a time when you rolled the dice in your career and won?  Lost?  Were utterly baffled by the results?


Kenneth Hite: I’ve been fortunate in that most of my early career involved other folks rolling the dice on my behalf: Steve Jackson Games, the Star Trek RPG team, and so on. Everybody walked away from those games a winner, including me; going full-time freelance has been a constant crapshoot ever since. I will say that betting on Trail of Cthulhu was as close to a sure thing as I’ve ever had, and paid off accordingly; rolling the dice with Hal Mangold to start Atomic Overmind Press with Tour De Lovecraft was a little more of a gamble that we worked the odds on hard beforehand; and The Day after Ragnarok was an absent-minded toss that hit a hard ten and paid off big, both creatively and professionally.


Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher.  He is the staff Interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Kobold Quarterly.  He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC.  He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.

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  1. Pingback: Stumping Up & Tending: Ken Hite on Freelancing « Booklife

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