Luke Chmilenko - A Whirlwind of Adventure inside a Videogame
Luke Chmilenko was born in the year 1987, in the city of Mississauga, Ontario spending the majority of his life within the city. He now lives in Burlington, Ontario with his wife and two cats. In his spare time he is an avid gamer, reader of books and of course, writer. As our Author of the Day, Chmilenko tells us all about his latest book, Ascend Online.
Please give us a short introduction to what Ascend Online is about.
Ascend Online is a story about a group of friends that all dive into a brand-new virtual reality video game, one that promises to transport players to a super realistic fantasy world filled with magic and monsters. But as they enter the game, the main character, Marcus, finds himself temporarily separated from his friends and thrown into the middle of a goblin raid on a distant frontier settlement named Aldford.
After rescuing the village from the goblins, Marcus is then faced with the challenge of protecting the place until his friends can arrive, which quickly snowballs into a grand and exciting adventure.
What inspired you to write about a group of friends who dove into a revolutionary new video game?
Because, at the time, I couldn’t find anyone doing it! In the early days as I was reading LitRPG books, and even series in other genres, there always seemed to a ‘stand out’ hero who carried the story almost by himself. That hero rarely seemed to face any real challenges or needed to depend on anyone in the process. What I wanted to do with Ascend Online was to present a fun action-adventure series that channeled the spirit of teamwork along with the good and fun banter of close friends who were all invested in one another. In the process I wrote the book largely focused on my experiences with my own friends as we grew up and all the fun that we had along the way.
Tell us more about Marcus. What makes him tick?
At his heart, Marcus is the ‘good guy’, the person who tries to do the best that he can in any given situation. He is also a crazy workaholic, trying to do absolutely everything he can to help those around him, even to point of dropping from exhaustion. Its because of this energy and hard work that Marcus is able to succeed in his adventures while playing Ascend Online, pushing through his trials with sheer determination.
What are your favorite video games? And which ones served most as inspiration for this book?
I have always been a big gamer all my life. Starting with the old Super Mario Brothers and progressing onwards from there. But as I grew up, I eventually fell in love with the MMORPG genre and the ability to be able to play with a countless number of people at once. Specifically, the games that stand out the most for me in that vein were EverQuest and World of Warcraft. My friends and I played those two games for years on end and bonded very closely because of it, especially when life and school took us in different directions as we got older. So, when I got around to actually writing Ascend Online, I pulled from our experiences of playing those games, remembering the excitement and sense of camaraderie that we had and trying to channel that as much as possible in my work.
How has your work as an IT Security Specialist influenced your world view and your writing?
Detail and Logic. Because of the nature of my profession, a lot of my work involved in sifting through large reams of data and trying to correlate events (or missing events) to paint a bigger picture of what was going on. A small piece of detail could often times change the entire course of an investigation or incident and it was critical to find it as quickly as possible.
Taking that sort of thinking over to my writing, being able to enter that sort of ‘mental headspace’ was incredibly useful in breaking the story down into a logical flow of events that connected seamlessly with one another. Writing a story in itself can be extremely intimidating, especially when faced with a blank page and not knowing where to start. But by being able to start small with just a handful of important details and then expanding on them logically, I was able to help guide myself through the process of writing without getting too bogged down or stopped by self-doubt.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I like to cook! I am fairly adventurous when it comes to planning and cooking meals and I like to think that people have enjoyed my meals! Hopefully I can expand that one day towards baking too!
In Ascend Online, the NPC's are so convincing that they feel like real, tangible people, which causes a great deal of moral conflict and confusion on how to treat them. Tell us more about it.
That is the major point of what I was trying to address when I set out to write Ascend Online. As our society, and our ability to create increasingly complex AI, evolves, at what point is realistic ‘too’ realistic? Does it matter if a person, or thing, is just an AI and full of programmed responses? Or is there some sort of innate morality that we should observe?
I feel that as our technology matures and the more fantastical things of our imaginations become possible, these sort of questions are going to become much more important to explore. Especially if we are able to get to the point of creating completely artificial worlds where moral consequences don’t really exist, such as what was explored in TV show Westworld. Some of the guests in the show treated the robots extremely poorly because they didn’t consider them to be human, despite how realistic they actually were. I feel that given a similar parallel in a virtual reality setting, a fantasy world especially, something similar could happen as well.
What appeals to you about the genre?
The escapism along the idea of what video games could be in the future. Having played a number of video games over the years, I originally turned to LitRPG when I couldn’t find any games that were able to hold my interest, or not being quite what I was looking for. Being able to read these sorts of stories that were framed with a sort of ‘gaming’ element to them was something very exciting and refreshing to find.
How is your book different from other LitRPGs in the genre?
I think the worldbuilding and the lore of the world is the biggest thing that sets me apart from the other books in the genre. I’ve worked really hard to build a living and breathing world, both with multiple events happening ‘off-screen’ as other players adventure in the world, as well as having a detailed history for how the world evolved to become what the players are experiencing. It’s one of my most enjoyable moments while writing to be able to come up with brand new culture’s or histories and then connecting them all together in the region where the main story of Ascend Online is taking place.
Some non-gamers also said they enjoyed the book. How did you pull this off?
I wish I could really distill this into something more tangible, but I think it all has to do with passion. I set out to write the best and most entertaining story that I could for myself (since I never expected to let anyone even see the book when I first started!), and things slowly snowballed from there. I tried not to force the ‘gamey’ elements of the book any more than I had to, essentially using them to support the world that I was building in the story, rather than constantly putting them front and center and requiring a great deal of game related ‘knowledge’ from the reader.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
At my heart I am plotter, to perhaps an excruciating amount of detail than others from what I am told. I tend to write out as much of my books as I can in a chapter by chapter level summary, then go back to expand out on each of them during the actual writing process. I find that having such a detailed and intricate ‘path’ to follow from the story perspective gives me the grounding I need to feel on track, and to never be wondering what’s coming next.
In terms of my daily writing however, I tend to stick to a minimum of 1000 words a day whenever possible. Occasionally I will do much more than that target, however there are also days that I fall short. I feel that by having that sort of goal on a daily basis helps build the ‘discipline’ needed for writing, even if I don’t feel particularly creative on that given day. Getting my butt in the chair and putting words down on paper, for as long as it takes, is how I’ve managed to get to where I am today.
Can you give our readers a sneak peek into what to expect from you next?
I am working on a bunch of projects for this year and they are all going to be super exciting! Right now, I am focusing my efforts on the latest entry in the Ascend Online series, Glory to the Brave, which I hope to have done by this summer. Currently the book is standing at a huge 113k words, and I expect that length to easily double by the time that the book is finished.
On the heels of that book, I am looking to debut a new SciFi LitRPG that I am working on called Starfall, as well as release a single-issue comic book following its first few chapters as well. For those familiar with the games, I am hoping to channel a ‘Mass Effect’ and ‘Destiny’ feel for the story in an exciting space-based adventure. I am extremely excited for this project and I can’t wait to have finished!
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
The two best places to find out more about me would be my Goodreads page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15932535.Luke_Chmilenko or my Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/LChmilenkoAuthorGroup/ - I am extremely active on my group everyday, posting daily updates about my writing, along with a host of silly pictures, and soon to be, contests as well!