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World of WarCrafts: Blizzard fan fiction runner-up Corwin D. Riddle

Anne Stickney

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Sentinel Hill, nestled in Westfall, was a zone filled with sorrow and conflict in vanilla World of Warcraft. Part of it was the harsh and unforgiving landscape, unsuitable for farming; but the majority of the conflict lay in the hands of Edwin VanCleef, leader of the Defias Brotherhood, a band of thieves and scoundrels that preyed upon any who were foolish enough to roam the roads of Westfall unprotected. The story of the Defias Brotherhood is fairly well known, but we know little of the events surrounding Edwin's decision to defy Stormwind nobility and take matters into his own hands.

Defiant, a story by Corwin D. Riddle, explores the little-known origins of Edwin VanCleef's descent into one of the most wanted men in the Eastern Kingdoms. It's an exploration into the events that directly resulted in the Brotherhood's formation, including an appearance by Lady Katrana Prestor and the rest of the House of Nobles and their confrontation with the leader of the Stonemasons. But it's also a beautiful look into the fall of VanCleef, from leader of a guild of architects, builders, and engineers to the leader of a rebel band of mercenaries out for the pay they were denied.

World of WarCrafts: Hello Corwin, and thank you for taking the time to speak with us! Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background in writing?

Sure. I grew up in Michigan, living off an unhealthy diet of comic books, video games, and science fiction. I went to art school for a couple of years and ending up graduating with a bachelor's in English literature. Now, I live in Austin and spend most of my time trying to make my hobbies into a job. As for WoW, I've been playing on and off since release, though not as much lately. However, I think Blizzard's gameplay and storytelling has only gotten better each year, so it's usually worth coming back to check out new content.

I remember my dad had this giant box of random old comic books; a lot of them were literally in scraps, just falling apart. I started to make up endings for the ones that were torn to pieces, then made up the next issue, then made up my own characters and villains. I did stuff like this for a while, unknown heroes and villains having these secret but epic battles within the confines of my three-ring notebook. I'd like to think that my writing has grown up a little since the days of tights, capes, and ridiculous names, but that feeling -- the excitement and satisfaction of making something up and letting it take its own direction -- it's still there.

In the real world, I make a decent living from various types of contract writing and graphic design, but most of it is boring technical stuff for software companies. A lot of my free time is spent writing and working on various projects and collaborations, and I'd like it to be more than a hobby at some point -- but even if I knew for a fact that nothing would ever take off, I don't think I could stop myself from doing it. It sounds artsy and romantic to say that, but it's turned into more of an addiction or compulsion than a hobby; if I can't get an idea out of my head and down on paper, it drives me nuts. But there's always joy in it -- there has to be, really.

Defiant highlights Edwin VanCleef before the formation of the Defias and presents him as he is -- not just a villain, but human, no more, no less. What made you choose that particular moment in Warcraft history for your story? Can you tell us a little about how the idea developed?

Warcraft lore is full of these villains who were once heroes, but most of them turn bad in an instant through a magical sword, magical skull, magical whatever in one of those "and now I am evil, mwahaha!" moments. Those things never interested me; I've always been drawn to the stories found in the gray area, somewhere between good and bad, where things aren't so clearly black or white. The Defias, and Edwin specifically, embodied that feeling.

I remember unraveling the old Defias quests in Westfall, where you're supposed to murder anyone wearing a red bandana, because they're the "bad guys," right? And it turns out that most of these bandits are construction workers who were exploited and then exiled from the city. It was this uncomfortable situation where not only are you killing people who probably don't deserve to die, but maybe, morally, you're not even on the right side of this confrontation.

And Edwin, he wasn't an evil person at all. He was a dedicated patriot to Stormwind; he defended the city as a roofwalker and dedicated 10 years of his life to rebuilding everything after the war. And when his own future was on the line, he wouldn't even take a bribe -- he was more concerned with his men. Someone like that doesn't just become a villain overnight. I wanted to explore what might have happened to change him.

A lot of the lore was already written out about the riots, especially what happened after, so I tried to fill in the blanks of what happened just before in an interesting way -- this one day where everything just fell apart. There were years of frustration and hatred toward the nobles, just wearing Edwin down, day after day, but always a dim light at the end of the tunnel. When that light goes out, and there's just no recourse left, no good decisions left to make -- especially when he'd worked so hard and so loyally to lead his men and preserve their livelihoods -- what else can you do? It seemed like his decision to form the Defias, whether right or wrong, was the only choice he had left.

That would be the long version of it all. To be honest, it all started when we killed him in The Deadmines and he dropped a letter, addressed to Baros. It was such a thoughtful, human moment for the boss of a video game dungeon -- I never forgot it. I started thinking that maybe he and Baros used to be close, but drifted apart -- that Edwin was just a normal guy caught in the middle of this horrible situation -- that he wasn't such a villain after all. I still don't think he was.
Was Defiant created specifically for the global writing contest, or did you write it earlier and decide to submit it? How long did it take you to write?

I wrote it specifically for the contest. This is a little embarrassing. I always bookmark these kinds of contests and then completely forget about them, often missing the opportunity. Someone in my guild mentioned the deadline for the global writing contest, which I had of course completely forgotten about, and I think that was the Thursday before it was due (which was Sunday night, I think). So I wrote it that weekend -- it was like I was back in school trying to finish a paper the morning it was due.

Obviously in Cataclysm, Edwin is gone and has been replaced by his successor. What do you think about the story behind the new Westfall and Vanessa VanCleef?

I'm not a fan of Vanessa. Sure, she watched her father die when she was a little girl, but then she's raised by loving parents -- these farmers who are basically the nicest people ever -- and she still turns out to be an absolutely horrible, evil person. I mean, here she is, terrorizing the community she's been a part of for most of her life, murdering innocent farmers, and preying on the suffering of the destitute in order to recruit fighters, all so that she can recreate the Defias -- but why? To avenge a father she barely knew? Because Stoutmantle kicked the homeless out and she realized that her father was right about Stormwind? She seemed too far removed from those motivations to be so relentlessly dedicated to such a violent cause; I just don't buy it.

Do you think there's anything Blizzard shouldn't have changed with the new Westfall and Defias storyline, or any changes that it should have made but didn't?

I thought the whole Vanessa story was a great opportunity for them to explore some of history and motivations behind the Defias and what it had become. Instead, they went with this "ha ha, it was me all along!" moment of Vanessa revealing herself as this murderous, heartless person who had been secretly reforming this violent organization while pretending to care for and help others. I felt like she was a little too bad given the complexity of the situation. Edwin formed the Defias after a decade of watching lives fall apart due to greed and corruption, and then was backed into a corner -- the violence seemed like a natural next step. Vanessa seemed to have been planning on violence and revenge her whole life. It makes her very clearly a bad guy with bad guy intentions -- not much gray area or room for sympathy. I just didn't find it interesting.

I would have liked to see the Defias fall apart after Edwin's demise and a power struggle from within -- twisting the goals and motivations from revenge/justice to gold, power, and greed. And Vanessa, maybe the new Defias is trying to use her as a figurehead, which she does reluctantly, trying to honor the memory of her father. And maybe she starts to think that this isn't the direction he would have wanted things to take, breaking free of the VanCleef legacy to find some kind of understanding between the Defias and Stormwind -- which I feel is what Edwin really wanted all along.

Have you done any other Warcraft-related fanfiction that people could take a look at?

I used to raid pretty heavily and did some cool write-ups of all of our server-first boss kills, but that was ... four years ago? Shortly after Zul'Gurub came out the first time. Not sure where it disappeared to, but I'd probably cringe if I reread them, so maybe it's for the best. Besides those and this contest, I haven't done any other WoW fiction. Lately, I've been into the new version of D&D and have been writing a bunch of adventures/stories for that and posting them online. If that's your thing, you can check them out at my website, Ready an Action.

If you were given a chance to write and round out an area of Warcraft lore that hasn't been fully explained, what would you pick?

I haven't read any of the WoW books or comics so I'm not sure exactly what has been covered so far, but I've always been interested in Maiev Shadowsong. She made a lot of selfish decisions in her hunt for Illidan and it's clear that her obsession completely took over at some point, but I'm really curious about how she became that rage-driven person. She had been looked over most of her life, despite her dedication and effort, and I think she always thought of herself as the true leader of the night elves -- a part of her did, at least. And now, if she's actually still alive, and Illidan is dead -- where does she go from here? What purpose does her life have now, when she has finally fulfilled this all-consuming obsession? I'd like to try and answer some of those questions (maybe next year).

Any advice to aspiring entrants into the next Global Writing Contest?

This sounds so cliché that it almost hurts to say, but it's true so I'll fight through it -- for the children. You absolutely have to write about something that you're interested in exploring. If there's no spark of excitement or interest for you when you're writing something, it becomes painfully obvious to the people reading it; if the content didn't pull you in, it's definitely not going to pull the readers in. Also, don't start it the weekend before it's due -- that's usually a bad idea.

Thanks again for taking the time to chat with us Corwin, and congratulations on your win!

Corwin has made the complete version of Defiant available for reading on his website -- and be sure to check out the rest of Ready an Action for more of Corwin's non-WoW related writing as well!
For more excerpts from winning authors, take a look at the official Blizzard website -- and be sure to check out our other interviews with winners Saif Ansari, Marika Kermode, Meghan O'Hara, and Celine Taillefer!

World of WarCrafts spotlights art and creativity by WoW players, including arts and crafts, fan art, WoW-themed recipes, comics, cosplay, music and fan fiction. Show us how you express yourself by emailing with your not-for-profit, WoW-inspired creations.

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