An Interview with Trent Hergenrader

trenthergenraderTrent Hergenrader is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he teaches creative writing and literature. His research focuses on creative writing studies, digital writing, and game-based learning, which he brings together in courses where students collaboratively build vast fictional worlds using role-playing games as models for their writing. His short fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy, The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk, Best Horror of the Year #1 and other fine places, and he is co-editor of Creative Writing in the Digital Age: Theory, Practice, and Pedagogy.

1. Can you tell us about the writing projects you’re working on right now and (if you are) how do you balance working on more than one writing project at a time?

I spend most of my writing time on academic subjects nowadays, but happily that includes a creative component. My research involves collaborative world building projects based on role-playing games, so I think it’s pretty exciting stuff. My goal is to provide my students with an educational experience that they wouldn’t find outside of a college classroom, so my methods are pretty unorthodox in terms of creative writing pedagogy.

I’m working on two projects/experimental courses right now. The first is called “Steampunk Rochester” and it’s a collaborative effort between my creative writing students in the English Department, students in a Fine Arts class focusing on local history, game design students, and students in 3D digital design. This past semester, my students created an alternate version of Rochester in 1921, where its historical fact blended with steampunk, which is a kind of Victorian-era science fiction. In order to build the world, they needed to learn about the politics and society of the time, including the poor treatment of immigrants, shocking labor conditions, the women’s suffrage movement, prohibition, the Spanish flu pandemic, and other issues such as soldiers returning home after the Great War. They created wiki entries for people, places, and things—both factual and fictional—to establish the setting. I want students to be thinking about how society shapes technology, and how technology shapes the society.

Once they finished with the wiki, they created characters and we played a tabletop role-playing game where I tried to put their characters in situations where they needed to make difficult choices. They then wrote short fiction on the events told from their characters’ perspectives. It’s a chaotic mess, but the course is intended to get students to think deeply about the social forces at play on characters in fictional worlds, and ask critical questions about the shared world we all live in. This spring semester, another group of students will be making sort of playable game inspired from the project. You can check it out at <

The second experimental course I’m teaching this semester is Game of Thrones fanfiction, believe it or not, and it’s titled “Tales from King’s Landing.” Using Green Ronin’s excellent Song of Ice and Fire Role-Playing Game as a model, students will be creating their own noble House, complete with its motto and coat-of-arms. They’ll create characters who are unexpectedly summoned to King’s Landing; they’ll inevitably get caught up in dangerous court politics. They’ll have to decide how best to look after the honor of their House, pursue their personal goals, and not get stabbed in the back. Like Steampunk Rochester, the course is designed to make students think about how social pressures and personal motivations combine to shape characters’ actions. I’m using a shared world to reduce some of the imaginative overhead; these students already know a lot about George R.R. Martin’s fictional world, so that provides us with a common base to work from. While it sounds rather wild, I’m basing this course off research in literacies studies on fanfiction, and I’m testing to see if the same concepts apply to principles of creative writing. We’re about a month in right now and I’d say it’s already exceeding my expectations! You can see what the students came up with at <