TSR Chat with Rose Estes


What a great weekend. First I got nominated for an Ennie Award. Then today I drove out to the Oregon coast to spend several quality hours with one of my favorite authors of all time, Rose Estes. I can trace my love for fantasy books to her. Getting the Endless quests books during the school book fair was better than Christmas.

She is a great story teller, naturally. And I learned so much from her. I made a similar post on social media, but I can really expand it here with a lot more information.

Repeated Themes
Throughout this post you'll probably recognize repeated themes that Rose said that you've probably heard from Ben and the other various historians of TSR. Lightning in a bottle, loyal friends, dysfunction, etc. To me that lends her story credibility, because it's so highly corroborated with others who have said similar.

Early challenges, signs of brilliance
Rose had a tough childhood. She suffered an illness that caused her to be bedridden for a year between age 9 and 10. That entire year she read. A lot. She said she actually started reading at age 2. There was a newspaper clipping floating around with her on a reporter's lap at that age reading words. She would look forward to a radio show that read Fairy Tales out loud. I believe it was called "Let's Pretend." She gave the name, but wasn't taking notes and it was a long day. doh!

Rose was the 13th employee of TSR. I think a lot of folks don't realize she was there in the beginning. And stayed there until 1983. Her first job was to explain D&D to teachers and clergy as a way to help mitigate the Satanic panic that started to appear in 1976. Soon she came upon a Choose Your Own Adventure book and proposed the idea to her boss (Curt Wipling, or something close to that). He was not interested. Told her if she wanted to do it, do it on her own time. She got angry and did it. I asked her if she had a lot of notes and diagrams to keep everything organized (having written CYOA books myself, you have to be really organized). Not only did she do it all in her head, her first book (Return to Brookmere), she got frustrated and threw all the pages in the air. Yes, in those days, she wrote the books by hand on a legal pad. No typewriter in sight. How they landed was how they ended up getting numbered in the book.
You may be asking yourself, "Wait? RtB was book 4, not 1." It was actually the first book she wrote. She dropped on her boss's desk where he ignored it for 3 months. Finally the publisher saw it and immediately wanted 3 more, or an initial set of 4. She wrote the other 3 (Pillars of Pentagarn, Mountain of Mirrors, and Dungeon of Dread) in a month. Again, by hand. She told me each book was tied to a real life challenge she was going through. For example, Mountain of Mirrors was during the coldest winter in Lake Geneva, and Dungeon of Dread was to help her grieve close losses.
Imagine what would have happened if her boss got his way and none of those books were written? Last I checked, more than 12 million copies have been sold, and for many, like yours truly, they were the gateway into fantasy and D&D (I technically started in 1981, but in 1982 when I got those books, I finally got hooked).

Side note: Rose held the record for the longest running appearance on the NYT Bestseller's list for a series until JK Rowling came along. Not bad.

Company vs. People
Like many other of the TSR alum, she said the company....had a lot to be desired. But some of the people she worked with were wonderful. No one knew D&D was going to be huge. It was all the wild west. She had lived with Tom Wham for many years, and Ernie was their roommate for nearly 2 decades. People were over at there house all the time playing games (Luke once asked if he bought his own bean bag if he could move in). While not a gamer herself, the dwarves from Revolt of the Dwarves was based on the gaming group at their house. She says, "All these bearded men came over, playing all night, some falling asleep during the game. That's how I envisioned the dwarves would be."
She had nothing but very fond things to say about Jeff Leason and Ernie, and was very dismayed to hear about the mess they've found themselves in. She knows both extremely well, and said all they want to do is play the game and have fun with friends, and have always been nice to everyone they met. She was very saddened by the turn of events.
She was much less...polite about Gary. Some of the things she said might sound outrageous or spiteful if we didn't already know certain things, both from witnesses and Gary's own words. As the only women hire at first, she recalls vividly some of the things he told her. One statement was, "Women are good for only two jobs: secretaries and housewives. Anything else and they're a whore." He paid her $32,000 a year for all of her writing, and told her on a nearly daily basis how lucky she was to have that job. She mentioned how mistreated Mary was, because she worked to the bone to make the family work, and as soon as Gary found money, he "wanted a wife to put in fur coats and diamond earrings, and that wasn't Mary. But it was Gail. Who was also his secretary..." She also recalls (she is Jewish) that he came back one time from California and told her, "If you don't like Jews, stay out of California." She was heartbroken when Gary went off on Rob Kuntz in a meeting in front of the others. She made a comment about how no one was allowed to edit anything Gary wrote, and as an author, advocated against the now famous high-Gygaxian, because it wasn't reader friendly, especially for younger new gamers.

Note: I do not verify if Gary actually said those things or not. I only point out how some of them are in alignment with things he's said about women publicly.

Hurt Feelings
We were talking about her legacy and what it meant to so many. She mentioned how she was invited to be a special guest at Gary Con one year, and Luke told her, "We might be able to find a room for you." leaving her for her own transportation and coordination. I don't know if that's normal or not, but it hurt her feelings. Similarly when she sent WoTC a writing proposal and they said they "might get around to looking at it." Maybe it's just me, but when someone who has had the impact she has had to the company, you treat her a bit better than that.

A moment of Surrealness
You might pick this up from what she wrote in one of the images below, but it was a very surreal moment for me to hear her question her own talents. I could definitely pick up on the impostor syndrome coming from her. She had asked me more than once if it was her writing that made me a fan of the books, and not something else. It was a very surreal moment to hear one of your favorite authors, and one so accomplished, question their writing ability. If she's having impostor syndrome, man, I don't have a chance!

Supporting Her
She currently owns the Hauser Gallery in Seal Rock, OR (the Oregon coast). It's a great gallery, full of neat stuff. She mentioned how winter months can be hard, so if you can, make the trip and visit her. She's there every Saturday. There's a lot to do along the Oregon coast anyway, so make it part of your trip. You won't be disappointed. She's 82, so she won't be around forever. She's a wonderfully nice person, a great storyteller, and a font of information.

I particularly love how she doesn't just sign books, she writes notes about them and what they meant. See the photos to see what I mean.

Side note: Ignore my picture, I think it was an attempt at a smile? I take horrible photos of myself lol. The second picture is a full circle of Mountain of Mirrors. It's her book, a new print of the cover she is selling shortly, and my conversion of the book into an adventure.






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At my home I have got my collection of gamebook "Endless Quest". In the Spanish edition the covers had got a different look.


It was too railroaled, only a happy end, and I remember it was the most difficult book to find the righ path. But the elf Landon was my favorite main character.

Those times when it was so easy to be happy and we didn't know it.


Read a couple or 3 of those books circa 1988.

Before that V
Chose your own adventure and Pick a Path.

1989 found Lone Wolf Shadow on the Sand.

I loved the endless quest books. I picked them up after I was hooked in D&D, but before I really got to playing the game. Lots of good memories!

Thank you for sharing!

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