Talking about Personas

Mad Hatter Avatar

I was going to talk about Mary Stewart and The Crystal Cave today, but instead I’m going to talk about personas. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while as a follow-up to some posts I’ve offered in the past like this one and this one, but esteemed writer Wesley Chu reminded me of what I’ve been meaning to say. I say all of this with love and my repeated mantra: do what works for you.

I don’t care about personas any more. You know, I used to. Being in marketing and business as long as I have, I thought they were important and expected, a much-needed tool to fabricate an image to be memorable. Me? I’d rather be true to myself and worry less about how that’s perceived and received “officially” via a persona. I am a seeker of change and growth, personally and professionally, and I hope that’s reflected in not only what I do, but how, when, and what tools I use to pursue my goals–regardless of the fact that all too often the internet, in particular, never seems to forget a faux pas!

I asked myself, when thinking about personas a few years back, what I care about when I interact with fans, peers, and professionals. Being someone I’m not online takes work, because I have to remember who that persona is in real life interactions, meetings, and correspondence. That’s a helluva lot of work to play that role, and that is so anti-everything “Monica” it’s not even funny. Plus, and I ran into this quite a bit, my audiences overlap so much I couldn’t separate out Monica the Persona for TheDayAndNightJobTM versus Monica the Human Being who has friends and loved ones.

Instead, what I worry about is being a good person. Yes, sometimes, I worry about this too much. I feel terrible about it, but I had challenges remaining positive going to conventions not knowing anybody because I was intimidated and didn’t understand the differences between PERSONATM I met online and HUMAN BEINGTM in real life. That’s nothing anybody else did; that’s my issue. Anyway, to me being a good person means that I need to be someone other people want to be around, and too often personas, when not done well, can be a disillusionment, a turnoff, an extreme aspect of a personality, a permanently attached soapbox that controls the person inside, etc. I also see through them fairly easily, because of my background. Big name celebrities? Need personas. Not only is it part of their job, it’s a coping mechanism to deal with that many people. However, right now I am not a “big name” celebrity. When and if I ever get to that point, then maybe I’ll reconsider. But for now, I’m a WYSIWIG person. What you see, is what you get. Energy levels, as always, are dependent upon caffeine.

Over and out.

    Mood: In a state of zen. Wait… Are the cats up to something?
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: More than I care to admit and less than I’d like to believe.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Well? If my achilles tendon ever heals…
    In My Ears: Lady Crescent Moondragon’s tank, yet another pot of coffee…
    Game Last Played: Ni-No Kuni Wrath of the White Witch
    Book Last Read: The Greywalker series
    Movie Last Viewed: Sabotage
    Latest Artistic Project: Ch-ch-ch-ch-chainmaille!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Things Don’t Go Smooth
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, and novels.

Monica’s Mysterious Magnificent Meaty Stew

Dancing Chick Avatar

It’s Monica because I made it up. It’s Mysterious because you can’t tell what kind of vegetables are in it. (And, I had no idea that it would even turn out.) It’s Magnificent because it takes good. And it’s Meaty Stew…because it’s MEATY STEW!

Here’s the recipe:

Monica’s Mysterious Magnificent Meaty Stew


2 Celery Sticks
2 Parnsips
2 Carrots
1 White Radish
1 Yellow Onion
5 Red Potatoes
2 Starchy Potatoes
2 pounds lean stew meat
2 brown gravy packets
Buillon cubes, beef stock, or soup base
2 to 3 Tbs. Penzey’s Tsar Dust

To Prepare:

Brown onion and meat with olive oil. Do not drain. Add enough water until it covers the top of your meat and add recommended amount of cubes or soup base. It’s okay if it’s a little strong right now, you’ll add more water in the next pass. Simmer for one hour (stove) or put on low in crock pot (2 hours), then add Tsar Dust seasoning and stir. Add vegetables. Add enough water until top of vegetables is almost covered. (Don’t add anymore because the veggies will cook down.) Simmer for another hour (stove) two hours (crockpot) or until vegetables are tender. Before serving, whisk the brown gravy mix with 1/4 c. of water per packet. Add to mix and turn heat to high. The base will thicken when the mix boils. Serve hot.


    Mood: I am culinary goddess.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Yeah, right. Don’t even think about asking me that.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: HAH HAH HAH!
    In My Ears: Lady Crescent Moondragon’s tank.
    Game Last Played: Ni-No Kuni Wrath of the White Witch
    Book Last Read: The Greywalker series
    Movie Last Viewed: Sabotage
    Latest Artistic Project: Beading!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Things Don’t Go Smooth
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, and novels.

Running Firefly. A Post for GMs.

Firefly RPG Front Cover

GMs have always been an important part of our design philosophy on the Firefly RPG line, and Margaret in particular wanted to make sure that we had enough support for them. There is a difference between a narrative-based system and a more traditional one with a damage track and XP points. One of the nuances that can be hard for players to wrap their minds around, is that Cortex Plus is player-driven, where the players are in charge and drive the story.

How can a GM do this and direct an Episode? When I was designing the Episode structure, I mapped it to the beats of the story presented in the Firefly TV show. (This was a skill I had picked up from the writing, reading, and playing I did for White Wolf. In the Storyteller Adventure System (SAS), there are scenes the GM can run and a number of different paths those scenes can take.) In Firefly, I wanted to give GMs a jumping off point, where we present a possibility of how the story might break down based on what players might do. In general, we felt that players would probably be familiar with the feel of a Firefly TV show; the breakdown of the structure is something GMs can use to reinforce Whedon’s powerful characterizations.

There is, however, a problem that can occur in a game that’s reliant on player agency. Sometimes, GMs might encounter a certain amount of decision paralysis or “sit and wait for the GM to throw something else my way.” That can be tough, especially for GMs who want to run a narrative-based game where pacing is crucial. I resolve this particular issue, decision paralysis, in a number of different ways. There are some things I do at the table that goes beyond framing my scenes hard and saying: “Cut to Commercial!”

Here’s a few of my techniques:

    1) I shoot at them. A bullet whizzes past your ear. Oh no! What are you going to do now? My reasoning behind this is that firefights can and do happen often in Firefly. When a player is shot at, that often prompts the rest of the Crew to help out.

    2) I prompt them. You’re talking to Badger and he’s given you an ultimatum: pay up or hand over one of your Crewmembers. Right now. Don’t know what to do? Have you asked your Captain for advice? Okay, that didn’t pan out. You might want to… And then I give three or four options the Crewmember can cue off of. I’ve never had a player take my exact advice, but uses that as a way to think about what to do next.

    3) I use Timed Actions. One of our favorite techniques to influence pacing is to utilized Timed Actions to reflect the pressure in any given situation. The other benefit of Timed Actions, however, is that it prompts teamwork! Each player has a role to take in the Action Order, and they often discuss how to get through that scenario as a team. Works like a charm!

    4) I create an Asset/Complication for that Crewmember. Sometimes, Crewmembers need a little help and the best way, I’ve found, is to use the system to do that. A free Asset is something I offer in times of dire need, and it can take the edge off of bad luck. Complications that prompt a character to act, rather than hinder that character, are crucial here. Badly-worded Complications can impact the mood of a game very easily, and it’s a place I’d recommend all GMs either improve upon or collaborate with players.

    5) I walk away from the table. I feel that without good synergy at the table, players can get stuck because they’re focused on what they want/need to be doing because they’re worried about the group. When I do this, I plan for a crucial moment. Explain what that moment is, then tell the group: “When I come back, decide on a course of action.” That takes the pressure off that player, and encourages them to work together.

    6) I hand out Plot Points. At the beginning of Act I (and so on), I ask players for a recap of the previous scene and hand out Plot Points to the player who summarizes it. I sometimes ask players to recap their favorite moment of the previous act provided they can recommend what someone else did. That, sometimes, adds interesting flavor to the table because a player might not think they’re doing a good job–until someone else says they are.

Hope that jumpstarts your brainpan for this particular issue! Happy gaming!

2014 in Review!

I had one of those moments a few weeks back, the kind where you’re forced to stop and wonder what you’ve been up to for the past several months. We were driving through the redwoods, and we stopped at the base of a very large tree. I suppose that’s an understatement, given the fact that they are, indeed, “the” redwoods, but to actually be there… To listen to nothing–no birds, no frogs, no crickets–nothing… The only bit that’s left when there’s total silence is either that or the thoughts swirling around in my head. Usually it’s the latter, which often turns into some musical refrain. Sadly.

Anyway, the big question that popped into my head was: “Have I done enough?” Did I accomplish my goals for 2015? This year, I’m happy to say, yes. Yes, I did. I wound up doing more than I initially anticipated, and managed to achieve said goals on top of major life upheaval (moving) and family medical emergencies.

This may not sound all that exciting to you, but the fact that I was able to go through over a million+ words and put a nail in 2014’s project management plans despite Real World Concerns is a huge deal for me!

In 2014, these were the games and supplements that were released:

I’m very grateful to see all of this work make the light of day. Many, if not all, of these releases are eligible for industry awards as well. Hope you count some of these among your favorites!

A huge “thank you” to my collaborators and business partners, my writers, editors, and artists, and to my fans and readers for your support. It’s been a great year, and I’m really looking forward to 2015!!!

On Writing with Cats

2015-01-07 10.12.02

I’ve been avoiding the cold, icy northern climes of my office in favor of overstuffed chairs, hot chocolate, sunlight, and warmth by way of cat. So how does one write with cats? Carefully. Oh, very carefully… One does not disrupt the calmness of the fat cat, for fat cat will retaliate in so many ways… For he demands… Cuddles…

I love my boys–I really do–but there are three specific times when I don’t. 1) 4:30 a.m. 2) When I’m beading, because Rimmon goes after the thread and any loose beads. And 3) When I’m on a tight deadline, because they don’t flipping care about the deadline. They care about the cuddles! And the catnip! And the eating at specified times or else they’ll waste away into nothingness!

In all seriousness, the title of this post could easily be: writing regardless of real life distractions. Cats? Oh yes, they can be quite the distraction–but so can everything else. Heck, there’s even software that promises a distraction-free zone. If it works for you, cool…but the software doesn’t matter to me. Distractions will happen, and I think part of developing self-discipline is understanding that. You will fall off the wagon. You will write a piece that sucks. You will write something that your editor loves and your fans will hate. It happens.

I feel that bad habits need to be managed, versus eliminated, because perfection is a work of fiction. It doesn’t exist. Here’s how I view distractions:

  • Am I working too much? Is that “distraction” trying to tell me something? e.g. lover/bff/cat/family member/etc. Breaks are healthy, after all, provided I get back on the wagon. If it gets to that point, where I’ve got people telling me I’ve been sitting on my butt for far too long, then I know I need to look at other methods of managing my time.
  • Have I scheduled a break? Knowing that crunch time isn’t effective, I break up my larger projects into smaller milestones, and take breaks after I achieve a smaller goal. Alternatively, I sometimes go the opposite route when I need to brainstorm in between pushes. Crunch time, just so you know, is a term used in video game management. I also use it, however, because it’s often reflective of the hurry-up-and-wait on projects. Here’s an in-depth article about why crunch time doesn’t work.
  • What is my level of annoyance? Oh, this is a pretty big one. If I’m super pissed that I’m in the middle of something Very Important and I get distracted, then that may be a sign I need to chill out, breathe, and take a step back. I can focus very intently on a project, so much so that the world around me slips away. Just because I can do that, however, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s sustainable for longer periods of time. That, really, is what I am building right now because of the transitions between work-for-hire and my original work. I can’t build sustainable habits if an interruption will, quite literally, break my mood.

And here’s just a few of the tools I use to help me self-assess how I’m managing these distractions:

    1) Timer: Blocking out speedy bursts of word count, followed by timed breaks. Gets a lot done and everybody around me–minus cats–is keyed into my schedule when that’s on.
    2) Code System: Tracking a variety of key indicators in my planner to ensure I’m not off track. Then, I graph those tracks to see how I’m faring.
    3) Associative Behavior: If I was going to do ONE thing every day, that wasn’t writing-related, what would it be? e.g. Dishes, bed, etc. Then, I use this as an indicator that yes, I have done something human-maintenance related to put me in the right frame of mind. Right now, that’s getting dressed for the day. YES I MEAN PANTS!
    4) Meal Planning: Okay, this one may sound a little stupid…but I can’t stress enough how important meal planning is for me. If I know what I’m going to eat ahead of time, I am removing a big ole distraction. e.g. The “What are we having for dinner?” conversation. I’m not scrambling to figure out this basic need, eating out too much, spending too much time away from my computer, etc. Food can be a trigger for multiple distractions, so I try to eliminate this one whenever possible.
    5) Noise-canceling Headphones! Last but not least? I received a rather expensive pair as a gift, but I would replace them if they went away. Cutting down sound really eliminates a lot of distractions for me–especially white noise that would put me to sleep!

That’s all I have time for today! Back to the grind!

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