Progress Report #9: A Storm Has Passed

Last time in Project #8, I updated you with news about the Firefly RPG, including several awards the line won, and mentioned several balls in the air following a Twitter/FB sabbatical in September. As of today, I’m caught up on everything (e-mails, included), and am heavy on the pitch phase, but I’ve got some updates for you that follow after some words about the intersection between research and reality.

This year, I wrote a lot of alternative history and that required loads of research, ranging from the Inquisition to Western colonization and Mussolini-era’s Italy. The key refrain, over and over, that kept coming up was the difference in motivations and values between oppressor and the oppressed, colonists and natives, religious and less devout. This translates, of course, into the way that history is written, but also in the way that it’s perceived. There’s a lot of knowledge that has been obscured for many reasons, in part because the past is not always reexamined to incorporate a different perspective, especially if that alternate view represents a people (or in this case, several peoples) that were hurt, murdered, victimized.

Why go this deeply into the past? Roleplaying games, in particular, provide players with the unique opportunity to examine the past in the context of a game. In my experience, gamers are excellent, fantastic readers who will devour anything you put in front of them, and take that a step further by reading more on the subject. By addressing these topics within the confinement of the space provided, I know that other players and designers, such as myself, will dive into the past and learn more about it. And, while a lot of players might not make a correlation between past and present, especially since this research is put through the lens of alternate history, the material and the game can be both challenging and compelling because it makes villains, heroes, and the people caught in between all that more real.

In addition to roleplaying games, I find historical research is a fantastic way to dig deeper into worldbuilding. Though problematic tropes can be avoided, I feel that the only way to do that is to read multiple perspectives. For example, you might have seen the heated discussions about the Washington Redskins. The word “redskin”, however, has deep historical, cultural, significance that you can read about here. Reading how the past has led to the present, gives writers a deeper sense of the semantic and literal significance of words, and I feel this is why it’s so important. Writing stories and designing games can be entertaining, sure, but I feel the future of media isn’t to repeat the past for the sake of repeating it, especially since we have faster access to more materials to do deeper research than ever before.

Games

Speaking of gaming, I have some fantastic updates for you. As of today, all of my current gaming commitments are complete, but there are more in my future.

  • World of Darkness: Dark Eras – Wrote the Hunter: the Vigil supplement for this book for 1690s Colonial America. My role in this project is now done, and it’s off in the ether of post-editing and development.
  • Vampire the Masquerade: Ghouls – My role on this, too, is now complete, and is in post-editing and development.
  • Conan RPG – I finished my contribution to the corebook, and stepped down as the project manager. Jason Durall has taken my place.
  • Codex Infernus – The Kickstarter was successful, and my role is now done.
  • World of Darkness: Dark Eras II – Contributed to the Geist: the Sin-Eaters supplement for the 1580s-90s Roanoke Colony. The chapter has since been sent off to editing. Of all the things I wrote this past year, this was the most challenging for me.


Comics

I have been talking about how challenging comics is. So I’m going to continue mentioning what I’m doing to make this a reality.

  • Starry Alpha – Last time, I was working on outlines for an established property. Unfortunately, the line has been canceled so this fell through.
  • Pinefresh Theta – Pitch, full script, and sample sketches sent off to an anthology. I was rejected in favor of a different author, who wrote a similar story.
  • Sparkle Mega – Full pitch is still in the works for a short-term series. The pitch window hasn’t re-opened yet, so this got put on hold.
  • Red Sigma – In addition to pitching, I am going the small press publishing route for a collection. Still in planning stage.


Fiction

Phew! So many updates here… I got through half of NaNoWriMo (e.g. 25K) before I had to stop in favor of zombie projects and proofing that ate up a lot of time. The writing sprints greatly impacted my creativity, and the story got out of control so I had to rein it back in. There’s other stuff not listed here, too, but as 2016 progresses it’ll make more sense.

  • Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling – Core of the anthology is done, and we’re working through open submissions.
  • Red Byte – Revisions put on hold.
  • Pratchett on Acid – 25K into the new novel, and it is…creative? Inventive? Heh, heh

  • Non-Fiction

    No new movement, here, but I wanted to remind you what I’m working on and what’s coming out.

    • Worldbuilding Book – I’m working with my agent to hone my pitches for interested publishers. Pretty excited about this!

    • For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher – A book of essays written by Jason Sizemore, the publisher for Apex Book Company as part of the company’s 10 year celebration. I have written a satirical essay which is titled “The Case of the Mysterious Splatter.” It has footnotes. Many, many footnotes. It’s now available.
    • The Gorramn Shiniest Dictionary in the ‘Verse – This language guide for the Firefly TV show will be out this Spring from Titan Books. You can pre-order it now. Awesome!

    Thus endeth the latest update!

    Update on Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling

    Hello dear readers!

    Today, I’d like to update you on the collection I’m editing with Jaym Gates. Our anthology, which is titled Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, is now open for submissions. The guidelines are listed on the Apex Book Company blog, and the deadline for submissions is December 31, 2015.

    If you’d like to read more about this anthology, here are some links for you to read:

    At the moment, we are working on wrapping up the details for the core of this collection ahead of the Kickstarter. We want to make sure that all of the details are taken care of before launch, and we’re super-excited! Until next time…

    Regarding NaNoWriMo

    NaNoWriMo Avatar

    Every year, NaNoWriMo comes and goes, and for the past several years I haven’t been able to make it work. Part of this is due to the ever-fluctuating changes in my freelancing schedule, part of it is due to the fact that I wasn’t ready to dive into plotting a novel for submission on spec, and the last bit (of course) is any number of excuses.

    This year, I’m doing it because I’m ready. I know it might sound anti-climatic or even lame, but I had a lot to work through, personally, to get to this point. Now, it’s finally time. I’m participating this year, with gusto, and have the main story and its twists plotted out. It’s been unpacking, very slowly, in my brain through dreams and other mind pops. I can hear the narrator whispering, and I can see the characters; both of these things usually precedes a deluge of words for me. I’m excited about all my novels, but this story in particular is important because it’s a new step in a longer journey.

    I’m off to a slow start, due to work, but as a full-time writer I feel it’s definitely time to get novels done and out the door to my agent. Yesterday, I tracked my word count and I wrote 5K and revised 8K for non-NaNo projects, but I know I can do the 50K this year, because I’ve produced that much word count before in less time. Just not in November.

    Special thanks to my research crew (Eryn H.) and new friends (Jacqueline B., Crystal W.) for last minute help. I hope to do them proud.

    If you’re so inclined, please feel free to friend me on NaNoWriMo. Let’s do this together!

      Mood: LET’S DO THIS THANG
      Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Starbucks DoubleShot Energy
      Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I… Wow. Yeah, nothing.
      In My Ears: Tron soundtrack
      Game Last Played: Kingdom Rush: Frontiers
      Book Last Read: Howl’s Moving Castle. Starting on the sequel!
      Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Once Upon a Time. OH, DARK SWAN!
      Latest Artistic Project: STILL EDITING.
      Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
      Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
      Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.


    NaNoWriMo Prep from a Pragmatist. Yep, that’d be me.

    Madagascar Penguin Avatar

    NaNoWriMo starts on Sunday, and I’m using this week to prepare for it. The 50,000 word count for a singular work will be on top of my writing, which includes some editing and spec work this month as well. Knowing that my plate is going to be full (and then some) means that I have to plan in advance for an insanely busy next couple of weeks. I’ve been through this kind of writing crunch before, which means I know I can do it again.

    Here’s some of the steps I take to plan for an insane month. Your mileage will vary, as your living arrangements and family life might be different than mine.

    1.) Remove or reduce day-to-day decisions. What I wear, what I’m going to eat, when I need to pay bills, chores…these are some of the examples of day-to-day decisions that take up headspace. When I’m slammed, I do a lot of meal planning/crock pot recipes and set out my clothes the night before. Yes, this means I am wearing pants(1) this month. Though I work from home, these types of decisions can impact both my health and productivity, so planning these things ahead of time means I don’t have to think about it. Mind you, this includes household maintenance tasks like chores and laundry as well, which means I have to communicate and sort out responsibilities with my partner. I might use my Sunrise app as reminders, or program my alarm at the same time every day, too.

    2.) Eliminate distractions(2). You’ll probably notice that I’ll either be on social media a lot less, or at certain times. I’ve got a dual monitor along with my phone, and I’ve been playing around with how and when I post. For this month, I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do, because maintaining it isn’t a huge priority for me for promotional purposes. However, there are other distractions that might occur. E-mails, phone calls, doorbells ringing… One of the digital solutions I use, is to schedule times when I respond and send out e-mails. I’ll sometimes be clear about when I expect to respond if a decision is required, too, because there is a tendency to expect one right away even when it’s not pressing. Of course, in some cases it is, but managing expectations for communication can go a long way to save time. I cannot stress the importance of sending clear e-mails enough, and I feel it is an art form. In addition to these tips, I’m shutting off my phone, wifi, as well as my second monitor.

    3.) Plan downtime. This often gets missed, but it is hugely important. Often, I see people scheduling what they’re doing on the calendar. It is equally as important to schedule when you’re not doing anything, or when you need to take a break. This might include coffee and drinks with friends, or it might be to watch a movie or make dinner. I am also not going to sit for hours and hours at a time, because this isn’t healthy. Instead, I’m going to set up a schedule for the first week and then adjust from there. It also means, however, that I am planning for some flexibility and additional options for downtime than I might normally. Examples of mini-breaks range from origami to playing Tetris to taking a walk outside or stretching.

    4.) Manage noise and song selections. Okay, so I’ve often mentioned how focused I am on sound. I have a pair of noise-canceling headphones, but I also have instrumental playlists set up on Pandora and my iTunes account. The other thing I do, when I’m in a heavy production month, is eliminate the amount of media that has words in them or, alternately, new words. I’ve listened to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radioplay a thousand times, for example, and it fades into the background for me. One app and browser that replicates coffee shop noise is Coffitivity, but honestly? Video game soundtracks are fantastic to listen to, because the compositions are interesting and I don’t visualize a scene

    5.) Say No to Research. The story that I’m writing for this doesn’t require any research, other than a few questions that I’m clearing up ahead of time. Even if I did need to do some research… That rabbit hole can wait. It is a time sink to click on links and read more information, and while a normal (e.g. non-insane) work day might allow for a certain percentage of reading, a high word count month does not for me. Mind you, a high word count month is not sustainable all the time for obvious reasons, including the physical strain it can take on your hands and wrists, but cutting down on the time I’d normally spend reading means I’ll be a lot more focused on my manuscripts.

    6.) Devise a Two-Month Business Plan. This is basic business planning 101 for me. By putting together a two month business plan, instead of a 30 day writing plan, I’m thinking above and beyond NaNoWriMo. Now, for me this is completely necessary. My plans incorporate smaller projects and larger initiatives that I am writing for other people and pursuing on spec. However, I am not just thinking about November, because if I focus solely on this month, then I’ll be completely unprepared for December. This technique circles back to eliminating distractions, and it means that I’ve got a foundation to work from the following month. I don’t expect to be married to next month’s business plan, mind you, but it removes any overlap so I don’t miss anything.

    7.) Factor in Flexibility. Things are going to go wrong. I might run out of mac and cheese. I might get suckered into a doorstop novel. Brain might revolt and ooze out of my head. It could snow. Anyway, my point is that there a lot of things that might go wrong, and factoring in a disaster recovery plan for me helps keeps words flowing. However, there’s always that chance that I have to stop, and I need to know that’s okay. I got really sick one year, and that pretty much ended my ability to keep writing because I had medicine head for two weeks. I can still write, mind you, just not as much nor as good. I picked it back up after NaNoWriMo was over, so I still finished my initial goals, even if it took me a little longer.

    8.) Outline, List, and Plot. When I know what I’m writing, I tend to write faster. Even if I don’t adhere to every aspect of an outline, coming up with a bucket of potential “up the stakes” possibilities, motivations, etc. and having that handy ahead of time is hugely useful for writing. Thus, I’ve explored possible options for this particular story by capturing them in a list of words I can leverage while I’m writing, or to further brainstorm and use those as a jumping off point. It’s a little bit like plotting, but it’s less tied to the specific story structure and more focused on aspects of a character or a scene. If I got REALLY crazy, I might put together word lists, but that sort of thing usually happens after for me, during the revision process as I refine.

    …and that’s it! Those are some of the things I am doing to prepare for NaNoWriMo. To the word mines! With a large, bloody axe!

    (1) Not wearing pants is so overrated. I keep this regulated to casual Fridays or slothy Sundays.
    (2) My agency will be doing a month long series of posts, including an article from me about your writing workspace. I’ll be sharing more information as we proceed.

      Mood: La la la!
      Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Thar be coffee
      Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Um. Sorry, yo.
      In My Ears: Beats for Studying playlist on Pandora
      Game Last Played: Diablo III
      Book Last Read: Um… Well, I’m starting Howl’s Moving Castle.
      Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Once Upon a Time
      Latest Artistic Project: STILL EDITING.
      Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
      Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
      Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.


    On the Dreaded Topic of Self-Promotion

    Firefly Avatar

    I am in the process of taking a much needed mental break in the midst of lots and lots of editing. Having a fantastic time, really, but because I don’t have anything “big” that’ll be released until next year, I thought it was a good time to revisit my goals and topics related to my career. One of them is about marketing and promoting both myself and my work.

    So here’s the part where I get all real and gritty with you. I hate telling you all the reasons why I’m awesome and why you should invest in any project I’ve been a part of, simply because “I” did it. I would much, much, much rather show you why you might be interested, than command you to buy my books. This, I feel, is an important distinction because it really comes down to a matter of trust for me. You are the reader, and you are the reason why I’m writing. (Doubly so if you’re a fan of a license I’m working on!) Thus, I feel it’s my job to pour every ounce of passion that I have, that excitement I don’t know how to shut off, into everything I do because I feel I need to earn your dollars and your support. I’m guessing this partly comes from the way I buy books. I’m not someone who has ever bought a book because it’s popular. I might get a book from the library, mind you, but when it comes to dollar signs I feel that every one of them is a vote. I feel that every time you star a book or review it or talk about it or recommend it — that’s another way to vote.

    The lessons I learned this year, however, forced me to rethink this philosophy. (Or, I should say… This is what I’m currently going with.) I cannot ensure that every person who comments actually reads the entire contents of the books I work on, nor will I make every fan happy. I found that obsessing about the comments and reviews is a path to madness and procrastination. That way is shut. It was also not easy for me to realize that often, fandom isn’t related to the specific details of things like which character wore what and when. It’s about the emotional connection to the story, the characters, and who you/me were at the time. Sometimes, fans are reacting to an actor who was in the movie, or the angst toward what a director did, and that’s got nothing to do with the nuts and bolts of how a project is put together. Often, however, authors don’t have control over every step in the process for the production of a book, comic, or game. I do my part, and then I watch it fly away into the ether, until it becomes a real live book–and fans don’t necessarily care about logistics, because reminding people that the production of any show, book, game, etc. has business mechanisms in place robs those beautiful things of their glamour. This did break my heart a little bit, because I’ve always been a DIY’er to varying degrees. Yes, now I know that there are fans who may have loved something I did, but will never get around to connecting with me or writing reviews. Now I do!

    I would love/kill/sacrifice my mac-and-cheese addiction for the illusion of control over what happens after a book is released. The brutal honest truth is that I have none. Yes, marketing can help boost visibility and get people interested in a book. Certainly, self-promotion can benefit this, too. That? That I can control. How then, do I talk about me being “me” without wandering around dazed and confused even though there are no mind-altering substances in my system? Or, to put it another way, how do I talk about me being “me”, other than what I’ve already been doing to encourage you to check out my work?

    Oh, I’ve heard the mantras. Fortune favors the bold. Fake it until you become it. I’m going to let you in on a not-so-big secret. I suck at being fake, and I have my own way of doing things. You took the stickers off your Rubik’s Cube? I had a screwdriver, took it apart, and reassembled it. The need for me to “pretend” has gone the way of the stegosaurus, unless I am specifically tying an appearance to a performance on stage or at a con. It is boring, uninteresting, and a waste of my time (and yours) to pretend to be one person in this one instance and another somewhere else. I can be polite and professional, but the vast majority of the time? I’m just me with all my quirks and oddities.

    Okay, applying this to Firefly… I am scared to death of being funny when talking about The Gorramn Shiniest Language Guide and Phrasebook in the ‘Verse. My normal state is sarcastic, mind you, and this setting is a breeze to write for because of that. Why, if someone were to invite me to write for the comic, I’d… Yeah, okay. Not going there. Anyway! Sometimes My Big Fat MouthTM likes to crack a joke before my brain has the opportunity to catch up. I’m not even kidding. Offensive? Um… There’s been a few instances where I may have potentially said the wrong thing at the worst possible time…

    You get the picture.

    Here, though, I feel that being funny about the language used in the show is both inappropriate and disrespectful to Joss Whedon and his team, Fox, and my publisher. My role as a language analyst is after the completion of the work, and I felt that this meant I had a responsibility to look as deep as I could into the subject matter. I feel that if I’m being a smart ass, I’m sending a message to you that I didn’t take this project seriously — and I can assure you that is most definitely not the case. It’s the exact opposite, in fact, and I can guarantee that my editor feels the same way about her contribution. This, too, is me being me. It’s just a serious flavor of what I have to offer you as a writer. Even though I am thrilled to be a part of this setting again, I don’t want to F-bomb it up. I love Firefly. Always have. I am proud to be a part of the ‘Verse, and it is my wish that you’ll take a chance on this book when it was released because of that, too.

    I better end this post today before I wax even more philosophical. I really don’t know if I’ll ever figure out this self-promotion thing, and I have no clue how to even go about asking you to help me boost the signal. I’ve been doing that, it just hasn’t been consistent and pushy, ’cause that’s annoying. Still, I often feel like my time is better spent writing All The ThingsTM than talking about writing them, but I know that’s not always a good approach. I guess only time will tell.

      Mood: I’m having a bad hair day. Ergo, crabby.
      Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Um… Yeah, well ixnay on the okecay erozay?
      Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: HAH HAH HAH
      In My Ears: That would be Pandora, of the Nightmare Before Christmas variety.
      Game Last Played: Diablo III
      Book Last Read: SON OF A… I forgot the title. Again.
      Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Once Upon a Time
      Latest Artistic Project: Can’t think. Editing.
      Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
      Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
      Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.


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