22 Jul

Off-Topic Tuesday: Embrace the Grind

Sometimes, I feel like having such varied interests works against me when it comes to making a brand out of myself. Also working against me? Not liking the idea of making a brand out of myself. The common wisdom, available in photoshopped images of lightning on mountains and tweets ending in #truth, says that I should just “be myself.” I try to run with that idea, but I think it sometimes leads to confusion.

Bruce Buffer - It's Time
“It’s TIIIME… to discuss preconceived notions about acceptable interests in geek culture.”

During a discussion of interests, someone I had only recently met through gaming circles said, “Oh, so you’re a bro.” I didn’t really know what that meant. After some thorough research –apparently, I must be a pretty nerdy “bro”– I was happy to learn that I was grossly misclassified. The source of the confusion? My disinterest in several popular science fiction and fantasy series combined with my interest in mixed martial arts. MMA is, apparently, “bro” territory.

Instead of launching into the “well your interests are dumb, too” death spiral that powers the internet, I’d rather explain one of the reasons why MMA speaks to the writer in me. Continue reading

11 Oct

Eternal Rest After the Zombie Run

DriveThruRPG Drunken GoblinThe zombies didn’t get me. Well, actually they did, but I think I’m just a carrier of the virus rather than a full on zombie. The fact that that I walked off the course with a smile and no limp is, to me, a win. I have to say, if a Run for Your Lives event takes place in your neck of the woods, you should check it out. And, to celebrate my lack of injuries and the impending creepiness of Halloween gaming, I’ve put The Eternal Rest on sale over at DriveThruRPG.com on the Drunken Goblin’s page. Continue reading

4 Oct

Personal Zombie Apocalypse

Run For Your Lives - Zombie RunZombies aren’t anything special to me, but they’ve gotten quite a bit of PR lately thanks to the resurgence of zombie literature, zombie movies, and zombie games. Several years ago a friend who worked in the computer game industry confessed “zombies are the new WWII” with regards to every studio falling over themselves to make a zombie game or at least insert some kind of Zombie Mode. Don’t get me wrong. I can enjoy the new zombie brand that has emerged from the dead (again). I just think the “zombie people” should realize they’re just like the “vampire people,” but without the terrible fake accents.

Why am I talking about zombies, though? Because apparently I’m going to be attacked by them. Continue reading

12 Feb

Using Kanban to Write

Staying focused is a key piece of writing for me. My thoughts and ideas tend to be scattered, both physically and mentally, and it is easy to work on multiple things at once. Multitasking yields unsteady progress, though. I wanted to be able to maintain a clearer focus on what projects I was working on and know roughly how far they were from completion. More importantly, I wanted more of them to reach that completed stage faster. So I turned to my background in manufacturing for an answer: kanban.

How Not to Do Kanban
Just. No.

Kanban is a means of tracking workflow with a simple visual chart. The system can take a variety of forms: a whiteboard, Post-It notes, or a digital application. The goal is the same, though: present all work that needs to be done, that is currently being worked on, and is completed, in a single glance. Kanban might seem like an odd choice for a writer, but in a career that relies so heavily on self-motivation and self-assessment, kanban (combined another technique we’ll discuss later) is a great tool to keep you honest with yourself. Continue reading

18 Dec

The Next Big Thing

Mayan's Next Big Thing
All this assumes that the Next Big Thing isn’t just the end of all the things.

Everyone prefaces these sorts of things with “I don’t do chain letters BUT . . .” So consider mine prefaced as well. Jeff LaSala was kind enough to tag me in this chain that I think was begun by Elaine Cunningham. (Chain letters always make me think of the telephone game that starts at one end of the classroom as “I’m finished with our big stone calendar” and ends on the other end as “The calendar has predicted the date humanity is finished!”)

The idea behind the Next Big Thing is to answer 10 questions about a work in progress, and then tag 5 more writers who do the same thing the following week. I like the idea of promoting some good people. And a little self-promotion never hurt anybody, I suppose. My lead project for 2013 is a novel. –gasp– I’m always working on multiple things, but this is receiving the lion’s share of my efforts. Continue reading

21 Aug

Off-Topic Tuesday: Silence is Electrum

I frequently discuss the strange dichotomy of my writer’s desire to remain undisturbed and my baser human need for socializing. It’s probably because I feel that tug-of-war all of the time, whether it’s related to writing or not. The recent round of “care and feeding of an introvert/extrovert” blog entries and subsequent Facebook links just went entirely around me. I don’t feel like either, or maybe I feel like both. It’s hard to say, hard enough that I think the label is pretty pointless. (And I’m wary of people who deliberately seek labels for themselves.) I’m usually very social when I need to be social, and pretty antisocial the rest of the time.

Here's Johnny!
“Who feels like being sociable?”

People often seem surprised when they realize I have “the other half” of what they knew me as. People who are accustomed to the grouchy asshole me are shocked to see me laughing and carrying on at a party. And the ones who met me at the party are surprised to hear what I sound like on the phone when they call while I’m working. Most accounts portray me as, well… a grouchy asshole. (I’ve tried to explain that if I was as irritated as I sounded, I wouldn’t have even answered the phone but, apparently, that’s not the point.) Continue reading

31 Jul

Off-Topic Tuesday: Pearls of Wisdom

I’ve mentioned before that I sometimes await the publication of finished articles with some trepidation. (Don’t worry, that hasn’t changed.) But there’s an accompanying excitement that builds, especially when I don’t know the exact date of publication. Part of it is the thrill of success, of completing something. And part of it is the desire to see the accompanying artwork and cartography. After all, I have a vision of something in my head but, lacking all talent for the visual arts, when someone turns my villain into an actual image, it’s like magic to me. And there is a special place in the Seven Heavens (or Arcadia, or the Twin Paradises, or wherever their alignment has decreed) for the cartographers who turn my insane maps into something people can get excited about!

As a writer, though, I’m also eager to see what final edits were made to a piece. I read the published article side-by-side with my final manuscript to see what’s different. Now I know this is not always the way of things. Obviously, a short story’s final look does not surprise the author. But, for gaming material (particularly adventures, the majority of what I do when it comes to gaming material), there are mechanical issues, balance issues, and the results of playtesting that all come to bear in one place. And there are people who are far better at those things than I am. Although no amount of staring at a Ben Wootten or Jason Juta cover painting is going to make me a better artist, making note of the changes made to a creature, an encounter, or even a passage of text can make me a better author. Continue reading

24 Jul

Off-Topic Tuesday: Not Reading Comic Books Makes Superheroes Exciting

Legion of Super Pets
So, uhm, that happened.

I wasn’t much of a comic book reader growing up. I delved into some G.I. Joe and regularly picked up Akira and a few other Japanese-inspired titles for a little while. But, for the most part, I never got bit by the superhero bug. In fact, the first wave of superhero movies in the late 80’s and early 90’s actually turned me off to superheroes in a big way. Other than the mainstream characters and their most obvious rivals, I’d generally turn to one of my comic book friends when someone made a joke about The Legion of the Superpets.

I’ve sporadically seen some of the latest offerings in comic book movies in the theatres. (No, I haven’t seen The Avengers… but, really, that shouldn’t somehow ruin your day.) I’ve enjoyed many of them, in fact, as explosion-filled big screen entertainment. For movies like Thor, I don’t go in with high expectations and, as a result, I can enjoy a 114-minute popcorn binge accompanied by the sound his hammer makes when it connects with a frost giant. Good stuff.

A friend recently wanted to try out the new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying by Margaret Weis Productions. Better yet, he was going to run the game so I’d get to actually play a character. OK, I’m in! I read nothing in advance of our session: no rules, no Marvel background, not even a movie review on Rotten Tomatoes! Instead, I volunteered to be Iron Man (who I just had to Google to determine if he’s Iron Man or Ironman prior to typing that) because I have no problem playing an egotistical “hard-headed futurist” with a potential drinking problem. And because I saw Iron Man and Iron Man 2, and I like Robert Downey, Jr…

Not knowing anything about the comic book universe I was in actually increased my enjoyment of the game. It’s been a long time since I was able to discover things in a setting. Usually, I have a head full of knowledge that my character does not have. Even more often, I’m running the game so I have to have a head full of knowledge that all the characters have plus what they don’t! That said, there’s so much material in the game for fans of comics that I think they would get as much out of the game as I did, probably more.

Marvel Heroic RoleplayingIt’s been a long time since I tackled a brand new system and I have to say I loved the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying system. It’s incredibly narrative-based, something I’ve been trying to incorporate into my sessions with D&D Next (ugh, I hate that name, by the way). I want a player to tell me what his character is doing, not what he is doing. And that’s how I want to play in a game as well. Marvel Heroic Roleplaying works that way: say what you’re doing, then pull together the dice appropriate to your action. If you find yourself saying, “I attack” and reach for the same handful of dice you always do, you’re doing it wrong.

Better still, are the mechanics of success and failure. There is a back and forth between the heroes and the villains that prevents fights from becoming stale, one-sided affairs, but there is also a means to compensate for poor rolling. (Who has two natural 1’s and loves that rule? THIS GUY!) Better still, you can deliberately introduce an added possibility of failure to increase the dramatic tension, but this helps you accrue resources to pull off something spectacular as later in the scene.

I have to say, even if you aren’t a comic book fan, there’s a great deal to be learned from the design of this game’s mechanical side. It turns “pass/fail” into “exceed/pass/fail/fail-BUT…” and that makes for a genuinely exciting and engaging time. I would love to see these mechanics employed elsewhere but, to be quite honest, I could get used to being a playboy billionaire in a flying tank suit.

Also, if you’re interested in picking up the rules, DrivethruRPG is running their Christmas in July sale so it’s the perfect time. (Just do me a favor and pick it up through that link there. Thanks!)

Christmas In July at DTRPG

18 Jul

Off-Topic Tuesday: Siren Song

Yes, it’s Wednesday, I am aware of this. But I spent Tuesday trying to work while happy. There’s really no better way for me to be unproductive. I don’t write from my “happy place.” There’s rarely much there to write about. Or maybe I’m not equipped to pick up whatever broadcasts on that frequency. But, that’s not to say I don’t look forward to some joy ruining my writing mood.

ATHF SirensYesterday, that ruinous joy was a Neko Case concert. You might recall Neko from such influential moments as the death of a lobster-headed sea goddess of madness (Tightly, Red Tide) or the sinister illithid plot to send body snatchers from the moon (I Wish I Was the Moon). But maybe I should stress that it was her influence that brought those things to pass… quite indirectly. I think she would, at best, disavow any knowledge of these things; but, more than likely, she is legitimately (blessedly?) unaware of her role in sending fell creatures to destroy fantastical realms again and again. And that’s not even touching on her sway over my more conventional fiction.

Neko Case at Rams Head in Baltimore 7/17/12
Neko, doing what she does.

I love sad songs delivered from an honest place. As a writer, I only get to line up words on a page. The emotional outpouring gets steadily stripped down. It’s like peeling off the Band-aid slowly. That’s not my method. I’m more of a “punch myself in the leg and yank the thing off” sort. Writing pulls at the Band-aid’s edges, toys and tugs at them, until you worry you’ve done more harm than good. But I’m probably writing even this from the other side of the fence, where the grass seems brown and dry by comparison to the lush pastures of singers.

A performance looks like an emotional release, certainly much more than sitting in a little room alone with a keyboard does. But if I remain realistic, I imagine the process of getting there is similar. At some point, there was likely a small lonely room, a pen, and a guitar. But seeing someone sing those words? Goddamn that’s some green grass just past the diamonds of the chain links.

And before Neko even took the stage, Kelly Hogan performed. Another siren of the sad, beautiful song, her album I Like To Keep Myself In Pain is absolutely worth your time. And I think you can see her appeal to me, based on the title alone. And I’m so glad we got to jog her memory at the end of the set so we could hear her song, and my daily mantra, “We Can’t Have Nice Things.” Beyond the fact that some of these turns of phrase seem drawn straight from my brain (perhaps we should blame the lunar mind flayers, above), she can deliver a steady stream of one-liners and humorous non sequiturs so you don’t have to “ride [her] bummer” all night long. Personally, I think half the fun of feeling miserable is making jokes about it.

Kelly Hogan's Carl Brutananadilewski
“It’s called ‘I Wanna Rock Your Body,’ and then in parenthesis it says, ‘Til the Break of Dawn.'”

Plus, Kelly keeps a miniature Carl Brutananadilewski, like a tiny Buddha in sweatpants, on a little table beside her while she performs. When Carl fell over when the roadies moved things between sets, I warned the guy of the bad omens it portended. The NY Giants probably have a terrible season ahead of them… and I say that with all the confidence of a man who doesn’t follow football. But I saw tiny Carl-Buddha topple, and that shit can’t be good.

See all this joking around, though? This veritable levity? That’s a genuine problem. I have writing to do, serious writing, about awful human beings and the terrible things they do. And I sure as hell can’t do any of it while I’m smiling about the fact that my arms were resting on the stage while my two favorite singers performed less than ten feet away. Hearing their voices, seeing them feel their music, was beautifully heartbreaking…

Ahh, there it is… That pain of already fading memory. That’s something to work with, to get started with, at least.

Thank you, Neko and Kelly, for a remarkable show.