Five For Writing – Justin Achilli

Justin Achilli and I go way back. Like, to the mid 90s at White Wolf way back. It was a pleasure to work with him then, and it’s been a pleasure to work with him in his time at Red Storm. He’s one of the sharpest game designers I know, as well as an excellent writer and editor, and a thoughtful, eloquent advocate for games. Here he is now, the man who more than anyone embodies Vampire: The Masquerade – Justin Achilli.

 

1-You’ve been involved with Vampire: The Masquerade for over two decades. How has it changed in that time, and how has your approach to it changed?

For the longest time, Vampire (and all of the World of Darkness games) were made by a company that was a physical book publisher first and foremost. It needed to print and sell books to survive, so a lot of what went into the games served that end: Print stuff with a perceived value and sell that. We were writing and developing sequential periodicals as much as we were writing and developing games. Things like “metaplot” and “canon” emerged less from an intentional continuity and brand-building, and more from survival instinct.

Now, though, the company that owns the World of Darkness (Paradox Interactive), isn’t a physical book publisher at all. So my work on Vampire and other titles is refocused on building a sandbox in which people can tell their own stories rather than printing some-thousand words of plot advancements.

2-You’ve worked in both tabletop and video games. What did you carry over from one to the other?

Overall the thing that I find most important is to respect the player’s time. Audiences have a huge amount of options in terms of entertainment, so I think it’s important to realize what your game offers, whether it’s a TTRPG or a video game or whatever, and deliver on that promise.

I had been working on MMOs a while back and it used to bother me how a lot of MMO marketing was “you can be anything you can imagine in this enormous living world!” but their gameplay was built around three or four very distinct classes or roles and combat quests. That always seemed really disingenuous to me. Better to have a very limited scope and help the player tell the best story they can within that scope than to try to tick every box and deliver adequately on only a few of them. Pendragon is an amazing TTRPG, and characters are comparatively very limited in what they are: Arthurian-era, mostly knights. And look at, say, Stardew Valley — it doesn’t have one tenth of the feature list of, say, Star Citizen, but it’s made millions of people very happy by letting them tell a very distinct kind of story, and it doesn’t pretend to do anything else.

I think that’s the most important part. Let the player tell the story and live the fantasy you’ve promised to them. Games development is project management, so your resources should be scaled and devoted to fulfilling your promise.

Not a sexy answer, I suppose, but a good one, I think.

3-What do you feel is unique about game narrative, and have we been reaching its full potential?

The big difference between games and “one-way” media is the interactivity. In a game, the narrative is helping the player tell the story, so if the story relegates the player to making insignificant choices, it’s telling them that they don’t matter, that what the story “is really about” can happen without them. That does a disservice to the player, who’s playing to see the outcomes of their actions, to make choices and learn what those choices effected.

I don’t think we’re at the point of realizing the full potential there, and I think we’re still a distance away. Look at how long writing as a craft has existed, or creating visual art, or making music. Compared to those media, video games are in their infancy, and they’re a unique blend of all of those things and then some. Some of what’s limiting us is technical or technological — we can’t yet have an AI “game master” that’s as versatile as a human one, and we can’t ship an infinitude of digital assets to visualize or realize what a human game master can describe. But some of our limitation, too, is commercial, in that it’s really expensive to make games and the people funding them want to recoup their costs, so the expenses of risk-taking are much more controlled than in, say, an individual’s effort to tell the story that they’re burning to tell.

4-How do you think game design should be used to tell stories?

I think of game design as the “toolbox” the player has. A game effectively proposes a problem or a series of problems, and the design defines the parameters by which the player can attempt to solve those problems. So there are really two stories to every game (and sometimes they overlap very closely): the story of the player playing the game, and the story events that contextualize the game itself. The player’s story, and the world story that includes the character the player is portraying.

I think this is the part where I’m supposed to bring up the “does Tetris have a story?” exercise 😉

But seriously, I like the definition of a game as a series of interesting choices. “What happens when I do this?” is the source of myriad stories. They don’t all have to be epics or infinite. Some stories happen in a moment’s time.

5-Do you prefer open-ended or linear game narratives, and why?

As a personal preference, I enjoy open-ended narratives, because they make me feel more like I’m in charge of my own destiny. Especially when I’m able to create my own character, I feel like setting my own goals and realizing them is part of that open-endedness.

Which isn’t to diminish linear game narratives, of course, and I’ve worked on many of these. In complement to the above, when I’m playing a specific, named character, I tend to appreciate linear narrative smore, because I buy into the story that this is that character’s story and I’m helping realize it, as the player.

In the end, it has a lot to do with the promise that’s being made to me, especially in game worlds that are part of franchises. In a Star Trek game, I want to boldly go! But I also accept that I’m probably going to end up in conflict with the Klingons at some point. “Linear” doesn’t have to mean the player is resistant to being directed toward an outcome. If it’s part of what you buy into when you undertake the narrative, it’s reasonable to have some expectations.

 

Huge thanks to Justin for taking the time to sit down and answer these. You can find his wit and wisdom on Twitter, and in the continuing output of World of Darkness books.

Tune in next week for another interview!

 

Five For Writing – Thomas R. Clark

Author, podcaster and gamer, Thomas R. Clark is a man of many talents. In addition to published works like The God Provides, he anchors the metal-and-horror podcast Necrocasticon. So let’s throw the goat and let Thomas answer in his own words

1-Heavy metal and horror. What’s the connection?

My two favorite niche genres of entertainment. And they are niche, no matter how rabid and vocal the fan bases are for both. They are linked through iconography and themes, mostly.One can’t think of Iron Maiden without also seeing their zombified mascot, Eddie. Many metal bands use imagery typically associated with horror – Type O Negative, for example, or Ghost and their Satanic pope character Papa Emeritus – hell, even Black Sabbath’s name comes from a Boris Karloff film. Not to mention one of my favorite horror novels, The Scream from Skipp & Spector, which is a perfect blend of this.

2-What was the experience of writing your first novel like?

Do you mean the one I just wrote? Or the two I wrote between 2015 and 2018 that will never see the light of day cos they are/were nothing but a collection of scenes and awful? Well, wait, that isn’t all true. I’ve cannibalized and re-written portions from both into other pieces. For example, the opening chapter to Whirlwind was slightly modified into the short story “Chirp” you can find in my debut collection, A Book of Light and Shadow. The protagonist of the same book, a private detective named Dianne Brighton, was reimagined as the protagonist of my WIP, The Witch of November. I write slowly, and writing a full length novel is an arduous task for me. My longest piece of published fiction to date is The God Provides, but that is technically a collection of four novelettes. The Death List, my longest narrative piece in print, is just under 40K. Now, the one I just completed, Summerhome, is my first full length commercial novel, no disrespect to F. Scott Fitzgerald. I found the process with this to much easier than I thought it would be, as I was taking what I’ve learned with my prior pieces and applied it to this. I’m in the midst of a rewrite before going to my editor.

3-What have you learned from the process?

I learned your first book will be awful, and likely your second book, too.But they need to be awful. I’ve learned writing books is a lonely trade, and the legends of writers having substance abuse issues are no joke. It’s easy to tip a bottle or light up a smoke when you are alone as much as a writer is.

4-What’s the most metal thing you’ve ever written?

Thus far, it’s Bella’s Boys. The Death List is pretty metal, too, but Bella’s Boys is so much more than a cosmic horror novella. It has meta-layers, making it everything that is metal and Rock-n-roll. For example, the chapters indicating the date, time and snowfall totals – those represent the time signatures of a song on an album. The book is an album in print, with each chapter being a new track, or song in presented in narrative prose.

5-How does your podcasting relate to your writing?

I went to college for broadcasting and journalism, so the podcasting is a natural extension of that. Podcasting, ironically, has led me to my writing career, though. I’m glad I’m doing this now, and not thirty years ago. I imagine the ME of that era wouldn’t have been very popular with the community as a whole, due to my immaturity and rampant, out of control ADHD. I’ve only learned to manage over the last decade – and much of this is a result of the structures I’ve had to build in my life to produce quality creative content. I worked in sales for 25 years nad never achieved the amount of understanding for my trade as I have with writing fiction.

Sometime around 2008 or 2009, my buddies and I started a fan podcast of a regional professional wrestling promotion. Interviews I did during this time period assisted me in landing a podcasting and journalism gig at an online entertainment news site similar to Ain’t It Cool News, called This Is Infamous. During this time period, a peer with a small press printed a series of comedy-genre pieces I wrote over the years. My coverage of horror films and the horror based fiction I wrote landed me in the HWA, which I joined to find mentoring. During this time, I started the Necrocasticon Podcast, after leaving This Is Infamous. Eventually, I was given a mentoring spot with Monica S. Kuebler at Rue Morgue Magazine, which led to me covering Scares That Care for the magazine. And there, after meeting many of the creatives who inspired me, like Brian Keene and Tom Monteleone, I discovered I wanted to write fiction. So podcasting has had a drastic impact on my fiction, without it, I don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing today.

Many thanks to Thomas for bringing the thunder to this week’s post. You can find him online at his website, or on Twitter. And check out the Necrocasticon if you get a chance!

Next week is a special treat for me, as I bring you an interview with my long-time coworker and friend, the man who is Vampire: The Masquerade, Justin Achilli. See you then!

Ghost of a Marriage Audiobook Is Live

Remember when I said that Ghost of a Marriage was coming out the first week of February? Well, it looks like Audible is ahead of the curve because the unabridged audiobook is available now! Narrated by Sam Rosenthal, it clocks in at seven and a half hours of spooky goodness. So if you’re the audiobook type, it just might be down your alley.

Five For Writing – Professor Christopher McGlothlin

Do you know what a ghost show is? If you don’t (or even if you do), you’re in for a treat, as today’s interview is with the head honcho of Ghost Show Press, Professor Christopher McGlothlin. The mind behind the recent book of essays Transgressive Horror: Reflections on Scare Films that Broke the Rules (which, full confession, contains my take on Curse of the Demon), he’s just getting revved up. Here, then, is his Five For Writing!

1-What’s a Ghost Show, and why did you name your press after it?
Ghost shows were “A Special Weird Attraction!” that came to your local drive-in movie theatre, promising “Monsters Abduct Girls From Their Seats,” “Man Buried Alive for a Week Dug Up at Showtime,” “The Beatles Spiritually Materialize,” and a “Triple Horror Movie Shock Show!” Anyone who wouldn’t buy a ticket to that is made of sterner stuff than I.
What paying customers actually got was carnies in rubber masks carrying off planted female accomplices, cheap stage magic tricks, and decaying 16mm prints of decades-old Poverty Row films. It was a total con, but the willing marks got what they really came for: a wild burst of pure fun and imagination that filled their world with more wonder than they knew.
That tradition is rich in my rural Virginia blood, and when it came time to launch my publishing venture, I realized ghost shows are the perfect metaphor for what I want to do. Ghost Show Press is just me and super-talented folks I vibe with writing books for everyone who still wants that same pure fun and imagination. Although we won’t put on monster masks and bury anyone alive. Probably.
2-Why did you pick the subject of transgressive films to be your meat and potatoes for Ghost Show Press?
I have always wanted to write about how cinema doesn’t have to be objectively good to be worthy of discussion — just innovative and interesting. The Everyone’s Gone to the Movies essay collection series was born from that. There are many, many published works telling you why Psycho (1960) is a classic film. Myself, I prefer to get into how The Wizard of Gore (1970) and Audition (1999) are like nothing else you’ll ever see — and why people should see them.

3-What inspired the first book in the series, Transgressive Horror?
I’d been thinking of doing a book like TH all by myself since back when I was a much younger, energetic fellow, but life and other paid work kept getting in the way. Then in the fall of 2020, my dear friend James Lowder (the legendary writer and editor) casually mentioned he had an unpublished essay on Witchfinder General (1968) in his files. That’s when the cartoon lightbulb went off, and I realized I could finally do TH by leveling up to publisher & editor, writing only as much as I cared to, and asking other creators (first-time writers and veteran scribes) to join in. And thus did TH arise from the slab, ready to run amok in the world.

4-Are there any films you wish had made the book that didn’t?
I’m a fan of pioneering director Stephanie Rothman, and always want to boost the signal on her work (like now!); the underrated The Velvet Vampire (1971) in particular. I offered TVV to every writer who asked for suggestions, and nearly wrote about it myself, to no avail.
Given the genre, we’re fairly obligated to do Transgressive Horror 2 at some point, and will hopefully get to TVV in the sequel.

5-What’s next?

On April 27, 2022, Ghost Show Press launches its Kickstarter for Vol. 2 in the Everyone’s Gone to the Movies series, Subversive Sci-Fi: Reflections on Futuristic Films That Broke the Rules. We’re very blessed to have nearly the whole team back from Vol. 1, as well as some fabulous new additions.

Not sure of the exact date, but at some point my farewell to tabletop gaming industry will be released: The History of Sentinel Comics, the true story of everyone’s favorite imaginary publisher. It’s co-written with the amazing Darren Watts, and published by the greater folks at Greater Than Games. Darren is supremely gifted, and with GTG I was never treated better as a freelance writer. It’s a funny, obsessively detailed, and affectionate ode to everyone who loves comic books, and the best possible way to bid adieu to my time in tabletop games.

Big thanks to the Professor for answering these questions, and best of luck with the sci-fi book and beyond! Tun e in next week, when I’ll be talking to Splatterpunk Award nominee Thomas Clark. See you then!

Five For Writing – Lauren Stone

This week’s Five For Writing is a day late, for which I apologize, but I promise you it’s worth the wait. Today’s guest is Lauren Stone, narrative lead on the Division franchise and doer of All The Things story-related for Ubisoft. Her credits are diverse enough to include both Rainbow Six: Siege and Eagle Flight. I had the privilege of working with Lauren on The Division 2 and she is smart, fast, funny, and sharp. But enough of me talking about her; here she is in her own words.

1-What says good game writing to you?

Good game writing to me is narrative that supports, enhances and elevates the experience. Anything that helps support and build the world, the mechanics and the player experience is good game writing to me. Whether that is a piece of UI Text that gleans clarity or a cinematic
that makes you cry.

2-How do you keep a story like The Division’s going years after release?

By focusing on character. Though we may be almost 6 years past the original release of Division 1 we haven’t even spent a full year in the world in terms of the story’s timeline. We have really only made it to late-August in the currently released content and October in the new novel that is coming out in February 2022. The majority of our story is told in the past and through flashbacks in the form of audio collectibles and active missions. It’s been 6 years for us but only 10 months for our characters.
As we explore new regions, we meet new people and all of those people have rich histories and backstories that made them who they are and how they react to the situation at this point. We get the privilege of learning more about established characters by meeting people we’ve never met before and getting their perspective on the state of the world and what our characters have represented to them based on how they have been treated by agents of the Division or individual interactions with our established characters. We will be learning more about many of our established characters in future content releases over the next year and I’m excited to see how the community responds to the new information they get about these people they think they already know. The funny thing about people is we are always much more complicated than expected and unless you directly ask someone why  they do a thing and they answer honestly, you can never truly understand someone’s motivations or reasons for behaving the way they do. As long as people are complex and your  characters are built like real people, you will never run out of potential stories you can tell about them.

3-You help coordinate novels based on Ubisoft IP. What makes a good transmedia novel in your
opinion?

One that respects the source material but explores different types of stories that work better for the medium. We get to be more internal in a novel. We get to focus on motivation and character in a way that you can’t really explore in the game without it feeling cheesy or like the writer is trying too hard to be clever. My favorite things about transmedia is that it allows you to engage in the world in ways that are suited to the medium. What works for film does not always work for a novel or an audiodrama, what is perfect in a comic doesn’t always translate to the game. If your world is rich you can make a piece of art in any medium. My weird dream that will never happen because I am a musical theater kid would be to make a Division Musical with Lin Manuel Miranda, my original dream before getting involved with transmedia was to have him get into a booth and just freestyle rap about the state of the world and be an NPC in a safehouse near Broadway. That Lin was just a person who survived and tried to keep making art. This is my weird fantasy that will never happen, but, eh, weirder fantasies have become reality and sometimes throwing things out into the universe can result in the world echoing back, “yes please, I want to have that.”

4-How do you instill narrative in a game like Rainbow Six: Siege, that doesn’t have the sort of
structure that generally allows for narrative development.

The same way I approach all narrative design. I look at the constraints as opportunities. All we have is barks, which means all we have is character. We have ambient audio to build the map, we tell a fixed story in the map. We use the art to build the world. We use the textures and marketing to ground the characters. Multiplayer live games in general are not built to tell a single player narrative experience. That is not the goal. A lot of the stories in games that are traditionally elevated as being amazing are really screenplays with combat beats. The richest and most complex stories are in games that are much more complicated than that. But I think people still expect the game to fit in a screenplay format, especially for award shows. We need to retrain people on what qualifies as story. It’s not just the cinematics. Especially when you can hold A to skip. It’s the content you engage with regardless of how expensive or long you engage with it. The small moments are the things that people remember. The weird lines and characters or a stunning piece of art. A moment that is real and evocative and makes you feel something and helps you better understand the world is a great piece of story, even a piece of graffiti that lets you know the True Sons are here, get ready, can be a wonderful and necessary story that helps the player engage more fully with the world.

5-What are you looking forward to seeing in game writing as we go forward?

I’m looking forward to people respecting barks. Respecting the Menus and HUD. Respecting each other’s work. I’m looking forward to the future where we realize everything matters and everything is worth focus, attention, energy and consideration. Every person in your world from the studio to the characters is deserving of having their humanity and contributions seen, celebrated and respected. I’m looking forward to people realizing that game narrative is a viable option to tell story, to build a career, to create stability and art. I’m looking forward to more people learning how to use the constraints as opportunities.

Thanks so much to Lauren for her time and thoughtful answers, and check out her work on the ongoing saga of The Division.

Next week things are going to get a little crazy – I’m interviewing…an editor.

Five For Writing – Jesse Scoble

Jesse Scoble has the singular misfortune of being a good friend of mine. A Chief Narrative Designer at TenCent, he’s done stints at Ubisoft (HyperScape, Assassins’ Creed: Odyssey, Far Cry 5 and others) Wizard101, Webkinz and more. He has contributed to Beyond the Wall; The Bones; co-edited two short-story anthologies in the  Silver Age Sentinels TTRPG setting; and co-edited James Hsu’s Humans of MagicA resident of Montreal, he wants you all to know he makes a mean mojito.

And so without any further delay, I give you the multitalented Jesse Scoble:

1-What’s it like putting together a narrative for a game like HyperScape that is by definition non-linear?

I see you want to start with a softball question. So. Coming to HyperScape (Ubisoft’s near-future, dystopian battle royale), we believed what would differentiate us from an already crowded field would be to have a strong story. Some games have virtually no story, or maybe they have a framing story (say a modern warzone) but have no real sense of character, while some have incredibly rich characters (Apex Legends, Overwatch) but relatively thin plot. We wanted to have all of that.

We needed to create a new world – and elected to set it about 30 years in the future, in 2054, which wasn’t necessarily realistic in terms of the virtual world – the eponymous HyperScape – and then come up with an overarching storyline that would drive the world forward. Much of that centered on the company that created the HyperScape, a global megacorporation called Primsa Dimensions, and the creators of the company, genius inventor Mathieu Eiffel and his savvy business partner, Dr. Ivy Tan. The machinations of Prisma Dimensions would be the engine that drove the story.

In terms of the “framing story” – and what I mean by that is essentially a narrative explanation for the battle royale concept – we chose to embrace the battle royale game concept directly, and define it as an extreme sport in the virtual world of the HyperScape. In the dystopia of 2054, it was the most popular way to gain fame and fortune. The characters would fight and kill to try to get ahead, but as it was just a virtual game, then there was no problem seeing someone “die” or for various characters to fight each other even though they were friends or on the same side outside the game.

Finally – and perhaps most importantly – we wanted the characters to have depth and flavor, and to have strong ties to the world of 2054. We wanted to have a large and ever-expanding roster that would let us create characters from all sorts of different backgrounds and walks-of-life, and we’d show how these characters evolved from season-to-season as the plot of the story moved forward.

Another core challenge was that, unlike a AAA console action/adventure game (say Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry or Spider-Man or Witcher or whatever), players would only get tiny snippets of the story. There wouldn’t be traditional quests and we’d have very few cinematics. We had to be smart in figuring out how to relay the story in a way that would be comprehensible to those who only lightly skimmed the surface but would have strong connections for those who wanted to dig deeper into the lore.

Our team also had a robust transmedia approach (can I still say “transmedia” in 2021? Whatever.): we had a deal with Dark Horse to create a HyperScape digital comic; we also worked with a great 3rd party company to create a couple of short animations, our “HyperScape Stories” that spotlighted characters like Ace and Basilisk; and of course we had our internal team building season trailers, in-game cinematics (such as the End of Season 1 event), and so forth. 

Finally, the narrative and art team worked closely to create a dozen collectible “memory shards” that would be revealed over the course of the season. Each one had a piece of micro-fiction and an awesome piece of custom art, like a comic splash page or wallpaper screen. These really told the crux of the season’s story, allowing us to get into characters’ heads, feel the flavor of the world, and also conveyed the big moving pieces of the plot.

This meant a LOT of planning: how much info could we write into a character’s bio in the store? What would be consistent and change between different skins? What bio info would change from season-to-season? When was a character/skin going to be released DURING a season? What order would the memory shards be released? Could we do environmental storytelling on the game map that would link to the fiction? Where would the trailers or short movies come out? How do we tell an engaging story in the comic that links to everything else, but also feels self-contained? 

And – as you well know – in video games everything is always at a risk of moving. Things get delayed. A feature won’t work. Marketing throws you a curveball. 

In the end, we made mistakes. Lots of mistakes. But we also succeeded to hit many of our goals, and learned a tremendous amount in the doing.

2-You have an extensive track record in tabletop RPGs. Ever thought about going back and doing more TTRPG work?

Yes, but no. It was extensive at one time, but I’ve been playing in the video game playground for three-quarters of my career now, so it feels like I haven’t done much in that space for ages. Hell, I worked on the first Game of Thrones RPG that was so long ago it was BEFORE season 1 of the HBO show.

TTRPGs are fun, but a helluva lot of work, in terms of research and organization and presentation. It’s hard enough putting together a halfway decent game for my local group, let alone something that’s publishable quality.

I’ve gone back to the well a few times in the past semi-recent years. I was a consultant on the short-lived Marvel Heroic RPG (from Margaret Weis Productions), with some luminaries in the industry, and that was a treat. I was invited to contribute to two different projects – one was a setting for Robin Laws’ DramaSystem called Narcocorrido; and then I revisited some of that material “through a neon lens” for Mark Richardson’s neocyberpunk RPG, Headspace (Carteles Unidos, in the Dystopian Dreams supplement), both of which were obviously inspired by my time living in Austin, TX. I’ve also contributed a few essays here and there, and co-edited a series of interviews with top-tier Magic players for a good friend.

These days, due to limited time and focus, I need to be really intrigued by a project to carve out the time for it. It either has to be a project where I have a lot of creative freedom and some degree of ownership, or something that is just so cool I can’t say no. That said, I have yet to actually do anything official for Dungeons & Dragons or Warhammer 40K, two IPs that I’d happily make the time to delve into (just throwing that out there in case the universe is listening).

Oh, and I have a brilliant idea for how to make an RPG out of HADES, the superb rogue-like from Supergiant games, in case anyone knows anyone over there.

3-What’s the most challenging aspect of game writing for you?

All of it? I realize that’s a useless answer. 

I think it’s trying to impart the “perfect picture” in my head to paper, and then have the rest of the team understand it. It’s so elegant and clear in my mind’s eye (well, hardly ever that, but it’s certainly better than whatever I end up scrawling on the page), and there’s so much of a gap that is created between the act of putting pen to paper, and then again between the person reading it and implementing the ideas. And this gap widens when dealing with challenges of language and distance.

At their worst, when gameplay and art and recording limitations are all dragging you down it can feel like the death of a thousand cuts. But the corollary is that when it all somehow hangs together – when the gameplay supports the narrative (and vice versa) and the art is glorious and the voice acting adds that je ne sais quoi nuance, it can create a magical experience for the player. And I live for that.

4-What’s your favorite part of the job when it comes to game writing?

Seeing these fifty(thousand) different moving parts that like-as-not won’t fit properly together or work well together or might not even work at all somehow come together miraculously and gel. It’s seeing those scribbles on the screen become real and extant, in a way that makes people engage and act. It’s creating both the big moments and the small moments, and when it works it makes people feel something. That’s the heart of it.

In particular, hearing/watching actors take the words on paper and breathe life into them is a kind of magic.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s getting to work with some incredibly smart, bright, funny, kind, talented and clever people.

5-You’re working on your first novel. How has that experience been different from game writing?

What do they say? “Writing is the easiest thing… you just stare at the blank page until your forehead bleeds.”

It’s… hard. I look back at random Facebook memories and realize how bloody long I’ve been on this road, and there’s no real end in sight (I keep thinking I see light ahead, but I’m pretty sure it’s just an oncoming train.)

First, because I can’t do anything simply, I decided for my first real attempt at a novel to co-write it with a close friend. And that’s been great. Also hard as sin. But having two heads to process ideas, encourage and cajole when the other side just doesn’t want to pick up a pen, bringing far more ideas and experiences than a single person – it’s like working with a teensy-tiny team. (Well, not “like.”) 

(And we have a third friend who has been the alpha reader for all of our ideas throughout this long and twisty process. Having a ‘built-in’ story-editor, of sorts, has been a godsend.)

But it’s hard. It was a big idea (for me, at least), and structurally complicated, and cutting edge – several and more years ago when we first thought about it. And the future doesn’t hold back. The realities of online culture, and such like, keep moving and evolving in ways I wouldn’t have considered. It’s not dated – yet – but if I don’t hurry up and finish it, it soon will be. 

It’s also very lonely, despite having two friends involved so closely. And it’s hard to know what the right paths are for the characters, at times, to get to where I want to get. 

It’s taught me a lot about organizing my work and ideas, outlining and structuring a story, and developing character voices. Not all of which I’ve mastered yet, despite professionally writing for too many years now. And, as mentioned, a whole lot of time has passed since we first conceived of this story. I like the characters too much to want to abandon them, but it’s hard to say how and when I’ll finish this story satisfactorily, even if just for a limited audience.

A huge thank you to Jesse for his thoughtful and engaging answers. Tune in next week when I’ll have another writer in the hot seat!

Happy New Year and Thank Yous

Wishing everyone out there a very happy new year! I’d like to take this moment to say thank you to some folks who have been instrumental in my writing this past year. So big thanks to:

  • Robin Laws, who green lit the first Reb Palache story many years ago for The New Hero
  • Josh Schlossberg, for publishing “On Seas of Blood and Salt” in The Jewish Book of Horror
  • Alex Hofelich and the rest of the wonderful folks at PseudoPod for publishing me – I am honored to be among their roster of authors
  • David Niall Wilson and the fine folks at Crossroad Press, for picking up Ghost of a Marriage and getting set to bring it to the world in February. (Hint – now would be a great time to pre-order!)
  • Jeff Strand, Mikko Rautalahti, Jesse Scoble, Rachel Zane and Laura Hickman for reading the manuscript and providing invaluable help on it, some of which I was smart enough to take.
  • Bridgett Nelson for reading and editing some of my short fiction and still speaking to me afterwards
  • John McIlveen, for reasons that will have to remain mysterious for now
  • James A. Moore, Mur Lafferty, Maurice Broaddus, Rhianna Pratchett, Anna Megill, Annie Reid and so many more for being shining examples of the craft
  • Toiya K. Finley, Richard Rouse III and Alexander Bevier for collaborating in putting on an online gathering of game writers that was good for the soul
  • Susan O’Connor and Tom Abernathy, my co-conspirators in curating the Game Narrative Summit at GDC
  • Walter Rotenberry and company at East Coast Game Conference for allowing me to once again curate their narrative content
  • Pauline Martyn, James Charles Leary, Tom Knights, and Justin Achilli for secret things
  • All the writers who agreed to let me interrogate them in Five For Writing
  • And all of you for reading this

So a giant thank you to everyone for all that you did in 2021. Here’s to 2022 and happier days!