Five For Writing – Alex Bledsoe

Alex Bledsoe’s Tufa novels are some of the finest modern fantasy out there. If you haven’t read them, they’re a treat and you owe it to yourself to pick them up. He also was part of the collective that wrote for Transgressive Horror: Reflections on Scare Films that Broke the Rules, which is where our paths crossed. He was kind enough to sit down for five questions about the Tufa novels, vampires in Memphis, and why all horror movies are transgressive. Without further ado, I give you Five For Writing with Alex Bledsoe.

 

1-What’s the appeal of transgressive horror films for you?

All good horror films should be transgressive in some sense; it’s in their nature. The point of horror is to expose the viewer to images and ideas they would never encounter elsewhere, and to show the embodiment of those images and ideas as realistically as possible. The German cinemagoers lucky enough to see Nosferatu on its first release would have considered the vampire as a transgressive figure, a visual representation of something that broke so many social rules. 

Really, a non-transgressive horror film can’t be very horrifying, like the endless PG-13 teen “horror” films released since the turn of the century. I’ve always thought all horror films should be rated R, because even if it’s *not* overtly violent, that threat should hang over everything. A PG-13 rating is a comfort blanket, and even if some of them can be quite good, they’re never truly horrifying.

2-What impact does your home base in the Smokies have on your writing?

Technically I’m from the other end of the state, close to Memphis, but my dad’s family is from the Smokies, and I’ve visited there many times. I’ve used the South as the setting for both of my past horror novels, as well as my upcoming one; although I’ve lived other places (I’ve been in Wisconsin for the past 18 years), the south is the one I most deeply understand. I think that’s why I keep returning to it as a setting; I don’t feel qualified to write about anywhere else, unless it’s a total fantasy setting.

3-You’ve got a series of vampire novels set in Memphis. What inspired you to turn vampires loose there?

It’s a city I know, or rather used to know, pretty well; my novels are set in the mid-70s. Plus it’s not over-used in horror fiction like, say, New Orleans. Memphis has a unique history, and since the novels deal with racism as well as vampires, it seemed like an ideal place to set it. I chose the year 1975 because it was before the publication of Interview with the Vampire, and thus was still the era when vampires were scary.  

4-Your Eddie LaCrosse series is fantasy noir. Why mix those two genres?

I wanted a way into a fantasy story that allowed a greater identification with the characters than I was seeing in the fantasy I read: too many unpronounceable names, too much emphasis on world building, not enough emphasis on character. I thought that the works of writers like Chandler, Parker, and Vachss did a great job of also taking you into worlds (a.k.a., crime) you might never visit, but they did it with an immediacy I wanted to claim. Plus that tone made it more fun to write. 

5-The Tufa novels feel deeply personal. Where did they come from, and will we see more of them?

They grew out of stories I heard from my dad, about a strange group of people who lived in the Appalachian Mountains. The part that intrigued me was the idea that these people were already here when the first European settlers arrived. That was the starting point, but of course I made up my own group so I could give them a magical backstory.

I felt six books was enough to say what I wanted, and anything past that I’d be restating things. But who knows? If I get a new idea, and there’s a publisher interested in it, it could happen.

Many thanks to Alex for his time and for gently correcting my mistake about his home base – that’s what I get for reading an author bio too quickly. You can find him online at his website, and on Twitter.
Next week I ring in the new year with an interview with game writer Jesse Scoble! Until then, have a happy New Year!

Good News, Everybody!

I hope everyone out there had a wonderful winter holiday, and here’s wishing all of you a glorious new year filled with good news and happiness.

I do have some glad tidings of my own to share. It gives me great pleasure to say my story “Swing Batter Batter” has been accepted by the wonderful folks at PseudoPod and will be running some time next year. Yes, it’s a baseball-themed horror story, so let that fuel your wild speculation while we wait for it to come out.

 

Five For Writing – Maurice Broaddus

If you don’t know who Maurice Broaddus is, you haven’t been paying attention. An award-winning writer and Afrofuturist, he is as prolific as he is acclaimed. Equally adept at horror, fantasy and science fiction, he is the author of the upcoming Sweep of Stars. And now, it is my pleasure to give you Five For Writing with Maurice Broaddus:

1-How exactly does one pimp an airship?

I got one word for you: spinners.

It’s all about massive spinners.

2-What role do you see yourself playing in the Afrofuturism movement going forward?

I’m just happy to be a part of the conversation. Right now, I’m all about the intersection of the art being the vision casting and the community putting those visions into practice. And then that practice creating new art and vision.

3-You started in horror as “The Sinister Minister” and have gradually transitioned to science fiction. What led to the change, and are you ever going back to horror?

Therapy.

I realized that I was using horror to process my anger. Anger at all the evil in the world, the history of brutality against my people, all of the oppressive systems. Science fiction became me giving myself permission and room to dream about possibilities. So I was writing from a different mental and spiritual place (future hope).

That said, I have two horror stories coming out this soon, one in Weird Tales Magazine and the other in Classic Monsters Unleashed. Turns out, there’s still room for me to be angry about stuff.

4-Religion is a strong theme in your life. How do you see it affecting your fiction?

Basically, I believe we’re in a Story, written by an Author, who is wooing us to connect with Him.  It’s a tale of people, who were created (in God’s image), meant for great things (to join in with that Author in a mission to redeem the world), who sometimes encounter things which interfere with their journey:  sometimes themselves, sometimes others, and sometimes An Other.

Faith is never easy and I tend to have more questions than answers.  I think that’s the most critical part of anyone’s spiritual journey, walking that line of tension between holding on during times of doubt and questioning.  I think one of the best ways to explore that tension is in story. (The Bible does it too:  the Book of Job was probably the first book written and it’s all about faith, doubt, and frustrated questions.  And the first postapocalyptic story I encountered.)

I like to think that I write from a place of faith in practice. I was volunteering at a homeless teen ministry called Outreach Inc. That became the inspiration for my first novel trilogy, The Knights of Breton Court, a retelling of the King Arthur mythos through the eyes of homeless teens in Indianapolis. I guess you could say that in some ways, I’m working out my own spiritual journey in front of my readers. And sharing my nightmares.

5-You do a lot of community outreach. How is your writing bound up in that?

For a long time I struggled with the notion that “I’m only a writer, what can I do?” and, if I’m completely honest, used it as an excuse to do nothing. Art lifts community. Story creates identity. If we don’t control our own narratives, others certainly will. Our communities are more self-sufficient, more capable, than the dominant narrative wants to portray. Through art, through writing, we can catalog the positive things happening in our neighborhoods, we can make the invisible visible, and be the change we want to see. Through art, we resist.

These days, I am the Kheprw Institute’s resident Afrofuturist. Basically, think of it as strategic foresight planning through an Afrofuturist lens; visioning rooted in black history and culture to create a vivid picture of what the world could look like. Afrofuturism is the marriage of my faith, my social practice, and my writing. To me it looks like dreaming alongside community, highlighting my neighbors and their work (through a magical lens, for example, Ache of Home. The dreaming impacts the work, the work impacts the writing, the writing impacts the dreaming, and so it goes. I can’t wait to see what folks think of my next novel, Sweep of Stars, because these days, I’m dreaming of the stars.

Huge thanks to Maurice for taking the time to answer the questions! You can find him online at his website.

Wishing a very happy holiday season to all and sundry, whatever you celebrate. I’ll be back next week with another interview, and things will keep rolling into the new year!

Five For Writing – Bill Bodden

Bill Bodden says on his website that he likes really nice cheese, so of course I’m going to like him. He’s also an accomplished tabletop RPG writer with a foot in the fiction world, and we’ve shared a table of contents twice, most recently in Transgressive Horror: Reflections On Scare Films That Broke the Rules. So without further ado, here’s Bill Bodden:

 

1-What’s interesting to you about transgressive horror?

So much of current horror media involves buckets of red corn syrup or ‘torture porn’ – a la the Saw series – that something different is a welcome change for me. I like the transgressive horror idea because so much of horror is about expectations, and when you challenge those expectations you add a greater element of the unexpected, which for me makes horror both more powerful and more thoughtful.

2-We shared a table of contents in the anthology HAUNTED. What inspired your story there?

The Original Ghostbusters film was my inspiration for my story “A Quiet House in the Country”. I wanted to write about people doing serious investigations of hauntings using tools and technology that actually exists – not done for laughs. Lo and behold, Reality TV took that idea and ran with it, and the various ghost hunter shows on several networks have been very popular for years now.

3-You’ve written for a wide variety of tabletop games. What’s your favorite and why?

My favorite to play is Charette and Hume’s Bushido. It uses a system very similar to D&D, but I love the setting of mythic/feudal Japan. A VERY close second would be Call of Cthulhu. As far as writing for a game, I’ve enjoyed writing for D&D in the Scarred Lands setting. I appreciate the world-building that’s been done there. I’ve also enjoyed writing for Onyx Path in the World of Darkness Universe. Next up, I’m hoping to have some community content available for Call of Cthulhu in 2022.

4-What does someone going into tabletop game writing need to know?

Two big things. First, the pay is low, and the vast majority of contracts are work-for-hire, which means once you get paid, you don’t own the rights to anything you’ve written on that project. Also, no royalties – you’re paid a lump sum upon completion, and you’re done. One expects low pay on first starting out, but the problem is it doesn’t improve much.

Second, you’re writing in someone else’s world: their world, their rules. You have to take constructive criticism well in any situation, but in game writing, you need to not love your baby so much that you’re unwilling to make changes that are required of you.

5-You’ve done both game writing and fiction. Which do you prefer, and why?

It’s a tough call. I enjoy gaming, and when it’s my turn to GM for our group, I like to write adventures that engage the players with more than just hack and slash, although there’s still plenty of that. Sometimes, those adventures are good enough that I want to clean them up and publish them.

In writing fiction, you have a bit more freedom, but at times it can be harder for me to focus – like a kid in a candy shop, I sometimes don’t know where to start (or when to bring it to a close!)

If I had to choose, I think I prefer writing fiction simply because I have greater latitude to explore themes and ideas that intrigue me.

 

Big thanks to Bill for taking the time to answer the questions! You can find him online at his website, on Instagram and Twitter, and at DriveThruRPG. Photo credit for Bill’s portrait is to Amy Atalla Hill, Shine Photografx.

Next week Christmas arrives early at Five For Writing with an interview with the renowned science fiction, fantasy and horror author Maurice Broaddus. Tune in and check it out!

Five For Writing: Mur Lafferty

Mur Lafferty needs no introduction, but I’m going to introduce her anyway. The award-winning host of the I Should Be Writing podcast, she is also the proud owner of an Astounding Award and a noted editor as well. From the humor of the Shambling Guides to the deep space thrills of Six Wakes, she has been a versatile and skilled storyteller. And now she’s consented to answer five questions. Without further ado, here’s Five For Writing with Mur Lafferty:

1-You’ve won a giant pile of awards for your writing and podcasting. Where do you keep them all?

You’re setting me up for a massive hubris fall, aren’t you?
Back in 1998 when my husband and I bought our house we discovered a corner at the top of the stairs that jutted out, creating a small, pleasant shelf. I told Jim that it was the “hugo shelf.” Did I ever think I’d actually put one there? Heck no. But there it sits now, with some other awards around it and hung on the wall above it.

2-Six Wakes is probably your most critically acclaimed work. What was the inspiration for it?

I love stories where people are deep in the void of space. I had been wanting to write a generational spaceship story, but unlike others I had read, I didn’t want the people aboard to gradually lose their memory of why they were there, or even knowing they were on a ship. So I tried to figure out how I could use the same crew generation after generation without bringing in space elves or space vampires.
Then, while playing the spaceship sim game FTL, I noticed the cloning tech that you can put in your ship would not clone a crew member to make more of them, but only cloned them when they died, so cloning was a way to boost immortality. I hadn’t seen cloning treated like that before, and it got me thinking. Eventually I put the “cloning to live forever” idea with the “same crew drives the starship” idea.

3-You did the novelization for the Han Solo origin movie. What was it like to take on that challenge?

It was exciting and a huge honor. People think that the novelizations are just churned out retellings with deleted scenes, but more often than not, those expanded scenes were added by the novelist. For Solo, the scene where Han and Qi’ra hide among in the vat of eels was a deleted scene, but the scenes of Chewbacca taking over Lando’s bathroom (and his rare hair products), and the real reason L3 consented to upload to the Falcon, that’s canon that I wrote.
I discovered partway in that the novelist has a unique opportunity by presenting a different point of view. I was trying to figure out how to write a scene that had already been written in the script, and then written in the middle grade book (which was nearly finished by the time I started the adult novelization). Every character does the same things in all three tellings, so how could I make mine different but still the same? I realized presenting a different POV would show the expected scene, while making it feel new and presenting new information.

4-You’ve also done a Minecraft novel. How did you come up with a story for a game that doesn’t really have a story?

I get asked this a lot! Minecraft was super easy to write for specifically because the game doesn’t have a plot. You can put whatever story you want in Minecraft with one overall rule: the story must follow the rules of the game. I was constantly checking what items or food could be built with what materials, what monsters were where, etc. My biggest hurdle was that I wanted the mysterious journal writer to be terrible at mixing potions, so I had to look into potion mistakes more than potions that helped.

5-You’re an award winning podcaster. How does the podcasting intersect with  your writing?

I wouldn’t have the career I have today without podcasting. Being one of the first in the space allowed me to build an audience and to interview authors and network (I had no idea I was doing the networking thing, fwiw). I started publishing my own fiction via podcast and I started knowing more and more people at conventions as I set up interviews. Those two things finally helped boost my career toward getting published.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t have eventually been published otherwise, but I met my first editor while I was in line for a drink at a private party. I had gone to the private party as the +1 of the writer I had interviewed earlier that day, and he was at the con alone, so he offered me his ticket. Networking is like being tall and playing basketball. Can you build a career without networking? Sure! Does it give you a boost if you can network? Definitely. This is why I encourage all baby writers to get to cons, or at least virtual cons, as soon as they can (taking into account pandemic, money, bandwidth, etc.)
Huge thanks to Mur for sitting down for these! You can find her and her multitudinous projects online at the Murverse.

Five For Writing – John Goodrich

John Goodrich is a a man who knows what he likes, and what he likes is giant monsters. An authority on kaiju, he’s also an accomplished fiction author, with titles like Hag and  to his credit. He lives in Vermont, which is possibly the last state that Godzilla would destroy if given the chance, and he was kind enough to sit down for five (plus one bonus) questions. Here’s Five For Writing with John Goodrich:

1-Why the obsession with kaiju?
Godzilla made a real impression on me when I was young. Kids live in a world where many people are larger, and stronger than them, with often unguessable motives. So kaiju were very much fantasy fulfillment, someone who was bigger than the adults around me?
 
1A-What about giant monsters speaks to you?
Their general don’t-give-a-shit attitude in regards to architecture and infrastructure. Also that often, in a film, the very common plot resolution of ‘shoot it’ or ‘bomb it’ doesn’t work, so another plot solution has to be found.
 
2-Why would a toddler take up a life of crime as a hitman?
When someone, even if they are very young, has a very specific set of skills, how else are they going to earn money? My protagonist was barred from the usual legal gun-using professions. He barred from police work because of the height and age requirements. The same for the military. What choice did he have but to turn to a life of crime?
3-You play a lot of roleplaying games. Has that influenced your writing at all?
Absolutely. Sitting at an RPG session listening to how other people perceive their characters is a great mine for characters who don’t think like I do. Further, my first articles were published in role-playing magazines, and several of my stories have been published by Chaosium, who produce the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game. I’ve learned a lot of history to give my games more credibility, and that often finds its way into my fiction.
 
4-You live in Vermont. What impact does that have on your writing?
Leaving New England for eleven years and then coming back has led me to a greater appreciation for this part of the country. New England has a history of hidden sin and judgment, of old stories like Old Slipperyskin, the bear that walks and talks like a man. Also, the summer of 1770 when northeastern Vermont was overrun by a wave of worms that ate all the wheat and corn.
 
5-You’ve written for a couple of anthologies centered on the Lovecraftian Mythos. What’s the appeal for you?
The unknown. Vampires, werewolves and ghosts have some pretty strict rules about how they operate and can be destroyed. You can defy those rules, and plenty of writers have, but they have to be acknowledged in some fashion. Lovecraft’s creations are a total curve ball, the scary unknown something we don’t understand. There’s a thrill reading something that is that unknown, and a real pleasure in writing something so strange.
 
That’s all from John. Thanks to him for taking the time to answer! Next week, my interviewee is someone who needs no introduction, but I’ll introduce her anyway – the mighty Mur Lafferty! See you then!

Licking Roadkill at Pseudopod

I am very happy to announce that my Thanksgiving werewolf story, “Licking Roadkill”, is up for your listening and reading pleasure thanks to the fine folks at PseudoPod. Check it out here!

Five For Writing – Lucien Soulban

What is there to say about Lucien Soulban besides the fact that he’s got one of the coolest names in the game writing industry? Well, I could go into his extensive video game credits (Watch_Dogs 2, Rainbow Six: Siege, Far Cry 3&4 and many more) or I could talk about his tabletop RPG writing (such as Orpheus, or his extensive work on Mutants and Masterminds). Then again, I could mention his fiction, or I could just say that he’s one of the most talented writers I know and someone I am proud to call a friend. So it is with great pleasure that I give you Five For Writing with Lucien Soulban

1-What are the differences for you between writing fiction and writing games?

Ooof, you’re really starting with a “no-easy-answer” right off the bat here. This question has so many moving parts… and you’re smirking. I know you, Richard, you know this isn’t easy to answer and you’re smirking because you’re pleased with yourself. Okay, brother, bearing in mind there’s so much more I could be sharing….

Writing games lies in “interesting” and fluid territory because it’s constantly at the mercy of the technology and business models that drives the industry, and narrative has to adapt alongside it. Fiction is at the mercy of its publishing mediums and distribution networks, but aside from adjusting voice and content to cater to more modern audiences, it’s got its methodology pretty well nailed down, while videogames have to change the very way in which they tell stories.

When narrative became a serious component of production teams, we looked to Hollywood to define our goalposts, but it was mostly linear storytelling. Open world and persistent open world shifted that model again, and then battle royals and team-based shooters and monetization* shook the trees even harder. It was difficult enough that some big companies decided that “single-player games are dead….” Each time the industry re-oriented itself, it’s demanded a near polar shift in narrative structure to adjust and reprioritize what story means in those instances. And writers have to prove adaptable in a way that isn’t demanded of fiction writers (and before anyone flies off the handle, yes, fiction writers have a changing and volatile landscape to contend with, but imagine if the very way you wrote and told stories had to change as well).

On the whole, however, there are some elements that never change despite our fluid craft. Very few mediums allow for the exploration of character like fiction does because fiction gives you access to a character’s thoughts. Videogames need to jump through a few extra hoops to do that, and often getting access to a game character’s thoughts eventually betrays the narrative integrity of those thoughts because they’re coupled with artificial gameplay components: “Where do I go next?” “There must be an axe around here to kill that boss,” “hmm, a puzzle. Maybe the answer was something I read earlier,” etc. 

In short, any item of investment to make narrative work in a game comes with a price tag, and often times, the only way to justify that price tag is by linking it back to gameplay or level design. Thus, our subtext is dominated by contrivance. What fiction can do with a deft and authentic hand, videogames have to work at to create the authentic inner world of their characters.

In today’s market, however, where video game writers have an easier time over fiction writers is that we don’t need to brand ourselves or to pitch work with an eye on creating a full-on IPs. All that stuff is already frontloaded for us. We have marketing teams that do that and our branding and IP is generally built around gameplay. We have a relatively quantifiable customer base that lets us know how many units we can sell and whether they’re into the content we’re creating. Sure, it means steering said content in specific directions to accommodate the brand, but it doesn’t all fall on our shoulders. The burden is shared and even alleviated thanks to the experts we work alongside.

Naturally, that dovetails nicely into the big difference between writing for games and writing fiction… persistent group input. Writing fiction, you’re in this wonderful little bubble, working on your own stuff until it’s done and until you’re ready to share it. Video game writing is constantly scrutinized and evaluated whether you think it’s ready or not. In fiction, the job of the first draft isn’t to stand up to scrutiny… its only job is to get written. The precision comes after that. The story and the novel come after that. Hell, I even read once that Pixar doesn’t know the final themes of its movies until the first draft is written. In video games, a complete first draft of the script isn’t an option. You’re getting feedback from the moment your writing is put to the page, and everyone has an opinion. Everyone. Every. One. If you ever suffered from imposter syndrome, imagine that inner critic has an external chorus verbalizing some of your worst fears about yourself and your ideas. It’s an ongoing battle as people are constantly pointing out the very issues you’re struggling to prognosticate and solve. 

*Caveat time… this isn’t about the storytelling methods being used by Indie studios, but rather what Trip-A and Quad-A games chase as money milking ventures.

2-You started in tabletop RPGs. What did you take from that experience that has helped you in your other writing endeavors?

There’s a high degree is intersectionality between every writing discipline you tackle and its application elsewhere. That’s the nature of writers, right? Cannibalizing knowledge to Frankenstein ourselves? Learning playwrighting in university and continuing to read movie scripts and plays helped me create better scenes for games without relying on camera shots to convey a moment. Working on tabletop RPGs, however, taught me a number of valuable skills, whether I was an editor, a developer, or a writer.

The editor part was I got my mistakes out of the way by practicing on poor RPG writers before I learned what not to do (seriously sorry, White Wolf writers… didn’t intend to sharpen my blunt skills on your sharp talent). It gave me the skills to provide proper feedback to my team… telling the writer what they needed not only to adjust the material at hand, but to change their approach for the future. It also taught me how to keep my ego out of the way and not advocate for rewriting text in my own voice.

When to comes to video games, the lesson learnt from my tabletop years was to leave space for the player. The player matters and is often an unspoken protagonist. It’s an oldie but a goodie in terms of examples, but nobody talks about their gameplay experience in relation to the character. Nobody says “Master Chief jumped out of his Warthog and threw a sticky grenade on the bumper so it exploded inside the bunker.” ‘I’ the player did all this, and the player will recount that story as “I jumped out and I threw a sticky grenade.” 

That means whenever I craft narrative in video games, the player’s experience is foremost in my mind. They are the people who will own the protagonist, not me. So I have to consider how to create stakes that motivate protagonist and player alike. I have to create antagonists that reach through the screen to threaten or discomfort the player somehow without triggering them with bargain basement stakes. The situations have to be understood and universal for the players. And then all that feeds back into my own fiction as I engage with the reader of my novels. How do I tell the story beyond the protagonist’s experiences?

Finally, as a developer, working on games taught me a lot about world building. A universe with its unique “physics” must exist beyond the backdrop of the levels your players are racing through. Not only do they need to understand how that world can exist, but you need to find elegant ways of making that universe relevant and cohesive but without drowning them in exposition. You need to find tricks to impart and reinforce that universe’s logic through passive means until the player/reader absorbs it all through things like subtext and mood and characterization. Fiction writing can help in this way, through principles of how and where to weight your descriptions, but tabletop design creates the most solid framework for creating a world with movement rather than a world frozen by the shutter. Naturally, what you can apply to video games and tabletop games as world building elements, you can then apply to fiction… the cohesion over overarching logic. 

3-Have you ever thought about going back to tabletop? Why or why not?

HA! Did I leave and nobody tell me? I still do work for tabletop games when I can, though I stepped away from contracts during COVID. Working for a video game company that was 3 hours behind me, finishing later in the evening to accommodate their work hours, and then decompressing two feet away from my workstation was mentally and emotionally exhausting, and I quickly recognized the dangers of doing additional contracts during quarantine. But yeah, I love tabletop games and it remains at the heart of who I am as a geek. Writing for tabletop games is not only familiar territory, but it’s also an exercise in joy for me. I get to create something without constant supervision or scrutiny, and I have time (within reason) to craft something that is more or less intact and cohesive before anyone lays eyes on it. Most importantly, I get to write up to my audience, assuming for complex decision-making and theory crafting and reading comprehension. It’s not to say that games or fiction dumb things down, but there is the reality that you’re opting for a wider market share and that market share is in the millions of players. That changes how you make the material accessible and the requirements behind suspension of disbelief. That said, tabletop games (especially as a freelancer), is definitely a hand-to-mouth existence, and me still writing for that industry is definitely an exercise in privilege. I do it because I can afford to do it, because of video games. I know far too many people scrambling and struggling to make ends meet with freelancing, so if I had to do it for survival, my answer would likely be different.

4-You’re currently working on a Dungeons and Dragons video game. What’s your favorite D&D monster, and why?

I know you, Dansky. You want me to say Neo-otyugh, but I refuse. Mind Flayer has always been my favorite. From the moment I saw the image of an Illithid, it stuck with me as this frightening opponent and it resonated with me as the first creature of true horror I’d seen in D&D. Sure, dragons can breathe a variety of cool elemental attacks and are scary, but the Illithid was the first creature for me that stepped outside of that Judeo-Christian mythology box and became something sinister and terrible. That also explains why my runner-up critter is a Beholder. Sadly, in the competition, the Beholder lost out in the Swimming Suit portion of the competition, so the Mind Flayer gets the coveted crown and scepter.

5-Back in the day, we got in trouble when I asked you about gay leading characters in AAA video games. Where do you think we are now compared to then?

Hooboy, we did, didn’t we? We upset some people’s misperceptions about themselves on that one. I was off about the timing when I said it would be about a decade, though I got the Naughty Dog part right as being one of the companies open and unapologetic about their leading character being LGBTQIA+. And I have to give mad love and props to Square Enix for their “Life is Strange” series. I think when it comes to characterization, story, and overall quality of writing, their benchmarks are miles ahead of many narrative-driven games. I keep thinking back on that moment, however, on that question you asked and the situation I was in at the time. You think that when shit hits the fan, it’s all coming from one direction, but nope. One fan, multiple poop trajectories, and a lot of bruised egos.

There was a lot of positive LGBTQIA+ representation already when I made the comment, and I should have caveated my response in regards to the work already being done out there. That’s obviously not where the majority of flack came from, though. Some folks were definitely not happy with my answer, either because I pulled the curtain back on the “wizard” or because I refuted the active spin doctoring or because folks thought I was shitting on their good will; recent news articles and revelations can speak more about the realities of all that if you know how to read between the lines. 

So, compared to then? We’re far more ahead of the curve then I expected. Companies that led the charge on representation haven’t collapsed back in upon themselves in failure, and in succeeding, they’ve emboldened the more risk-adverse among their peers. I’ll be honest… I do worry that some companies in and out of the industry are just doing this to get on the bandwagon, to cash in on a cause that’s been deemed “safe” or acceptable. I hope they understand why proper representation matters instead of painting by the numbers, but kudos to those genuinely working towards it. My paranoid brain keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop, on that pendulum to swing back hard, but… I think it’s no longer a matter of when will we see this or that. The dam’s broken wide open, and now it’s a matter of reach rather than “will-it-won’t-it.”

My final answer… we’re in a good place, but it’s still precarious. Some people get why representation matters, but I think the harm will come from companies buckling and back peddling under the complaints and orchestrated bad-reviews campaigns, or those companies waiting on their inclusion dividends to pay off in sales.

Huge thanks to Lucien for giving such thoughtful and generous answers, even if he doesn’t like neo-otyughs. (Don’t know what those are? Don’t ask.) Until next week, then, when I’ll sit down with John “Deathginger” Goodrich. See you then!

Game Developers Conference Acceptance

I am pleased and proud to say that once again my Game Narrative Round Tables have been accepted for the main track at GDC. I’ve been running these off and on, mostly on, since 2007 or so, and I like to think they’re a valuable addition to the game writing community. Bringing folks who work in game narrative together so they can meet face to face, exchange ideas and best practices, support one another, and most of all have it reinforced they are not alone means a great deal toe me. Narrative can be a lonely job in game development – many studios don’t have narrative teams, so it’s hard for narrative specialists to find community or even someone who speaks their professional language. That I am able in some small way to help provide this is something I’m proud of.

GDC 2022 is March 21-25. The Game Narrative Summit, complete with the winners of the Student Narrative Competition, will run the 21-22nd. The main conference, including the round tables, will run the 23-25th.

Hope to see some of you there.