Paper and Dice

Gaming from an author's point of view, and fiction from a gamer's point of view.

Something Different?

Friday, December 4, 2009 - 3:42 PM

One of the problems with blogging is coming up with something to say, when your words have been used up on expansive research papers or fragmentary but brilliant notes that never grow into anything brighter. It is even more difficult if you don't happen to be prone to small talk, and prefer to only speak when you have something very particular to say.

Aside from the grind of school work and the flurry of life as a busy middle-aged professional, I've had little time to dedicate to my work outside of random one or two page spats here and there. I've had a couple of promising stories evolve in directions that destroyed the original intent of the story, and rebirthed themselves as something entirely different... and in one case, I can forgive that. The story happens to be something fairly promising.

But frankly, I'm tired of something being promising. I'm tired of hammering away at projects I feel no fire for, and it seems ages since I've had a drop of inspiration. Ask me to come up with fresh ideas, and I can spin them forever, but none of the ideas I come up with at the moment particularly appeal to me. They all seem a little too much like work to be pleasant, and right now, I'd like to be working on something pleasant.

Where does a piece of writing cross the line? When does it happen? Everything I come up with these days ends up lifeless, and I cannot seem to resuscitate my writing. I find it particularly entertaining that after a long period of silence, I find myself writing here about being unable to write.

Oh, the agony and the irony.



Friday, August 28, 2009 - 9:23 AM

Writers write, and I certainly have no shortage of things to write. While I'm attending to that shortage, I have a number of thoughts today that some of you may even find interesting.
I finished 'Twilight' a few days ago. After having let the book sink in a bit, I came to the conclusion that no, I did not particularly enjoy the book. I do stand by my previous opinion that it is an excellent depiction of a world seen through the eyes of an adolescent, and whether or not this was voluntarily done by the author makes little difference to me. That she has provided this view in a literary form is significant, and judging from the success of the book, she wrote it at the exact right time. It provides an extended metaphor for the uncomfortable process of self-knowledge and the advent of sexuality, even as much as the story glosses over both of these subjects (after all, Bella doesn't get where she is in the process, and few teens ever do). I can already see the literary essays on the hidden stories in 'Twilight', because they would be really easy to write, but I'll spare my audience here.

One of my commentators stated that I was being too kind to the author. Let me amend that. I downplayed my irritations with the book because everyone else seems interested in expressing their irritation with the book, and why be redundant? Further, I really do think that as a piece of literature, 'Twilight' is significant in this day and age. I think everyone should read it.


I am not enthusiastic about reading any further books in the series, and briefly, I am going to tell you why. Bella is annoying. She's not as loathsome as Thomas Covenant, say, but I'd love to put the two of them into the same room (and my money would be on Covenant). Her involuntarily placement as Center of the Universe takes on an almost hilarious aspect by the end of the book. Her supporting cast of characters end up coming off more as incompetents, sycophants and stalkers (roughly in that order of frequency). Let's face it: vampires in the world of 'Twilight' are dumb. I really don't care that they sparkle; they are so super-everything in every other sense, why not sparkle? And isn't it refreshing how their beauty is a disadvantage? (I guess). I'll give Meyer this; she makes vampires how she wants them to be. Unfortunately, her depiction of hundred-plus year old super-humans is distinctly lacking.

Anyway, when conflict in 'Twilight' extends beyond relationship issues between our desperately obsessive Edward and poor talented and beautiful Bella, the book suffers a lot. I'm not going to spoil the story for anyone who hasn't read it, but I'll leave it at this: it is a really predictable book, and the end will not surprise you.

Closing notes: The dialogue is sometimes painful. The story is trite. I found only one interesting character in the whole book, and he's second-shelf, two-dimensional like everyone else. Also, some people talk about how many times the word blood is used in 'Macbeth'; I will mention how many times people smirk, snicker and roll their eyes in 'Twilight'... because they do. All the time.

Well, that's it for 'Twilight'.

Also in the news, the characters in my DnD group apparently consider going to a remote dungeon location that has nothing to do with a huge overarching plot to be a VACATION. Can we say professional adventurers? I knew we could.

A few random other comments:

To all food manufacturers: STOP PUTTING SUGAR IN MY FOOD. Tomato sauce doesn't need sugar. Fruit juice, of all things, does not need sugar. I reiterate: STOP PUTTING SUGAR IN MY FOOD.

To all governmental structures in the United States: The purpose of having a government is to provide a framework for building the future. If you are an elected official, and are sincerely interested in the future of whatever place you happen to govern, STOP CUTTING MONEY FROM EDUCATION. Take the long view, people. Why are my teachers taking a 10 percent pay cut just to stay in the game when you aren't? Leadership isn't about accolades or personal gain. At its root, leadership is about sacrificing yourself for the whole. Put your money where your mouth is.


Regarding 'Twilight'

Monday, August 24, 2009 - 1:06 PM

Good writing is all about having the reader relate to your work, so that they can share in your experience. People will take a different experience away from the same work, depending on their respective point of view. If an author can create a book that provides an experience that a very large number of people can relate to, they are a successful author.

This holds true even if the writing isn't that great. A work of literature can be a beautiful creation full of colorful metaphor, word-play, dialogue and gorgeous grammatical construction, but this only means the writer was a very good writer. If readers can't find an accessible experience in the work, or something to relate to on a personal level, the writer isn't a good author.

The author of 'Twilight' is a good author.

I started reading 'Twilight' recently (yes, the sparkly vampire book). I haven't gotten very far, but it is already apparent to me why the book is so popular, and also why many people have a tendency to detest it.

I think a lot of the people who didn't like the book have forgotten what it feels like to be an adolescent (which is most adults). People have a tendency to polarize their experiences as teen-agers; they idealize it as a kind of golden age, or they look back and try to forget. Bella's point of view in 'Twilight' is quintessentially adolescent. She runs hot and cold. She's talented and beautiful but can't believe it. She views her parents as sad incompetents, and alternately tolerates or attempts to watch over them. Her stubborn nature is balanced out by a bottomless sense of melancholy. Her embarrassment at being paid attention to conflicts with her secret need to be desired and noticed.

In sum, she's a sixteen year old girl.

I think that people forget the story is told from her eyes alone. There's no other view in the story except that of an intelligent adolescent, and in my reading so far, it's a very accurately written view. Therefore, to people who find adolescents aggravating, Bella will be aggravating and whiny. J.K. Rowling did something similar with a very angry teen Harry Potter, but her books were not written in the first person. Therefore you never got to see the world through the distorted lens of angry teen Harry Potter; there was always a framework of omniscience explaining the truth. In 'Twilight', you are restricted entirely to Bella's view of what is happening. When reading the book, you should remind yourself of that fact.

Who, as an adolescent, hasn't dreamed of something horrible happening to them, just so people would notice and be awed? Who didn't dream about a perfect mate who you hated anyway? Who didn't suffer the sinking feeling that everyone was staring, that you were the odd one out, the one who was different? And of course, who managed to make it through adolescence without thinking at least once that the adults don't know everything, but you do... or you will. Adolescents thrive on melodrama, because melodrama is intensity; it is feeling, it is validation that they are something more than what they have been.

People complain about Bella being in an ideal dream world, and being an ideal character. I counter with the statement that of course she's an ideal character... in her own mind. Part of being adolescent is trying to believe yourself into who you want to really be, and that process can run so deep that most adults still carry around the facade they built for themselves in those days. Some of them never get out again. Bella's perceptions about people, how they react to her and how they talk should be considered twisted by her own perceptions of who she is and who they are. Note how often her insecurities bite at her.

I have a long way to go before I finish the book, and my opinions may change in the meantime. Of course, I haven't gotten to the part where she explains that vampires are sparkly. Even if I don't like the story itself, I believe that I will still come away from the book acknowledging that Stephanie Meyer is a good author. 'Twilight' is peppered with nice metaphors, but it isn't any profoundly beautiful work of literature. It is, however, a very close look at the process of becoming that an adolescent goes through, from the adolescent's point of view. And that is something that all of us should remember.

More later when I finish the book.


Revenge of the Tedium

Thursday, June 18, 2009 - 11:00 AM

At the choke point just before finals, I am also looking at a trip to France at the end of next week, and that will be the break before life slows down rather considerably. It is amazing how time consuming wedding planning is, and how much it occupies your brain even when you aren't thinking about it. Combine this with two large, intensive school projects, and the creative brain finds itself with cramps.

Speaking of cramps, I finally dragged myself through 'The Harlequin', by Laurell K. Hamilton. I believe it will be the last book by that author I read unless someone offers me a remarkably positive review of another book. Part of my motivation in reading through this series was to mark the progression of a story which has proven to be tremendously popular to fans of the modern-supernatural genre. I wanted to read through it to see how situations and characters panned out, and in my own slightly vindictive way, mark what I feel I could have done better so I can go off and do better in some work of my own.

I'll say it again. The early Anita Blake books were not bad. They weren't awesome, in my opinion, but Hamilton examined lots of little tidbits about how the world would be different if the supernatural were real and everyone knew it. There was a lot of flavor there, and a potentially wonderful contrast between Blake and the 'monsters' she was hunting. The last book that I actually enjoyed reading was 'Blue Moon', largely for the presence of a well-written villain whose impact on the story is pervasive throughout the book. But the villain doesn't even make a personal appearance until the book is well underway, and in fact, even though his name comes up, he's just a random name for much of the story. I liked that.

My problem with the later books was that they are drowned in sexually driven melodrama, completely obscuring and later replacing investigative storylines peppered with curious alternate history facets. There is an attempt to make this melodrama supernatural by tying all sorts of metaphysics to sexual/emotional activity, but the melodrama remains mundane. As the books progress and the main characters become increasingly dysfunctional as well as powerful, the plots became random monster of the week issues. These plots are sometimes twined with the usual shopping list of difficulties regarding who is sleeping with whom and why, and let me assure you that this drama is not nearly as interesting as it could be.

I can understand the emphasis on sex. Sex sells, and everyone knows it. Everyone can readily see that human beings are voyeurs. We love to peer at the complications in other people's relationships and talk about them. It is appealing to watch extreme emotions get batted back and forth. So, in this regard, I can see why these later Anita Blake books are popular.
My problem with the story is that the characters have become caricatures, and I have therefore ceased to care about them. They are little paper cut outs with names and a select wardrobe of emotional issues and/or power sets. They really haven't changed much at all for several books, and if they do change it is usually to be decidedly for or against Anita, who gains some new special ability or power each book. Unfortunately, these new powers don't make Anita any more interesting to me.

My disgruntlements with the story aside, I'll call this good exercise. People in the future may not enjoy the books that I write. People may pick over them as I have just done with Hamilton's work. My purpose in reading and rereading here is to discover those pieces of writing I do not want to find in my own, and to learn more about why I like or dislike... and hopefully minimize any dislike for my general audience.

Of course, my love of surrealism is probably going to make certain that my chosen audience will never be general.



Tuesday, April 28, 2009 - 10:10 AM

One of the facets I enjoy most about reading a series is how the series develops over time. Sometimes you see some remarkable changes in the author's approach. Sometimes the story style itself is very consistent but the characters change tremendously over time. Generally, when I plan a story, I don't intend for it to be part of a series, unless it is a short story or some kind of serialized fiction. But the notion of a series intrigues me. There is potential there for a story of profound depth and power.

The reason why this is on my mind is that I am currently at the far end of the Anita Blake series, by Laurell K. Hamilton. I have not read the most recent four books or so, and I thought I'd get the full experience by starting at the beginning. In part, this is market research; it is a similar genre as the Customs book that I am working on, and it is a very popular series. So, while reading, I am paying attention to how she presents conflict, and how she presents the interactions between the mundane and the supernatural. But I am also noticing how much her series has changed from the beginning.

You can speculate quite a lot on why authors shift things the way they do. I will be the first to admit that I am a writer whose personal life does edge its way into my writing. I can't help it. Writing is a very pure mode of expression, after all. That said, I'll state right out that I enjoyed the early Blake books. They were quirky, interesting, and combined some facets of the mystery genre with the modern supernatural. Being a huge fan of the William Monk series by Anne Perry, I'm definitely fond of mysteries with a lot of personal tension.

(Also, William Monk is hardcore. Don't mess with the man.)

But something happened, and the series changed. I'm currently trying to push through 'Incubus Dreams' right now, and it's a terribly tedious read. I have actually had to put the book down twice because my brain was refusing to participate in yet another pages-long metaphysical scratch-n-sniff discussion of sex magic. Don't get me wrong, I like sexy literature, but it seems like every (small) chapter starts with an orgasmic scream, sometimes in stereo. The Lemur says that the next couple books aren't so bad, and I certainly hope not.

What particularly bothers me is that somewhere along the line, the characters all seemed to have walked into a rut and stayed there. Now, granted, this happens in real life more often than I'd like, but it doesn't tend to make for a very interesting story, particularly when the story is being told from the point of view of one of the people in a rut. I've read books with main characters I loathed before (Thomas Covenant, anyone?) but generally the story and the writing were enough to keep me going, and in the case of obnoxiously defiant Thomas Covenant, it was worth it.

But I don't loathe Anita Blake. She's stubborn, ridiculously sexist and hypocritical, and probably teetering on the edge of psychotic, but I don't loathe her. In fact, a character like that can be very interesting to read about sometimes. But I don't particularly like her either. A character must generate sympathy somehow to be really effective, and I just don't have any with Anita. It's gotten to the point where her initial humanity has faded off to an occasional one-liner of guilt in a growing cloud of dominance contests, sexual politics and all-too-frequent crises in which Anita must save yet another person from harm.

Previously, I had a feel for Anita's progression. Now, I don't feel like she's going anywhere, and the sense of stagnation gets into all of the little cracks and chinks of the story arc. I'm going to finish up the series as it exists at this time, just to see if it changes at all, but at the moment, I am making a lot of mental notes of things I want to avoid in my own writing.

So, why is the series so popular? Melodrama and sex. People love both of these, much as they don't want to admit it, and particularly the later books are full of them. The relationship entanglements combined with Anita's general repression are hilariously complicated, and the level of emotional stress is huge. Which of course, expresses itself in tons of semi-mystical kinky sex.

I'm afraid that I cannot bring myself to write anything so melodramatic, but it does make me aware of one thing. I don't have enough practice writing something sexy, which is something I should be working on. It's important for a writer to explore different venues of inspiration, and writing about sexy topics is not only good exercise but it is aiming at an area of universal appeal. So, this is another lesson I'm learning from rereading the Blake series.

Even the repressed love sexy things, whatever Anita might say.


Being the Bad Guy

Sunday, April 19, 2009 - 11:47 AM

My last (real) post spurred a considerable dialogue between two commenters. You guys are awesome for having so much to say, and rather than comment directly there, I'll be commenting here.

After letting the brain recover from paperwork burnout, I started back in on 'With Iron' again, and I noticed that I was thinking through more angles than I previously had, particularly regarding the future of the work wherein the heroes start showing up. But I also re-examined the nature of the villain I'm writing about, and the two peers in his future.

I did resolve that these villains will not be misunderstood heroes, though they may start as one. They will not be virtuous or compassionate, by the time they reach the end of their story. They might not be vile, necessarily, and in fact the three I have in mind are generally not as depraved or demented as Leoric's allies in the Other Side. None of the three are insane, for one (though one is a little off in the head, he's still quite rational). But, as Ryan points out, the villain starts somewhere.

Rather than go on and discuss the various reasons why a person might turn to evil, I'm going to share a bit about Tahvo, the so-called protagonist of 'With Iron'. This won't spoil any part of the actual story, but it might provide an idea of how I'm starting this project. Tahvo grows up in a clan-based society with a strong warrior ethic and an underlying animist faith which is more pervasive than pious. Children usually follow a hereditary trade, but if a child shows talent for something, it is possible to apprentice to another family. In essence, it is an open caste system. In Tahvo's case, his family has 'many sagas', and is important. He is popular among his peers, and is unfortunately a bit temperamental. This temper pushes him to commit a faux pas of considerable size, which is forgiven largely because he is still a boy, but the Jarl of his clan decides to apprentice him to the local cursebreaker, Crez. He believes it will teach the boy discipline, and though Crez is feared and often avoided, everyone respects the need for his skills. In Tahvo's heavily animist culture, the presence of a witch doctor is reassuring and necessary. This mixed blessing and penalty satisfies the honor of both families involved in the dispute.

Tahvo does indeed learn discipline, but as he learns, he also begins to hear about the great problem of his people; colonists from overseas have built a couple of forts on the shore, and they don't appear to be particularly friendly. Tahvo's people are debating just what is to be done about it all, and as the story progresses, he comes to realize that the interlopers have begun a divide in his own people. He also comes to understand that the interlopers themselves are not evil; they simply don't understand his people, and are not willing to. Much of Tahvo's conflict comes from making his own decision about how to best serve his people and protect them from not just the threat of the colonists, but from internal strife.

So, how does Tahvo become a Bad Guy from here? Telling that -will- spoil the story, but you can easily see that Tahvo's start is very similar to how a hero might emerge. Outside adversaries, the need for a common leader, the proverbial rock-and-hard-place; these things are all present. One place to look at the curious dichotomy of hero/villain in similar circumstances is in the case of Vlad Tepes, who committed horrible atrocities on vast scales, but who is regarded even today as a hero for fighting against the encroachment of the Ottoman Empire. One can easily envision a band of stalwart Muslims setting out to kill the Impaler and allow a lawless land to know enlightenment and peace... and one can just as easily envision a struggling nobleman who is forced to resort to tactics of fear and horror to withstand the invasion of an enemy vastly superior in numbers. Was Vlad a villain? To the Ottomans, most certainly, and his actions generated a great deal of fear and loathing from even other enemies of the Ottomans.

We'll never know precisely what his motivations were for the atrocities, of course. Did he do them because they were his only hope for winning, or did he use his desperate circumstances as an excuse to perform something he'd normally never be able to get away with? This is another thin line between hero and villain. The reasons why someone really does something can help define good or bad. Of course, you can take a simpler tack, too. A friend of mine once put it this way: 'If you have to explain why it isn't evil, it's probably evil'.

'With Iron' is all about explaining why it IS.

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Monday, April 13, 2009 - 10:53 PM

Life has a way of tangling schedules up, and various forces of bureaucracy have kept me from posting for a while... in part. I admit some fault of my own; I've been working heavily on 'With Iron', and most of my creative fire has been channeled into that project, which I intend to finish relatively quickly (probably done with the initial draft in June).

Like many extended writing projects, 'With Iron' has taken some unusual turns. To summarize briefly for those who haven't heard about this, the premise of 'With Iron' is a non-satirical mirror of a very popular fantasy plot: we meet the young person who happens to be the hero of the book or series, and watch the progression from a relatively normal life to savior of the world or whatever else the hero is up to. In 'With Iron', I am showing how the overarching nemesis of a hero is born, starting from the early days of their life.

Of course, there are obvious questions to answer. Why did this person become evil? Are they really evil at all? Why will the hero of the story attempt to fight against them? I cemented a couple of thoughts here, when determining the main character in 'With Iron'. I didn't want the usual anti-hero. This character had to be bad in a way which was indisputable, and he had to be willing to inflict himself on the world at large for some reason. Granted, there must still be some sympathy or the reader may simply not want to read (what I like to call a Thomas Covenant moment). But the character needs to be a proper villain.

As I was working on this, I came across a few other tidbits of fantasy literature that tend to crop up, and I considered addressing them in some way. Very often, the Bad Guy of a fantasy series is absurdly powerful, often far more than the hero and his allies will ever be. They are generally defeated by the devices of some artifact, pointed moral, or just sheer dumb luck/valor. Naturally, the question arose as to why? What makes these people so powerful? How do they get there?

The obvious answer here is that Evil cuts corners, and accumulates as much as it can without regard for consequences, sometimes even to itself. But we've seen enough of that kind of villain, and we certainly see enough of unthinking avarice in day to day life... though I consider also that making a few jabs about that kind of thing is not amiss. Does the villain in 'With Iron' fit the same hubris-filled pattern?

No, he does not. Originally, I wanted him to, but he has defied me already, and this is already forcing me to consider the future of the story in different ways. Without a doubt, this man will become someone that is hated and feared, but now I am uncertain as to how he'll feel about that. Originally, I considered him to be someone who did not think his actions were evil in any way, but as I continued writing, I realized that for a proper capital-V villain, there is one essential component to it all.

One eventually comes to a Decision. This choice may seem to be something small, or it could be over something of great importance. But either way, that choice is the fulcrum which levers the villain fully into the world of being a nemesis, a dark force and an enemy. For the purposes of this story, all three of the villains involved will understand at least in part the consequences of that choice. They will know that, at the end of the day, they are doing things which are selfish or horrible or wrong.

The fun part of the story is revealing the Why. There aren't any blasphemous-minded madmen, ridiculously sadistic assassins, pompous warlords or world-conquering wizards in 'With Iron'. Just like heroes, the villains start as people, too.

And in the case of 'With Iron's main character, it is one very stubborn man.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009 - 7:37 PM

It's been a bit of a crazy week, what with a very dear friend giving birth to a healthy baby girl just a couple days ago, among other things. I have a couple pieces nearly ready to throw out here, but nothing spontaneous, so I thought I might offer some random commentary here.

My Kult game ended today after the characters meandered through a series of recursive hallucinations and dreams, and the survivors have now moved on to an uncertain life where they might refocus and perhaps start anew. Given how things went, I doubt there will be any closure any time soon for some of them. It has been quite a satisfying game, with a potent dose of the usual inter-party tensions that make for such a good time in Kult. There were a good many stories that didn't quite get told, but for the ones that did, I offer the following dedications:

To Rose, who never failed to betray herself for the love of her brother, and found her peace in a personal hell at the end.
To Ally, who cheerfully went forward, even when it led to a shadow existence as a woman she'd never been, to live on forever in memories of a place and time long gone.
To Lara, for providing the rational voice even when she was raving mad, and for enduring for so long just for the sake of compassion. Or was it ambition?
To Gideon, putting the 'pain' in painting, who wouldn't stop looking even if it tried to kill him, which it often did... and for finding more than a few things he would have been happier without.
Finally, to Alex, who just couldn't be comfortable sane, and who offered everyone else a voice well worth listening to, even if he didn't make much sense a lot of the time.

I'll miss you all.

To my Kult players, I applaud you for bringing these wonderful characters to my table. You were an exemplary group, and I hope to see all of you again at my gaming table.

Next, I did see Watchmen just a day ago. I adored the original comic, and I regard it as a piece of literature in its own right. That said, I'm not a raving rabid spitting-out-quotes sort of fan. I just respect the work. So, in seeing the movie, I understood the changes they made in putting the story to this very different format. I completely understand Alan Moore's decision to distance himself from the movie.

I also really enjoyed it.

I'm not going to sit here and praise the movie overmuch, but there are a few pointers I'd like to mention. First, the Watchmen story says an awful lot about the problem of being a human dealing with a world that is far bigger than you. There is a conflict underlying the story of the deep need that humanity has for convictions, and how a single conviction can ostracize and empower a single person at the same time. For that alone, I'll recommend anyone who hasn't experienced the story to do so.

Second, I don't know how someone who wasn't familiar with the original story would view it, but I imagine they might feel that the movie is a bit uneven. To those who haven't seen it yet, be warned that you might think it jumps around a bit much.

Third, I'm going to mention Dr. Manhattan's groin again. One thing I'd noticed in many of reviews of the movie was that Dr. Manhattan's full nudity was distracting. Some actually complained about it. I've mentioned before that anyone who sees the ubiquitous and generally almost-naked women common in advertising really shouldn't be fussed about a naked man, particularly in an R-rated movie. After seeing Watchmen, however, I would like to adjust my opinion on this a bit.

You found the naked man uncomfortable, but not the brutal near-rape or the random breast displays or the rather candid sex scenes or the gritty violence? All of which, I should mention, generally featured actual human beings as opposed to the glowing naked blue man who was mostly COMPUTER GRAPHICS and usually... just standing there.

Think about that for a little while, thanks.

My apologies for using all-caps, but it felt warranted, and my compliments to the director of Watchmen, who has no problem showing off male nudity as well as female nudity.

Lastly, I want to leave people with one of the most brilliant interpretations of Charlie Brown I've ever seen. Do enjoy.

More stories soon.



Wednesday, March 11, 2009 - 6:11 PM

The lemur I live with mentioned that she wanted to see more 'Dice' here as opposed to the awful lot of 'Paper'. I really hadn't thought of the difference, though... I realized that aside from the form, I don't really distinguish the written story from the fluid stories of the RPG. So, more crunch, as they say, for the audience here... on the way. It was a good thought.

For those who are curious, 'Alchemical Marriage' will also be resuming, as well as some more glimpses into the background of my current DnD campaign. Speaking of games, my Kult game will have its last session next week as the characters finally reach their last breaking point and spin off into typically dreadful Kult anonymity. This means that I will probably be starting some other game shortly, and I do have some ideas for that.

There's been some interest in my running a game in the 'Customs' world, a place where the supernatural is real and everyone knows it. I've been looking at the Gumshoe system by Pelgrane Press, and I think it would be great to use for 'Customs'. Of course, this means I'd have to do some adapting, assessing the system to see where I'd have to make some additional rules and systems to accommodate the vision the numbers are supposed to help define.

Given that, I might drag some group into the world of Dark Heresy for a limited session game. I still haven't tried out the game; the last attempt ran into scheduling difficulties (as is all too often these days, it seems). 3-5 games would give me a chance to build up Customs and get that ball rolling.

There is an exhilaration to the fresh start of a new game. There is a sense of anticipation and potential, something which fades after a while but then returns if the game goes on long enough. I really do enjoy seeing the progression from one point of wonder to the next, and it is very rewarding to see players get so much out of it all. Am I a gaming junky? Yes, in a way. I am addicted to storytelling, and I love watching stories assemble themselves in a role-playing game. It is inspiring, and carries new perspectives and thoughts that one would not have realized alone.

More updates soon, but a few closing thoughts:

First, the newer Dark Heresy books are overall very good. I like the new material the designers have added to their grim corner of the 40K world, but seriously boys, stay away from the derivatives. Do not put your Lovecraft in your WH40K, or at least don't do it so blatantly that anybody who played Call of Cthulhu immediately winces when they see a demon 'sometimes called a hunting horror' who often manifests with 'three lobed eyes'. WH40K horror is horrible because it is something you can relate to. Lovecraft horror is horrible because you can't. There's a significant disconnect there. Don't cross the themes.

Second, I haven't seen 'Watchmen' yet, but I intend to. I enjoyed the graphic novel tremendously, and I know the movie won't be able to capture that. But there is one thing I feel that needs saying, just from the various reviews I've come across.

Get over Dr. Manhattan's penis. Seriously. It isn't like they were constantly zooming in on it. If you can put up with practically naked women on just about every ad in the world, you can put up with a little dudity, ok? Sometimes I think that everyone in the world should be required to take an art class with a selection of human models in the nude, and then I remember that it's really just the USA that is this prudish.


Writing Habits

Thursday, March 5, 2009 - 10:49 AM

I've been full of thoughts and ideas moreso than usual these days, which is both wonderful and terribly frustrating. It has gotten to the point where I feel I don't have enough of a lifetime to write everything that's in my head. Frequently, things get clogged, and I get writing cramps while working on one idea from the yelling and screaming another idea makes when it wants attention.

One thing I like to do to inspire myself to write is to read books with obvious flaws. I keep a few around for this purpose, particularly those stories where I see a beautiful skeleton nearly obscured by trash writing. I revise them in my head, and allow myself to be annoyed at the fact that THIS got printed. This makes an excellent goad for writing.

However, occasionally this generates an idea, and I have decided to avidly pursue one such idea.

Some readers may be aware that I am working on a novel called 'Customs', which started with a blog entry describing a dream. This project is primary, but some characters have been giving me a hassle, so in my usual way, I've been looking for a similar back-burner project to work on. Now, I believe I have it.

I started 'With Iron' just a couple days ago. This story is a response to the usual fantasy trope where the book details the development of a hero as he enters into his destiny, gathers his auxiliary characters and goes about saving the world or fulfilling a prophecy or whatever else the hero happens to be up to. 'With Iron' is actually one of three stories which are connected; I have not decided the precise format I will be using to convey them, but they will be primarily joined in an epistolary fashion... the main characters from each will eventually begin writing letters to one another.

So what is 'With Iron' about? It is the story of a young man who eventually becomes the Bad Guy for a number of would-be heroes. The two other stories tell similar stories, and even begin much the same way, detailing the beginnings and transitions of one person becoming an adversary. Their stories are otherwise quite different.

This may not sound particularly unusual, but I am quickly finding that it is not as easy to write as might be expected. For one, I am determined to make these three characters Bad Guys. They might have a definite whiff of anti-hero, perhaps, and at least one does a fantastic job of posing as a Good Guy, but ultimately these three people are just plain Bad (albeit for wildly different reasons). Making such a creature the protagonist while maintaining the fact of their evil nature is fine exercise. I want to give the reader enough sympathy to care about what happens to these people, of course, but these are not heroes in the conventional sense.

I am a big fan of having a theme or message in my work, be it in gaming or literature. 'With Iron' is an exploration. It is meant to be a place where the reader can see things from the other side of every fantasy story where light and dark collide, but more importantly, they get to see the other side not as a cardboard cut-out but an actual person with loves, hates, passions, wishes, goals and dreams. The business of having three points of view is there to provide contrast and show that not all villains are the same. It is there also to show that diverse though they might be, villains (like heroes) also gather for common goals... though these three prefer to maintain a polite distance.

They know their own, after all.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008 - 9:27 PM

"I don't actually have a personality of my own. I'm a warehouse full of characters."

This is a telling quote, but it doesn't cover everything.

Montgomery Mullen is a freelancer with a dusty art degree, one who has wrestled with office chaos and delved into the world of book appraisal. He has been fortunate enough to have put some fragments of inspiration into print... but there are plenty more in waiting.

For the Wanderer's Guild/3am Games:
Creatures of the Savage Snow (Wanderers Guild Guide to Arctic Monsters, stat work and plot seeds)
Lurkers Among Us (Wanderers Guild Guide to Urban Monsters, primary author)

For Margaret Weis Productions:
Castlemourn Campaign Setting (Stat work, short descriptions)

For Whitesilver Publications:
Verto Syzol's Legendaria Geographica (Labyrinth of Raneeve, the Barrow of Acarak)
Card Sharp: An Introductory Adventure for the Chronicles of Ramlar
Blackarrow Run (Demo module for Chronicles of Ramlar)

One-Shot, One-on-One modules for Chronicles of Ramlar:
  • The Devouring Library

  • Taransali's Riddle

  • Those Who Were Forgotten

  • The Last Flower of Spring

  • Kingmakers
  • Labels: