Welcome to the Updated Site!

Hello everyone,

Sorry for my absence, I’ve been hard at work on a bunch of new projects. This new site format was designed with you in mind, to help make it easier to navigate to content, and so I could branch out into different areas of the writing life.

Over the next few days, the navigation will be updated to reflect a more user-friendly theme, so feel free to check back by Monday and I’ll have new content to share!

The Wand in the Word

Conversations with Writers of Fantasy

In a series of incisive interviews, Leonard S. Marcus engages thirteen master storytellers in spirited conversation about their life and work, providing inspiring reading for fantasy fans and future writers alike.

What kind of child were you? When did you decide you wanted to be a writer? Why do you write fantasy?

"Fantasy," writes Leonard S. Marcus, "is storytelling with the beguiling power to transform the impossible into the imaginable and to reveal our own ‘real’ world in a fresh and truth-bearing light." Few have harnessed this power with the artistry, verve, and imagination of the authors encountered in this compelling book. How do they work their magic?

Finely nuanced and continually revealing, Leonard S. Marcus’s interviews range widely over questions of literary craft and moral vision, as he asks thirteen noted fantasy authors about their pivotal life experiences, their literary influences and work routines, and their core beliefs about the place of fantasy in literature and in our lives.

The Wand in the Word is available at Amazon.com

When the Rules Change: Freelancers and Wizard’s New OGL

Today, Wizards of the Coast, who publish the Dungeons and Dragons line (among others), announced a new Open Game License(OGL) for publishers. What is an OGL? Well, the short of it, is that an OGL allows other publishers to use a game mechanic system to produce their own games, for their own profit. Typically, the rules for an OGL contract are publicly posted, so that other companies can decide what’s best for their business. Reasons for using the OGL license can range from less time investment (i.e. don’t have to playtest a “new” system) to marketing for an existing fan base.

Wizard’s new OGL license for 4th Edition rules is vastly different than the previously-released version. I feel that freelancers (artists included) should sit up and pay attention to these discussions because changes like this may affect workflow, payment, and publications. Even if you don’t ever plan on writing for this system or this industry, I feel that there is a lot we can learn from this situation, especially since there is more changes to come.

It seems like several people within the gaming industry are discussing the particulars of the agreement, but I feel that the most important part that any freelancer will need to know is that Wizards currently has a vested interest in every product that will be sold, published or distributed by anyone outside the company. As a freelancer, I feel you should keep that in the back of your mind. It’s too early to tell how this new license will be legally interpreted and implemented; however, if I were going to write for 4th Edition I would approach with caution.

Whenever a third party has an interest in a product, it’s akin to working for a “licensed” project. Licensed projects, while they can be fun, can sometimes drag on for months due to disagreements. Sometimes, they get canceled and other times, they get stuck on the shelf, never to see the light of day. That’s not to say that there isn’t a fair amount of products that do get published; it just means that the workflow can be slowed down because someone else (that the freelancer doesn’t typically come into contact with) is part of the project.

So if you here a lot of things about contracts and licensing related to 4E or any other system, don’t hesitate to ask the publisher directly about what the scope of your new involvement will be. Rumors and conjecture will only go so far, but I feel that you do need to arm yourself with knowledge.

How to Manage Creative People, Part Two

In Part One of this article, I covered why it was important to have different management styles for creative people, and I addressed some management tips that can help shape projects in positive ways. Here are some more tips and the conclusion to this two-part article:

    If you know you’re a micro-manager, speak to strengths
    The one truth about micro-managing is: there will always be micro-managers. If you are one, you might make life really uncomfortable for creatives because of the way we think and work, especially since sometimes explaining the creative process is infinitely harder than just being allowed to create.

    Here is an example of an exercise that can really help you and your team: Say you are managing an ad campaign and you don’t know much about copywriting, web design or layouts, but you know a lot about online marketing. Instead of speaking to the things you don’t know (i.e. trying to watch over your web designer’s shoulder or ask for constant updates), try setting goals as if you were talking to another online marketer. Then, give the outline to your team prior to a brainstorming session. They’ll bring their creative input and, at the meeting, you can patiently explain why (or why it won’t) work according to your online marketing goals. Not only will your team will respect you more, because you’ve given them the chance to provide feedback from their area of expertise, it also turns into a learning experience and a growth opportunity for yourself. You will learn more than you would have if you watched over their shoulder, because they will help translate their knowledge according to what your strengths are and vice versa without wasting your time and creating an atmosphere of anxiety.

    Remember, people first (not robots)
    We’ve all heard the stories about how neurotic writers are, but in reality maybe we’re all just a little bit “off.” Yes, creative people think differently than others, and maybe some can make the case that we’re also moodier or have stranger habits. The bottom line, though, is that we are not machines. Some days are going to be better than others for production, and the sooner you realize that, the more effectively you can manage. If you are concerned with a team member’s productivity – talk to them about it. Don’t assume, don’t inquire indirectly. Have a friendly, face-to-face discussion and ask them if there are any factors preventing them from doing their job. If they say “No,” then you have every right to take it to the next step. Either way, the worse thing you can do is either ask someone else about so-and-so, or keep a closer eye on your employee. Most people know when they’re being watched, so take a direct approach and your employees will come to trust your honesty.

    Acknowledge different work habits and methods
    We’ve all used MSWord, maybe some of us have used Adobe InDesign or Google Docs. From shortcuts to spell check, there are different ways to get to the same goal. If you’re comfortable with your employee’s proficiency and project completion time using the tools you’ve given them, then let them work in the way that’s comfortable for them. This also builds respect, because it says that you, as a manager, have the maturity to let people do their jobs without worrying about minutia.

    Your team’s reputation is your reputation
    Last but not least, remember what I said about how creatives produce? Well, when any one of your team members puts their name on a project, it turns into something they can be proud of, put into their portfolio and share with others. Here is where having ownership truly pays off, because your team members know what part they contributed to and you can enjoy the fact that you shaped the project to its successful, end result.

    Unfortunately, there are risk factors that are beyond your control: bad print runs, people interfering with the work flow, missed deadlines, work not up to par, etc. In the event of unforeseen circumstances, do whatever it takes to protect your team’s reputation like you would your own – especially if you can easily identify “what went wrong.” Remember, that if they look bad, you look even worse because you will be perceived as a poor manager even if you have an excellent reason why the project didn’t turn out as planned. Whatever you do, don’t ever badmouth your employees behind their back or worse — pit them against one another. This means that you may need to make hard decisions to do what’s best for your business but, in the long run, remember that all the money in the world cannot fix a tarnished business reputation. If you treat your employees poorly for whatever reason, it will come back to haunt you.

There are quite a few other techniques that work to manage creatives (like allowing your team to “play”) but really, it all comes down to the people you have on your team. Sometimes, it’s necessary to cater management styles to reflect different personality types in order to achieve team goals. Other times, you’ll have to look in the mirror to decide if you can effectively manage creative people, or if a different structure will work better for your business. Either way, it’s important to point out that different people require different management styles. While there are an infinite number of ways to effectively get what you want, it’s also important to understand, on a basic level, the level of creativity you have to work with.

Writing Unconventional Fantasy Settings

Whether you’re writing a short story, ghostwriting or have a freelancing assignment within the fantasy genre, at some point you’re going to come face-to-face with that age-old question: “Has this been written before?”

In my opinion, there is no other genre that has been saturated with conventional themes and standardized characters than fantasy. Lord of the Rings may have set the bar in modern times, but fantasy has been around since ancient times. Legends, epic poems, and heroic tales written to herald the greatness of kings have sprung up from the central idea of what fantasy is all about – the hero’s quest.

With the success of Lord of the Rings, many authors attempt to pay tribute to the work (either intentionally or unintentionally) by using its setting as a starting point. So what does a “fresh” fantasy setting entail?

If you think about what the standard conventions are in fantasy, much of the setting turns into its own “convention.” Dark forests, high mountains, scorching deserts and small villages are often expected in fantasy, and are so common that they can’t be ignored. Instead of trying to twist these elements into something compelling, the way to creating something “fresh” is to either build your setting around the races you plan on including, or to flesh out your setting around the mythology or gods after you decide the theme and mood of your story.

Another piece to your setting is the mood you are trying to convey. Think about how powerful certain landmarks can be like ancient temples, rushing waterfalls, underground caverns and rolling meadows. These items can fuel your setting details to enhance or create your mood and make it unique depending upon how you describe these elements. A meadow filled with spring flowers offers your readers a much different picture than a dead landscape scattered with dry leaves.

If you’re still concerned that your setting is not unique enough, remember that the story – your story – is like a gorgeous tapestry filled with thousands of threads. And just like any other story, the way you describe your setting can make all the difference.

Happy writing!

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