Writing in the Chaos Timeline

Morning Pages at the Magical HouseI had a list of personal writing, dietary, and fitness goals I wanted to accomplish when I left for Florida on March 1st. The original plan was to celebrate my birthday here (my friends were going to surprise me with a trip to Disney World), then go to a conference, then home. My next six months were already set—I knew what I’d be working on, what gigs I’d need to look for, and which personal projects I wanted to finish. I had already decided my summer would be taken up with household stuff I’d long put off, because I needed room for growth. Back in January, I had opened myself up to change on a lot of fronts for many different reasons. I just didn’t know COVID-19 would escalate to global and deadly proportions.

Everyone I know is affected by COVID-19 in some fashion. Gigs evaporating, contracts uncertain, convention-centric vendors going out of business, the inspiration to make art evaporating because what’s the point when a catastrophe is going on. I’ve also been affected by COVID-19. Wonder Stories was supposed to debut at SXSW; I’ve also experienced a few lifestyle changes due to my friends and family who are immunocompromised.

I’m not home yet. I travel back this week from Florida where, to be perfectly blunt, a whole lot of people are not taking this seriously despite the panic buying that’s happening right now. I hope/pray/etc. that my trip will be uneventful. I had planned to return earlier, but unfortunately I came down with something that took me out for a week and a half. I wanted to be well (which I am now, thankfully) because I didn’t want to travel being immunocompromised or putting others at risk. Once I do get home, I’m on strict quarantine for two weeks and then for the rest of April.

Despite all the chaos, my “plans” evaporating, and lost gigs, I’m still writing. The words are trickling slowly. My first drafts, which I normally write in my head, are shitty. I don’t feel guilty about it. I put pen to paper, write morning pages, and scribble a few poems. But I am writing, organizing my concepts, and identifying where I want to grow.

Pre-outbreak, I had a plan. Now? It’s far less determinate. Rapid change is simply guaranteed and, unfortunately, that means the only way I can keep writing is to accept the unknown, make the best use out of the time I have now, and remember to have fun. Because without that? It’s going to be a long quarantine and an even longer summer.

I hope you’re doing well. I know this isn’t a fun situation, by any means, for anyone. If you want to connect I’ll be checking into Twitter periodically and am posting pictures on Instagram @booksofm. Other than that? I’ll be blogging again. I miss LiveJournal, and I suppose the only way to tap into that nostalgia is to simply journal.

‘Til next time!

5 Coping Mechanisms to Help you Deal

Ibis Eating Sweet Lemons

Ibis Eating Sweet Lemons

Most people I know are living in a state of uncertainty right now caused by the coronavirus and a downturn in economic indicators. I honestly don’t know how I feel about all of this, because yesterday I felt all the emotions—anger, fear, anxiety-until I accepted that this is the new “normal”.

I recently wrote a nonfiction essay reviewing all that’d happened within the past five years. I reminded myself that the chaos we’ve all been experiencing in gigantic and tiny ways is nowhere near what we’ve dealt with before—at least in my lifetime. We’ve acclimated to every abrupt change, every dogwhistle to attack the Other, and every shitty leader who doesn’t know how to bring people together. The coronavirus is an escalation and many of us worry what’ll happen next. Except, you can’t tell people not to be anxious. Ever try that? They only become more so.

With that in mind, I’d like to share five coping mechanisms that have worked for me in the past.

1. Mental Health Check-Ins

It’s hard to “see” progress you’re making, because unlike physical health there’s no bandage for depression. A mental health check-in is a way of mitigating that, because you “check in” on a semi-regular basis. There’s a lot of different ways to do this. You could use mood journalling and bullet journal graphs so you watch your progress over time. You could decide that you need therapy right now, and go the professional check-in route. Or, you could touch base with friends/lovers/family on a semi-regular basis to share how you’re faring. I’ve used a combination of tactics over the years, and I’ve often found that knowing I am not alone (and not the ONLY person who’s feeling what I’m feeling) is what works for me. Sometimes, that means I check up on people I haven’t heard from in a while, too.

2. Reduce Noise

I’ve mentioned this before, but as a former musician everything translates into a song for me. Every word as a tone, every Tweet is a tiny refrain that carries emotional weight. My head quickly gets “noisy” if I fall into a rabbit hole where I’m constantly watching for updates and I can’t create. There’s too much noise and not enough silence.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with social media, because I’m never quite sure if I can continue on platforms where people’s mental health and safety is not taken personally. Yes, Twitter (less Facebook these days) is a frenzy of breaking news and unverified facts, but there’s so much misinformation mixed in with personal connections it’s often hard to know if I’m stepping into a minefield or not.

I know now I need to mitigate my usage for my mental health. Being online has its benefits and drawbacks because the websites and platforms we use are tools. Multiple studies have shown these tools have an affect on mental health, and as part of a plan to cope with the Chaos Timeline? It’s really a good idea to figure out your relationship to that.

The other thing I’d mention is that white noise and noise-cancelling headphones have been invaluable to reduce external influences. RainyMood.com and FocusMusic.fm are two, great free sites you can use.

Lastly, the opposite is also true. Sometimes, if you’re feeling stuck exploring YouTube! to find new songs or instrumentals is pretty awesome.

3. Drink More Water than Caffeine

Pretty self-explanatory, right? When you’re stressed or anxious hydration can be the first thing to go, which only exacerbates the potential for terrible mood swings or depression. If you’re like me and you’re also addicted to caffeine (I am never giving this up don’t bother trying), this can also mean you’ll dehydrate more quickly.

With body/diet your mileage will vary, of course, it is easy to forget the basics when you’re stressed out. As I’m sure your doctor/nutritionist will remind you, food does contribute to your overall health and well-being. My situation is going to be ten times different because of my physiology, so I don’t have advice to give here. I do favor citrus—especially lemon—when I’m feeling down, though, and I always feel better when I limit sugar.

4. Reframe Self-Care

Sometimes, chaos and unpredictability exacerbate my feelings of anxiety because I enjoy having a certain amount of stability to manage my expectations and workload. Ah-hah! Who doesn’t?

When life’s great, self-care is something I do once in a while. When I’m super stressed out, I add self-care to my To Do list. If I’m on “lock down” and recognize I’m being overwhelmed by the random and frenetic—I add a touch of whimsy so I don’t feel guilty about engaging in self-care. Sometimes I’ll assign numbers to the list of things I could do and then roll dice. Other times, I’ll write ten things on different notecards, shuffle, and then pick.

If self-care is stressful, here’s an easy art project you can do when you’re not at your limit. Grab a shoebox, use old wrapping paper to decorate the bottom and the top, and label it “My Happy Place”. Then, find some sticky notes or post cards and write down things you can do that you associate with feeling happy. These might include: watching a movie, re-reading a book, listening to your favorite band, baking bread, doing your nails, exercising, etc. After you’ve written these activities down, stick them inside the box. The next time you’re feeling like crap, go to your Happy Place, and pick a random card.

I know there’s a certain amount of guilt associated with self-care, and I can empathize with that. Self-care is part of stress management for me. I hope if you find yourself in a similar position you’ll get the help you need. It’s hard to earnestly focus on your health if you don’t think it’s important.

5. Learn a New Skill

To close this short list of coping mechanisms, I wanted to mention how beneficial learning something new can be for your mental health. When you’re in that terrible headspace, it can be challenging to find your way out of the shadows. Learning a new skill benefits me in a couple of ways. First, it helps me refocus my mental energy on something that’s not related to the source of my anxiety. Second, learning often includes progress-tracking, so I can see how I’m doing over time. That slows me down and helps me focus on the moment. And lastly, the act of learning is also a really good way for me to remember life goes on—even in darkness.

If this doesn’t work for you due to financial or time constraints, the other thing I do is read well-researched non-fiction. The voice is usually very calming and filed under sleep aids for me.

I hope you’re faring better than okay. It’s been an interesting past couple of years, and I’m sure there’s more changes to come. Hopefully, there’ll be good news on the horizon.

On Dragons in Spaaaaaaaaaace

Heya!

I’m on sabbatical from social media right now, because I’m at a writer’s retreat at Little High Hallack in sunny Florida with Alethea Kontis. One of the things I was hoping to do while I’m here is attend a rocket launch. Last night, I was thrilled to watch the SpaceX Dragon rocket lift off in all its glory and also see a return as well. It was chilly but the skies were clear. We saw a colorful nebula when the booster detached; up, up, up it went.

I don’t have the right equipment to take dead of night photos, so here’s a snapshot from NASA along with a description for you. If you click on the picture you’ll see the full-sized version.

SpaceX Dragon

A SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft launches on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 11:50 p.m. EST March 6, 2020. Dragon will deliver more than 4,300 pounds of NASA cargo and science investigations to the International Space Station, including a new science facility scheduled to be installed to the outside of the station during a spacewalk this spring. Credit: NASA

I couldn’t help but marvel at the scientific discoveries that led to that moment, and wonder what will happen in the next fifty years given Jeff Bezos is also working on rockets at Blue Origin. Who knows? I’m not sure Mars will be colonized in my lifetime, but at the rate we’re going it is possible there’ll be more groundbreaking discoveries and events that will light the way. Exciting!



[SFWA.org] I am Running for Director At Large

Hi, my name is Monica Valentinelli and I am running for the position of SFWA Director At Large as a write-in candidate.

I am an award-winning narrative designer and games developer who started in the hobby games industry in the mid-2000s. Throughout my career, I’ve done a lot of advocacy work in gaming to make the communities we traffic better places. These efforts include my SFWA volunteer work to form the Nebula Game Writing Award rules and serve on that committee, my time on the board for the RPG Creator’s Relief Fund charity, and my multiple appearances and educational outreach through the Gama Trade Show, Gen Con Writer’s Symposium, and Origins University at Origins Game Fair. I’ve also consulted for several companies and their crowdfunding campaigns along with work for the stellar Writing the Other program. This year, I’m starting to hold online classes through the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers as well.

I strongly believe the power of a story is not limited by form or type of publishing. As publishing methods change we, as storytellers, often embrace opportunities to share our expertise through conventions, online classes, and mentorship. I believe that we can grow this approach by increasing literacy about what it means to be a professional author and how that world is very different from writing for games/other media—and vice versa.

I am running for the Director At Large position that currently lacks a candidate because I want to build bridges between our industries, starting with gaming. I feel this is necessary to better inform and empower creative professionals to plan our careers and navigate changes. Of course, in any industry, there are events and changes you cannot plan for. As a veteran, I have dealt with the unexpected many, many times over to glean shareable lessons and insight with others who are struggling. As I look to the future, I cannot let my dream of building bridges between writing communities die. We may not write for the same reasons or in the same mediums, but the lack of education and awareness can only hurt all of us long-term.

While this might sound idealistic, I know that building bridges is possible because I have built them before. And, as Director At Large, I would start by reviewing the tools SFWA already possesses. The organization has many resources at its disposal like the mentorship and grant programs. Often, the first question to ask isn’t: “Do we need to start from scratch?” It’s: “How do we build awareness of the resources we already possess?” And, of course, “How do we make people feel welcome?”

The industries within gaming and publishing might be different, but I am passionate and excited about the idea that we, as writers, can benefit from one another’s knowledge. I believe that this literacy will help us adapt and weather changes so we can keep doing what we do best: telling great stories regardless of form or method of publication.

Thank you for your time and consideration. If you want to know more about me, feel free to poke around at my fiction, non-fiction, and gaming publications.

From the Developer’s Desk: Hunter The Vigil Second Edition Kickstarter Debrief

Hunter The Vigil Second Edition LogoWe’re wrapping up the Hunter The Vigil Second Edition Kickstarter and I wanted to pop in with a debrief of how the campaign has been going. We funded quickly, and with five days to go we have 1,640 backers and $82,607 in funding. At the start, I had several interviews lined up with my writing team which I’ll link to later on in this post.

When we started the campaign, I hoped the backers would be deeply invested in the game–and that’s exactly what happened. Huzzah! I was already familiar with the Hunter: The Vigil fan base having worked on a few first edition supplements and having played the game. The concept and design for second edition was to enhance an already fun experience as opposed to change it into something that wasn’t recognizable, and to do that I had to weigh what content from first edition would be refreshed, what new rules/setting would be added, and what value this game would add for second edition. That said, it’s always tricky to develop the new edition of a game because there’s a lot of audiences to consider.

For Hunter: The Vigil, there are players who are both visible (e.g. talking/chatting online) and not–especially since the game came out in 2009. Some people actively play other Chronicles of Darkness Second Edition games while others have only picked up a different game or two. Some have played Hunter: The Vigil First Edition and never touched Second Edition rules. Some are brand new to Hunter: The Vigil but heard it was fun. Some, just love to talk about the setting but don’t have time to play. And so on. Many, many types of players! If you’re a designer working on the new edition of a game, I strongly encourage you to think about who you’re making the game for and what playing styles (plural) you want to cover. That has a big impact on the decisions you’ll make and will factor into its overall focus and reception.

Designing for “one” audience was never my goal, because the game would become too niche and specific for a certain type of gameplay. What made Hunter: The Vigil First Edition a great game was that it stood apart from the other gamelines because of its perspective, its opportunity for social, mental, and physical conflict, and its ability to give players and Storytellers flexibility to create new setting and rules that fit their aesthetic with its toolkit mentality. Hunter: The Vigil is a game about being the underdog in a world rife with unspeakable and unknowable horrors. Most hunters have no idea what they’re fighting or don’t know much about the supernatural, but they’re doing their best anyway to deal with the supernatural for a variety of reasons. They win. They lose. They keep holding a candle to the dark. Sometimes, a “monster” could be a ghost haunting a house or a zombie creeping around in a cemetery. Other times, the “horror” could be a false alarm or a terrible human being instead. Even then, their job isn’t always clear cut. Hunters might question the definition of “monster” when their friend turns out to be a vampire. Other times, that line is clear and distinct. When it’s not, well… That has the makings of a powerful, narrative moment.

The grey areas of Hunter are spaces that I personally enjoy, because these have the potential for amazing storytelling that aren’t just about lighting everything on fire. (Though that’s fun, too.) Monster hunting is a challenging type of game to maintain week after week, because you always run the risk of being too repetitive or pushing players too hard, too fast. To that end, the game offers multiple types of conflict and examples of antagonists that may tap into a hunter’s need to investigate, research, or strategize before confronting them. The social component of Hunter is also very strong, because depending upon which tier you play, you’ll glean more about what you’re up against from your peers. There are three distinct tiers of gameplay: at tier one, you’re playing a gritty game with a group of friends who don’t know much other than “they’re out there”. At tier two, you have more support and the backing of a group called a compact. Each compact tends to operate regionally, as opposed to globally, but could have isolated groups in different areas. The compact knows more about the supernatural than tier one, but tier two hunters still need to get their hands dirty to figure out what’s behind those spooky power outages. They just have more support and resources to hunt, compare notes, etc. At tier three, hunters have convinced themselves that they need to empower themselves to fight fire with fire. Endowments, which are conspiracy-related gifts to their members, equip hunters with supernatural powers to deal with the darkness. Greater powers also invites more bureaucracy and goals that are often shaped by what the conspiracy leaders want from its members.

For the new edition, most of the compacts and conspiracies were retained from the first edition corebook. (I tested removing one early on and that response told me I had better be extremely careful, there.) We added a modern, inter-tribal Native compact called SWORN designed by Allen Turner, who worked on all the compacts and conspiracies with me. You can read an essay about SWORN to learn more about the group and Allen’s experiences. We also added the Nine Stars compact inspired by Chinese detective dramas and the Council of Bones conspiracy that deals with ghosts to help the living. Other existing and new groups were mentioned as well. The reception, overall, was positive but some backers stated this introduced metaplot rather than a setting update. Our goal was not to create metaplot, but I can see how some of the phrasing might lean that direction. I knew Hunter players would be reading every line and phrase, but I did not anticipate that feedback. Behind-the-scenes, Hunter: The Vigil‘s setting first changed when I worked on the Dark Eras line, because suddenly we had an issue where the compacts and conspiracies needed to have more history. The Cheiron Group, for example, had new setting added to expand its reach along with alternate names like the Acheron Shipping & Trading company. Now, I can’t/didn’t/won’t expect players to know this, but that sense of time and additional Hunter content factored into the setting update. I can see where some people are coming from on this, though, and I’ll definitely be giving the manuscript a re-read before turning it over to layout. What will likely happen, is that the phrasing will be clarified and reinforced by saying that a lot of Hunter history is suspect given how fractured hunters are. So many rumors!

Also reinforced in 2E was a global feel for the setting, because Hunter: The Vigil is a game anyone can play, anywhere. We have a diverse fan base that calls multiple countries home; my intent was to give them something they could draw from for inspiration, so they could see themselves in the game. To that end, I asked Cassandra Khaw to write the Hunter fiction and work with Monica Speca to create monsters. You can read an interview with Cassandra Khaw about her work to learn more. Having a large group of antagonists (and rules to create them) isn’t enough for a monster-hunting game, however, so I added a chapter about Mysterious Places that outlines where hunters can find monsters. My series was kicked off with an interview with Trip Galey and Matt Miller. A couple of backers also wanted to know if there was more information about Bygones, and there is! In the Storyteller chapter, there’s a few examples that line up with the sample create-your-own conspiracy, Aegis Kai Doru. I need to see how the stretch goals shape up before making more decisions, because my plan was to add them to the Tending the Flame supplement as opposed to writing more in the corebook, but we shall see.

Every Second Edition has a chronicle or sample setting attached to jumpstart a game; these are not presented similarly, but are often shaped by the developer’s tastes. For Hunter, that sample setting is the Slasher Chronicle and it is full of rules, sample locations, *coughs* bullet points *coughs*, and OH MY GODS a lot of horror. Chris Allen and I worked on that together. You can read an interview with Chris Allen for more information about these horror movie-inspired antagonists. The Slasher Chronicle leans into modern horror by underlining a hunter’s darkest fear: what if they become the monster they’re hunting. It doesn’t have to, however, and that was by design; the chronicle is a toolkit to help shape what you need it to be.

We also worked on Second Edition rules to lean into Hunter’s core concept. Vera Vartanian and I worked on the new Endowments; Danielle Lauzon helped with rules editing for Endowments and Dread Powers to ensure that their power level was consistent with other Second Edition gamelines. I had a great conversation with Vera; if you’re new to Second Edition (or even if you aren’t), please read my interview with Vera Vartanian about Tilts and Conditions. Meghan did a lot of work on the core rules, and implemented The Code, Touchstones, a Tactics redesign, etc. You absolutely want to check out my interview with Meghan Fitzgerald if you’re interested in systems. Of the new rules, The Code and breaking points is something I’ll be looking over again for clarity; it really, really helps when a backer says they’re confused or makes an assumption because of how something’s worded. Essentially, the Code is a hunter’s framework of belief to help keep them focused on the Vigil. It was an optional rule in First Edition that I felt would be great to integrate in Second Edition as part of regular gameplay. Not as a punishment, mind you, but as a realistic way of handling encounters with the supernatural beyond a failed roll or an acquired Condition.

Lastly, I spent some time this week in a couple of Discord channels (thanks to a few players on the Onyx Path forums who directed me); I’ve chatted with many players on Twitter and Facebook, too, and on the Kickstarter itself. It’s been great to read how online players are dissecting the text and providing feedback, but are also inspired to create new compacts, conspiracies, and mysterious places. No, even I can’t make everyone happy. I hope these in-depth interviews and my feedback helps show that we (all of us on the team) love Hunter: The Vigil just as much as any fan, and we put together a game that we’re very proud of. I’d also like to thank any backer or player reading this for being open to discussions about setting/rules, and for sharing with me their inspirations for the game. The responses from you have been… Phew. So fantastic throughout all of this. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience thanks to your camaraderie and support.

If you’re curious about the new edition, visit: Hunter The Vigil Second Edition on Kickstarter. If not, hope you do find a game you love to play!

Edit: I’ve opened up comments if you want to add your thoughts about the game. Comments are moderated.



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