Katherine Cross on Court of Shadows over at Gamasutra

Shadowrun Court of Shadows Cover Art

One of the biggest challenges working on any project for me, is the intersection between the response from readers/players and how that book/game/etc. was intentionally designed. Katherine Cross is one of, if not “the” first critics to fully grok the depths of Court of Shadows and the ancillary Sixth World Tarot deck which was released at Gen Con.

I hope you’ll check out Katherine’s analysis of Court of Shadows and the Sixth World Tarot on Gamasutra and check out her other articles, too. Katherine not only understood why I took a nuanced approach to the faction, she went on to talk about how the two releases intersect with one another and hints at a bigger world to come. The setting creation aftershocks are definitely rippling through the Sixth World setting, just like it did with Drawing Destiny: A Sixth World Tarot anthology.

Enjoy the article!

On September a Social Media Sabbatical

Yuna Final Fantasy X-2

As summer winds down(1) I find myself in a familiar place. For the past few years I normally take a month off from Twitter and Facebook, and even though I haven’t Reached My LimitTM with all that’s going on, especially given this charged election, I’m about to do the same thing again for the month of September. I did have a few weeks in August where I touched base very briefly, but I need the headspace to not only write but to use my downtime to do some art-related projects I have not had the bandwidth to do.

I understand that sometimes it’s challenging to interact with someone like me, if only because I am so focused on making art I sometimes forget the human container and those around me. But, this space(2) that I have right now, this space to create freely may not exist six months from now, and I recognize that I have to make the most of my time now. One of the best ways to do that for me, is to limit social media for a few weeks to discharge the flotsam and jetsam and make those bits more manageable.

This Fall also requires me to focus very strongly because I have a mixture of smaller projects, big ‘uns, and spec work that I’ve taken on just in case certain balls I’ve thrown into the air never manage to fall back down(3). More than that, however, is the fact that I desperately need to focus on creating in the physical space rather than the mental one. I have over 100 e-mails of story ideas, for example, that I’ve sent to myself while on the road. I’ve successfully managed my consumption(4), such as it is, and have narrowed down a lot of distractions to create. I can tell, however, I run the risk of falling in love with worldbuilding all over again and I definitely need to nip that in the proverbial bud. Worldbuilding is fantastic, but it’s also an easy way to procrastinate because that bit of the creative process is far easier than putting fingers to keyboard. Always has been, always will be.

For September, this means my presence will be focused on work-related announcements and/or blogging if the mood strikes me than being social. I will be answering e-mail and remain in contact with friends and family, of course. This is more of a “turn down the volume on noise” than anything else.

(1) Hopefully, as I am adverse to humidity and hot weather.

(2) Space meaning that complex algorithm balancing the variables of time, money, physical and emotional health, relationships in order to Do The WorkTM.

(3) I’ve learned to anticipate rejection as part of the business cycle.

(4) I limit how many hours I watch television, focus on non-verbal music, and read, primarily, for work just as three examples. Silly mobile games tend to be a source of brain break, but even then I like smaller art projects to help reorder and refocus, like origami or jewelry making.

Geek*Kon and Processing Your Emotions Like a Pro Panel Recap

Fizgig Avatar

Sitting in my office inhaling Pocky and relying a little too heavily on the Diet Mountain Dew this fine day, if only because this year’s Geek*Kon was a whirlwind of color and panels and friends. I continue to be in awe of the love, energy, and effort of anime fans and the work they put into their costumes, and use this weekend as a reminder that the future of reading is incredibly diverse. Plus, I want to give a shout out to the Lolita girls who put a lot of time and energy into their fashionable dresses to walk around the show. Also: Enrica Jang (Red Stylo Media) and Jennifer M. Smith are both awesome women in comics. Be sure to check out their work!

This weekend I was on several panels and presentations and noticed a lot of up-and-coming or inexperienced writers in the audience. Most of my advice about writing translates to this: I cannot give you any advice that will help you fix a manuscript I haven’t read, have the confidence to keep writing all the way through to The End, the best way to learn how to write and to keep internalizing processes is to Do The WorkTM, and lastly…if you’re having trouble balancing worldbuilding and story remember why you’re creating settings. If you’re writing a novel, then your story trumps the world you’ve built separately every time. Sometimes, there’s wonderful aspects of a world that make sense technically but might not translate well into fiction–and that’s totally okay! In the end, there’s no magical bit of advice I can give anyone other than to Do The WorkTM and be loyal to it. You’d be surprised how smart other people really and truly are; if you don’t Do The WorkTM others will figure that out, too.

Emotions and Professionalism

I also proposed a new panel this year about the connection between emotions and being a professional. Briana Lawrence joined me to talk about her experiences and offer nuggets of wisdom. I Tweeted a bunch during the panel, but I wanted to share with you some thoughts that came out of the panel because I feel they might be helpful for you.

Briana told the crowd that, “The first problem is that creatives are not taken seriously as having a real job. Cons are work.”

This, here, is where a lot of problems come into play because there’s an emotional journey artists take especially if they do not have a supportive environment either through close friends or immediate family. What artists do, regardless of which type of art we make, is not treated as work. When our efforts are not thought of that way, the work is then devalued and our time is taken for granted. Plus, many artists never get past this step to realize that a) yes, they are an artist and b) you can build a career even though that bit is hard, complicated, and draining at times due to the struggles we have with the financial component.

I mentioned, for example, that when I make friends or go to Bar Con I do not want to talk about work or think/worry about social commerce and “who” I’m talking to. I think about work enough as it is, and “picking my brain” is something that I will do on my terms. When I’m in my off-time, I value the ability to just hang out and be. I do not make friends based on whether or not they can help me or do things for me on a free basis, and that’s partly how I’ve gotten to know a lot of people. But, as I’ve said many times before, knowing people is not a replacement for Doing The WorkTM, either. While there are systemic issues that exist, especially when it comes to marketing/visibility, that’s all I have control over. Often, it’s never just “the one” person asking for advice, either. This is partly why I go to conventions in the first place; cons are a way of giving back, and many of them are on my own dime. Worse, however, is challenging the perception that artists are stuck up, arrogant, or bitchy for not “giving back” on someone else’s terms when what we do is not considered work. That’s partly why I said that: “When you are an artist, you don’t get paid for finding inspiration. But that matters, so have a life.” We don’t get paid for research or inspiration or downtime, but that’s part of the cycle of creativity, too.

Briana reinforced this by saying: “I used to call myself the Dream Crusher. No one wants to hear that there’s no easy path to the spotlight. You need to Do The WorkTM.”

We did spend some time talking about conventions, and we shared some tips for handling (most) situations. They are:

    1.) Know someone at con to be there if there’s a problem. e.g. Safety net. This also extends to knowing where/when to report a problem if it occurs ahead of time.
    2.) Pick an outfit/style you just wear at cons as a visual cue/mental reminder that you are working and presenting.
    3.) Give yourself permission to feel. It’s okay if you have to back outing a conversation/panel if it’s too much for you. This is especially important if you get bad news!
    4.) Plan downtime to rest/recharge and give yourself some personal time. (I use Google Calendar to plot out my free time.)
    5.) Buy something small for yourself as a reward to build new and positive memories from another author, artist, or while in the dealer room.

Then, the conversation flipped to dealing with online harassment and interactions. I mentioned that I manage the small things emotionally on a daily basis, because if I go broad I will get depressed from all the things I can’t change. I also advise to establish boundaries both online and off, to ensure your emotional health is maintained. It’s okay to say “No.” However, there were several nuggets of wisdom and observation from Briana due to her experiences online that I want to capture here:

  • There’s a perception that if you don’t comment you don’t care, or that awful behavior that doesn’t get outrage is okay. (e.g. blackface)
  • You do not need to tag people to be “the black voice” and fight your battles for you.
  • Remember that folks get tired of having the same conversations over and over again. Blackface was not okay in 2013, and it’s not okay now.
  • Consistent comments hurt. You do not need to engage to prove you can handle trolls or how strong you are.

So there you have it! Brand new panel, and I think that went pretty well. Thanks to Briana and her words of wisdom; she definitely added a lot to a touchy and sensitive topic.

A Bleary-Eyed (And Slightly Furious) Post World Con Recap

Galactic Starry Space

For me, the “p” in publishing is about people–the good, the bad, the garbage fires–and sometimes I need to center myself and remind myself of that, because while there is no replacement for simply sitting down and doing The WorkTM, I find that pursuing a career in writing is also about learning how to build, maintain, and strengthen relationships.

This year, I went to World Con(1) with my Red Sofa Literary agent, Jennie Goloboy, who treated me like gold, my friend and fellow agent Laura Zats, and many of the authors from our agency including the illustrious Tex Thompson and Foz Meadows. This fine network of people was supported by my relationships with Apex Book Company and magazine, the publisher of the upcoming anthology Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, and many other fine and storied individuals including Catherine Lundoff, Carrie Patel, Gareth Michael-Skarka and his amazeballs wife Laura, Gary Kloster, Michi Trota, Maurice Broaddus, Lynne and Michael Damian Thomas, Lee Harris, David McDonald, Michael Underwood, Fonda Lee, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Martha Wells, Sunil Patel, Rachel Swirsky, Nick Mamatas(2), Ferrett Steinmetz, Karen Bovenmeyer, Brian Nisbet, and so, so, so many others whom I hope will forgive me if I have forgotten to mention you(3).

Part of the issue, however, with managing relationships is dealing with the fallout when they are strained or broken. Hurting people is what the Sad Puppies and Rapid Puppies and -gates and garbage fires do, especially online because they are attempting to push forth their perception of the universe as “The Only Solution” and make everyone else suffer for it. They actively hurt authors and artists and game designers and dealers and editors and anyone who is simply trying to make art and do the best they can, because now making a game or writing a story can include the fear of being doxed or the anxiety that comes from receiving multiple death threats for writing a story or creating a character which is, quite possible, “the” most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. World Con reinforced the notion that the loud, vocal minority who are threatened that their world is changing and they don’t like it are, in point of fact, a teeny tiny selection of individuals who do not, in any way shape or form, stop authors, artists, and game designers from continuing to make great art representative of the world that already exists.

As I said in my game development presentation, everyone deserves to see themselves as the hero, to play as the hero, to be the hero. And this, my friends and dear readers, is why the Hugos were so significant this year. It’s not just because love won, it’s because the garbage fires do not stop us from making the art we want to make, nor does it stop those who are making great art be recognized for their efforts. Is it harder? Yes. More complicated? Yes, especially when you toss in the fact that many publishers expect us to be online. But, as I’ve said multiple times before, ninety-five percent of the people I work with are not assholes–and this is true of everyone else, too. That doesn’t mean that personality conflicts don’t exist, because they do, but that’s not the same as someone specifically and intentionally harming total strangers because they don’t share the same views. That also does not mean that problematic five-to-ten percent does not, and should not, be dealt with. What this does translate to on a broader level, however, is that so many of us are doing the best we can to be welcoming, to be supportive of new and existing writers, to show support whenever possible and to build the future our readers and players would be honored to participate in.

Many of these “big picture” efforts can be challenging for the simple fact that different people go to different cons for different reasons and, at a show like World Con, there’s a heavy emphasis on readership and meetings for so many people. This is where I think Programming can fit within that niche, because panels can be representative of topics that people want to listen to and think about. They were for me (with the exception of one which I’ll get to here in a bit). I felt very comfortable being on programming this year, in part because I knew the folks behind-the-scenes and their efforts to keep on top of managing it. It is not easy to run a convention, especially on a volunteer basis, when there are 1,000 logistical nightmares that can and do happen. I had a great selection of panels, and I felt that readers and professionals of all stripes could have benefited from the advice of my fellow panelists. I did run Build-a-World with a smaller audience, due to being up against the Masquerade, Tor party, etc. but everyone had fun and we raised $200 for charities selected by Michi Trota and Rachel Swirsky–$100 of which was donated by World Con itself.

Of the programming I was on, I want to focus on a highlight before I get to the one issue I had. My game development panel was packed, and I was able to drop a lot of knowledge following on the heels of being an Origins University presenter, Gen Con Industry Insider, etc. Presenting on this topic, by myself, was easier because this is an area that I know very well, and I got the feedback from the audience that some standalone panels are necessary just because of the expertise of the speakers involved.(4) More than that, however, this is the first time I’ve been in a non-gaming convention environment, speaking about games. The reception was warm and positive, and I was able to get instant feedback, too, on how I approached the diversity and inclusion aspects–which was great for me(5). Here’s something I said which I feel might be useful for those of you working on games going forward. I said that if you are working on a game and you are queer, for example, and the developing aspects of a game make you feel uncomfortable, you should absolutely speak up and talk to your developer. Our job is to balance varying perspectives and make the best game possible, and we can’t always do that if we do not get feedback from the people we are working with.

I did, however, have one problematic panel which I do need to follow up on with World Con itself. They are aware I had an issue, too, and multiple individuals recommended I give them feedback. If you had a problem at the show, please consider reporting it. Anyway, first I’d like to give you a little context. I was concerned about my Firefly panel, because I have had awful experiences before where I have not had to speak about the work myself and others have done to expand the ‘Verse, and the panel devolves into why fans love Firefly. To address that, I did three things: a) I raised the issue with World Con programming back in January talking about my concerns, and that if this could be addressed I would be happy to be on the panel b) I asked other friends and professionals for advice on how to deal with this situation, which included learning where I was falling down on the subject and the possibility of withdrawing from the panel and c) I exchanged e-mails with our moderator and fellow panelists ahead of the show. As far as I was concerned, I had done my due diligence and assumed that the panel’s topic “The Golden Age of Firefly” which specifically began to address the ancillary projects including the comics, games, etc. would help rein in the discussion and focus on the expansion of the ‘Verse.

Unfortunately, it did not and as all of this information is public knowledge, I have no problem talking about what happened. The academic on our panel, Dr. John Tibbets, became increasingly fixated on his points about how Firefly was so great and nothing else can compare. His behavior included laughing when the Mandarin Chinese was brought up, and while I was lauding the efforts of a great writer and human being Jenny Lynn, the show’s translator, he continued to laugh into his microphone while I was speaking. Jenny did an amazing job providing and presenting the translations, but she also offered a very candid interview where she discussed her role on the show and dived into the Mandarin Chinese spoken and presented in the episodes as well. Let me be blunt: it is not acceptable in any way shape or form to laugh at a fellow panelist or dismiss the work they are recommending, and I am honored that I got to include Jenny Lynn’s work in the Gorramn Shiniest Dictionary & Phrasebook in the ‘Verse. The panel continued to devolve from there, into a conversation about how modern day superheroes aren’t like they used to be, and ended with Tibbets saying: “No offense, but Firefly was perfect as a standalone season and nothing else should have been made.”

Here’s why I walked away from that panel angry, upset, and pissed beyond belief: I have worked on this property since 2012 with dozens of individuals, both new and experienced, balancing the needs, desires, and goals of the projects for Margaret Weis Productions, FOX TV studios, and Titan Books while carefully respecting, analyzing, and building upon Whedon’s work. I would not be working on Whedon’s Firefly and expanding the ‘Verse if I did not enjoy doing so, but this has not been my fandom in the sense that I admire or think about Firefly from afar, this has been my job. Firefly is not just about personal feelings for me, though I have many of them, it has been a significant portion of my career for the better part of the last four years–and Tibbets did not only disregard that, having been told this in an e-mail beforehand, he completely and wholly disrespected everyone I have ever worked with. This. Will. Not. Stand. Say what you want about me, and I can make a decision whether or not to respond, but do not–ever–attack, dismiss, or laugh at anyone else I’ve worked with in front of an audience. Awful, awful behavior and, as a result, watch for an upcoming post where I laud Jenny’s efforts and discuss how she made me a better human being.

To make matters worse? This panel, my dear readers, was also being recorded and I knew it, too. Imagine what would’ve happened if that panel would’ve turned hostile, especially since I wasn’t the moderator, or if I would have told Tibbets what I was actually thinking. Instead, I tried to do the best I could under the circumstances and attempted to directly include author Tex Thompson who wrote a series of her own because she was inspired by Firefly. Pro tip? Do not–under any circumstance–piss on fans, viewers, readers, etc. who do not share your personal loves and joys in front of me, especially on a panel. There is a difference between attacking someone’s emotions and thinking of a work critically, and this was not the latter. To put a pin in this: I expected a lot more from an academic. I hope those listeners out there who wanted that discussion got a few useful bits from the little I could offer given the circumstances.

To sum up the show: it was great to reconnect with everyone(6), programming (with the exception of that panel) was good for me, I was impressed with how the show was managed and handled, thrilled by the outcome of the Hugos and the many great speeches, and feel secure I have made the right decisions to build my career. I love you all! Now, please go write your assess off and tell us a kick ass story or design a great game. To me, that is the highest compliment you can give me. Go make some f-bombing art.

(1) I deeply apologize for not giving you a recap of Gen Con. As an Industry Insider, I had a different focus this year and had multiple meetings on top of networking and hanging out with friends. So sorry!

(2) Haikasoru is the publisher he works for. Check ’em out! They rock!

(3) Con crud. Oy.

(4) I had the pleasure of moderating a panel with Kij Johnson, for example. Highly, highly recommend her.

(5) I consider myself the perpetual student, because the day I “know everything” is the day my work stagnates and suffers.

(6) Karaoke was the highlight of my con, and I wish all Clarion West graduates and instructors the best in their oh-so-bright futures.

On Nostalgia and 25 Years of Vampire: The Masquerade

Vampire Avatar

Many gamers I know started with Dungeons & Dragons. Shadowrun and Vampire: The Masquerade and Obsidian: The Age of Judgement were my (un)holy trilogy because those were the games I could connect with, the fans I could relate to. Ravenloft and All Flesh Must Be Eaten followed shortly afterward, too, but the games I strayed toward in the beginning were dark and edgy. Hell, I remember goths of all stripes owning the convention halls. Our black leather pants. Our satin shirts, shock red hair, and corsets. Our kick ass boots. Our heart-thumping, heart-twisting music. Our dice. Our game, the one where we f-bomb’ing owned the night. We were known, when we walked the hall, as Vampire players with a capital “V”.

Around the same time, I started applying to different companies to write for them, and opted to start out with small press publishers. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the reason why I didn’t try to write for White Wolf or Wizards back in the day, is because I internalized that I would never be able to. The gods of gaming, like Justin Achilli(1), were key word: gods. I connected with other fans, I was heavy into the lore (e.g. the novels, TV show, and Bloodlines) and progressed through other World of Darkness games and themes including Mummy, Wraith, etc. The LARP, not as much, because by the time I connected to the game in that way, there were established groups and I find that to be intimidating. But, I didn’t either recognize or realize that I could work on Vampire, because I perceived that door was closed.

My perception began to change, slowly but surely, as new writers were added. Namely, after meeting my friend Jess Hartley and falling in love with her work. As my relationships grew, slowly but steadily in the industry without the benefit of social media at the time, I took bigger chances. By that time, however, a new game had arrived called Vampire: The Requiem. Vampire: The Masquerade, the game I started with, fell into the category of “classic” for a time. And, while some of the same writers and designers still worked for White Wolf, in all its iterations, it was clear to me the company and its staff was evolving to add a diverse range of writers that matched its players and its fan base.

ScenesEventually, as my portfolio grew, I did submit to White Wolf. I come from a literary background, as many of my readers know, so it should come as no surprise I submitted a Promethean: The Created short story for their then-magazine, the White Wolf Quarterly, which was published in…2006 if I’m remembering right. No, that isn’t Vampire, but that came out of my love for the game, because by then the new World of Darkness (which is now known as the Chronicles of Darkness) was the company’s primary focus. Eddy Webb gave me my first assignment, and I was very intimidated following in the footsteps of Will Hindmarch to design and write Scenes of the Embrace for Vampire: The Requiem.

Strange Dead Love | Vampire: the RequiemMy first draft sucked, and I totally missed the mark. But, thanks to Eddy’s style of collaboration and development, I nailed the second draft. He understood that writing for White Wolf was new for me, but he also knew I was willing to do the work to make it right. It’s partly because of this experience that I give all of my writers the chance to suck on their first drafts, because without that I wouldn’t have been able to keep writing for the company. Then, developer Rose Bailey hired me (along with Jess Hartley and Filamena Hill) to write for Strange, Dead Love which tied neatly into what I learned through the RWA, my feelings on one of the origins of the Western European vampire myth (e.g. the dead, blood-drinking lovers returning from their graves), and the opinions I had on the paranormal romance genre in general.

Ironically, I was able to write for Vampire: The Masquerade, but that didn’t occur until the (now) Chronicles of Darkness were well established. I wrote one of the Paths of Storytelling as an April Fool’s joke in 2011–a satirical take that was, very specifically, meant to be silly while tapping into canon. Ahem. Then came Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition later that Fall, a book written and developed by well established designers who had written 1000s of words for White Wolf over the years.

Dread Names Red ListIt wasn’t until last year that my first book in the V20 line came out. Developed by Matt (“the Masquerade encyclopedia”) McElroy, we initially planned Dread Names, Red List as a simple update to Kindred Most Wanted. Instead, we turned this supplement into a new way to play Vampire: The Masquerade where fans could play an Alastor and hunt down the Anathema.

This June, Ghouls & Revenants debuted as well, which also offers a nuanced look at the line and an additional way to play the game. This time, instead of playing vampires, a group could play ghouls and revenants and have enough agency to tell a compelling story. Both were done with an eye to provide value to fans, while trying to add something new to Vampire within the confines of the line, since metaplot was not our primary focus.

Now, in 2016, the list of writers has grown to include more voices, more perspectives since those early days. I hope that the landscape will continue to change to be more inclusive, just like David A Hill, Jr. did for V20: Dark Ages to hire more women, to bring better representation to the line. It’s definitely something I thought about when I put together the list of writers for the upcoming V20: Dark Ages anthology, and I feel seeking out new and existing writers have made the collection stronger as a result.

Ghouls & RevenantsOf course, it’s always a challenge writing for a setting that is, as of this year, 25 years old–not only because a lot of material already exists, but because the fan base is much more diverse than it has been in the past. There are die hard fans, Kickstarter backers, folks who have never heard of Vampire: The Masquerade, and fans who lost touch with the property. As a result, there are several who either don’t remember or understand the cultural impact this particular game had on the vampire genre as a whole, either.

For me, the DNA of Vampire: The Masquerade can be found populated throughout novels and comics, movies and video games, songs and art and TV shows–and this is something that I think should absolutely be recognized. It isn’t always, due to the fact that the internet was not around when this phenomenon happened, but also because games have often had a stigma associated with them. Fortunately, this is beginning to erode the more authors talk about their early influences. I’m of the mind that even if a vampire-loving author isn’t consciously aware of the effects that Vampire: The Masquerade had, it still influences us in other ways because of its significance in the 90s and on so many other works.

So, I mark this anniversary with a sense of pride and gratitude for, not only have I contributed to its storied legacy in the small way that I have, I have also gotten the opportunity to watch and experience Vampire: The Masquerade‘s many iterations as both a fan and a professional. I have no idea what the future holds for the property going forward(2) or how I might intersect with what’s to come, but I am grateful for my experiences. I hope that the combination of the old and the new, the past and the present, will inspire Vampire fans for years to come. To me, that’s what matters the most.

Happy 25th Anniversary Vampire: The Masquerade!

(1) I know and have worked with Justin et al, so this is not meant to be a slam on them at all. This is more in the context of identity as opposed to anything else.

(2) Even if I did know, I couldn’t say anything more out of professional obligation.

Previous Posts Next Posts

Subscribe to Monica’s Newsletter

* indicates required

Back to Top