Update on Summer Scheduling and an Invitation

Yuna Final Fantasy X-2

As a full-time writer, one of the interesting things that happens is due to the nature of how I get work and when it’s due. Longer projects free up my brain space to tightly focus on that one thing, while shorter projects mean I need to be very intense about what I’m working on from day to day. Right now, I have a variety of both that I’m managing closely, because essentially spec work tends to get put off further and further in favor of what I know will pay. This may sound pretty technical, and it is, but this allows me to build a career similar to what my friend Matt Forbeck has done. I cannot physically afford to not be writing or designing, to just put out “a” game or “a” novel a year. That would kill me and kill my ability to work.

If you want to be a freelance game designer/writer, the big secret is that in order to get the work, focus on competency and completion. Online drama is a distraction, and there has been quite a bit of that the past couple of weeks in my spheres which I’m now walking away from.(2) I’ve talked to many writers over the years, and it always amazes me how many people would be satisfied being an internet celebrity–I am not one of them. However, even I have to focus on building awareness of myself and my work to let people know it exists and, most importantly, that it’ll be worth your time. Dreaming about the art of game design or fantasizing about a novel may sound wonderful and idyllic, but dreams have very little to do with actual production. A dream inspires you–and that’s fantastic–but what happens after that is what gets the game/novel/book on the shelf. This, in point of fact, is what I often talk about on panels: the pragmatic nature of producing games consistently. Or, as I often say: “In order to chase the rainbow, put your running shoes on first.” Developers know this all too well, and if you’re wondering what we do, I encourage you to check out my older post about gaming development for the multi-award winning Firefly RPG line(1). That turned out to be a shorter list of what I wound up doing, since I did do quite a bit in addition to that, but it’s a good primer.

Behind the scenes, this means that by the time a release comes out, that release has been in the works for anywhere between three months to two years or longer. When it’s a release completed for other people, it’s easy to see where to pick up and leave off. When it’s “on spec”, meaning I don’t see the immediate returns or they’re not guaranteed, then I set a lower priority to those. Certainly, for my own fiction I took a step back to refocus and see where (I felt) it was falling down before I started pursuing publication again this year.(3)(4) But, that old adage is true: writers are sharks. If we don’t keep swimming, we die. It does suck, though, that NDAs and professional courtesy often prevent me from talking about the specifics on projects(5), but I do have a little more flexibility to do that in person just because I can better respond to questions–similar to the Reddit AMAs I’ve done, like the Reddit AMA for the Firefly RPG, and the Reddit AMA for the Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling anthology.(6)

To that end, my next couple of weeks are packed! There will be two or three announcements coming up shortly (PLUS! Hopefully, something cool for the charity I’m involved with (www.rcrfcharity.org) and quite a few conventions I’m going to this summer, too. I also had a fantastic meeting with my agent, too, and I am super pumped about that! All this means, is that I’m hyper-focused on work right now, so the blinders are going back on for a bit. There are a lot of really amazing things in the pipe, and while I continue to seek out new and even bigger profile opportunities for myself, I want to nail delivery on what I’ve got going on. Thus, if you’re ever curious about me or my work beyond the career bits, I invite you to come to my panels and interact with me at shows. I’ll be at GenCon: Indianapolis this year, but I’ll also be at CONvergence and WorldCon as well. Planning on lots of party games for WorldCon, so there will be some shenanigans, for sure.

(1) In case you didn’t know, the corebook was nominated for the Product of the Year and the Game of the Year in the 2015 ENnie Awards, nominated for Game of the Year in the 2015 Origins Awards, 2nd Runner Up for Game of the Year 2014 in the Golden Geek Awards, and The Escapist nominated it for Game of the Year 2014 as well. Plus, Echoes of War: Thrillin’ Heroics won a Judge’s Spotlight Award in the 2015 ENnie Awards, too!
(2) If it’s the drama llama, I don’t want to hear about it any longer. I got sucked in, and I’m pulling myself out of that nonsense.
(3) I’m of the mind that stagnation equals a terrible, horrible death for creative types, but not everything needs to be published as soon as it’s finished, nor can everything be for various reasons.
(4) Sometimes projects fall apart for completely different reasons. There are, on my hard drive for example, at least a dozen or so other small press games I’ve worked on that have never seen the light of day.
(5) My friends know that I don’t talk about work. That’s not why I’m friends with them, nor do I want them to be friends with me just to talk about work.
(6) I do need to give a warm and friendly shout out to Fox TV, because if it wasn’t for their belief in my work I wouldn’t have been able to work on Firefly: The Gorramn Shiniest Language Guide and Dictionary in the ‘Verse.


On Cultivating Resilience

Cthulhu Scribe by Drew Pocza

The drama llama, as I like to call it, has been very active these past few weeks. Main thing, for me, is that I’m speaking up ’cause really? There are a ton of people in the industry who are new and feel very threatened by the current state of trollish affairs. It’s not about hating on anybody, really, it’s about saying a vocal minority of assholes does not speak for the majority. Do I hate white men? Ah, no. I have very simple rules about people. Are you an asshole? If the answer to that question is “Yes!” then buh-bye. If folks don’t get that? Not my problem. Opening a door and saying “You are welcome! Join us!” does not mean that people who already feel welcome can’t join in. I’ve worked with conservatives and liberals and everybody in between. Assholes, though? Those tend to be the people I don’t work with (if I can help it) or I find ways to avoid dealing with long term. No time for them.

I really don’t give a crap about the fact that I’m a woman making art (stories, games, comics, etc.). That [the female experience] isn’t my area of focus and it doesn’t really show up in my game design. It does for other designers, though, and I am behind them 100% because the gaming industry is big enough to include these types of games. Good for them! Inclusivity is a thing for me, however, and it’s usually because most, if not all, companies share an industry-wise goal that I also happen to believe in: everybody has the right to see themselves as the hero and, when they do, they will have more fun. That is why we are all here: make games so all different kinds of people can have fun. This is especially true for highly visible games I’ve worked on, like when I was developing the Firefly RPG and contributed to Unknown Armies 3rd Edition RPG, and it will be true for the Hunter: the Vigil 2nd Edition RPG and the Cortex Plus Action corebook, too. Among others, which will be announced shortly!

Other people, however, do seem to care quite a bit about the fact I’m a woman. People in positions of power, people who could buy my stuff, people who could review my stuff and don’t ’cause I’m not a dude. Even I get tired every once in a while, because there are a lot of misogynists who, in point of fact, care so much about their own image they don’t believe they’re actually being misogynistic. Point. Missed. Especially when they attack women for um… what again? Oh right, hating them. Look, I don’t talk about what it’s like, I don’t talk about how frustrated I get seeing folks in one breath say “Yes, women!” and then only recommend books/games by men, or how desperately I wish I didn’t have to be reminded of the fact that I have teh boobies every day, or how infuriating it is when I do speak up and folks are like “Well, it didn’t happen to me.” “Prove it.” “You’re so sensitive.” Right now I’m saying it because there’s this belief that if you don’t hear about a thing it doesn’t exist. Um, not true. Sexism exists. I just choose to deal with it in my way.

I wish I didn’t have to worry about this shit–ever, really–and just make art. I do. However, I make art when I am feeling positive and happy, and sometimes it’s a fight to do that because there are idiots in the world who actively work against my space. This means, I gotta push back so there’s room for me and for other folks to come in after me. So yes, I will rant on occasion, and then I will get on with my day, and I will keep fighting. But, and I say this with the greatest amount of gravitas, it is 1,000 times worse for other minorities, because they don’t get the chance to “forget about it.” I talk to a lot of people (you’ll see this in my list of coping mechanisms to follow shortly), and it is incredibly obscene and unforgivable what’s being tossed my peers’ way. Those people? Made of iron. If your immediate reaction is: “Well, white male designers get it, too!” Yeah, they do, but this latest eye roll-inducing behavior isn’t about that. This is about sharing some thoughts to broaden perspectives, to include the fact that there’s an additional layer (or layers) of fuckery that everybody else has to deal with, too, to varying degrees.

I’m sure other folks have more (and better) tips to share than I would, but if it helps? Here’s a list of things I do to help increase my resilience. I do believe that resilience is both a skill that can be cultivated and a natural inclination. Thus, your mileage will vary and, as always, I know you’ll take what you want and leave the rest. I’m a big proponent of doing what’s healthy, as opposed to focusing on getting in the last word or trying to get closure or attempting to speak with someone who doesn’t understand the definition of rational thought, but you might feel very differently. (And, that’s totally okay by me!) The thing about learning how to be resilient, is that some folks are more naturally resilient to begin with and others learn it over time. There’s never “one true way” for anything, in my mind, and I feel this is especially true when it comes to your mental health. You do you.

1.) A to Z Gratitude – Take a sheet of paper and, starting with “A”, write down what you’re grateful for.

2.) Fan Letter – If there is somebody you admire, send them a letter telling them how awesome they are. Never too late to do that!

3.) Go for a Walk – The obvious answer, step away from the internet, doesn’t always work because you’re so emotionally charged up. Disconnect, even if it’s for five or ten minutes, and go for a walk.

4.) Free Write – Notebook. Pen. Fresh screen. 30 minute timer. Get it all out as fast as you can, then rip it up, burn it, delete it? Whatever. Discharge that angst!

5.) Assess – Have a little handy guide you can refer to when you’re dealing with the bullshit. Write down five questions that help you rationally solve your problem. For me, they’d be: Who am I dealing with? Is this person’s opinions valuable to me? What is the effect that this person’s opinions have on my life? My career?

6.) Rant – Look, characters aren’t static. Right? Neither are you. I totally believe that ranting every once in a while is healthy, and it’s a very human thing to do. It’s my choice not to spend time ranting, ’cause I have outlets for that angst.

7.) Make Art – Oh, gods… I have so many options here. Origami,

8.) Clean – Sometimes, I definitely clean house as a way to physically have an impact on my head space.

9.) Spoil Yourself – Favorite recipe? Make that! Favorite shirt? Wear that!

10.) Calming Rituals – As a musician, I associate a lot of memories with music. Star Wars, by far, is my favorite comfort food along with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

11.) Support Network – Whether you talk to friends online or off, I do feel sometimes people need the ability to understand what’s normal for them. What’s normal to experience? How do they cope? Are the problems you’re having unique to you or much bigger than that?

12.) Positivity – I could post about the trolls who attack me, but I don’t. Meh. I’d much rather talk about what I’m doing, what makes me happy, how I can positively contribute to the future. So I force myself to be positive, to draw those smiley faces, and to keep on, keepin’ on.

Of course, these are short-term solutions to dealing with the bullshit. I find dealing with the immediate issues helps prepare me for the long-term, really, because regardless of where I go or what I do? There will always be varying degrees of bullshit, and I know enough about myself to know how/when/where to deal with it if it gets “that” bad. I feel that’s really the key to all this: a sense of scale to know how common the problem is, how serious it is, and if it can be resolved.

Anyway, hopefully that helps. You do you, and I gotta get back to writing. Huge announcement in a couple of weeks!


On GenCon, Visibility, and Being Welcome

Fire She-Ra Avatar

In response to the announcement that the Gen Con committee achieved gender parity for the 2016 Industry Insider guest list, there’s been a brouhaha about the panelists (which includes me). Boing Boing reported that GenCon attains gender parity, for example, as have other news outlets. Apparently, the fact that the list of panelists is over half women is such a shock to some, however, that while there are cheers, there are also jeers from Trolls Who Shall Remain NamelessTM and a few that are supposedly knowledgeable about the gaming industry claiming the list is mostly comprised of “indie gaming” folks which, according to the bios, is flatly not true. (Subtext, here, is that “indie” is meant as a slight as it is inconsequential to the opiners. Much like small press or self-published to some, in fiction.)

This reaction brings up a common misconception about the gaming industry (similar to SF&F, horror, etc.), and that is that a balanced list of panelists is “pandering” and being “political” because either women don’t already exist in gaming or we don’t deserve to be there, either because we haven’t done enough, know enough, or our work isn’t quality. These claims hurt two kinds of women in addition to my contemporaries on the list. First and foremost, I feel it is a big “F U” to the industry pioneers who have been around for decades, because it makes it seem as if those women are invisible. Some of these outstanding women, in fact, own/co-own their own gaming companies (Nicole Lindroos, Lisa Stevens, Kristin Looney, Shanna Germain, Margaret Weis, Michelle Nephew, etc. as well as guests Emily Care Boss and Marie Poole) that produce many of the games fans continue to enjoy–and several of the panelists, including myself, work for/with these companies. The second type of women this absurd claim targets are fans and aspiring writers who wish to work on games. Why? Because these bold, uneducated statements imply women do not deserve representation.

It is true that a precious few vocal individuals believes inclusivity is a threat to them. Aspiring game pro, let me tell you a secret about the gaming industry: it is made up of many, many gaming communities, and many, many gaming companies, and many, many game stores worldwide. The gaming industry is not monolithic, nor is it a citadel guarded by a tiny group of dudes who hung up a sign saying “no wimmin allowed.” There is room for you. Though a few out-of-touch individuals think you don’t belong at their table, I can guarantee you that there are 100 times more who not only do, but who will help you succeed. One of the consequences of being loud, of course, is that all other voices are drowned out. Those hushed voices include plenty of wonderful people in gaming who not only do not agree with a vocal minority, but who have been actively working on making gaming a better space for everybody, regardless of who you are and how you identify, for many years.

In 10+ years, in fact, this is the first time that anything I’ve done in gaming has been met with this level of animosity. I was welcome when I was a panelist at the GenCon Writer’s Symposium, I was welcome when I was guest lecturer for Origins University, and I do feel welcome at the Industry Insider panels, too. I’m going to tell you another secret why, though, some folks are baffled by the panelist selection. Most gaming professionals work as freelancers or on the trade side, and we do not get paid to market ourselves in our spare time. I, for example, get paid to write and hit deadlines. I don’t get paid to do interviews or seek out ways to boast about how awesome I am or invite myself as a guest to a con without being compensated in some fashion. In order to make a living as a full-time writer, I have to manage my schedule carefully. Much of the issues we face has to do with the fact that our visibility is low and, to some, popularity or name recognition automagically equates to worthiness–which is not a 1:1 guarantee. Too, post-GamerGate, I feel that negatively impacted promotional opportunities for women and minorities in particular, because the emphasis seemed to be on proving women and minorities exist in gaming, instead of highlighting the games that we’ve actually produced or worked on. Speaking for myself, I would much rather talk about the games I’ve worked on, than justify my existence.

Personally, I think the Gen Con committee has the right approach, in part because I feel talking about diversity or gender balance on panels (which have seen an uptick in recent years) is the start of a much longer conversation. There are so many people who are answering the question of diversity and gender balance by hiring diverse voices, by ensuring games are playable by all kinds of fans, by rolling out the welcome mat for entire families as Gen Con does every Sunday, by doing so much more–reaching out to panelists, ensuring art is representative, finding consultants, etc. Like I said earlier, it’s true that the “industry” isn’t monolithic and thus, it will have its problems. This list of panelists is a corrective push, for example, and I’m sure that in the future more, diverse game designers will be encouraged to apply knowing that they are welcome. Gaming, however, is not the Gollum-infested mountain that a few soapbox-stepping individuals have made it out to be, for more and more people are actively working to make gaming more inclusive and will continue to do so in their unique ways. This seems like a threat to some, because they believe they are no longer welcome. They perceive that their spaces are being “taken away”, and they assume that panels are automatically occupied by white men by default. They’re not seeing the changes as corrective or additive, to ensure those of us who have already been here share the spotlight, too.

Tribalism, in some form, will always exist in gaming, because some fans like their particular game, system, etc. and play that the most. You see this attitude on forums; you see this on blogs. Recent comments, outside of the trolls who think anything attached to diversity is a political agenda, tap into tribalism on some levels. Game pros and convention managers cannot afford to be tribal, however, not if we want to sell and play games, either as a hobby or for a living. What we share in common is a love of gaming–not just “that one” game. What’s more, many of us have worked for multiple companies, too, due to the nature of being a freelancer in today’s market. This is why taking steps to be more inclusive sends a strong and clear message; balancing panel selection is a smart and simple way to accurately reflect who’s already in the industry. Though I feel this initiative does require feedback, I have every confidence that this is the start as opposed to the finish of a directive. So, if you have suggestions please speak up to the companies, conventions, or game stores you’re interacting with.

I want to close this post by saying how I can see how naysayers might be discouraging to you, regardless of how you identify–especially if you’re new to gaming, are on the outside looking in, or know someone impacted by trolls. Here’s how I get on with my day: the people who don’t think I deserve to be on a panel track to share industry knowledge are not my fans, and they probably won’t be yours, either. Thus, there is nothing I can say that will change their minds, nor is there a solution to what they’re saying. They won’t look at my bio, or my resume, or know all of the places I’ve worked, because their angst isn’t really about me or the other panelists, it’s about how they feel they are no longer as prominently represented as they have been in the past. Instead of being excited to hear more voices, to see more stellar people, they are hurt by it. That’s their problem, really, because the GenCon 2016 Industry Insider panels will be awesome. The people I want to focus on, are those who will listen, learn, and be inspired–those are the folks worthy of my time. And, I hope, that is you.

Happy gaming!


Debts I’ve Paid to Be a Writer

Mad Hatter Avatar

On David McDonald‘s blog, I wrote a post about the debts I’ve paid to become a writer. I hope that by sharing my story, it will help other writers who have experienced something similar, understand and take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Paying for My Passion (Valentinelli) is the kind of post that’s both personal and cathartic to write, but I feel that it was an important exercise for both me and you. You see, the one thing I’ve learned throughout all of my experiences, is that there’s a difference between feeling alone and being alone. Abusers in any form, whether they be domestic or not, focus on isolation as a means of control.

For writers like myself, who are naturally introverted to varying degrees, this can be disastrous to our psyches. I need to recharge my creative batteries by spending time by myself, but at the same time, it was hugely important for me to understand I wasn’t alone in my experiences. They are two, very different things, and I fear that sometimes the nuances are conflated simply because when you’re an introvert you’re already told spending time by yourself, whether that’s going it alone to a movie or a coffee shop, is “anti-social”.

If my post resonates with your experiences on any level, I want you to know that I support you. I do. Being a writer is both a curse and a blessing, especially in this society; the ability to tell stories and use words to relay information is a gift we have, but at the same time? We all need to eat.


On Writing and Bad Stress

Mushu Avatar

Today I want to talk about stress. So, here’s a funny thing: I think there’s good stress and bad stress. Good stress for me is an exciting new deadline! Revisions that have to be done right now! Feedback that has to be incorporated! Bad stress, on the other hand, deals with everything that isn’t related to writing. It either originates from a non-person related outside source (e.g. like a shortage of funds or not having enough dark chocolate) OR… OR… OR… it comes from me either seeking or listening to other people’s opinions/drama–and there is no shortage of either. Not all of them (opinions) are valuable, and most of them aren’t related to “me” at all. Typically, they fall into one of two categories in my experience: “This methodology worked for me (or for a writer I met), so I assume it’ll work for everybody else.” And “I’m not sure what full-time writers do, but here’s a bunch of opinions about that based on my romanticized views of [insert famous author here].”

I realize this may come as a shock, but writing is work. Like any other job, writing can be a calling and, in my case, it definitely is. But, how to move forward, how to take on/find more mini-jobs, how to build a career… That is where my head needs to be, and where it’s always been when I’m not suffering from bad stress. I realize this line of thinking, to treat writing like work and an actual job, is unsexy. It’s plain. It’s vanilla. It’s yet another cat picture, and not a good one at that. But, if I don’t take it seriously and treat writing as a job, I don’t write, because then it’s not a priority for me. Then it’s a hobby that I do whenever I feel like it, and that is hugely damaging to my career.

What I do about Bad Stress

Realization time! Every rotten moment I have had as a writer originates from bad stress, and the vast majority of those moments come from what I couldn’t control. Why am I not beating myself up over it? 1) That’s in the past. 2) I can only manage what I can control, but the number one thing I need to do is write. Period. And 3) Encountering bad stressors is normal, because it happens to everybody. What matters, then, is what I do next. How do I use those moments to inspire me to keep at it?

To this end, I use the K.I.S.S. system which I am quite fond of. I use K.I.S.S. as a motivational tool, rather than as an excuse to sacrifice quality or take shortcuts, etc. Here’s what I do. Ready? It’s so simple, I probably sound like an idiot who mixed anchovies and oranges and peanut butter together with vinegar. Ew! Anyway, here goes: I come up with slogans to cheer myself on.

  • Real artists ship
  • Writers write
  • Can’t get paid unless I hit Send!
  • Want to be a novelist? Finish my novels.
  • Want to be hired for comics/novels/etc.? Finish my comics/novels/etc. on spec.
  • Create > consume.

Or, alternatively, I come up with a zillion mini-goals I can sneak in throughout the day that I know I can achieve. This helps reduce bad stress related to feeling like I’m not getting the non-writing bits done, provided my priorities are in place. Notice, none of these goals are meant to take longer than an hour. I am a mini-tasking self-proselytizing evangelist, as breaking up larger goals into smaller chunks really helps me get through the day.

  • Clean my desk
  • Free write up to 3 pages
  • Read a short story by somebody else
  • Spend 30 minutes re-organizing my computer files
  • Spend 30 minutes cutting down my e-mails to less than 50
  • Spend 30 minutes researching new markets
  • Spend 30 minutes e-mailing folks I haven’t talked to in a while
  • Spend 60 minutes on a word sprint!

Notice how all of this is to ensure I stay on task and write? A focus on word count and production doesn’t mean I don’t care about building relationships or forming networks, etc. This is all about reducing bad stress by ensuring I don’t get distracted, as words are my stock and trade. ‘Cause when I don’t write? That is the worst possible stress of all. That’s when I don’t have any reason to plan for a career, because I have nothing without dem words.


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