MANW Week 2: Check-In and Making Art at Conventions

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It’s hard to believe we’re already in the second week of Make Art Not War 2017, but here we are. So far, I’ve been focusing on jewelry design, in part because there is a mathematical component to this art form. Math, which is also present in art forms such as music, graphic design, kirigami/origami, and gaming, is an amazing discipline that is often overlooked in artistic endeavors, and I enjoy this component. When I’m stressed out, it also helps to ground me since I deal with words all day. Yesterday, for example, I was stressed out–especially with a convention on my horizon this weekend–so I made time and opted out of reading or watching TV to design something small but original.

This MANW challenge may inspire me to make art, but it’s up to me to ensure that it remains a priority. In Week 2, it feels as if my creations are a security blanket I’m slowly wrapping around myself. Every stitch is weaving part of that fabric, and as the year continues that feeling of being surrounded by art will only grow stronger. The biggest impact it’s having, is that I do feel there’s an emotional and mental buffer between politics and my identity as an artist. Instead of feeling hopeless or pushed upon, I’m using my art to reaffirm that “Yes, I am here and making art is what I do.” From there, once that foundation is in place (Ergo, why January’s MANW 2017 theme is PLAY!), then I’ll build off of that to funnel and channel my efforts into something more specific.

Of note, if you’re still on the fence or aren’t fully grasping how politics and a tense atmosphere impacts artists, John Scalzi wrote an article for the LA Times sharing a 10-Point Artist’s Plan for Getting Things Done. It’s a different perspective related to what I’m talking about, and I think it’s valuable to read if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Links and Reminders

For those of you who are following my work, I have a smattering of news and reminders for you today.

  • Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in StorytellingUpside Down is now available on NetGalley through January 31st. It is available to purchase in digital and print formats wherever books are sold, and it does qualify for 2016 award nominations if you’re so inclined. Our authors would love reviews, so if you have a copy please consider leaving one on Amazon, GoodReads, Barnes & Noble, DriveThruFiction.com, etc. Thank you!
  • My 2016 Releases – My 2016 releases in non-fiction and fiction are also eligible for award nominations; the cut off for gaming awards tends to vary, so you’ll have to check the publications date if you’re including games designed/written/edited by me or other designers. In most cases, games are submitted for consideration by the publisher, so our involvement tends to be hands off and less PR-related than it is in SF&F and other publishing channels. Thanks for your consideration.
  • Writing the Other: Sans Fail – Registration is now available! You can read the class description, and find out more information to register at this link. As part of the class, I will discuss some process-related techniques, Tempest will be lending her talents in a lecture, and you get to create characters and have them critiqued. It’ll be fun and informative!

Creative Challenge: Making Art While at Conventions

One of the aspects of my job is traveling to conventions, speaking on panels, and interacting with fans. I do well knowing there’s a larger audience of people to see me; performances are my jam, and I treat them as such. When there’s fewer people, or if it’s super chill, I tend to get distracted and not have as much fun. I’ve learned the hard way that when it’s busy, it’s important to book down time for myself and ensure I’m not spending too much time with one person even if that’s my SO.

It’s easier to make art when it’s not busy. I often wander, recharge my batteries, and write or make art when I can. This time, I find myself wondering what type of art can I make that will serve me during both busy and quiet moments?

I have written before at conventions, and I used to take pictures. Writing at conventions is hit-or-miss, and it really depends upon the con. With social media being what it is, it was easy to take pictures and post them. To me, though, staging photos or drinking in the scenery is not my preferred form of making art on the road. To resolve this, I asked about this on social media to drum up some ideas. Thanks to the feedback of many congoers like Emily Care Boss, the solution I’ve come up with is to assign a notebook for my travels this year and dive into sketches, doodles, and bad poetry(1).

One nice thing about a notebook and some funky pens is that I can carry that with me wherever I go, so it’s not size-prohibitive. The other thing, is that as I travel this year I’m essentially creating a fun journal of my trips. It’s an elegant solution, and I’m looking forward to filling its pages and keeping my creative mind active on the road.

Another option, is to set aside a time and invite other people to join me for writing, drawing, etc. This feels like a good mix of social-and-creative time, though mileages will vary since everyone’s process is so different. Some people can only write in isolation. I’m sensitive to sound, so I can write if there’s a lot of white noise or instrumental music, but not if there’s performers present. As this is a huge topic and a major creative challenge for a lot of folks, I’m going to follow up with some tips as I experiment this weekend and explore some possibilities.

That’s enough about me. How are y’all doing this week? Time to check in!

(1) I haven’t studied poetry very much, and I view different forms of writing to require specialization. So, I consider my poems to be bad, bad, b-b-b-b-b-b-bad.

    Mood: ALL THE CLEANING
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Had to back off yesterday, and went for the herbal tea. Oh, my head!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Does typing my ass off count?
    In My Ears: Boromir
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: Research materials for work.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Lord of the Rings Trilogy
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: Read my end-of-the-year list of releases for an overview of what I’ve put out for 2016. Check out Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling and, if you like it, consider leaving a review.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update.



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

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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.



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.


GenCon Industry Insider Featured Presenter

GenCon 2016

Today, I’m happy to share with you that I’ll be returning to GenCon: Indianapolis to speak on panels. I will be a GenCon Industry Insider, participating in a track of panels to share industry insights with attendees, along with several other storied individuals including Emily Care Boss, Eddy Webb, Kenneth Hite, and several others announced via the website. Huzzah!

Congrats to all of the announced speakers. I can’t wait to see you at GenCon 2016! Heck, I may even wear a suit this time around…IF the weather holds up, that is.

Writing 101 Advice from Geek*Kon 2015

Quere Baby Deadpool Pole Dancing Avatar

Geek*Kon 2015 was a mixture of seeing old friends and making new ones. I did have a great time and these fans are doing everything they can to put on a great show. I was thrilled to see folks like Emma Bull, Greg Weisman, Christopher Jones, Will Shetterly, and Alex Bledsoe speak to up-and-coming writers, fans, and all around great people.

Rather than give a recap of every panel and anime-related item I purchased (*coughs* Jiji rocks!), I’d like to highlight some of the wonderful advice given during my Writing 101 panel. The panel consisted of Alex Bledsoe, Will Shetterly, Emma Bull and myself. Here are some of the nuggets of advice given during the panel that I hope inspires you to write your heart out. Please note that I made every attempt to attribute said advice correctly, and some of the comments are sub-attributed to Steven Brust. Rather than rehash many of the tidbits I’ve mentioned here on my blog, today’s spotlight is on the other authors and their words of wisdom.

  • Point-of-view (P.O.V.) solves everything. Brust/Bull
  • Story starts with your P.O.V. character. Shetterly
  • Deal with the precipitating event as the first part of your story. Bledsoe
  • What serves the story is what you don’t tell. Shetterly
  • With respect to critiques and feedback from readers, “Worry about reader problems vs. reader solutions.” Shetterly
  • I write first drafts to create a skeleton. Bledsoe
  • With respect to revisions: “I pace around my house, reading the manuscript aloud.” Bledsoe
  • Figure out what drafts are supposed to do. e.g. They can be systematic or intuitive. Bull
  • Make the story more specific during revisions. Shetterly
  • What really matters, is the story itself. Shetterly
  • It’s better to write a bad first draft, than no draft at all. Shetterly

We also talked about info dumps and the Dread PrologueTM, and how many of the info dumps can be avoided by choosing the right character when selecting which character is telling the story. We also mentioned how it’s okay to suck (you’ve no doubt heard me say that before), and how the senses are crucial to add in layers of worldbuilding. For example, Bledsoe mentioned that a sense of smell can really make a big difference.

I hope today’s wrap-up inspires you to write, write, write! And remember, you’ll never internalize or finish what you start unless you sit down and simply…write. GOOD LUCK!

    Mood: Luxuriating in this damp, windy weather.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Mostly managed!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH.
    In My Ears: Tron Legacy soundtrack
    Game Last Played: Kingdom Rush
    Book Last Read: For research, not pleasure. Ergo…
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Frozen. Because in my house, it’s a horror movie.
    Latest Artistic Project: Sewing project that turned out to be a pescatarian oni. Don’t ask! Am planning Halloween-related crafts, however.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. A new one coming soon! SOON I SAY!


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