Progress Report #9: A Storm Has Passed

Last time in Project #8, I updated you with news about the Firefly RPG, including several awards the line won, and mentioned several balls in the air following a Twitter/FB sabbatical in September. As of today, I’m caught up on everything (e-mails, included), and am heavy on the pitch phase, but I’ve got some updates for you that follow after some words about the intersection between research and reality.

This year, I wrote a lot of alternative history and that required loads of research, ranging from the Inquisition to Western colonization and Mussolini-era’s Italy. The key refrain, over and over, that kept coming up was the difference in motivations and values between oppressor and the oppressed, colonists and natives, religious and less devout. This translates, of course, into the way that history is written, but also in the way that it’s perceived. There’s a lot of knowledge that has been obscured for many reasons, in part because the past is not always reexamined to incorporate a different perspective, especially if that alternate view represents a people (or in this case, several peoples) that were hurt, murdered, victimized.

Why go this deeply into the past? Roleplaying games, in particular, provide players with the unique opportunity to examine the past in the context of a game. In my experience, gamers are excellent, fantastic readers who will devour anything you put in front of them, and take that a step further by reading more on the subject. By addressing these topics within the confinement of the space provided, I know that other players and designers, such as myself, will dive into the past and learn more about it. And, while a lot of players might not make a correlation between past and present, especially since this research is put through the lens of alternate history, the material and the game can be both challenging and compelling because it makes villains, heroes, and the people caught in between all that more real.

In addition to roleplaying games, I find historical research is a fantastic way to dig deeper into worldbuilding. Though problematic tropes can be avoided, I feel that the only way to do that is to read multiple perspectives. For example, you might have seen the heated discussions about the Washington Redskins. The word “redskin”, however, has deep historical, cultural, significance that you can read about here. Reading how the past has led to the present, gives writers a deeper sense of the semantic and literal significance of words, and I feel this is why it’s so important. Writing stories and designing games can be entertaining, sure, but I feel the future of media isn’t to repeat the past for the sake of repeating it, especially since we have faster access to more materials to do deeper research than ever before.

Games

Speaking of gaming, I have some fantastic updates for you. As of today, all of my current gaming commitments are complete, but there are more in my future.

  • World of Darkness: Dark Eras – Wrote the Hunter: the Vigil supplement for this book for 1690s Colonial America. My role in this project is now done, and it’s off in the ether of post-editing and development.
  • Vampire the Masquerade: Ghouls – My role on this, too, is now complete, and is in post-editing and development.
  • Conan RPG – I finished my contribution to the corebook, and stepped down as the project manager. Jason Durall has taken my place.
  • Codex Infernus – The Kickstarter was successful, and my role is now done.
  • World of Darkness: Dark Eras II – Contributed to the Geist: the Sin-Eaters supplement for the 1580s-90s Roanoke Colony. The chapter has since been sent off to editing. Of all the things I wrote this past year, this was the most challenging for me.


Comics

I have been talking about how challenging comics is. So I’m going to continue mentioning what I’m doing to make this a reality.

  • Starry Alpha – Last time, I was working on outlines for an established property. Unfortunately, the line has been canceled so this fell through.
  • Pinefresh Theta – Pitch, full script, and sample sketches sent off to an anthology. I was rejected in favor of a different author, who wrote a similar story.
  • Sparkle Mega – Full pitch is still in the works for a short-term series. The pitch window hasn’t re-opened yet, so this got put on hold.
  • Red Sigma – In addition to pitching, I am going the small press publishing route for a collection. Still in planning stage.


Fiction

Phew! So many updates here… I got through half of NaNoWriMo (e.g. 25K) before I had to stop in favor of zombie projects and proofing that ate up a lot of time. The writing sprints greatly impacted my creativity, and the story got out of control so I had to rein it back in. There’s other stuff not listed here, too, but as 2016 progresses it’ll make more sense.

  • Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling – Core of the anthology is done, and we’re working through open submissions.
  • Red Byte – Revisions put on hold.
  • Pratchett on Acid – 25K into the new novel, and it is…creative? Inventive? Heh, heh

  • Non-Fiction

    No new movement, here, but I wanted to remind you what I’m working on and what’s coming out.

    • Worldbuilding Book – I’m working with my agent to hone my pitches for interested publishers. Pretty excited about this!
    • For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher – A book of essays written by Jason Sizemore, the publisher for Apex Book Company as part of the company’s 10 year celebration. I have written a satirical essay which is titled “The Case of the Mysterious Splatter.” It has footnotes. Many, many footnotes. It’s now available.
    • The Gorramn Shiniest Dictionary in the ‘Verse – This language guide for the Firefly TV show will be out this Spring from Titan Books. You can pre-order it now. Awesome!

    Thus endeth the latest update!

    Progress Report #6: Thar Be Dragons

    I’m firing myself when it comes to these progress reports, but for the love of the stars…there’s a good reason why I’ve been fairly quiet on the writerly front.

    While the Firefly RPG has been the primary focus for my day job, other projects I lovingly refer to as “zombies” have come back from the dead. Plus? Dragons or more aptly named: a multi-headed hydra who answers to the name Reality. Moving, hospitals, friends…my routine got buggered. Everyone’s doing well, just altered a bit as Lord Lardbottom is beginning to lose his sight (Do they make bifocals for cats?) and other human parts were tinkered with. (Thankfully, not mine as I am not a fan of hospitals in general, but will suck it up if I need to and am able to attend…with vigor.) Still, that doesn’t excuse my lack of bloggery, and I’m beginning to think it’s more valuable for me to write for you here, than Tweet or FB anecdotes. Hrmm…

    And now we pause for a moment of discovery. I’m listening to Good Omens in the background for the first time, and ZOMG THERE’S QUEEN IN MY STORY ZOMG!!! A-hem. Yes, *huge* Queen fan. And I’m not sorry about it! Though I should say that singing Fat Bottomed Girls at the top of one’s lungs while driving will entertain shockingly bizarre looks from other drivers.

    Annnnnd back to the task at hand. Routine? Yeah, that got shot to hell in some kind of bullet-tested handbasket. Potentially made out of glass, but not sure. So, I’m back to setting goals, to-do lists (it is squamous), and taking it one day at a time. Slow and steady wins the race. Don’t ya love turtles?

    The good news about changes in life, the universe, and everything is that my theme song has shifted to the opening sequences for Rawhide. Oh, if ever…I am rollin’, rollin’, rollin’…

    Games

    My work on roleplaying games since the last progress report which, if I remember correctly, was accessed via a TARDIS. Here’s a status update on where I’m at right now.

    • Firefly RPG – The print edition of the Firefly RPG corebook is now available at a friendly local game store near you. Shiny!
    • Echoes of War: Thrillin’ Heroics – We surprised fans with a print compilation of our first four Echoes of War Episodes, including “Friend in Low Places”, and the Serenity Crew. We sold out at GenCon!
    • Echoes of War: Bucking the Tiger – A digital version of this Episode went live in the month of May as promised!
    • Things Don’t Go Smooth – This book is currently in layout and is slated for a Q4 release. I have a blog post you can read about on the MWP website. Get the lowdown on Things Don’t Go Smooth.
    • Hunter the Vigil: Mortal Remains – This book went live in May. I wrote and designed the interstitial fiction for this supplement; I also edited this book.
    • Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide – I wrote an essay geared for Cortex Classic fans interested in tweaking their sheets for a more cinematic style.
    • Unframed: The Art of Improvisation for Game Masters – I wrote an essay about worldbuilding by the seat of your pants. Sounds about right, eh? This was released in July.
    • World of Darkness: Dark Eras – Wrote the Hunter: the Vigil supplement for this book for 1690s Colonial America. Threw everything and the kitchen sink into this supplement! It is jam-packed with story.
    • Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn RPG – I contributed to the Skaa supplement for this game and Logan Bonner is my developer. It’s still on the schedule; I hope to give you an update on this in the coming months.
    • Vampire the Masquerade: Red List – Working on it! We’re expanding the outline and dumping more into this supplement. Hang in there!
    • Vampire the Masquerade: Ghouls – I’m writing the fiction for this book, which will be edited by my developer. I’m also editing the main text.
    • …and more Firefly and soon-to-be-announced fun!

     

    Comics

    I am working on three original scripts, one of which I have a publisher for. I pitched to a few publishers and individual writers but haven’t heard anything back. (Yes, I’ve been depressed about the lack of responses.) Instead of waiting and pitching another five years to get a standalone comic published, I’ve decided to move ahead with a pair of scripts. From there, we’ll see. I’m in the project set up phase right now. More to come after some ink is dry! But yes, this is all on spec.
     

    Fiction

    Project set up for a pair of novels I need to finish by the end of the year. A light has opened for my Violet War novel, a possibility I cling to–and it’s rejuvenated me. Short fiction is on hold and I’m putting off revisions for a Lovecraftian novella in favor of my novels. Both are on spec.

    My schedule will shift at the tail end of October, but I’m not waiting any longer to start working on these projects. Like Queen Bavmorda oh how I want the darkness to come so I can hibernate in my writer’s tower a touch, but the key word for me right now is finding a work-life balance that’ll support writing my own original work while I get these comics and novels done.

    That’s all for now cats and kittens… Hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of “What Monica’s been up to!” and I’ll see you in a new blog post. I’ve got a Cortex Plus Halloween hack I’m mulling over and other hilarity of a funner (artistic) variety.

    Because funner is totally a word. Funotally.

    Cheers!
     

    The Spectacularity of Cat Rambo

    Cthulhu Avatar Small

    For the past six weeks, I’ve been part of a writing workshop with a group of fabulous writers. Led by Cat Rambo, we critiqued stories and talked about the nuts and bolts of building a career in SF&F. Part of the reason why I wanted to take an online workshop, is because financially it’d be very difficult for me to drop what I’m doing and go to Clarion West or Viable Paradise. I’d love to go to an intense workshop like these, because though I come from literary-land, I feel like I’ve primarily been on the fringes of SF&F. For me, workshops is where a lot of the excitement happens, where there’s this brilliant mesh of ideas and creativity — that form of collaboration is very inspiring to me in small doses. Mind you, I don’t want to collaborate with another fiction writer long-term because I have specific goals I am trying to accomplish. When those happen, then I’ll reconsider. My goals are very clear.

    What I had hoped to get out of this workshop, was to cut all the peripheral noise and anxiety, get back to the basics; and re-emerge with a clear path forward. How had writing for games affected my storytelling? What areas did I need to hone in on? Since the bulk of my time recently has been on writing and developing for games like Firefly and Vampire the Masquerade, I felt like I’ve been losing my perspective on my own, original work. Do I get discouraged? Yep, and those lead to excuses or “writer’s avoidance behavior.” Now, I know it happens to everybody, losing faith in yourself, but it sucks. It’s not a mental thing, it’s not insecurity as in “Oh, I could never be as good as ‘X’, ‘Y’, or ‘Z’.” It’s a “heart” thing. It’s a “what’s the point” and “who cares” thing. Publishing is based on people… And so is another “p” word. A “positive” attitude.

    Anyway, to circle back around to what I’d been trying to say, I feel it’s one thing to write and have words down on a page; it’s another to know where you’ve gone wrong through internalization. And for me, I feel that process of internalization is weakened if I “take a break” from writing or am so hyper-focused on a different form I stop exercising those other muscles.

    The first lesson I learned was… Don’t take a break. For me (and you may be different) I have to write every day. I have to. Part of that word count has to be spent on fiction even if it’s 500 words. Why? Gaps have an impact like this: I’m working on a few novels and I set them down in favor of paying projects. When I pick them up again, I forget where I left off and I need to “re-learn” where my place is. As I’m ramping up, I then change my mind about the structure, how some of the pieces fit, where I need to research more… It takes me more time to get back into the work than it does to finish it and keep that river of words flowing.

    The second, is that I have realized that a lot of the game-related fiction are primarily character sketches or plot-driven to show off the world. That differs from character-driven prose because there’s certain elements that are obscured in favor of the overall goal to highlight the game/setting. I suppose that’s why I’ve been noticing how many writers who “graduate” from games are influenced more by the worlds they’ve worked on rather than the characters. Games are GREAT to learn and develop worlds; certain games are GREAT to understand how to build unique characters. Writing stories, on the other hand, is the only discipline in my mind that will teach you about characterization. That doesn’t mean plot-driven stories are bad, mind you. It’s simply a different style of storytelling and fiction in SF&F has evolved to be more character-specific.

    And finally, I just want to reinforce my feelings on this… There are many similarities between writers no matter what your level of experience is. Ego? Online persona? Etc. Don’t get sucked in. I care about people and doing the best job I possibly can. That’s pretty much it. Everything else — worrying about the state of the industry, freaking out about someone else’s kerfluffles, etc. I just don’t have the time. I have a job, a really great one in fact, and writing fiction is in addition to that and everything else I’m doing, too.

    Now, to end this messy ‘ole pile of words and get back to the title of this post…

    I found Cat to be extraordinarily patient, honest, and excellent all-around. (I’d like to give a shout-out to my classmates, too. They were brilliant!) Cat is a fantastic teacher. Or, to put it bluntly: there was no bullshit. I never felt like this was a top down kind of a class where we were worshipping at her author’s altar. Always encouraging and extremely empathetic, she’s an extraordinarily grounded person and a very fine writer to boot. I am so, so happy for her success and encourage anybody to take one of her classes. I’d also like to thank Kat Richardson for the recommendation (GO KAT!) and the other writers for being patient with me, my questions, and my dry sense of humor.

    You can keep up-to-date on Cat Rambo’s online classes and workshops here: www.kittywumpus.net

    She’s worth every penny.

      Mood: It’s caffeination-time.
      Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Pepsi Max and a cup o’ java.
      Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I exercised my butt muscles.
      In My Ears: The drawbridge. Hee.
      Game Last Played: Dragon Age II
      Book Last Read: Research materials for work
      Movie Last Viewed: Dreamworks Shrek’s Swamp Stories
      Latest Artistic Project: *Still* *still* *still* need to take pictures… It’s on the list!
      Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
      Latest Game Release: Friends in Low Places
      What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work and novels.


    Brilliant. Discover New Sci Fi/Fantasy Authors with Opening Acts

    Opening Acts:

    Opening Acts is a collection the first chapters from twenty-five different genre novels from members of SF Novelists. I think the idea is outstanding and quite brilliant, which is the reason why I wanted to share this with you. A quote from their marketing material follows and includes the Table of Contents.

    OPENING ACTS

    Twenty-five First Chapters from Twenty-five Writers

    Every reader knows that the trouble is not finding something to read, but finding something you want to read. Sometimes, it’s something familiar, something known. Sometimes it’s something new, something unexpected.

    SF Novelists proudly offers you twenty-five teasers, twenty-five first chapters across the spectrum of SF and F. Twenty-five tastes, to tempt your appetite for adventure… to lure you into unknown worlds…

    And give you something new to read.

    Featuring:

    • 7th Sigma by Steven Gould
    • Bone Shop by T.A. Pratt
    • Bones of Faerie by Jenni Lee Simner
    • The Brahms Deception by Louise Marley
    • Carousel Tides by Sharon Lee
    • The Cloud Road by Martha Wells
    • Dangerous Water by Juliet E. McKenna
    • The Dread Hammer by Trey Shiels
    • Flesh and Fire by Laura Anne Gilman
    • Fright Court by Mindy Klasky
    • The Heretic by Joseph Nassise
    • House of the Star by Caitlin Brennan
    • Indigo Springs by A.M. Dellamonica
    • Jade Tiger by Jenn Reese
    • Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
    • Medium Dead by Chris Dolley
    • Midnight at Spanish Gardens by Alma Alexander
    • Play Dead by John Levitt
    • Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready
    • The Snow Queen’s Shadow by Jim C. Hines
    • Spellcast by Barbara Ashford
    • The Spirit Lens by Carol Berg
    • TruthSeeker by C.E. Murphy
    • Up Against It by M.J. Locke
    • With Fate Conspire by Marie Brennan

    You can download Opening Acts for free in most versions directly from Steven Gould’s website

    For the PDF, click on the following link and it’ll open up a new tab. This one is courtesy of Jim C. Hines. Opening Acts– SFNovelists.PDF

    Sign Up for My Newsletter for Free Fiction

    Based on the feedback I’ve received over the past couple of months, my monthly newsletter is going to take on a more personal tone. Each month, newsletter subscribers will receive free fiction in their In Box.

    To read free fiction, all you have to do is sign up for my monthly newsletter. I use a third party provider called “MailChimp.” They have a great privacy policy and whitelisting service built into their interface.

    I hope you’ll consider being a part of my growing community of readers, colleagues and friends. Thanks so much for supporting my work!

    – Monica

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