WisCon Schedule, Prince Caspian and Memorial Day Sunshine!

I’m happy to report that for the first time I will be attending WisCon, a feminist science fiction convention at the Madison Concourse hotel. Please note that I will be there as an attendee, and not as a panelist or a speaker. Due to writing and life commitments, I will be there on Saturday and Sunday. If anyone happens to know what the parking situation is around that area (i.e. appropriate ramp to park at or where I could street park for free) I’d appreciate that.

In addition to WisCon, I’ll be going to see Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull friday evening. We went to see the Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian last weekend. I thought that it was better than the first movie and would be a great rental. My biggest challenge with the film was that the fantasy race, Telmarines, were not treated as a “fantasy race” at all. Instead, the filmmakers had chosen to bill actors of Latino descent and even went so far as to “paint” two of the main actors to look that way. (Both Prince Caspian and the general.)

I had written about this trope in a writing exercise where I talked about how you can apply research to avoid common fantasy tropes, but I also wrote about it in an earlier post about writing unconventional fantasy settings. My point here is not one of political correctness (even though that may be implied), but about truly making a fantasy setting — fantasy. In Prince Caspian, the common trope could have been avoiding by simply adding in more unique rituals or mannerisms to truly make the Telmarines a fantasy race that had a reason to be “bad.” Remember, that when cultures clash (in this case Telmarines and Narnians) good and bad are often relative to points-of-view.

Other places I’ll be heading this weekend will be the Ale Asylum, Farmer’s Market, and hiking/picnicking/kiting on Memorial Day. Busy weekend but thank the stars warm weather is finally coming!

Gamers Do Good Things! (And You Can, Too!)

It’s really easy for me to rant about the stigmas attached to writing games because the negative press that gamers and game designers have received for various projects is mind-blowing. Well, here are just a few reasons why gamers and industry professionals aren’t all that bad.

Some Gamers Work to Fight the Stereotype

If you’ve ever had the chance to talk with Bill Walton, he doesn’t come across as being a one-man army, but that’s exactly what he is. Bill is the owner of a site called The Escapist: the reality of fantasy games which is a roleplaying advocacy site that has been around since 1995. Here’s a quote from his site:

Tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons are an engaging and intellectually stimulating activity that promote teamwork, problem solving, and creative thinking. Even better, in hands of a parent, guardian, or educator, they can be a fantastic teaching tool.

Unfortunately, the role-playing hobby has acquired a reputation for being geeky, dangerous, occultic, satanic, and even causing players to be prone to suicide or homicide. Only one of these is accurate – sure, it’s a bit geeky, but that’s the worst thing that can be said about it. The rest of those claims are pure urban legend.

Bill just started a podcast, dubbed The Escapistcast to expand into new functionality to help spread the message that (unbelievably) gamers aren’t evil.

The Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA) is now running Game Politics, a site that I had done some writing for a while back dedicated to covering legislation and media coverage primarily around video games. If you want to keep playing games and fight the stereotypes, there’s no better way to get involved than through your local legislator.

I should point out that the ECA is different from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). “Formed in 2006, the ECA is an advocacy organization for consumers of interactive entertainment.” The ESA is “the U.S. association exclusively dedicated to serving the business and public affairs needs of companies that publish video and computer games for video game consoles, personal computers, and the Internet.”

Gamers Organize for Charity

Over the years, I’ve seen industry folk put together projects to sell them for charity through places like Fundable or PayPal, then promote them over the web to bring awareness. The organization called Child’s Play is a successful example of how industry professionals have gone out of their way to work with hospitals and their patients. Here’s a quote:

Child’s Play works the same as last year. With the help of hospital staff, we’ve set up gift wish lists full of video games, toys, and movies. You can go to each hospital’s list and buy a toy, and that toy will be sent to the hospital. Some of these kids are in pretty bad shape. Imagine being stuck alone in a hospital over the holidays, getting something from a fellow gamer would really raise their spirits. Some of the stuff the hospital will give away for kids to keep, while other gifts (like consoles) will be kept by the hospital for patients to use throughout the year.

Inspired by Child’s Play, several other organizations and groups have started on their own. This group called Extra Life for Kids “was created by the Gamma Tau chapter of Phi Kappa Theta Fraternity during the fall of 2003 as a way to benefit local Children’s Miracle Network hospitals through something different: playing video games.”

This group called, “Gamers for Humanity is a brand-new “not-for-profit organization, founded for the purpose of giving gamers a chance to organize for charitable activities and fellowship.” Here’s the nice thing about it: their Indiana trip coincides with GenCon Indy, the big U.S. event of the year. So gamers can do something good for the community, then go play. They’re hurting for funds right now; all they need to raise is $5,000. Here’s a quote:

We are currently exploring fundraising and donation opportunities for our August build in Indianapolis. Our target amount is $5000, to be donated directly to Habitat For Humanity’s Indianapolis chapter. This money will enable us to have a full day (two shifts) for approximately 20 people at a build site in the Indianapolis area, Tuesday, August 12th.

If you’d like to help them out, donate to Gamers for Humanity. They are transparent about where their money goes (you can read where it does and how much money they get on the website), so rest easy knowing that your donation will go where it’s supposed to.

Are You Involved?

Whether you’re a gamer, industry professional or a fan, finding time to do “good deeds” can be next-to-impossible and I am right there with you. Time is a precious commodity for me because my story is like so many other writers and game designers I know, but I am trying.

Are you involved in any charity organizations? Were there any gamer-centric organizations that I missed on this list? How do you find the time?

Believe it or Not, Diet and Exercise Helps Me Write

One of the hardest things to manage when you’re a writer (or sit on your butt in any job for that matter) is the whole concept of working out and eating right. It’s really hard for all of us because not only do we have responsibilities but it’s hard to visualize what benefits we might get out of it when our time is so precious to us.

I’m really not unlike anyone else; I have commitments and things that I’m responsible for. Usually, it’s not the workload that bogs me down, it’s the task and time management that does. When things throw my schedule out of whack, work-outs have been the first thing to go. Probably sounds like everyone else.

I have a lot of long-term goals, one of which is to participate in a marathon. Now, I’m nowhere near that kind of athletic level currently. Just to participate in an hour-long class I’m dedicated two hours a night to get there, take the class, and recoup. When I think about what that means for my evenings, at first glance it just seems like a major pain-in-the-butt. Fortunately, I’ve noticed that it’s helping me write.

Lately I’ve had a lot more energy and my moods have been more even (believe it or not). I know, I know a miracle for any writer because really, without some tiny amount of angst how can we write three-dimensional characters? For me, I’m channeling stagnation from sitting all day to a class or machine, and my creativity right now is huge. Sunlight, working out, and cutting down on the bane of my existence (cheesy nachos…) are all contributing factors to wicked cool story ideas, awesome characters, and what feels like an inner glow.

I know it’s really easy for people to sound preachy with the workouts and the gym classes, and believe me that’s not what I’m trying to do here. I have multiple reasons for pumping iron (so to speak) but I’m on such a huge high right now I just had to share it.

Should be back to posting more regularly next week, thanks for staying tuned. I’ve also been really addicted to the idea of reorganizing lately, and I’ll throw some ideas your way about some books and free tools that have helped me. Have an awesome weekend!!! 😀

How to Infuse your Creativity by Researching Tropes, Myths and Beliefs

As promised, I’d like to give you all a little exercise that my fantasy author friends might appreciate and immediately recognize. This is an example of how I do my research, and I’m offering it to you to put more questions in your mind than answers, to challenge not only what you write—but how.

For those of you who are familiar with research methods, you will notice that some of the steps are out of order. For my own work and curiosity, it has become necessary to formulate my hypothesis after I read my source material to reduce personal slant and remain objective.

Research Exercise: Avoiding a Common Trope in Your Setting

Step One: Identify your Intent

Create a dark-skinned race of characters that do not adhere to the common fantasy trope: all dark-skinned characters are primitive, barbaric, or villainous.

Step Two: Recognize Potential Sources of the Belief or Trope

Specific to fantasy there might be: Dungeons and Dragons, Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings, or Conan the Barbarian. In this area, I would also recognize the need to read history or other nonfiction source material.

Step Three: Investigate a Major Influence for the Belief or Trope

Tolkien is often considered the father of fantasy and, in fact, heavily influenced early Dungeons and Dragons.

Step Four: Create a List of Author Influences

In this bucket, I sometimes either write down or note a variety of things about the author. For example: When was the book written? Where did the author hail from? How did the author create the trope or belief? Was the trope intentional? Did the writer have any prevalent or outspoken beliefs?

Step Five: Formulate your Opinion

Here is where you, the author, come into play. In this really basic example, you’ve done your homework to pinpoint what you believe is the reason why this trope was created and where it came from. Knowing those two things can really help you engineer other ways to avoid the trope or realistically portray a belief.

Step Six: Read Others’ Opinions

When appropriate, it might be a good idea to read other people’s opinions when appropriate. Literary criticism might be a great resource in this example or even commentaries from other writers. This step ends up becoming more important if you’re researching the origin of Halloween, for example, or myths and legends that cross time, cultures or countries.

Step Seven: Return to Your Original Goal

As the last step in the process, I recommend circling back to your goal and writing one paragraph to complete your thoughts. Sometimes, the act of writing down how you’d like to infuse your story with that different perspective can make all the difference.

What process do you use to marry research elements with your work? How do you manage collective thoughts and creativity into your projects? If you have other methods you use, feel free to share! Happy scribing!

How the Media You Surround Yourself With May Affect Your Writing

Take a moment to think about what information sources you have access to. On a very basic level, you gather information from people or media created by people. Now, if we stop to think about where that media is coming from it’s usually from a group of people focused on a particular belief or a person who is regurgitating their interpretation of that belief. Beliefs that underlie information may (or may not) be transparent; try cross-referencing news sources sometime to see what I’m talking about.

Most people are shaped by the world around them, and there is no greater influence than what information they absorb. If someone only gets their insight into society from a select group of sources that has, at their core, the same set of beliefs, then really that person is only getting one view of the world. Great examples of this concept can often be found by researching the origin of superstitions, holidays, and modern myths: Did you know that frightening gargoyles were once created on the sides of buildings to scare away evil spirits and protect people from harm?

Read More…

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