The Spectacularity of Cat Rambo

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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:

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.

Meet Al. Our Spoiled Frog.

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If you’ve been following my blog, you probably heard me mention that we have two cats and a frog. I’ve had a hard time taking pictures of Al, our thirteen year old albino water frog, because of the way his previous tank was set up. We recently constructed a new stand and situated Al in a brand new twenty-gallon tank in my office — now I’m *truly* never alone.

Al in his new tank

We opted to keep the setup relatively simple for now. There’s a glow-in-the-dark rock, a working drawbridge, and a gothic column. We managed to take a close-up of what he looks like.

Al Closeup

Now, sometimes (because he’s VERY spoiled) we get a bunch of minnows. This time around, he swallowed five of them and then sat for hours without moving.


It’s been a few days and we’re down to the last three minnows. I’m really curious to see how long they last, but I suppose Al’ll surprise me. Oh, how he does tend to pig out…

If wishes were fishes, I’d have a tank that would stretch from one wall to the other. The ancient ruins aquarium theme would be our “dream” way to decorate it. ‘Course, if there were ruins… There’d have to be a few skulls and treasure chests lying around, too…

    Mood: Curiouser and curiouser
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Coffee and a Pepsi Max
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: There was a chair and there was my bum.
    In My Ears: Google Hangouts
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age II
    Book Last Read: Research materials for work
    Movie Last Viewed: Alice in Wonderland
    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.

Nightmare Alley… With Nightmares from Yours Truly

Cover Art for Exquisite Replicas

An alien reality is infiltrating our world, replacing it piece by piece. Horrific creatures slink about unseen, stealing indiscriminately and leaving exact replicas in their wake. These simulacra are indistinguishable from the originals, and there’s no telling what will be the next target. It might be the fire hydrant down the street, the local post office, or an aged Merlot in a private wine cellar. A person can also be replicated and replaced… your neighbors, your friends, your family—anyone can be next. Even you.

There are a few men and women who can see the invaders creeping about our world. They wage a quiet war against the enemy while those who they struggle to protect recognize nothing of their sacrifice. They are the Anonymous, tragic heroes who risk more than just their lives in the struggle against the enemy; they risk their humanity.

Exquisite Replicas is a role-playing game of paranoia and horror where intolerable choices collide with the fragile hope of what it means to be human. The war must be won, but it is up to the players to decide at what cost.

A blast from my proverbial past, Exquisite Replicas is a game I had contributed to a few years ago. You can read my design notes on titled: “Initiation to Exquisite Replicas.”

For a few days, you can get a copy of this game and five other horror-related titles through the Bundle of Holding.

If you miss out, don’t worry! You can still find a copy of Exquisite Replicas on

Scare thee well!

Link Salad. Caesar, not Garden.

There's a trojan on your computer

I’ve pledged to blog more often than I normally do, but sometimes it’s hard coming up with “a” topic. Hence, today’s post is a link salad of some websites and articles I found.

  • Frankenstein – If you’re a Benedict Cumberbatch fan, you might want to check your local theatres for this 2010 performance. He alternates roles with Jonny Lee Miller and, based on the preview spot alone, it sounds like its an outstanding show.
  • Fiction is a Waste of Time – I found this article to be ironic, not because it plays into the whole “elitist” mindset that is so prevalent here in the states or that most writers are not rolling in the dough — but because a musician, a songwriter, made that claim. Songwriters tell stories! As a musician myself, I see a LOT of similarities between the two fields. Replace “literary” with “classical” and there’s kerfluffles even within that discipline. Sheesh.
  • Open Government Foundation – This was really interesting to me, because it’s a list of what legislation is going through the House. Sure, we’ve all heard of SOPA and PIPA, but this allows you to get in on the ground floor and see what’s being discussed.
  • Friends in Low Places – My new Episode is now number four on the hottest items list for Many, many thanks for supporting my work. Huzzah!
  • Top 5 Excuses Stopping You From Finishing That Novel – And I quote: “Whatever the scenario, all of these aspiring authors feel frustrated and powerless by the writing process, rather than empowered. The more powerless they feel, the more frustrated they become. The more frustrated they become, the less they feel like writing. And, of course, the less they feel like writing, the less they get done.”
  • Dragon Age Legends Remix – This sounds so tempting, but I don’t want to play this blind. Have you? “Playing as Dragon Age Legends’ Viscount Ravi, players will learn about Ravi’s back story while fighting their way through hordes of demons and darkspawn. By completing levels of the Remix, players are able to earn gifts for their hero in Dragon Age Legends on Facebook.”
  • HWA Scholarships – Just dropping in a note that you, too, can apply for an HWA scholarship if you’re an active member. I used to be, but I believe I let that lapse for now.
  • The Problem With Medium – This post talks about content farms and offers a warning. It’s a model that does favor the publisher and tends to earn them lots and lots of money. Think what you will about them. Certainly, I’m not advocating for or against them. I just think if you’re a good writer who wants to make a career based off of selling your work — do THAT. Don’t give it away in a business model where someone else profits off of what you provide.

And that’s it for today’s link salad!

    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Coffee plus a single Pepsi Max. Noticing how much caffeine hits me when I drink pop.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: For the ever-lovin’ wash… FOUR LOADS.
    In My Ears: Water filter and drawbridge! (new fish tank)
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age II
    Book Last Read: Research materials for work
    Movie Last Viewed: Alice in Wonderland
    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.

New Release: Friends in Low Places

Friends in Low Places_Firefly RPG_Valentinelli

    Sometimes meeting up with old friends in Serenity View is cause for celebration—but not this time. Over drinks, you and your Crew discover that Monty’s new wife Daisy has gone missing. Worse, your pal thinks that Virgil Morningstar, a Guild trader with a heap of Alliance connections, had something to do with her disappearance. By the time you find out Daisy ain’t the only one who’s vanished, you and your Crew’ll be neck-deep in trouble and hard-pressed to find your way out of it. Thing is, if you do unravel this little mystery, you’ll claim a big reward and be heroes to boot.

    Friends in Low Places is part of the Echoes of War role-playing adventure series, which is centered on a common theme: the Unification War. Echoes of War adventures include basic rules to get you started. Main characters are found in the Serenity Crew, which is available separately. All releases in the Echoes of War line are compatible with the FIREFLY ROLE-PLAYING GAME, which is based on the television series by Joss Whedon.

I’m really excited to see this new Episode go live today. I had a lot of fun writing and playtesting this Episode with the following people in two, separate playtests: Matt M McElroy, Bill Bodden, Maurice Broaddus, Robert Farnsworth, Dylan “that bastard” Birtolo, Kelly Swails, Molly Findley, Donald Roberts, Mark Tassin, Douglas F. Warrick, Kyle S. Johnson, Danielle Friedman, and Gary Kloster.

What I found through GM’ing the Episode for two differently-sized groups, was that smaller groups might tend to hone in on the setting more, because there’s less banter happening at the table. This resulted in an enhancement to the Episode structure to address a concern Margaret and I had early on, about adding in setting. Since this is a very character-driven game, each location I developed incorporates a new character or “Extra.” Combined, those tweaks ensure that the setting helps flesh out the overall plot instead of distracting the Crew from their goal.

For larger groups, I saw how the system facilitated a full cast of nine players, and how important it was to clearly direct scenes. By using the phrase “cut to commercial” at the end of a scene, the group could wind down some while I managed the Assets and Complications on the table. Then, when we faded back in to the new scene, I offered the players a chance to recap what happened so far (to earn a plot point) and then set the next location.

So why all the playtesting? First, understand that while we do have a systems lead, I love this game and it’s my responsibility to be able to play/run scenarios so I can offer feedback from my perspective. The team did a fantastic job; the way the system was designed really, really lends itself to the feeling like you’re on the set of a Firefly television episode. Here, playtesting was a “must.” This Episode has five acts, true, but it also has a unique plot structure where (not spoiling anything by saying this) the players choose their allies over the course of the adventure. The decisions they make in their encounters with other characters, from the Prelude onward, impact the final showdown — and it’s a doozy!

I hope you have fun playing this Episode. There’s a lot more Firefly fun coming and I’m very excited to share with you what’s next for the line. The entire team has been head down for the past few weeks as we wrap up the corebook and continue working on the first supplement. Enjoy!

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