Make Art Not War 2017 (Part 2): Draft Guidelines

Make Art Not War by Shepard Fairy
Make Art Not War is a phrase that’s been popularized by street artist Shepard Fairy in a series of murals, like the one pictured above, found in Los Angeles and other parts of California. The phrase is simple. Powerful. The imagery clear. And it is my motto for 2017 for these reasons.

To that end, I’m devoting 2017 to a simple art challenge using a series of mantras and basic guidelines. The one I concocted is Don’t Get Mad, Make Art, and you can read about how I applied that over on Scalzi’s “Whatever” Blog in The Big Idea with Monica Valentinelli. All my frustration, all my rage, all my sorrow and empathy and joy… I want to finish sharpening my sword and engraving it to make a mega-butt ton of my own art in 2017.

Why am I keeping the rules for this simple? Couple of reasons. First, after working full-time as a writer, what I’ve found is that while discipline is crucial to making art, working on my own stuff fell to the wayside. And, I’m going to tell you why that is: money. If I can’t justify spending the time on something, I don’t do it because I can’t see the benefit. Even with Upside Down, which had a great launch, there was a lot of risk involved from the start. What if the collection isn’t received well? What if the slush pile doesn’t yield trope-smashing stories? What if, after pulling so many people together, it doesn’t fund at all? Money isn’t something writers talk about, because there’s still this pervasive idea that either we shouldn’t make it, that we’re asking too much, or that we should suffer for our art.

I don’t want to suffer. (Been there, did that.) I’ve already made decisions and gauge, constantly, how I can make a living doing what I love the most. If I had my choice, I would devote my time to my original work and not work for anybody else–but I can’t. I can’t afford it, and I can’t turn my back on the readers who supported me from the beginning. They came from my media/tie-in efforts, and I’m very grateful and aware of how I’ve grown as a result. Maybe some day I’ll have the power to command publishers and hordes of readers at my beck and call, but being as pragmatic as I am… Well, there aren’t a lot of writers who do and who can. Instead, we have to make it work with the tools and resources we have at our disposal, and I’m using this as a chance to bring my original worlds and stories into the world.

Another reason why I want to create simple guidelines, is because there are a lot of new writers and hobbyists out there who (have told me) are intimidated by any kind of challenge. It’s frustrating for them, because they haven’t internalized how to make the thing they love so they either never start, don’t find the time, or get discouraged. Unfortunately, the only way to learn is by doing. All the great ideas in the world can never manifest unless you shimmy and get out there and make art!

Without further adieu, here are the draft guidelines for my challenge. Comments welcome!

Author’s Note: I will post the manifesto and guidelines next week, so we have time to prepare for January 1, 2017.

Draft Guidelines for Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge

What I want to do for the 2017 challenge guidelines, is to cover three areas: time, tracking, and check-in. I don’t want to shape the challenge by telling people “what” to make, though I might toss a few fun bits in throughout the year to inspire y’all. I’m using some of the disciplinary practices I had to do when I used to play piano as a baseline.

1. Daily Practice: Devote one hour a day to making original art. Yes, all 365 days a year! If, barring sickness and what have you, a day is missed it needs to be made up.

2. Weekly Practice: I will post a minimum of two blogs per week. The first will be a check-in to see how both myself and everybody else’s doing. Comments will be open, so you can post links to your websites if you have something new to share. The second, will be about some cool thing I like. In other words, while this challenge is about making my own art, I can still support you (the reader) and my peers. I don’t want to say “I will post metrics, I will post what I’ve done, I will post pictures…” That feels a little too show-y to me, and I think that needs to be more organic than that.

3. And lastly… Social Media Usage: Okay, so originally I thought about taking a year off from social media, but that won’t work. I’ve got a lot of releases coming out, I’ve got fans to chat with, and unfortunately the vast majority of my writerly friends are more introverted than I am. Instead, I want to limit my public engagement for the entire year to no more than twice a week. I’ve got a few private means to keep in contact with friends and whatnot; this is the Twitter/Facebook/whatever stuff.

Thoughts? Am I in the right direction or do I need rethink this?

Make Art Not War With Me In 2017 (Part One)

Back when Bush, Jr. was in office, I remember thinking to myself that his presidency would solidify the shape of the future. Either we were going to figure out how to stop the divisiveness that was forming between the two major parties, or eventually that divide would become a chasm they couldn’t cross without a common enemy. I don’t know whether or not I’m right. When it comes to politics, I think about patterns as opposed to saying one President or another is totally to blame. My concern has always been about bi-partisanship, because people aren’t as reductive as we think they are. We’re complicated. Can our politicians set aside their differences and come to the table to attend to the needs of governance? And, perhaps more importantly, why have we given in to extremist or fringe ideologies? What is the solution when people are reduced to sides, and you’re either for or against one another?

I think about what happened when Walker took office and began attacking the Wisconsin unions; people were so angry that they started to sing the Star Spangled Banner. Afterwards, I witnessed how yellow journalism had to paint a clearly one-sided war against Unions as having “two, equally-numbered sides.” The subtext for attacking the unions was politically-motivated, because unions tend to donate to Democratic campaigns, and that was a blip in the larger conversation. Anyway, 100,000 protesters against the governor’s policies, and a handful of opposing protesters bused in–both filmed as having equal weight and numbers. Even then, it took six-to-eight weeks for anyone to pick up on what was happening, and by then it was too late. The idea that this was an organized, violent protest began circulating. The truth, was that so many people organically came to protest, that they needed to be organized. Unions were “dirty thugs” and “fat cats”. Teachers, firemen, machinists, state workers and, much later, police officers became the bad guys. And, because they became “the” bad guys, you couldn’t walk anywhere without being impacted by the us vs. them mentality. You were either for or against your neighbors, co-workers, friends, family, and everyone else you interacted with.

Emotionally, it was very trying for a lot of people. There was no escaping it. On the ground we were also experiencing one thing, and the media and politicians who were afraid of people speaking up were depicting another. I don’t blame the media for what happened, though. Part of this, was what I feel is a technical issue which is the same problem that has facilitated fake news. When telling a story, which is what all articles are, appealing to people’s emotions is the best way to get eyeballs on the page. Instead of the news being delivered to a rapt audience via a newspaper in the morning or at night, or via the nightly news at a specific time, we have 24-7 news which is not sustainable. So, news that affects people on a local level gets stretched out ad infinitum, because the outlets have to stay in business somehow. Now, however, now that journalists are needed again and advertorials, fake news, and what “sounds” good is valued over facts… Well, you can see how people can get easily confused or frustrated, especially when they’re living and feeling the effects of what’s happening on the ground. Even then, the emotions generated by the news aren’t within the full spectrum, because outrage is more shareable than hearing how people are hurting–just look at what’s happening in North Dakota and Flint, Michigan. But, outrage doesn’t offer solutions and eventually people get tired of hearing about a situation, which allows more harm to happen.

Fast Forward to the Present

I cannot imagine what a Trump presidency will be like, and I’m not politically-savvy enough to know what the long-term effects will be either. I suspect there will be a lot of fighting, misinformation, and us vs. them on a national scale and, if my dreams are any indication that a battle is coming? A McCarthy-esque battle is coming for the soul of this country that will be felt in every city, town, and suburb and may have global repercussions. People are already getting hurt, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, but much worse–there are a fair number of folks who don’t believe that crimes of hate are on the rise.

Worse, the traits that used to be associated with being a good American–empathy, compassion, helping the poor–seem to be regulated now to “bleeding heart lefties”. That leaves me speechless, that the very best of what it means to be human is regulated to a political ideology. If you’re a good person, you’re frowned upon for being weak. Being decent is no longer a goal to shoot for, it’s something to stomp on, and I don’t know why.

So what can I do? I have a teeny tiny amount of fame, friends I don’t see often enough, a small but growing readership, and a lot of peers that are struggling right alongside with me. I’m your average jane schmo artist with a big mouth, a big heart, and a lust for making art and reveling in the joy and resulting conversations. That’s what I know how to do, but I also know something else. I know what my life experiences have taught me, and I know what kind of a person I could have been if I wasn’t open to learning. I know a lot about the industry (enough to make me dangerous), and help where I can, when I can.

Unfortunately, I can’t fix what’s coming. I’m not a politician. I’m not loaded. I’m not powerful. And, I don’t want to be “known” for my politics, anyway. What I can do, is make art. I believe that a story can change the world. The problem is, no one knows which one that will be–which is why more stories will always need to be told.

What does this mean for 2017? I’m creating a Make Art Not War Challenge for myself, to push the boundaries of what I normally do. I’ll post the specific details in a follow-up post, but more than that… I want you to consider taking this challenge (or something like it) with me. Hobbyist, part-time artist, full-time artist, whatever! Art is needed now, more than ever, because this is how we can remind each other of all the complexities and depths of emotions that we share as human beings.

    Mood: Hump Day Redux
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: There’s no bottom to this coffee pot.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Blargh, blech, blargh.
    In My Ears: The wind. (Seriously, it’s strong as hell out there.)
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Game of Thrones
    Latest Artistic Project: My sekrit project.
    Latest Releases: Read my end-of-the-year list of releases for an overview of what I’ve put out for 2016.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update.

[Announcement] Writing the Other 2017 Classes

I am pleased to share that I am teaching a Writing the Other class about RPGs in February 2017. The full text of the announcement, including instructions on how to get updates, is on the newly revamped website.

In addition to the classes that I am teaching, I thought you might be interested in the works of these talented instructors. Please consider checking them out!

New Writing the Other Classes

2017 is almost here and we’re already planning a full year of Writing the Other classes! In addition to Weekend Intensives every other month there will be at least three Multi-week Classes. And we have an exciting roster of new classes and Master Classes coming up:

  • Writing Inclusive Games – Creating RPGs Sans Fail with Monica Valentinelli | February 2017
  • Master Class: Writing Bisexual Characters with Faith Cheltenham | February 2017
  • Master Class: Writing Your Future Self – Creating Older Characters with Ellen Klages | early March 2017
  • Master Class: How To Fail Gracefully with Mary Robinette Kowal and K. Tempest Bradford | April 2017
  • Master Class: Avoiding Offensive Tropes in Horror with Chesya Burke | Summer 2017
  • Worldbuilding Intensive (instructors TBA) | Summer 2017
  • Master Class: Writing From the Diaspora with Ken Liu | Autumn 2017
  • Master Class: Beyond Belief – Writing Plausible Atheist and Religious Characters with Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward | Autumn 2017

We also plan to have Master Classes on Writing Lesbian and Gay Characters, Writing Characters With Mobility Disabilities, and Depicting Class in Fiction later in the year.

For more about these classes, visit

[New Release] Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling

Upside Down Inverted Tropes in Storytelling Cover

“This compendium of literary undercutting and rebuilding is both enjoyable to read and an incisive work of commentary on the genre.”
— Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

Now Available!

Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling is an anthology of short stories, poetry, and essays edited by Monica Valentinelli and Jaym Gates. Over two dozen authors, ranging from NYT-bestsellers and award winners to debut writers, chose a tired trope or cliche to challenge and surprise readers through their work.

Read stories inspired by tropes such as the Chainmaille Bikini, Love at First Sight, Damsels in Distress, Yellow Peril, The Black Man Dies First, The Villain Had a Crappy Childhood, The Singularity Will Cause the Apocalypse, and many more…then discover what these tropes mean to each author to find out what inspired them.

Join Maurice Broaddus, Adam Troy-Castro, Delilah S. Dawson, Shanna Germain, Sara M. Harvey, John Hornor Jacobs, Rahul Kanakia, Alethea Kontis, Valya Dudycz Lupescu, Haralmbi Markov, Sunil Patel, Kat Richardson, Nisi Shawl, Ferrett Steinmetz, Anton Strout, Michael Underwood, Alyssa Wong and many other authors as they take well-worn tropes and cliches and flip them upside down.

Introduction — Jerry Gordon

On Loving Bad Boys: A Villanelle — Valya Dudycz Lupescu
Single, Singularity — John Hornor Jacobs
Lazzrus — Nisi Shawl
Seeking Truth — Elsa Sjunneson-Henry
Thwock — Michelle Muenzler
Can You Tell Me How to Get to Paprika Place? — Michael R. Underwood
Chosen — Anton Strout
The White Dragon — Alyssa Wong
Her Curse, How Gently It Comes Undone — Haralambi Markov
Burning Bright — Shanna Germain
Santa CIS (Episode 1: No Saint) — Alethea Kontis
Requiem for a Manic Pixie Dream — Katy Harrad & Greg Stolze
The Refrigerator in the Girlfriend — Adam-Troy Castro
The First Blood of Poppy Dupree — Delilah S. Dawson
Red Light — Sara M. Harvey
Until There Is Only Hunger — Michael Matheson
Super Duper Fly — Maurice Broaddus
Drafty as a Chain Mail Bikini — Kat Richardson
Swan Song — Michelle Lyons-McFarland
Those Who Leave — Michael Choi
Nouns of Nouns: A Mini Epic — Alex Shvartsman
Excess Light — Rahul Kanakia
The Origin of Terror — Sunil Patel
The Tangled Web — Ferrett Steinmetz
Hamsa, Hamsa, Hamsa, Tfu, Tfu, Tfu. — Alisa Schreibman
Real Women Are Dangerous — Rati Mehrotra

I’m Pretty Sure I’ve Read This Before … — Patrick Hester
Fractured Souls — Lucy A. Snyder
Into the Labyrinth: The Heroine’s Journey — A.C. Wise
Escaping the Hall of Mirrors — Victor Raymond
Tropes as Erasers: A Transgender Perspective — Keffy R.M. Kehrli

Afterword — Monica Valentinelli & Jaym Gates
Trope Definitions/Index of Tropes


Book Details:
Cover artist Galen Dara
TPB ISBN: 978-1-937009-44-1
HC ISBN: 978-1-937009-46-5
366 Pages

Monica Valentinelli is an editor, writer, and game developer who lurks in the dark. Her work includes stories, games, and comics for her original settings as well as media/tie-in properties such as the Firefly TV show, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Vampire: The Masquerade. Her nonfiction includes reference materials such as Firefly: The Gorramn Shiniest Language Guide and Dictionary in the ‘Verse, and essays in books like For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher. For more about Monica, visit

Jaym Gates is an editor, author, and communications manager. She’s the editor of the Rigor Amortis, War Stories, Exalted, and Genius Loci anthologies, as well as a published author in fiction, academic nonfiction, and RPGs.

RPG Creator Relief Fund Achieves 501(3) Status and a Look Ahead

RPG Creators Relief FundIf you recall, you might remember that I’m part of the RPG Creator Relief Fund. I’ve got great news! This year, we achieved 501(3) status and this will help the charity grow in the future to help other creators in dire need. Plus, if you’re looking for charities to donate to, your contributions are tax deductible.

Today, I’d like to share a statement from Sean Patrick Fannon, our Communications Director.

RPG Creator Relief Fund Entering 2017

Greetings to all of you who love RPGs and the folks who make them! There’s no arguing that 2016, while a fantastic year in terms of RPG releases and the immense creativity behind them, was a bit rough on a lot of folks who make this their vocation. Injuries, illnesses, and serious financial setbacks hit a lot of great folks, and still others are facing major challenges in the days, weeks, and months to come.

This is exactly why we created the Roleplaying Game Creators Relief Fund. Inspired by such great efforts as the Hero Initiative, we wanted to put together a way to help RPG writers, artists, editors, and other creative folks who work professionally in this field to gain help through tough times. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization, we need as much help as RPG fans can give us in order to fill the Fund with assets that can be called on when needed.

We experienced a lot of success this year, but we plan to do much more in 2017 and beyond. We’ll be creating more great bundles for you to purchase, with the proceeds going to the Fund. As well, we’ve got some special, exclusive projects in the works, designed specifically for the RCRF to generate much-needed money to give those in need.

We’re also exploring charity drive initiatives, such as auctions at conventions; live-cast gaming feeds; gaming group challenges; and other creative and energetic concepts to motivate the RPG community to help those who make the games and worlds we all love.

We’d love to know what gamers would like to see, as well, so please reach out to us and let us know. You can find us online at our website, or on Facebook. If you want to look at the bundles we have available at any given time, check out our DriveThruRPG page.

To all who’ve supported us so far, we thank you most profoundly, and we hope you’ll help us spread the word and get more gamers involved. We all know important it is to team up to fight the darkness and help our fellow adventurers heal and survive when times are bad.

For the RCRF Board of Directors, Board of Applicants, and Advisory Board,

Sean Patrick Fannon
Communications Director, RCRF

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Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.


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