The Story behind my Rethinking Fear in Horror Games Interview with Doctor Megan

It’s the Monday after GameHole Con and the week of Halloween. I had a fantastic time and am grateful to have been part of the show as a special guest. Said I wasn’t going to write the day after the show, but I lied. I realized that I wanted to tell you the story behind why I proposed the Rethinking Fear in Horror Games Interview with Doctor Megan at the show for two reasons: One, MeganPsyD (on Twitter) recorded it, and I’d really, really be grateful if you’ll reshare it when it goes live and two, because the long, sordid backstory isn’t appropriate to share with you when the literal star of this interview is Doctor Megan Connell.

All right… So, one of the many work-related tasks I did during the pandemic was to review all the creative projects I wanted to do but never produced. I think I told you this before, but as a transmedia storyteller I love to develop stories in different mediums to tap into the gifts they bring. Working on IP as a game designer was a great push toward that, because I had the pleasure of being able to study the IPs I was working on in different media forms.

But for all those benefits, working on IPs isn’t “my” work. My IPs. Somewhere along the way, I started recognizing I had limited resources to do what I wanted to do. I addressed this in a previous newsletter, but this was one of the reasons why I developed a scarcity mindset. And, look I am really great at project management to usher projects out into the world with the resources I do have available, but at the same time I have always been a high creative and would much, much rather do that.

So, there I was reminding myself that yes, I have always known what I wanted to do. In fact, here’s a pile of projects I remembered stalled because I needed help to produce them. In the past, I have asked for help. I have a gut-wrenching-to-me cyberpunk story, for example, that primarily works as a movie or graphic novel because of the gifts an actor can bring, but also because the use of color is actually part of the story. [Not just a concept, mind you. I do have materials for this.] Okay, so how do I produce this thing? Write a screenplay, right? Sell it? Win the lottery? Yeah, you see where I’m going with this. Mind you, I did place as a co-write in a screenwriting contest and had a door open for a hot minute, but nothing ever came of that. The real reason I didn’t write the screenplay is because I made a choice not to. I have limited resources and, other than paying money to enter screenplay contests and hoping for the best, it’d be challenging for me in my current position to make the connections necessary for a green light. I also spent a solid five-to-six years pitching and getting to know people at comic book conventions because I secretly wanted to do this story, and wanted to work on other comics first to build of my resume, but have since given up.

Both times, I got a lot of advice to form a path of produced works to increase the chances of my projects getting made. My barrier? Again. Resources. Sure, I could self-publish, but that seems to be the default answer every time. It still costs to self-publish. Time is just one of those costs! My personal art isn’t great enough to pursue it; and I cannot, and will not, find an artist to collaborate with unless I pay pro rates. Laughably, what do you do when you do have a resume but it’s either too long or not long enough?

I have no idea. But, I am lucky I have had friends and folks I’ve thought of as mentors who’ve guided me to an important realization: Keep an open mind and do what I can, because the work is for me even if I enjoy entertaining people. I am so incredibly sad to tell you many of them are no longer with me, but I got here—in this creative space where F-bomb it I’m going to do what I can and hope for the best—because of them. Because of my late Shakespeare professor who not only taught me how to appreciate and write for multiple audiences at the same time, but recognized I was a better fit for film. Because of my late friend who made peace with his own role in publishing and his success after talking to so many other creative professionals in the exact same space I am. Because of several friends of color who have had the patience to help me recognize my own privilege (while recognizing there are still challenges as an aging, female creative) and how I can help lift others and build community. Because of one particular black friend (you know who you are and you are AMAZING) who proverbially held my hand for many years, both before, during, and after a tumultuous time in both gaming and science fiction and fantasy to remind me of my own power. Because of the tireless support and the position I put my loved ones, my friends and peers, my writing group, even former publishers in. Because of the lessons I learned after meeting two of my literary heroes, where one crushed my heart to the point where I never thought I’d recover, and the other extended compassion and friendship.

And now, because of Doctor Megan. The project that I am working on with Doctor Megan is a Ravenloft 5th Edition campaign for DMsGuild.com. This is a set of releases that wouldn’t be possible without Megan’s expertise as a professional psychologist and her deep, deep love of Dungeons & Dragons.

As a former World of Darkness writer myself, I have always felt the horror genre contributes narrative potential to explore our shadows. Philosophically, I believe that shadows and light are crucial components of the human existence and, to a larger extent, the stories we tell. But, I also recognize there are a lot of problematic tropes that I wanted (and have to various ends throughout my career) to work through in the hopes it’ll make the story better, my anxiety notwithstanding. (The concept behind my Apex Book Company anthology Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling was inspired by this!)

As before: I didn’t write this campaign, because I was missing something. I knew I was missing an important thematic piece that could, quite frankly, only come from someone who understood what horror was from an actual psychologist’s perspective who understood gaming. Then, I got lucky. Megan and I met at GameHole Con a few years ago, became friends, play Ravenloft together, and eventually got to a place where I could ask for her help.

This is now our campaign. We playtested two scenarios at this show and got amazing feedback. Now it’s a matter of, again, figuring out my resources. I have to prioritize my deadline-centric work, because without a publisher I am fronting the time and costs and friends, I got bills to pay. Then there’s the collaboration with an actual professional who has a day job, loved ones, etc. But, this campaign is a possibility now because this story required collaboration, and it’s all happening thanks to her.

So why THIS interview? Well, because I can’t imagine I am the only writer who’s worked on horror games, who wants to evoke that feeling of fear at the table in a healthy way, who’d be both curious and feel a little less anxious about this heavy genre work after hearing her expertise. Horror game design is hella complicated, yo. And before you freak out… Please know that horror game design from a psychological approach is not always about The Deep StuffTM or massive genre changes—even small tweaks make a world of difference.

I am extremely grateful to Doctor Megan and to GameHole Con for approving this talk. The room was packed, her voice was heard, and with any luck she’ll go on to huge, huge things.

As for me? I really don’t know, but I have a long-ass list and deadlines I need to keep crushing (while seeking out new opportunities). And I’ll keep muddling through all this the best I can. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even find a little more help along the way.

Wouldn’t that be something.

Reading Deprivation And Other Miscellany

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Hard to believe it’s almost six o’clock on a Saturday, but here I am. Many of the pitches I sent out have borne fruit; I’m busy working on outlines and drafts at the moment and just finished a science fiction novella. There’s been a few delays on projects due to elements out of my control, but I’m happy with the progress I’ve made so far and I’m getting a really slick setup for recording audio as part of my birthday present. So, there’s that. (And that’s very exciting!)

I’m still behind on mail and filing, but I’ve cleaned up my office and managed to reduce some of the clutter so I can focus on projects. I’ve got a lot of books lying around and while I’m happy to be in such good company — surface space is crucial when painting or making jewelry. C-r-u-c-i-a-l.

Now that I’m here, a few things I’d like to mention. This week, I’m scheduled for a reading deprivation session so no Tumblr or social media. E-mail only during regular work hours. (e.g. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) This is part of a program I’m immersed in right now; one of the theories behind the deprivation is that artists are heavily influenced by environment and “junk” words/experiences. Branding, for example, is a tiny, tiny piece to that. Just watching TV, you’ll encounter thousands of brands every day.

But, back to the junk concept. Really, junk experiences lead to junk emotions and sensationalism is all about forcing you to feel something you might not normally feel for a click. What you do with that reaction fascinates me from a sociological standpoint. How much time do we waste on that crap? I’ve had good luck with social media blackouts before and I think smaller reading deprivations, like the one I’m about to dive into, are more effective than what I did for the 100 days social media blackout because I’m taking back control of what I consume. For myself, that’s essential to everything I do, especially since I need to listen in order to hear a story’s pulse or the rhythm of a song or the pattern on a canvas, etc.

For any artist, output matters so much more than input, because this is who we are. It’s not like being on an assembly line; there’s an ebb and flow. Sometimes that depends upon money but other times it doesn’t. It just depends on the person and I’m a “It’s the journey — not the destination” type. So recognizing the swinging periods, whether they be mood, weather, or related to something else is crucial for my work — for ALL my work.

Before I go, two things. First, stand up and applaud humankind. We have designed a machine that has drilled a hole in the surface of Mars. If that does not instill you with a sense of wonder? I don’t know what will.

And two, the “largest” ancient Scottish art installations have been discovered recently. The reason why I’m pointing that one out, is because there was a lot of references to the cup-shaped marks in the rocks. They don’t know why the ancients made cup-shaped marks, but in more recent times holy water and milk filled the indentations. From what cursory research I’ve done on this, there’s a theory the marks are related to a fertility rite — but I’m not buying it at all. (Besides, everything is a fertility rite if you turn your head sideways.) I’d be curious to line up the position of the stars at the time and test the reflection of the water under different conditions. Fill the marks with water, light a fire or two or wait for sunrise/sunset, and you have some potentially heavy duty lighting effects for your magical ceremony/oracle/priest right there.

Anyway, just thought I’d mention it. Another weather advisory for tomorrow. Freezing rain. I think I could use some spring now. No wonder why I bought that hot pink purse. Eesh.

    Mood: I’ll get back to you on that.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I broke down. Having a Diet Dew.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Stairs. They sucked.
    In My Ears: AX Music Volume 15 Utopia.
    Game Last Played: Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed
    Movie Last Viewed: I don’t know the name of it, but it was a spaghetti western with crow ninjas in it.
    Latest Artistic Project: SHINIES. Still need to take pics…
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology

An Anti-Climactic Resolution

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Just a quick note! I’m taking a break from fluttery butter updates on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and blogging periphery for the rest of January. This’ll give me a chance to work on a few resolutions.

Anything work-related (e.g. release announcements and the like) will still be posted, though! 🙂 More to come!

AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!

    Mood: Determined
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: WOOOOOOOOOOO!!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: *coughs* I was hungover.
    In My Ears: The Snowmen Doctor Who
    Game Last Played: Tetris
    Movie Last Viewed: Resident Evil: Apocalypse
    Latest Artistic Project: Holiday gifts
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology

A Hearty Thanks

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Just wanted to pop in and say “Thank You!” today. I told you either late last year (or earlier this one) that my intent for this website was to focus on my publishing endeavors while highlighting some day-to-day aspects of my employment and life here in the Mad, Mad City.

My goal, while not I didn’t express this overtly, was to emphasize my work as a creator by spotlighting new publications and minimize the draw to my marketing or business-related content. I rearranged my website which allowed me to blog about life, the universe, and everything in a varied, haphazard fashion to share with you who I am as opposed to focusing on articles that educate or demand that you listen. You’ve responded to the change. Now, my publication announcements are the most-read on this site and you’ve also been following my blog more readily than you have in the past. For that? I say “THANK YOU!”

I know a few of you are disappointed that I’m not blogging about business-related activities very frequently anymore. I feel there’s enough free commentary and other ephemera here to give you a sample of what I’ve done (and the teeniest taste of what I can do). I’m always open to writing paid articles on a variety of non-fiction subject, but now that I have a repertoire of sample business-related articles/posts out in the wilds, I feel if anyone wants more hands-on consulting from me, you can always contact me and ask for my rates.

For those of you who joined me later this year, part of the reason why I used to blog about more nuts and bolts business-related topics (whether they be job-related or not) is because most writers cannot afford to live off of their works. I’m a strong believer in “pay it forward.” Remember, a lot of Creative Writing programs don’t talk about the fiscal realities of writing. I hope that what I’ve posted on the site will help you determine your own path in a sensible, pragmatic fashion (while still reaching for the stars!).

2013 is going to be a VERY exciting year in a lot of ways. I can’t wait! Yay!

    Mood: Inspired
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: If I said less than the day before, that would be a lie.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: The Gym.
    In My Ears: Winter Rhapsody by Nox Arcana
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Awakenings
    Movie Last Viewed: The Lord of the Rings trilogy
    Latest Artistic Project: In progress!
    Latest Release: “The Dig” The Lovecraft eZine Issue No. 19

The Gods Help Me, I’ve Joined Tumblr

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A few weeks ago, I joined Tumblr and also updated my LiveJournal account/migrated some over to Dreamwidth.

I’m not very happy with LiveJournal’s McSpam problems, for they make it difficult to interact with people and also know what to pay attention to. I’d like too figure out another place where you’d like to read my blog; after all, it’s not always easy remembering to visit somebody’s website or checking the RSS feed, such as it is. Facebook is becoming more challenging to use because it’s moving toward a pay-to-play environment and Twitter? Well, Twitter is great for bar conversations or passing somebody on the street. I rather enjoy blogging, you see, and I feel it’s a way to give you some content that’s not as ephemeral, provided my time constraints allow me to do that.

So, I’m trying Tumblr, which you can find at mlvwrites.tumblr.com. I’ve still got a touch of work to do on it, namely adding relevant pages and whatnot, but this will do for now. (I find the interface VERY gooey. . . HTML brain broken!) Right now, Tumblr’s the format that is winning out; I’m very new to this, so if you have a Tumblr join me in my insanity.

If there are other platforms you’re on, or would recommend, please comment below!

    Mood: Emerging from a fog.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: You mean, those exist? *red face*
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: The Airport Shuffle
    In My Ears: Around The World by Red Chili Peppers
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Origins
    Movie Last Viewed: MirrorMask
    Latest Artistic Project: In progress!
    Latest Release: “Fangs and Formaldehyde” from the New Hero anthology through Stone Skin Press
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