For the Fans, From a Fan, and Back Again

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Good morning! There’s lots and lots going on, so I thought I’d pop in and give you an unfiltered brain dump this morning. Mind you, I don’t always like doing this, because I can type faster than I think some days…sad but true. I sometimes think my fingertips are actually sentient, but then I remember all those years of playing and practicing piano while I daydreamed. (I played a lot.) Hee.

I’ve tossed a lot of “Thank you’s” out there, because the Firefly RPG response has been tremendous. It means a lot to me that you’ve talked about the careful attention to detail, the writing, and the game. And, as always, I’m listening and making tweaks to upcoming books based on the response. As a Firefly fan myself, even outside of Margaret Weis’s requests, I wanted to put a game out there that everyone on our team would be proud of. Because of you, my team is excited. It’s a beautiful thing.

That’s how it starts for me. With fans or, rather, the love of characters and story. I got into writing, reading, and drawing, because of the characters I loved as a child — books, comics, movies, games, whatever. (The drawing has since fallen into the abyss. Not enough hours in the day.) ‘Course, there were problems, too… Tons of Star Wars characters, but only one notable heroine to start with: Princess Leia. He-Man, there was the Sorceress who was supposedly uber-powerful, but always had to be rescued. Transformers? Um… And, don’t get me started on the fem-bot from Voltron. Smurfs? Well, there was a token female. Two, if you count what’s-her-face.

It didn’t stop me from watching those shows, playing games, reading voraciously, or writing, though. Instead, it did something else. The lack of representative characterization — which has gotten better over time — made me feel as if I was the cheese that stood apart. Now, I don’t want to talk about all the other factors that contributed to that. (Partly, because I don’t want to be the writer you know because she’s whined about “X”, “Y”, or “Z” in her past, events that have since been resolved. For me, that’d be a cheap trick. If you’ve met me, you know I’m a crappy liar and often “accused” of being genuine. Hah.)

However, I’ve always felt a little defeated by the prevalence of a certain type of character, a certain role women had, a lack of diversity. Gods, this world? Beautiful. So many people, so many cultures, so many stories waiting to be uncovered. I believe different viewpoints make a story better, which is why diversity is so incredibly exciting to me. When I complain? The response is that I’m being too whiny, I’m imagining some fake slight, or I’m given an example of “a” representative character. Or worse, I consciously avoid the rant because someone may be interested in hiring me, and sees me rant online (which I do rarely), and then makes a decision not to because I’m too [insert your word of choice here]. That isn’t an imagined thing, either, people make decisions about other folks all the bloody time; that can’t be controlled. I just don’t want to put a rant out there that gets repurposed five, ten years from now. I am always striving to be a better person, to learn and understand and grow. The internet does not forgive or forget. Remember, writing is my career now and in the future, not my hobby. The only consolation I have, is that apparently my rants are rather tame. Which…is probably true because it’s in writing, as opposed to in person. WAY less swear-y. More rational.

The thing of it is, I am too… Well, too much sometimes. (I get that a lot.) I am a very passionate person, the storm beneath the calm. Emotions? Hand gestures? A deep desire to throw a big damn party and celebrate all the amazing people I’ve met thus far? Yeah, I have all that in spades, and I channel my passion into my work. The bad days are very bad. The good days are very good. And, I’m always striving for balance between the two, because a calm leader is better than a fire-and-brimstone manager. If I want people to be their best, I have to lead by example and be my best to inspire them.

I’d love to not care about the much-ness, and just “be.” In general, I meet people who are interesting, not people who can always give me/provide me with something. In an industry — a very, very, very competitive industry that ebbs and flows, some people do think about networking like adding business cards-with-faces, instead of caring about people. The “p” in publishing, is people. Not paper. Yes, I care about opportunities and meeting people who can help my career and what-have-you, but that’s not me all the time. There’s a time and place to be opportunistic, mind. And, there’s a time and a place to be a human being. I don’t care who I hang with provided we base our conversation on mutual respect or um…entertainment? (Zombie Dice and limericks go great together.) Everybody has a story to tell. I’m always looking for a point of connection, which means I’m not necessarily the best listener. I seek to empathize, to understand, to learn. If someone says, “I feel that Latinas are underrepresented in fiction,” then I’m going to listen and read and ask questions. All of which, incidentally, are then either consciously or subconsciously funneled back into my work. What is art, if not an exploration of our humanity? All seven billion of us?

Either way, after everything… I have learned my lesson well: the fans of today are the professionals of the future. I was a fan, now I’m a professional. (And still a fan.) Everybody — and I mean everybody — should be treated with respect. This is not the same thing as acceptance, however. Acceptance (e.g. bringing someone close to you, into your inner circle) takes time. Jerks do exist, and I feel that they should be dealt appropriately. The good folks? The awesome people? They far outstrip the bad. The good people matter, because those positive experiences, those kind words, they keep me going on the days I want to tell everyone to piss off and give up. I throw everything I have into Firefly, the same way I’ll throw everything I have into all my other projects, because I love my job and my job “pays me” back in ways that go above and beyond the financial. And, I always have more to give. That well doesn’t have a bottom.

But, I feel defeated sometimes and that’s what makes me close up. I walk into a comic book store, and the covers that are presented are all men. I freeze up on my novels (because I don’t write romance) and I feel like I have an impossible road ahead of me. I look at the covers of the action movies out there, and they’re all men. Horror? Lots of female…victims. Great. Write horror? Well, there must be something wrong with me. Obviously. (She says, sarcastically.) And then there’s the other, not-so-subtle ways to feel down: rape/death threats directed at women — sometimes reviewers! — and those fans who think that it happens to men, too, so there can’t possibly be a problem, and we just need to ignore it, and trolls will eventually go away. The idea that popularity is an indicator of quality, when half the time most of us are amazed anyone would read what we put out there (e.g. impostor syndrome), and the other half we’re working on the next project because we have to keep putting food on the table. Yes, these things do happen and, more importantly, I’m sharing this because this is normal — I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Some writers and artists give up, and “go” where they feel welcome. How many times have I had that conversation? Others put blinders on, and ignore everything to create what they want, not knowing (hoping) if it’ll take off. There’s always more b.s. in the industry to deal with, even outside of gender, race, etc. issues, because success doesn’t always go to those who deserve or earn it. Luck, or what we perceive to be luck, can happen randomly based on timing alone.

All this, for me, has impacted what I want to do with my original work. I can either play it safe, or I can take risks — by being “me.” Now, if I had more time to philosophize and theorize, I might say something like: “Oh, I guess this is why unconsciously I’ve been playing it safe, to prove that I CAN WRITE to another company’s specifications.”

The reason why I’ve done what I’ve done so far, is really much, much simpler than any high-level esoteric thought processes or any insecurities I might have. (This, too, is epic-normal.) In gaming, there’s larger scale settings like Shadowrun, Pathfinder, the World of Darkness, and Dungeons & Dragons. Outside of the industry, most people know what D&D is, and not necessarily any other. (Though, that continues to evolve.) I haven’t worked on D&D or Pathfinder and, if I did, I’d REALLY screw with the tropes. (Fantasy, urban fantasy, and Lovecraftian horror are three genres I really want to go smash-y, smash-y and play around with.) But, when I say: “I am the lead writer/brand manager for the Firefly RPG.” It’s a point-of-reference outside of the gaming industry, and it’s proof-of-concept. I didn’t just talk about what we wanted to do; we did it. (Talking vs. doing… Worlds apart.)

Now, I’m in the position to focus on my own work, too, to bring that back into the picture. I’ve done a LOT in the background to clear a path for this, too. Some support positions, lots and lots of talking to people, lots and lots of reading, writing, rewriting… Being too careful, really. Being careful not because of fear, but because of feeling defeated, of feeling like I have to do my homework, to prove that I can do solid work — before I take any “risks.” Maybe it’s gender-based. Maybe it’s because I’m “new.” (I will always be new, I swear.) Maybe because I feel self-conscious about the ridiculous number of times people have told me I have an unusual personality. Maybe it’s because I will always feel like I’m catching up. Baggage or not, it is what it is.

Let’s face it, though, any time you or I put original work out there? It is a risk. There’s always the risk a story’ll go unnoticed, or be ignored, or not get paid, or be lied to about royalties, or get plagiarized, or what-have-you. So I’ve come at this the long way ’round, to build a body of work I can do while I work on my original stuff, and I’m there. I’m ready. I pitched a video game, I pitched blind to a comic book company, I’m talking to an artist about my comic, and I’m finally saying: “Yes, this is what I want to do.” As opposed to: “This is what I feel obligated to do. This is what I have to do, because I’m not ready yet.”

Bills? They come every month. They don’t stop, just because I have a desire. So I have to seize the opportunities when they pop up, and keep putting myself out there, not knowing what’s going to happen next. This isn’t the lottery, this isn’t something I do for funsies, this is my [F-bomb’ing] job. If more bills come, then I take a support position, or a retail job, or whatever else it is that I need to do to pay the bills, to keep putting myself out there.

I have no idea what the future holds, and I am not afraid of that. What I am afraid of, though? Is that all my work is invisible — which is different than being invisible. If I wanted to be a celebrity, I would have put myself on that career path. (Make no mistake, being a celebrity is a job, too.) Twitter followers, Facebook likes… All that comes and goes. What I care about? Is that people are reading, playing, and buying my work because they are fans — and I’m a fan, too. I am a fan who’s creating for the fan inside of me, for the fan inside of you.

Do you know what keeps me up at night? Not the bad. Not the great. Not the good. The fear. The fear of my own mortality, that I did not do my utmost best when I was alive and kicking. Always. That? I can’t live with myself if I believe I took a shortcut, if I think I didn’t go that extra mile — not as a martyr, but as a [F-bomb’ing] professional. I always have to try, no matter what. And, in the end, I will always be trying, because if I ever stand up and say I’ve reached the end? That I don’t need to improve? That I’m “good enough” as is? Then there’s no point going any further. Congratulations to me, I have successfully bought my own b.s. and have convinced myself I can stop improving, growing, learning. When that happens? My work will suffer, and I will become insufferable. No more impostor syndrome. Woo-hoo! I’ve made “it.” By whatever imaginary yardstick is out there, I’ve made it. Horrifying. That, too, is unacceptable, because when that happens…well, then I stop being me — and that’s the scariest [F-bomb’ing] thing of all.

    Mood: Deadlines will eat me.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Cries.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Cries some more.
    In My Ears: Computer fan.
    Game Last Played: Tetris
    Book Last Read: Love is the Law by Nick Mamatas
    Movie Last Viewed: Captain America: the Winter Soldier.
    Latest Artistic Project: National Craft Month
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Firefly RPG corebook
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work and novels.

January Is So Two-Faced. (Or What The Heck Is Going On)

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And 2013 starts off with a bang! Or three. Or four. Right after the holidays, I dove into my style of project management; I set up a few spreadsheets, goals, graphs, and other ephemera — and hit the ground running. As a result, there will be several announcements leading into late Spring/Summer. Some are related to my own work, some are connected to licensed properties, and a few are in line with my “day job” wheelhouse, consulting. It began as a healthy enough mix of spec and paid, and all boats were lifting, lifting, lifting until…

This week, my SO, Matt, took an unexpected trip to the ER in the middle of a blizzard. It’s his heart. More tests, more exams scheduled, etc. etc. etc. Possibly surgery. Yeah, that kind. We just don’t know yet. So, more waiting. Initial tests came back just fine, though, which is what we both expected. Right now, we’re erring on the side of caution and hope the cardiologist is spectacular.

Matt and I have been together for years; he is my family and he’s treated me like *gold.* I knew that he was a good guy when he told me, up and down, how much he hated musicals — but he showed up to my rock opera performance, anyway, to show his support. And, while he’s a very humble guy, he doesn’t talk about the charity work or any of the other amazing things he does to make the world a better place. He’s just not that way and I love him for it. In short: he’s my hero.

We’ve had our ups and downs, just like any other couple, but our troubles have always been relatively minor day-to-day stuff and pseudo mid-life crisis crap compared with everybody else. (He’s got a GREAT job and a very understanding boss.) This year, we were going to take that international vacation, wrap in a few work meetings with publishers, and start making some of our dreams come true. Mine, of course, is to make a decent enough living off of my creative works and consulting efforts so we can buy a house with a large garden. The future was already on our minds; milestone birthdays will do that to you.

It’s just… now I want our dreams, like our trip to England, to come true. I want to be that crazy American in a karaoke club singing Queen. (Though, admittedly, he may not be able to watch that part of the trip.) I want to find a Tardis, stand in front of Big Ben, grab a ridiculously tall glass of stout, and savor the best of English cuisine. And I want to do this with him.

I’ve always erred on the side of pragmatic, careful when I blog, because you never know who’s reading your updates. We’re both pretty private people and that allows us to have a life offline. However, I am a very passionate person and sometimes I am scared to tell you how much I love, love, love what I do and all the people in it. I’ve had a crazy-ass life — brilliant moments and horrifying lows — and I wouldn’t trade this for anything. But, at the same time, that passion (and the show of it) is very scary on the receiving end. (There’s a reason why folks say I’m a force of nature, after all.) It’s not socially appropriate to run down the street screaming at the top of your lungs, after all.

But why not? Seriously. WHY NOT? Half the time, I feel like I’m going to burst out of my skin. And, I can tell you, the more mortality you face, the more skin-bursting you’ll want to do.

Then, reality hits. And it’s a major downer. But I have no time to be down. None whatsoever. Maybe one day I’ll tell you the rest of this story, but I’m not ready to do that just yet.

So, now you know why you’re going to be seeing a lot more of me this year. I’m not just writing for Matt’s heart. I’m writing for mine, too. I just hope readers and gamers like you will follow.

Deep breath. Here we go…

    Mood: Optimistic
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Balanced. It’s a strange feeling.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Um… Didn’t happen. Has to happen today.
    In My Ears: “Stronger Than Ever” by Christina Aguilera
    Game Last Played: Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed
    Movie Last Viewed: Empire Strikes Back
    Latest Artistic Project: SHINIES. Still need to take pics…
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology

Love My Nintendo DS and Square Enix

Blue Nintendo DSMany of you probably know that I’m a game designer in addition to being a writer. I haven’t designed any PC or console games yet. So far, I’ve worked on a lot of setting design for several games by Abstract Nova Entertainment in addition to various other assignments for the hobby games industry. As you might imagine, in order for me to design games and fulfill different assignments, I need to play them. I also like to sit down and play because I don’t have fun in a bar anymore. (That was a different, younger me.) Instead, I’ll fight boss battles and roll dice to have fun, sans hangover and drain on my pocketbook.

If you get me started on talking about video games, you’ll probably hear me regale you with sordid and adventurous tales of my efforts playing the Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts series created by Square Enix. I love Final Fantasy! I even put up with the massive amounts of leveling that’s often required to beat the game and get the special uber-weapon.

Final Fantasy IIIRight now I’m at the end of Final Fantasy III on the DS. I’m at level 53, got through five of the six boss battles that’s required to beat the game and then *poof* my characters encountered the dreaded mega-flare. So, I have to start the boss battles all over again. (I’m still a little whiny about that.)

Part of the reason why I like the Final Fantasy series is because it has great story elements. Most of the time, the story is very cohesive and has something for everyone — including romance. *coughs* Not Final Fantasy XII!!! *end cough* In Final Fantasy III, you play the Warriors of the Light who need to bring balance to the world because there’s too much darkness. As you progress through the story, you learn that previously there was too much light and the Warriors of the Dark needed to save the world from certain destruction in the past.

It’s no secret that I love to read about different cultures and world myths. I love the infusion of East Asian myth and philosophy that are infused into the games that Square Enix provides. (Not to mention, I am kind of a min/maxer and believe you me, these games facilitate that.) I’m hoping that one day the IP will open up and they’ll allow writers to pitch short stories or novels set in the world of Final Fantasy, because I’d love to write more stories about these characters. Not to mention, the soundtracks to these games are a-w-e-s-o-m-e.

The best part about my Nintendo DS, though, is that it offers more than just games. From recipe books to physical training and mind puzzles, whenever I get bored waiting at an appointment or just need to take a break, I can pop out my DS and play for a few minutes to take a break. It’s also a really nice way for me to get off the computer when I need to, so when I do get back online I can focus like I’ve never focused before.

Well, I suppose I should get back to writing. *cracks whip* How else will I feed my Final Fantasy addiction?!?!

10 Things You May Not Know About Me

It’s been pretty frigid here the past couple of weeks, and I spent a lot of time embracing Twitter and Facebook moreso than I had in the past. Part of that “social media” hug was to keep up on the tools since I’ve been using them for work. The other part to that online touchy-feel goodness, was because I needed a boost in this post-holiday slump.

Since there’s so many new people that I’ve come into contact with through various channels, I thought I’d offer ten things you may not know about me, as a way of “breaking the ice.” (So to speak.) Without further ado, here they are in no particular order:

    1. I don’t have a favorite color. Meh. So many to pick from, why choose just one?
    2. My cats are named after ancient Mesopotamian gods. Zakar (god of dreams) was a rescue cat. He’s a manx, orange tabby with lots of toes, very sweet and VERY spoiled. They were going to put him to sleep because he “wasn’t perfect.” Needless to say, he’s got a great life now. Rimmon (god of storms) is just like his namesake. He talks pretty much non-stop and enjoys following Zak around, causing trouble. They both like jalapenos, though. Go figure.
    3. Typically, I only read a book once. I read pretty fast, to the point where I inhale books. If the book is fairly complex, I may pick it up again to ensure I didn’t miss anything. Otherwise, I just read it the one time.
    4. Growing up, I wanted to be the female version of Indiana Jones. World-wide travel? That massive compendium of knowledge about ancient cultures? And a cool hat?
    5. I don’t believe in astrology. As part of my writing, I’ve researched a lot of different unusual topics that range from ghost hunting to astrology. I know some people really believe in it, but it’s not something that really resonates with me.
    6. Haven’t run a mile in years. *sob* Yeah, so I’m on a program right now. It’s called the “couch potato to 5k” program. Just when I was getting started, I had to get new running shoes. Then? I made the mistake of working through my lunches instead of taking that invaluable “off” time. So getting back on the wagon and hope to change this shortly.
    7. I’m actually quite shy around people I don’t know. Hard to believe, eh? I practiced like crazy for my last interview and — whenever possible — I’d prefer to know people at a “new” face-to-face outing. Kind of glad a few conventions are coming up; since I spend a lot of time writing and with my loved ones, it gets harder and harder to be outgoing and bubbly every year. ‘Course, this frigid icy winter might have something to do with that.
    8. I have a background in music. Played piano, choir and flute for a number of years with a strong focus on classical. My favorite composer was/is Mozart; I used to memorize (on average) 15 pieces every quarter for performances, contests and such.
    9. I don’t really like roses. Roses are not my preferred flower of choice. I like really brightly-colored, sweet-smelling flowers like carnations and wildflowers.
    10. The first horror writer I read was Edgar Allen Poe. Most people might respond with “Stephen King,” but not me. I remember “The Telltale Heart” very vividly. Oddly enough, I didn’t read Lovecraft or understand his influence until about five years ago. Strange how pulp and literary worlds don’t collide, but should.

What about you? Have anything to share?

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

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