Incoming! Tenlyres and In Other News

Tenlyres is so close to being ready for release it is driving me crazy in the best way possible.

As that pilot character famously said in Star Wars: “Almost there.”

In Other News, is going to be a new (And possibly short-lived) feature of this blog and my website. It will feature me discussing works by others that I am intrigued by.

So, without further ado…

In Other News #1

Tenlyres is not the only book near completion. An author I know through her legendary “I Should Be Writing” podcast, Mur Lafferty, has a new book coming out on January 31st. It’s called Six Wakes, and I like the premise a great deal.

It is science fiction featuring a crew of clones on a space ship who wake up to find the originals murdered. And they must figure out which of them is the killer.

I love that premise, and Mur writes a tight story. My favorite of her past work was also science fiction, a relatively obscure little tale called “Marco and the Red Granny.”

Check out Mur’s site: HERE

Anyway, that’s it for my other news today.

Keep your eyes on the near future, folks.

Thanks for reading.

Guest Post: Heisenberg Compensators

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Today I have a guest post for you, from an amazing writer I’ve been following for a few months. He has a style I can only dream of, and his crazy ideas are the sort I aspire to as well. If you ever wondered about genre, this is the guy to see. Everyone, Zig Zag Claybourne!

Heisenberg Compensators

“Tell me about the Before-Time, DiJonn,” says the waif.

“It was a time of repetitive wonders…” says the old man, eyes focusing on days he’ll never get back. “When only starship captains were allowed emotional arcs, and fans knew precisely at all times what they were buying…”

Low blow? Not too low. Let’s talk genre. Sci fi. Horror. Fantasy. Literary. Comedy. Erotic. What’d we leave out? (Tractor porn is not a genre. Ignore what Skeeter says.) Genre sets up expectations. From sci fi, we don’t expect deeply emotional romance. From horror, we get blindsided by the inclusion of robots (although we already live in a ghost world thanks to AI and “smart” tech). Fantasy? Get that socio-political layering out of my elven shire! We want what we want, and publishing has made sure we get that. Up till now.

Just this year I’ve read a book that features religion, damnation, time travel, horror, and a fair bit of comedy, not as incidentals but as the very fabric of the book; another where a witch and a technogeek have an on-again, off-again relationship that threatens to destroy the world; I wrote one myself (shameless frikking plug) merging science fiction, adventure, literary, satire and fantasy. It’s been described as “Buckaroo Banzai by way of James Baldwin and Blade”, and in my neck of the woods you mention any one of those three, you have my attention.

I freaking adore genre blending.

Frankenstein: gothic horror environmental philosophical treatise. The Bible: horror, sci fi, poetry, adventure, love story. Lucian of Greece’s True History: travel writing, sci fi, satire straight from the second century. Hell, even Peanuts counts as YA Dystopia (a world where even children need psychological counseling on a regular basis, and happiness is sought but never achieved). Creators have been dipping their chocolate into peanut butter since words became the rage. The blending of genre speaks not only to the sophistication of the world but of the reader herself. The Greek myths were huge soap operas against a backdrop of testosterone and estrogen of unimaginable levels. The African Orishas are sci fi, horror, fantasy, and romance all at the same time. There is no story that is a single thing unless we force it to be so. Unfortunately there’ve been lots of forced marriages in publishing. The world may never know how many writers have felt compelled to funnel what could have been grand ideas into narrow loveless couplings. Imagine The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy being pitched today.  It’d either be an indie effort or it’d be pared down to being a buddy comedy with a quick, easy payout. Which is sadness.

The argument against blending says readers will be confused, and an author can’t build a following off of confused readers. Let me throw some names out to Google at your discretion: Sam Delany, CSE Cooney, Harlan Ellison, Kurt Vonnegut, Toni Morrison, Ursula Le Guin, Gene Wolfe, Frank Herbert, Julian May, Terry Pratchett. You can build audience by being intriguing, by being daring, and respecting that a reader’s sense of adventure knows no bounds. One of the best novellas I’ve read in years came out via Tor.com in 2015: Kelly Robson’s Waters of Versailles. It’s fantasy, it’s historical, it’s farce, it’s as much about class structures as Les Miz and it’s deeply emotional. I love it. Kelly is one of the best practitioners out there of blending not only genre but realism, and guess what? You’ll be seeing her name for years. We forget that before there was “genre” there was simply good story.

In the beginning was the word, remember? And the word was good?

Are we seeing an upsurge in people wanting their consumables to do more than comfort them? I think we are. There’s enough familiarity in innumerable aspects of life that people can enjoy the challenge of a many-flavored mental meal, and with indie artists experiencing a boom of reach and availability (check out the indie lighthouse-site Narazu.com) the walls of genre aren’t merely crumbling, suckers are vaporizing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have markers. But it’s also good to know that at any moment of your choosing you can screw the map and go off-road. I titled this little blog “Heisenberg Compensators.” Why? If you’re into Star Trek you know that’s a McGuffin they created for their transporter technology to overcome the principle that the position and the velocity of an object cannot both be measured exactly, at the same time, even in theory. In theory we’re not supposed to be able to bounce about on a quantum level and have all kinds of resulting fun.

I give the human brain credit though. We take disparate bits, beam them into our imaginations, and reassemble them as paranormal detectives, mermaid orphans, mystic adventurers, or starship captains quite literally in love with their ships (hello AI-virtual reality world!). Genre-blending is not only fun to write and read, it leaves both the author and audience (wait for it) energized.

Surprised, even. Pleasantly.

Who doesn’t love that?

BIO STUFF

Zig Zag Claybourne (also known as Clarence Young) wishes he’d grown up with the powers of either Gary Mitchell or Charlie X but without the Kirk confrontations. (And anybody not getting that Star Trek reference gets their sci fi cred docked 3 points.) The author of The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan, Neon Lights, Historical Inaccuracies, By All Our Violent Guides, and In the Quiet Spaces (the last two under C.E. Young), he believes a writer can be like an actor, inhabiting a delightful variety of roles and genres, but his heart belongs to science fiction.

His fiction and essays have appeared in Vex Mosaic, Alt History 101, The Wayne Review, Flashshot, Reverie Journal, Stupefying Stories, The City (a cyberfunk anthology), UnCommon Origins, Extraordinary Rendition: American Writers on Palestine, and Rococoa (sword & soul/steamfunk anthology).

When not writing (or fiddling on Facebook) he loves promoting great art and posing the Great Questions, such as whether or not anybody will ever be funkier than Prince.

Find him on the web at www.WriteonRighton.com

Guest Post: World building: Novels v. RPGs with James Silverstein

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In the spirit of sharing the awesome, I have a guest post for you readers today.
James Silverstein is the author of Necropolis, now available on amazon.com in print and ebook. He is a veteran game-master, and an articulate writer as well as a skillful storyteller. I can say from experience he’s also a solid friend to have in your corner on a bad day.
Fans of the podcast, Of Mooks & Monsters, should enjoy this post because it’s about world building for roleplaying games.
With that in mind, I’ll get out of the way now. Without undo ado, please welcome James Silverstein to the mental cellar.

Buy James Novel, Necropolis! Print Kindle Ebook
Of Mooks & Monsters Podcast

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World building: Novels v. RPGs
(or: Movie Sets vs. Community Playgrounds)

by
James Silverstein
World building for a novel. In the beginning, we said, “Let there be story!” And… there was still this sheet of blank white paper there. We needed a place for our characters to do their jobs in.
And while those two lines look mostly identical, and while the processes of filling those white spaces are quite similar, there are strong contrasts, in the end, as to what we’re building: Movie sets, or playgrounds.
When building a world for a novel, I get to mold the entire universe around an action, or a set of actions, that the characters in the book will do. While writing the novel ‘Necropolis’, I needed Marcus Sage to find out about an infidelity. Boom, suddenly there was a nice seedy hotel that he could peep into. The blinds were down, of course, so there were only silhouettes, but still, it was there because it needed to be there. Likewise, a steamy brothel, a dirty alleyway, a federal office; everything existed to further the plot as I saw it. In other novels, unlikely-placed planks of wood, or lonely roads, or diners in the middle of nowhere all sprung up, populated by a plethora of characters (even a monkey!), and all became part of the world. Many, if not all of these places and people would be revisited more than once in the course of the writing. Some would even become more central plot points along the road. And while I found myself sometimes writing spaces simply for flavor, even in the end, these places helped inform the action or atmosphere of the story itself. Everything was built, custom-made, for the plot and adventure I was trying to put forth. It was a movie set, with everything in a specific place, and the lighting, the scenery, the props, even the extras; everything was planned and placed exactly where I needed it (largely to be adjusted in the editing process, but this, too, made it like a film set.) Furthermore, I built this world alone. Yes, there were moments I would talk to friends or other authors to smooth out some rough edges, but in the end, everything came together for a story in my head that went onto paper.
* * *
World building for a game. In the beginning, we said, “Let there be game!” And… there was still this sheet of blank white paper there. We needed a place for the players to play in.
World building in a game is another creature entirely. Most GM’s know that if you place your players in a static movie set, they’ll do one of two things. Either they’ll become bored at the possible railroad nature of what’s ahead of them (for those who aren’t familiar with the term ‘railroad’, I suggest checking out this excellent article: http://www.gnomestew.com/game-mastering/gming-advice/how-you-prep-is-how-you-run/ ), or they’ll immediately set themselves to knocking over that piece of scenery over there, or that light stand just next to the camera. Granted, there are those players who are just fine playing in a static world, but I find them to be few and far between.
The world building for an RPG, I feel, is best done dynamically. Much like the building of the world of the novel, things appear as they need to in order to serve the story, but in this case, the story evolves with the participancy of the players. You are no longer building a movie set, but a community playground. Because of this, I find that allowing the players share the heavy lifting can do a world (no pun intended) of good for the construction and the familiarity of the world. The dwarf needs a homeland to come from. If the player suddenly pipes up and mentions that his homeland has a problem importing grain, and he wants to make it a priority for his character to get some sent back? Instant world building detail, and the GM didn’t have to lift a finger.
Now, this particular detail can, of course, go off in many directions. You may, later in the campaign, revisit why the grain problem is as it is. Are there bandits? Is there some curse the dwarves are under? Is it politics? Is there perhaps a monkey involved? Suddenly the dynamic world building has brought you more game and more game-plot. Again, you didn’t have to lift a finger to get it. And if you don’t feel like you want to drive the plot in that direction? The world detail is still there for you to simply know about. It informs the dwarf’s character.
Further, a more dynamic approach allows the players to run amok in a world that they feel they have a greater stake in. When a merchant appears that one of the players mentioned in their backstory, there’s an automatic connection. Whether the characters know the merchant already or not, the players know that they helped create her, and that investment tends to draw players in much more quickly and completely. This is the ‘community’ nature of a community playground; when the entire neighborhood builds the swingsets and the slides, everyone feels they have a stake in both the upkeep and the general use of the place.
When writing for a novel, I almost always outline the action as I see it, and build around that. It is, as I’ve mentioned, a solo act. While writing a game, I have a small exercise I give to my players that involves them in the process; a sort-of forced brainstorming session that goes like this*:
During character creation, I have each player come up with three people their character gets along with, three that they don’t, and three that they just know, without any specific bonhomie or animosity. All they need is a name and a line or two of description. I encourage players to find ways to link their nine NPC’s together, and often I’ll give some small benefit to the players that do so (in the form of a little bonus XP or the like). If possible, I like to do this in a group; it fosters discussion about events, places, and people in the backstory of the characters. It’s more instant world building and investment for the players. Suddenly the elf’s uncle Chuck who was so nice to him is also the sneering noble that the human has crossed swords with, and their duchy is the one that the mutant druid grew up in. A whole corner of the world has sprung into being through the pre-game interaction of the players.
Of course, in the end, there is a certain level of authorship and editor-ship expected from you as the GM. You get key veto power. You can tell the dwarf that no, their clan didn’t invent the nuclear bomb, or that the mutant druid can’t live that far south, or that the mage isn’t betrothed to the princess. In lieu of this, however, I suggest taking the ideas and using them in different ways. Certainly, the dwarves did invent a super-weapon. It recently was stolen and is about to be detonated in the human lands. The PC’s might want to stop that. Certainly, the druid lived that far south. She was exiled from the northern tribes, and there are still bounty hunters looking for her because of it. Certainly, there was an almost-betrothal for the mage, but the princess has asked to extend the courtship for reasons that seem quite arcane and mysterious. In this practice, you as a GM still maintain power over the world, but the PC’s still get the feeling of investment from their work.
In the end, while world building for a novel encompasses a story, world building for a game encompasses many stories; at least as many as you have PC’s, and likely quite a few more. The lifting there is heavier, but you have a lot of extra hands to make the job light. Use them to your best advantage in building the best playground you can make.
Oh, and don’t ever forget to add a monkey. Trust me on this one.

*(Note: I apologize for not properly crediting whomever I lifted this from: I’ve been using it for decades, and I don’t remember whom I first got the idea from.)