Creative Desolation

I have fought with writer’s block and imposter syndrome before, of course. I don’t know a creative person that has not had to deal with some variation of those things. This most recent bout was something new, though. Not entirely, but a new flavor of both, blended together like a soft serve swirl cone of depression and anxiety.

 

Long story short: the lack of traction that Elger and the Moon has gained hit me hard and threw me for a loop. I know it is silly. I had no logical reason to believe it would do well other than blind hope and the fact that I think it is really good — a belief built not on hubris but on what others have said and how they have rated and reviewed the novel. Anyway, that isn’t really the point of this (admittedly self indulgent) post. The point is that I hoped, and in hoping I set myself up for a fall. All I fell pretty hard.

 

The knock out blow came on June 1. I put some money into one of those “we’ll list your book in our email out to 80K subscribers” things. I was not really looking for it to explode, with thousands or even hundreds of purchases. And I was not even really worried about the money. What I hoped (and, again, here is where I got myself into trouble) was that it would boost sales enough to result in more good reviews and it would start to snowball.

 

I made five sales that day. Then, crickets.

 

Up until that point I was still riding the high from release. People were telling me how much they liked it. They were recommending it to friends and family, even getting it into their school library in one case. And even though I knew, intellectually, to keep my expectations low, I dared to hope. Maybe hoping wasn’t the mistake, but tying those hopes to that $40 promo definitely was. In any case, the high was driving me to work on the follow up novel, chronicling the consequences of Elger’s choices.

 

Then those five fucking purchases rolled in and I stopped writing. I mean, why bother? Why would you write a sequel to a novel no one but your friends are ever going to read? Why write at all? If the one you thought was really good was invisible, what was the point of bothering at all?

 

I was, creatively speaking, living in that house at the top of this post. I couldn’t even be bothered to write a goddamn blog post, let alone work on a novel or even a short story.

 

So, what changed? Maybe it was just time. Maybe it was some reflection. Maybe I just managed to retroactively lower my expectation so much that it felt like a win since I did not sell zero copies. In the end, though, I think it was the realization at some point that there was a kind of freedom in failure here. I like Elger and his world. I also like experimental writing and different genres and forms. I can write whatever I want, however I want, because there is no pressure to succeed at it for a living, because ultimately there’s no chance of that. I am not going to be able to quit my job and write full time and jet set across the country and world going to signings and conventions. If I want the next story in Elger’s “Awakened World” to be a tabletop role-playing game or a choose you own adventure or an epic Seussian poem, I can do that.

 

I am going to go ahead and write Elger 2. I am going to hire my cover artist and editor again and I am going to publish ti through Amazon. I am going to finish at least this duology. Not because I need it to sell or because I think the sequel ill be the one that gets the ball rolling. I am going to do it because I want to and, frankly, it isn’t like I can go through my life not writing.

 

So — thanks for not buying Elger and the Moon, I guess.

Star Wars: A Galaxy of Subgenres

It should come as a surprise to exactly no one that I am a Star Wars fan. For as long as I can remember, the adventures of Jedi, smugglers, X-Wing pilots and weird alien heroes has enchanted me. It isn’t the kind of fandom that involves editing Wookiepedia or memorizing every species homeworld (not that there is anything wrong with those things) but rather a simpler, joyous kind of fandom that had me tearing up when I first heard the theme played in a theater in 1997 when the Special Editions were released. I first saw Star Wars sometime in the early 1980s on Betamax tape and had been re-watching the trilogy and (perhaps more importantly to my love of Star Wars) gaming in the universe by way of West End Games role-playing game. And, of course, there were comics and novels and video games.

The question as to how and why Star Wars managed to become such a powerful pop cultural force based on one ground breaking but ultimately indie sort of film is both interesting and probably unanswerable. No doubt many have tried and much has been written by both experts and amateurs alike. I won’t both injecting my voice into that discussion. Rather I want to talk about what it is I find so compelling about Star Wars and how it informs the direction of my own creative energies.

In brief: Star Wars, while representing a single milieu, contains within it many different subgenres of science fiction and fantasy. Just on its face, the original 1977 film is both a spaceships-and-laser-guns Science Fiction film AND a heroic journey, swords-and-wizards fantasy film. There are alien horrors weird enough to make H.P. Lovecraft proud as well as World War II ace combat. Lucas borrowed heavily from all kinds of film and fiction and so too did the people that followed him, from the earliest Marvel comic books to the current games and cartoons. Star Wars is inclusive, allowing it to tell different kinds of fantastical stories.

I recently finished listening to the audiobook of Battlefront: Twilight Company by Alexander Freed and was very impressed. this was hardcore military sci-fi in the Star Wars universe. The grit and relative realism presented in the novel juxtaposed well against the action-adventure melodrama of The Force Awakens. I don’t do reviews, but I will make recommendations: if you like Star Wars and you like gritty military sci-fi, Twilight Company is definitely worth your time. I could give or take the flourishes in the audiobook — music and sound effects, primarily — but they did not reduce my enjoyment. But more to the point, Twilight Company stands as a useful example for how Star Wars, while remaining fantastical space opera, became a successful vehicle for another genre. Like super hero comic books, Star Wars takes so much inspiration from so many other sources that it is a genre chameleon.

I like blurry genre lines. It is one of the reasons I am drawn to post-apocalyptic fiction, I think. Whether it is Gamma World, Thundarr or my own ReAwakened World, futuristic and unrealistic PA fiction is freedom to play with elements of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, westerns and more. Star Wars does that too, and very likely instilled that sensibility upon me (along with the aforementioned super hero comics).

My first novel Elger and the Moon is available for Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and in print from Amazon.

Elger and the Dead Trees

If you are the sort that needs yours post-post apocalyptic science fantasy adventure written on the corpses of larch and aspen, you are in luck! Elger and the Moon is available for purchase in print format right now! And don’t forget, the print book comes with the exclusive “Elger’s World” map by my friend Dylan Vitale.

But wait, you say! Isn’t the ebook version still on pre-order? It is! There are a few reasons for that, but chief among them is that I don’t have any idea what I am doing and I obviously never set a print pre-order. What it means for all practical purposes is that I will be moving up the release date of the ebook. I have not decided when, but it will be very soon. Stay tuned.

 

Thanks again for all your support and I apologize for any inconvenience, stress or hives caused by my little release date flub.

 

PS The best thing you can do (besides buy it!) is review it. the more reviews it has, the higher it climbs on its genre lists.

There and Back Again

When I was a kid digging out fantasy novels from my parents bookshelves, I always gravitated toward a certain kind of book. It wasn’t necessarily the one with the most frightening dragon or most luscious maiden on the cover — though those things certainly caught my eye. It was the one with the coolest map a few pages inside. those maps found in 1970s and 1980s fantasy novels implied amazing worlds and promised wonder. They did not all deliver, of course, but they drew me in nonetheless.

 

As such, I always knew that my first novel would require such a map — something to stir the imagination before the first words of the first chapter were read. There is an alchemy between cover, back copy and that map that creates a world in the reader. Luckily, I happen to know some truly talented folks. Among them is Dylan Vitale, a good friend and fellow gamer and wonderful artist, who crafted for me a map of Elger’s World. It will appear in the print version of Elger and the Moon only (which will be ready for pre-order any day now, I promise!), as a special treat for those that like to hold a real book in their hands, but I present it here now for everyone to see.

 

It’s amazing, right?

This Book Is Not Yet Rated

One question I have gotten a number of times since the Elger and the Moon pre-order went live is some variation of: “What age group is this book written for?” Up until now, I have not thought overly hard about the answer to that question. When I was a kid, there were shelves full of fantasy and science fiction novels (my parents were members of the Science Fiction Book Club for as long as I can remember) and I would simply grab something off one of those shelves and read it. I never worried about whether the book would be appropriate or not: I would either be able to make sense of it or not, and either enjoy it or not.

 

For their part, my parents did not filter the world for us. We grew up on a farm where animals lived, bred and died and the entertainment we consumed was whatever we could handle without being little assholes about it. And if we did act inappropriately based on something we had read, watched or played, my parents wisely blamed us rather than the particular media. Of course, I am a parent now and I would go out on a limb and say my parents were much more discerning and careful about what we engaged in than I would have noticed at the time, but even so there were plenty of boobs, blood and bad words to keep my 12 year old self happy and feeling like I had the keys to the grown up kingdom.

 

All that said, I am not oblivious to the concerns of parents and the contents of the media their kids consume. I am a parent and I care, even if my tolerances are different than some other folks. With that in mind, I want to talk about the degree to which Elger may or may not be appropriate for any given child — not so much by age group (I was reading stuff at 10 that some high schoolers wouldn’t want to slog through) but by content. If you are a parent and you wonder whether Elger and the Moon is appropriate for your kid, I hope this helps you decide.

 

First of all, there is little if any profanity in the novel. I won’t say “none” because I honestly do not remember whether I might have had a few “damns”, “hells” or other words you hear on prime time television now. Note that this does not have anything to do with a personal aversion to profanity: I can be the fuckingest fucker who ever fucking fucked sometimes. But at the time I started writing Elger in earnest, Game of Thrones/The Song of Ice and Fire was the standard by which most fantasy was being measured. in other words, things were grim and dark and grimdark. Elger is partially in response to that, and as such I decided that I would avoid profanity. This includes fake fantasy profanity, but mostly because that trope annoys me to no end (I am looking at you, The Emperor’s Blades).

 

The same goes for sex — especially sexual violence. There is no rape, mention of rape or suggestion of rape in Elger and the Moon. It is unnecessary, even when you want to show how a bad guy is really, really bad. This is a problem in modern grimdark fantasy that I wouldn’t just like to avoid, but abolish altogether. Otherwise, there is what you might call sexuality or sexual tension in the book, but no actual sex — again, not because I have a problem with sex, but because it does not fit this story or its protagonist.

 

One thing you will find is a blatant, intentional acceptance of non-binary gender, homosexuality and non-sexual nudity. This is the one place where I decided to take a political stand in the book. There are gay characters and asexual characters and hermaphrodite characters and transgender characters. And they are just characters that happen to be in the book, not tokens or mouthpieces. the world I chose to create accepts these people as easily as what some might mistakenly call “normal” characters. If that sort of thing offense you, or you are worried it will confuse your kid, I can’t say anything other than that’s too bad for you.

 

Aside from bad words and sex, the biggest driver of concern for parents is usually violence. Elger and the Moon is an adventure story and sometimes that adventure includes physical peril at the hands of other characters and creatures of the ReAwakened World. There is a little bit of violence in the book. But Elger is no bloody swordsman; he uses his mind. Where there is violence, I think it is appropriate and appropriately appalling without wallowing in it. Any violence that happens in the story is integral to the story and as with profanity and sex, I tried to veer away from the gimdark state of modern fantasy. By comparison, The Hunger Games is much, much more violent.

 

When I ask my beta readers and others that have read it the question, “What age is Elger appropriate for?” the answer I get most commonly is, “Precocious 13 years old and up.” I did not set out to write a Young Adult novel. I was aiming for an “all ages” novel in the sense that anyone can pick it up, and if they are capable of making sense of the prose they should be able to deal with the content. I was writing it for my 12 year old self that picked up by turns The Lord of the Rings, The DragonLance Chronicles and The Guardians of the Flame. I hope this description helps.

 

If you still have questions, feel free to hit up my Facebook page or Twitter (both @IanAsItWere) and ask away!

 

 

Elger and the Imminent Arrival

After a very long time, Elger and the Moon is finally available for pre-order at Amazon!

Orphaned, deformed and indentured to pry valuable artifice from the detritus of a world long dead, Elger of Heap finds solace in the Moon. Covered in jewel like domes housing the ancient wizards who once presided over the Earth, the Moon represents the world that was lost to the Calamity. It was a world of wonders and comfort and magic. Elger’s dreams of going there are a salve for his hardships, but just dreams nonetheless.

 

Then one morning what seems to be a chance assignment propels Elger on the first steps along the road to the moon. He will make friends and find enemies, see wonders and endure terrors and with each step that road will grow ever more perilous. For Elger, though, escape from the broken world to the Moon is all that matters.
Elger and the Moon is a post-post apocalyptic science fantasy adventure. Join Elger as he discovers monsters and magic born of technological wizardry and learns just how far he is willing to go to reach the Moon.

I am super proud of the book and hope you take time to enjoy it. Once it drops on May 8, it will be available as a DRM free e-book, print and on Kindle Unlimited. And Elger 2 is in thw works, so we’re in this together for the long haul, you and I!

Vextrapolation

First and foremost, all credit goes to my good friend Greg Shea, artist and man of one million talents and zero hairs. Go check out his work.

Anyway, Greg suggested “vextrapolation” when I asked for a term that encapsulated one of those things you see on geek social media: the tendency to look at a thing that has been announced with scant details and fill in the blank spaces with the worst possible idea ever. In this case, it came from an internet message board discussion of Paizo, Inc.’s recently new science fantasy RPG Starfinder. The details aren’t important, other than to say that since the game will not release until GenCon this summer, not everything is known. So many people have engaged in “vextrapolation” and assumed Paizo is going to fumble this or that in regards to the game, its setting or its marketing.

(For the record, I am super excited about Starfinder and am looking forward to standing in line at GenCon this year to get a hold of it!)

 

But this post isn’t really about Starfinder. It is about vextrapolation and the more generally broad tendency of fandom to expect the worst without necessarily having any evidence for it. First of all, let me say this up front (mostly because I am going to get called on it anyway): I, as a geek, have engaged in this and have done so recently in regards to the DC comic cinematic universe. Based on my feelings about Batman vs Superman, I am pretty sure everything coming down the pike is going to be terrible. Even Wonder Woman, which looks awesome but will probably suck.

When No Man’s Sky was first announced, I fell in love. It seemed like the sci-fi space sim equivalent of choosing a random direction in Skyrim to walk until you found cool things to see, kill and/or otherwise interact with. There were lots of folks that pooh-poohed the game from the get-go, and if I am being honest I assumed they were just being negative and unimaginative. But in the end, these vextrapolationers turned out largely right: Hello Games could not deliver on the game experience they promised. So it isn’t that “vextrapolation” is necessarily wrong headed — but that doesn’t change the fact that it is negative in nature.

What I really wonder is why we, as fans and geeks, do this. Why do we presume that things will be terrible, that creators will make the wrong choices? Is it a way to protect ourselves from unmet expectations? If we have low expectations we can never be disappointed? We tell ourselves it is based on experience, that we are being wise or we are being realistic, but that is hardly true in all cases. And we are wrong as often as not. Sometimes a game or a film that seems like it will be dismal turns out to be great.

I think the truth lies in geek culture. While it is now in its ascendancy and has captured the spotlight, most people who identify as geeks were used to having their opinions belittled and their expectations crushed. When you live on the fringe of popular culture –and not in a cool punk rock way — it is easier to assume that any attempt by the mainstream entertainment media to produce something of value is going to fail. I mean, come on, the Dungeons & Dragons movie? And that is still true, but the difference is a lot of geeks are now in the mainstream entertainment media, making movies and Netflix shows and producing their own tabletop and computer RPGs. We as geeks can be a lot more positive because it is us that are now producing our own entertainment.

Now, that isn’t all sunshine and roses. It can lead to a lot of navel gazing and retreading of the same old tropes. We need new blood — young geeks, geeks of color, LGBTQ geeks, and so on. But we can be positive about what is coming down the pike. We absolutely should admit when it turns out terrible (I am looking at you Star Trek Into Darkness) but we don’t have to preemptively hate it.

Leave the vextrapolation behind.

Elger, Everyone. Everyone, Elger.

A few days ago I gave you a little tease of the cover mock up. Now, it is time for you to meet Elger of Heap:

This awesome illustration was produced by my great friend A Bleys Ingram, whose work has graced many an RPG. Since I make no attempt to hide that my 30-plus years immersed in role-playing games thoroughly inform my fiction, it seemed appropriate.

 

Watch this space for a fully designed cover reveal in the near future, as well as pre-ordering information.

Being Johnny Diceseed: Making New Gamers

When my wife and I first watched Netflix’s Stranger Things series, I was struck (just like so many of my peers) by how powerful the D&D nostalgia was. We were those kids in 1985 (minus demonic monsters and psychic girls). Much has written about the connection between us 40-something gamers and the Stranger Things kids, so i won’t rehash it here. But an experience last night reminded me that you did not have to be 12 in the 1980s to be those Stranger Things kids: you can be 12 right now, in fact.

 

Obviously, I make no secret of my geekery and neither does my wife, so it was not unusual that Dungeons and Dragons came up in a conversation between her and a friend at work. It turned out this friend, S, had bought her son J a full set of the D&D 5th Edition books (Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual as well as the Starter Box) for Christmas. Part of the reason was because S wanted J to put down his tablet and interact with friends more. J and his buddies had tried to navigate D&D on their own, S told my wife, but had crashed and burned. That is when my lovely wife offered up my services to teach J and his friends how to play D&D. I was to be Johnny Diceseed, progenitor of a whole new crop of D&D players.

 

I will admit, at first I balked a little. I am used to running games for strangers at conventions, but those are usually adults, and if there are any kids they tend to be with their parents. My sense of humor and imagination are not PG rated, and f-bombs, shit jokes and bloody decapitations are likely to fly during any given moment in one of my games. In addition I was not confident in my ability to teach kids the very basics of a game that is so ingrained in me after 30-plus years of playing it. Are you a parent? Do you remember the frustration of trying to teach a child to ride a bike when you could not actually articulate how to keep the bike upright? That’s what I was worried I was up against.

 

Nonetheless, I agreed. After all, the couch is cold. As the event got closer, I found myself rehearsing things in my head, planning out how I would explain this aspect or that aspect. I remembered being me trying to master the weird game in the red box and I got both a little misty and excited to impart that on a group of kids. I have purchased D&D for friends’ kids before, trying to pass on the hobby, and have offered advice to those kids. My own kids have been resistant, with my son being more active than tabletop gaming allows and my daughter being too young until recently. This would be the first time I really tried to teach the basics of the game to kids I had not met before. It would be much more like those convention experiences of a table of strangers.

 

None of my plans survived contact with the enemy, so to speak, but even so I was able to herd the kids and get them pointed in the right direction. J was quiet but deeply interested. Of the other four kids at the table — at boys about 12 or 13 years old — two were obviously natural gamers. One, B, is going to be their DM — he says not, and they want to make J do it because it is his stuff, but I can spot a DM a mile off and B is going to be it. Two of the other boys were a little more distracted and had little interest in the nuts and bolts of their characters, and if I had to guess those two would play for a while on occasion before wandering off back toward other activities.

 

One thing I found to be difficult in the process what that non-gamer adults never understand how long D&D takes. The kids wanted to learn to create characters AND play the game. Our window was about 2 hours. I got the kids through the rolling stats, picking race and class and spells, part of character generation and then told them we would fill in the other details as we went. Then, I ran them through a forest ambush with a hobgoblin and some goblins to give them a taste of the combat rules. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. It is hard to articulate until you sit down and think about it, but there is quite a lot that happens in your average game of D&D. No single 2 hour session can hope to teach it all. But, again, as Johnny Diceseed my job was just to plan a 20-sided acorn.

When I learned to play D&D, we had just a 32 page player’s guide and 64 page DM guide to navigate, along with a solo adventure to explain the basics and a pre-stocked dungeon to get the DM started. I like the D&D starter set and think the Lost Mines of Phandelver is a great introductory adventure, but I actually prefer Paizo’s Pathfinder beginner Box for teaching the very basics of tabletop D&D style role-playing. Kids just getting into D&D now have a lot more material to try and digest.

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If it were up to me, I would teach a group to play D&D over the course of four sessions. The first one would be a short adventure with pre-generated characters to teach the basics of play and the assumptions of the world of D&D. The second session would be a character generation session where the players went through the entire process, had time to read their options and so on. The third and fourth sessions would be a somewhat longer adventure using those newly minted characters, designed with the goal of introducing the variety of activities that can happen in D&D, from dealing with NPCs to delving dungeons to traversing the wilds to selling loot and upgrading their gear. By the end of those four session, I think any group of kids that was interested in D&D should be able to navigate their way through the sometimes arcane rule books and adventures.

 

My philosophizing aside, I got to see at least a few gamers made last night. They cheered when they eviscerated a goblin and laughed when the barbarian whiffed twice in a row. They only got to peek through the door into this world, but they decided based on what they saw they were going to set their shoulders against that door and push. I am excited for them, for all the adventures they will have and the friends they will make and the worlds they will create.