The Ring Makers: Afterword

The Ring Makers started out as a necessary exercise. I was suffering from some pretty tough writer’s block and imposter syndrome. I had written some game material in the last couple years but had not been consistent with even that, and was totally bouncing off every piece of fiction I tried.

 

I knew I needed to do something. I had to get my groove back. A therapist told me “It doesn’t matter how much you write, but if it is important to you, write something. Write a hundred words a day if that is all you have in you.” This was in response to my usual caterwauling about the Elger and Moon sequel, of course, but it managed to somehow stick with me this time.

 

I still was not ready to go back to that work yet, so instead I decided to just engage in an exercise with two foci: to write every day, and to write exactly 100 words. Both are a little harder than it sounds.

 

Writing every day is tough, even when you are only talking 100 words. First, you have to actually “put ass to chair and fingers to keyboard” as the great JMS once wrote. It sounds easy until that day you realize it is 11 PM, you are more than a little drunk, and you can’t remember your Google Docs password. In the end, I only missed three days: Christmas Day and two days recently while I was away at TotalCon, all due to exhaustion. But, 97% is still an A so I’ll take it.

Writing exactly 100 words is also hard, but in a fun and challenging way. You may not know this, but I tend to go on a bit. Forcing myself to be concise helped me reign in my worst excesses as a writer and made me really examine the words I was using. Also tense: you can eliminate a lot of unnecessary words by avoiding the passive voice, FYI.

 

Finally, I want to mention this concept of the “micronovel.” I do not remember where I discovered the term, but what I tried to do with the Ring Makers was not write a novella or novelette, but an actual novel in brief. In other words, I wanted the characters, subplots, and complexities of a novel told in brief. But that brevity could not simply be an outline. My 100 word chapters were not intended to serve as a sketch of a 1000 word chapter. Instead, I wanted to tell the story through flashes, moments that told you the overall story without having to tell you everything. I feel like I was generally successful.

 

So, what is next? I am going to leave The Ring Makers “in the drawer” for a little while while I work on my next daily project (upping my daily word count to see if I can maintain it). When I revisit it, the goal will be to polish it and publish it via Amazon.

Thanks everyone that followed along this process with me. More than once, your readership, likes and comments kept me going when I might have abandoned The Ring Makers. You’re the best.

Chapter 1

Rejectron 3000

I have always had a bit of a tumultuous relationship with (writing) rejection. Of course there’s a sense of failure and the creeping feeling of imposter syndrome, but the thing I really hate is form letters. The sense that there’s an algorithm accepting, reading and rejecting submissions has always bothered me. I know intellectually that it doesn’t really work that way (I don’t think). I assume there are real people going through the slush pile, and my stuff is just not good enough to get through the sieve.

A couple months ago DAW Books opened for unsolicited submissions. I decided to send Elger and the Moon in. I really like that novel and feel like it could be great with a real editor and publishing resources behind it. That a rejection letter did not come back immediately gave me a little hope, as did seeing some random reads on my Kindle reports. Were they looking at it seriously? Did it have a shot?

Alas, the Rejectron 3000 just spat out its form letter and all those feelings of failure, imposter syndrome and being subject to the whims of algorithms come rushing back, no matter how foolish they are.

Writing is lonely and hard, and yet here I am.

Here we go…

Just a quick note, aside from The Ring Makers micronovel (which i promise I will discuss in depth at some point):

I just submitted Elger and the Moon to DAW Books. They are having an open call at the moment. And now I am pretty sure I am going to spend the next 3 months (the estimated response time) in a state of high anxiety.

Here’s the thing: I really like that book and I was really crushed when it became.. inert so quickly. I understand that I could not give it the marketing attention it needed, but despite that understanding I still felt like it was a failure. Submitting it this way to a traditional publisher is a big step for me. It’s me saying that the failure of Elger and the Moon as a self published novel does not mean Elger and the Moon is a failure, and by extension it doesn’t mean I am as a writer. I know that is going to sound self indulgent to folks (it sounds self indulgent to me) but that is honestly how I felt for over two years now at least as it relates to fiction.

The Ring Makers is partly a healing strategy for that, forcing myself to write daily with intent and direction and within limits. Submitting Elger was a much bigger part of that process, though.

So, here goes nothing.

The Creative Stack

The word “Blog” appears at the top of an otherwise blank sheet of college ruled paper. It is the top sheet of five such pieces of paper. The rest aren’t labeled “Blog” of course. They have labels like “Tabletop Game Design” and “Fiction” on them. And while each sheet represents a distinct creative activity, they are all part of a larger experiment: the Creative Stack.

For the past few months — well, actually, for the past few years — most of my time and mental energy has been consumed by school. I am a middle aged man with a degree in English Literature and a gnat’s level of focus, so you may ask why I am in school. I am doing what all middle aged people do in the modern economy: changing jobs before my job changes me — irrevocably. I am moving from “surveyor by trade” to “civil engineer.” I know what you are thinking, and no — I did not decide to become an engineer just so I can level up from geek to true nerd.

Ok. Maybe a little.

Anyway, all that background is to get to this: with classes ending for the summer, I find myself with free time. I could squander it on video games and extra sessions of D&D (and rest assured, I will to some degree) but I also want to ensure I use the time I have wisely before going back to school in the fall. I tried to pick a project, but realized that the whole “attention span of a gnat” thing was going to cause me no end of trouble in that endeavor. So, instead, I am writing an entry for this blog because that piece of college ruled paper told me so.

I call it the “Creative Stack” and I honestly don’t remember if I came by the idea listening to a podcast or dreamed it up myself. If it ends up working, you can be sure I will claim the latter, so we will go with that for now.

The Creative Stack consists of five sheets of paper. They bear the following headings:

Tabletop Game Design, for serious efforts toward board and card game design with an eye toward eventual production or publication.

Game Prep, for convention games and other “serious” role-playing Game Mastering circumstances.

Fiction, for prose storytelling.

RPG Game Design, for professional work in the RPG arena, including freelance writing and part time development.

and, of course, Blog, for this thing here.

(There area couple of blank pages in the stack at the moment, too, in case I get a bug for something in particular.)

The way the stack works is simple: Whatever the top sheet is, I work on for some period of time, maybe an hour or two. When I finish for that day, I write down what I did and when I did it, and then move that paper to the bottom of the stack. The next day (presuming I don’t procrastinate) I work on whatever is next in the stack, even if that isn’t necessarily the thing I would want to be working on at that moment. I don’t get to move on until I have put work into whatever is on the top of the stack.

The system is intended to both keep me working on something creative daily, and help me avoid both burnout on one project and also avoid randomly dropping a project out of disinterest or a simple failure to get back to it. In the best case scenario by the end of the summer I have reams of completed projects, and a creative stack that has turned over a few times. In reality, I will be happy if I manage to complete a single project within each category.

At the very least, it should mean that every 5-days-ish, you should see a new blog entry from me. If you like that sort of thing, I mean.

-I

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.

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.

Found Fiction: The Final Word

By The original uploader was Fredrik at English Wikipedia [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By The original uploader was Fredrik at English Wikipedia [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Found Fiction” is the name I am giving to old stories I find buried on my hard drive, Google Docs or elsewhere. Many are unfinished and nearly all are in first draft form. I write a lot of stories just sitting down and starting typing, with little or no idea what I am doing. That is a habit I am trying to break , by the way. In any case, some of this Found Fiction is worth sharing — not good enough to polish and try and sell, but perhaps there is a core idea I think worth sharing or I just like the way the prose came out.

 

This story is an End Of The World tale. I have written a lot of these — or at least started them. Because I obsess over what we — mankind — are and why we are here, I think a lot about what would happen if we went away, and how we would react to knowing it in advance. This story is a pretty perfect example of my thoughts on the matter, or at least what i find interesting enough to create a narrative for.

 

Note: this is the draft in its raw form, presented just as I found it. I do not remember when I wrote it.


Editorial: The Final World

 

In this, the last issue of the nation’s longest continuously published newspaper, we have dedicated tens of thousands of words to your stories. Over the last weeks, since confirmation of the impending Minefall Disaster (for which I must apologize, as it was one of our headlines that created the name that stuck), we have talked to you. We have talked to you online and over the phone and in the streets and in your homes. We believed it important to tell your stories at The End, to be preserved forever in a space age, diamond version of microfilm that hopefully one day some future (or even alien) civilization will find and decipher.

But yours were not the only stories we wanted to tell. From the time this issue hits the internet and the newsstand, you will have nearly twelve hours to peruse it. While we wanted you to meet the end with understanding for your fellow reader, we also wanted you to read the words of our greatest thinkers and our most beloved, and even detested, leaders. In these pages you will find the words of celebrity activists and Nobel laureates, presidents and prime ministers, religious leaders and scientific visionaries, even terrorists and despots. This is, after all, the final view of mankind, and here at least, we believe in telling the whole story.

Among all those voices, the mundane and the famous, there is one we know that you all, everyone in the whole world and anyone who might come in the future, will want to hear. We managed to secure an interview with that very person in his final hours last night, so that his words, his explanations and excuses, would also be preserved forever in diamond microfilm.

Some have suggested we not run that interview, that we should not give acknowledgement to the man that ended our entire civilization, perhaps our entire species. We here, however, chose a different option. If it is our jobs as journalists to tell all sides of the story, then we must be compelled to tell his, too, no matter how twisted or vile we might find them. By setting us on this path, by very directly bringing about Armageddon, this man, Tobias Hossler, has become the most significant figure in human history.

While everyone on Earth now knows the name Tobias Hossler, allow me to introduce him for those we presume to one day find this story: he was a genius in both technology and economics who built a multi-billion dollar company from nothing in the heady first decades of the Internet. Unsatisfied with mere bits and bytes, Hossler moved into the real world, first in commerce and research and development, and then into the energy sector and the global commodities trade. Even this was not too big for a man of his vision, and his final project, the one that would turn into all our Final Project, was to mine the Moon for its precious resources, turning the Rare Earth minerals that drive our technological society into Every Day Earth minerals with just a little push out of the lunar gravity well. Most impressively was this: he did it. To all our doom. A full biography of Tobias Hossler can be read on page 7.

What no one realized about Hossler wa that everything he did, every step he took on the ladder of success, was a step toward a most terrifying and nefarious goal. Hossler desired nothing less than the complete eradication of humankind from the face of the Earth, and he hatched a plan that would allow him to achieve it. However ridiculous that sounds, however Hollywood and Comic Book, it is true, and now, today, we all face down Hossler’s success. How he did it is unimportant (though we did detail the process on page 13). The real question is, and has been since it became public, “Why?”

There is no one better suited to answer that question than Hossler himself:

In his cell, the day before he was to be taken to the receive his lethal injection, I personally sat down with Tobias Hossler. We talked about a great many things, but it was only mere minutes before his death, that Hossler told me the answer to that question.

He said, “I don’t think it was any one thing that did it. But, even so, I remember this day in early 2011. I was in India, promoting our Asian Initiative, and a news story broke about the gang rape and murder of two fourteen year old girls on a train to Delhi. The thing was, it did not break in India. There, it wasn’t news, because it happened so often. It was all over CNN and the other American cable stations. The thing was, I realized it was only on the news there because the girls were white. They were British kids that got on the wrong train after a field trip.”

I asked him if he was destroying the world because two white girls got raped and murdered on a train in India. He scoffed at me. “Don’t be ridiculous. Like I said, that is just a thing I remember. It sort of cemented the realization of how bad we really are. Us. Our species, I mean. All of us. Not just in the abstract, but each and every one of us. Everyone, some time, thinks and maybe even does horrible things to one another. It is our nature. It is inescapable.”

Tobias Hossler says many more things about human nature, the human capacity for evil and whether the ultimate murder is somehow justified in the complete interview on page 25. I know there are some of you, many of you probably, who don’t want to sift through his diatribe and justifications. I don’t blame you. Sitting through it when it was coming out of his mouth was almost too much to bear.

I asked Tobias Hossler why he believed the bad in humans was so bad that it outweighed the good in us. He answered with this:

“At my heart, I’m a mathematician. I do the numbers. I actively considered all the joy and love and beauty in a given life. I realized that these things were precious because they were rare. If they were routine, they would not be worth cherishing and remembering. Once I realized that, realizing the corollary, that the vast majority of life was not full of love and joy and beauty, and much of it was filled with the opposites, was easy. No matter what we did, not matter how ‘good’ we made the world, we could not make it worthwhile. I thought about that and thought about it until it was keeping me up at night and driving me crazy.”

He smiles wryly here, like he knows what I wanted to point out. I resisted the urge and let him continue.

“In the end, the math wins. There is, and always will be, more pain and anguish and ugliness than joy and beauty. The net gain would always be bad. So I decided to solve the problem.” He laughed here, a genuine amused laugh, cold and terrible given the circumstances of the interview. “I had already started work on my lunar mines. It would be a small matter to keep the world in the dark and set a huge chunk of lunar rock into an Earth crossing orbit that could extinguish most high life forms, including, very probably, every human being on the planet.”

Tobias Hossler died precisely eight minutes after that. He chose to stop talking. We shook hands and I left his cell. I watched him up until the moment they took him from his cell to the death chamber. As far as I could see, he never once broke down and cried or prayed for mercy or any of the other common behaviors exhibited by the doomed.

It was part of my job to watch Hossler die. I can not say in good conscious that a part of me, the angry part that feels robbed of not just my future but the future of the entire human race, did not enjoy watching him die. But another part of me, deep in the recesses of my mind, sort of agreed with him. Yes, we would be dead and gone, and the world would lose much for that. But at the same time, no two little girls will ever be held down and brutalized, then murdered, by a group of strangers ever again.

As I hit “send” to get this editorial in on time to meet press time, I have somewhere around 13 hours to live. My wife and kids are in the living room, just a few doors down from this study, burning through every Pixar movie ever made. My brother and his wife are gone: they committed suicide with about 200 other people a week or so back. My parents died years ago. All over the world, friends of mine — and when you are a journalist and then editor for a paper like this one, you make a lot of friends in a lot of places — are preparing themselves however they see fit to meet their End, and perhaps their Maker.

Just like you all.

In these last moments, I suppose all I ask is this: prove Tobias Hossler wrong. Be good to one another.

Good bye, and thank you.

Elger Update: The Words, They Are Written

It has been a long time since I mentioned my novel Elger and the Moon, which I began in earnest a little over 15 months ago and finished the first draft of just less than a year ago now. Well, the last day of 2016 turned out to be the day I finished the editing process (which I did with the input of a good friend who is also a professional editor). That means the book is done!

 

Well, the words anyway. It seems there is a lot more work yet to be done. I hemmed and hawed over whether to submit it to publishers and agents, or to self publish. I finally decided on the latter. I am not especially good at selling anything, let alone myself, but I am even less patient and the prospect of waiting years to find a publisher and then see it published was too daunting. So instead I will cinch up my mantaloons and do what I need to to get it out there and seen. From there, it is up to, well, you guys.

 

Over the next weeks expect to see more news about Elger here as well as other things. Table top (or virtual table top) gaming is still a huge part of my life and I have much to share on that front, as well as thoughts and opinions of everything from the awesomness that is the newest Star Wars to my complete and utter spasmodic anticipation for Horizon: Zero Dawn. Long story short: expect more geekiness out of me than you saw in 2016, as well as a little of the promotion (which I am no good at).

 

Happy New Year!