Writing Archive

4

Why I Quit My Last Writing Job: A Reflection on My Stupidity

Right then, Adam is about to get honest. Since it’s always a weird thing when I talk about something other than films/books/games, I advise you to take whatever safety precautions you feel are appropriate. The truth is this post has been a long time coming. Remember two weeks ago when I said I was feeling out of form with my writing? The words that follow should put those sentiments into a bit of a better context.

Now, this next part – to paraphrase from Michael Ironside as Lt. Rasczak – is for all you new people (and apparently a stiff reminder for myself despite the fact I’ve been in the game for a few years and should know better by now). There is just one rule:

Never take a writing job where you are paid in exposure.

It’s the first fucking rule of write club. Yet I, ever the arrogant, self-absorbed, asshole desperate for validation, thought I could somehow be the exception to this rule.

Also, I know there is a time and a place to write for free, usually when you are the one in control of everything (e.g. blogs, tumblr, fanfic, one-man shows), but that’s not what I’m talking about here. This is a story about what happened when a person who shall remain nameless approached me in a professional context and said, “So, I want you to write reviews for me and edit the video games section of my website (which shall also remain nameless). Also, I want to pay you, but I can’t, but I will when I can.”

An editor, I thought to myself.

“I am the editor,” I said aloud like the computer from Flight of the Navigator.

“This could lead to other editorial positions down the road,” I said to the cat, knowing his sub-par IQ, even for a cat, would protect me from recriminations in the face of a majestic work of self-delusion.

So eager was I for validation, I didn’t bother asking about who would own the rights to my words.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

I’ve sold both fiction and non-fiction in the past. I should have known better. On some level, I think I did know better. Instead of politely declining the offer and moving on about my business, I let myself get sucked in. Why? Why would I ignore all the advice I’ve given to the greenest of newbies on panels about how to be a writer?

Insecurity, I guess.

Some unshakable and existential feeling that where I am and what I’m doing isn’t good enough in the face of what other people are doing. Maybe it was an effort to dodge the boulder of self-doubt that began as a pebble cast down the cliff face of my psyche one day in the summer of 2013. Apropos of said day, it’s a weird moment when you see a writer you’ve reviewed – and had many a pleasant conversation with – sell an essay on how writers shouldn’t bother with reviews, as criticism is largely pointless save for its ability to generate pull quotes.

Nor should I discount a bit of professional envy from the equation. Celebrating the success of others doesn’t mean I can’t be hungry for some of my own, right?  So I took up the mantle of editor. I wanted the title. I wanted people to see I was moving forward, particularly my enemies and naysayers. I finally wanted to break 600 followers on twitter (597 as of the time of this post).

For a time things were great. My EiC said all the right things whenever I came to him with my thoughts. More importantly – to my ego, at least – my work was crossing from my desk, to his, to the website with minimal to no revisions.

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Fun fact, the best editor I’ve ever had ripped a new asshole into the best story I’ve ever sold. In retrospect, I should have known something was amiss with this gig. I like to think I’m good, but there’s no way my essays and reviews should have skated without my EiC demanding edits that would send me into a scotch-fueled shame spiral at least once. Remember, kids, editors make us better by destroying us.

After a few months things took a turn for the ugly. In truth, I could see the writing on the wall before everything came to a head. Although the reasons why a person should pay their writers are legion, few people talk about the ability of money to balm a chapped ass. Were I being paid for my labours, I probably wouldn’t have cared as much when my EiC started asking me to do things that weren’t 100% aligned with my world view. As long as the paycheque is big enough to wash away my sorrows in booze and awesomeness, I’d write marketing copy for the Conservative Party of Canada. Pay me enough to buy a few nights with a Tricia Helfer lookalike, and I’d even write speeches for Stephen Harper, himself. Every man has a price.

In this case, I was being asked to recruit other writers to my section of the website with the promise of exposure and writing tips in lieu of compensation. The cognitive dissonance built as I tried to rationalize why I refused to recruit others to do something I was already doing. All the while I was working toward a shared vision, until one day I wasn’t. Once the high-minded ideals and promises started falling to the wayside, the resentment really kicked into overdrive. As much as I may have believed in the cause – or convinced myself I believed – the fact that one announcement took me to a place of righteous indignation is a good barometer for how I was actually feeling.

When the big change in “the vision” was announced as a fait accompli, I quit. I quit semi-publically, in spectacular fashion, while quoting TRON. Later, I found out that another editor quit shortly after I did. If I could do the whole thing over again, I probably wouldn’t have done the public bit, but I still would have quoted the Master Control Program as I rode off into the sunset.

Skip ahead a couple of months and here I am writing these words, and here you are reading them. What’s changed? Not much. As far as the website in question goes, they seem to be doing well without me, so good for them. In the wake of parting ways, the ego boost I was so desperate to cultivate in the first place has effectively been turned on its head. Some paranoid part of me now wonders if the only reason I get review copies of books and video games – my only measurable success – is because I’d rather not write a review than use my little corner of the internet to slag someone off (movies and TV not withstanding). An even more paranoid part wonders how many bridges I may have burned with that last job. As fiction subs get rejected and non-fiction pitches go unanswered, I wonder if maybe I’ve blown a bigger hole in my foot than originally suspected. As a writer, it’s fair to say I’ve never felt farther from my goals than I do of late.

But that’s okay. Shit happens, and people have short attention spans. Annoying as all of this is, it seems I’ve finally learnt the lesson I’ve espoused so many times while giving advice to the neophytes. Maybe it’s not a happy ending, but it’s not a terrible one, either.

To reiterate:

1)     Don’t write for other people for free because you think you need to pay your dues to get ahead.

2)     See #1.

3)     If you ignore #1 and #2, make sure you secure your rights to your work.

4)     The moment writing for free becomes a pain in your ass, you need to quit.

5)     Don’t quit where other people can see it, even if doing so does feel so good you need to go home and change your trousers.

6)     There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be paid for your work. It doesn’t make you entitled, up-jumped, or disrespectful to the establishment. It means you want to have value assigned to your work.

So there’s that. Sorry for the cheap therapy session, but…well…not sorry. After 730-some posts, I’m entitled to a bit of indulgence and soul unburdening every once in a while.


0

The Hugo Flap: This too shall…

On the list of things I give a toss about, the nominations for the Hugo Awards rates slightly above the Oscars, but slightly below finishing the edits on the first season of the X-Com inspired web-series I wrote a few years back. I don’t have a book. My one short-story sale from last year got pushed back to 2015-16. And I’m not going to put in more than a perfunctory effort to campaign this blog for best fan stuff. However, let it not be said that Adam can’t offer up an opinion when everybody else is doing so.

Also, if you want better opinions than mine, choose from this big list my friend Simon curated. Also, read Simon’s extensive essay on the matter. Kudos, Simon.

Frankly, I don’t think I have a lot to add to this discussion. In terms of the basic arguments, I do find it annoying that the Hugo nomination system can be gamed such that an entire slate of writers and editors make it on to the ballot. I like to believe in meritocracy as a concept – even though I know the world doesn’t work that way – and voting blocs tend to undermine said merit-based consideration.

Of course, if we want to have a meaningful conversation about what is good, in lieu of what is popular (not to suggest the two are somehow mutually exclusive i.e. something can be both good and popular) we shouldn’t waste too much air time on an award that is left open to public consideration.

Rather than going down said road, filled with landmines aplenty, and thus participating in genre literature presenting itself to the world as the snake what eats its own tail, I think we should focus on our true enemies: mainstream lit snobs.

Who among us hasn’t had to suffer the self-righteous sneering of a “lit fic” writer – or worse some chuffed-up 4th year lit undergrad – claiming that genre can’t deal with big ideas. Never mind Andrezj Sapkowski explores the politics of colonization and ethnic cleansing in The Witcher. Pay no attention to the likes of Aliette de Bodard artistically mobilizing the short story to explore notions of diaspora and gender. We genre writers are all peddlers of Gorean smut and Buck Rogers pew-pew fluff, right?

If the Sad Puppies aka “GamerGate Reads” have done anything, it’s to prove that SF/F/H is, and always has been, a political discourse. Only now we’re so political as to have the right-wing of genre make us meta. To crib a line from Community, this year’s Hugo ballot takes the politics of genre and shoves its head up its own ass.

Genre lit has transformed into a political homunculus, crab-walking about on its hands and legs absolutely unrepentant about what it is. To the outsider, it’s no longer clear where the narrative and meta-narrative begin and end. Should this not stand as the ultimate proof that genre is just as a capable of grappling with contemporary zeitgeist as any other form of written expression?

While I fully admit to partaking in a bit of knee jerk opprobrium in the wake of the Hugo announcements, on further thought I have come to two conclusions about this mobilization of right-wing shenanigans in the name of…gozer…the Father, the Son, and the holy spirit of Robert Heinlein…whatever.

Number one: this too shall pass. Suppose one of the right wing cranks actually wins a Hugo this year; are they not going to do so with a giant asterisk next to their name? The thing about stretching the rules to win is that most people don’t remember the victory so much as the means to the end. Case in point: A-Rod. I couldn’t tell you what baseball – it is baseball, right? – thing he did, but I know he cheated to do it.

Number two: If, as writers, we are capable of demonstrating our political culture through awards, then it goes without saying our works of art are aspects of the same political expression. Thus, the next time some lit-fic or can-lit jagoff says genre is fluff absent substance, we need only point to the Hugos as an elegant demonstration of just how political we are as artists.

Either way, the right side of the equation wins, even if it doesn’t seem so right now.


1

Apologia Adamus

I recently turned down a very fine guest post due to its invocation of a certain social “movement”. This decision has weighed upon me such that I feel the need to offer up an apologia.

Some time ago, I wrote what was to be my one and only offering about this “movement”. Since then, this cultural phenomenon has mutated into an ideology among some quarters. The actions taken in its name, regardless of if they represent the whole, have only grown more ugly and soul crushing with time. I’ve seen people face death threats and harassment for little more than contributing to a corpus of art or partaking in artistic criticism. Witnessing shit like this leaves me to think that society has utterly failed to instill honour as a virtue in a generation, or two, of people.

In recent months, people have asked me what I think of the counter-movement to the social “movement” that shall not be named. The assumption being that if I’ll mock one thing via internet meme, I must be a member of the opposing camp. This is not the case.

I have too many reviews, essays, and think-pieces to write to bother sorting out who has the greatest claim to butthurt and which side is working best on behalf of the video game playing world. This is not a battle for my soul. This is not post-modern Protestants versus Catholics. I don’t care.

From where I stand, it’s all monstrous, banal, and absurd.

I want nothing to do with any of it. I am not, nor will I ever be, associated with movements whose names are born out of portmanteaus of fence portals or half of a city’s name. I’m a writer. I write things. End of line.

Then why do I feel like a coward for not taking a stand against the things I know to be monstrous?

It is as if I’m a witcher who has turned his back on a village plagued by monsters. Worse still, I know some of the people in this village. I comfort myself with the knowledge that being an aware, honest, and, inclusive critic will be a more meaningful contribution than standing on a wall and daring the worst quarters of the internet to have at me. Perhaps I’m also over-estimating my importance in assuming anybody would bother visiting harassment upon me for stating an opinion. Contrary to what my mom tells me, I am the smallest of potatoes. Be that as it may, I’ve witnessed, through the relative safety of my info-sphere, too many people getting caught in this shitstorm to tempt the gods. In the words of Ferris Bueller, “I don’t want this much heat.”

So there it is. Perhaps I’m a milksop for not taking a more obvious stand against the shortcomings of online culture. If so, I’ll live with it. For the foreseeable future, all I’m willing to do is try to rise above the things that divide us.


0

On Writing and Meritocracy

While I’m not one to spend a lot of time talking about writing, principally because it’s far too meta to do so regularly on a website like mine, from time to time I come up with an idea worthy of a little exploration. On that note, let’s spend a few minutes on meritocracy and writing.

When it comes to finding success in writing, I am very much a product of the educational doctrine drilled into me during my formative years. The late-eighties and early-nineties did everything they could to teach a young and impressionable Adam that if he worked hard, produced good work, and played by the rules, he would eventually find success. Despite the cynicism teenage Adam began to embrace in the late-nineties, my current sense of justice, delusional though it maybe, demands at least the theory of meritocracy must be true.

A recent attempt at landing a professional writing job has given me pause to reconsider the nature of the meritocracy as applied to our current cultural economy. Obviously, I didn’t get the job. Rest assured, however, this is not a setup to me complaining about a hard-knock life.

The form rejection I received told me there were approximately 1300 applications for this lone position. I knew my application was a long shot, but I was surprised by the scope of the completion. 1300 applications, holy shit. Let’s work through the figure. I’ve been on the receiving side of job applications enough times to know that one can usually discount a certain percentage of the applications after about five seconds of consideration. These applicants can be categorized as having no business whatsoever applying for the job in question e.g. butchers applying to be medical doctors. For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume 50% of the 1300 applications for the writing job were cast in the bin without a second thought. Doing so still leaves us with 650 applications.

650 applications is monstrously unmanageable. This is where I expect qualifications, education, and experience to further cut the number down to useful long list, say 26 applications, as that’s the number of applicants who fall within the 98th percentile of the original 1300.

While it’s easy to say that getting a job, any job, is about being the best applicant in the pile, it’s a lot easier to be the best when the completion doesn’t number in the quadruple digits. If there were only 50 applicants for the job and I placed in the 90th percentile, I would have been among the top five candidates for the job. Whereas if I was in the 90th percentile of those who made it past the initial cull, I would still only have ranked 65th overall i.e. well below the cutoff threshold for making the long list within the confines of this particular thought experiment.

I think we may have a problem of supply on our hands. Particularly because this problem of supply has the potential to disillusion a lot of good writers. The fundamental principle of a merit based system is if a person does well, they will advance. If we assume my recent experience is indicative of larger trends, and anecdotally I don’t see a lot of evidence to contradict the idea of a buyer’s market in the writing world, then doing well isn’t nearly enough anymore.

Faced with a protracted abundance of supply (such is the consequence of the democratization of knowledge and the written word via modern technology) the model of meritocracy, the notion that good work pays off, becomes statistically harder to swallow. Even if the meritocracy ruled the day without any exception or “corruption,” the vast numbers of applicants witnessed in the above example render the good candidates and the poor ones statistically indistinguishable from each other. Can we still call it a fair system when only the outliers of excellence have a chance at making the grade?


19

For Us, The Writers: A Comedy of Confidence

Last week, an article on New Statesman pissed me off. In responding to this article, I want to be clear that I’m not writing from the position of a neutral critic. Today, I don’t care about being fair and balanced. I have an agenda, and I will make that known as I marvel at the petulance, perhaps even the hubris, found in an article called, “Attention, #NaNoWriMo Fans: No One Cares How Your F***ing Novel is Going.

As one might expect given the title of the piece, the tone of Hayley Campbell’s article is decidedly ad hominem in nature. While the second paragraph gave me hope that she might be interested in addressing some of the charlatans apt to take advantage of neophyte writers, the balance tells us all we need to know about the author’s opinion on people who dare to speak their mind on writing during November.

Here are some of my favourite lines.

“People will blog about the loneliness of being a writer, having been one now for three whole days.”

“People will go into Settings and then Profile and delete “aspiring writer” from their bio and put instead: WORDSMITH. WORD DOCTOR. WORD ALCHEMIST. DREAMWEAVER. “

“All of Tumblr will be #writing the most politically correct book ever using all of their favourite hashtags (there will be no white people in these books, and if a white person is writing it they will be checking their privilege against everything that happens throughout, in footnotes).”

“Pretty much everyone you know and love thinks they have a book in them, and pretty much everyone you know and love has roughly 3,000 words of it written in a dead file in the back corner of a hard drive three computers ago that they won’t tell you about. You are not special. No one cares how your novel is going.”

To begin, and for context, I see myself as a profoundly average writer. I have three novels, one of which I began during 2012’s NaNoWriMo. All three of those novels live in the dark recesses of my hard drive. To date, my sales are summarized in two short stories, two reviews, and one essay. When people talk about me as a writer, critic, or editor, I tend to think they are doing it out of an awkward sense of politeness. What little I care to generalize about actual writers, critics, and editors is that they are usually very generous toward people who work hard, even if they are just hacks whose only talent is found in trying hard.

I do not have the gift to be a Starfighter. I will not pull a sword from the stone. I am average, and that’s okay, because I enjoy the successes I have found. However, as an average writer, I have to look at Hayley Campbell’s “nuclear/NaNoWriMo” bunker and wonder why it is necessary. If Campbell is writing for New Statesman, then I think it’s probably fair to say that she’s made it farther than most people will as a writer. I congratulate her on her success; I’m sure it’s well earned. Nevertheless, I fail to fathom how an established writer will look at people who only have “3,000 words of [novel] written” and see them as such a profoundly existential threat as to merit an entire article on “Britain’s leading, best written and most authoritative weekly political, cultural and current affairs magazine.

Is this not pissing on the masses from on high?

If the reality of things is that maybe 1% of the 300,000 people who annually participate in NaNoWriMo will turn their book into something that sells, what harm do the other 99% present in taking a month to feel like they might have a chance? If the process for “real” writers is, as Campbell indicates, sitting around in one’s own filth, jamming out pages while the world unfolds around you, then why shouldn’t a bunch of neophytes talk about how churning out 1,700 words a day is a lonely experience? Are their day-one experiences any less valid than what the rest of us learned long ago? I think not.

Writing, when we come right down to it, is often a shitty and unrewarding thing to do. The chances of a given writer being the next Stephen King are practically null. Meanwhile, talented people can get their work rejected over and over again while the likes of E.L. James makes millions on the back of barely coherent mommy porn. In light of that, do we really need to make the unspoken realities even worse by shaming the poseurs, wanna-bes, and never-will-bes during a month when all they want to do is feel a sense of belonging? Are we so cynical? Are we so insecure in our own accomplishments that they can be threatened by someone claiming the sacred mantle of “writer,” even if the corpus of their work is limited to pedestrian Babylon 5 fan fic? I could declare myself the Holy Roman Emperor, but without the armies and territory to support the claim it is meaningless. Thus do I see established writers bemoaning NaNoWriMo as a sad and pitiable exercise in feeling inadequate during a perceived cock measuring competition.

Over the coming weeks, I would implore a modicum of self-reflection from those who might find themselves apt to sound-off on NaNoWriMo’s as the third worst thing since Stalin. Yes, every month is writing month for a great many of us. Yes, we tirelessly write and produce without the fanfare that people seem to get for their annual November efforts. And yes, as writers, regardless of standing, we should be confident enough in our talents to not feel the need to piss on others for daring to aspire to what we have achieved.


0

From the Lower Decks: On Absurd Nomenclature in the Slush Pile

Today we’re going to have a little chat about what I do as a First Reader/Submissions Editor/Slush Monkey for Daily Science Fiction. The topic of our conversation: stories that invoke a ridiculous name or title in the first sentence. To wit, I will almost never send a story to the second round when I see a bonkers name/rank in the first sentence of a story.

Obligatory Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post represent those of the author and are in no way endorsed by the editors or management of Daily Science Fiction.

Now, let’s get back to the business at hand. When I talk about stories that begin with an over-the-top rank/title and name, I mean something like this,

“Bongwonger First Class Hercules Jehovah MacGuyver is flying a fusion powered death rocket toward the third moon of Praxalon Seven. “

Or,

“Lord Protector Sir Malcolm Duncan Hamlet Agamemnon III contemplated the nature of the universe during his morning cup of tea.”

These are stupid names.

While they are fabrications of my own diseased imagination, they nevertheless follow the pattern of actual stories from the DSF slush pile. At this point, I imagine there’s a non-zero portion of people reading this and auditing their memories for examples of excellent stories that open with the “name and rank was doing a thing” trope. Be that as it may, exceptions are often confused for the rule in writing, and my rule, with very few exceptions, is to push the big red reject button when I see something with an insane name in the introduction.

The issue isn’t that insane names in and of themselves are problematic. Wack-a-doodle names can give a sense of otherness to a character e.g. Zaphod Beeblebrox or r. Daneel Olivaw. Insane names can also shed important details about the setting of a given story. I can think of no more accessible example of this than “The Great Humungus” in The Road Warrior. Terry Hayes’ and George Miller’s screenplay doubles down on the kooky nature of the antagonist’s name by having his herald introduce him to the gas-rich band of survivors as the “Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla.” None of this makes us, as an audience, take the Humungus any less seriously, and if it does then you’re watching the movie wrong.

The Road Warrior’s first act gives us more than enough insight into post-apocalyptic Australia to understand that the Humungus’ name is an indication of just how far into entropy the world has fallen. A man who might otherwise be called John Smith can now put on a hockey mask and some fetish wear, call himself The Great Humunugs, and still command the lives and deaths of his followers. The insane name serves to underscore the central conceit of the story: everything has gone to hell.

Now imagine that you have never seen The Road Warrior. Fade in on smoke clouding over the lone strip of road tattooing the outback. The narrator’s first words are, “The Great Humungus ruled the wasteland with an iron fist.” All other considerations being equal, is there a world where that doesn’t sound like something written by teenager intent on making a dick joke?

At that point The Road Warrior might as well be Spaceballs because the name strikes the wrong tone with the audience. It serves to confuse rather than enlighten. And if I, speaking only for myself in this case, think that someone is trying to tell me a joke, then I want to know who the comedian is before I listen to the punchline. I want to know that the person is funny before they try to make me laugh because comedy is much more in the eye of the beholder than drama.

This is why someone like Neal Stephenson can get away with a line like this as the very first words of Snow Crash,

The Deliverator belongs to an elite order, a hallowed sub-category.”

No word of a lie, if this turned up in the slush pile, I would boo it and seriously contemplate rejecting it out of hand. However, Stephenson can get away with it in Snow Crash because he likely comes with foreknowledge on the part of the reader. When a person submits to a magazine, they don’t get that benefit unless they happen to be known to the individual submissions editor. Even then, I like to think that I’m fair-minded enough to apply the same standards to all writers, regardless of pedigree or notoriety.

To sum up, zany names certainly have their place in writing. However, if you are trying to sell a piece of fiction and you don’t already have a rapport with the editor (i.e. the editor liked your pitch letter and asked you to send along a manuscript) then the use of an outrageous name as the first words of a story is probably going to do more harm than good. It presumes that the person reading your story will be fascinated by the novelty, when in fact it’s probably going to evoke a tired sigh and confuse the tone of the story’s first few hundred words. Make no mistake, a lot of my decision to reject or promote a story happens in those first hundred words.

And that’s my view from the lower decks.


0

Email Alerts from The Page of Reviews and Canada’s New Anti-Spam Laws

Starting on July 1, 2014, the CRTC – Canada’s version of the FCC – is enacting a new set of anti-spam laws. The TL;DR version of these regulations boils down like so; if you are engaging in an electronic communication with the purpose of selling something to the recipient, or using said communication to direct a person to a commercial website, you need to get their express consent to do so. Since I sell nothing on my website, and the new post emails I send out are not engaged in any sort of attempt to get a person to buy a product, it would be quite a stretch to treat my thrice weekly emails as a “commercial electronic message.” Moreover, everybody signed up for email alerts at some point over the last four years.

Had I bothered to educate myself on the CASL’s definition of a commercial electronic message prior to sending an email to everybody on the Page of Reviews email update list, whereupon I said I was turning off email alerts because of the anti-spam law, then I probably could have avoided writing this post. Who knew that even yours truly can get wrapped up in the odd bit of internet frenzy. Be that as it may, I’m going to be leaving the Page of Reviews’ email updates offline for a little while.

This is because the WordPress plug-in I am using for email alerts is far from perfect, and this is as good a time as any to find a better option. Apropos of the Canadian Anti-Spam Laws, my current plug-in lacks an option for easy unsubscriptions. Second, the plug-in produces no records of new subscriptions. Third, it lacks a two-step verification for new subscriptions i.e. you sign up, then it sends you a confirmation email to ensure you actually want email alerts. Until I can find a email plug-in that gives me all three of those things, you’ll have to content yourself with twitter and facebook updates on new content.

For any other writers/bloggers who might be confused about these regulations, here’s a link to the CRTC’s FAQ on the anti-spam laws. The definitions for some the terms that the CRTC throws around willy-nilly can be found here. For the reader’s digest version of the former, you can check out this post on LinkedIn and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s info sheet on the CASL.

To reiterate, if you’re not selling something via email, text, or facebook message, or using the former to lure people to a commercial website (e.g. Amazon.com or an Etsy store) then you’re probably fine and can carry on as usual.

NB: I am not a lawyer, but I am a competent professional researcher. In that light, I’m quite confident in my interpretation of these rules. If you know better, then tell me and I will update this post as necessary.


0

Storium – What it is and Why I’m Backing its Kickstarter

Arguably, I’m rather late to the game with Storium. By the time this post goes live, Storium will have less than 24 hours to go in its fundraising campaign. Not to worry, though, Storium has already met and exceeded its initial fundraising goal by almost an order of magnitude.

So what’s so different about this game that I will make an exception to my general policy of not crowd funding computer games? First and foremost, it’s a narrative driven RPG system with source books written by some of the best genre writers in the business. The likes of Saladin Ahmed, Mur Lafferty, Chuck Wendig, Richard Dansky, Tobias Buckell, Karen Lord, and Ramez Naam, just to name a few, are contributing to the “worlds” that are at the core of the Storium experience. There’s also the fact that the game itself is being designed by Will Hindmarch, who worked on the Dragon Age RPG. That’s a whole lot of awesome all wrapped up in a single package.

This from Storium’s campaign.

Storium is a web-based online game that you play with friends. It works by turning writing into a multiplayer game. With just your computer, tablet, or smartphone, you can choose from a library of imaginary worlds to play in, or build your own. You create your story’s characters and decide what happens to them. You can tell any kind of story with Storium. The only limit is your imagination.

Storium uses familiar game concepts inspired by card games, role-playing games, video games, and more. In each Storium game, one player is the narrator, and everyone else takes on the role of a character in the story. The narrator creates dramatic challenges for the other players to overcome. In doing so, they move the story forward in a new direction. Everyone gets their turn at telling the story.

I don’t often find myself having a “Shut up and take my money” reaction to things, but how can any nerd, gamer, writer, or combination of the former not look at something like this and drool? It seems like all the fun of a tabletop role playing game, but with all the hard work being back loaded into the game engine. This scratches an RPG itch that I have begrudgingly ignored for years.

What really sells me on parting coin from hand is the beta availability for contributors. The fact that Storium has a working engine gives me sufficient confidence that the final product will be finished – even if there are delays. Show me a functioning work in progress that needs funding to make the final mile, and I’ll be much more inclined to support it over a project that is nothing but concept art and promotional copy. But enough of my editorial.

Storium: a game I want to play right the hell now, but in the eternal words of LeVar Burton, “Don’t take my word for it.” Here’s the link to Storium’s kickstarter.


5

Adam’s First Blog Hop

Last Friday, Matt Moore tagged me in a blog hop. What’s a blog hop, you ask? Apparently, it’s a Ponzi scheme with writers at the helm. Marie Bilodeau tagged Matt; wherein he had to answer a handful of questions before tagging three other writers to do the same thing. Little did I know, Marie wasn’t the genesis point of this seemingly infinite regression. Marie was tagged by Eileen Bell, who was tagged by Mahrie Reid, who was tagged by Mary M. Forbes, who was tagged by Sara Walter Ellwood. Forget about Ponzi schemes, this is like following the genealogy of a character in a George R.R. Martin novel. Nevertheless, I’m happy to participate. Here are the questions that Matt put to me.

1) When did you know you wanted to be a writer. It must be a specific moment.

This is actually an easy one for me. It was April of 1999, toward the end of my grade 12 year of high school. For the most part, I only wrote in high school when somebody held a knife to my throat and said, “words on paper or else I bleed you slowly.” I liked the process, but my love of video games and movie watching trumped most other concerns at that point in my life.

My relationship to writing started to change when I took OAC Theatre (this is back when Ontario had five years of high school) and half my grade depended upon writing, producing, and directing my own one act play. That pushed me way out of my comfort zone. It is one thing to write a science fiction story for an English class, but it’s another thing to make a science fiction story work on stage. The “I want to be a writer” moment came on a Friday evening after my play made its debut in our class’ one act festival.

Yeah, that’s the kind of high school I attended. You didn’t perform the play for your peers, you aired your dirty laundry for the public.

When the dust settled on the festival, my teacher and the head of the theatre department sat myself and four other directors down for the critique session. I hated the critique session. It was not unheard of for these debriefings to reduce student directors to tears. When they finally got to my play, the head of the theatre department looked me in the eye and said, “I hate science fiction, but right now, the only thing I hate more than science fiction is you for making me like science fiction.”

That’s the moment when I knew that I could make this writing thing work.

2) Which of your stories would you like to see come true?

Hmmm, this is tough one. Being that most of my stories are set in terrible versions of the near-future, I don’t know that there are many I would want to come to pass. However, in the spirit of fair play, I’ll pick the transhumanism story that I have been shopping around. I like to think that when humanity figures out how to use biomechanical augmentations to improve quality of life, it won’t precipitate a debate on what it means to be human, followed by persecution and fear of that which is not.

3) A new writer comes to you and says “I feel like I should quit writing.” What do you say?

“Good, you should probably quit, at least for a little while.”

I know that sounds capricious, but there is method to my madness. Half a dozen years ago I started to feel like I was writing on autopilot. That is to say I wrote because I was afraid to not write. If I wasn’t writing, then I wasn’t a writer, and if I’m not a writer, what the hell am I?

Sometimes a person needs to stop and find their footing. My hiatus only lasted about three months before I couldn’t ignore the myriad of ideas that kept popping up into my day-to-day thoughts. If/when a writer on a break gets to that point, they can pick up their pen because they know it is something they want to do.

4) Twilight turned vampires into brooding, sexy teens. What’s the next monster (yes, MONSTER!) we should make sexy? And how?

Okay, wait for it…

Sexy Horse Vampires.

The horse vampires are very anthropomorphized – think along the lines of Thundercats, only horses. The rest pretty much writes itself.

A teenage girl wants her father to buy her a horse so she can hang out with the equestrian club at her private all-girls prep school. The father concedes to her demands, as pushover fathers are wont to do, only the horse that he buys her has a dark secret with ironic consequences. The more the horse vampire feeds on the girl’s magic blood, the more he turns into a man. But the more he becomes a man, the more he wants to bang her (or thinks about banging her since we want to keep this PG-13 as to bring in as wide of an audience as possible), and those impulses make him revert into horse form. Thus do we witness the eternal struggle between man and beast…and vampire.

Publishers and film producers of the world, I await your phone calls and dump trucks of money.

And now to spread this blog hop to three more people. I’m tagging Nicole Lavigne, K.W. Ramsey, and Simon McNeil.


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From the Lower Decks: Robert Heinlein, My Albatross

A long time ago (1996) my tenth grade English teacher (an atheist persecuting, bible thumping, religious crank) told me that, “nobody important writes science fiction and neither should I.” This statement did not have the intended effect of making me “get over” my infatuation with science fiction. Instead, it drove me to the local library. Within the stacks of the science fiction section – a place I knew well – I began pondering ways to spite my English teacher. I would find a science fiction novel that took his precious religion and used it against him. Two hours later, I was riding the bus home with a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land.

Thus did my desire to write SF run headlong into the worst role model a teenager interested in writing could hope for: Robert A. Heinlein. For a very long time I thought Heinlein could do no wrong. Through dumb luck, I managed to stay away from his weirder novels, which I think even teenage Adam would have eschewed. Instead, I reveled in Stranger, Friday, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Farnham’s Freehold, Starship Troopers, and a handful of his alternate history novels.

Those novels ruined me as a young writer.

Of all the twentieth century SF writers I could have picked, why couldn’t I have stumbled on to Asimov, Clarke, LeGuin, Gibson, or even Card – that is to say, Card before he turned into outwardly miserable human being. At least I was spared Lovecraft until my third year of university. But I digress. Returning to the question at hand, why was Robert Heinlein a terrible literary role model? First and foremost, Heinlein successfully convinced me that fiction is an ideal medium for a heavy handed political treatises.

There’s no reason why a SF novel can’t be political – in fact I’m reading a truly splendid collection of politically themed science fiction right now – but Heinlein often pushed his politics at the expense of telling a good story. Starship Troopers is the best example of this, but I’m going to pick on Stranger in a Strange Land to illustrate my point.

Would it surprise you to know that I don’t recall how Stranger ends? There’s something about Valentine Michael Smith joining a circus, I think. Otherwise, I have no idea how that book wraps up, despite having read it cover to cover on three occasions. What I do remember is Jubal Harshaw’s rights-minded diatribe when the Federation’s special forces kicked down the door to his house. I recall Harshaw blathering on about the political etiquette Earth should extend to Michael as a Martian ambassador. I remember Harshaw had three serving wenches for some reason. This is to say my memories of the novel are filler material, political vitriol, and anti-religious rhetoric.

The same holds true for Friday. I have only the faintest ideas of how that novel actually ends. It’s something about Friday going on an interstellar starship for some reason. Also, her father/handler/boss tells her that she’s a real girl after all. Now ask me about all republics of Balkanized America or the economic demands that a variety of political parties make during a blitzkrieg of terror attacks. It’s all politics and no plot.

Then there’s Jubal Harshaw. Long before I knew what a “mary sue” was, I knew there had to be a reason why Jubal Harshaw was peppered throughout Heinlein’s canon. Even in the books absent Harshaw, there was always the Harshaw-like character e.g. Professor Bernardo de la Paz, Friday’s “father”, or Lazarus Long. They were the sage-like father figures whose command of inductive logic inevitably illustrated why libertarianism is the best of all political systems. Naturally, I looked at these characters, who spoke with such a strong voice that it could only be the words of the author himself, and thought this was an ideal way to write.

My youthful syllogism went like so:

Heinlein writes himself into his novels

Heinlein won many awards for science fiction.

Therefore I should write myself into my stories and I will win awards like Heinlein.

Lest I forget to mention Heinlein’s approach to religion (and pretty much every other form of social/political consciousness), the very thing that made me seek him out all those years ago. One need only read the Revolt in 2100 stories to see that Heinlein’s relationship with religion was almost certainly pathological. True to form, he approached the dreaded American theocracy with all the pro-libertarian subtlety of figuratively kicking over the apple cart.

Thinking about it now reminds me of another writer who I admired just enough to try and emulate – with horrifying consequences – the late Christopher Hitchens. Certainly a writer with pages of publication credits can get away with being an iconoclast. But for a rookie, namely me, to presume to model himself after such elder statesmen of the writing world is a terrible mistake. Had I a time machine, I would have given younger Adam a copy of Asimov’s and Silverberg’s Nightfall, and said, “here, learn to write like these two. Only after you win your first Hugo can you turn into a giant prick that pisses people off without consequence.”

On the positive side, Heinlein fueled the political consciousness and nascent outrage of a naive kid from the suburbs whose father often evangelized – much to my chagrin – about the virtues of the Canadian Reform party. He also cut through the gender and social norms that a childhood’s worth of juvenilia attempted to entrench in my brain. Yet looking back on who I used to be as a writer and the work I am producing now, I don’t think Heinlein taught me a single thing about being a good writer or a diligent consumer/critic of science fiction. In point of fact, I don’t think Heinlein’s books offer anything, to anybody, on the question of being a good writer. Heinlein broke almost every rule/guideline for writing and had enough talent to get away with it. It’s makes for great reading, but it’s methodological suicide.

Though I’ll always have a fondness for some of his books (nothing that involves underage incest or parallel universes crashing together in a meta-textual horror show) there is a world of writers, past and present, who are better teachers and objects for emulation.