Categories
character games story

So you wanna do a D&D (part 3)

And the saga continues!

(I know I said I’d maintain this series of posts on a fortnightly basis, but if you think about it, 16 days is the same as 15+1 days which is the same as 14 days, and also the world’s on fire and time isn’t real.)

We’re back talking about D&D stories, and how you can start creating D&D stories if you want to get into the NEW HAWTNESS of pretending to be an elf warlock over Discord, and how different D&D-like games will tweak the settings of a ‘D&D story’ while still delivering an experience that’s about the same as D&D, oh no I said D&D too many times, D&D has lost all meaning, what’s a D&D, I D&D you in the face, D&D is in yr base killing yr doods.

D&D set us up the bomb

*HARD RESET* okay we’re good now

The first post in this series outlined some elements of the typical D&D story; the second added tone to that mix and looked at some alternative games that are cheaper or that adjust some of those setting knobs.

Speaking of knobs…

Characters, created

Characters are at the heart of nearly every story and roleplaying game. Not all of them, mind you – Jorge Luis Borges wrote incredible stories with no characters in them, and there are some fascinating games about crafting histories and drawing maps – but fun, engaging characters are what we want 99.9% of the time.

Modern D&D characters are larger-than-life heroes; even if individual games initially position them as neophytes or bumbling naifs, they rapidly become tough and competent, ready to take on dragons, demons, liches and other Big Bads.

However, a lot of people seem to want games that are ‘gritty’ and ‘realistic’ (whatever those terms mean), which means the primary adjustment many fantasy RPGs make is dialling down the competence of characters. Some of them also re-calibrate to tell more stories that are better suited to such characters; others throw Joe Blow against the same array of dragons, demons, liches etc., because heroism is only ‘genuine’ if characters are totally outmatched or whatever.

Not my style, personally; if I want to tell a story about more-or-less regular folks (who nonetheless have swords and fireballs), I want that story to have a similarly constrained scope.

Beyond the Wall: Such as this absolutely brilliant game, which couples the simplicity of older D&D rules with modern ideas about shared setting creation to tell stories of heroic teens defending their village from unnatural danger, with a tone more like Susan Cooper or Lloyd Alexander than Gary Gygax. It’s superb, it’s simple, it’s cheap – of all the games I’ve looked at, this is the one everyone should investigate.

Warhammer Fantasy RPG: Heroic teens too, well, heroic? How about playing a ratcatcher, failed student, ferryman or a bloke who hands out racist pamphlets in the pub? Long divorced from the miniatures games, the Warhammer RPG created its own legacy of grimy British humour, Holy Roman Empire aesthetics and reasonably simple mechanics. If you like your fantasy grubby and your names groanworthy, this is for you.

The One Ring: Of course, if you want smaller-than-life characters, you can’t go past hobbits. Of all the RPG adaptations of Tolkien’s books, I think this one comes closest to evoking the tone of the setting and its characters, with systems that make a simple burglar or scholar feel engaging and important but also limited and grounded. Sadly this game’s in Limbo at the moment due to licence changes; you can’t buy it digitally, but physical copies are still out there if you want to try it.

So okay, that’s three games that constrain characters and keep them grounded. Are there games that go more larger-than-life than D&D?

13th Age: There are, and this bad boy is my personal favourite (see my current campaign for details). 13th Age couples over-the-top cinematic action with broad, sweeping characters-influencing-setting rules, in a gonzo world stuffed full of fantasy tropes that doesn’t stop for breath long enough to acknowledge its ridiculousness. It’s not the best at explaining itself, and it’s definitely aimed at those who enjoy the game part of role-playing games, which makes it a bit inaccessible for newcomers, but not so much that you couldn’t have fun with it. Give me a yell if you get stuck; I’ll come help.

Rules complexity

On that last note, the game part of these games is simultaneously the best and worst part – or perhaps the most-and-least accessible part. Rules define characters and make actions concrete; they’re also a bunch of numbers/systems that constrain imagination. Some folks like that, some tolerate it, some bounce off and never come back to RPGs again.

Rules obviously shape game-stories in significant ways; they define what’s possible and what’s not (or at least what’s technically not possible, until you all agree to say that it is). Rules complexity also shapes story because it determines a level of detail; the more defined and specific the rule, the more defined and specific the manifestation of that rule in the story. If your alchemy rules require 10 difficult steps for brewing a potion, stories take shape around taking those steps; if the rules just ask for one dice roll and a bit of narrative colour, the story is going to be about the outcome and not the process.

The current (5th) edition of D&D is moderately complex; the 2nd was less so, the 3rd more so, the 4th put its complexity in a different place. There aren’t a lot of contemporary fantasy games that are more complex; that’s not what the market wants these. But there are plenty of games that are less complex, and if you want something that gets out of the way so you can explore the story, here are two solid options that do that in slightly different ways.

Tiny Dungeon: Perhaps the epitome of the get-out-of-the-way philosophy, this game has a simple 1/2/3 dice system and imposes little structure during play, to the point where I at least find it a bit hollow. The game also comes with a lot of sample settings and tweaks; whether that’s useful depends on whether those ideas grab you. Its real strength is immediacy – you can create a character in about 5 minutes by picking 3-4 choices from a list, and then just start playing. That’s a powerful thing, especially for players that don’t as yet have concrete ideas.

Quest: The new kid in town, Quest has been gaining attention thanks to its accessible writing, whimsical and inclusive artstyle, emphasis on character and very solid marketing campaign. Its strength is its narrative focus – it asks players and GMs to define characters and stories primarily using bits of text and imagery rather than numbers. But that also means players need a strong vision and concrete ideas coming in, which can be a lot to ask when you’re new to this whole thing.

Of these two, I think Quest is more fun and interesting, but it’s more work up front; Tiny Dungeon isn’t as engaging, but you can get started on a moment’s notice. Consider what works for you.

…or just use D&D if you want

And what works for you may well be D&D after all – and that’s great.

These other games all alter the stories and flow of D&D-style fantasy in useful and worthwhile ways. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make those alterations using D&D, so long as you’re willing to put the work in and make changes to the way the game plays at your table.

Want D&D characters to be more grounded? Present them with realistic problems and difficult challenges. Want them heroic? Do the opposite, and present stories that emphasise the fantastic. You can ignore external problems to focus on emotion, you can make the tone as gritty or cinematic or silly as you like; you can simplify the game rules by just ignoring the ones you don’t like. You can even get cheaper or free versions of D&D if you want to save money and don’t mind missing out on the glossy hardcovers. You do you.

Ultimately, games like these are tools for shared storytelling. Each tool has its strengths and weaknesses, but what really dictates the success of that shared creation is the enthusiasm and creativity of those working together to craft it. If everyone at the table wants to have fun creating a D&D story, the D&D/not-D&D game involved is the least important step in reaching that goal.

Places to go, faces to punch

Is there more to talk about when it comes to D&D stories? Yes, because you need a context for those stories – a world of fantastic places to visit, dangerous adversaries to thwart and relationships to explore.

You need a setting. And we’ll talk about that next time.

Categories
games genre story

So you wanna do a D&D (part 2)

Okay, and we’re back with the second instalment of this series looking at the stories (and fun!) that come out of Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy role-playing games that you can play with friends over Zoom or whatever as the world crumbles away outside.

A reminder – this series is aimed at folks, especially writers and storytellers, who are interested in getting into D&D but don’t have much experience in playing/running RPGs. If you know such a person, tell them about these posts!

The D&D story revisited

Role-playing games are (to my mind at least) collaboratively creating and telling a story.

I said in my last post that D&D primarily creates a particular style of story – action-adventure fantasy stories about larger-than-life characters solving problems by going to dangerous locations and defeating antagonists.

In hindsight, I should have unpacked ‘action-adventure’ as an aspect of tone. The tone of modern D&D is less like The Lord of the Rings (the books) and more like The Lord of the Rings (the movies), and probably even more like The Hobbit (the movies, I’m sorry). Battles and physical action are the main theatre of conflict, but that action is neither cartoonish and slight or grim and heavy.

Just like The Hobbit, D&D features white men killing dudes while glowering sexily.

(Tone is one of the biggest points of variation amongst fantasy games, to the point where I can’t really pull it out as a separate topic and instead touch on it throughout this post.)

Anyway – if you like these kind of stories, and already own some D&D books, you’re good to go! If you want to try something else, let’s discuss this (very much non-exhaustive) selection of alternative fantasy games and the stories they create.

(A quick aside – Some of these games are available in print, while others are ebook only. That’s how publishing works now. I’ll give links where I can and you can dig into formats if anything catches your eye.)

The same but cheaper

The first works in any medium tend to set expectations and shape responses – that’s why so many ‘Golden Age’ sci-fi stories are fuckin’ racist – and gaming is no different. D&D kicked it all off, and 50-ish years later, there’s still a strong ‘this is what RPGs are meant to be’ school of thought.

These games were all written by D&D designers, feel pretty much like D&D, have rules about as complex as D&D‘s, and create stories that fit squarely into the D&D oeuvre. Except gamers won’t spend D&D money on games that aren’t called D&D, so these games all come as thick standalone books that don’t cost 200 bucks.

Pathfinder: In fact, this game was once D&D! Specifically, it’s a light reworking of D&D v3.5, made as a competitor product because a very noisy segment of the market hated D&D v4. Over time, it evolved to become… still exactly the same as D&D, but with a fanbase who will tell you it’s totally different. Pathfinder ain’t for me (even though I wrote an adventure for it), but if you like granular detail, high production values and long, epic adventures (that you will probably read but never run), give it a look.

Fantasy Age: While its rules are a bit simpler, this game’s style, tone and stories are solidly in the D&D wheelhouse. I’m personally more interested in its two sister games – Dragon Age (based on the video game) and Blue Rose (‘romantic fantasy’ ala Mercedes Lackey) as they have more distinctive tones – but Fantasy Age is solid. Also, a new edition is coming that uses the Freeport pirate-fantasy setting as its base; I helped develop that setting and can thus objectively say that this will be the greatest work of art ever crafted by human hand. Probably.

Shadow of the Demon Lord: This game takes the perennial RPG question ‘can my wizard cast a spell to make the orc shit himself to death?’ and runs with it. Like a Cradle of Filth song, this game walks the line between scary grossness and fun-to-laugh-at-grossness, and bluntly does a better job of it.While Shadow presents a big tonal shift, with lots of horror elements and black metal guitar riffs, it fully supports D&D-style stories.

Numenera: Some people believe that ‘fantasy’ and ‘science fantasy’ are meaningfully distinct genres. Some people will believe anything. Numenera presents itself as different and innovative, but the stories it encourages are just like those of D&D except with ‘nanotechnology!’ <jazz hands> instead of magic. Honestly, I don’t much care for it, but I know folks who find a lot of value in its tweaks to tone and flavour, and you might also be one of them.

Problem children

Let’s move on to games that depart from the established story template. Are there fantasy games that don’t revolve around solving problems?

…yes, but not that many. Problems and obstacles are great ways to present conflict, and we all accept that conflict is the foundation of all good stories. (Although Ursula le Guin disagreed, because she was smarter and wiser than other writers.) Also, fantasy is a genre that strongly pushes problem-solving as a trope because it means characters engage with the external world, and the point of fantasy is to present and explore an imagined world that clearly differs from our own.

Instead, fantasy games mostly differ in the types of problems they present. D&D problems tend to be ‘monster threatens to disrupt the status quo in awful ways, please sword it to death.’ What else is there?

Forbidden Lands: This Swedish game focuses around exploring the unknown as its main external challenge, generating stories about survival and discovery rather than heroism and fighting monsters – or at least, fighting monsters for the sake of helping others. It also has a grimy, Nordic prog rock feel to it that’s kinda fun.

Spire: This is a deconstructionist weird fantasy game about dark elf revolutionaries in a skyscraper, and somehow manages to make that concept not just work but sing. While its mission-based playstyle still throws challenges at players, those challenges are about overthrowing the status quo rather than defending it, generating stories about sacrifice, politics and change. It’s a bloody lovely game, this one.

Blades in the Dark: If D&D is an action movie, Blades is a heist film. It’s about criminal gangs in a haunted electropunk Edwardian city – interesting how far we’re drifting from elves and Hobbiton – and the core challenge is committing crimes and intrigues. And if you play long enough to build up momentum, these flip from external challenges (get hired to steal a thing) to internal ones (decide how/where to extend your criminal empire). That’s a really interesting story progression, and part of what makes Blades‘ long game compelling.

…but still, these games are all about external action. Where are the games about interiority and emotion? Turns out they’re largely on itch.io, where young designers with fresh ideas about games as both a medium and an industry are publishing innovative, passionate games about the personal stories that interest them. I’m still exploring the games here, but one that leapt out at me is Journey Away, a game about young people exploring their magical world, finding wonderful things and getting to know each other. It’s smart, positive and family-friendly, and generates stories about discovery and friendship in which external conflicts are largely incidental. I want to see more games like this, I want to play more games like this, and given the state of 2020, I want to believe in more stories like this.


There are more D&D-ish story elements and alternatives to discuss, but this post’s gone on far too long already.

Come back in a couple of weeks and let’s get stuck into character, complexity and maybe even which monsters to beat up.

Categories
games story

So you wanna do a D&D (part 1)

Have you heard? Everyone’s doing this D&D thing. Everyone. The olds, the yoof, the nerds, the cool kids, the creatives, your mum, uh, I dunno, dead people, everyone. Especially now that all of us live inside, in front of a computer screen, desperate for any distraction from the grinding maw of 2020 devouring all light and hope, the darkness, the eternity, the voice like two gravestones grinding together, the lockdown, the anti-life,

What does 'Darkseid is' mean? - Quora

…okay, this is off to a great start.

Take two

So yeah, everyone loves D&D now, everyone listens to D&D podcasts and watches D&D livestreams and goes to D&D-themed drag queen shows and none of this makes any sense to old geeks like me but hey, fine, let’s roll with it, life is strange.

And as an established/certified Nerd Whisperer, I find more and more people – co-workers, relatives, casual acquaintances, authors, artists, editors, academics, arts administrators (much respect), the blokes down the bottle-shop – asking me how to play D&D.

(They never offer to pay me for this guidance, but that’s fine. It’s fine.)

I didn’t ask to have this great responsibility put upon my broad shoulders, but I will carry this weight because I am the hero you need, rather than the hero you deserve (who has much narrower shoulders). That’s right, I’m gonna write a few posts (hopefully not spaced too far apart) about How 2 D&D – and, because this is still theoretically a writer’s blog, how to create and enjoy D&D stories (whatever those are) and/or different forms of fantasy stories though playing games.

(If you’re not clear on what D&D is, a) sorry, this is gonna be a dull series of posts for you, b) my bestest mate Ben McKenzie wrote a Medium article about them a few years back that will sort you right out, go give it a read, it’s fun.)

Let’s start with the most fundamental question.

What’s the deal with Dungeons & Dragons?

D&D – and all the other creations within the role-playing game milieu, of which there are thousands – is a game that involves folks sitting around a table (or a video chat window, these days) and contributing ideas to the real-time creation of a shared story. It gives players different roles and/or characters to shape their involvement in that story, and uses a system of rules to determine the outcomes of actions and decisions in that shared creative space. Oh, and it’s fun.

(If you don’t like that description, you’re experienced enough that you probably have one that you prefer, so just pretend I said that instead.)

Components not pictured – weird dice, notebooks, beer, other people

D&D comes in the form of three hardcover books – the Players’ Handbook (how to make characters, all the rules, lots and lots of magic spells), Dungeon Master’s Guide (rules and advice on creating and ‘running’ (being in charge of) settings and games) and Monster Manual (a collection of bad things characters are meant to stab, zap and generally thwart). There are also a bunch of other resources you can buy, whether big hardcover resources or small, independent digital products, but I’m not bothering with any of that at the moment.

The game has been around in various forms since the 1970s; the current version is the 5th edition. Don’t buy the wrong edition by accident! I think 4th Edition is the best the game ever was, but all your cool nerd children will be confused/horrified if you bring it home.

The default D&D story

More germane to this blog is that D&D is designed to facilitate certain kinds of fantasy stories. These involve:

  • larger-than-life heroes, or at least characters who become larger-than-life over a (short) period of time
  • similarly LTL/melodramatic antagonists, usually in the form of monsters and villains
  • a focus on solving external problems, such as the machinations of the antagonists
  • action and adventure, most often manifested as combat with those antagonists
  • a world of both fantastic and mundane elements to explore.

(There are also some common D&D tropes, like a semi-medieval setting, a variety of different sentient peoples and the power/prevalence of magic, but I see those more as expressions of story than types, and it’s my blog so it’s my rules.)

To summarise, D&D primarily creates action-adventure fantasy stories about larger-than-life characters solving problems by going to dangerous locations (e.g. dungeons) and defeating antagonists (e.g. dragons).

I don’t mean this as a criticism – I fuckin’ love those kinds of stories. I’ve been playing games about those kinds of stories for more than 30 years! But they’re not the be- and end-all of fantasy, even if you pull a Borders and stick all the urban fantasy and magical realist novels on the Literature or Romance shelves ‘cos only books with elves go in Fantasy.

If you want to make fantasy stories with a more personal feel, that don’t revolve around conflict and problem-solving, that focus on interiority or exploration of cultural/spiritual meaning… D&D won’t stop you from doing that, but it won’t help you either, and the tools it does provide might distract you from those goals. After all, when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail; when all you have is a warhammer, two healing potions and a dungeon map, every problem looks like a monster that needs smiting.

‘Fall before the might of my rich internal emotional life! Faalllllll!

(Was my preferred edition any different? No, not at all. This isn’t that kind of long D&D polemic.)

Do I come to praise D&D or to bury it?

Why are those the only two options?

D&D is fine. D&D is good, actually – especially if you want to co-create D&D-style stories, and are happy bringing your own material to bear if/when you want to explore other concepts. That’s what all the folks do in their D&D shows and ‘casts, after all.

But if you want a story that’s more A Wizard of Earthsea than Gord the Rogue, or more encouragement/support for exploring character, or rules about intrigue and romance, or fewer and simpler rules overall, or you simply don’t want to drop 200 frickin’ bucks on a game you’re not that sure you’ll like… well, maybe D&D isn’t the D&D for you.

Come back next time and we’ll look at some alternatives and the kind of stories they produce. That should be in… let’s say two weeks.

I can’t write next week – I’ll be doing some D&D.

Categories
blogging character games reading

Lockdown Reloaded

Greetings from Melbourne.
Ain’t this fun?

*takes long pull from bottle of bourbon*
*looks out into the darkness*

Well, looks like we’ll be stuck here for a while. May as well catch up, maybe talk about some lockdown reads.

Speaking of lockdown reads, sales of The Obituarist 3 are… like, okay? Good? Bad? I don’t know, I just work here.

Let me add up the data – looks like 21 copies sold (on Amazon and Smashwords) since launch in early May, which means about… 40 Aussie bucks in revenue? As opposed to the $450 I spent on editing and cover design?

Yeah, well, so it goes. It’s a good book, but its market is limited. (Possibly just to people who know me.) I could probably generate more sales if I did more promotion, but we’re in the middle of a pandemic and a global struggle to confront systemic institutional racism. No-one needs me distracting people from what really matters by tweeting about a book.

It’s written, it’s out there, people will find it. Maybe tell your friends about the series if they want lockdown reads. That’s enough marketing from me.

(I really should update the site page, though. Maybe next week.)

And speaking of lockdown reads, let’s talk about games. Games that involve reading and writing (so educational)!

Thousand Year Old Vampire is a solo journaling RPG by Tim Hutchings, and if you’re like me-from-last-month then that concept might need a little unpacking.

The game presents a conceptual framework – you’re a vampire that lives so long that they can’t retain their memories – and then provides you with a large series of writing prompts (most of which have mechanical impacts as well). Rolling dice to navigate through the prompts, you write journal entries to record events while also translating that into your vampire’s unstable set of memories. Eventually you reach an ending, and have an epistolary narrative that you can read, share or just think about when you want to be sad.

While accurate, that description glosses over two key points:

  1. This game is brilliant, with a fantastic mix of simple mechanisms and evocative prompts that constantly push you to generate dark, emotionally engaging stories.
  2. This game makes writing fun, something I generally find inconceivable. My playthrough, telling the story of the fallen Ukrainian nun Penelopa, was some of the most playful joy I’ve gained from my own writing in maybe a decade.

Whether you’re a writer or a gamer (or both), there’s so much here to direct your creativity into fascinating stories while also enjoying solo lockdown fun. The PDF is cheap; the print book is apparently gorgeous but will cost you a mortgage payment in shipping right now. You do you – just make sure to pick it up.

And speaking of lockdown reads, let’s talk about a TV show, yes I know that’s a terrible segue.

I finally started watching She-Ra and the Princesses of Power on Netflix, and it’s as good as people have been saying for the last couple of years – a smart, savvy, energetic science-fantasy cartoon that never takes itself too lightly or too seriously, and is just crammed full of awesome teenage girl characters demonstrating agency.

(The plotting and worldbuilding is maybe a little uneven at times, but that is not why you watch a show like this.)

From a YA writer’s point-of-view, the most compelling part of the show is the way it establishes and develops character. The foundation of She-Ra‘s characterisation is love and friendship – presented not just as a positive force, but also as something that can go bad, fall short or distract from what matters. Everything in the show has its foundation in that core, and it’s an amazing demonstration of how you can use the common emotional understandings of your (largely teenage) audience as a way to express complexities and tensions that that audience will connect with.

Also, it’s pretty queer. And we need more queer TV.

Go binge this over a couple of weekends while you’re bouncing around lockdown – there’s a lot to learn from it and a lot of feelings to be felt. And goddamnit, I would die for Scorpia. She just wants to be loved.

And speaking of lockdown reads (shut up okay), how about you don’t read that self-serving bullshit screed that JK Rowling and a gaggle of alt-right fuck-knuckles published last week, whinging about cancel culture?

Here’s this blog’s position on all that:

‘Cancel culture’ is just what privileged people call ‘facing the consequences of my actions’ or possibly ‘being criticised because I used my power and influence to yell my fuckin’ garbage opinions all over the internet’.

Boo fuckin’ hoo, JK; go spew your transphobic white noise into the bowlful of £100 bills you have for breakfast every morning.

One of the few positives to this unending trash fire we now live in is that as the boundaries of polite society fall into the abyss, more and more people are looking around and saying, ‘wait, no, FUCK THIS SHIT, I won’t have it any more’, and calling people out on how they contribute to the problem. Whether it’s Rowling being hateful trash, Warren Ellis being a serial predator upon and betrayer of women (something I’m pretty fuckin’ upset about) or, I dunno, the entire corrupt system of police power and control in the world’s most powerful nation, we’ve had enough. Get in the fuckin’ bin with you.

Here’s a mission statement: if I ever get into a position where I a) have power and b) abuse it, y’all have my permission to cancel me harder and faster than Australia’s Naughtiest Home Videos.

…not that that seems likely if I don’t write more books.

*takes long drag on cigarette*
*coughs up a lung, throws half-finished cancer stick in the bin*

I should probably do that, then.

Stay safe, friends.

Categories
ghost raven obituarist publishing writing

Okay, now what? (2020 edition)

It’s been a looooooong time coming, but as discussed earlier this month, The Obituarist 3 is finished, published and out in the market, where it’s already enjoying literally dozens of sales.

(well, maybe not plural-dozens just yet, but I’m optimistic.)

Hooray! My white whale is dead at last!

From Hell’s heart you stab at me! Tee-hee!

So that’s great. Super cathartic and personally fulfilling, etc etc blah de blah.

But now what do I do with my spare time?

More Obituarist work

Surprise! Nothing ever ends! This world is a purgatory!

Publishing a book is never the final act. Marketing and promotion are still desperately needed if you want your work to make even a single ripple when dropped into the wide dark sea of the internet. Which is a shame, ‘cos I’m completely shit at marketing and promotion! Yet I must nonetheless talk about the book on social media, and attempt to harness my wagon to the caravans of more popular and successful authors, if there’s to be any hope of getting some sales for this book that is, objectively, a really fuckin’ good read.

(Incidentally, this – more than anything else – is why I want to leave self-publishing behind. Fuck the royalty share, I just want someone to do the marketing work for me, you can have all my money, I don’t mind, I’m so old and so, so tired.)

On top of that, I need to update this site with an Obit3 tab that has the blurb, image, purchase links, super-complimentary 5-star reviews (hint freakin’ hint, readers) and so on. Personal website maintenance! Yay! Just like a regular admin job except way less rewarding!

So yeah. Just when I thought I was out, blah blah blah.

Back to Raven’s Blood

And speaking of objectively good books – and by that I mean subjectively good books that I wrote, so don’t be rude – I want to return to Raven’s Blood, my YA superhero fantasy novel that I would dearly love to a) publish and b) turn into a whole Batgirl-meets-D&D series of Ghost Raven books.

Yes but no I mean not quite but also dang how good is this art

I believe in this book, I really do, and that’s probably why my failure to find either a publisher or an agent that believed in it contributed to my… let’s say ‘mental health fluctuations’ over the last few years. I hit a wall, and that’s on me rather than the wall – but walls can be climbed, and it’s perhaps time to work on that again.

How to do that? Well, I’m starting this week by joining a YA writing program/course by Faber/A&U. That could lead to some networking opportunities, but I care more about the opportunities to write my book gooder better, which I know it could be.

Coming out of that, I want to do some rewrites and then YET ANOTHER round of approaching agents and publishers, and you’ll know how well that goes by checking in here and seeing how often I use terms like FUCKPIG and JIZZ SUICIDE.

(PS that art is by Kelsey Eng and OMG it’s so freakin’ good let’s all order some prints)

Onto the next project

Or I could write something else.

I have plenty of ideas!

Which is great, except that ideas are cheap and mean nothing if they aren’t developed and realised in some form!

There’s a lot of content I’d like to work on here – from YA to SF to horror to magical realism to I dunno fuckin’ swords & shit – and I think they’re all ideas worth exploring.

I will not get to explore all of these ideas before I die.

That’s fun to think about.

Alternatively, fuck it all

Thoughts like that – or like ‘we live in a virus-afflicted late-stage-capitalist hellscape to which a heroic dose of ketamine is the only sane response’ – are not especially great for productivity. But it’s hard to divert the brain once it starts wandering down that particular garden path, or to steer it away from concepts like ‘the sunk-cost fallacy’ or ‘the limited opportunities available to Australian writers in a US/UK-dominated publishing marketplace’ or ‘let’s take a heroic dose of ketamine because the future isn’t coming’.

It’s hard some days – these days, right now, in particular – to find a reason to keep trying.

If I was smarter, I’d be capable of giving up.

But that’s not who I am or where we are.

So I guess we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the… okay, this metaphor got away from me, like all the rest.

‘spose I should write something about that.

Categories
Uncategorized

Finished, published and affordable – The Obituarist 3 is now on sale

It was 1987 when Eric B and Rakim laid down this dope apology:

It’s been a long time, I shouldn’t have left you
Without a strong rhyme to step to
Think of how many weak shows you slept through
Time’s up, I’m sorry I kept you

Thirty-three years later and I’m here to revisit this apology again.

It’s been a long time, and I’m sorry I kept y’all hanging, but the wait is finally over.

The Obituarist 3: Delete Your Account is out now.

Kendall Barber is having a very bad day.

His obituarist business is failing, his relationship is on the rocks and he’s pretty sure one of his friends has been murdered. All of that is bad enough – and then his office explodes. Kendall’s past has come back to haunt him, and it’s coming with guns, bombs and a truckload of regrets.

It gets worse from there.

Before the week is out, Kendall will be beaten, burn, torn up and hospitalised. He’ll have to alienate his closest allies and team up with his greatest enemy. He’ll have to talk to young people about internet security, uncover the truth about his friend’s death, avoid getting murdered by at least two separate sets of bad guys… and he’ll have to decide what kind of man he truly wants to be.

It’s too much to deal with.

The solution is obvious: fake his own death and start over again. But that’s easier said than done. Can Kendall stay one step ahead long enough to assemble what he needs to make a fresh start? Or will his enemies – or worse yet, his own stupid conscience – finish him once and for all?

It took me roughly a month to write the first Obituarist novella. The second took around 7-8 months. And the third took somewhere between 3 and 5 years, depending on what point counts as ‘really’ starting work on it.

I could make a lot of apologies for that, but I’ve made those several times by now, so let’s just move on. We’re here now, and the story is worth the wait! I hope!

As for that story… thematically, every book in this series has touched on concepts of not just death, but how we live our lives. The Obituarist was about identity, and how we construct it as a foundation on which to live. Dead Men’s Data was about secrets, and how the ways in which we protect or reveal them give shape to our lives. Delete Your Account… I’m still too close to it, and find the theme a little hard to articulate, but I see it being about endings and beginnings – of projects, of friendships, of enmities, of identities and of lives.

Deep stuff, yes, but it’s also a book full of sarcastic asides, tongue-in-cheek references and big-arse explosions. And it’s a book about change and escalation, inspired sorta-kinda by the ‘trilogy rules’ from Scream 3. Hell, from some angles it’s a book about how my own life and headspace has changed since 2012.

Why write clearly about one thing when you could write messily about a dozen things, that’s what I say. Apparently.

Delete Your Account is on sale right now for $3.99 US, and whatever today’s equivalent is in Aussie dollaridoos. You can get it from Amazon, from Amazon Australia or from Smashwords, and it should be available from other ebook storefronts in a few weeks. (These things propagate slowly, because of reasons.)

If you’re a longtime reader of the series, I hope you enjoy this one – it’s a departure, but one that makes sense, provides closure and is still full of sweary humour and desperate action. If you’re new to the series, well then don’t start reading at the end, you goose, start with the first book! Either way, it would be awesome if you left a review on some platform or another – especially if it’s a positive one. (Negative ones… maybe just email me to share your disappointment.)

It’s been a long time, and a long and winding road. But we’re all here now, and we all need something to read while we’re in isolation.

This one’s a strong rhyme. I promise.

Categories
obituarist

Stop – cover time!

Hello friends,

We’re all struggling to keep sane and safe during this monstrous era of collapse.

I just hope this helps in some small way – it’s the cover for The Obituarist 3!

…yeah, fair enough, probably not that helpful.

But still! We have a cover, thanks to the awesome work of designer Sharni Morter!

We have a story, which I rewrote again on the weekend to make the ending more coherent and more depressing!

And soon – before the end of May, I promise – we’ll have a new ebook for you to buy and read, hopefully doing something to make all of this – <gestures around helplessly> – just a little less dreadful.

If only in comparison to the shit I put Kendall Barber through this time.

Stay safe, stay sane, stay with us. I love youse all.

Categories
obituarist Uncategorized

Slowpocalyse thoughts

William Gibson once said, ‘The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed’. I’ve been thinking about that quote a lot in the last few days. About how it was framed as uneven access to positive change, but applies just as well to negative change; about how a grim version of the future might land in some parts of the world, but need time to spread out and take over the rest. How we can feel safe and secure, far away from danger, until suddenly we’re not.

I’ve also been thinking about the way the setting of the Mad Max films changes over the course of the series. In the first film, Max is a highway patrol officer, a cop in a functioning society (albeit one that’s doing it rough, and where eating tinned dog food is just fine). Then the setting – the world, society, environment, notions of what’s ‘normal’ – keeps sliding further and further into the abyss, each new film showing us an Australia that’s more broken, more ruined, more lost. Madder and madder within a man’s lifetime.

…yeah, my head’s not really in a great place, as you can probably tell. It’s my birthday; I’m 49 today. It’s not starting off as being the most enjoyable age, so far.

Fiction involving apocalypses tends to paint them as all-or nothing. If they’re something coming in the future, then they’re something to be averted or prevented. If they occurred in the past they look monolithic, their fine details unimportant.

It’s different when it’s apocalypse right now, when things are falling apart around us in real time. From inside the slowpocalypse we can see the uneven rate and intensity of collapse, the highs and lows, the gradually widening cracks in the foundations of our world.

But then again, maybe that means we have a window of opportunity to do something about it. Because if the End Times aren’t a monolithic moment but a protracted and uneven decline, there are lots of opportunities for optimism, for working together, for helping each other, for making a difference. To move just that little bit faster than the apocalypse before it’s done and dusted.

Right now it’s very difficult to consider what life will be like when I’m 50, whether my life or literally everyone else’s. But I guess we’ll all work it out together.

We have to.

NON-DEPRESSING OBITUARIST 3 UPDATE:

  • It’s still finished!
  • I reread the MS after a week of mental downtime and revised a few things that weren’t working.
  • The revised MS is now with my alpha readers, and I’m hoping to get feedback from them in 2-3 weeks.
  • The cover is done! I was hoping to share it with you folks today, but I’m still waiting on the final files. Should be able to splash it around this week.
  • Unless things go disastrously wrong – and that’s a caveat for pretty much everyone and everything right now – we’re still on track to publish in late April.

So stay tuned! For as long as that remains possible!

Categories
obituarist

The beginning of the end (again)

In case you missed it on the socials last night: I’ve finished the foundation draft of The Obituarist III: Delete Your Account.

The draft comes to almost 30 000 words, making it the longest book in the series – which befits a book that took more than three years to write.

Well, to be accurate, most of those three years were taken up with other activities – accruing mental fatigue, dealing with depression, working day jobs, losing days jobs, getting new day jobs, moving house twice, dealing with loss and the ever-popular wastinhg my life playing video games.

But still. I got there in the end.

Of course, this is just the start. I need to do a round of last-minute tweaks that keep occuring to me, run it past my alpha readers and respond to their feedback, have it copyedited, finalise the cover, try to do some (shudder) self-promotion…

But still. I got here in the end.

It counts for something.

Categories
Uncategorized

Authors for Fireys

Hey fam,

This is a super-quick post just to note that last week I joined the #AuthorsforFireys program on Twitter, where authors auctioned off books, stories, naming rights, artwork, services and much more to raise money for bushfire relief charities and programs.

(Sure, in a perfect world the government would do that with our tax dollars, but hah hah hah well shit that ain’t this world)

Anyway, I didn’t have a huge amount of things to auction off, but I want to thank everyone who voted on my two offers, as well as the two stars who won:

  • Dave Versace, who donated $125 to charity in exchange for me using his name for the main bad guy in The Obituarist 3.
  • David Naylor of Faded Print Games, who donated $150 in exchange for me doing some editorial and development work on their forthcoming RPG Time Without Tide.

Both of these gentlemen are deadset legends, and I’m beyond grateful that they were willing to make the financial effort to help recovery efforts.

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Now it’s time for me to do my part. Back to work.