Tag Archives: writing

A few things

Doing a run-by because I have a million stuffs to take care of and it’s already noon.

  • I’ll be at WFC tomorrow and Saturday. No, not officially, because I couldn’t afford to go because WFC frankly needs to do some soul-searching. But I’ll be hanging out in the bar and going to dinner with people and such, and I hope very much to see old friends and make new ones.
  • My story “What Glistens Back” is out in Lightspeed. I read it at Capclave, where it got a pretty good reception, and I’m immensely proud of it. It’s probably one of my favorite things that I’ve ever written.
  • I thought I was gonna finish a book by the end of this week. I’m not gonna finish a book by the end of this week. I really think I’ll be done in the next week or so, though.
  • I’ve sold my story “The Horse Latitudes” (originally appeared last year in Ideomancer and can be read here) to Michael Matheson’s anthology The Humanity of Monsters, which will be out from ChiZine Publications in November 2015. The ToC is amazing so far – check it out here.
  • Three of my stories were in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror #6 (2013) Honorable Mentions (“Love in the Time of Vivisection”Shimmer #17, “The Horse Latitudes” – Ideomancer, “Event Horizon”Strange Horizons). Pretty chuffed, especially given the company I’m in.
  • Rookwar, the final book in the Casting the Bones trilogy, is a month away from release. Labyrinthian is a little over two months. Watch for more stuff regarding them, including stuff that is free.
  • I’m finishing up an edit job for a client, so I have an editing slot open. If you have an SFF manuscript that you need help on, or you know someone who does, I’m your individual. And to be frank, any work in that area really helps us out right now, so I appreciate anyone spreading the word.

Okay, back to work.

#INeedDiverseGames – and #WeNeedDiverseBooks – because anything less is shitty writing

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There’s been some great stuff said in the #INeedDiverseGames hashtag in the last couple of days, though if you check it out – and you should – be aware that of course people with other agendas have found it and are being ugly in it. Not all of it is overtly ugly, though, in the same way that not all of the people supporting the GamerGate crowd are actually monstrous assholes. One of the things I saw linked – and I’m sorry, but I can’t now seem to find it, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it – was a rather long post that picked apart the demographics of people who play games, delivered an analysis, and ended with the claim that there’s no solid evidence that lack of representation in media has detrimental psychological effects (untrue) and questioned whether diversity really is necessary in games. “It would be nice, sure”, said the author (I’m paraphrasing somewhat). “But is it something we really need?”

Okay.

I mean, maybe you don’t think we do need it. Maybe you don’t think it’s actually necessary. Maybe you think it would be cool and you’re not against it as such, but you think people are making kind of too much of a Thing out of it and they’re just looking for something about which to be loud and angry. As the demands for more diverse and inclusive SF&F have intensified we’ve seen the exact same kind of claims, usually along with protestations that things aren’t actually that bad anyway. It’s not necessary.

Okay.

Got a question for you, then: Do you care about good stories?

Just that. That simple. Presumably you do – if you read books, if you play games, if you watch TV and movies, presumably you’d prefer to be reading and playing and watching stuff that’s actually good, right? You’re not going to embrace stuff that’s shitty and boring. If someone came up to you and said “wow, you sure do prefer tame, safe, bland, status quo-embracing shit, don’t you?” you’d probably push back against that pretty hard, right? And yeah, a lot of us like stuff that’s loud and silly and focused entirely on being entertaining with no pretensions toward anything more and that’s great, but I don’t think any of us would cop to loving it because it’s shit and wanting nothing except more shit for the rest of whatever.

Right?

And if you write books and short stories, if you make movies and TV and games, I’m guessing you feel even more strongly about this. You’d ideally like to be making good stuff. You probably don’t want to make shitty, boring, unimaginative things. You probably wouldn’t like to see your chosen field choked with shitty, boring, unimaginative things. We all want to be proud of what we do, and we want to be proud of the community in which we’re doing it. If we’re creators, we want to be creating good things, and we want to be surrounded by people who are making good things, because they push us further, make us want to do more, make us reach for greater creations. Even if you’re writing pulpy, silly stuff, even if you’re making those same big, loud, entertaining, unpretentious spectacles, I’m sure you want to make the best damn big, loud, entertaining, unpretentious spectacle you can. If you’re a creator, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you actually give at least a little bit of a fuck about what you’re making.

Right?

So here, if you refuse to accept anything else, is the reason why we need diverse games and books and stories: Anything less is shitty writing.

If your writing is full of white men, it’s shitty writing. If your writing erases any sexual or gender identity other than straight cisgender people, it’s shitty writing. If your writing reduces women to (usually injured, kidnapped, or killed) motivations for your male characters, it’s shitty writing. If your writing presents histories in which people of color play no role at all and you defend it with “but historical accuracy!”, you’re wrong and also it’s shitty writing.

It’s status quo, it’s tired, it’s boring, it’s bland, it’s unimaginative, it’s been done to death, it’s shitty shitty shitty. And if you give even a little bit of a fuck about your craft, you have no excuse whatsoever for being satisfied with it, let alone defending it.

Know what else? It’s also not true. Because here’s the thing: writing stories is about telling lies that are fundamentally true, and any writing that doesn’t do that on a foundational level is shitty writing. Telling a story is about creating characters who feel real, who are recognizable to us even if they aren’t like us. Truly great writing will open a way for us to feel connected to people who are very different from us, who themselves represent an expansion of how we see the world. And the world is diverse. Fabulously so. The world is rich and wild and beautiful with diversity – it’s a treasure house of diversity, of so many different people with so many different experiences, knowledges, struggles, histories. These are deep waters, friends, and they are teeming with glorious diversity. Each element of difference is a chance to tell a new story, to weave a thread into a larger, grander tapestry. And the stories that do this don’t have to be anything but entertaining. They don’t have to be the next Academy Award-winning film, the next show to get showered with Emmys. They don’t have to be books and short stories that win Nebulas and Hugos and Campbells. They can be loud and big and silly and fun, and aim for nothing more.

That doesn’t mean they can’t also be true. It’s not a burden to make them true. It’s not difficult. It’s easy. Just be willing to write stuff that isn’t shitty.

This is why the whole “but it’s bad to be diverse just for the sake of being diverse!” argument is utter bullshit. How about being diverse for the sake of writing well? How about being diverse for the sake of being real? How about doing it for the sake of writing true? How about doing it because it is not that goddamn hard?

If you really think that – if you really think it’s silly, that doing it is sacrificing some kind of artistic principle, if you really think people are making a Thing out of it, if you really think it’s unnecessary – fine. But in that case I have no choice but to conclude that you’re a lazy, shitty writer or a consumer of lazy, shitty writing, and that’s what you’re satisfied to do and to be.

And dude. Dude. Dude.

No.

One Foot After the Other: writing when things are generally shitty

from here

from here

I posted a couple of quotes on writing the other day, to accompany a Difficult Writing Time. I think everyone can sympathize with this, regardless of whether or not they consider themselves “writers”, because although too many writers like to get misty-eyed and emotional about how very differently important writing is from everything else, when you get right down to it, it’s work, and everyone reaches points with work wherein they just cannot even anymore, where everything is going wrong and nothing is easy and it all just seems unbearably crappy, and motivation has been eaten by a sullen cloud of horrible. But in those moments you don’t actually have much in the way of real options besides the simple task of dragging yourself onward, one foot after the other – not in front of, because that implies more momentum than you actually have – and trusting in spite of all the evidence to the contrary that things will get better, that they will somehow maneuver themselves back into where you vaguely remember them being.

Yeah, that’s me right now.

I should say at this point that I honestly haven’t once suffered from writer’s block in the half decade I’ve spent trying to write for money. I have not yet been locked into a period where I wasn’t producing anything at all. But I do go through long periods where I’m convinced that none of what I’m producing is very good, and often that feeling is actually correct, though it’s still something to be regarded with healthy skepticism. Interestingly, these periods often also coincide with the completion of large, long-running projects – usually novels – and I think that makes a degree of sense.

I used to think I would feel a sense of accomplishment upon finishing a novel, but as it turns out, at least for me, that’s not true at all. What I feel after typing the end is instead a kind of exhausted hollowness, an utter lack of any sense about what to do next. To be sure, there is a bit of YAY I’M DONE, but it never lasts more than a day or so, and then the blankness asserts itself. I had no idea what to make of that, until I took – and passed – my doctoral qualifying exams, and suddenly it all made sense. When you’ve spent months doing something very difficult – maybe doing it every day, maybe for hours – your brain, on a fundamental level, has no idea how to deal with the prospect of not doing it anymore. It panics and shuts down. It’s so burned out that continuing is more than it can deal with, but it’s forgotten how to function without that daily energy suck around which to orient itself.

I fell apart after my qualifying exams. It took me a few months – mostly because I had a semester of teaching to provide structure – but once that was gone, I broke down. We’re talking nearly-paralyzing-anxiety-with-sensory-triggers-trip-to-the-ER-back-on-meds-after-15-years level of breakdown. The point is that we need to be ready – as writers, as workers, as human beings – for our brains to be assholes, and for that assholishness to bleed into all aspects of our work, as well as to come from the work itself. Sometimes even from what looks, on the surface, like major productivity.

I don’t think that’s exactly what I’m going through now – though I did just finish not only a novel but the final novel in a trilogy – but I recognize something similar. Thanks to the loss of my departmental funding and some other things that fell through, I’m not teaching this semester. Next semester is also doubtful. I remain uncertain regarding whether I can finish my doctoral dissertation. I’m very angry at my department, my university, and academia in general, because I think that last is devouring itself and I hate being in a position to watch it happen. I’m now unemployed, and so far the job hunt is less than encouraging. On paper a lot of my life is still pretty good, but almost everything on which I’ve relied for structure and momentum and security – for nearly a decade, counting college – is going away.

That’s not a comfortable place in which to find oneself.

It can be very difficult to write when you’re wrestling with emotional and mental issues – I think many people find it almost impossible when things are at their worst – and it’s certainly true that it can be so much harder to produce your best work when your head and heart are not at their best. But I’ve also found that writing can be a refuge when everything else is difficult, because at least writing is something over which I can exert almost complete control. I may not feel like I’m doing it as well as I can, but I can still create a world of my own populated by people I’ve made; I can invent my own escapism and retreat there, tell myself a story and – upon emerging – have something concrete to show for it. It helps. Sometimes it’s almost the only thing that does. Sometimes it’s what you need.

But then sometimes even what you create doesn’t feel like the right kind of escape. The joy fades and it just feels like work again, and it doesn’t feel like work you’re doing well enough to take real pleasure in.

And that’s where I am now: this thing on which I rely to keep myself together isn’t doing what I need it to, which means it’s just one more thing that feels like it’s slipping away, and that is so, so terrifying. Everything else I’ve accomplished in the last months and years – the books sold, the short stories published, the good reviews, the people who have said nice things, even the goddamn money – all fades into the background and provides no comfort at all, because none of it makes the words work any better.

So what do you do?

If you’re a writer – if you’re a person – you have two options: a) go fetal and cry, and b) suck it up and, to the extent that you can do so and still take care of yourself, keep going. One foot after the other. Drag drag drag.

I’m writing another novel right now – one of three currently waiting to be written. I have no idea if it’s working; I thought it was but now I’m really not sure. None of the prose feels like it’s smooth. None of the pacing feels sharp. The direction is hazy. I’m hoping that this – finally – will be my Agent Book, but I’ve also written less than stellar novels before, and I’m filled with dread that this might be one of those. But what else is there to do? I’m 41k words into it; I can’t really stop now. Drag drag drag.

I was talking to my friend and Long Hidden ToC-mate David Jon Fuller about this on Twitter the other day, and we were commiserating about the feeling that nothing is going right and none of what we produce is good. I said something to the effect of why the hell did we ever start doing this, and he said something that isn’t necessarily a big secret but is therefore one of those fundamental truths so obvious that it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of it now and then:

He’s right. Nothing beats it, when it’s really happening. When it’s happening, it feels like the most amazing thing in the world. Get a taste of it once and you’ll never stop wanting it; call us addicts chasing the next high if you want, because that probably isn’t very far off. And maybe it does have some kind of deeper, broader significance as an act, maybe it has some kind of grand universal meaning, and maybe it really is something worth getting misty-eyed and emotional over, but me, I think it’s ultimately about healing, about getting well, about being alive. It’s about you, and me, and really no one else, not at its core. It’s about being reminded that there’s something good about existing, and that you can find that again, no matter how shitty things are, because your head is a house of treasures.

And that doesn’t make you special. It just makes you human.

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.

― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Writerly quote therapy

This is what I’m doing when I should be finishing my editing pass on the draft of Rookwar.

Today is a Tough Writing Day, mentally. I’m guessing that any of you who write at all regularly – fiction or nonfiction, pro or not – are familiar with this feeling, that all your best work is behind you and that work was “best” in only a very relative sense. That you will never be the writer you want to be (this one is honestly probably true) and trying to be so is a bad joke and a fool’s errand (this one is probably not true).

I like this quote at times like this. It doesn’t make it stop but at least it’s a good articulation of the problem.

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it. – Anne Lamott

And this one.

Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. – Stephen King

Back to work.

Meaningful choice and The Walking Dead: an addendum

thewalkingdead-part2-poster

After I wrote yesterday about some of the ludonarrative problems inherent in a game like The Walking Dead, I kept thinking about why the finale of Season Two didn’t work nearly as well for me as the first game. The conclusion at which I arrived wasn’t simply that Season Two’s penultimate choice couldn’t carry the narrative weight it was supposed to, but that the first game actually gives you no choice at all.

Spoilers follow.

Continue reading

Thoughts on ludonarrative difficulties and The Walking Dead: Season Two

Note: This is all my interpretation of a game and a story that allows for a multiplicity of interpretations; that’s one of its strengths. So when I say “the game is doing X” or “the game meant Y” that’s not meant to be a conclusive statement of fact. These are things I think, results of my experience as a player and as someone who constructs narratives professionally. Take them for what they are.

HUGE SPOILERS, NATURALLY

Continue reading

Words and scar tissue

IMG_0787This past Wednesday, my story “Singing With All My Skin and Bone” came out in this month’s issue of Nightmare. I’ve written before about the place out of which that story came – my experiences as a child with a mental illness that manifests in compulsive self-injury and the bullying that resulted from it. I’ve also written about the process of digging into that old pain and finding a way to turn it into a story, how one takes something so ugly and humiliating and shows it to the world.

A few people have told me that it resonated powerfully with them, that it touched a similar kind of pain in them. Which I’m… I don’t know that I want to say I’m happy, but there’s a part of me that’s glad, because you know you’ve written something true when people connect to it on a deeper level. And I know that reading something like that can make one feel less alone.

But I’ve been thinking about something else, in part in connection with an article my mother sent me a while ago about the fear inherent in putting your writing out into the world. It’s a generally accepted idea that the more personal the story, the more frightening it is to have it out in public.

And I didn’t feel that. Having it published wasn’t frightening for me. Submitting it to editors wasn’t even all that frightening. Once it was written, it was done, and in a lot of ways I didn’t think much about it anymore, except in as much as I took satisfaction in the feeling that I had written it well.

For me, the writing is the more frightening thing, in the fear of not doing something justice and – even more – in the fear of opening old wounds in the first place. We’re told we shouldn’t make ourselves vulnerable, and having such a personal story published is a kind of profound vulnerability, but for some reason, for me, the vulnerability of writing helped. It was a stretch. It made me more flexible, and it made stretching again less painful.

Brené Brown has a wonderful talk on the power and strength of vulnerability, how it has the ability to make one feel joy and peace and a deeper connection to others. To feel more of everything. I think that in order to write true things you have to find a way to feel things truly, and that can be terrifying and painful, but what you find under the terror and the pain is something that goes beyond writing a good story.

I’m happy with how my story turned out. I think it’s a good story. But ultimately, for me, the story is incidental. It was the process of writing it that was the most powerful.

I hope I can find a way to keep that process going.

Finding the door

image by Rob Wanenchak

image by Rob Wanenchak

If thou followeth a wall far enough, there must be a door in it. – Marguerite de Angeli, The Door in the Wall

One of the first books that I remember being specifically formative for me in terms of actual writing is Stephen King’s Misery.

Like a lot of people, I went through a period of being obsessed with King’s books, beginning with a series of summer nights down at my family’s lake property in Texas wherein I stayed up until the small hours reading The Shining. One could – and many have – levy a number of very legitimate criticisms at King and his writing, and as I’ve learned more about the craft it’s become clearer to me that a lot of his books frankly aren’t all that great. But I retain the opinion than a lot of his stuff really is pretty fantastic, if often flawed – The Stand, the Dark Tower series (mostly the first three books but yes, I love the whole ridiculous thing) Duma Key, It, Desperation, Dolores Claiborne, The Green Mile, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (a massively under-appreciated gem)… I could go on.

A lot of what I learned about writing, I learned from Stephen King, and not just from his slim, lean, wonderful On Writing. I could name a number of writers who first sowed in me the seeds of Wanting to Write, but when I determined that I might actually attempt the business, it was from King that I started to grasp the inner structure and workings of how to put a story together, how to make all the pieces fit and set the thing running. More, from him I gleaned an idea of creation that was at once cautiously mystical and flatly practical, devoid of both the gauzy, fluffy nonsense and the pompous inflexibility which stand as unfortunate features of a number of books about writing. I got useful images from him that made a lot of what I intuited easier to grasp: toolboxes and tools, people digging away in mines. I gained an understanding of the business of writing as far more practical craft and hard work than the base-level possession of talent, or of sitting around waiting for inspiration.

But sometimes you do wait. Sometimes you shove whatever your current project is into the back of your mind and go on about your life. Sometimes you get an idea but you know it isn’t ready yet, or you suspect it may not be. Then you let it be. I’ve found it useful to conceive – heh – of this as a kind of pregnancy; I can feel that something is growing, but it’ll grow at its own pace. I’ll know when it’s ready to emerge, and to try to force it out before its time could kill it before it has a chance to get going.

But sometimes it doesn’t simply emerge in its natural time, and then you have to hunt for it. You have to chase.

In Misery, King describes my understanding of this process as regarding a blank page, waiting to fall into it. That image has stayed with me, because it feels so right; what you need is a way through and into, and you won’t find it by avoiding it. And it’s not fun. It’s painful.  It’s lonely and frightening, and I think that loneliness and fear is what keeps a lot of would-be writers dependent on inspiration, the lack of which provides an excellent excuse to quit for the day and do something that isn’t writing.

And then there’s what I tend to experience more than anything else when trying to start a project – and sometimes when stuck in the middle of one – which is a combination of the two.

I’m not waiting to fall through a page – or a screen – and I’m not waiting for something to birth itself. It’s like I’m in the dark, feeling my way along a wall. There’s nothing in the dark with me but that wall – except for the wall, I’m in a void. What I’m looking for is a crack, a hole, a window, maybe even a door. I have no clear idea what’s behind the wall. Maybe I can hear things through it, very faint – voices, music. Maybe I’ve heard rumors about what’s over there, unreliable third-and-fourth-hand reports. The fact is that I don’t know. All I know is that I can’t stay in the dark.

And if I keep feeling along the wall, sooner or later I’m going to find my way through.

That moment, when I find the way through, is difficult to describe, but I think King would recognize it instantly. I think most writers would. It’s a moment of quiet elation and revelation both – not an understanding of the whole story or of the totality or the plot but more that you now see the path by which you might get to the end. You have a way in. The country beyond is still undiscovered, but now you can begin – or continue – the journey. And now the journey doesn’t seem nearly so impossible, nearly so overwhelming.

That moment is one of the moments I’ve come to live for. I had one of them last night. I’m not quite ready to start that particular journey, but I can see the road through the door, and I’m looking forward to it with great anticipation.

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to. – JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Some thoughts on Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and participatory storytelling

pigline_3

Capitalism!

Because there’s nothing like kicking off the morning of three weeks of teaching an intensive intro-to-sociology course like writing about one of the most delightfully disturbing games I’ve ever played.

I should note that as usual, I’m behind on this. A Machine for Pigs actually came out this past fall, but – as I think I’ve said before – for a variety of reasons both temporal and financial I tend to refrain from purchasing games until they get severely discounted in Steam sales. So I finally have it, and I played it, and it’s probably among my top ten games that I’ve ever played.

I loved the first Amnesia, though it was an abusive kind of love, because I have rarely played a game that made me want to stop playing it as much as Amnesia:The Dark Descent. I don’t scare all that easily, though I used to; much of what I write these days is arguably horror – or at least could be categorized as dark-fantastic – and I watch horror flicks to relax. That said, the first Amnesia was full of more NOPE moments than I thought possible in a game (until Outlast came along and left my every nerve raw and frayed at the ends) and I thought then that in terms of sheer dreadful atmosphere, it was pretty much unsurpassed by anything else I had experienced.

Then, as I said, Outlast came along, and I was stuck with a new standard of NOPE. Outlast is not a long game, but it took me a long time to finish it on account of how many nights I simply refused to play it at all because I literally could not deal.

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I JUST

So. A Machine for Pigs.

I’m a huge, huge fan of The Chinese Room’s previous game Dear Esther (The Dark Descent studio Frictional Games essentially handed the sequel off to them). Dear Esther contains what I think is some of the best prose I’ve encountered in any game, and in fact inspired a story of mine, so I was fantastically excited when I heard they were the ones developing A Machine for Pigs, and on the writing side, I wasn’t in the least disappointed. How the writing is integrated into the game is massively important, and a massive part of why it worked so well for me; The Chinese Room went the – fairly conventional – route of leaving notes and memos around for you to find as you explore the world, that incrementally reveal who exactly you are and what exactly you’ve done. But more unconventionally – and very much like Dear Esther – the notes are frequently puzzles in themselves, and hint at horrors rather than making them explicit (except for a few wonderfully macabre instances toward the end). They’re not in order, temporally, and it’s only once you’re a good bit of the way through the game that they actually start to present a coherent picture. Dear Esther did the same thing, though in the service of a very different mood, and the result was an experience full of gentle, meditative, revelatory punches to the gut.

Dear Esther: I can't even with this game. Weather continues cloudy, wish you weren't all ghostly. XOXO

Dear Esther: I can’t even with this game. Weather continues cloudy, wish you weren’t all ghostly. xoxo

A Machine for Pigs is the same, except instead of gentle and meditative it’s all creeping dread and slowly intensifying horror. Also disgust, because while The Dark Descent made it a point to scare the everloving shit outta you, A Machine for Pigs is more about visceral vileness and dehumanization. The theme is really in the name – think about our cultural connotations of “pig”, regardless of how accurate it really is, about their social context, how we use the word and the idea, and what images are called up when we think about them as animals that exist to be slaughtered and consumed. I’m not a vegetarian by any stretch, and I love animals, and I’m very aware of the cognitive dissonance and even the hypocrisy involved in that.

The language that writer Dan Pinchbeck employs in the service of this theme is careful, and to me resonant of both things like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle – an obvious reference point – and the work people like Zygmunt Bauman and Hannah Arendt have done on the nature of dehumanization and the mechanized, industrialized erasure of the value of life. The game is in part a vaguely Marxist indictment of capitalism run amok, though one doesn’t have to be aware of that aspect in order to feel the horror Pinchbeck wants you to feel.

well let's not get carried away or anything

well let’s not get carried away or anything

Again, like Dear Esther – and like many other games that employ the same basic mechanic – these things are fragmentary, and the story you piece together is drawn from what isn’t there as much as what is. This weekend at Readercon I had a wonderful hallway conversation with fellow writer and buddy Kenneth Schneyer (he has a short fiction collection out and you should get it) about his story “Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer” and about fiction in that same basic format: found documents, descriptions of the contents of containers, emails, images, journal entries, etc. Things that reveal a story in fragments and increments, and hit you in the gut more on the basis of what’s implied than what’s straightforwardly shown. I happen to love those kinds of stories, though I have yet to do one myself in a way that I think works even a little, and I’m finding more and more that one of the media that’s doing that kind of storytelling especially well is video games. I’ve written before about how one of the major strengths of storytelling in video games is the fact that you’re not just an audience but a participant, and I think written fiction of that fragmentary kind approaches the same kind of active participation on the part of the reader and is effective for many of the same reasons. You have to work out the puzzle. You have to make sense of what you’re seeing.

And of course, it’s old wisdom that some of the greatest horror is what you never actually see but know is lurking there in the dark, red in tooth and claw.

this all looks very normal

this all looks very normal

So yeah. Basically I loved A Machine for Pigs. It’s not as scary as its predecessor, but it’s way more horrifying, and it’s a kind of horror that resonates more with me. As a work of fiction, I think it’s fantastically compelling, and the prose is a delight. I’d recommend it whole-heartedly to people who don’t normally play games, and in fact I might recommend it especially to those people. Just make sure you have a strong stomach. Or at least don’t mind when it gets turned.

so happy new year is pretty much what I'm saying here

so happy new year is pretty much what I’m saying here

Tom Bissell provides wisdom on publishing

I’m currently working my way – bit by bit here and there – through Tom Bissell’s Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation, and of course, being Tom Bissell, it’s full of good stuff (it’s actually part of why I decided to put together A imageBrief History of the Future). And he has a wonderful passage on publishing and what it does to a writer’s brain that rings so true at the moment, given that I just finished up the second round of edits on Labyrinthian and Ravenfall comes out this month.

It’s nothing I haven’t heard before, actually, but it never hurts to hear it again, given my (perhaps incorrect but I don’t think so) impression that many aspiring authors either think it won’t happen or, when it happens, think it must be unusual.

To indulge, briefly, in further autobiography my first published book has just appeared in stores. The last year of my life – the year of finishing it, editing it and seeing it through its various page-proof passes – ranks among the most unnerving of my young life. It has not felt good, or freeing. It has been nerve-shreddingly disquieting. Publication simply allows one that much more to worry about. This cannot be said to aspiring writers often or sternly enough. Whatever they carry within themselves they believe publication cures will not, I can all but guarantee, be cured. You just wind up living with new diseases.

If one of the things you deal with in your life is mental illness, or emotional disregulation, this process will make that worse in almost every possible way.

And yet I do think it’s worth it, somehow, in the end. At least, so I’ve been given to understand.