I suspect this has more to do with my own ignorance of the subject than anything else, but from what I can tell there hasn't been a whole lot of literature -- in the sense of fiction -- on the subject of role-playing games as a social and psychological phenomenon. I further suspect a big part of why I haven't delved too deeply into this was because one of the most visible examples of same was Rona Jaffe's fairly terrible Mazes and Monsters. (If you have recommendations for better works in this vein, make them.)
Welcome to the Fold features role-playing games as a major component of the story, but not, I hope, in a bugaboo sort of way. They're not the source of anyone's problem; they're an arena in which a number of different conflicts are enacted. What I'm trying to do is show how that's the case without making it seem like the game is the problem, or the way the urge to escape into a world of the imagination is the problem.
It's nice to be well-reviewed.
He also spotted a few goofs. They're being fixed, I swear.
But really, I couldn't have asked for a better review.
Do creative people "have a core of fierce insecurity inside of them that's so profound that they see any legitimate praise as a form of sycophancy"?
[I] wonder if creative people have a core of fierce insecurity inside of them that's so profound that they see any legitimate praise as a form of sycophancy? As a creative professional, I am wracked with various insecurities but they've never spilled over into a belief that people "want" something from me if they tell me they like my work.
First: If you're not already reading that blog, dooo eeet. Easton doesn't post often -- unlike most of us Netizinians, he has a life -- but when he does, it's inevitably memorable and intelligent stuff. He has a lot to say about the "geeks of color" issue (I hate that term, but it's more or less all we have), and how too much of the time being a) black and b) nerdy turn out to be problematic. What's worse is how the problems don't stem from society at large, but from other blacks, or, worse, other nerds.
One of the fandom groups I'm in that meets up locally has a heartening mix of both ethnicity and gender, but I have to remind myself that a lot of people don't get this lucky, and that it's also not about what I do in the safety of my own clique. It's also about challenging this stuff whenever its stupidity rears its head in front of you.
But this post revolved around something else -- namely, the problem of meeting your heroes, and finding that maybe they weren't worthy of heroism. Or, as he noted, what happens when you meet them and find that they seem more interested in being flattered than simply being connected with.
On the spiritual junk food of cult consciousness (and how it's one of the many topics of the new book-in-progress).
When I'm on the ramp-up to a new writing project, I often put together some suggested reading to myself, and I'd bet if you were an outsider looking in you wouldn't be able to tell with any degree of accuracy what the book was actually about. Last time around for Vajra that reading list was everything from Thomas Merton to Aung San Suu Kyi. (Those who have read the book will have no trouble understanding how those folks are reflected in the story.)
This time around, with Welcome to the Fold, the list is going to be possibly even more esoteric. To that end, I'm going to enjoy being deliberately vague about the story up until it's put to bed and I start publicizing the details. But one of the first big subjects I started reading up on -- maybe better to say re-reading -- is the mechanics of cults.
Bill Watterson: "No upside for me" in adapting Calvin & Hobbes to animation. I agreed.
... coming at a new work requires a certain amount of patience and energy, and there’s always the risk of disappointment. You can’t really blame people for preferring more of what they already know and like. The trade-off, of course, is that predictability is boring. Repetition is the death of magic.
... I have zero interest in animating Calvin and Hobbes. If you’ve ever compared a film to a novel it’s based on, you know the novel gets bludgeoned. It’s inevitable, because different media have different strengths and needs, and when you make a movie, the movie’s needs get served. As a comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes works exactly the way I intended it to. There’s no upside for me in adapting it.
I admire the hell out of this man. Not just because he stands his ground, but because he understands why his position has been worth sticking to.
If someone offered me the chance to adapt one of my works into another medium, I'd consider it. But the medium, and the degree of control I'd have over the resulting product, would be paramount. I don't think Flight of the Vajra would work as anything less than a miniseries, but it would need the budget of a feature film -- ergo, it would be all but unfilmable. Maybe if it were animated (he said, watching Mr. Watterson flinch).
More on organizing creativity (isn't that an oxymoron)?
Something occurred to me after publishing my previous piece about organizing data on a forthcoming writing project (Welcome to the Fold -- sorry, no subsite for it just yet). There, I talked about how I wasn't crazy about, e.g., character sheets where you plug the key attributes of your characters into a bunch of blank fields.
A bunch of different things bugged me about this approach: it's not my template most of the time (I solved that by creating my own, but it was still a template); too often such approaches end up dictating the direction of the work; and when they're deployed as part of a general paint-by-numbers approach to such work, you still get paint-by-numbers results.
My way of working around all this was to think a little differently about the whole point of setting up a wiki for such a project. Timelines and factual information are fine; most any story will benefit from having those fiddly little details nailed down and kept somewhere authoritative. But the more complicated, human stuff, like characters and their behaviors, the larger meaning of the story -- how to deal with all that without simply writing something that ends up encapsulating the work and dictating its direction?
The answer I came up with was to think of the wiki as a kind of critique of the work, where instead of trying to define what it is, exclusively, you're talking about how it is about what it is. I know, putting this into words has driven me about as nuts as it's driving you, but that's as close as I can get to it for now.
Why I'm choosing to do it this way is manifold. For one, I'm trying to avoid falling back on talking about the work as a substitute for working on it. It's too easy to get caught up in the details of creating your world -- a lot of which never make it to the page -- instead of actually telling the story that the details are there to support. If you're Werner Herzog and you want your actors to feel like they're in the jungle, you take them to the jungle for real (and endure unbelievable hardships as a result), but not every writer has to pull a J.R.R. Martin and write the 267 interlocking mythologies featured in his story's world, of which only five are actually mentioned in any detail. (What would we call that, I wonder -- the "voodoo of backstory"? Another Werner Herzog reference there for you.)
The other reason I'm taking this approach is so that when I do write the thing, I don't feel like I'm just filling in a bunch of blanks. That was another reason I used to avoid outlining like a vegan steering clear of an Arby's: the process always felt like simply creating a bunch of blanks to be filled in by me at a later date. Bo-ring. Also, when you write anything at the sentence-by-sentence level, down at the ground, you see things in it that you never saw when you were up in the chapter-by-chapter stratosphere.
In time, though, I did had to ask myself: was that a valid reason to do no outlining at all? No, I knew it wasn't; it was just the most useful excuse to preserve my romanticism about the process. The process doesn't have to be romantic, but the outcome should never lose the romance that motivated you to engage in the process in the first place.
Maybe by the third time I write about this subject I won't be so annoyingly abstract.
When your only marketing system is for marketing blockbusters, what happens to everything that's not a blockbuster?
Q: I think my friends are most familiar with the blockbuster formula playing out in movies, and my sense is that they hate it. They see big loud sequels and adaptations taking over and they want to know who to blame. So who's to blame?
A: There are a number of people who are negative about blockbusters, and that surprises me. Put yourself in the mind of an executive. They know everybody pays the same amount for a movie, whether the studio invested $10 million or $300 million. To complain about studios overspending is odd, because the price of the ticket doesn't change. In what other industry do we complain about companies increasing their spending when they don't raise prices? In video games, it's the opposite. People are thrilled when companies spend more on the next [Grand Theft Auto].
Thing is, they're right. It is easier to get your money back by making one big movie and promoting the hell out of it than it is to make a bunch of little ones and hope to your lucky stars that one of them touches off. What you lose by doing so, though -- and what you lose invisibly, without a murmur -- is another story.
That's what's not mentioned in this interview: how the blockbuster mechanism has the bad tendency to drive out all other forms of getting creative work in front of people. This means any movie (or book, or record) that doesn't work as a blockbuster has to either be deceptively marketed -- which typically kills its commercial prospects dead -- or marketed outside the blockbuster system, which means it's lucky to get a little word of mouth before petering out. There's got to be better ways.
But when all you have is a hammer, I guess everything has to be driven like a nail.
How I learned to stop worrying and love creating a proper wiki for my writing projects.
Back when I began work on Flight of the Vajra, it didn't take long to realize I was going to need a good organizational system for the book's notes. I settled on TiddlyWiki, a tool I've written about before and stuck with despite the occasional stupid issues I have with it. (For writing, I stick with Microsoft Word; until someone comes up with something genuinely better and not just conceptually better, I'm staying put. Sorry, gang, LaTeX files and diffs are not an improvement from where I sit.)
The main thing I came to like about TW is how it didn't impose a particular structure on me; I could create my own organizational system for each work. What I quickly discovered was how having too much freedom can be just as bad as too little, and so I set about trying to come up with a general template for a writing project.
Problem was, I'd always resisted using other peoples' templates for such things, and so didn't have much of a model to draw on.
With all the things that make demands on what little spare time we have, is it a surprise that sitting still and looking at words on a page gets pushed down and down?
Not long ago I was talking to some folks about the problems of being an author (sadly, the Jeremiad that came from my mouth made it sound like being an author was nothing but problems), and one of the things that popped out, unbidden, seems to have been spot-on. The problem with being a writer -- and, by extension, most any kind of creator -- is not just that you're in competition with other writers currently alive. You're competing with every other writer that ever lived, too, because the same systems that deliver readers your work with the touch of a button also deliver all of theirs as well.
Wait, it gets worse (I added). You're also in competition with every other creative figure that wants to monopolize someone's time -- every video game, every movie, every tabletop game, every board game, every TV show, every Sudoku puzzle and crossword, every magazine article and newspaper headline.
On the concept of the wasted (artistic) opportunity.
Projection time: You ever come out of a movie fuming and gnashing your teeth, and when your pal asks you what gives, you groan, "God, what a wasted opportunity!" and then spend your walk back to the parking lot (and a good stretch of the ride home) iterating a laundry list of ways the film could have been oh so much better?
I will let you briefly cast your minds adrift and recall any such recent letdowns. For some, it was Man of Steel; for others, it was Pacific Rim; for me, it was both New Trek films. Your money and mileage will vary. (MoS and PR were fine movies, if also flawed in endearing and stimluating ways.)
Now, I say "projection time" not because of the gizmo at the back of the theater, but because a) I've done this sort of Gedankenexperiment more times than I can count (no, really, now?) and b) I'm just dumb enough to assume most everyone else with two hemispheres to bang together does it also. It's not bad movies, or books, or records, or what have you, that drive me this bonko; it's wasted ones. A great concept, a memorable setting, a striking character -- those things can all be easily profaned with the most unworthy hands.
But the whole concept of waste is is subjective, and that's why talking about it as a general aesthetic issue is such a man-trap.
If the right thing was intuitive, everyone would already be doing it.
The other day my friend Steven Savage was pulling out fistfuls of his hair over the fact that so much of the most valuable advice he felt he had to pass on to fellow creators seemed like, well, just plain common sense. Intuitive was the word that came to mind, and I said something along the lines of, "If the right thing was intuitive, everyone would already be doing it."
The right thing is only occasionally intuitive. Most of us do not set ourselves on fire because there are immediate and terrible disincentives: pain, disfigurement, death, all that fun stuff. But many of us engage in, say, bad financial behavior -- this was one of the litany of things Steven felt creators needed to know most about and often don't -- because the negative incentives for doing so are often delayed enough that we have no instinctual aversion to them. (Plainer English: we overspend on our credit cards because our credit cards don't turn red and explode when we do so. Maybe they should.)
Where I've been and where I'm going, especially with my next book.
"Hectic" doesn't begin to describe it. Between starting a new job (come see me at Infoworld), doing some major house renovation, shaking my head at the way the world is turning into the post-capitalist circus Pohl and Kornbluth saw coming as far back 1950-freaking-2 (The Space Merchants; what do you mean you haven't read it?!), and gaping at the most deranged political climate since the Clinton impeachment hearings, it's been downright unreal.
So, obviously, not much bloggo de blog in the interim.
Once things settle down a bit, here's what I plan to be doing:
I'll try to post more this weekend; there's a number of interesting discussion posts stacking up in my outbox.
A fistful of "lost grooves from the land of the Rising Sun."
The term samurai has unfortunately suffered much of the same kind of denaturing in English (and maybe in Japanese as well) as genius, or rock'n'roll. The root of the word samurai was a verb that meant "to serve", but even in its native Japan the implications of the word have drifted. It's since become a connotation for the kind of dogged-but-proud loner whose closest analogue in the West has been the noir detective. Decades of noir-influenced chanbara cinema -- everything from Yojimbo to Zatoichi -- have only cemented that drift all the more.
Small wonder Samuraiera feels like a "soungs from the motion picture soundtrack" album for just such a 1970s-era film, with the blue-tinted cover shot of a hand gripping a katana hilt serving as its poster. The fifteen tracks on this disc, collected and programmed by DJ Kaoru Inoue (a/k/a "Chari Chari", one half of the duo Aurora Acoustic), survey a whole range of jazz, funk, and Latin grooves from Japan's byways. With a few marked exceptions, most of the artists are apt to be total unknowns to Western ears, but that only magnifies the pleasures inherent in stumbling across all the little gems found here.
Mr. T-isms aside, know who you are and where you're going. If you don't, the consequences to your creativity can be dire.
Rather than get bogged down in the mire of the government shutdown (my Canadian friends are all gently shaking their heads in dismay), I'll turn to other matters.
Joyce Cary (of The Horse's Mouth, first his novel and then later an Alec Guinness film) was wont to say that once a writer has achieved his own vision of life he will never run out of things to write about. Elizabeth Lawrence, Cary's American editor, put it this way about Cary himself: "He know who he was and where he was going."
Both are essential; neither are a given.
When you call yourself a creator and yet lack for either of those things, there's much thrashing about for an identity. Some end up taking on a second-hand identity -- identifying with a movement, or sporting a fashion, or attempting to exploit a trend, or doing something even dumber.
This page contains an archive of posts for the month of October 2013.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind