This post goes off the rails a bit; not really about games, more just me rambling awhile

Just checked on our remaining Kickstarted board games, all but one of which are running late, to see when they’re currently estimated to arrive. (It’s hard to hold all the half-promises in my head & keep them straight.) Luckily I ran into the feeling of “we’re getting close to ‘enough’ board games until we get rid of some” at the end of this summer, so there are only a handful:

Surprisingly, Epic Resort (Floodgate Games) is theoretically in the midst of shipping, and should arrive any time now. (Backed in April, original estimated delivery in September—only two months late, with 7 months from Kickstarter to shipping.)

Next up will be Scoville (TMG), bumped back again to “probably after Christmas” for delivery. (Backed in February, original estimated delivery this month—maybe only a month late, with 10 months from Kickstarter to shipping.)

Another from TMG, Harbour, is currently estimated to be shipping in February—this is earlier than their pre-KS (official) estimate of March, but during the campaign they predicted an 80% chance they’d deliver by December. (Backed in July—7 months from Kickstarter to shipping, if they hit February, which would be delivering 1 month ahead of their official estimate and 2 months later than their mid-campaign estimate.)

Technically I failed to back Tiny Epic Defenders (I’d meant to go back and see whether they’d hit the stretch goals on the last day, and I glanced at the total pledges (not high enough), assumed they hadn’t hit them, but didn’t have time that day (busy day) to read the page/updates and see Michael had decided to unlock all the stretch goals anyway…) but saw Gamelyn Games at Maricopacon a few days later and pre-ordered a copy of the Deluxe Edition. According to the updates on KS, it looks like they’re on track to deliver on time, like prior GG KSs. Original Estimate: March, Current Estimate: February. (KS Campaign in July—7 months from KS to delivery.)

Ooh, I did back another one recently: Another TMG microgame, Eminent Domain: Microcosm. Backed a month ago, estimated delivery originally stated to be May 2015, no delays yet announced. I expect it to arrive a month late, at most; they seem to have microgames under control at TMG. (That would be 7 months from KS campaign to delivery, btw.)

…and finally, the first board game I ever actually backed for, all the way back on July 3, 2013, with an original estimated delivery date of February 2014, from Artistic Justice Games, it’s Fairytale Games: The Battle Royale. Technically, due to the scale of response & number of stretch goals hit, they revised their estimate to Summer 2014 at the end of the campaign. As of a month ago, they’ve got finished art for the core game, one expansion, and all the miniatures/models (Kickstarted separately, later), but not the other expansion or three standalone/expansion games (which were stretch goals, included with every copy), and not for the tarot deck, cheesecake deck, or several other sets of cards they made available as add-ons during the initial campaign. I don’t believe they’ve actually finalized the gameplay/rules, at least, certainly not for anything beyond the core game. Their current best estimate is that they’ll be splitting fulfillment into two waves, with the first wave containing the core game and first expansion, plus all the miniatures from the 2nd KS campaign, perhaps as early as Summer 2015—they have no estimate at all for when the second wave will ship. If they make this estimate, it’ll be 24 months from the KS campaign to delivery of the first part of the rewards (containing a little over 25% of the board game content promised, plus a bunch of miniatures—most of which are for backers of the followup campaign) …and maybe the rest by mid-2021?

The pattern here is “about 7 months from Kickstarter to delivery”, I believe. Of note, I did recently Kickstart a card game—Kickstarted in August, shipped in October; less than 75 days from funding day to shipping the last copy (not including people who hadn’t responded to the survey), and my original delivery estimate was December. I would probably have shipped in December, too, if we’d hit 1k+ copies. But 7 months / March? Yech. This is part of why you’ll probably never see me Kickstart a board game again, at least not with the possibility of mass-production. Same as traditionally-published books; the multi-year timelines drive me crazy.

If I can PnP a copy (including a box) in a couple of hours, or have a card game (with no box) printed & shipped by DriveThru within 7-10 days (they seriously printed & shipped 300 copies of Teratozoic within 10 days—same 7-10 days they take to print & ship 1 copy), and if (at least one) overseas printers can print & ship 2k or 4k copies of a game (cards, rules, box, shrink—everything) within 5 weeks, why does it take the pros 7+ months to fulfill their games? If I hadn’t had to wait 2 months for SuperiorPOD to print the boxes & instructions (DriveThru has nice clear, plastic boxes, actually—I like the box I designed & the professional/finished feel of the completed product, but aside from the rules, Teratozoic is really just a set of 110 cards; retail packaging is meaningless for a game which will never be sold at retail), I could have started shipping the game a mere 20 days after funding closed; I had all 300 copies of the cards on hand. grumble, grumble

I know, I know… a lot of campaigns only have a fraction of the art finished when they Kickstart, and a lot of the funds they’re raising are to pay artists, and art takes time… and most reputable overseas game manufacturers have a waiting list / delay before even the “5 weeks” or “2 months” to manufacture even begins, and for games larger than card games which get mass-produced you have to use sea-shipping, which takes 3+ months (sometimes more if your container gets “flagged by customs”) instead of a week, and then you also have the games shipped to distributors, whose processing/fulfillment can add another month or more (not to mention huge expenses! The difference in price between POD manufacturing and overseas manufacturing is significant, but for my game it was actually less than the cost of paying for professional fulfillment!) and on and on and … yeah, no wonder I’m working on fiction-writing again, lately: I can just upload the eBook & boom people can read it, plus… look at all these words, aching to escape my head/hands! ((You wouldn’t believe the amount of world-building I’ve been doing this week—if I don’t write something from this stuff, I … I just don’t know:

I’m doing everything from designing complex & unique economic structures to sketching in the gross anatomy of hundreds of species and sub-species (which generally have nothing in common with Earth life) of a world (whose cosmology I spent multiple weeks fleshing out—but which is just a bit … physically impossible, I fear) and also developing social structures, reproductive relationships (and organs & processes, sometimes down to a molecular level), and interesting back-stories and attitudes for the ~18 “main” characters of the core set of stories I want to tell, so they’ll have engaging and meaningful interactions and responses to the challenges I intend to throw their way as the stories unfold, not to mention their space ship… I really want to 3D model this thing, maybe put together a physical sculpture of it; it’s remarkable, and unlike any other space ship I’ve been exposed to in science fiction (or science fantasy)—though the FTL propulsion system is made-up, only loosely based on warp theory. Plus, I mapped out (roughly) the entire history of the main cultures/life-forms across their entire galaxy this Summer, sketching out a skeleton/guide for a 100-story arc and specific plots for the first 13+ stories… though next I suppose I’ll have to dig into developing the biologies, economies, and cultures of all the other beings in the galaxy, in at least as much detail as I’m giving my protagonist-species (whose home world doesn’t technically even appear in the main storyline!), for when they meet.

Earlier this week (and a big part of why I’m so excited/engaged by what I’m creating, here) I came to the realization that, between the idea that few/no people will ever actually read what I’m considering writing (my current estimate is that the entire project requires me to write 7 to 10 million words) and the further eureka-moment of “no one will ever make a movie version of this—there’s no need to make it in any way affordably-filmable!”, I’m actually really free to write … anything. I don’t need humanoids. I don’t need close parallels of Earth-politics, Earth-economy, Earth-culture, or even human-like thoughts, feelings, romance, or even human-like bodies, life-spans, conceptions of time, or space, or duty or … I don’t know, even the senses. My current conception of these guys doesn’t even give them mouths, as such—certainly not mouths for eating, and I’m not sold on giving them a dedicated organ for speaking, since they respirate through their surface-flesh (~skin), not via lungs/gills/etc, and are partially telepathic, but have excellent sight+ (Do you remember how Fantastician/Job could see all radiation? Or how the Radiant communicated, in Untrue Tales… Book Six? These guys definitely have radiation-based senses & awareness, well beyond a tiny sliver of electromagnetic radiation!) and probably communicate via some combination of radiation, digital gesturing (think fingers, except they don’t have fingers, not computers (although they have quantum computers by the time my story gets to them)), and telepathy. I’m not going to begin to describe their bodies, here, except to say: I guess a small sub-species of them could vaguely be mistaken for something in the category of ‘Greys’ (if Greys had no mouths, weren’t in any way grey, and were far away / out of focus), but most of them don’t actually resemble anything you’ve probably seen or imagined before. And each variation or feature or new way of putting together bones has good reason, and leads to interesting characters.

I just need to learn how to describe them without in any way referring to an Earth-based or human-experience-based frame of reference; even if I don’t decide to write any of the stories in first-person POV, the descriptions should be native and immersive of these people’s experiences.))

…I should probably go to bed…

((It is now November 23rd, and I haven’t yet decided whether or not I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this year. A couple of weeks ago I’d been hoping my world-building would have reached a point (or gained enough momentum) where I could write a quick expository novel laying the groundwork for the project and setting things in motion—the free prequel novel which introduces the characters, the setting & background, and the plot of the series/project, getting readers hooked/interested before it breaks them up into … well, more on that later, but I think it needs at least a prequel [long] short story. Alas, at this point & rate, I’m not sure I’ll get there in time to make much progress before the end of the month. Especially considering I’m expecting to be reading a book on Monday & Tuesday, then have Thanksgiving weekend coming up from Thursday through the end of the month—how much novel do you suppose I can write in a day?))

Seeing Sausage Made

I may have broken myself, over the last couple of years, in my misguided attempts to write commercially-acceptable, popular fiction. To wit:

I read Neil Gaiman’s new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and I didn’t like it. (Update: To clarify, the problem is not specifically with Gaimain’s book; this is a straw/camel’s-back situation, and the final straw is not actually to blame.) The first forty or forty-five pages were pretty good, and then…

Well, then the antagonist was introduced. The plot. All that dumb, formulaic, repetitive conflict. A third or more of Gaiman’s stories share this same plot, and more share the same character arcs. Worse, they aren’t unique to Gaiman, they’re the same ones which are so common they’ve been extremely well documented over the decades. There was quite a bit of good writing; well-constructed sentences, engaging imagery, and poignant (if both obvious & contrived) metaphorical meaning in the author’s personal context.

I really wanted to like it. Even as I was frustrated & disappointed by it, I knew I ought to be enjoying it—instead, I was dragging myself through it, slogging through it, counting the pages until the heavily-telegraphed resolution.

In discussing it with my wife (who had loved the book), I described what I’d realized as I’d been reading it:

You know how some people become vegetarians because, after witnessing the process which takes an animal and turns it into food, they can’t stand to eat meat anymore? The idea that most people are better off not knowing how sausage is made. Well, I spent most of the last few years painfully (as I’ve thoroughly documented here, in the past) forcing myself to learn all the gory details of how popular and commercial fiction is created. The hero’s journey, the linear progression of conflict within and between books, the “right” way to construct a scene, point by point to manipulate the reader without them noticing, to generate and endlessly ramp up the tension and the stakes even from scenes and situations where it doesn’t make sense. I filled my head with it, against my instincts and with a great deal of struggle and pain, and now I seem to have put myself off reading. I can’t stomach it, any more.

Worse was that reading this book, by an author I respect and used to enjoy the work of… Reading it sickened me because I realized that this book was the result of an extremely talented and creative and inspiring author putting so much of himself down on every page, and it was improved by dozens of first readers and beta readers (far more than I can ever get to actually read my work & give me feedback), and it was clarified and polished in interface with his wife (another talented & inspiring creator I respect and admire), and it was further improved by not one but three professional editors of some great repute (any one of which, or any one colleague of which, stands well beyond my financial or reputational reach to work with on my own works) (not to mention, of course, the dozens of other highly-paid and talented professionals who further polished and packaged the story), and yet was still frustratingly formulaic tripe I could hardly stand to read … then what of my own work? I am no Neil Gaiman. I have no staff of professionals. I have no editors. I think I managed to get feedback from 3 readers on my last book, and one of them was my wife. If this tripe is the best an army of talented professionals can put together, how much lower is my work? What depravations am I thrusting upon my innocent readers, what absolute shit?

. . .

So, I quit.

At least until I an’t stand it any more, if not forever. This morning I updated to say submissions are closed, and I updated my Facebook page to say I’m on indefinite hiatus re: writing/publishing. (I’m considering going around the web and replacing the word “author” with “asshole” in every little bio about me.)

I’ve reached a point where I’ve put myself off reading, and I can’t trust my own writing, and there comes a point where you just have to give up, and I’m giving up.

This world doesn’t need any more of my shit.

To anyone who knew me 15-20 years ago:

If you have known me for at least fifteen years, and preferably up to twenty years, it may please you to learn that almost all the strange stories I used to tell about myself have survived, not as the oral storytelling they once were, but as a series of novels. If you didn’t know me back then, or if you have not read the Untrue Tales From Beyond Fiction – Recollections of an Alternate Past, the following may qualify as spoilers for both/either:

Do you remember the stories I used to tell about myself? Perhaps you knew me as immortal, unable to die, tortured by the passing of the unlimitedness of time and the dull repetition of everyday life over the centuries. Perhaps you heard the story of how I came to rule Hell and the underworld, by losing a bet with the Devil himself, and what a unique burden the management of that realm turned out to be. Many of you heard the stories about my exile to Earth, sent here by the governing body of the rest of the universe for a crime so horrible they wanted to sentence me to the worst known punishment; that since I already suffered immortality they’d been forced to hand down the second-worst punishment, Earth. A few of you even dug deep enough to know my so-called crime: Love. (Even fewer heard about the woman I loved; Toni was heard of by a tiny handful.) Then there were the occasional “speculations” about how what we thought of as reality was actually a computer simulation, and how our being trapped in the simulation was related directly to an alien invasion in our true reality (though the details of these stories were, necessarily, a bit sketchy); and all this years before films like 13th Floor, Dark City, or The Matrix ever ran. There were also a lot of smaller stories, details really, about little things like mind reading, magical pockets or bags, supernatural creatures, or a few decades of my exile spent with Peter Pan in Neverland.

In 2004, after having written two other books, I set myself to trying to reintegrate all the stories I used to tell as though they were about myself and expanding them into a series of novels. The series was, as I implied above, the Untrue Tales From Beyond Fiction – Recollections of an Alternate Past, so named because these were the lies (the untrue tales) I told about myself, as though I were merely recalling them as my own history (my own alternate past, shared originally as oral stories for my friends (stories thus one step removed from the traditional form of modern, published fiction—stories from beyond fiction) and now re-collected as novels). I wrote the first book in the Fall of 2004, the next in the Spring of 2005, and 97% of the third in the Fall of 2005 (though it was not finished until a year, a month, a day, and an hour more had passed), and I had grand plans at the time for a 9-book (or longer) series, expanding significantly on the old stories according to their novelized design.

Then I hit a rough patch, in my life and in my writing, and when I came out of it I wanted to work on different stories; to put the old lies stories behind me and create new worlds. Eventually my readers called out loudly enough for a resolution to the incomplete series, and in the Summer of 2010 I began work on wrapping up the Untrue Tales. I truncated what I had formerly intended to expand, I boiled down the story to its essential elements, and by late Spring 2011 I had written three more books and brought the series to a close. Writing these books had always come quickly to me, as I knew so much of the stories by heart; it was the same stories I had been telling, again and again, throughout my youth, as though it were the truth about me and my life and my history. Details had to be changed, here and there, but almost everything remained intact. Every story alluded to two paragraphs above was certainly included. All the main story lines I’d told about myself, and most of the little details and side stories, too.

If you knew me then, if you heard my stories, I encourage you to check out the Untrue Tales… series. You can get the eBooks or podcast audiobooks for free, or you can buy the eBooks, complete audiobooks, or paperback versions if you have the money. You already know the stories; reading them in this format should feel like settling into a familiar locale, surrounded by people you know. There are certainly a few rough patches in The First Untrue Trilogy, as it was some of my earliest published writing, but by the time you’re closing in on the end of The Second Untrue Trilogy you’ll be finding a few “patches” of the best writing of my life.

If you didn’t know me back then (perhaps don’t know me even now), you may want to try them anyway; the Untrue Tales… series remains among my most popular works, despite (or perhaps because of) its unconventional (insane?) story, ideas, characters, and narrative structure.

What’s the point?

I thought of another way to put the question. The question I don’t know the answer to. Not for most of my books, not for most of the books I’ve ever read or ever wanted to read. “What’s the point?” What was the point in writing this book? What’s the point in reading this book?

Some authors, I know, have real answers to these questions. Very real, very specific answers. They know what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and why readers should be involved.

For me, most of the time, the closest answer I have is something like, “I dunno, it was just an idea I had.”

Like, tonight my wife and I got to see an advance screening of World War Z. (No, I haven’t read the book yet; back in 2009 when I was preparing to write Cheating, Death, people who owned it kept promising to lend it to me, then it never turned up… and then I was burned out on zombie books after reading so many others and writing my own.) The zombies in WWZ are fast, and more importantly the incubation period, the time between being bitten and being a fast-running zombie, screaming and running after the living, is ridiculously fast. Twelve seconds or so. And just the thought of it reminded me of, and gave me the urge to return to the other zombie stories I had an idea for back in 2009, where the first premise was for a mutated zombie virus with a very long/slow incubation time a la HIV turning into AIDS. Where someone could be exposed to the zombie virus and not show any symptoms for months, years, even decades, perhaps not even being aware they’d been exposed. So very different from WWZ’s zombies.

It had apparently been so long since I set the project aside that when I mentioned it on the car ride home, my wife couldn’t recall the ideas at all—and they had been extensive. At least three books, and possibly a three-book series followed by two tangential sequels, where the last of any of them is the one which covers my first set of ideas for the world. My world-building to get to the mutated, slow zombie virus ended up requiring a complete rewrite of history from about WWI on, and in the Fall of 2009 and the first half of 2010 I spent a fair amount of time doing historical and biographical research toward that project. (Technically, this is part of why my books-per-year average is so low, and my apparent-hours-worked looks so low; I spent about eight months working toward a project which has yet to come to fruition, much like the way I spent most of the last year working toward a Dragons’ Truth rewrite I’ll likely never do.) I determined that the amount of research it would require to do as well as I thought I wanted to do it was more than I was prepared to do (especially with the time requirements I was facing; the “need” to keep putting out two to four books a year, every year, and to always have something new to show at Comicon), and I set the project semi-permanently aside. I mean, I was projecting that it would take me two to four years to get the first book out, which was the inverse of the rate I’d set myself at working.

Anyway, thinking about that project, then describing it all again for my wife tonight, got me almost feeling like I really wanted to unearth the project and get back to work on it. Except that describing it also brought up the same sorts of problems I was going into last night: It isn’t really about anything, not any one thing. There’s no single, central theme. There’s no point to it. It’s just a bunch of ideas I had, which I kinda liked. Sure, I wanted to address ideas like environmentalism, functional communism, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic mixing and mutual appreciation (more than plain tolerance, or silly hatred), international cooperation, sexually transmitted diseases, coming-of-age personal growth, fear of ‘otherness’ (specifically fear of becoming the ‘other’ in contrast to being truly oneself, esp. re: coming-of-age), and how to cope with the existence of religions whose beliefs and/or believers one believes to be dangerous (literally and/or figuratively)… in addition to a bunch of neat/interesting/different thoughts I wanted to explore around the existence/knowledge of zombies in a functional, modern society, but there isn’t really a point. It’s all just … some ideas I had, which I thought were kinda neat. Which I thought might make a book or three (or four, or five).

Yes, I believe in things like the possibility of running a modern world entirely on free/renewable energy resources, and that communism, separate from totalitarianism, is a functional economic system, but the book would not exist to try to convince anyone of those things; not any more than the point of writing a steampunk story is to convince the reader that they ought to convert their car to run on burning coal and steam power. Putting the protagonist of one of the stories through an STD scare isn’t intended as a way to convince readers to practice safe sex, it’s just a way to explore the idea that if a zombie virus mutated to be carried/transmissible for a long time before killing & reanimating the host, it would have different effects on society and culture than are explored in traditional zombie narratives.

…and I guess that’s the closest thing I usually have to a point: The point of writing (or reading) the story is to explore these ideas I had. Not necessarily to entertain, or to make money, or even to fit in with a particular genre or style, but simply to explore some ideas. It’s “speculative fiction” in its purest form, I suppose, in that the entire point of the exercise is to chase the tail of “what if?”

“What if ‘The Death Noodle Glitterfairy Robot Saga’ was a thing which existed?”

“What if a child vampire were asked to donate her organs to save living children’s lives?”

“What if you could literally buy time?”

And I don’t always have even that much. A fair portion of my books have begun with little more than a random sentence on a blank page followed by a few thousand answers to the question “And then what happened?” There’s no “why” it happened, why it was written. Just “this happened, then that happened, then the other thing happened,” and so on.

So… Is that enough? Is ‘exploring ideas’ a good reason to write and/or read a book? Without regard for any other reasons, purpose, or point?

I have the impression (mostly from what people write about writing) that it isn’t. That people don’t believe it’s enough. That they want, or at least expect, stories to do more.

Basic doubts; have I written this here before?

I know I’ve written all this down before, in one form or another. I believe the most recent time was in a draft of the book I was going to put together of my experiences with writing and publishing books, the one which never got off the ground. Maybe I’ll write that one next, now that I’ve a full decade of experience publishing books, and make it my 20th published book. Maybe not.

(Right now, I warn you, I’m at a point of my depression where the strongest urge is to give up everything. To give up on everything. To quit. To quit writing, painting, creating. To quit trying. To quit living. So perhaps that’s a lens with which to view the following, possibly quite dismal, long (warning: over 5k words long), rambling post inspired by doubts about my writing.)

That’s a good enough place to start, I suppose: A decade writing novels. Two decades seriously creating and sharing my stories with those around me. Over a dozen novels. Roughly twenty complete books to my name; more than that if you count all the different versions, editions, and compilations I’ve put out over the years.

All self-published. From the days of my youth, when I would pass around floppy disks or pages printed on our dot-matrix printers to get the stories into my friends’ hands (I remember I even faxed a story, one time), I have always been the primary distributor of my own words. For the first five years I had my novels available, they were only really available through my own website. When I finally “got serious” and bought ISBNs and signed up with a major printer and distributor in 2007, they still weren’t actually in book stores; people found out about them because of direct contact with me. Most people ordered them directly from me.

I never tried to be “traditionally published.” Literally never tried. I’ve never submitted my written work to a publisher, or agent, and until last year I’d never submitted anything to any contests, either. (Technically, a high school teacher once submitted a short essay I wrote (along with every other classmate’s essays) to a contest, and mine got an “honorable mention” and published; I tend to dismiss this since it was not my choice to submit it.) I did not choose to publish my own works because I had tried-and-failed the traditional route; I never set foot on the traditional route. There was a period, around 2004-2005, where I considered heading that way, studied what needed to be done, the correct order of things, and then my life broke… and when I was reassembled-enough to move forward, I was not strong enough to face those challenges.

There is a certain popular wisdom, risen up from the modern wave of “independent publishing”, which holds that for self-published authors (somehow more so than for traditionally-published authors), their market success will be the true measure of their books. If their work is good, they say, it will find its audience—without regard for who published it. The corollary, that if the work is no good it will simply not sell, is assumed. Assumed, and applied in reverse, especially in my doubts: That if a book does not sell well, it must be shit. Continue reading Basic doubts; have I written this here before?