Tag Archives: chuck wendig

Dinocalypse Now

Peer Review: Dinocalypse Now & Beyond Dinocalypse by Chuck Wendig

Time for another peer review. Disclosure: I’ve been friends with Chuck for six years, and I backed the original Kickstarter for the Dinocalypse trilogy (a series of novels based on the Spirit of the Century roleplaying game). Further, Dinocalypse Now and Beyond Dinocalypse are only the first two novels — the third one isn’t written yet. The second book picks up right after the first, and the structure reminded me a bit of Matt Forbeck’s Brave New World trilogy. You could theoretically read the second one without the first, but I think you would miss a lot, so I suggest you read them in order.

These are two pulp novels set in the 1920s (at least to start), featuring the adventures of the Century Club. These Centurions are all people born on January 1, 1900, and as a result are the epitome of humanity and do heroic stuff. They are asked to prevent the assassination of FDR. In the process, Manhattan is taken over by psychic dinosaur people. A lot of action and gripping character development ensues.

Honestly, this is a thing you either get into or you don’t. Personally, I love it. Having read a lot of original pulp novels like Doc SavageThe Shadow, and The Spider, I’ve developed a love for this mix of the bizarre and the gritty, and these two books channel that vibe wonderfully. If you can’t get past the idea of an evil mathemagician who fights an occult detective or a talking ape that teaches at Oxford and it is played straight, these books will be a hard sell. However, I found them both to be utterly charming and wonderfully fast-paced fun, and the clash of bizarre images worked for me.

Like many pastiches of historical genres, there are increased roles for women and people of color beyond what were originally presented in the 20s and 30s. In some books it can come across as excessively political and awkward, but here it is very natural and fluid. These characters feel real, not a find/replace of gender and ethnicity. Granted, when you’re writing about a disembodied brain that wants to take over the world, a little thing like fidelity to traditional gender roles seems minor, but I appreciate being able to root for a character that’s an African-American woman.

If you’ve read any of Chuck’s other work, know going in that you won’t find any of his casually foul-mouthed humor here, as it wouldn’t work with the genre. However, there are certain moments of levity and snark that all almost Whedon-esque that I appreciated just as much, if not more. It may be a little different from Chuck’s usual voice, but it’s very much Chuck’s style. I highly suggest the books if you’re already a fan of Chuck, if you like comic book-style action/adventure, or if you’re a fan of Spirit of the Century.

Horror Writers Association

What is a Professional?

As freelance checks start rolling in, I recently paid my membership dues to the IGDA (I had been part of the Writers special interest group for several months now, but I hadn’t had the spare $48 to put in my membership dues — whoops). I also decided to apply for membership to the Horror Writers Association, and was pleasantly surprised to see my application accepted within a couple of hours. During all of this, I got a lot of well-wishes, but also stumbled across a couple of side discussions (related to the SFWA, actually) about how membership in such organizations constitutes being a “professional.”

And that got me thinking a bit.

For years, my definition of professional was simple, and similar to that used for athletes: a professional gets money, while an amateur doesn’t. Over the years, with the rise of self-publishing and Kickstarters, there’s been this change to imply a certain amount of quality control to professionals. Nuances of “getting paid” vs. “making money” have been bandied around, and for a while I fell into the trap of trying to draw such lines myself. I mean, I’ve been a professional by my own definitions for over a decade now, and there’s a certain comfort in drawing the lines to include me and exclude those whose quality I dislike. But that’s arbitrary, pointless, and ultimately mean.

So instead, I started thinking about what professionalism means to people. It’s a fuzzy topic, and it gets fuzzier as business models evolve, but I think people generally have some mixture of three concepts when they think of someone as a professional.

Financial

The first factor I eluded to above. Many people equate financial income for artistic work to constitute professionalism. And, at some level, it’s hard to argue with that — if you’re making money, or even (dare I say it?) a living by performing art, there’s a certain clarity to the situation. “I am a professional writer, because my primary job is writing.” It’s very binary function is appealing.

And yet, for years writing wasn’t my primary job, but rather a secondary one. Was I not “professional” during that time? Also, I have sometimes posted free things on the Internet — are they not professional? When I wrote the Holmes essays, were they amateur until I compiled them into Watson Is Not An Idiot? What about if I take a low-paying job for a friend?

The point is, “a professional gets paid” is a stickier question than it first appears.

Artistic

The next factor is explicitly nebulous — artistic quality. These are the kinds of arguments that unfairly get lumped into the “self-published/indie” vs. “published via another company” distinction. It’s a yearning for some sort of gatekeeper, a level of quality assurance that a third party company can and will vet bad quality products and keep them from reaching the light of day.

This one is easier to refute with examples, but harder to dismiss. While you can certain find examples to both arguments, and point out the decreasing creativity in established areas to balance out the decreasing quality in indie circles, but the reality is simple logistics – a company has more resources to use on a product. But I do think a creative who works for other clients is forced to try new things and consider ideas he wouldn’t before, which helps him grow. There’s just something about working with someone outside your own head that’s hard to replicate.

So, working for a client can make your work of higher quality, but it’s not an inherent quality of working through a gatekeeper.

Conduct

And finally, there’s “professional bearing,” or whether someone comports themselves as a professional. And in this case, it’s all over the board — I’ve met some of the more professional-acting people in the fanfic and mod communities, and met some childish assholes who make way more money than me.

What’s worse, there’s no single metric for professionalism. I was blown away to learn that, for example, some RPG companies don’t have comprehensive outlines for their products. I had internalized this as a “professional” mode of work, but in reality it’s just my own work process. Same with online behavior — some of the more vocal and opinionated people online I know are still intensely professional in how they conduct themselves.

Does being nice and speaking well mean “professional?” I would argue that Chuck Wendig is intensely professional, but he has strong opinions and strong language, and isn’t afraid to share either. Is it an unwillingness to comment on the business you’re a part of? Michael Stackpole is a professional by just about any metric you can think of, and he is extremely open about his perspectives on the industry he works in.

So What Is A Professional?

Well, I consider myself one, both as a narrative designer of games and a writer of horror. That’s why I finally plunked money down to two organizations — to help me continue to grow in those fields. But I wonder sometimes if the decision to be a professional isn’t someone else’s, but mine alone. I think if more people felt they were professionals, whether other people agreed or not, things would be better off.

Peer Review: Double Dead, by Chuck Wendig

One of the disadvantages of having lots of talented writers and designers as friends is that I end up with more books to read or games to play than I have time to read or play them. I know that one of the best ways to help a fellow writer out is to write a review, and I sometimes regret that I don’t always have the time to do that.

When I saw that I had a couple of dozen ebooks in my Kindle app on my iPad that I hadn’t read yet, I decided to try and do something about it. So I’m starting a new feature on my blog called “Peer Review.” These are highly biased reviews, because they’ll be of the work of my friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, but it’s a chance to help some friends out, and a chance to expose some great work to people who might not otherwise have heard of them.

Let me start off with a quick story. When I was visiting my mom a couple of weeks ago, I met my stepsister’s boyfriend for the first time for dinner, and we fell into talking about vampire and zombie movies. He pointed out that he didn’t know of any movie or book which featured both zombies and vampires. I pointed out that there is one book where this is true.

Thus: Double Dead.

Double Dead is Chuck Wendig‘s first published novel. That seems weird to me, since I’ve been working with Chuck for years, and I feel like he’s always been more prolific than the rest of reality considers him to be — something, I will note, that he’s been rapidly working to correct the past year or so. And this book showcases some of the best of Chuck’s technique and narrative voice. A number of people know Chuck for his intensely surreal and foul-mouthed patter, but I’ve always known Chuck as a very subtle storyteller. The profanity and scatological humor are like a magician’s flourish: a distraction to draw your attention away from the real magic, the engaging story that’s dragging you along and making you care about the characters and the world he’s creating.

A perfect example of this is the protagonist: Coburn the vampire. He wakes up in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, and is pissed off that blood has basically stopped falling into his mouth. He is, to put it mildly, the worst kind of self-entitled asshole. And yet, by the end, I was rooting for Coburn (and his dog), even during the worst parts of the zombie apocalypse. Sure, there’s a lot of pure fun in the story, the kind of enjoyable ass-kicking and crass humor that makes for a good action film. For 80% of the book I felt I knew exactly where the plot was going, and I was enjoying it like a good road trip — the journey meant more to me then the destination. And then, a number of twists hit me like rabbit punches to the gut, and it was all over. I was down for the count, staring at the words THE END and wondering how in the hell I ended up on the floor.

… I lost the metaphor a bit there. I’m still recovering from the end of the book.

Go get Double Dead.

My Advice? Stop Listening To Advice

stopsignYou.

Yes, you. The prospective writer or game designer. The one with over 500 unread blog posts in your RSS reader. You.

We need to talk. Have a seat. Would you like something to drink? No? Okay.

Look, this isn’t easy for me to talk about, but I think you need to hear it. I’m not sure how to break this to you gently, so I’ll just be honest.

You need to stop spending all your time reading advice on writing and game design.

Don’t get me wrong. I totally get it. It’s hard not to find joy in Rob Donoghue’s mellow vibe. You get caught up in the frank nature of Gareth Skarka’s blogs. You laugh at the dick jokes and poop references that Chuck Wendig sprinkles into mad ramblings about writing. You have Will Hindmarch and Jeff Tidball and dozens of others pumping into Google Reader or Twitter, and you love every word of their sparkling, wonderful advice.

But… well, let me tell you a story.

Back before Al Gore invented the Internet, I would collect books on writing advice. I knew I wanted to be a writer, and I had written a couple of things that got some attention, so I decided that I needed to prepare to be a Real Writer. I was poor, so I couldn’t buy many books off the shelf, but I would scour library sales and used book stores, and over several years I ended up owning dozens of them. I would read and re-read each one, knowing that if I inhaled their advice often enough, I would eventually reach a point where I would be ready. I could accumulate the lore of Those Who Had Come Before, and be able to stride among them, a giant among artists.

And yet, during the entire time I was collecting books, I wasn’t writing.

Now that we have blog and microblogs and Facebook and podcasts and whatever, it’s easy to get fresh advice every hour of every day. You could spend hours reading and listening to advice, also learning from Those Who Have Come Before.

But I’ve been skimming those sites too. A few months ago, I saw you post that the blog on characterization was perfect for the first chapter of the story you were working on. A couple of months ago, the Facebook thread on setting was also perfect for that first chapter. Just last week, you were thrilled to learn how world-building would be just the thing for… your first chapter.

When are you going to work on that first chapter?

If you want to write a book, do it. If you want to design a game, make it happen. If you want to just read advice and appreciate what others have to say, that’s cool, but stop deluding yourself that you’re just waiting for that one last piece of advice to make your story or your game perfect before you start.

Because that perfect advice doesn’t exist. It won’t happen. The only thing that will get you writing and designing is to close the browser and open the word processor.

Now, see, don’t look at me like that. I know you’re mad, but it’s for the best. Let me explain.

If you never start, all of this advice might be Important, with a capital I. You might need that piece on dialogue cues, or there might be a place for that thought on resource management. So you become paralyzed, trying to hold it all in your head, trying to absorb it all.

But really, advice is best used when you’ve already done something. You reread chapter four and find that the romance subplot feels tacked on. Your character creation chapter reads like stereo instructions. You’ve called one character Robert and a different one Bob. You have a specific problem, and you need advice on it. That is when you go to the Twitternets and the Faceblogs. You’ll find the right piece of inspiration, the right piece of advice for your problem at the moment. Or maybe you won’t, but you’ll figure it out. That’s when the collective wisdom of Those Who Have Come Before will propel you, instead of inhibiting you.

For now, though, I think you need a break. Cut all your advice-lurking cold turkey, and focus on creating. Rob and Gareth and Chuck and Will and Jeff (and I) will still be there, ready to help you. We like helping and sharing knowledge, but we can’t help you write your book or make your game. Only you can do that. And it’ll be brilliant and terrible and inspiring and hateful and innovative and derivative. But it’s yours.

And then, you can give us some advice.

Micro-Celebrity

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Image by eddyfate via Flickr
With the rise of the Internet, there’s also a rise in what I’ve come to think of as “micro-celebrity” — something that looks and feels a little bit like celebrity, but only with a very small group of people. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that my own personal stock has risen from non-celebrity to micro-celebrity. And I’ve not always done well with it. For example, I posted this in late 2008 in my LiveJournal:
I’ve never quite gotten used to people coming up to me who know who I am and what I do without me knowing them at all.
I then go on to say I’ve gotten better about it, and that’s true — I don’t think it’s some kind of elaborate put-on, nor do I feel that it’s somehow undeserved. But I still don’t think I’ve gotten used to it.

Moving from Blob to Blob

Image of Chuck Wendig from Facebook

For a little over a week now, assassin dog robot Chuck Wendig has been trying to wrap his head around storytelling in games. He’s posted about it three times, in case you want to download his brainmeats: 1

Part I; Part II; Part III

This is something we’ve been talking about at work lately. While I’m certainly not going to say that I have the one true answer, I did write up a pretty lengthy email about my opinions on the matter, which I’ll paraphrase here. I should note that, in this case, I’m primarily talking about video games and balancing interactivity with a scripted narrative structure, but there might be some bits that might work for other interactive games (like those funny ones you kids play with the strange dice and the killing of orcs).

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  1. I’ve noticed that when I write about Chuck, my blog gets a certain Warren Ellis vibe. Maybe there’s a pill for that.