Tag Archives: tales of the far west

A Taste Of “In The Name Of The Empire”

Most people know me through my work on Vampire: The Masquerade or White Wolf/Onyx Path RPG books in general. Not many know that I also do a lot of work in fiction and on other RPGs, covering a range of topics. This “A Taste Of” series features samples of my work from areas most people might not know about, along with places you can buy the book to read more!

A few years ago, Gareth Michael-Skarka asked me to write a short story for his wuxia-western fantasy world called Far West. He mentioned that the idea came from a discussion on how the cowboy and the samurai have a lot of tropes in common. I noticed that the American detective tradition also had a lot in common with them (the outsider who brings order to a disordered society), and from there I wrote “In The Name Of The Empire.” It’s a detective story that is less about the mystery and more about the detective herself.

If you like this first part, you can read the rest in Tales of the Far West. You can get it from Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, or DriveThruFiction.

Continue reading A Taste Of “In The Name Of The Empire”

Buy My Stuff: Tales of the Far West

Tales of the Far West cover
Tales of the Far West

While I’m waiting for the other formats for Slices of Fate to drop, another project I’ve worked on has arrived. Tales of the Far West is available in Kindle format, as well as through DriveThruRPG — I contributed the story “In The Name Of The Empire,” where a sheriff is charged with the murder of an Imperial Magistrate.

Imagine: A fantasy world, but not one based on Medieval/Dark Ages European culture and myth, but rather on the tropes of the Spaghetti Western and Chinese Wuxia. Add steampunk elements. Mix well.

A fantasy world that mixes the inspirations of Django and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon… The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and House of Flying Daggers… Fistful of Dollars and Fist of Legend.

A fantasy world that’s explored through a book series, a constantly-updated website, a tabletop role-playing game, comics, artwork, webseries and much, much, more.

This is FAR WEST.

If you’re curious to learn a little of the process I used while writing the story, you can read this series of posts:

Go! Buy Tales of the Far West! Spread the word! It’s a dozen stories of wuxia-western-steampunk-fantasy awesomeness!

To the Far West: Writing is Rewriting

Last time I ended up with a shitty first draft. And it was shitty — I changed my mind in the middle of the story twice, I didn’t like the name of one of the characters after I typed it out a dozen times, and overall the whole thing was a mess. So now it was time to make it better.

First off, I should mention that I generally write first drafts in plain text, either using WriteMonkey on the PC, or PlainText on my iPad. I do this because both work well with DropBox (so I can move between software packages as needed), both have just enough features to be useful, and both lack a particular feature — easy ability to jump around in the manuscript. If it’s irritating to scroll back a few pages and check something, I’m more likely to just push forward, which is what I want for the first draft.

At this stage, though, I need to jump around and edit, so I saved the whole thing as a Word document.1 The second draft was very simple — I took the comments I made to myself in square brackets and turned them into Word comments (getting them out of my text), and did a quick readthrough to get rid of grammatical errors and insert styles. Again, this is where the plain text draft helps me — since I can’t bold or italicize in plain text, I have to do this pass to make sure my formatting is accurate. I also found a few more notes of things to correct, and culled a couple of notes that were redundant.

I then broke my notes up into two categories: local and global. Local comments related to a particular scene or chunk of the manuscript (like “make sure to reference the detective’s bag here”), while global comments were things I needed to check against the whole manuscript (like “avoid an over-reliance on eyes,” which is a tell2 of mine). Draft three then was taking on the local comments, and draft four was taking on the global comments. Finally, draft five was an overall polish and revision. Sometimes I do additional polish and revision drafts, but time was running out and I was getting a bit sick of looking at it, so I kept it to one pass.

It might seem counter-intuitive to change small things before large things, but it actually makes sense to me. If there’s a large thing that really needs to change first (like the character’s name I mentioned), odds are I’ve already decided that it needs to change, and I’ll do that in the second draft as I’m working my way through. If it’s really big, I have scrapped part (or all) of a first draft to address the problem, because usually if it’s that huge, I’ve written myself into some kind of corner. Either way, those kinds of problems never make it past draft two, so by starting small and working my way up, I’m fixing more urgent problems, and then making sure that it all fits together nicely later. If I went the other way around, it’s possible that my small fixes would break something larger in the manuscript, and I wouldn’t notice it.

Also, a trick I’ve picked up from when I was podcasting Whitechapel: for my polish pass, I read the story out loud to myself. I have caught so many errors and style flubs through this one technique that I simple cannot imagine writing fiction anymore without doing this step. It takes longer (and in my case, makes your wife look at you a bit strangely), but it really does work.

And so, five drafts later, I have the first draft for the editor. In the past editors have either taken my first draft entirely or made minor edits without needing my input, but I never assume that. I always expect that I will have to do even more revisions based on editorial feedback, which might include going back to draft one.

Writing is rewriting. Lots and lots of rewriting.

  1. I have in the past used other software like OpenOffice for this stage, but I find myself coming back to Word time and again.
  2. A tell is what I call a quirk of style that comes up time and again. Once in a while it’s clever and interesting, but most of the time as a writer you want to reduce your tells as much as you would when playing poker.

To the Far West: By Any Means Necessary

Last time, I talked about outlining the story. From there, I started on my shitty first draft. (Note: Get used to the word “shitty.” It comes up a lot.)

To be clear, I intentionally call this a shitty first draft. That first draft is paralyzing — the act of pure creation is terrifying, and many potential writers have crumbled under the gaze of that empty screen or that blank paper. For a while, I called it a “zero draft” so I wouldn’t even think about it as a draft, but I think that discounts the work that goes into it. Rather, I embrace the shitty first draft, because I have one goal and one goal only with this draft.

Finish it, by any means necessary.

There are lots and lots (and lots) of strategies for finishing that draft, and not only are they often unique to the writer, but they can be unique to the project as well. I generally find that I need a wordcount budget — some figure that I tell myself I will hit to qualify as success. In the past, I have used weekly budgets that I can allocate as time permits, but it had been a while since I hammered on a project with a timeline, so I decided that I needed a small but daily goal: 500 words a day.

This is where the vague, bullet-point list works well for me. With just 500 words, I don’t really have room to mess around. If I want to keep interested in what I’m working on, I have to feel a sense of progression. With the bullet-point outline, though, the small units work in my favor. It’s easy to go “Today, I’m going to write to this bullet-point in the story.” Since I’ve done the outline, I don’t have to worry too much about how it all hangs together or how this part connects to that part — I only have one point of focus. Get to the next signpost. Write to the next stopping point. Get 500 words down.

Finish it, by any means necessary.

If it’s a rough day, that’s all I need. But on days when it’s going well, I sometimes do a bit more, and that’s okay. Over the weekend, in fact, I pounded out over 2,000 words, because I was in the flow and wanted to get to the end. But the flow is also a trap, because I’ll find myself thinking about the story and wanting to make changes. A few times I wrote something in a later section of the story that changed or improved on something earlier, and I was convinced that I needed to go back and correct the earlier material.

But this is wrong. This is not forward progress. Instead, I left notes for myself in the draft in square brackets and all caps — something I can’t easily miss, and which will irritate the hell out of me when I go back to read it again. Here’s an example (which I’m sure makes no sense without context):


Some writers point out that if you outline, there’s no surprise in the writing. Personally, I consider it more accurate to say that there’s no problem to solve in the writing, which sometimes makes it boring, but the point is much the same. However, a thin outline leaves a lot of room for problem-solving during the draft. In this story, I had no idea what the murder method was — only who was killed, by whom, and why. I actually had the victim hanged for half the story before I decided to have him shot instead (one of the many things I have to go back and rewrite). A couple of times I intentionally wrote myself into a cliffhanger, so when I picked it up the next day I would be ready to solve the problem before me. Each day meant I had something to think about, as well as a goal to accomplish.

Now I have a shitty first draft. The hard part — finishing it — is over. Now comes the fun part — tearing it all apart and putting it back together again.

To The Far West: Research and Outlining

One thing I haven’t done on my blog is go through the process of creating fiction, from start to finish. Since I’m in the middle of a short story, I thought it would be a good time to correct that oversight.

This is my contribution to Tales of the Far West, an anthology for the Far West franchise. I’ve written for a number of franchises in the past (everything from Vampire: The Masquerade to Red Dwarf), and one of the key things of writing for someone else’s universe is that you have to research. You don’t have to just research the specific property in question (although for some established franchises, that can be a massive undertaking in itself), but you also have to look into ancillary research that relates to the property.

For example, Far West. Since this is a property that’s still being developed, Gareth was able to get me a short bible, and made himself available for questions. If I don’t know the franchise to start, I try to go into it relatively blind, so that I don’t form an idea for a story and then become disappointed. In this case, one particular paragraph grabbed my attention:

Our analogue of the Pinkerton Detectives, mixed with a bit of Detective Dee and more than a smidge of James West from Wild Wild West. Our “citified dandies” who use gadgets and tech.

I immediately pitched the idea of a detective story in this setting, and Gareth gave me the green light. This led to more specific research, including a lot of questions about the legal and political structures of this franchise.

But remember how I mentioned ancillary research? Far West is a kind of Wild West/steampunk setting with Asian influences, so I had to also look into criminal investigations and technology from the 19th century. Luckily, my Sherlock Holmes project meant that I had most of the resources on hand and fresh in my mind (part of the reason I made the pitch, if I’m being honest), but the point was that I had to do a fair bit of reading before the rough shape of the story took shape in my mind.

At a certain point, I had enough details in my head that I needed to start writing them down and banging them into an outline. I am a writer that lives by outlines. I have tried to write without an outline, but every time I end up getting lost half-way through the story and giving up. Every time I outline, I can finish the project. The down side is that sometimes it takes me weeks to get an outline strong enough for me to start writing, and some projects have died in the outline phase. Still, it’s better to have it die after a few pages rather than a few dozen (or hundred).

In this case, I did spend a few weeks just working on the outline. People who have worked with me as a developer have remarked on my clear, thorough outlines, but the ones I write for myself aren’t so clear. The first pass is usually just a hand-written list of details. I try to put them into some form of shape, and notice gaps which I then try to fill. For this story, I knew I was looking at a story of at least 5,000 words, and using the Lester Dent formula, I wanted to have a couple of twists and a couple of conflicts before the end.1 In my notebook, I literally drew four boxes and scribbled facts, twists, and conflicts in each one to make sure I had the right balance. I immediately noticed a very soggy middle and a weak ending, so over the course of a week I wrote it a few different ways. At one point a key piece (the reason behind the murder) popped into my head, and the whole outline fell into place. I created a new SpringPad note (something I can easily get to on my computer, phone, or iPad for refeerence) and write a list of bullet points, covering the key facts of the backstory (since the murder happens before the story starts, I had to make sure those facts are straight as I introduce them), and the three or four things I needed to do each 1,500 words or so.

Then I started writing my first shitty draft, which I’ll get to in another post.

  1. I have a different way of interpreting Lester’s formula — I should write a separate blog on that sometime.

So… Much… To Do….

I Look At Keyboards A LotAfter I got back from The Grand Masquerade, I had to catch up on work I missed during the show, as well as new opportunities and ideas that came from the show. Then I helped to get the Vampire 20th PDF sorted, fixed, and out to people. And just when I thought I was getting caught up, I got hit with a nasty headcold/flu that has been knocking me down all week. Which is, of course, perfect timing, as I had planned to get stuff done after the Vampire 20th/GenCon/Grand Masquerade run.

Tour de Holmes: I missed last week again, which is doubly irritating because the story is “The Three Garridebs,” and I don’t have much to say aside from “it’s The Red Headed League with a couple of interesting additional bits.” Since my essay on it was so short (I just finished it up), I’m going to see if I can get two out this week, and then make a serious push to get the last six stories read, researched, and written. My hope is to get this wrapped up by Thanksgiving (end of November for my non-US readers), take a break from it over December, and then approach it in January with a fresh eye towards turning it into a proper manuscript.

Vampire: The Masquerade Retrospective: The folks at FlamesRising.com have asked people for retrospectives on Vampire: The Masquerade. I think it’s a great idea, and I definitely want to contribute to it, but time has not been my friend. I’m hoping to knock something out this week.

Far West: I recently got the setting bible for Far West so I can start working on a short story for in the upcoming Tales of the Far West. The draft is also due by the end of November. I have a half-pitch in to Gareth, but I need to dig into some parts of the setting a bit and see if the story takes shape.

Personal Projects: I have a personal project that I’ve been working with a publishing on for a few months now. A lot of higher-priority things have taken priority (on both sides), but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to announce something soon about that. I’ve also had an itch recently to take a crowbar to my old Whitechapel drafts and turn that into a proper novel, but at this rate it’ll be at least December before I can even think about that.

Gaming: I’ve started up two new tabletop games – a weekly game over lunch at work (a homebrew fantasy game of my own creation that’s getting its first test run), and a biweekly-ish Sunday night Vampire 20th game over Skype between some folks in the office and our new friends from Machinima Realm over in LA. The one game needs some polish (as I’m reworking the rules as we play), and the other requires some maintenance writing in order to communicate information more easily over the Internet, which mean both games also qualify as “writing projects” on some level. I’m also getting back into playing in both the local Sabbat and Camarilla LARPs as well, which knocks out one day a month (although that’s so much better than two nights a month), as well as increasing my email RP a bit, but I’m doing a pretty good job of keeping my bandwidth on those reasonable.

Work: And this is all on top of working on the outline for Victorian Lost, organizing and working on the development of Mummy and Werewolf 20th, finishing up work on Strange, Dead Love and Dust to Dust, keeping my podcast up to date, starting up a new blog, and the other three zillion projects I have going on over on the White Wolf/CCP side of things. Although my interview on Machinima.com did come out recently:

This Blog: I do have some ideas queued up for this blog as well, including a couple more “What I Learned” essays. I fully admit, however, that this blog is one of the lower priorities in my writing. Once the Tour de Holmes wraps up, though, I do need to think of another weekly feature to take its place (ideally one with a lot less research needed). We’ll see, we’ll see.

My projects outside of Vampire

I’ve been busy

While I’ve been hammering away at Vampire: The Masquerade — 20th Anniversary Edition, a few other things have fallen into place recently in my non-vampiric life.

Recently, Gareth Skarka announced that I’ve been signed up to work on his fiction anthology, Tales of the Far West. We’re still sorting out details, which I’ll share once I have them.

Further, I’m in the process of getting paperwork and signing documents with a publisher for another project of mine. I’m hoping I’ll have information relatively soon on that front.

I’m getting close to wrapping up the Tour de Holmes (which will get a proper title, I swear). After the last essay, I’ll compile and expand the essays into a full manuscript. At least two publishers have expressed interest in that as well, but worse comes to worse, I’ll probably self-publish it (possibly using a Kickstarter campaign to raise the starting capital for an editor and artist).

Finally, I’ve got a couple of RPG remix designs I’m kicking around. I may be able to get one into a state to be playtested stage in a few months.

Since I’ve got a lot of balls in the air, I decided to go ahead and create a page of all of the products I’ve worked on as a writer and/or designer1 and host it on this website. Right now, none of these funnel money back to me, but buying them would support companies that give me money (or have given me money in the past). I’ll try to keep it up to date as well.

  1. The list of books I’ve developed at this point would be massive and need updating once a month. That’s a lot.