Conversations Between Writers

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A.C. Buchanan

Andi is a genre writer living in New Zealand and a TOC mate of mine from Winter Well. You can check out their website and follow on Twitter. Andi is a fan of eating cheese, befriending lobsters, and writing awesome genre fiction about queer, and neurodiverse characters. I’ve been a fan since Winter Well and am excited to share our conversation.

Andi Buchanan: Hi!

Minerva Zimmerman: Hi! How was your day

AB: Full on! But I have tomorrow off. It’s my birthday and we’re going to see either red pandas or dinosaurs! How about yours?

MZ: Happy Birthday! Both choices are excellent. Not too bad, just winding down. My dogs think it is time for snuggling on the bed. You’re all finished with your Master’s!!!!

AB: Yes, finally! It dragged out a bit at the end, but got there in the end.

MZ: I know your subject was about disability in fiction, but I don’t actually know what your discipline/department is

AB: It’s English Lit – though it wasn’t a project that ended up being neatly contained. That was tough in some ways – I know I’d have ended up with a better theoretical basis in some aspects had I been based in a Disability Studies department, for example, but it was really good that I was allowed to just do my thing and follow my ideas.

MZ: Yeah even something like Anthropology was a possibility, so I didn’t want to speculate 😀

have you gotten to hold it all bound and printed?

AB: Yes, very shiny! Took it up to the library last week.

MZ: /squee I sometimes get all verklempt about not doing a Masters, but now I have over 5 years of experience in museum collections, so it’s hard to justify it when it wouldn’t mean any more pay. Also I live very far from any universities

AB: Yeah, fair enough! It took me a few years to properly want to do one – and I certainly don’t expect it to increase my pay – but I work on a university campus and I could do it part time and pay the fees by installments so, hey, why not.

MZ: Oooo I’m kind of jealous. I love school.

AB: I… may have got stuck! Which is fine, I guess.

MZ: at school? 😀

AB: Between work and study… yep, pretty much.

MZ: but lots and lots of ideas for fiction! it’s like… a nexus of ideas

AB: I have occasionally been tempted to write – you know those Hotel Babylon, Wedding Planning Babylon etc – books that compress alllll the dramas down into a single day? If I wasn’t bound by confidentiality I’d totally write a University Babylon one.

MZ: 😀

AB: But maybe you were talking about being in the intellectual heart of the city, the free exchange of ideas…

MZ: Both! You need both for good fiction (in my opinion)

AB: On the more serious side, holding on to a university library card is definitely for a bonus for someone who is (a) a complete nerd and (b) wants to research fiction.

MZ: Ok, that I am TOTALLY jealous of. You can do a lot more online these days, but I miss having access to article databases, and just… randomly finding books.

AB: Yeah, it’s the journal databases that are the big draw… but being able to hunt through the shelves is pretty fun too, even though I don’t do it as often as I should.

MZ: and nice little nooks to write. You have a novel coming out in march

AB: Yes – a novella, technically – it’s called Liquid City and it’s mostly steampunk-ish with some space opera and new weird type elements (I find genre classification hard).

MZ: …do I detect lobsters?

AB: It’s about the people who transport cargo through the tunnels underneath a rapidly-industrializing city, and what they find when they head into unexplored territory.

No lobsters this time, but a rather grumpy cephalopod.

MZ: that’s sort of kind of a little lobstery.. well, more tentacles and less shell

AB: I’ll give him a couple of pincers in the edits.

MZ: and ok, totally not the same 😀 What are you working on right now?

AB: ALL the things! Aside from a round of edits on Liquid City, I’m focused on a couple of short stories at the moment. Then I have another novella I want to take a look at editing – it’s near future queer romance, with heaps of magic and the odd sunken village.

MZ: As you do…

AB: I have a novel on the go, very slowly, and at some point I’m going to be thinking about a sequel for Liquid City.

MZ: cool! Is there anything else you want to make sure we talk about?

AB: Nothing springs to mind, sorry! I know that’s not very helpful…

MZ: That’s Ok! I just want to make sure I’m not monopolizing the conversation.

AB: No go for it! You’re not monopolising, you’re guiding!

MZ: I’m kind of curious about the choice between Red Pandas and Dinosaurs. I mean those aren’t usually at the same place.

AB: Nah – it’s a case of the zoo if it’s good weather, the museum if not. Or, maybe the red pandas have discovered a lost colony of dinosaurs and formed a symbiotic relationship.

MZ: That’d be pretty cool actually… I’d watch that movie

AB: We have a rogue swarm of bees on the loose by my workplace, so there are going to be animals wherever I go.

MZ: rogue bees? like, Africanized bees?

AB: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/64932184/angry-bees-swarm-in-central-wellington THEY PUT THEM IN A BOX AND THEY ESCAPED

MZ: sneaky bees. I imagine they were buzzing the theme song to Mission Impossible

AB: I expect so.

MZ: I wonder if the person sent to capture the bees just forgot where they put the box and were like “uhhh they escaped. Yeah, that’s it”

AB: Have you seen the cartoon about the scientists eating bees? It’s one of my favourites.

MZ: no! Where can I see it?

AB: Ah can’t find the picture but the joke works fine without it:

Scientist: But WHY is the bee population dying?
Scientist: No idea. *eats bee*
Scientist: Did you just eat a bee? Scientist: *eats bee* No.

MZ: hahahaha

AB: This makes me laugh probably out of proportion to its actually funniness.

MZ: I dunno, I think it is pretty funny. Not sure why, it just is.

AB: *eats bee*

MZ: hahahahha

Well, I should probably let you get a cider and start in on your birthday celebrations

AB: Mmm cider! Celebrations are tomorrow but cider is any day.

MZ: I’ve been hoarding all my seasonal spiced cider

AB: Oooh. I had a nice pear and ginger one last week.

MZ: Oooo I love pear cider.

AB: Anyway, thank you for listening to me talk about bees.

MZ: *eats bee* 😀

AB: om nom nom

 

Conversations Between Writers

photo by Folly Blaine
photo by Folly Blaine

Randy Henderson

This week I’m delighted to bring you a conversation with Randy Henderson whose first novel FINN FANCY NECROMANCY comes out from Tor on February 10th. I’ve heard him read from it a couple times and one time I even got a pack of vintage Goonies trading cards from him that is still unopened because I promised he could watch me eat the gum. In my defense this was before I knew just how bad vintage trading card gum tastes…

Anyway, check out his website, follow him on Twitter, and preorder his book!

Minerva Zimmerman: hello

Randy Henderson: Greetings, program.

MZ: Man, I can’t remember the right Tron response to that. I am ashamed.

RH: To the MCP with you.

MZ: 😛 How are you holding up with all of the pending publication stuff?

RH: Using pillars. And a table with a book under one leg.

It’s good problems to have, but the publishing cycle is a tough one. I have to turn in book 2 while promoting book 1 and then jump right into writing book 3.

MZ: That’s really rough.

RH: I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Well, except doing it without having to work full time and deal with life stuff. And by doing it, I mean writing. And by writing, I mean crying a lot and eating lots of junk food and then pouring out words and chuckling at my own cleverness before realizing I’m a complete impostor.

MZ: How far apart are the books coming out?

RH: One year apart. So I have to write a book a year.

MZ: …and promote, and not go nuts, and like, feed and bathe yourself etc.

RH: Which isn’t so bad, if you pace yourself right, and life stuff doesn’t throw you off too much.

Wait, I’m supposed to bathe? Myself?

MZ: fraid so, didn’t you get the memo?

RH: About the TPS reports?

MZ: No no, this was the one about how sponge baths will no longer be provided because of The Incident.

RH: Oh. That. Look, I’d had a lot of cocoa and was a bit high on sugar. I’m sure the bite marks will fade. And with the fur, you can’t even see them on the rabbit anyway. Have you ever been bathed with a live rabbit? So decadent. But I’ve said too much.

MZ: So for people who don’t know, you’ve got a book coming out about a Necromancer who has just been returned home after spending 25? years in Faerie and is kind of well, stuck in the 80s.

RH: Do I? Holy crap, that’s awesome!

MZ: You do!

RH: I mean, yes, yes I do.

MZ: and when he gets back… things are not as they are supposed to be and… hilarity and horror ensue. Is that a pretty good introduction?

RH: That about sums it up, yep 🙂 I keep being surprised it sold. I keep thinking, I had too much fun writing it, it can’t be good. And it certainly isn’t going to win any awards or anything, but the reviews thus far have all been largely “this is a fun, fast read.” So, phew.

MZ: I’m super glad it sold I’ve been waiting to read the rest for awhile 🙂

RH: Thanks! I’m moderately pleased as well 😉 It’s weird to talk about Finn Fancy when I’ve been immersed in writing the next book for the last 6 months.

MZ: Also, I’d say that your style at least on this book is pretty similar to how I write urban fantasy, so I’m glad it’s marketable 😀

RH: That’s why I did it. I was like, I shall be the Sugarhill Gang to Minerva’s LL Cool J. Or more accurately, I’m like the Joy Division to your Depeche Mode. Or Television to your Strokes? Anyway …

MZ: As long as Love Doesn’t Tear Us Apart and People are People… we should be fine (ugh ok, that was pretty forced and terrible)

RH: Pretty damn good on the fly!

You’re like my own personal Jesus.

MZ: 😀

RH: And right about now, the readers are like, “I’m feeling more Enjoy the Silence” …

MZ: Probably true… Anyway people, if you’ve liked any of my urban fantasy stuff you’re going to love Randy’s Finn Fancy

RH: Aww, thanks. And if you like my peanut butter, you’ll like … no, that doesn’t sound right. But I do think we will likely end up on many panels and book tours together in the years to come.

MZ: I hope so, we shall create much gleeful chaos.

RH: I did finally put a vampire in book 2. Not to spoil anything. I think people will assume from the Necromancy part there will be lots of zombies and vamps and stuff, but I kind of went a different direction for the most part. Left, mostly, and then rapidly downhill.

MZ: with no brakes! I mean, brakes didn’t seem important at the top of the hill…

RH: And a banana cream pie. What could go wrong? So I know you’ve got a sekret project. Anything you can share about it? And I don’t mean that container in the back of the fridge. Or the moans coming from your basement.

MZ: Not too much yet, hopefully the cat will be out of the bag before too much longer. And no we won’t talk about that container. That is staying put. There is a perfectly reasonable explanation for the moans… which I just am not going to talk about because THEY might be listening.

Let’s just say I’m a huge fan of fun fast reads and will have something later in the year.

RH: Suh-Weet!

MZ: What else has been burning up your brain in between the pending publication and your responsibilities fighting the forces of inky darkness?

RH: The unfairness of only having egg nog in stores during the holidays. I’ve been thinking about starting a kickstarter, and a campaign, maybe trying to get Bono involved. Because I can think of no more pressing issue in our time than inconsistent access to egg nog.

MZ: Ooo sign me up. Especially if you add non-dairy egg nog

RH: Really, I’ve been seriously consumed with the book stuff these past months. I feel really boring when I talk to anyone, because I’m barely aware of anything outside the little world I created in my brain. Which some would say is the story of my life, but it is even worse right now.

MZ: I had some horded in the fridge but it expired while I was on vacation and I can’t bring myself to throw it away or risk drinking it.

RH: That’s the worst. Undrunk egg nog. Mocking you from the fridge. Shaming you.

MZ: I was going to make chia pudding out of it and pretend it was healthy

RH: SCREW YOU EGG NOG!

MZ: and not slowly killing me with its deliciousness

RH: Yeah. Slow, creamy, delicious death. Mmmmm.

MZ: I mean they probably ration it so we aren’t easily invaded. I bet having year round egg nog would be a pretty good invasion strategy

RH: For elves?

MZ: but you’d have to convince the invaders not to take the offered egg nog when they get there…

RH: I don’t trust elves. Shifty.

MZ: hmmm there is a serious problem with my cunning plan. Maybe pod people would be able to refuse egg nog. Pretty sure elves just want any excuse to party. Also, to buy shoes.

RH: The first short story I wrote, back when I had to walk uphill through the snow both ways to my electric typewriter, involved inoculating the populace using He-Man Slime Pit refill slime so that when the aliens tried to slime us and take over our brains we were immune.

My writing got silly after that. I can’t believe I never published that one. Sigh.

MZ: It’d be a weird thing to have to build a time machine to go back and get to save the Earth… but it JUST MIGHT WORK.

RH: Well, there is the Star Trek reboot. They’ve done Kahn. Now they can skip Search for Spock and just go right to IV, only instead of whales, they have to go back and get Egg Nog! Or He-Man Slime! Or Elves! Okay, I think I’ve kind of lost track of what the heck we’re talking about here. 😛

MZ: It’s Ok, that’s kind of a feature. My first sort of serious short story I wrote was about sentient potato chip bag glue.You know those writing exercises where they ask you to fill in a bunch of questions?

RH: Ooooo. I hear MIT is working on that. You’re a visionary you are. Is that a writing exercise? Your question?

MZ: There was one that was “I wonder why _______?” and I put “potato chip bags are so hard to open”

RH: Wow. You must be able to write really small. Because those words are, like, five times as long as the blank 😉

MZ: teeny tiny fingers. It helps.

RH: And fountain pens with fine nibs.

MZ: Indeed. Well, is there anything else you want to make sure we talk about?

RH: I’m bummed about missing Rainforest Writing Retreat this year. All my friends from far away magical lands are going to be there (at least the ones who don’t already live in my head) while I’m visiting their far away magical lands on my book tour. But I will be guest-teaching at Cascade Writers again, I do believe. And I’m planning a series of free workshop on writing genre fiction to go with my book tour, trying to pay it back a bit and connect with folks on a real level in person.

MZ: Are you going to make it to WorldCon in August?

RH: Yup! Sasquan! My book has sasquatches, so seemed appropriate. 🙂

MZ: Sweet! I just registered this morning. I’ll get to see you there if we don’t meet up before that.

RH: Yay-ness!

MZ: Well, I suppose we should go do that thing where we sit in a room and make words appear and giggle quietly to ourselves. Manly giggles. Very manly.

RH: Oh, was that me giggling? Phew. I was getting worried, since there was nobody else in the room…

MZ: And when is the official launch of Finn Fancy?

RH: February 10, 2015 from Tor in North America. And it is also being released by Titan in the UK on February 13th. And I’ll be touring the US West Coast to support the launch.

Sadly I shan’t be touring the UK. Yet.

MZ: Sweet! I will have to try and get to Powells when you hit there.

RH: Do. Because if you wait until afterwards, you will find only rubble. And dead elves. And a crying clown. And that is all. Except a banana cream pie. But that is it. So don’t miss it. Because the pie will be past its expiration. But still look mostly edible. But it isn’t. Because it’s expired. The pie. Not the clown. Why would you eat a clown?

MZ: not because of the dead elf in the pie?

RH: Damn it Minerva, you spoiled the whole prank. Sigh.

(UPDATE: You can now read the first 3 chapters of FINN FANCY NECROMANCY )

Conversations Between Writers

Jessie

Jessie Kwak

I first met Jessie at Cascade Writers in 2011 where we spent several days trying to figure out why the other looked familiar until we FINALLY figured out we followed each other on Twitter and had no other direct connections. You can check out more about her writing at http://www.jessiekwak.com/ and follow her on Twitter. For all of you crafty people and bicyclists I suggest you check out her bikes and craft blog http://www.bicitoro.com/ too.

 

Minerva Zimmerman: How are you doing today? I keep forgetting you’re practically local to me now.

Jessie Kwak: I know! I haven’t gotten out to that part of the coast since we last Twittered about me being in town. I’m doing well – had a dentist visit this morning, which is always … fun.

My dentist is nice, though. How are you?

MZ: I’m doing OK. A little sore, had a busy weekend making cookies.

JK: What kind?

MZ: Ooo, I made ginger snaps, wedding bells, and berliner wreaths

JK: Yum! I made angel cookies for a cookie exchange with neighbors.

MZ: I need to make krumkake tonight

JK: Are you baking for an event? Or just general holiday merriment?

MZ: I’m giving them as gifts and for a trip to the in-laws. It just isn’t the holidays if I don’t get to bake

JK: Right! Maybe I should do cookies as gifts this year. I’m still at a loss for most of the people on my list.

MZ: I’m hoping to do some homemade marshmallows too, but I’m not sure if I’ll run out of energy.

JK: I’ve never tried to make marshmallows. Is it hard?

MZ: I haven’t either 🙂 It’s not supposed to be too bad if you have a stand mixer. You have to get the sugar part to the soft ball stage which I’m a little skeptical about. I suppose if I cook it too much I just end up with caramelized marshmallows?

JK: It’s not too hard to get it to the soft ball stage if you have a candy thermometer.

I think the marshmallows would just be chewier. But if you get it past soft ball you can always add a bit more water and try to hit it again. I’ve done that before making divinity, and it works all right.

MZ: yeah, and I do have a candy thermometer, I’m just weird about doing sugar cooking. I’ve had bad results in the past.

JK: Let me know how it goes – I’m curious!

MZ: I love eating them so I’m hopeful.

JK: And now all I want to eat is cookies, which is terrible after just getting my teeth cleaned.  🙂

MZ: heh, but it is cookie eating time!

JK: Yep. Probably should have waited until after Christmas for the cleaning, but I’d put it off way too long! I’m finally an adult with insurance now, so I figured I should probably use it.

MZ: Yeah, if you need to get in before end of the year you have to take your appointments when you can get them

JK: Right. What are you working on these days? Anything fun? Besides cookies, obviously.

MZ:  I am actually working on Runed Creek right now, which is the story I took to Cascade Writers all those years ago. It’s weird how stuff never seems to go from point A to B in writing.

I set it aside because I ended up selling some other projects and had to work on those and I’m just now really getting back to it. What are you working on?

JK: I think that stories are a lot like good soup stocks, where you need to let them simmer forever, and throw things in from time to time. I’m working on a couple of things right now

First is a project with some friends in Seattle, called Four Windows http://www.fourwindowsbooks.com/ – I’m editing it along with my friend Christine. There are four writers (myself included), and we’re each working on a novel set in Seattle. We’re publishing them serially in a journal format. We published the first quarter in September, the second quarter last month, and the third quarter will be out in February.

MZ: Oh what a cool thing!

JK: We’re workshopping our stories together as we go. It’s been a really fun process, but the timeline of serially publishing is kind of stressful. Like I added in a big plot twist at the end of section two that really screwed up the timeline I’d already plotted out, but now it’s published so I have to figure out how to work it in. 🙂

MZ: Yeah, that’s what the second half of my 2015 is going to entail (no public details yet!)

JK: It’s fun, but really different.

MZ: I think it’s a good way to go

JK: You’ll be serially publishing something in 2015?

MZ: yes 🙂

JK: I’m so curious! It’s a really fun way to write.

MZ: I think some stories are just a good match for serial

JK: Totally.

MZ: It’s like binge-watching on Netflix

JK: Yes!

MZ: sometimes it makes sense to release stuff in chunks

so that people who devour it can devour it and still want more

JK: I think if we were going to do this again, I’d release things in smaller chunks, on a tighter timeline. Probably I’d want to have more of it written before I started releasing it to take some of the pressure off, but I think people have a short attention span and quicker release dates would have been a good idea for the Four Windows project. Right now each section is almost 3 months apart.

MZ: Yeah, I’m hoping to get stuff done beforehand mostly. So that the release dates aren’t dependent on me finishing things. But I also used to run a web comic that had major update problems, so it might just be me 🙂

JK: When you combine the logistics of publishing with the writing side of things, it gets tough.

MZ: No publishing plan survives contact with life.

JK: I’ve probably spent more time formatting and editing and promoting Four Windows than I have had time to write my story. Haha, so true! The best laid plans of mice and men…

MZ: Yeah, once you get to this point the actual writing is only a % of time.

JK: Right.

MZ: Which is kind of annoying sometimes .

JK: Yes. My “day job” is as a freelance copywriter, which takes up a lot of my creative writing energy as it is.

MZ: Ooof. Typing for work always saps my ability to write for fiction

JK: I’m learning how to transition, but it’s been a challenge for sure. For a long time it was hard to quit the sales copy brain and get into lyrical writing brain. I kept wanting to describe the features and benefits of my characters interactions.

MZ: Heh.

JK: But there are benefits, too. One of my main clients is an apartment rental place, and I write glowing copy about the homes they rent – which I think has helped me learn to describe setting better.

MZ: Ooo, I tend to have white room syndrome

JK: I’ve learned a lot about the economy of language. Ha – the problem is that now all my story settings are mid-century modern chic. 🙂

MZ: Heheheh So, white rooms are a feature!

JK: With Noguchi coffee tables and Eames chairs, and ironic artisan lightbulbs. There you go! White rooms are a feature, and the benefit is that the reader gets to supply her own setting.

MZ: Yeah, I’m trying to grab at those little items that breathe life into a setting.

JK: I heard someone say just choose three things. For setting, or for character.

MZ: Which is hard sometimes when you have characters who are cluttered magpies.

JK: Yes, for sure. Maybe the task then is to choose three things that best represent the cluttered magpie-ness of the character, and pique the reader’s interest. Then you can flesh them out from there.

MZ: Yeah. I think I’m getting better, but it’s something I have to spend a lot of mental energy thinking about.

JK: The other thing I’m working on is a novel for a small press in Portland, Elly Blue Publishing.

http://takingthelane.com/

MZ: Ooo

JK: She publishes bike non-fiction, mainly, but she’s started a series of short story collections called Bikes in Space.

MZ: Cool! I wanted to ask about your biking and how it is different in Portland vs. Seattle

JK: They’re feminist bicycle science fiction collections. 🙂

MZ: ! 😀

JK: I’ve had stories in the first two (and one coming out in the third issue next year), and one of the stories turned out to be a much bigger idea, so Elly and I talked about serializing it.

Eventually we decided it should just be a novel. It takes the idea of projects like “Bikes to Rwanda,” and sets it on a colony planet in the future. And then adds in the mafia, and aliens.

I’m really, really excited to write it – It’s going to be super fun.

MZ: I like these things.

JK: Going back to your question about biking in Seattle vs Portland – Portland is definitely more bike friendly. It’s flatter, too, which is nice, and there’s tons of bike infrastructure.

The downside is that with no hills and no traffic to battle, I feel like less of a badass biking here than I did in Seattle.

MZ: Hah. I’d never thought of it that way.

JK: There’s a certain pride that comes with commuting up Capitol Hill every day. Although now that I work from home, my commute is pretty weaksauce anyway. I’ve started running in the mornings to make up for it.  🙂 I never thought I’d be a runner. Portland did this to me. Or maybe it’s all the cookies that I like to eat. 🙂

MZ: 🙂

JK: Overall I like Portland, though. I’m meeting other writers, other cyclists, and getting to know neighbors. People seem pretty friendly here, and willing to meet up for coffee or to just hang out.

There are definitely some Portlandia moments, though! I look around some times and think “Where on earth AM I?”

MZ: Heh. Is there anything like that, that sticks out in particular?

JK: There was a guy at the grocery store the other day wearing purple zebra pajamas and a matching chullo hat. People just let their freak flag fly, which is lovely. Also, one of our neighbors has a window built into their chicken coop to the sidewalk, and a chalk board so people walking by can write messages to the chickens. Which is odd, but kind of charming. And at least once a week someone on the neighborhood list serve posts something like: “I just saw a goat at the corner of the street, is it yours?” Or, “I’m making kambucha this weekend, who wants an extra scoby?” People are super into their homemaking. Which I dig, I grew up on a farm, but am not used to seeing in the city.

MZ: Man, neighborhood list servs and chain emails and such are so… not the future we imagined, but yet so perfect.

JK: Haha, yes!

MZ: I mean, I live pretty rurally, but the way you find out about what’s really going on is checking some particular facebooks and being on certain email lists. Well, what doesn’t get disseminated at Senior Meals… that’s still the fastest way to learn anything.

JK: Senior Meals? I bet there’s some juicy gossip happening there.

MZ: So much.Sooo so much. I get it all second hand. They won’t let me in, I can’t pass in that crowd yet. 😀

JK: That’s not a bad thing.  🙂

MZ: nope. Is there anything else you want to make sure we talk about?

JK: That’s pretty much all I’ve got going on. Dentist, check. Delicious cookies, check. Writing projects, check.  I really would like to chat in person next time I’m out your way – hoping to get through your neck of the woods in the next few months.

MZ: That would be awesome. It’s kind of nice here in the winter when stuff is quiet.

JK: I bet!

MZ: The beachcombing is the best too 🙂

JK: Ooh! Well, give me a shout if you make it over here, and I’ll do the same.

MZ: That would be fabulous. Stay dry! I’d say stay warm, but it’s downright balmy out

JK: You, too! And happy holidays, happy new year, all that jazz.  🙂

 

Conversations Between Writers

David Anaxagoras

Humans and human analogs, Dave is a Good Human™ and he’s probably the most authentic human I’ve come to know in any form. I know that’s a really weird thing to say about someone, but you know how some people would still be basically themselves if they were in a life-like android? I just can’t see that working out for him. There’s a fundamental part of his self that’s wrapped up in the very act of being human, and that makes him a good writer and a very good person to know. David Anaxagoras is the Creator and Co-Executive Producer of the Amazon Studios kids TV series “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street“. You can learn more about him at http://davidanaxagoras.com/ and please follow him on Twitter.

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Minerva Zimmerman: How’s the weather down in California?

David Anaxaagoras: The weather has been very nice in my neighborhood. Not too hot, which is usually the case. It’s cooling off so much I might even light the pilot on the furnace.

MZ: That always freaked me out.

DA: I had to have the Gas company help with my water heater. I went a week with cold showers.

MZ: Oh man, that’s… I mean that’s practically camping in your own house

DA: Yes, that’s how I would describe most of my existence. I’ve been here 8 months and I’m still unpacking. Or not unpacking is more accurate.

MZ: I honestly have switched from not unpacking to “storing things in totes” and just claim it as storage. I’m finally getting through the totes slowly… 7 years later

DA: The thought had occurred to me… I have to get to my books, then maybe it will be time to surrender.

MZ: I am seeing Gortimer EVERYWHERE the past few days. It makes me grin

DA: I’m glad to hear it’s being seen all over. I mean, *I* see it, but I would expect to. I’ve been grinning for months.

MZ: The show really reminds me of those 1980s Wonderworks movies. I don’t know if you remember seeing them. I think it was maybe ABC that put them on Saturday afternoons?

DA: It’s ringing a bell, I’m trying to think of a specific one.

MZ: It’s how the BBC Narnia movies were shown on US TV for one. There was also one called Konrad about an instant boy (in a can) who was delivered to the wrong house

DA: Gortimer really was born from a desire to see a live-action kid adventure show. Mostly what we have now are sitcoms — so many sitcoms — and they are sort of ghettoized on kid TV channels. In my time, kid shows were family shows — they didn’t sent parents and older sibs running from the room. Everyone could enjoy them. Shows I remember were VOYAGERS and of course BATTLESTAR GALACTICA which to kid-me was just another adventure.

MZ: I love how it has a magic-realism thing going on

DA: I think it comes from my love of The Twilight Zone. In Gortimer, inner turmoil often shows up in the external world through a bit of magic.

MZ: Yeah. There are fantastical things that happen but they do reveal inner turmoil in a way that kids and adults alike can relate to

DA: I hadn’t planned on any fantasy element originally, but the pilot script took a left turn and I just followed. I’m glad I did. The other thing is, as you alluded to, in a kid’s world reality just seems a little more plastic. Try convincing a young kid they will never fit down the drain and they don’t have to worry about getting sucked down the bathtub drain — you can’t.

MZ: Hey, I’m still vaguely worried about that.

DA: Maybe you are just smart that way

MZ: Also my Dad told me that the drain worked because there was a little man under the hole with a bucket and that’s why sometimes the drain got slow

DA: Adults have no idea how terrifying their stories can be sometimes. I used to, when I was a preschool teacher, bake a gingerbread man with the kids and of course I would hide him before we went back to get him out of the oven. Invariable there is always one child scared to death at the thought of a gingerbread man running around the school. I think they’re the smart ones.

MZ: Man a horror story about a Gingerbread Man would be pretty scary. I mean, it could fit anywhere and all you would find was a little bit of crumbs where it had been, maybe a red hot

DA: I think kids live in that world, where it can be scary sometimes and we don’t understand it, forget what it’s like. It’s why I think it’s important to go ahead and acknowledge those emotions in kid stories, go ahead and have a story that scares them a little.

MZ: Being a kid IS scary!

DA: It helps to have friends.

MZ: Yes. And being alone and not knowing what is going on is the worst. That happens a lot as a kid, it feels a bit like being an alien.

DA: Or like you are Jack living in a land of giants. Nothing is your size. Nothing seems made for you. It’s someone else’s world. The scariest thing of all is that you are destined to turn into one of these creatures.

MZ: Yeah, that IS scary. I’m still scared of that too.

DA: Having a show like Gortimer is like having a second childhood. It’s given me so much to appreciate and treasure. It’s a ton of fun.

MZ: I think it is awesome that someone who has spent so much time with so many kids is writing a show like this too. I mean, I remember stories of things you were helping kids with and teaching them when you were still teaching. You know that they’re real people.

DA: When I first started I didn’t have any training, so I had to let the kids lead me into their world, so to speak. I had to meet them wherever they were. I think getting an education in early ed is a really good thing, but I’m glad I started out just being curious and open to their experience. I don’t know if I’ve ever made peace with growing up myself, anyway.

MZ: I am not sure I trust people who are happy about being an adult other than when it means you can have cake for breakfast whenever you want.

DA: Oh, shallots, I could have had cake this morning!

MZ: It’s true!

DA: Being an adult isn’t quite the fun I expected. There’s the freedoms, but you just don’t understand or expect all the stress involved.

MZ: Yeah, I think that’s why people who are comfortable with the level of responsibility that comes with adulthood worry me, like they can’t possibly be actually thinking about it.

Have you adopted Ranger’s food “swears” in your everyday life?

DA: I try to use food swears online because i have kids following me now. And I had to stop swearing all the time because I was on set. I don’t think kids are so fragile, but I think it’s disrespectful and also, it’s important to me that the set be a really positive happy place for the kids who spend so much time and work so hard there.

MZ: I think my favorite food swear is “SOUP!!!”

DA: I tried to use “Kale!” but it just sounded like a non-word when uttered with curse-energy. Like a sneeze.

MZ: and you might get mobbed in a Trader Joes yelling it.

DA: Might be a good diversionary tactic, though.

MZ: Sassafras would work well as a swear, there are just certain sounds that work. Kale sounds like you’re being stabbed with a spork

DA: I feel like that one must have been used. there was something about “pork and beans” that felt good. Explosive words or sounds…

MZ: fricatives

DA: That’s the word.

MZ: Hey, apparently I still remember something from Linguistics

DA: Hardest class I ever had.

MZ: omg yes I almost failed

DA: So much jargon. Really tough.

MZ: It’s more like math in how you think about it but you’re using all these language words and it’s just brain-breaking. It’s like that thing where you say what color the text of a color word is instead of what the word says.

DA: Ironic for a Linguistics class. Or perhaps appropriate. Our Prof promised a multiple choice final and then sprung an essay test on us. Multiple students fled the class in tears before the test was over.

MZ: …yeah I would have. Well, I couldn’t have. But I would have wanted to. Getting a 2.0 or higher was required for my major

DA: For undergrad?

MZ: Yeah, Anthropology

DA: Huh. Of all things.

MZ: It’s one of the 4 fields of Anthropology. You couldn’t show you had a grasp of the topic otherwise.

DA: Linguistics?

MZ: Yup. Studying humanity through how they communicate

DA: What are the other 3? Something biological, something science, something literary?

MZ: cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, archaeology and biological.

Biological anthropology was human bone lab. I am a horrible person to try and watch Bones with.

DA: When I was an undergrad I remember feeling like I wanted to have 20 lives so I could study EVERYTHING. Four years later that feeling was GONE.

MZ: Yeah, I wanted to do a double major and I got pretty close… but my husband moved to Oregon while I was one semester off of finishing my degree and I lost all wish to diversify my studies. Just wanted to get it done. Life, never works the way you think it will. That’s not a bad thing though.

DA: Tell me about it. It’s very unlikely I should be sitting here chatting with you right now.

MZ: Have you always been a screenwriter?

DA: I wrote my first screenplay in the third grade. It was a spy spoof. So, yes. There were times when I was focused on short fiction, but eventually came back to scripts.

MZ: I had a TA position for the drama teacher in HS, and there wasn’t really anything for me to do. So I started reading all the script files for every play the school had ever bought. There’s a certain rhythm to a good script. You can learn to see it on a page even. Once you’ve read a lot of examples you can see it in the text breaks

DA: It’s interesting the way writers often educate themselves. They haunt libraries or find themselves in a position where they have access to material. There’s a kind of almost unconscious attraction.

MZ: The words call.

DA: I loved books just as physical objects before I was really even a reader. Even the smell of them.

MZ: Apparently it is vanillin released as the cellulose breaks down, there is a scientific reason for book smell

DA: Well now you’ve taken all the magic out of it 😊

MZ: I dunno, I work with old stuff. I think that just lets you know how to cast the spell.

DA: Are you putting your degree to good use?

MZ: sort of accidentally?

DA: Good enough.

MZ: I didn’t mean to work at a museum, but I kind of fell into it and had more experience than I thought. Plus, all writing is part anthropology. Mostly I started on an Anthropology degree because I saw what the English degree homework was like, and I really REALLY hate diagraming sentences.

DA: There’s something nice about those happy accidents. I don’t believe in any sort of supernaturally guided destiny, but it was a revelation when I sold my pilot that when things work — they really work. All the pushing and strategizing and planning and sweating, and in the end, when it was time it just took off like magic.

MZ: I am really really happy for you. I think it is a wonderful show for real kids with just enough weirdness and magic.

DA: Thank you. I’m excited by all the great reviews, because they are positive yes, but also because people seem to really understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it. And it makes me really happy to see parents and kids tweeting about it and excited about discovering a new show they enjoy.

 

Conversations Between Writers

Ryan Macklin

Macklin

 

Ryan Macklin is an award-winning game designer, writer, editor, and human of many talents. You can find out more about him at http://ryanmacklin.com/ and follow him on Twitter @RyanMacklin

 

 

Minerva Zimmerman: ‪Ok then, for those that are not aware of Ryan Fucking Macklin From the Internet, how do you introduce yourself?

Ryan Macklin:  ‪I guess it depends on the context. If I’m talking with game people, “tabletop roleplaying game designer and editor.” If I’m talking with fiction people or other professionals, then it’s just “editor.” If I’m talking with software developers, I might jokingly call myself an “IT survivor.” And if I’m forced into an awkward airplane seat neighbor conversation, I introduce myself as little as possible. Mainly to avoid the dreaded “Oh, have you written anything I’ve read?” question. Though, lately I’ve responded to that question with “So you know, all writers hate that question.” 🙂

MZ: ‪That’s a good response. I am stealing that.

RM: ‪But mainly, I’m an RPG guy.

MZ: ‪I’m partially asking because I’m still not 100% what all you do.

RM: ‪Hah! To be fair, people outside of RPG-land don’t really know what all goes into making games. I mean, there’s the abstract concepts, but how those skills overlap with “real world” stuff is weird.

MZ: ‪I will admit I mostly stopped worrying about it because you seem to hand me booze every time I start thinking too hard about it

RM: ‪That is how I got many of the jobs I’ve had since I started doing this in 2007.

RM: ‪But in an effort to explain, a game designer is this weird job that’s part psychology, part technical writing, part creative writing, part UX design, and possibly some other parts depending on your role as a designer, developer, editor, and so on.

MZ: ‪What’s your favorite part (speaking of questions you hate)

RM: ‪At least it’s not That Question. 😀 To pin it down, um, hmm. Mind hacking.

MZ: ‪Cause you’re a pretty creative writer, but you’re also a programmer, and a nuts and bolts kind of guy. So I wouldn’t try to guess.

RM: ‪The essence of game design, to (mis)quote my friend and renown game designer John Wick, is in creating situations of non-optimal choices.

MZ: ‪Same with writing

RM: ‪Right. Well, kinda.

MZ: ‪I mean if you give characters optimal choices you have to explain why they take the wrong one.

RM: ‪Like, in fiction writing, you’re creating the non-optional decision point and choosing the decision. And the lead-up to said decision point. ‪I don’t have the advantage of knowing the lead-up or choosing the decision for the player. Generally speaking. Sometimes I know the lead-uip

MZ: Yeah, I’m not entirely certain I would enjoy RPG writing because of that.

RM: ‪I think you might… if only because “RPG writing” is like saying you “write English.” It encompasses a lot of things.

MZ: ‪I did some computer game writing, but even then I got to write stuff out for all the decision trees.

RM: ‪I generally like writing systems—the rules and mechanics for games where in-the-moment decisions lie. But there’s adventure writing, which involves a lot of prose and broader narrative decisions. Or writing options that the rules use, which are more decisions to choose from.

RM: ‪Or writing up creatures that interface with the rules and create dynamic tension. If you’re making the sort of game that uses creatures.

MZ: ‪I do enjoy Storium

RM: ‪Right! More as a player or narrator?

MZ: ‪Player. When I try to write my own setting for it I get bored super fast.

RM: ‪Heh.

MZ: ‪I work on it every so often, but I figure if I’m boring myself it isn’t good for players.

RM: ‪I was a stretch goal for Storium, with a setting based on my own IP, so I kinda have an advantage there. But also it’s kinda easy to get bored of writing the same thing. And there’s even another thing. Like, my intro for my Storium world needs to be pregnant with choice and story possibilities, not a preamble to a world.

MZ: ‪Hmm. Maybe that’s what I’ve been doing wrong.

RM: ‪Like, it’s easy to fall into a trap about telling a brief of what’s happened in the world up to the play point. Readers love that, but it’s not as useful for play. Useful, but less so, so it needs to be less of a priority.

MZ: ‪Well, it’s only like 1/20th of what you need to create at most

It might be the first thing players read, but it probably shouldn’t be the first thing you write as a creator.

RM: ‪You know that writer trick of writing scaffolding you think you need, like detailed backgrounds, and then not publishing it as part of your work except where needed and with something else going on (like emotional interaction)?

MZ: ‪Yeah, I do a lot of that. maybe 1/100th of what I research ends up in the story.

RM: ‪Right, because fiction writing today focuses on character lenses, yeah?

MZ: ‪Well, mine does for sure.

RM: ‪We’re not living in the Tolkien world-lens time. People write like that, but it’s not in fashion.

MZ: ‪I’d argue Harry Potter is more world-focused. mostly because I think Harry is the worst character.

RM: ‪I haven’t ready Harry Potter. I was a movie-watcher, until the movie with the fucking giant spiders, and then I mic-dropped on all things Harry Potter. Except for Wizard People, Dear Reader. WIZARD PEOPLE, DEAR READER forever. So I’ll have to ask you: is there a lot in those books where you get exposition about the world directly from the author? And not from a character telling Harry something?

MZ: ‪mmm no, it doesn’t do that style.

RM: ‪Right. So in fiction-land, there’s training to at least deliver world content that way. In RPGs, there isn’t a character lens in the prose, but in play. So the words, even when it’s creative setting writing, is author-delivered. Even in games I’ve worked on like The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game or The Leverage Roleplaying Game, where we used in-world voices for the text, it was treating them as the author rather than two characters talking. (Well, we broke the fourth wall with Dresden in marginalia comments. They also did that with The Atomic Robo Roleplaying Game.) So it’s easy to fall back into the “poorly execute Tolkien” trap with stuff like Storium world writing.

MZ: ‪Huh. Now I’m trying to think of all the formats that have a narrator to see if there’s new RPG opportunities there. Like… maybe, Nature Documentary RPG.

RM: ‪That could work, if you know what the point of play is from an emotional standpoint.

MZ: ‪Well if the players are the animals being documented, and the GM is David Attenborough

RM: ‪But that is its own trap. A lot of early game designers try to make games that emulate a genre of storytelling, because we think in analogies, rather than be homages that appreciate a genre of storytelling without trying to be awkward about it.

Okay, let’s run with that. So the players are playing (important difference) animals being documented.

MZ: ‪if you did it sort of like a theater game

RM: ‪The GM could also be Morgan Freeman.

MZ: ‪so the players are throwing out things the narrator has to deal with and vice versa

RM: ‪So, we know what the characters are doing. We have a lot of ideas about what the players could do, but what do we want them to feel? What’s the thing we want to reward players for doing?

MZ: ‪Being… interesting?

RM: ‪And therein lies the problem. That’s not something you can really reward. And it’s its own reward anyway. There’s a game called Fiasco. It’s billed as the Coen Brothers story game. Tabletop has featured it. It’s pretty fun. The player behavior that gets rewarded is putting characters in difficult situations and building up an arc, either a good arc or a tragic, horrific downfall. Those are my modes of trying to be interesting. So if we’re doing a nature documentary thing, what does the “filmmaker” (to give the GM a genre label) want? To film interesting stuff. As a player, then the filmmaker wants to push for interesting stuff, but doesn’t necessarily have control of the environment because they’re an outsider. I dunno what to do about the animals. 🙂

MZ: ‪well, they should want what animals want right? Food, sex, survival

RM: ‪Then it starts to sound like a board game, because roleplaying a lion that’s DTF isn’t necessarily interesting. Unless you’re LARPing, maybe. But it could be a board game with a resource economy and other weird stuff. A lot of people who make RPGs early on end up really making superficial board games that don’t actually have much connection to the story they’re trying to faciliate.

MZ: ‪See this is why it hard for me to wrap my brain around. So in a RPG the player has to be an element of design?

RM: ‪A primary element! It’s easy to see what characters want. It’s easy to see what we want out of characters, which is of course not the same thing. But mind-hacking players to feel enjoyment, sorrow, contemplation, etc. is the real task of a game designer. Conveniently, it’s a co-op thing. We’re not CIA torture-masters or anything. Even if our games have rules for being a CIA torture-master.

MZ: ‪:D

RM: ‪There’s a system I would play that nature documentary in, but it wouldn’t be about the animals. There’s a game called Primetime Adventures, which is about playing a TV show, using a TV show framework rather than a game about combat. I would use that, where one person is the documentarian, another is the helicopter pilot, another is the producer, etc. There’s also a GM, who plays out the role of everyone else. And that game really becomes about the drama between the crew. That’s a human story that people can hook into. With a system that rewards dramatic struggle and shapes the arcs of characters over play. It’s not what you’re talking about, though.

MZ: ‪Hmm. Yeah I see how what I was thinking doesn’t work well.

RM: ‪I’m gonna super have to think about how the heck to do what you’re thinking. Like, maybe it could, if you know what the players want. Maybe the players want to frustrate the documentarian, and the point of play is that struggle.

MZ: ‪animals trying not to be documented?

RM: ‪It might still be more board game. Or maybe a Daniel Solis-style writing game like Happy Birthday, Robot! or Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. Or doing things that the documentarian already has. Or ruining something, like following a gazelle for three weeks, only for it to be eaten by a lion off-camera.

MZ: ‪yeah it does seem more board game Ok, so let’s drop this idea for now and try to focus on the things you DO need for a good RPG.

RM: ‪I recommend writers who like games check out the Daniel Solis games I mentioned, because they’re pretty cool. They aren’t games where you play roles, but write parts of sentences with specific words while playing a game that constrains you.

MZ: ‪I think I’m straight up going at RPG creation from the wrong end.

RM: ‪So, give me a quick pitch for a setting. Just a sentence.

MZ: ‪Gnomes leave home to make their way in the world.

RM: ‪Awesome. Give me a broad, ongoing trouble that these gnomes have to face in the world. Be as high-concept or specific as you like. But definitely ongoing.

MZ: ‪Prejudice from the humans who don’t believe gnomes should work outside the lawn.

RM: ‪Awesome

RM: ‪Okay, now for an impending trouble. Next week, something’s going to happen. No one knows it’s about to happen, but it could turn the gnomes’ lives upside-down. And it’s not related to the prejudice. What is it?

MZ: ‪Hmm Can it connect in any way?

RM: ‪If that’s the idea you have, let’s start there.

MZ: ‪Well, I have a couple ideas… maybe some kind of illness or a major problem with all the lawns of the world. Or gnome terrorists could attack human targets and its obvious to all gnomekind that the humans will never be able to stop them cause… reasons.

RM: ‪Those are both things. Maybe concurrent, maybe one now and another is in your pocket for later. Alright, you have a setting sketch.

MZ: ‪Oh and my idea was that the players have to create characters who desire an occupation that is completely un-gnomelike. like astronaut, rock star, dancer, hair dresser, etc.

RM: ‪Next up: figure out what the player-characters are doing in this world, then make up some fronts that have either antithetical or sideways objectives, and some places that serve as sets for action or intrigue. Okay, so rebel gnomes.

MZ: ‪yes, who seeks to find a place in wider society

RM: ‪Thus, you have gnomes that want to self-oppress. You have humans that hate “sidewalk gnomes” Maybe you throw something else in there, like a secret griffon cult that sometimes helps gnomes out, but it’s never out of generosity

MZ: ‪Ooo and humans who want to “save” gnomes

RM: ‪Yup! So, we’re talking about setting here, but there’s an organizational piece that comes to mind: are these protagonists assumed to be working together toward some common goal, or are they merely connected by their desire for these individual goals? Those are two very different dynamics: one is a single story with side plots, and the other is a collection of multiple stories that sometimes interweave. Totally different gameplay requirements.

MZ: ‪I like the interweaving idea for this.

RM: ‪You may well have a GM-less, round-robin sort of RPG. Fiasco doesn’t have a GM. All of the roles of a single facilitator, rules arbiter, and source of adversity are distributed ad hoc.

MZ: ‪Well, this is my Storium idea I keep getting bored of

RM: ‪It might not be a great Storium premise. Maybe it is, but I can see a bunch of scenes where it’s just about one character, maybe with a second as an aside, chasing a dream. Then you have scenes where they’re all dealing with threats. Actually, that’s probably fine as a Storium premise, because the asynchronous element means you don’t have bored, inactive players sitting at a table waiting to be engaged. There’s plenty of other Storium games and the Internet in general to keep someone occupied.

MZ: ‪I think it could work… but I probably do need some kind of unifying thread

RM: ‪Characters are chasing a fantastic dream while suffering the slings and arrows that come with rebelling against their own kind and against an oppressive majority.

MZ: ‪there still needs to be something that keeps throwing the players back together toward one goal

RM: ‪That’s where an ongoing and impending threat come in that’s global to the group the PCs belong in. Survival is the default. And it’s a default for a reason.

MZ: ‪I want this to be funnier

RM: ‪Social survival can be made funny. Rather than physical survival. ‪But this isn’t like a courtly farce, where the characters have cause to be in the same place and deal with each other.

MZ: ‪I’m kind of inclined to go back to the TV idea and have the players be on a gnome reality show

RM: Yes!

MZ: ‪So the players have agreed to this as a stepping stone toward their dream but no one has their best interest in mind except themselves

RM: ‪So the ongoing problems are going to be more reality-show based. At some point, my publisher for Backstory Cards is going to finish and release the most awesome reality show-themed RPG ever: Hyperreality. Lillian and I playtested it a couple years ago, and it was hysterical. I kinda love that society has more or less co-opted “hysterical” to be a synonym of “hilarious,” rather than its pseudo-medical definition. It feels very mocking of pseudoscience.

MZ: ‪There are worse things to mock

RM: ‪True. I used to be a government employee.

MZ: ‪Heh.

RM: ‪Oh, if you want the see the framework I’m using for this setting building stuff, check out the Game Creation chapter of Fate Core System. It’s available for free in e-form, including at fate-srd.com

I pretty much was just riffing on what we wrote there.

MZ: ‪Awesome. Well, this Conversation ended up more like a hands-on game design brainstorm.

RM: ‪Welcome to 50% of RPG panels. The other 50% become GM advice panels, no matter what they started out to be.

MZ: ‪Hahahahaha. Let me tell you about my character. 😛

RM: ‪I’m sorry, I think my cable is starting to go out. Forever.

MZ: ‪ahahaha

RM: ‪There was a cool “Tell me about your character, $5” booth at Big Bad Con. Money to go to Doctors Without Borders. It was fun.

MZ: ‪That’s pretty brilliant Is there anything else you want to make sure we talk about?

RM: ‪I like telling people that I know more about the legal ramifications of cow STDs than most folks do, but there’s little to talk about other than what I just typed. You’d rather hear about my character, let’s put it that way.

MZ: ‪hahahaa. Careful. You start with the cow STD’s and I’ll start talking about seals sexually molesting penguins in the wild.

RM: ‪I saw that across Twitter today!

MZ: ‪(DO NOT GOOGLE THE VIDEO)

RM: ‪The article, not the act.

MZ: ‪I dunno, I’ve seen your part of the internet…

RM: ‪It’s funny. You introduce me as Ryan Fucking Macklin from the Internet. I haven’t really done much of that bombastic RPG designer persona since my now-wife and I moved in together. I hung up that giant flask. My “Night Macklin” Twitter account doesn’t get as much love. My hair hasn’t been dyed pink in over a year.

MZ: ‪Eh, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe we should make an account for your Liver and its plan for World Domination now that you’re not keeping it in submission.

RM: ‪Hah! I tell people that thanks to the medication I take, I have a mortal’s liver now, so I can’t go on holy crusades in bars.

MZ: ‪Eh, part of the fun of holy crusades in bars is to actually drink much less than everyone around you so you get the best blackmail possible.

RM: ‪The medication also makes it so that Benadryl makes me sleepy now. Use to not. Really ticks me off.

MZ: ‪Ginger Ale. The evil drinker’s secret weapon.

RM: ‪I tell my own blackmail stories, so that no one else can use them as ammo against me. There was one convention where I was sooooooo hungover for my game the next day, I ended up being sick and even nodding off in the bathroom mid-game for almost 30 minutes. I apologized at the end of the session, because we didn’t finish. One player said “Thanks for running! I got the real Ryan Macklin experience!” That was a call to action.

MZ: ‪Yikes.

RM: ‪I want that story once, not again. 😀 Well, I didn’t want it then, but you know what I mean. I didn’t want that repeated. That was during my self-medicated, self-destructive era. I suppose I sort of associate my bombastic self with that period of time. I still play a bit hyped up. I mean, I wore a damn cape up to an award show last August and handed it to the host like he was my valet. But sober 🙂

MZ: ‪:)

RM: ‪That said, being a lush totally got me a lot of work, which lead to the context in which I met my wife, so hey. Not that I advise that for others. Being a lush is not a cheap hobby!

MZ: ‪Nor is being a game designer.

RM: ‪Well, being a tabletop game designer is about being a pauper. So if I’m to be a lush, it has to be because friends and fans want to buy drinks for me. Thus, a self-correcting problem. Except for the yearly bottle of Sortilege that I get from a fantastic friend of mine in Canada. I think I’ve had you try that, yeah? The pancake liqueur?

MZ: ‪is that the maple.. yeah, that stuff. Delicious. I only got a tiny taste cause I was driving.

RM: ‪We will have to rectify that. There’s a layered shot that my roommate and I came up with. It’s that, Sortilege Cream (which is like pancake Bailey’s), and Kahula. IT’S AMAZING. Two of those things are only available in Canada. One only it…Quebec and Ottawa, maybe?

MZ: ‪I will have to check the list of places I am banned from returning to.

RM: ‪Have booze mules.

MZ: ‪Can we call Canadian’s mules? Wouldn’t they be booze moose?

RM: ‪Antlers are hard to get onto planes.

MZ: ‪well, in the passenger cabin, sure. I’m a museum professional. I know how to ship a moose.

RM: ‪You know how to ship a moose. I know about cow STDS. This is a game.

MZ: ‪a very terrible game 🙂

RM: ‪Life is a terribly designed game.

MZ: ‪It’s like they weren’t even trying to balance gameplay.

RM: ‪Or give a crap about player emotional experience. WHERE IS THE NARRATIVE!

MZ: ‪I want to reroll. My stats are all wonky. And I seem to have taken points in Mayan pottery.

RM: ‪But we’re writers. Our job is to make that random stuff someone turn into a paycheck, right?

MZ: ‪Show me the money.

RM: ‪I have, like, $6.

MZ: ‪I could probably scrape together a few $ in change.

RM: ‪It’s yours for the low low price of dealing with the hell of crafting a narrative about Mayan pottery. Not that the Mayan pottery is the problem. The hell is in the “crafting a narrative” part. 😀

MZ: ‪Word.

Conversations Between Writers

Wendy Sparrow

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Wendy Sparrow is one of the very first authors I started following on Twitter that I didn’t know and rather quickly came to know and adore. Her romances are cute and guaranteed to be a good way to get in a better mood. I’m looking forward to reading her YA work. She blogs about a variety of things including writing at http://wendysparrow.com/blog/ and can be found on Twitter.

 

Minerva Zimmerman: Are you a Nanowrimo person?

Wendy Sparrow:  Yes. I’ve been doing it since 2009.

MZ: What is it about Nanowrimo that works for you?

WS: Actually I do some of my best writing on the manic pace when I’m forced to concentrate.  I’ve had many of my NaNoWriMo stuff published.

MZ: That was my next question 🙂

WS: Frosted, Cursed by Cupid, Past my Defenses and its sequel were all NaNo projects.

MZ: Really? Wow! That’s great. Can you tell me what you’re working on this year?

WS: I’ve cheated and done 50K in novellas a couple times.

MZ: I don’t think there’s really such a thing as cheating in Nanowrimo

WS: I like to FEEL like I’m a rebel.

WS: This year I’m writing the sequel to Stealing Time.

MZ: Yaaaaay, I’m excited. I liked that one

WS: A rulebreaker. I’m off to a tepid start though because of all the stuff I’ve got going on though.

MZ: Yeah it has to be hard with older kids

WS: November is a craaaaazy month to be pulling this. I’ve had a few Thanksgivings where I’m in a corner writing.

MZ: Yeah I’ve always thought January or March would be better.

WS: I think so. But I write better under stress. I’m not sure why. It’s not healthier that’s for sure.

MZ: November just seems like a silly month to pick. I’m trying to learn how to gain balance in my work, home, and writing life. Not sure it’s working 🙂

WS: Oy. If you can manage that…you should share it with writers everywhere. I swear when you get published that balance really disappears because then the business side of writing kicks in and there are so many demands on your time.

MZ: I’ve gotten a lot more organized, which helps, but yeah. I think writing the first thing after you get published is probably the hardest (or at least so far).

WS: There are a hundred things I “should” be doing right now. Le sigh. It’s funny how the goal is to get published, but after you’re published the goal shifts to finding time for writing.

MZ: and getting published again… and stretching yourself and all of that

WS: I feel like there’s also more pressure to keep up with the Joneses. Because you have this artificial impression that other writers are doing more and better and so on. And some are, but we don’t all have the same lives outside of writing.

MZ: I think it’s pretty important to have a good sense of writer community so you can actually challenge those thoughts when they crop up. And support each other and assure each other that no one is really doing it all.

WS: The envy is much shorter lived when you interact more with other writers…and you do get a sense that everyone has their own struggles. Even on places like Twitter…where you get more of a glimpse of their lives.

MZ: Right. Everyone has a pet that pees on the floor or a kid that’s shoved crayons in the DVD player or whatever. I was going to say VHS… and then I remembered no one has small children AND a working VHS

WS: LOL. My husband was explaining what a pager was to my son earlier.  My son was utterly confused by the concept. It said he’s not allowed to bring a pager to camp…and he didn’t even know what that was.

MZ: Hahahahahaha /cries

WS: Oy. We’re old.

MZ: I am trying to get people to donate technology items from the 70s, 80s, and 90s for our education program at the museum. I should put “pager” on there

WS: It’s like when you try to explain to them what the world was like without the internet and they act like we were out killing our dinners and writing on papyrus.

MZ: I might have one in a drawer somewhere

WS: I think you should carry it around for the day and see if people give you weird looks.

You can clip it to your belt beside a Walkman.

MZ: Duuuude, my collections volunteer brings a Discman to listen to

I just… blinked and didn’t say anything.

WS: Old school.

MZ: the average age around here is about 56 with most people tending older

WS: So, their school WAS a bit old.  😉

MZ: I was trying to explain that school children were born between 1996 and 2009

so it’s pretty amazing how much kids aren’t familiar with.

WS: I know. They’ve always had computers in their house. My kids toss around the word “lag” every time anything takes more than two seconds to load up.

MZ: ugh… ground them and give them a 2400 baud modem

WS: Exactly. They’ve never experienced the joy of listening to a modem dialing.

MZ: that’d learn them to appreciate high speed internet 😀

WS: It would. Though I’ve become spoiled and I think it’d annoy me too at this point.

MZ: Yeah, I think that would probably kill me. Well, hyperbole-wise

WS: I left my phone at home by accident today and it was like I’d severed a limb.

MZ: It bothers me way more when my husband doesn’t have his phone than when I don’t have mine

WS: My daughter and I watched the Bells of St. John Doctor Who today –where everyone is being uploaded to the wi-fi. That gets a bit creepier every minute as technology invades more.

MZ: Yeah. My brother was telling me about a guy who has an antenna screwed into his head. The line between humanity and machine gets blurrier every day

WS: Which is gold for dystopian writers everywhere. I have an unpubbed YA where machines take over the world. It’s sort of Terminator meets Dark Angel.

MZ: That sounds fun in a dark sort of dystopian way.

WS: They get attacked by heavy machinery taken over by nanobots. I did a lot of research into weird things like tractors.

MZ: Ooo lots of tractors around here not sure I want to think about them coming to life.

WS: I took a lot of pictures of construction and farm equipment and people sent me pictures of machines they thought were scary looking.

MZ: yeah the disc machine is super scary

WS: Logging machinery…some of that stuff is creepy as hell. There’s this thing that looks like a giant spider–no joke.

MZ: So I have an admission. I’ve been describing your romance novels as “cozy romances”

WS: Have you? One of my publishers described them as “sexy sweet.”

MZ: that works too. I save them up and then read them when I feel like making a blanket fort and hiding from everything.

WS: I would call “The Teacher’s Vet” a cozy romance.

LOL. Well, then, you can call them anything you want.

MZ: 😀

WS: I didn’t plan on being a romance writer. It just sort of happened.

All of my earlier stuff is urban fantasy or paranormal or YA.  It all has elements of romance, but I was subbing romance while my agent was subbing my YA and my romance just kept getting picked up, so I shifted to that. My agent is still trying to grapple with signing a YA author who became a romance author.

MZ: Heh, there are worse problems to have

WS: There are. And I’ve always read romance so it was a natural fit for me…but I always worried there wasn’t really an audience for more “sweet” romance which is what I write.

I still worry about that.

MZ: I think sweet is a good thing to be these days.

WS: I think there’s a market for it, but primarily in contemporary. Though I am published in paranormal with it.

MZ: I really like the paranormal stuff being more of a genre person

WS: This is all in romance of course. Outside of romance it’s easier to find a market.

MZ: Do you think so?

WS: For less erotic elements I mean. It’s easier outside of romance to keep the physicality of relationships lighter without impacting the marketability. In my opinion.

MZ: Oh, right, yeah that makes sense

WS: Though I suspect it’s harder to find a balance of how much romance is acceptable in things like epic fantasy…even if love is the age-old quest in every story.

WS: I know a few female authors who write in fantasy or sci-fi get flack when they have romance in their books. And there is a weird sort of guilt I feel when I do shorts in sci-fi or fantasy that I’m making them “too girly.”

MZ: eh, guys get crap for it too, but not like female authors, true

WS: Do they?

MZ: Yeah if they put romance instead of just sex I think it’s mostly teenage boys going “ewwwww coooties”

WS: It’s so funny because everyone at some point in their life is searching for love and most stories boil down to a quest for some sort of love, but it’s like a dirty word among some crowds.

Well, it’s good that they can put sex in there still. That’s cool.  😉

MZ: /eyeroll

WS: It’s sad, isn’t it? That there are these stereotypical roles that even authors fall into to align with their gender. It’s hard to break from that too…in your mindset. Every time I think to myself, “I’m making this too girly,” I want to shake myself because I’m female…and having a relationship between characters shouldn’t be something in only women’s writing.

MZ: I am a character-driven writer so relationships happen, and I don’t worry about it

WS: I wish I could do that. Because I’m character-driven too. I’m a dialogue fiend. I swear I just write out the dialogue and fill in the rest later in rewrites. Descriptions go in during like the third or fourth revision.

MZ: yep, I’m guilty of that sometimes. I’m trying to get better at setting, but eh

WS: You’re a pantser too, though, aren’t you? I think pantsers tend to be character-driven and dialogue-heavy.

MZ: Yeah, I pants it until about 60% through and do a reverse outline of what I’ve already done

WS: Ohhhh clever.

MZ: and figure out sort of what I’m missing

WS: And try to find that black moment? My plot gets a bit meandering around that time.  In some of my writing, that’s about when I found out who the villain is.

MZ: figure out what my writer brain was trying to tell me cause I generally leave myself lots of little clues I didn’t know were there

WS: LOL. I do that too. It’s almost creepy.

MZ: and it’s a matter of clarifying them and bringing them to fruition at that point

WS: It’s weird that something you just stuck in there becomes a crucial clue later on. Writing is magical in that way.

MZ: yeah it’s always what feels like a total throw away detail. Well, we should probably wrap this up. Is there anything you want to make sure to talk about?

WS: Okay. I still have packing to do. Not that comes to mind.

MZ: I recommend elderberry syrup from the natural section at Freddy’s for avoiding catching whatever the camp kids have. (Wendy is heading off to be a chaperone for her son’s 6th grade outdoor education. When she did it for her older daughter she came back with the flu.)

WS: Oh, dude, if I come home with anything vile again…I’m going to live in a commune on a tropical island.

MZ: oooo I want a commune on a tropical island

WS: A writer commune. You can come live on my island with me.

MZ: Sweet!

WS: We’ll get Mountain Dew air-dropped in. LOL. Or maybe not…those things would explode when you try to open them.

MZ: we’ll fill the pool full of ice to chill them

WS: It’s only three days…it’s only three days…it’s only… sobs quietly

MZ: You’ll be fine.

WS: This a camp run by the YMCA. We get cabins with bathrooms. It’s really close to glamping.

They get to dissect squids and play with reptiles and canoe. T will have a blast and I’ll survive…probably.

MZ: That will be fun. He’ll think it’s great. You just need to hang out and tell kids to stop climbing on things. It’ll be fine.

WS: I just need to keep him caffeinated and then keep myself medicated and covered in hand-sanitizer.

MZ: I’m thinking good thoughts for you. Glad you’re in cabins though.

WS: Oh, I know. I’d be such a wreck if it was “real” camping.

MZ: I don’t think you should ever go real camping with 6th graders.

WS: I’d toss my kid on the bus while shouting, “You’re on your own. Try not to kill the other kids.”

Yes. But I get to chaperone a dozen girls.

MZ: but they aren’t your girls that helps

WS: If they’re like last time, they won’t go to bed until 2 a.m. the first night and they’ll paaaaay the next morning.

MZ: oh yeah, I’d love waking em up extra extra early if they did that

WS: They didn’t expect their chaperone to be an insomniac. They thought they’d stay up later than me. Bwahahaha. I was all “Girls, please…I’ve slept less in my life than you have already.”

MZ: hahahahaha they won’t know what hit them Well, thank you for doing this. I really appreciate it and I”m looking forward to your next publication.

WS: I’m going to reread Stealing Time while I’m there so I can get cruising on the sequel faster when I get home. You’re welcome. It’s been fun.

fistbumps with explosions

 

NaNoWriMo Is Not For Me – And That’s OK

(Due to bad planning on my part there’s no Conversations Between Writers this week.)Power of Words

It’s almost Halloween which means the online murmuring about National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo have begun. Starting November 1 people from all over will try to write 50,000 words in a single 30 day period. There’s a lot of camaraderie and social support in the online sphere during these 30 days and I want to support that sense of community even though I’m not a participant.

See, there’s also a lot of negative posts around this time of year too. I think we’ve all got enough negativity inside our own heads without adding to it. Writing is hard. Pushing yourself is hard. Anything that gets you doing either is a good thing.

50,000 words in 30 days is not my bag, but I know that only because I did participate for multiple years and fumbled my way through. What I suggest is to not see NaNoWriMo as a win or lose sort of journey. It’s a journey of discovery. You can learn something from doing it, even if that’s that you don’t want to do it again. And that’s OK. I hope that this NaNoWriMo brings a new understanding of yourself and your writing.