Writing (and Editing) Update

Last week, Rhiannon Reyes and I had the pleasure of talking with the Not Your Mama’s Gamer crew about The Unconventional Dwarf and the need for stereotype-breaking characters in gaming. We also discussed the thorny issue of cultural appropriation and representing the other. The podcast is available here and on iTunes, and you can read dr. b’s follow-up here.

This weekend, S.I. Hayes will be interviewing me about The Unconventional Dwarf for her 131 Preview Review series, with the review and the interview to go live soon thereafter. I’ll post again when they do.

Also, I am almost done with the first volume in the Autumn Harvest series. Autumn Harvest: Maiden has been serialized through Big World Network and, after a final editorial pass, will be available in print, ebook, and audiobook formats. At that point, I’ll be able to focus more on Rites of Spring, the Autumn Harvest tie-in game.

Between that, revisions for The Unconventional Elf, teaching, and preparing to welcome a second child to our family, I’m swamped. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Post for “The Year of Belief”

This I Believe is a venerable (American) Public Radio series on values. For his Year of Belief project, Dylan Horrocks was looking for something more specific: insights into the formation, structure, and transformation of the religious/spiritual beliefs of individual people. I was thrilled by the invitation to participate, but after an effortless first draft, I hesitated.

No, it’s a lot more than that. I experienced one of the most severe blocks of my writing experience. I set aside the draft for most of a year. I couldn’t bear to look at it. It was a revealing piece, but that wasn’t the problem. It was also definitive, and that was a painful paradox for someone who religiously rejects the definitive, who is normally comfortable with paradox, much more so than with the grounded and definitive.

In the end, a large part of why I had to revise it and send it off was a mounting awareness in other parts of my life of how not speaking gives away one’s opportunity to signify, to mean anything but what others first assume. 2013 was a year of loss for me, but it was also a year of growing openness, as I explicitly came out as trans* to large numbers of people for the first time. I’ve spent far too long only showing people the parts of myself that I thought they would accept, the facets that I felt they were prepared for.

My beliefs are different from my gender identity: there is nothing about them that requires your acknowledgement or craves your acceptance. Here they are anyway, in shifting approximate display cases of words, gnawing at the bars and bleeding through the seams.

This is what I believe.

Unconventional Dwarf at Sci-Fi City Orlando

If you’re in the Orlando area, come by Sci-Fi City on Saturday, December. 14th. Writer Amy Walraven, artist Jennifer Brown and I will be there from 10am until (at least) 2pm signing copies of The Unconventional Dwarf.

Come early for a limited-run bonus with purchase.

December 14th is also “Second Saturday” at Sci-Fi City, a monthly event where gamers congregate to meet and play – a good chance to find a new RPG group, a pick-up game of your favorite CCG, or get tips on painting your minis.

Remember to follow us on Facebook  and bookmark unconventionalgames.com

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Jennifer Brown’s visualization of the Anme Namdi’me

The Unconventional Dwarf Comes Out Tomorrow

The first book in my Roleplaying series, The Unconventional Dwarf, will be available in ebook and print from DriveThruRPG tomorrow.

At this point, I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to the book, including writers Kevin Archibald, Sean Boyce, Malcom Dale, Rhiannon Reyes, Jeremiah Smith,and Amy Walraven, and artists Jennifer Brown, Rob Gee, Jelani Parham, and Malcom again (kudos for doing double duty!). Special thanks to everyone at Spectacle Publishing Media Group, including Angi Gray, Josh Lenius, Judy Spring, Rob again, and Spectacle CEO Eric Staggs.

The Unconventional would not exist without Kevin Archibald, who co-created the concept with me almost four years ago.

Above and beyond all, my eternal love and gratitude goes my spouse and partner, Nikki Smith-Eklund, my twin star and my guide whenever I couldn’t see by my own light.

Thanks also to so many friends and family members for their interest and support. We love you all.

The Comics Alternative: David B. & God is Dead

I co-hosted The Comics Alternative with Derek Royal again this week, and we talked about two recently-translated works by French bande dessiné (comics) creator David B, Black Paths and Incidents in the Night. We also discussed the first issue of God is Dead, co-written by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Costa with art by and Di Amorim.

Incidents in the Night was beautifully surreal: stories with shifting, changeable metaphyics make me happy. Black Paths is about the historical micro-state of Fiume, and it’s brief existence in the wake of the 1st World War, a reality nearly as strange as the fiction of B’s Incidents in the Night. I had a harder time getting into God is Dead because of the art, mainly the way women are drawn.

The Comics Alternative: Dash Shaw

This week I guest-hosted The Comics Alternative with Derek Royal. We talked about the art comics of Dash Shaw, including BodyWorld, a story of interpersonal mind-body boundary failure, Bottomless Belly Button, a family drama, and new works 3 Stories (a one-shot comic) and New School, an art-driven book about two brothers in the island nation of “X”, and the Xian ambition to build a vast historical theme park.

My thanks to Derek for having me on.

Guest Post: Shira Glassman on Diversity in Fiction

I’ve known Shira for years and I’m very exited about the release of her first novel, The Second Mango. When she told me about a blog post she was working on on the need for diversity in genre fiction, my ears perked right up, I asked her if I could run it here. So, with no further ado:

The plea for diversity in fiction in the meta-narrative of The Second Mango

thesecondmango7The present-day setting of my novel is a tropical country populated by people of color. The two principle characters and most of the speaking roles are women, and the plot is about women, too — looking for a girlfriend, trying to help women who have been harmed, or just the bonding of the two leads. And the lead is not only gay but lives with two debilitating food intolerances (although her world lacks the technology to know it by those terms.)

The main setting also includes bisexuality, attempted sexual assault, and lead characters with sexual experience outside of marriage.

However, the book also contains a four-chapter foray into the romantic backstory of the heterosexual secondary lead character, the warrior Rivka. The backstory takes place in a temperate setting where farmland grows beets and potatoes (compared with the banana groves in the present-day), the native language moves from Hebrew to Yiddish (thus bringing the action back to somewhere vaguely European), and all the characters are white, heterosexual, and if they have disabilities at all, they are the result of military injuries. There are more men in the backstory than in the present-day action, and it’s the only part of the book where two men have any kind of transcribed conversation with each other.

In other words, Rivka’s flashback, as related to Shulamit, takes place in a more traditional fairy-tale setting. And since the conceit is that she’s telling it to Shulamit–although it’s not written in the first-person, that’s what’s going on in the background–I want the audience to think about not only the story but also Shulamit’s reaction to it while she’s hearing it. This is a young, brown-skinned gay woman with health issues listening to the story of white, mostly able-bodied straight people. In fact, most of the food references in the flashback — even those that are only components of metaphor — are things that Shulamit herself cannot eat.

shulamitgrieving-copyWhat is she feeling, as she hears all this? And what do those of us who aren’t like most of the characters in traditional fantasy and fairy-tales — because we aren’t straight or white or able-bodied or more than one of those or whichever — feel when we hear those traditional fantasy and fairy-tales in which people like us are completely missing?

Naturally, she’s not going to get angry because people like her are left out of a story that has nothing to do with her. But that’s why it’s in the meta-narrative, not the real narrative. It’s just something I want the audience to think about — not an element of the story. In a way, Rivka is very much a fantastical character from the fairy-tale world — a five-foot-eleven warrior woman who rides a dragon — come into the life of this more realistically painted young woman in her time of need. Shulamit’s grief is messy and real; so are her feelings of isolation and the nature of her relationships.

I’ll leave you with this — only in the story’s present-day can Rivka find happiness — not in her fairy-tale backstory, but in the “real world”.

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Buy The Second Mango (also available from Amazon)

Find Shira online:

Ghost Pepper Mondays: Playing at Love

I think that one of the greatest economic (let alone aesthetic, political, and ethical) failings of the mainstream games industry is to ignore the nearly-untapped potential for games that are about romance and relationships.

This past week, I’ve seen some good news on that front. The progress is coming from the margins, the indies, as usual.

Choice of Games‘ titles are all well-written branching narratives. On Friday, they announced the completion of the Choice of Romance trilogy. That’s three games / stories with a focus on love and romance (and court intrigue) all in one package.

There’s also Gone Home, a game where you explore an empty house and uncover a story of young love, coming out, and family tension. Gone Home is subtitled A Story Exploration Video Game, a prosaic description that reads like a disclaimer: CAUTION! This Game Does Not Contain Frenetic Gunfights, Swordfights, or Nuclear Weapons!

…and the videogame zinesters have done it again, with the Boob Jam, about the fact that while the industry considers breasts to be a decoration and a marketing tool, for most people “boobs aren’t necessarily playthings for other people. They’re just something we have.” That’s right, a game jam where “there is no design criterion except this: make a game that talks about boobs without resorting to the ‘straight male gaze.’

And, as I continue my search for non-schoolgirl yuri, I’ve come across Manga no Tsukurikataa comic about being a mangaka, and about a lesbian romance. It has it’s moments, and apparently won awards in Japan, but it feels like it is much more about drawing manga than falling in love. It’s so indirect and ginger about the romance that I still don’t know if the couple who have been dating for years have so much as kissed. The most intimate moments come over the work of drawing and writing manga itself, as in this scene:

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I think it’s fair to say that the greatest love in Manga no Tsukurikata is the story’s love for the craft of creating manga.

CGIF: Hobbes and Bacon

Comics & Games: It’s Friday!

I’ve got something special for you today: my all-time favorite Calvin and Hobbes homage, Hobbes and Bacon, by Dan and Tom Heyerman, plus a short interview with Tom.

In 2009, Dan and Tom created the webcomic Pants are Overrated. For two and a half years Dan wrote and and Tom illustrated the series. Late in the run, they did the four-strip Hobbes and Bacon series. Tom wrote the first two strips and illustrated all four, while Dan wrote the final two strips.

The Hobbes and Bacon strips are mixed into the Pants are Overrated archive, making them a bit hard to find and read in order. So, for the sake of Bill Watterson aficionados everywhere, and as an introduction to the work of these talented brothers, I am proud to re-present the entirety of Hobbes and Bacon:

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Interview with Tom Heyerman

You and Dan put out Pants are Overrated for about 2 1/2 years: what was that like, and what did each of you do?

We had wanted to do a collaborative webcomic for quite a while before Pants came about, and Dan had written a couple of strips as a starting point, one of which was the first strip, in which Dan removes his pants, thinking he’s home alone, the name Pants are Overrated came from that first strip, as we didn’t have a name for it yet.

Dan was responsible for pretty much all of the writing and story ideas that we did, and I illustrated and created most of the art and assets for the site and anything else we needed.

Drawing the strip took a lot of time, which ended up being a primary reason why we decided to stop it, but it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on any project, and seeing this thing we created grow and evolve, and seeing people get excited and talk about it was really exciting and a real dream come true, it was pretty awesome.

What motivated you to create Hobbes and Bacon?

I had actually started drawing a Calvin & Hobbes tribute comic separately from Pants, I just had this idea of Calvin growing up and having a kid, and I had seen images like this, and thought it would be a really cool idea to delve into.

Dan saw the comic I was drawing and liked the idea, so we turned it into a Pants comic.

Like most people who loved it, Calvin & Hobbes was such a huge part of my life growing up, and such a huge influence on myself as an artist and illustrator, coming up with idea of Hobbes & Bacon was really just a way for me to try and give something back to a comic and an artist that had given me so much, and contributed so heavily to my creative development.

Was the first Hobbes and Bacon intended to be one-off, or was it always the plan to do a series of strips?

I had really only planned to do the first two, and I just thought it would be a little tribute comic that no one would ever see.

Then it exploded into this “thing” that people talked about and posted on reddit, and suddenly, instead of just a low-profile tribute comic, we had created a phenomenon that people were talking about and excited about.

So, as we were talking about ending Pants as a whole, we decided that we would end on a high note, and create two more, which Dan came up with, and I illustrated, and I’m very glad we did, I hear a lot of people say that last strip is their favorite.

One of the things that really distinguishes this from other homages to Calvin and Hobbes is that the action isn’t centered on Calvin but on an original character you created: his daughter, Bacon. How did you come up with her?

Two things of interesting coincidence came together to create Calvin’s daughter, Bacon.

The first was my now 15 year old niece, Alison, who, for some reason or another, has the nickname, Bacon, and has had since long before Pants started.

The second was the idea to continue Watterson’s trend of naming the characters after old philosophers, John Calvin & Thomas Hobbes, so I thought, Francis Bacon.

Now, I never thought about her name as it pertained to real life, or any apprehension one might have to naming their child after a breakfast meat, in my head she was just named Bacon, but a lot of people speculated that her name was probably actually Frances, and, like my niece, had Bacon as a nickname – which I think is a good idea, and one that was thought of entirely by readers.

Also, Susie probably would have been far too rational to allow her daughter to actually be named Bacon.

In Bill Waterson’s strip, the adults are all sticks-in-the-mud, but the family dynamic in Hobbes and Bacon is warmer and sillier. What, if anything, were you trying to say about growing up and parenting?

While we were creating the strips, I didn’t really think too much about the differences between Calvin as an adult and his parents when he was a kid, but I think that it ended up being an interesting look at the way we see our parents as children, I think that while Calvin’s parents were more serious than he was, Bacon still has a similar view of him and Susie, and still finds them mysterious, and weird.

The art here is strikingly similar to Waterson’s style: was it a difficult style to imitate, and was any special preparation required?

It was a fun artistic exercise to try and emulate Watterson’s art style, but I’ve doodled Calvin & Hobbes characters on the margins of my paper for my entire life, and I think it was just a natural extension of that. Trying to emulate his watercolor style, and the very bold and graphic use of his pen strokes was definitely challenging, and it doesn’t even come close to his level, but it was incredibly fun

What are you working on now? Any special projects in the works?

Dan has just released a trailer for a sketch show that he will be doing on YouTube called “Hashtag Funny”, which you can check out here (probably NSFW).

And I may have a super secret project that I’m working on right now, but I can’t talk about it yet ;)

Strangest Wednesdays: Sensate

It has been a very strange week. I lost my last living grandparent, bought a Green Alien, and ZZ Top mowed my lawn.

Now I’m listening to the music of the (Wikipedia) spheres and wondering if I should explain what I just wrote. I don’t think I’m going to.

Instead, here’s a lightly edited piece of free/automatic writing, illustrated with some recent sketched of mine:

These days are the final light in my eyes. These desperate shadows cling like sick slimy residue to my skin and mind. How long has it been since the last time you remembered to breathe? It’s hard, isn’t it, when it doesn’t matter except that the rhythm is the only thing keeping you sane, on the rails and properly coiffed.

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The passage through has always been there, the only consistent things, but your camels beg and bend and your knees shake at the thought of what you must give up to pass through.

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I understand. I am so much the same, or I am in part, as some of what was this self is already there, is that other thing already. I can’t help you, as the being that is no longer me has no point of reference to what it was. See, the afterglow of my upper-fore proboscis?

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It is not something digital, multiply articulated but only at fixed bony points, and each limited tendril moves independently, even the one in opposition. The ones who have gone before have sent a message “irresistible pulse consumption mediated by particulate motion – come soon, the unbearable bright terror and sensate.”

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What is it, then, to leave our decaying peace and become human?