Thursday, October 30, 2014

I Keep Saying This in Different Ways

So anyway, I'm contemplating running a tabletop RPG again, which I haven't done in several years, and I'm going about it in this really backwards, sideways peculiar way. I described a vague setting to the players and asked them who they were in that setting; with their answers I asked some more questions and settled on a system, then produced more information; two of the prospective players have given me some solid character backgrounds, one has declared a class (the system chosen being class-based), one has given me enough background to give me a point around which to solidify the geography, and one is working Renfaire and hasn't given me much so far.

The idea here is to get as far away as possible from what we've been doing, as at least two of us are sick to death of the power creep, railroad plots, and sheer lack of story logic of the Pathfinder modules we've been running. I hope to create a low-powered, custom-tailored, sandboxy campaign that relies heavily on random chance, player initiative, and the GM's sense of story.

Because I kind of suck at game mechanics, but with supportive players who are good at the mechanics, I find, a sense of story logic serves pretty well, instead.

People are way too focused on learning how to do stuff. People trying to cook have meltdowns because there's an ingredient in an otherwise yummy-sounding recipe that they never heard of, or which is only available in large quantities and to use it up they'll have to search for other recipes that include it, and invariably those recipes have another ingredient...

People trying to write for publication want to know how to do it, what are the steps, what do I do next?

Would-be artists want to know how to draw, what's supposed to be in the portfolio, what will get them a commission?

And they don't want to do things until they know how they're done. Which often means, they wind up not doing it and eating another lousy meal out of a can.

Knock it off.

Yes, you need skills. Yes, if you want to go public there are protocols to follow. But - breathe, okay? You know how you learn to do things? You do them.

Recipes are not necessary if you know what you like and how to do a handful of basic cooking tasks. Write your story the way you need to write it, play your game the way it's fun, write and draw and film and snap photos and shove most of it in a drawer and write and draw and film and snap more photos. Burn a pie or two and throw it out and make another pie.

I'm making pants this week. I'm making the same pattern I made before, months ago, the ones I'm wearing today. That time, it took me three tries to install the zipper. I wrote a note on the pattern about it. You know how many tries it took me to install the zipper this time, notes and all? Three. I also cut the waistband the wrong length and had to rip it all off again when I thought it was all done but the hook, eye, and hem. So what? Next week I'm gonna have a new pair of pants that Miss Thai has not yet lovingly shredded during laptime. I could've had 'em this weekend, but what's the hurry? If I have to go to the farmer's market or the game in a pair of pants with cat claw snags all over them, anybody who notices will forget in five minutes and in any case what kind of person notices things like that and actually cares about them? Nobody whose opinion I respect.

I don't know how that game's gonna turn out. I don't know what we'll be doing in it in more than very vague outline. But I'm not on deadline, I know my audience intimately, and I'm quite sure that, even if it's a train wreck, we're gonna have fun and we're gonna laugh a lot.

My WIP is also kind of a train wreck. But there's a lot of potential there. Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't, maybe in the end this'll be the one that puts me on the roster of classics; or maybe no one but me will ever read it. But nobody's gonna read it if I don't write it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"The Market" is Bunk

So I've had this thing to say ever since I read the New Yorker article about how Sims almost didn't happen and how it almost didn't have same-sex relationships in it. (Go read it; it's not long.)

I have been not feeling like expressing myself on this topic here, partly for a concatenation of personal stuff crap that has kept me from feeling like posting anything thoughtful at all, and partly because this blog primarily exists to give people who google me something dynamic to see besides my peripatetic newsgroup activity, which is mostly about Forteana and gaming. Since I expect (hope) at least some of the people who do so will be agents, editors, and other people in the industry deciding whether they want to have dealings with me, my strong opinion about What's Wrong with Publishing may not be the best thing to have turning up in that context.

But you know what? At this point, I have so little to lose, screw it.

What this article crystallized for me is the reality that the people in charge of marketing, in any given media industry, don't have a clear or realistic idea of what their market is.

In this specific article, two quotes from the interviewee stand out: “I guess straight guys that make sports games loved the idea of controlling two lesbians.” and "I don’t think they understand that family friendly can include gay people." The first sentence demonstrates that he participates in the same narrow construction of the audience that he complains of in the second. He is assuming that the reason the crowd at the game expo went wild over the incidental female/female kiss in the background of the Sims video was that they were all macho jerks with voyeuristic intentions; but that's a huge assumption to make even about the audience at a videogame trade show in 1999.

Time has shown that Sims players (and bear in mind that the Sims franchise is one of the most consistently profitable in the industry) are a dedicated, creative, patient, and overwhelmingly female bunch; to the point that I default to feminine rather than masculine pronouns when referring to players of unknown gender in a sims-fanbase context online, and am usually correct. He was at the trade show and I wasn't, so it's safe to say this wasn't the case with the industry people who saw the video and that most of them were, indeed, male; but it is hardly fair to assume that they wanted to "control lesbians" rather than being excited at the prospect of a full-life simulator that is flexible enough to allow a wide range of human behaviors. That, in fact, they were decent human beings attracted by a really cool concept with vast potential.

And yet, these same assumptions about the gaming audience are repeatedly made by marketers. I see them shooting themselves in the foot over and over in advertising. A great many people who had been excited about Sims4 dropped all intention to buy it when they saw a trailer apparently targeting antisocial 13-year-old boys; and those who did not do so were discussing ways to circumvent and mod out features that they found offensive or limiting (such as an "insane" trait) at the point that I blocked the "sims4" tag on tumblr. (Because heaven spare me from edition wars and I'm perfectly happy with my Sims2.) Yes, the misogynistic jerk gamer is a reality (google "Gamergate" and see!), just as Westboro Baptist Church is, but the one is no more a fair representation of the hobby than the latter is of Christians. (And by the way, why would you want to cater to a morally bankrupt marketbase like that when you can market to people you'd like if you met them?)

We see the same thing over and over and over, where ever media are sold. I was in a panel at last year's World Con devoted to the question of why a certain niche market wasn't filled, and the panelists kept coming back to "there isn't a market" even when the market stood up in front of them and said "Here I am." I cannot hear "There isn't a market" or "the market doesn't want" or any such similar constructions, said by anybody, and not hear: "I don't know how to sell to that market and am not interested in learning."

I would like to say at this time that I do not feel victimized by this as a writer. Do I think big publishers could do a better job of promotion for the books that need it the most? Sure; and this has included me in the past; but that has nothing to do with me at the moment. Even if it contributes to the reasons why I'm not selling any new books right now, it would only be a small part of my problem.

I do occasionally, however, feel victimized as a reader. I'm a lot closer to the assumed core book market than a lot of people, and I never have a shortage of stuff to read, or come out of a bookstore without an uneasy feeling that I shouldn't have spent so much; yet even I get tired of heterosexual romantic interests, white characters, fantasy worlds based on medieval Europe, and a whole cluster of assumptions about what will appeal to me based on the idea that I'm from either California or New York, white, middle-class, and unwilling to try too hard to understand an alien viewpoint; or that, if I'm not like that, I fantasize about being that way and can easily identify with a type of person who could not be expected to identify with me. If even I feel slighted and confined, how much worse must it be for people who are dismissed as not being part of the market at all?

It's true I'm a crappy marketer myself. I don't know how to sell stuff; because the moment anyone tries to sell me something, I don't want it. I want to find things for myself. I wouldn't presume, in the normal course of things, to tell somebody else how to do their job, especially when I know their job is one I couldn't do.

But in this instance - I'm right.

And I may not know how to solve this problem; but I do have enough faith in marketing people to believe that, if they can have that epiphany and realize that they are defining the products they represent right out of a huge potential for growth, they can learn how to change their approach to exploit that potential.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Running Down the Hill

Worst Nightmare Ever.

Excuse me if I've done this before. It's hard to believe I haven't, but searching relevant tags, I can't find it.

I had this dream when I was in first grade. Maybe younger, but I think it was first grade.

My little sister and I are being pursued by a Monster. Nothing wildly original about this Monster - it's just the Frankenstein variety, and it's slow, but it's tireless. We're not. My sister is so small and I'm running so fast down the hill in the unfamiliar suburban neighborhood that she flies out behind me like a ragdoll as I'm holding her hand, running, and we're both screaming at the top of our lungs, no words just screaming, the most penetrating continuous little kid screams we can muster as we run down the hill, in the dusk, down the middle of a quiet street faced by two rows of neat quiet houses with lights in the windows.

And as we run past screaming and the Monster lumbers after us, at each house, the curtains are drawn and the lights go out.

That's where I woke up. But that's where the story starts, isn't it?

Because no one will help these children and they are too small, the Monster is too big, slow as it is they will be too tired to run anymore, the little sister and big sister will lose their grips and the little sister will fall on the asphalt, get all scraped up, and the screams will change and the people inside those ordinary neat quiet houses will hear the change, and remain safe in their quiet neat dark houses, dark as their hearts that did nothing -

And there will be consequences, and the story is about the consequences.

And I am afraid to write it because when I was little I was running down that hill. But to be a grownup is to be the person turning the lights off.

And anyway I can't really write horror. I'm not ruthless enough.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fear of?

I was migrainey this weekend, and could not make myself write a blog post. Sorry. Much better today, but getting a query out and starting a new sewing project are time consuming.

I am also having a little difficulty, at the moment, forcing myself to perform serious, coordinated, public speech. This makes querying very hard indeed, as terror seizes me in the moment before hitting "send" or sealing the envelope. I don't know what this terror is about, but it's remarkably similar to fear of the dark, both in the way it feels, and the degree to which it is productive or meaningful.

The good news is, it's only fear. No one has ever yet chopped off my hands for daring to send a query, any more than the monster has ever seized me from behind on my way to the bathroom. The important thing here is to know that, once I get the button hit or the envelope sealed, the fear will go away. (As it will when I return to bed, feeling every so much better. And no, it never, ever occurs to me to turn on the lights.) So that's an incentive to do the deed and get it over with.

This is not the same as a full-on anxiety attack. I don't get short of breath, I don't shake, my chest doesn't hurt, none of that stuff. If querying gives you those symptoms, seek professional help - it's no good resigning yourself to never getting what you want because your body is doing stupid crap to you so you can't take the steps necessary to deal with it. Not when there is such a thing as professional help!

If you're afraid of doing something that is necessary to get what you want, and it's not a full-on treatable condition, and you don't face the fear down and do what is necessary - you not only not going to get what you want, ever, guaranteed; but you will also continue being afraid. All that is necessary to make that sick feeling go away is, to do the necessary thing.

Anyway, if I fail to meet your Free Idea Generation needs in the future, I suggest you get on tumbler. The thing is overflowing with them. Rejected Princesses, for example, chock-full of real-life (more or less) heroines you never heard of. Medieval POC is also chock-full of inspiration. So, see, you don't need me! (Slinks off to cut out slacks.)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: That Witch Girl

That Witch Girl story I linked to still bothers me.

I don't like even calling her "Witch Girl" because that implies more than is known; also, the Italian usage of it may imply something different than what leaps to my English-primary mind.

The key thing is the contrast. Why and how does anyone get buried in a dishonored position in an honored place? How sure are the archeologists that she was buried face-down, and that the position is not down to the body shifting in the coffin during decomposition? (Or even, because she was buried alive?)

She was 13 years old. How does a thirteen-year-old girl arouse enough ire and respect to be buried dishonorably in a place of honor?

And then I look at who won the Nobel Peace Prize this year and remember, Oh, yeah, teenage girls are awesome. Teenage girls require the entire weight of societal disapproval, scorn, and trivialization to keep them down, and then it often doesn't work. If anybody's going to get that kind of reaction, it's a teenage girl!

She was a 13-year-old girl. She had some kind of power. She was not mature enough to wield that power safely; was she mature enough to take advice without relinquishing it? What kind of power was it? Over whom?

She died. Does that mean she couldn't exercise that power on her own behalf? That she trusted the wrong people?

Did she save anyone else?

This is a book that deserves to be researched; but it is a theme that deserves theorizing ahead of the data.

Friday, October 10, 2014

News: Death Sucks :P

Zilpha Keatley Snyder died.

All I ever wanted was a career like hers. But our own career is all we ever get. I never met her, so this is not a personal loss. The books, after all, are still here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

News: Art is Older than You Thought

For the longest time, the assumption has been that the cave paintings of southern Europe indicate an artistic revolution that happened when humans got to Europe.

To the surprise of absolutely no one who has been paying attention to archeology's big picture, some artworks in Indonesia, when someone gets around to dating them, prove to be even older.

Yup. That's how it works. If we had the first piece of art, it would hail from Africa. Like everything else human.

We really, seriously, need to get used to that.

Nothing is more human than art. If there's art, there's a human. If there's humans, there's art. Count on it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

News: Italian Witch Girl Burial

A Vatican archeological team has dug up an unexpected burial in northern Italy. In a privileged position in front of the church, the 13-year-old girl was buried in the disgraced face-down position, and she was not at all healthy while she lived.

Nothing revealed so far indicates why she was buried this way, but she's already been dubbed "The Witch Girl," and if you don't see the YA novel waiting to happen here, I don't even know why you're at this blog.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Someone Your Own Size

One of the reasons bullies exist is, that people like to feel powerful, and some people are so ineffective in the world, that tormenting those who can't fight back is the only avenue they see open to them to gain this satisfaction.

One of the traditional admonishments of bullies is the odd one: "Why don't you go pick on someone your own size?" As if picking on people weren't a bad thing in and of itself. (And as if the reason weren't clear enough: "Because I might lose a fair fight.")

But suppose we have a bully character who takes the implied advice.

How does she determine relative size? A kid in a wheelchair may be the same size, but at a physical disadvantage - how does she count on the "size" scale? And just because the bully perceives a physical disadvantage, doesn't mean it's real - perhaps the kid in the wheelchair has highly-developed upper body strength, not to mention a large metal object she's adept at using. Adults viewing an altercation between a large muscular kid and the scrawny science nerd will not factor in the nerd's grasp of strategy and knowledge of anatomy, which the bully knows make her the most deadly opponent in sixth grade.

How different is bullying from a dominance battle between two animals who must share territory?

What about cyberbullies? How do you judge relative size on the internet? Especially since nothing is done in isolation there - one side or the other is capable of attracting a swarm, and it often can't be predicted ahead of time which.

Suppose a person who starts as a bully, but is intelligent and self-aware enough to understand and admit to herself her own motivations, realizes that the only other people the same size as her are - other bullies? And she starts picking solely on them?

Does that turn her into a hero over time? Does it turn other bullies into victims? (They'll certainly think so - nobody howls louder than a bully who gets some of his own back.)

Does it matter why she does something; or does it only matter how she is perceived by those around her?

Dig too deep here and you get into the insoluble problem of human evil. So don't dig too deep. Stick to developing the character.

What even counts as a happy ending here?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dreaming the Solution

Last night I had a dream that clearly exposed and worked out some major plot problems.

Unfortunately, I realized about five minutes after waking up, they were for a book I am not writing and know nothing about.


Butt back in chair. At the moment I don't even believe in the WIP. Which is not a reason not to work on it.