Category Archives: Books

I’m in the new Humble eBook Bundle!

So … this is a really big deal for me. I’m in the Humble eBook Bundle with a ton of incredibly talented authors, and their phenomenal books.

Humble eBook Bundle 2

 

The Humble Bundle is really cool: you pay what you want, and you get a bunch of DRM-free things  (in this case, eBooks) that you can download directly, or via Bittorrent. Whatever you choose to pay (from the low low price of free to infinity dollars) goes to charities (in this case EFF, Child’s Play, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), or you can split it up however you want to give some scratch to the authors and humble developers, too.

If you pay over the average, you get access to super neat stuff (in this case The Last Unicorn and Just A Geek) as well as whatever gets added to the bundle later in the week. If you don’t pay over the average, but decide you want to later, you can always top up your contribution anytime before the bundle is done.

Oh, and look at the top contributors at the time of this screenshot:

Humble eBook Bundle StatisticsI <3 me too, mysterious person, but I’ll share me because there’s enough of me to go around.

The Humble Bundle runs for two weeks, and then it vanishes behind a smoke bomb and echoing laughter, so if you want to get your hands on some really awesome stuff and give money to charities at the very same time, you’d better hurry.

How I learned to stop worrying, and love failure

I was inspired to write this post today because of Shane’s guest blog called Start:

One of the loudest voices in my head, the real dick of all the voices, likes to tell me that what I’m making won’t be perfect. It’s an impossible standard to live up to, perfection, and is therefore an effective weapon against my own creativity. I’m often tempted to give up before I begin. But I’ve tried to stop doing that. After 41 years, I’ve finally begun to realize that you have to start. You have to begin to make something before you can worry about how it’s going to end up. If you don’t start, you have nothing.

I want to be like the people who keep pushing forward, in spite of the critics, self doubt, and uncomfortable odds. They try new things. They take risks. They eat shit sometimes. They get back up and try other new things. Their successes are widely embraced. Their misfires are lonely. Most of all, their art is inspiring.

If I’ve learned anything in my shaky life as an artist, it’s that you must stop talking and spinning and whining and start making your thing today. Pick up a camera. Pick up an easel. Open your laptop and turn off your Internet connection while you write. Find a starting point. Ignore the voices. Ignore the critics. Reward yourself for having ideas by valuing them enough to believe in them.

Failure does not exist.

A little over a year ago, I experienced a creative explosion, and wrote more short fiction in the span of a few months than ever before or since. It was a whole lot of fun, and some of the stories that I pulled out of my brain, like Hunter and The Monster In My Closet, totally did not suck.

Since then, I’ve struggled to find the time/inspiration/courage/focus/whatever to cultivate a story idea beyond just being an idea. I was about to say that I wasn’t sure why, but I know why: I was afraid of failure. I’d written a couple of short things that didn’t suck, and was paralyzed by the prospect of writing and publishing anything that could or would or did suck. Besides, it is so much easier to derp around on Reddit all day than it is to get out of the Internet and focus on telling a story, right? There’s nothing quite as safe — and ultimately boring — than not taking a risk, creative or otherwise.

While I was on the JoCo cruise, I sat down with my friend John Scalzi and talked about writing for almost two hours. I miss making things up and making them live, and I desperately want to learn how to break out of the short form narrative non-fiction storytelling that’s been most of my writing for the last decade. I wanted to know how to take an idea that I’d turn into 2000 or so words, and instead work it into something that lasts for 10000 or 30000 or even 50000 words. You know, like a novel. For kids.

We talked a lot about the practicalities of writing, like having a schedule, meeting a word count or maximum time every day (like 3000 words or 2 hours, whatever comes first). We talked about breaking up a long piece of storytelling into several short stories, and then writing the connective tissue to put them together into something longer. We talked about the business of publishing, and for whom self-publishing makes sense, and why.

But the thing that got me out of my creative doldrums was John’s advice about failure. It isn’t for me to share with you what John believes were his failures as a writer (if we’re all lucky, he’ll write about it at Whatever), but I’ll share with you what I took away from it.

Sometimes we set out to do something, like write a novel, and we fail at writing that particular novel. But in the process of failing at that novel, we can actually succeed at writing another. For example, years ago I had this idea to write a book called Do You Want Kids With That? about being a stepfather. I would take some stories about my life with Ryan and Nolan, and wrap them in practical advice for stepparents based on my experiences.

I started working on it, and quickly realized that I was experienced as a stepparent, but profoundly unqualified to talk about it to other stepparents. I concluded that it would be irresponsible to write that book without a psychologist co-author, so I abandoned it. But! I had all these great stories about things I’d done with my kids, about how we’d grown together as a family, and I needed to do something with them, so I ended up building The Happiest Days Of Our Lives around them.

So even though I failed to write a book about being a stepparent, I succeeded in writing an entirely different book, about what it means to be a Gen X geek. I’m really proud of that book; so proud, in fact, that I didn’t even think about the failure that helped birth it until I talked with John on the boat.

There are lots of other examples in my recent history: the first cut of the first episode of Tabletop wasn’t good at all, but we scraped away the failed parts and ended up with one hell of a successful show about the joy of gaming. Almost 10 years ago, my attempt to collect everything from my blog at the time and turn it into a book was a failure that produced Just A Geek and Dancing Barefoot.

I could go on, but I think you get the point: failing at one thing does not mean you fail at all things and that’s the end of it. Failing at something can often be the beginning of succeeding at another thing.

Since I had this long talk with John on the boat, I realized that I have all the tools I need to write stories of any length, even if the longer stories are outside of my comfort zone (and there’s a whole other post coming about how scary and rewarding it was to get way out of my comfort zone — ultimately expanding it quite a bit — when I performed on the cruise). I know how to write a novella or even a novel, but I’ve been afraid to try it and fail. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying that, at any moment, Carrie’s mom will spring out of the closet, covered in knives and shriek at me, “THEY’RE ALL GOING TO LAUGH AT YOU!!”

But yesterday, I sat down and I plotted out a story I’ve wanted to tell for a long, long time. I sat down, thought about my big idea, and then had an incredibly fun time drilling down into that big idea to find the narrative story and character arcs that exist inside it. And the thing about doing that? It was fun. I wrote out a few mile markers to generally move the story forward, so I know what I’m driving toward, and when I got to the end, I discovered something incredibly awesome that I hadn’t even considered in the months I’ve had this idea bouncing around inside my brain. I typed it into my text document, gasped in delight, and clapped my hands like an excited child … which I guess, in that moment, I was.

Today, I start writing that story, unburdened by the fear of failure because I know that, even if I fail in some way, I’ll succeed at taking the risk, and learn something that’ll be helpful and useful for the next thing, or maybe the thing after that.

I owe John a debt of gratitude, because he helped me get most (maybe even all) of my existential dread and angst under control, so I could stop worrying and learn to love failure.

It feels good to be a capital-W Writer again. I’ve been a tourist for far too long.

the quietest and most constant of friends

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” –  Charles William Eliot

“Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they’ll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.” 
― John GreenAn Abundance of Katherines

In late 2000 or early 2001, a friend of mine gave me a book. It wasn’t a special occasion, like a birthday, and it wasn’t meant to mark something important, like the closing of a show or a graduation; it was simply a gift.

“This was written by a friend of mine, and I think you’ll really like it,” she said. It was a fairly large book, soft-covered. “It’s weird. There are tons of footnotes, and footnotes of footnotes, and sometimes you have to turn the book upside down to read it.” She opened it and showed me.

I took it from her, thanked her for it, and a few days later opened it up to read it. It didn’t grab me right away, and all I can remember now is being intimidated by the size of it. I set it aside, guiltily, and went on with my life. I kept it, though, through a number of moves and new houses, and always gave it a place of prominence on my bookshelf, so I wouldn’t forget about it.

“I’ll read it someday,” I would tell myself, but I never did.

Over the years, when my friends who had read it saw it on my shelf, they’d excitedly ask me if I’d read it yet. They always wanted to talk about it, and seemed disappointed when I told them I hadn’t gotten to it, yet. It became something of a white whale in my library, and I always seemed to find other things to read, excuses to avoid opening it. I’d waited so long, I thought, what could it hurt to wait a little bit longer?

A few months ago, while I was browsing r/nosleep, I came across r/Slender_Man. I was immediately drawn into the world of Marble Hornets and various other ARGs. I downloaded the Slender Man Mythos and lost myself in that wonderfully creepy and genuinely scary world for hours and then days and then weeks.

Eventually, I exhausted all of the Slender Man material I had, and went looking for something equally spooky and unique. I kept seeing people talk about this book, called House of Leaves, and I realized that I owned that very book. In fact, it had been sitting on my bookshelf since my friend Maureen gave it to me over a decade ago.

So a few nights ago, I opened it up and began reading. It didn’t grab me right away, but I stayed with it long enough to get interested enough to keep reading. Then, right around page 40, I think, it hooked me and hasn’t let go.

I was up late last night, reading all of The Whalestoe Letters, and only stopped when I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. When I woke up this morning, I skipped my usual hour or so at the computer with my coffee and instead spent two hours in the living room, reading my book.

Anne and I went to breakfast, and on the way there I told her all about it. The thing that sort of surprised me, and the reason I sat down just now to write this post, was the revelation that it wasn’t even the story or the way it is told that is so satisfying to me. Instead, it’s the ritualized act of holding an actual book — hundreds of bound pages — in my hands while I sit on the couch or in a chair and give myself over to the words printed inside. And House of Leaves is a rare book that absolutely must be read this way. It will not translate to an eReader, and I’m actually quite grateful for that.

I love my eBooks. I love the convenience of having a book sync across all of my various devices, always at my fingertips wherever I am and whenever I need it (unless I’m on an airplane; a stupid and pointless rule that really needs to be changed). I love the instant gratification that comes with buying a book and reading it within minutes after hearing about it, without ever leaving the chair I was already sitting in. As an author who exists primarily on the Internet, I’ve made a very good living due in no small part to eBooks.

And yet.

And yet there is a romance and a power and a beauty and a permanence and a sense of reality that actual printed books have, which also does not translate to electronic format for me.

I haven’t read nearly as many books this year as I wanted to, partially because I’ve been very busy, partially because I discovered Minecraft, partially because I spend more time creating than I do consuming … but I have to admit it’s all mostly because an eReader sitting on a nightstand doesn’t say “pick me up and read me” the same way a book does … which is exactly what this book next to me is saying right now.

on a long run, on a long run

I've had this idea for a one-shot comic kicking around my head for close to a year. Until yesterday, I hadn't done anything with it.

Yesterday, I wrote out a page-by-page breakdown for the story*. Today, I wrote the first five pages, and stopped when I ran out of gas a few hours later. I'll pick it up tomorrow, and keep going until it's done. If I can do five pages a day, I'll have a first draft done before I go to PAX, which is great because I can just leave it alone and let the second draft start cooking in my head while I'm playing games.

I'm not going to discuss any details about the story until it's done, but I can say that I'm aiming for 22 pages in a 1970s indie style. At the moment, I have about 18 pages, and it's a little tight. I may be able to open it up a bit and spread some of the pages out to get to 22, or I may just keep it as-is and end up with four more pages of story when it's all done. Or maybe I'll do 18 pages, and have my friends make fake ads for the other four pages, like the books I loved from the 70s and 80s. I can do whatever I want, because this is my project for me! YAY!

This is the first purely creative writing I've done all year, and even though I don't even know if it'll be published, it feels so good to be writing, to not be hung up on making a perfect first draft, or to have my creative impulses drowned out by the Internal Critic. I'm writing. I'm creating. I'm telling a story! I'm looking into my head and scraping out what I find in there, and it feels really, really good.

 

* That's a trick I learned from Warren Ellis: I write down "PAGE ONE – BLAH HAPPENS PAGE TWO – THAT THING HAPPENS" and pretty soon I have the whole thing plotted out, so the writing is pretty much connecting the dots … or hanging meat on the skeleton, which is probably how Warren would put it.

The newest #Tabletop is a real #Fiasco!

The newest episode of Tabletop is Fiasco, my absolute favorite storytelling RPG of all time.

Fiasco is "a game about ordinary people with powerful ambition and poor impulse control. There will be big dreams and flawed execution. It won’t go well for them, to put it mildly, and in the end it will probably all go south in a glorious heap of jealousy, murder, and recrimination. It’s designed to be played in a single session, usually around two and a half hours, with no prep."

When you have a Fiasco, you use a playset to establish the things the players are going to ruin their lives trying to get, who they are to each other, and where everything is going to get all fucked up. Some of my favourite playsets are Los Angeles 1936, Dallas 1963, and Flyover.

Saturday Night 78. A Fiasco Playset written by Wil Wheaton and Will Hindmarch, and Jason Morningstar.

The playset we used for Tabletop was written by me and Will Hindmarch, and Fiasco's creator Jason Morningstar. It's called Saturday Night 78. It is described thusly:

New York City, 1978. Last year, the city endured the chaos of the blackout of ‘77 and the terror of the Son of Sam killings. This year, Studio 54 makes millions by giving beautiful plebs and dazzling celebrities a place to party at $20 a head. Condensed sweat rains from Studio 54’s mirrored-laminate ceiling—sweat evaporated from the brows of celebrities, maybe—and falls back on the dancers below.

This is a time of rock and disco, of reckless hedonism and casual sex, a time before consequences. Debauchees high on blow, poppers, or Quaaludes dance and laugh and lust and cry in swank clubs and dirty dives all over the city. Whoever your characters are in the daylight, come dark they transform into sordid stars or disco royalty, beautiful disasters or pitiable victors, ricocheting off each other into the glittering wreckage of imploded parties. Every Saturday night the city’s alight with spectacular fiascos.

What's that you say? It sounds like an awesome setting that you'd like to use yourself? We've got you covered! You can download Saturday Night 78 for free right here, and use it in your very own Fiasco. And if you do, you know that I want to hear all about it in the comments.

in which I am an indirect contributor to Highlights for Children

In february, I wrote about the time that Anne and I discussed Highlights for Children at great length:

"You know what I always hated about Highlights?" Anne said, "some idiot kid had always circled the hidden pictures."

"Seriously!" I said, "fuck that kid, man. That kid's a dick."

"And what kind of parent gives their kid a pen to draw all over a magazine that's obviously intended for more than one kid to read?"

"Asshole parents," I said, "it's called Highlights for Children, you jerk, not Highlights for your Children. Highlights should have done a Goofus and Gallant about that, man."

Well, look what arrived from the fine people at Highlights for Children a couple of weeks ago:

WilsGoofusandGallant
DUDE! That is totally me sitting next to Goofus, expressing my non-profane displeasure! DUDE! DUUUUDE! 

… I know, right?!

After all these years, I am an indirect contributor to Highlights for Children. 

My life is weird.

George R. R. Martin please write like the Wind!

 

Paul and Storm debuted this song at W00tstock Founder's Night last year, and somewhere in the SD card of my phone, I have the very first public-ish performance of it, backstage.

I loved it then, I love it now, and I hope this video gets all the views and up thumbs, because it is awesome.

…and Winter is coming.

Famous Novelists on Symbolism in Their Work and Whether It Was Intentional

I read this great post on John Green's Tumblr, titled Famous Novelists on Symbolism in Their Work and Whether It Was Intentional:

"Reading is not a game of Clue; books are not a mystery that you have to solve by putting all the pieces together. That’s not the point. Find the meaning you want to find in it. That’s what we do with books because that’s what we do in life."

[John adds this:] If the point of reading is merely to understand precisely what the author intended, then reading is just this miserable one-sided conversation in which an author is droning on to you page after page after page and the reader just sits there receiving a monologue.

That’s not reading. That’s listening.

Reading is the active co-creation of a story, complete with all its symbols and abstractions. 

I thought about what John said. It set a small fire in my brain, and this is what came out:

English teachers who forced me to find symbolism and meaning in books make assigned reading in high school absolutely miserable. It was bad enough that I couldn’t just enjoy the story and spend time with the characters, but they also made me go on some kind of treasure hunt where I had to find something the teacher/school/board of education/someone-who-was-not-me decided was the “correct” thing to find.

As a result, I hated many classic works of literature, and actually resented them and the people who wrote them. I'm pretty sure that's the opposite of what any teacher would want their students to take out of any class, especially an English Literature class, but it's what happened to me.

Years later, when I was in my mid-twenties, I spent the summer rereading the books I’d hated in high school, because I figured they were classics for a reason and maybe as an adult, I'd be able to see why. I read:

Great Expectations - still hated it.

A Separate Peace - liked it, didn’t love it, but that’s a big improvement over how much I despised it when I was in school.

1984 - Loved it. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Brave New World - Read it just after 1984. Loved it.

Romeo and Juliet - Hated this when I was 14 (who, at 14, is mature enough to appreciate it? What a huge FAIL it is to teach this to 9th graders), and was moved to tears by it as an adult. Went on a bit of a Shakespeare tear as a result, and did Julius Caesar, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, and Macbeth. Still didn’t understand all of it, but loved every second of it.

All Quiet on the Western Front - When your authoritarian Cold Warrior English teacher isn’t somehow making this book all about how fucking great Reagan is, it’s just amazing.

There were others, but you get the idea, right? I even grabbed the Cliff's and Spark Notes to get some "education" from the books when I was done reading them, but I can't recall anything the notes said, just what the book gave me when it was all done… I think that says a lot.

When I was a kid, I was already an avid reader, so these (hopefully) well-intentioned teachers couldn’t turn me off from reading in general and forever, but both of my siblings still won't pick up a book if you gave them a hundred dollars to do it. I understand that educators want to encourage students to dig into stories and see what they can find in them, and that’s a great exercise, but forcing them to find what some board of education has decided is the One Right Thing To Find does those kids (and did this kid) a huge disservice.

And not that it matters, but I'm going to reread The Great Gatsby just as soon as I finish A Clash of Kings, because it feels like the right thing to do.

Afterthought: I love teachers. I'm on record stating that my heroes are teachers, and I believe that teachers do not get the salary or respect by American society that they should get. I'm not attacking teaching or teachers at all with this post; I'm just recalling the experience I had with a small number of teachers in the 80s, who I'm sure were doing their jobs they way they thought was best for their careers and their students.

 

in which i have a realization, and i am grateful

In the precious few moments I had today between work-related responsibilities, I stopped into my comic shop, and I saw this:

The Guild: Fawkes

I made this!

I've been so busy, and I finished my part of this project so long ago, I wasn't prepared for how proud and excited I was when I saw a book that I had written in my own comic shop, right there down the shelf from Brubaker, Wood, Willingham, Fraction, Waid, and other comic book authors I respect and admire.

When I bought some copies, Amy (who some of you know from Tabletop) held it up and said, "Is this your first published work as a comic author?"

I thought for a second and said, "I've written manga before, but this is my first comic book."

And that's when it hit me: Today, I am a published comic book author. A real one, and if I work really hard, and have a little bit of luck, it's only the beginning.

I've been traveling and working so much the past few months, I haven't been able to slow down and look around very often (life moves as fast as Ferris Beuller warned us), so I haven't been able to just stop, reflect, and be grateful for what I have. I don't mean to suggest that I'm taking things for granted, or under the delusion that I'm some kind of big deal or anything stupid like that, I just mean that I can't think about more than what is immediately in front of me until it's done, and there's been a long list of somethings in front of me for most of this year (which is awesome; it's great to be busy making a living doing what I love.)

But it's all too easy to get so overwhelmed with all the responsibility, we forget to take a moment to be grateful for the opportunities we have.

Today, I am grateful.

And now I am going back to work.

“you are hearing me talk”

I'm working on an audiobook — actually, a series of five audiobooks — for the next two weeks. I don't know if I can say what it is, but I think it's safe to reveal that it's a classic fantasy series from the 80s, and I'm actually quite surprised it isn't already available in audio.

I really like the studio I'm working with, and I'm in the process of finding out how much it would cost me to utilize their services to make audio versions of Dancing Barefoot, The Day After and Other Stories (including Hunter), and Sunken Treasure. Assuming it isn't too expensive, and assuming there is enough interest, I also want to do an audio version of the expanded special edition of The Happiest Days of Our Lives.