Category Archives: Books

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.

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.

 

Someone found my Kindle on the airplane this weekend. I’d really like it back.

I left my Kindle on an airplane this weekend (post-convention exhaustion will do that to you), and someone found it.

I know that someone found it, because they've been using my account to buy games and books. Based on the purchases, I'm fairly sure the person who found my Kindle (which is named Wheatley) is young, possibly a teenager or a college student. He or she likes Scrabble, Battleship, Spelling Star, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and something called Telesa. He or she also hopes to learn Samoan, French, and Spanish. He or she has spent a fair amount of my money on these things.

I used Amazon's Personal Document thing to send a note to my Kindle, thanking the person for finding it, and telling them that I can be contacted at [email protected] to arrange its return.

I'm hopeful that this person will do the right thing and get in touch.

*Updated*

I called Amazon, reported it stolen, and they deactivated it after refunding me the fradulent purchases.

This isn't the end of the world; I can afford a new Kindle (thank Steve the Fruitbat), and in the grand scheme of things, it isn't the biggest of deals… but I sincerely hoped that whoever has my Kindle now would have read the note I sent to it, which is titled TO THE PERSON WHO FOUND MY KINDLE, and gotten in touch to return it to me. I want to believe in the basic goodness of people.

I really hope that it wasn't just taken by some kid who decided to keep something because, you know, Finders Keepers. I really hope that it was taken by some dirtbag who turned around and sold it to a kid who is too young to know that "this Kindle comes with whatever you want and you never have to pay for it, just give me fifty bucks for meth!" or whatever is a pretty clear flag that something isn't totally honest with this thing.

Anyway, it looks like I'm not getting it back, and all someone has for their trouble is a useless piece of plastic and wires.

The Tournament of Books: State of Wonder vs. The Sisters Brothers

I am a judge in this year's Tournament of Books at The Morning News. The Tournament is a bracketed competition that pits sixteen books against each other, two books at at time. It's sort of like March Madness, if March Madness didn't bore me to death.*

I love to read, and I have so much going on**, I don't have as much time as I need to read everything I want. When something like this comes along that basically gives me an excuse to read books and not feel guilty because I should be doing something else, I always get excited.

The round I judged went live today. Here's a little bit:

I’ll spare you any sort of contrived suspense (there’s plenty of that in State of Wonder) about which book I picked to send to round two, and just cut to the chase: I had to restrain myself from reading The Sisters Brothers in one sitting, and State of Wonder felt like the most tedious homework assignment I’ve ever had in my life. The Sisters Brothers easily and handily wins this matchup.

Of course, there's much more to it than that, but why bury the lede? I hope you'll take a moment and head over to the tournament and check out the whole thing, then come back.

Okay. Welcome back. I hope my judgement entertained you. I knew that I wasn't going to write as intellectually as the other judges, so I just embraced who I am, and wrote my judgement the same way I'd write a blog post or one of my columns. I made a deliberate choice to be direct, hopefully humorous, and unapologetically opinionated.

I expected to be savaged in the comments over there, but they've been almost entirely awesome, whether they agree with me or not. In fact, it's one of the rare times I've actually enjoyed reading a comment-based discussion. See, kids? Reading makes you a smarter and better person than not reading. And that's a fact!

*themoreyouknow.jpg*

*Insert sportsball joke here.

**I'm kind of a big deal. /smirk