As for me, I was off to Heathrow, though I did get to see the solstice sun rise in Wiltshire, admittedly over the M4 rather than the heel stone:
The journey all went very smoothly. After some hairy experiences at Schiphol two years ago I'd been worried by the fact that I only had an hour to make my connection at Frankfurt, especially as it involved two different airlines (Lufthansa and All Nippon Airways), but the combination of German efficiency and, er, Japanese efficiency, meant that I needn't have worried.
On the plane from Frankfurt to Tokyo I found myself sitting between two middle-aged Japanese women, both of whom spent much of the next 11 hours in face masks, but who were to play a significant role in my journey.
I'd secretly been a little annoyed by the woman sitting to my right, because she closed the window just before take-off, depriving me of a view I always enjoy. Also, I remembered that you're meant to leave the windows open on take-off and landing, for the grisly reason that it helps recovery workers count the bodies in the event of a crash. I composed a Japanese sentence to this effect in my head, but hesitated to speak it, considering that it would be kind of snotty, however perfect the grammar, and that we were after all destined to be companions for quite a while.
She rose considerably in my estimation when I woke from a nap to find her absent from her seat. How had she escaped without waking me or my equally slumberous companion to the left? A minute later I had my answer, when she returned, removed her shoes, and clambered over both arm rests with the considerate dexterity of a service-industry ninja.
Then, about half hour from arrival, she became a friend for life by positively shaking me to point out a beautiful view of Mount Fuji.
Apart from one very distant blurry sighting from a Tokyo high-rise last year, it was my first Fuji sighting, and it looked marvellous in the clear early-morning sun (for it was now 6am the next day, thanks to the magic of time zones), brown with an icing-sugar sprinkle of snow. Of course, I tried to take a picture with my crappy mobile phone, but captured nothing but a blur. Then I remembered that I'd bought a camera especially for the trip, and dug that out. Unfortunately I hadn't yet taught myself to use it, and my attempts were really no better than before. Eventually my kind companion suggested I photograph the picture she'd just taken with her iPhone. So here it is, my photograph of the next-door passenger's iPhone's photograph of Mount Fuji:
Just like being there, isn't it? Hokusai would be proud.
As for my left-hand companion, she chatted politely with me, asking why I was coming to Japan, and so on, which was a good chance to give my Japanese a light workout. When I explained about the lectures I'd be giving in Tokyo she promised to tell her daughter, who was interested in anime - but added that her cousin (who was travelling on the same plane) happened to live in Kichijouji, near the university where I'd be staying, and would be happy to show me there when we landed.
So it was that I spent my first hour in Tokyo with left-hand companion and her cousin, the latter seeing me through the Tokyo tube in the rush-hour crush (no joke when you have two sizeable cases), all the way to the door of the university. She'd made a couple of remarks about looking forward to getting back to her Japanese life after her stay in Germany (her younger sister had married a German and even taken citizenship), so I thanked her for her "authentic Japanese hospitality" (本物の日本のおもてなし) - which I think pleased her, but was sincerely meant.
I spent the rest of that day meeting people, paying rent, registering at the library and getting online, and so on - more or less in a daze, for it was 24 hours since I'd had any sleep worth the name. I'll leave that aside for the moment - we will meet these actors again - and just give you a quick tour of my dwelling, the Foreign Faculty House, where I am sole resident. The outside I've already posted, but here it is again, in glorious colour:
So far, the rainy season has consisted of bright sunshine and 29-degree heat, and my little patch of garden is alive with butterflies and dragonflies. A murder of crows has taken up lugubrious residence in a nearby grove.
Inside, I have a spacious and comfortable apartment, though rather oddly appointed. The building, being almost 100 years old, is in any case ancient by Japanese standards, with polished wooden floors on the landings to facilitate the swish of kimonos (not that kimonos do swish, but this is the obligatory word to use with female clothing of yore) and, I suppose, the clatter of geta. There is an ominous stairwell that leads up into a void, but from which, so far, nothing has issued. Anyway, here are a few shots of the inside, to give you a feel:
Some of the facilities, though not quite coaeval with the house, have a distinctly retro vibe - but this makes me feel quite at home, my heart spending much of its time in the 1970s in any case.
Japanese error in most urgent need of correction? Why, that would be my habit of pronouncing "Toukyou Joshi Dai" (the abbreviation everyone round here uses for the name of this university) as "Toukyou Dai Joshi", which translates rather unfortunately as "Tokyo Big Girls".
This must end.
Sooo... the week before last, I think it was, I applied for a job as a...junior researcher, I think it was, at [Boston Research Consulting Firm]. VERY unusually, from my experience, the department head subsequently got back in touch, albeit mainly to tell me that I was horribly overqualified. (Which was possibly true, but a) I'm switching careers, kinda, so that's expected, and b) Hey, it's a job.) Usually, even if they DO get in touch to tell you you're overqualified, that's the end of it, and you're left feeling like "Well, fuck." In THIS case, though, he said he was going to forward my résumé on to Matt, the head of their Editorial department, because they might have some freelance editorial work down the line. And that could STILL have been the end of it, but Matt actually DID email me, to say "...please let me know your bandwidth (how many hours a week you would be available to edit our research content) and let’s set up a time to talk." So I write back, and then don't hear from him for over a week, while I sit around wondering what the heck has happened THIS time.
On Wednesday, after asking myself What Would My Dad Do?, I took a moment before Census training and called Matt's number to ask more or less exactly that question, and in due course we set up an appointment for this morning.*
So I get there--it's the fifth floor in a faceless office park in Waltham--and have to wait a bit, and then meet Matt and get ushered into a conference room: all of which was expected. And THEN we spend like fifteen minutes chatting about German History--which was definitely NOT--before we get down to the nitty gritty of what the job entails. As I had expected, it was going to be more of what I've been doing for [cheapskate client in Germany], namely taking stuff written by experts and editing it so it's actually decent prose.
What I had NOT been assuming was an on-the-spot job offer.
And then came the moment I had been hoping wouldn't happen. "So what do you think would be a reasonable starting rate?" he asked.
Oh Shit. I mean, I know I've been horribly underpaid in the past, but this is a potentially globalized field, and I don't want to get to greedy, because I REALLY want this job...
"Let's start me at $15?"
Matt actually laughed in my face.** "Well, I'd LIKE to employ you at that rate--or at any rate my bosses would..."
"What can I say, I've been really underpaid!"
Anyway, I somehow managed to recover from this screw-up,*** and we agreed that I should start at their standard starting rate for editors.
...which is $45 per hour.
Pause to let that sink in.
I'm going to be working part time, but still.
I guess I should have learned from Harvard Business School that any time you add the word "business" to a job description, they jack up the salary.
* At this point in writing this, I took a pause to go look at what was probably a juvenile bald eagle, sitting on a tree about fifty yards down the shore. As you can guess from the preceding, I'm in Maine again.
** You probably just did too, given that $15 was what we figured MRE should have been paying me, and this is a much more highly-skilled job. (Though it's also a much more pleasant one, and you can't outsource [University]'s mailroom work to someone with good English in Mumbai.) What can I say, I panicked. Fortunately, [see above]
*** I should perhaps note at this juncture that Matt is yet another person who got a PhD but then decided he didn't want to teach, AND got it in German studies, so PART of all this was that he took pity on my post-academic floundering.
That sounds more self-pitying than I feel, I guess: the OTHER part is that I'm hella good at editing papers in questionable English, and amply demonstrated that I'm experienced in the same in the course of the interview.
Some things I’ve read recently!
The Last Good Man by Linda Nagata
If you didn’t read Nagata’s The Red Trilogy, well, you might want to consider doing so. But whether you have or you haven’t–The Last Good Man is near-future military sf. It’s tense and compelling, and features a middle-aged woman protagonist, an ex-Army pilot who now works for a private military company. During a rescue mission she discovers something that casts a new and disturbing light on an event that she’d thought, well, not safely in the past, but over and done with and accurately understood. But she wants the truth, no matter the cost. If near future and/or military is your jam, don’t miss this.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
This is volume 1 of the Murderbot Diaries, and I suspect a certain percentage of my readers don’t need to hear anything more. Go, purchase, download! You will enjoy this.
Murderbot is a SecUnit–a security android, part organic part mechanical, that isn’t supposed to have any sort of free will. It does, though, and having achieved that free will it secretly names itself Murderbot and then works hard to hide its freedom of thought from the corporation that owns it. It doesn’t actually want to murder anyone, though. It just wants to be left alone to watch its stories. Unfortunately, someone is trying to kill the humans Murderbot has been tasked to protect.
I’m not kidding, I can almost guarantee that my readers will enjoy this. I have already pre-ordered volume 2, which is out in January.
Barbary Station by R.E. Stearns
So, Lesbian Space Pirates. Out at the end of October. That may be all I need to say.
Or not. Our heroines hijack a colony ship in a bid to join a famous band of space pirates–only to discover the pirates are not, as widely believed, hiding out on Barbary Station rolling in money and loot, but are in fact trapped there by the station’s renegade AI. Why is the AI doing what it’s doing? Is it conscious? Does it matter when it’s trying to kill you?
This book is good fun. Set in the Solar System, lots of action, I really enjoyed this, and I bet you will, too.
Mirrored from Ann Leckie.
⌈ Secret Post #3824 ⌋
Warning: Some secrets are NOT worksafe and may contain SPOILERS.
( More! )
Secrets Left to Post: 00 pages, 00 secrets from Secret Submission Post #547.
Secrets Not Posted: [ 0 - broken links ], [ 0 - not!secrets ], [ 0 - not!fandom ], [ 1 - too big ], [ 0 - repeat ].
Current Secret Submissions Post: here.
Suggestions, comments, and concerns should go here.
Guatemala doesn't want its emigrants back.
Justice Ginsberg and the price of equality.
Worst Trump cabinet member? Betsy DeVos.
Traveling to Havana? You may need to know this.
In Morocco, a town drenched in blue.
The secret lives of Mexican nuns.
Obama slams GOP Senators for not opposing the so-called health bill, and calls it "a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America." Which it is. He has more to say, too.
Why haven't all the Catholic bishops criticized the GOP anti-health bill with the same fervor with which they attacked the ACA?
The US Court of Appeals tells Mississippi LGBT people to "wait till you're denied service" before suing to get rid of the 'religious freedom act', because they "haven't suffered enough" yet. *spits in the direction of the Court of Appeals*
NY Mag: If the president is innocent, then he is insane.
Other than a somewhat jolting experience at the opening ceremonies, which made it clear yet again that many of those who have always assumed their perfect safety in any circumstance (and who thus find argument entertaining) simply do not comprehend the paradigm for those who have always had to be wary, to at least some degree, while maneuvering in public spaces. I trust that learning happened.
After that, things went so very well. So many great conversations, over delicious food. Interesting panels, lovely weather. Another thing occurred to me: I so seldom get that quick-back-and-forth of conversation, as my social life is about 95% online, that I found myself frequently behind a couple steps. At least, I think it's due to that and not (I hope) to me dulling with age.
The con was splendid right to the last moments: my return train was to leave Mpls. at ten-ten that night, and I did not particularly look forward to sitting at the Amtrak station for six hours, but I didn't have the discretionary cash for adventuring about. However after delicious ice cream sundaes (yum, yum, yum!) carbonel generously offered to take me home, then drop me at the station, though it was not even remotely in her way.
My six hours passed so pleasantly it was emblematic of the entire weekend for me: after the fast pace it was so nice to sit quietly, watch some BBC animal planet documentaries . . . and, to my utter delight, the resident kitting--after doing considerable showing off by leaping to wall and ceiling beams and down again--curled up in my lap to purr. When you realize that I rarely get to see cats except in youtube vids when the news is too fraught, you will understand how that was the perfect close to an excellent weekend.
Thence an equally lovely train trip back, much reading and some writing achieved.
And this morning, I hauled my aged bod to yoga, for a much-needed session. This last couple weeks has been all about the head. Exhilarating, but not good for the bod. I used to be so active, until the arthritis turned all my joints into a constant ache; now exercise is something I have to do, so I've some tricks to keep my lazy ass in gear.
Anyway, it occurred to me as I sweated and stretched that the fundamental good of yoga is to strengthen all those muscles we otherwise do not notice that hold the body upright. Especially someone like me with rotten posture (I've had the child-abuse shoulder hunch all my life, and when young fought against it in dance, constantly hearing, "Shoulders down, Smith!" The only time I didn't have it was in fencing, oddly enough) it's easy to turtle. But I feel much better and stronger overall when I keep up with the yoga.
So--that, and to my desk to catch up!
A bit of writerly stuff to pass on: an indie writer I met through a fantasy bundle project last summer, C.J. Brightley, has put out a call for fantasy stories of the uplifting sort, and asked me to pass it on. Submission data here.
1. Solaris has put up a hexarchate faction quiz for Yoon Ha Lee's Machineries of Empire! I got Shuos, which is not what I was expecting. Maybe I flunked the trolley question.
2. Girl of the Port (1930) had almost no internet footprint when I watched it—I could find links to contemporary reviews on Wikipedia, but almost nothing by anyone closer to me in time. By now it's been reviewed by both Mondo 70 and Pre-Code.com, clearly from the same TCM showing. Honestly, this is pretty cool, even if I wish it were more like discovering and promoting a cult treasure than a thought-provoking trash fire.
3. I have been meaning to link this poem since Juneteenth: David Miller's "Hang Float Bury Burn." I wish I knew where to nominate non-speculative poems for awards.
These are the eligible epics.
"So Closely Allied"
Twins Phoebe and Floyd have an unusual connection and superpowers enhanced through touch.
164 lines, $82
"As We Have Created It"
Not all dragons are necessarily monsters.
84 lines, $42
Hi, my name is [watersword] and my zip code is [redacted]; I'm calling to ask you to add a tally mark to your count of constituents who have called and are very angry about the Republican anti-health care bill.
Both times I was answered fairly promptly, the staffer was clearly charmed by my "I know you are on my side, I'm trying to help," and I was informed that Schumer's office has gotten ~500 calls over the past ten days on the issue (I'm not sure if that's all the offices, including Washington, or just the NYC office I called), and the Gillibrand staffer I spoke was on his ~60th call on the subject for the day. This is a horrible slog but I am going to keep showing the fuck up.
For a short book, this packs a lot in. As well as a competent whodunnit plot, the story explores the backstory of Barrayaran culture and social attitudes, particularly attitudes to disability, and more universal themes of generational differences in social attitudes. It's the sort of science fiction that doesn't really feel like science fiction; with the exception of the interrogation drug fast-penta there's no futuristic techology and it's hard to believe it's set in the far future instead of, say, the 1930s. It's an interesting and thoughtful read, and I liked it a lot (though I was a bit taken aback at "Ma" apparently being a formal honorific for older women, but maybe that's just Barrayar).
*The presence of a minor character called Pym, on a planet where most names appear to be Russian or Slavic in origin, did nothing whatsoever to dispel the Wimsey associations my brain kept making, either.
Well, not literally.
But I have finally managed to have a discussion with the editor at the Very Estimable and Well-Reputed Academic Press whom I had hoped to get together with during the Massive Triennial Conference the other week, which did not happen for, reasons.
And they are very keen about a book I have been thinking about for ages, which is not the Major Research Project of the moment, though somewhat tangentially related, and I'm hmmmmmm about it.
Because it's a book where I haven't done more than research rather a small part of one angle of the bigger picture, but on the other hand, I do know what has to be in there and where to look.
And unlike the Major Research Project, which is large and contains multitudes, this would be a discrete project that wouldn't (I hope) keep starting yet more hares for me to go baying after.
In this ongoing series, we ask SF/F authors to describe a specialty in their lives that has nothing (or very little) to do with writing. Join us as we discover what draws authors to their various hobbies, how they fit into their daily lives, and how and they inform the author’s literary identity!
I was one of those renaissance-artsy kids, always obsessively creating things. Writing when I barely knew how to construct sentences, drawing, sculpting, singing, dancing, dressing-up; I was engaged in storytelling in every possible way from my earliest understanding of human expression. My wonderful, tolerant college professor parents knew they had a compulsively creative soul on their hands, but they couldn’t have expected some of the obsessions that went along with that restlessly creative spirit.
I showed an early interest in and love of birds. They were always my favorite animals. My first word was “bird,” uttered while sitting atop a stone eagle at my father’s alma mater. I love winged, feathered creatures, real and mythical—to me, they have always represented magic, freedom, and limitless possibility. When I was given the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds around age 8 or 9, I began to understand birding as a science. I memorized the whole guide, bird by bird (just like Anne Lamott’s great writer’s guide), and began my “life list,” marking down all the birds I’d seen.
I learned the word ornithology and began to consider myself an ornithologist in training. My parents got me a subscription to Cornell University’s incredible magazine Living Bird and I assumed I’d attend college there as they have the leading ornithology department in the nation. I developed a keen eye for bird-like details in all kinds of surroundings. My mind stored increasing amounts of bird facts and calls, flight patterns and silhouettes. My eyes and heart were trained and attuned to these fragile, beautiful, majestic, miraculous, hollow-boned beings.
Birds have always been a symbol of the soul for me. In all kinds of traditions and mythologies, birds are seen as messengers and conduits to the heavens. As I’ve always been drawn to deeply spiritual narratives and symbols, birds became an extension of my thoughts on the soul and its ability to be more than just an entity within a body; an essence that could sometimes float and fly out from its bounds. Limitless possibility.
My love of ghost stories, of reading them and dreaming them up, of telling them around Girl Scout campfires, crested during this time of heavy ornithological obsession, likely due to that crystalizing sense of self and soul. I began to consider different birds as symbols for different spiritual and emotional states, birds as both signs of departed souls and creatures bearing tidings from the beyond. I’ve always lived in a pleasant openness with divine mystery. The infinite, unfathomable wonder of the world flits in and out of my notice like a lark or a hummingbird, sometimes swooping into my consciousness like a raptor or soaring dreamily out over open water like a gull.
My love of the arts eventually outweighed my obsession with the migratory patterns of sparrows and the call of my storytelling wilds drowned out the gentle, rasping chirps of chickadees. However I’ve never lost sight of my first great love. Birds play roles in all my work, as both characters and symbols. They often grace the covers of my books: the mythic phoenix graces Perilous Prophecy and ravens adorn all my Eterna Files. They appear as familiars, messengers, and harbingers. Much of my work takes metaphoric or literal flight, and I owe that to the creatures that have remained the keys to my heart.
I remain tied to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology as a constant supporter and modest donor; I am a member of NYC’s Audubon Society and love how the group tailors its love of birds and avid bird-watching to New York City living (there are many opportunities to be a birder in the big city!). I celebrate the vital environmental studies and legislative victories these institutions fight for and I worry for the fate of so many native species undergoing the threats of climate change. Birds are one of the first indicators of climate trends, problems, and changes. Canaries in the coal mines of our world, they are precious jewels we must take care of.
In these dark and oft trying times, it remains all the more vital to reach both inwards and outwards towards inspiration, to what’s not only within us as our great passions but what can be protected and treasured in the outside world. I invite you to look around you to find the symbols, icons, beings and creations that most inspire and excite you, and see what messages and meaning they have for you.
Leanna Renee Hieber is the author of The Eterna Files and Eterna and Omega. Perilous Prophecy is a standalone prequel to Strangely Beautiful. Rarely seen out of Victorian garb, Hieber has won several Prism Awards and was a finalist for the Daphne Du Maurier Award. A talented actor and singer, Hieber has appeared on stage and screen, including episodes of Boardwalk Empire, and regularly leads ghost tours in New York City.
I’m sometimes startled to realize how many of the stories I’ve written have their roots in a role-playing game. They’re by far the minority among my published works, but even so: depending on how you count it, one novel series, one novella series, a novelette, and three short stories have been shaped in some fashion by my RPG experiences. If you include unpublished works, the list increases by at least two more novel series and another short story.
I say “depending on how you count it” because the nature of that influence varies from work to work. Nothing I’ve written is a direct retelling of a whole game. Some make use of pretty significant elements; one is barely related at all, being an idea that sprang sideways out of my character concept and thereafter had nothing to do with it. The process of adaptation changes based on what bit of the game you’re using as your springboard: a setting, a character, a plot. If you’re minded to adapt your own game experiences in some fashion, it can help to look at it from those angles and figure out what you’re dealing with—so let’s dig into each possibility in turn.
A Disclaimer: Before we get started, though, let me make clear: this post will largely be focused on the craft challenges of such an adaptation. As some of you probably know, there’s another dimension to consider, which is the legal one. An RPG is not a solo endeavor; it involves other players, a GM, game designers, setting writers, and so on, and that means copyright may be involved. This is a complicated issue, and I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not going to attempt to lay down any clear-cut advice in that regard; if you think you might be treading on such ground, I recommend you consult an IP lawyer for real counsel. But as my own experience shows, I don’t think such considerations automatically mean that RPG material can never be reworked as fiction, as long as you go about it the right way.
“The right way” should also be “the ethical way.” Even if your fellow players don’t have copyright on their contributions to the game, you still have an ethical obligation to respect their creative efforts. There’s a running thread throughout the rest of this essay, which is that whatever the core of your adaptation is, you should do as much as you can to change everything else—to come up with your own ideas, your own backstory, your own cosmology to underpin the world and outward flourishes to relate it to the reader. If you want to keep an element that originated with another player, talk to them first. Don’t just re-use their ideas without permission. Even if it’s legal, it isn’t very nice. And why would you want to risk a friendship over something like that?
With that said, on to the approaches!
Re-using the setting of a game for later fiction is either the easiest or most difficult form of adaptation, depending on the sense in which you mean it.
The easy road is the one that departs from a setting you made up yourself. The GM who invents a whole world in which to play out a story is proverbial; in fact, some of them already plan to employ that setting for short stories or novels, and are using the game as a way to flesh it out or share their ideas with others. If you’re the one who made up the world, awesome! Rock on with your creative self! Because the ideas are your own, there’s nothing stopping you from using them again elsewhere. I did something along these lines myself once; the world of the short story “A Mask of Flesh” is based on the research I did into Mesoamerican folklore for a Changeling: The Dreaming game. Remove the human side, leaving only the folklore, and I had a ready-made society of monkey-people and jaguar-people and feathered serpents, whose political structure and social customs were entirely my own work.
But what if the ideas aren’t your own? What if you were just a player, and your GM is the one who made up the world? The answer to that is between you, your GM, and your ethics. If the creator is cool with it, you can in theory go ahead and use their setting for stories—but you risk a minefield later. What if you write a novel and it becomes a bestseller? Shouldn’t you, in good conscience, share some of that wealth with them? What if they want to write their own books in that world, after you’ve already staked a public claim? I believe that second scenario is akin to the one Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont found themselves in with the world of Malazan; it was a joint creation from day one, and they agreed to each publish their own series based on their game, in consultation with each other. You may not wind up in so intense of a collaboration, but if you want to use a world one of your friends invented, I highly recommend that you write out and sign an equitable agreement beforehand… however you may define “equitable” in those circumstances. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll avoid hard feelings later, but at least it reduces the risk.
When it comes to a setting made up by a company instead of a personal friend of yours, though, you’re scaling a pretty difficult mountain. Unless you’re writing licensed tie-in fiction for Paizo or White Wolf or Chaosium or whoever, that whole “equitable agreement” approach isn’t really an option. And while many elements that may appear in game settings are public domain—nobody owns the copyright on the general idea of vampires or faeries or space marines—the specific versions you see in those settings are not free for the taking. So if you’ve fallen in love with a game setting and really want to write a publishable piece of original fiction that takes place there, you’re going to have to break out the file and get to work on those serial numbers.
Which is, I’ll admit, easier said than done. The elements of a setting are interwoven with each other, and they create the flavor you’ve fallen in love with. You have to break that flavor into its component ingredients, so to speak, and figure out which ones you love the most, then—to run this cooking metaphor into the ground—invent a new dish to use them in. If what you love about Legend of the Five Rings is the moral dilemmas posed by the code of bushido, can you write a historical fantasy set in Japan instead? Or come up with a similar-but-not-identical moral code, and then create a society that follows such a code? If instead you’re really attached to the Spirit Realms, can you keep that part while replacing the human side of things wholesale? If what you love about the setting is the warring factions, each with its own strong personality, can you make a different, non-Japanese-inspired society with a similar political matrix? It will be tempting to carry a lot of details along for the ride, dividing each faction into a group of families and giving each family its own special techniques that —
Resist. Resist. Make yourself come up with something equally cool to take the place of those details. Keep only the ones that you really and truly love the most, the ones that inspire you to tell your own stories, and then set them like jewels in a crown of your own forging. Let the rest stay where it belongs.
But what if you can’t do that? What if you have a story you really want to tell, but it will only work if you use a very specific combination of worldbuilding details that are unmistakably derived from a copyrighted setting?
Then you have to accept that it will remain in the realm of gaming, fanfiction, or licensing. I adore the mythical history of the United States I came up with for my Scion campaign, but it fundamentally doesn’t work unless new gods start out as the heroic, half-mortal children of other gods, and Columbia and Britannia and Marianne are all former Scions of Athena who ascended to full divinity, and the enemies of the gods are creatures called Titans who are more like the elemental planes of whatever concepts they represent but they have Scion-like avatars who can act directly in the world. If all I needed was one of those factors, I could probably find a way to make it stand alone, but with all three? That’s a Scion story, and there’s no use pretending it’s anything else. Unless the owners and creators of Scion hire or encourage me to write a story in their world, I just have to live with my happy memories of the game, and be content with that.
By far the majority of my RPG adaptations have, at their root, been driven by character.
This is probably because almost every instance of me adapting an RPG into fiction has sprung out of the experiences I had as a player, instead of as a GM. In fact, I become much more strongly invested in my RPG characters than I generally do with those in the fiction I write, because my PC is the primary conduit through which I experience and influence the story. I perform their speech and behaviors; I think intensively about the things they want, the things they fear, their backstory and what they prefer to do with their spare time. I get to know my PCs much better than I could possibly know every NPC in a game I’m running, or every character in a story I’m writing. Is it any wonder that they’re so prone to lingering in my brain for years afterward?
The good news is, character-based adaptations can work really well, because your inspiration is often flexible. To be sure, no character is an island: their personality and life history are bound up in the setting they live in and the story you told about them the first time around. But if what you’re interested in keeping is the backstory or the personality or the emotional arc or something else of that sort, you can often transplant that root quite effectively, putting your Pathfinder paladin into some Dune-style space opera or your Changeling eshu into a secondary world. (The same thing is true in reverse: I once played a character who was basically Himura Kenshin as a transgender vampire.)
Here the question you have to ask yourself is, who is this character? Not their whole story, not every little thing that ever happened to them, but their core, the sine qua non of their identity. You can put Sherlock Holmes into the modern United States or Tang China or even make him a medical doctor instead of a detective, and he’ll still feel recognizably like Holmes if he has a mind like Holmes’ and uses it to solve puzzles that baffle everyone else. If Holmes, to you, is defined instead by a violin and a cocaine habit, then give him those things (or period/regional equivalent) and forget about the analytical ability. You’re the only one who can say what’s essential to the character, and what’s optional—and what you need to build around those bits in order to make them work.
But make sure that whatever you build still works in its own right. I have a trunked YA novel that’s inspired by a character I played in a tabletop White Wolf game, a popular teenaged girl who discovers her popularity is due to her being a telepath and unconsciously reading/influencing those around her. There were some other details from the game I really wanted to keep, things about her family history and relationships with the people in her life… but I did a really terrible job of coming up with reasons for those things that weren’t the ones we used in the game. (For example, replacing a vampire boyfriend with a guy who wound up immortal by a different, insufficiently-defined path.) The novel’s trunked because it looks like exactly what it is, a resurrected Franken-corpse stitched together out of disparate parts that don’t quite fit together like they need to. Until and unless I can fix that, the book’s going nowhere.
Oh, plot. You knew this was coming: the big one, the all-encompassing Story that you want to retell, in its full and radiant glory.
I’ll break it to you now: you cannot make that work. Not in its entirety.
Not even if it’s set in a non-copyrighted world and you have the written and notarized permission of everyone who ever ran or played in that game. This isn’t an issue of ethics, not in the first instance; it’s an issue of pragmatics. To put it bluntly, a game directly transcribed into fiction is going to be a bad piece of fiction. Games don’t work like written stories; their pacing is different, their narrative techniques are different, their focus shifts differently when switching between various character and plotlines. Events in games happen because the dice said so. Characters drop out of the plot and then reappear because a player was out of town. People often criticize movie adaptations for altering the story from the novel, but the truth is, that’s necessary; what works in one medium falls flat in another. Whether you’re going from book to movie or movie to book, you have to play to the strengths of your medium, rather than trying to approximate the techniques of the source. The same is true here.
As with any other kind of game adaptation, you have to decide what it is you really care about. When I was writing the novelette “False Colours”, I knew I wouldn’t try to include the entire one-shot LARP it came from; as with any LARP, I was wildly ignorant of half the plotlines (which coincidentally included every plotline where magic was involved), and trying to replace them would only take the narrative attention away from the story I really wanted to retell. My goal was to recreate the serendipitous moment where, just when my allies were secretly formulating a plot to help me escape my problems by faking my death, I accidentally got shot by my own captain. If the LARP was a tapestry, that was a single thread pulled from the fabric. Then, having pulled it, I ditched everything involving magic and espionage and mummies rising from the dead, and set about weaving an entirely new cloth around that thread.
This approach poses the biggest ethical complications, when it comes to respecting the contributions of other people. You can make up a setting or thoroughly revamp an existing one and do just fine, and a character exists so much in your own head that, while other PCs and NPCs may have had an influence on them, you can still consider what you’re working with to be your own creation. But plot? Plot is a collaborative thing. It’s exceedingly difficult to use it in any great detail without bringing in the actions—which is to say, the creative efforts—of your GM and fellow players.
The further you let yourself stray from the source, the easier a time you’ll have of it. I say that “Love, Cayce” is inspired by a game I played in, but the inspiration consists of “the children of a bunch of adventurers grow up to be adventurers themselves and then write letters home about the crazy things they’ve been doing.” The plot-based resemblances more or less end at the first line: “Dear Mom and Dad, the good news is, nobody’s dead anymore.” But when I wrote “False Colours,” it wasn’t just about my cross-dressing naval lieutenant; it was also about her best friend and her love interest and her captain and our GM, the backstory we’d all invented together and the actions we took during the game. I went to greater lengths with that story to obtain permission from my fellow players than I did with any other adaptation I’ve attempted to date, and I won’t be surprised if it continues to hold that record for the rest of my career.
A Closing Exhortation
The common theme throughout this post has been “figure out what you need to keep, and then change everything else.” Which leaves one final step: be willing to change the essentials, too.
I’m not saying you have to. After all, there was some bright spark that made you want to write this story; I’m not going to tell you to extinguish it. But you may very well find, as you’re working on your draft, that even those bits you thought were essential aren’t quite. The new ideas you came up with have developed their own momentum, leading you in directions that aren’t the one you originally planned for. Be willing to go with that momentum—the same way you would if the plot of a game you were playing in took an unexpected turn. Gustav Mahler defined tradition as “the preservation of fire, not the worship of ashes,” and the same concept applies here. Don’t ossify the original game material; let it grow and change to fit the rest of what you’ve built around it.
And have fun. There’s a special pleasure in reworking an idea, like a musician remixing an older song; if all goes well, then in the end you have two great songs to listen to.
This article was originally published in October 2016.
Marie Brennan is the author of multiple series, including the Lady Trent novels, the Onyx Court, the Wilders, and the Doppelganger duology, as well as more than forty short stories. The Varekai series of novellas—Cold Forged Flame and Lightning in the Blood—are is available June 6th from Tor.com Publishing. More information can be found at her website.
It begins, like so many hauntings do, with a house.
Junior’s house, though, is not your typical haunted home: it’s not old, has no secret compartments or hidden historical artifacts, and no one has died there. Junior lives with his mom and his little brother Dino in a modular house, cheap and small and different from a trailer only in that it stays put. “You can leave the reservation,” he overhears his mom say, “but your income level will still land you in a reservation house.” And just like that, they’ve brought their ghost from the reservation as well. When Junior sees him one night, dressed in full fancy dance regalia, he knows immediately that the ghost is his dad. He also knows that he’ll do whatever it takes to make him come back.
Stephen Graham Jones’ new Tor.com novella, Mapping the Interior, is a ghost story and a coming-of-age story; it’s a horror story with race and class breathing down the reader’s neck every bit as much as the dead. It’s also not quite like any version of those things you’ve read before. If most hauntings are metaphysical, Jones’ is physical: the legacy of Junior’s father is written on his body as well as his memory.
There’s no reason for Junior to know the ghost is his dad (he died when Junior was just four years old), just as there’s no reason for the ghost to have been able to find his family so far from the reservation. But Junior knows, nonetheless, right when he sees the feathers and undulating movements that signify the competitive dancing of his community. His father was never a fancy dancer during his lifetime, though he aspired to become one someday, if he could just turn his life around. “That’s how you talk about dead people, though,” Junior explains, “especially dead Indians. It’s all about squandered potential, not actual accomplishments.” In death, though, his father has ascended. In death, he has returned to take care of his family, as he had never done in life.
With Dino getting sicker by the day, Junior can no longer protect him from every bully, or even from the neighbor’s dogs that threaten them on the way home from school. His mother, too, can only do so much when she’s working long hours and cut off from her family. Junior is convinced that he can make his father manifest more permanently if he can just find where in the house he’s coming from. And so he begins to map the interior. Every inch could hold the key to saving Dino, every buried piece of trash could be the gift that makes their father stay. To recreate his first vision, Junior tries to mimic its original circumstances: sleepwalking, tying his legs down tight to force them asleep, constantly struggling to see things out of the corner of his eye. As Dino gets sicker, and as Junior begins finally to dig underneath the house, their father becomes clearer and clearer everyday.
Considering Mapping’s brevity and (even moreso) its horror elements, it’s a difficult story to summarize without spoiling. I can only hope that the gesture I’ve given to its creeping story and disturbing conclusion will encourage readers to pick it up. Junior’s small, narrow home, and his first-person perspective make for a claustrophobic narrative, one that is perfectly suited for its novella form. The more obvious horror elements, too, are fitting: encounters with the ghost and its timeline are aching rather than shocking, upsetting rather than scary. They are bruising, like the residue of grief.
I had never read any of Jones’ large oeuvre before this, but after reading Mapping, I can’t help but be drawn to it. Native American perspectives (let alone specifically Blackfeet ones) are rarely highlighted in any genre. Bringing Jones’ background and sensibility to the haunted house trope reinvigorates it, and highlights the recursive relationship between memory and culture. Junior, with his unreliable narration and child’s logic for the world’s cruelty, makes for a compelling protagonist of such a story. And finally, Mapping the Interior is gorgeously-paced, with just the right combination of understatement and profundity. It’s not to be missed.
Mapping the Interior is available from Tor.com Publishing.
Emily Nordling is a library assistant and perpetual student in Chicago, IL.
Webcomics are full of untamed creativity, experimental stories, and wholly unique casts, not to mention creators ready and willing to tackle subjects generally avoided by the mainstream. A few webcomics have made the transition to print (the big one in recent years is, of course, Nimona), but most stay online. The freedom a creator has online to do whatever they want doesn’t even come close to Image’s creator-friendly environment. Which is why I love webcomics so much.
I’ve been dying to do a webcomics edition of Pull List for ages, and the combination of Pride Month and needing a break from Big Two comics finally gave me a good excuse. Trouble is, there are so many great webcomics out there that it was impossible to choose just one or two to talk about. After winnowing my very long webcomics library down by series that have recently updated (as in not sporadically or on hiatus) and are not being published in print by major or small/indie presses (excluding self-pub), I offer you a list of some of my current favorite queer SFF webcomics While a few are managed by working comics creators or artists, most are from newbies or non-professionals. Some series are fairly new, others have longer running arcs, but all offer something mainstream comics don’t: a broad range of queer and racially/ethnically diverse characters written and illustrated by creators just as varied.
Acethexis by Florence Summers
While out at a club one night, teenagers Ren Namikase and Kotone Hisagawa run into Lena, an android on the lam. Lena is an illegal, an android who can experience true emotions and has the capacity to learn without being taught. Kotone doesn’t want to get tangled up with Lena’s messy life, especially since illegal androids have the nasty habit of harming their human companions. But Ren is drawn to the ‘droid. With its cutsey art style, Acethexis, is flirty and fun, but there is danger creeping in around the edges. For an 18-year-old high school student, Summers is brimming with potential. If this is what she can do now, I can’t wait to see her with a few more years of experience and practice under her belt.
Agents of the Realm by Mildred Louis
This adventurous, girly, coming of age tale owes a lot to mahō shōjo (the “magical girl” subgenre of anime/manga). While the art style is more cartoony than manga, the heart is straight out of Sailor Moon. Jordan, Adele, Kendall, Paige, and Norah are freshmen at Silvermount University. Each girl has her own issues – Norah Tanner, anxious and uncomfortable; Adele Silveira, friendly and warm once you get to know her; Jordan Liu, loyal, eager, and a bit co-dependent; Kendall Matthews, good at mediating conflict yet a dysfunctional rescuer; and Paige Fierro, an ambitious, short-fused smartypants – not to mention an alternate dimension version of themselves. With the aid of their magic amulets, the girls must learn to work together to protect their world and its alternate, not as easy a task as it seems.
The Arthurian Smut Cycle by Soren Haxan
Side project of the creator of the Medieval Death Bot Twitter account, which lists deaths taken from coroner roles from the 1200s-1500s, Arthurian Smut Cycle retells the Arthurian myths with a queer overlay. Or, as Saxan puts it, “It attempts to rejuvenate the homosociality & -sexuality latent in 14th century chivalric literature into a palpable work of heady queerness while pushing back against the centuries of erasing queer people from history by making some of the most infamous (if not actually historical) characters queer themselves.” The black and white illustrations are detailed and expressive yet clean and uncluttered. Now partway through the second chapter we’ve seen royal court intrigue, magical manipulation, and adorable flirting between Merlin and Arthur. I’m very much looking forward to watching their relationship develop.
Book of Paradise by KA Harding and Psychushi
Another newish series with not much in the archive. Doctor Saxon Oliveira is a museum curator – officially the Curator of the Paper Wing and 34th Century Artifacts for the Corinlian Institute of History – who longs to become the museum director. In the middle of his bumbling pitch to his superiors, a rift in the universe opens up. The cause? A roguish redhead and his magic book. The mystery man kicks Saxon out of his world and into another. Psychushi’s art is sketchy and messy, but I mean that in a positive way. I think it works well with Harding’s script, which is really enticing. I’m definitely sticking around to seeing how this story develops.
Goth Western by Livali Wyle
Weird West is one of my all-time most beloved fantasy subgenres, so of course I had to include it in this masterlist. Goth Western tells the story of Evie and her girlfriend Jack. When Evie is shot to death over an attempt by her scoundrel brother to steal her late father’s bar, cowpoke Jack sets out into the wilds with her corpse. There, she trades her soul to a god to bring her love back to life. The lovers make their way to Jack’s hometown, where they encounter a young man leashed to a death god. Another few towns over, a mysterious serial killer is slaughtering locals. Although almost entirely black and white, Livali’s watercolor-like artwork is emotive and expressive, the monochrome broken up with splashes of vivid red and detailed. It’s as beautiful to look at as the story is compelling.
Heart Hex by Miri Davila
While there’s not much to Heart Hex yet, what’s available is enchanting. When her cheating boyfriend Ant dumps her for another woman, Lee is devastated. She summons the demon Rosier and makes a blood pact to get revenge on Ant. What starts out as an impulsive decision made from a place of deep, dark anger, becomes something she can’t control. Lee’s path crosses with a muralist named Teo when he visits her for a palm reading. It’s still early days for the series, so it’s unclear what the future holds for Lee and Teo, but with Rosier hovering around it can’t be good. With Miri’s talent, I can’t wait to find out. I just love her creative panel layouts and color choices.
Love Circuits by Taneka Stotts and Genué Revuelta
Yvonne had one helluva birthday party. She wakes the morning after to a disaster of an apartment and the unexpected delivery of a refurbished Heartbreaker android. The ‘droid, named Lucos, is a belated gift from her good friend Frankie. Lucos and Yvonne’s android service dog, Beau, don’t exactly get along, and making things even more complicated is the arrival of Yvonne’s ex, Javier. Mediocre lettering is common amongst most webcomics. It’s one of those technical skills often overlooked when done well and very noticeable when done poorly. Letterer Melanie Ujimori isn’t just a professional, she’s a damn good one. Of all the titles on this list this is the most traditional, in that it’s structured, colored, lettered, and paneled like something you’d find in the BOOM! Box line. Between her easy-to-follow lettering, Revuelta’s lovely art, and Stotts’ intriguing story, Love Circuits is a damn fine series.
Meriel’s Law by Illuia (aka Kath Kirkegaard)
Meriel’s Law is Kirkegaard’s first published comic, but you wouldn’t know it. Meriel is a long-suffering witch dealing with some heavy stuff from her past. When June turns up at her door selling magazines Meriel doesn’t want or need, June isn’t deterred and follows her into town. How AH. MAZE. ING. it is to have not an all queer cast, but one where their queerness isn’t the main focus of the story! Not to mention that Meriel and June are exactly the kind of characters we never get in mainstream comics. Meriel isn’t skinny, has moles, and isn’t conventionally gorgeous. June is genderfluid/non-binary, bi- or multiracial, and is literally covered in freckles. Sure, the lettering and the coloring could be improved, but those are skills that can be learned over time and with practice. For what it is right now, though, Meriel’s Law is delightful. Gimme gimme gimme more.
Obelisk by Ashley McCammon
It’s New York in 1908, and Eve Reuter has just taken over her late father’s business. But as she starts digging into his business prospects, with the aid of his associates Martha and Alex, she learns that her father had some serious secrets. Eve goes looking for answers and instead she finds Margot, a mysterious curio shop owner. Eve eschews dresses for slacks and prefers working on her bicycle to embroidery. McCammon’s art is unlike anything else on this list. It’s simple and straightforward while old-timey and energetic. We haven’t actually met Margot yet in what’s been posted, but Evelyn is quirky enough to keep me coming back for more.
Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.