Thursday, January 31, 2008

Comics Village Plug Again

Over at Comics Village, there are new manga reviews and columns.

2008/1/31 Fiction/Writing and Tabletop RPG Podcasts

Every Thursday, I post links to various podcasts that deal with the topic of fiction, writing, and tabletop RPGs.

Last week we had game designer interviews with Julia Bond (Steal Away Jordan) at The Independent Insurgency and Wolfgang Baur (Kobold Quarterly, Open Design) at Canon Puncture. In fiction, Fast Forward TV interviews Michael Swanwick.

Fiction/WritingTabletop RPG (Mostly)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Essay: To Railroad or Not to Railroad?

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

In one of the gaming podcasts I listened to, the hosts (there were several of them) unanimously declared that railroading in RPGs is flat-out horrible. No exceptions! (Railroading, for those of you who are unaware of the term, means that you are shoehorned into a particular path.) Do I agree with that assessment? As someone who's been on both sides of the table (as a player and as a GM), my honest answer is that it depends on the situation. The important question for me isn't whether players have freedom or not but whether they're having fun or not. Allow me to elaborate. (I'd like to make a disclaimer that this applies to tabletop RPGs in the vein of Dungeons & Dragons rather than the more story-oriented RPGs where players might take turns acting as GMs.)

For me, there are three kinds of "railroads" so to speak. The firsts and most obvious one is the linear railroad: there is only one path, you cannot veer off that course (well, you can, except it's game over). One example of this is the haunted house session: you have players and the plot revolves around them entering the haunted house. As the GM, you will make sure players will enter the haunted house and this might take the form of the weather (typically a storm), geography (there's no other shelter in sight), or some supernatural element (in Ravenloft, this could be the Mists). Nothing the players do will prevent them from not entering the haunted house except perhaps death. The second railroad is what I'd like to call the illusion of freedom. Using the same haunted house premise, you still have a haunted house except it's located in a ghost town. The players have a choice where they want to stay for the night, whether it's the tavern, a ruined keep, or a simple house. The catch is that no matter what option the players pick, that will be where the haunting takes place. The third is absolute freedom. You might have a ghost town and there's a different scenario in each building. The tavern might lead to an underground cult of deranged cultists, the ruined keep a fortress housing an ancient demon, and the simple house simply being a modest haven.

Back to the question on whether to railroad or not to railroad, there are several factors to take into consideration. For me, when I play RPGs, it's not necessarily to tell a good story (I have my writing for that) but rather to simply play a game that I'll enjoy. I can very much imagine playing a linear railroad adventure or an illusion of freedom adventure and still enjoy the game. I mean when I'm playing a game module, a published adventure, or a tournament, I am making an assumption that most likely it's going to be a railroad of some sort. As a player, I've accepted that fact and I go with the flow of my GM. That's not to say the game can't take a life of its own--a GM running a published adventure might skip some inappropriate encounters or add new ones, but if I'm say, participating in a tournament, I think it's honestly too much to ask if I went north when the adventure is clearly hinting for us to go south. And don't misunderstand me, there will be situations when the GM has to improvise or simply go with what the party is intending but that's not always possible, especially if the GM intends to be faithful to the game module or published adventure. An important element I think is to set expectations so that players can go along with their GM's intent and vice versa.

Theoretically, the ideal situation for players is to have an absolute freedom scenario. Now if you're that kind of GM who's used to running such games, good for you. However, some GMs need lots of prep time and "preparing" for the absolute freedom scenario simply takes too much time. Worse, all that planning might be redundant. For example, if you prepared ten options for the players, it's very much possible that by choosing one option, the players lose out on the other nine options (i.e. in a modern campaign, it might be a question of which country to invade/scout/rescue first when the aliens are currently launching an invasion). The GM's preparation for the nine other possible outcomes is wasted unless he or she plans to run them for another gaming group.

Here's one factor that governs the world. Sometimes, it's not about what's true but rather how people perceive it. And when it comes to games, it boils down to execution. For example, as far as players are concerned, I don't see any real difference between the illusion of freedom and absolute freedom game. Players believe that they've made a choice and there are repercussions for their choices. They don't have to know that this is what you really planned for them (or didn't plan for them as the case may be). It only becomes a factor on how you narrate your choice. For example, in the ghost town scenario, you can run either the illusion of freedom (the haunted house scene) or the absolute freedom scene (different events depending on which building they enter). I am operating under the assumption here that either scene takes up the entire game session. Whether the players receive the haunted house scene or something else is entirely irrelevant because they're operating under the assumption that the building they entered determined the outcome of their adventure. It becomes noticeable that you were railroading them only if you had a definite floor plan to the adventure, such as tavern having a labyrinth the size of a mansion, or a mansion simply having just two rooms. This is I think where GM improvisation comes in. If the original site of the adventure was this huge keep and your players ended up staying the night in the tavern, you can't transform the tavern into a castle but the tavern might have an underground passage that leads to such an adventure locale. On the other hand, you might have this really elaborate flowchart accounting for each encounter yet if poorly executed, might give the appearance of a railroad even if it really was an absolute freedom campaign. For example, you planned that goblins were staying in the tavern, orcs in the simple houses, and troglodytes in the keep. If players simply wandered in each of those locations and don't investigate (or you don't leave substantial clues as to why those creatures are there), it might seem to the players that you're simply throwing random encounters--even if in fact you had planned for freedom of choice on their part. So at the end of the day, it boils down to perception, unless you're the type of GM that shows to his or her players your notes after each session.

I think what's important to remember is that "freedom" isn't about having unlimited potential. At the end of the day, everyone simply has one decision to act upon. Of course there will be exceptions but for most people's games, they will only be going through an adventure once. One last example I have is the original I6: Ravenloft adventure module. What set it apart for its time was that it had a random method of generating the plot points: who was the real villain, what the villain's motivations were, and how to stop the villain. That random element however is honestly meaningless unless a) you've played the adventure more than once or b) you're someone who's read the adventure before. I6: Ravenloft's strengths I think is aside from the solid adventure that it is, is the fact that it has replayability. You could run or play the game three times and get entirely different results. But again, most gamers, or at least your own gaming group, isn't going to run into that scenario often. Most RPGs are designed to be played once after all and so players don't necessarily need all these choices. Now I'm not advocating that you use the railroad method to your games. What I'm saying is, sometimes, you must ask yourself: is this planning all worth the effort? Or better yet, are my players enjoying this?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Open Call for Strahan's Eclipse Two

Thankfully, Banzai Cat informed me of this so I guess it's time to exercise those writing muscles and churn out stories sooner rather than later.

From Jonathan Strahan:

I am currently reading for Eclipse Two, the second volume in the original science fiction and fantasy anthology series that I am editing for San Francisco-based publisher Night Shade Books.

Eclipse is a series of anthologies in the vein of Orbit, Universe and New Dimensions, updated for the 21st century. It’s new and it’s proudly genre. It has no theme, and there’s no such thing as an ‘type’ of story. Instead writers are encouraged to take any and all of the colors of the genre palette - be they steampunk, cyberpunk, new space opera, old space opera, fairy tale, ghost story, hard SF, or whatever - and use them as they will to create something unique and wonderful. That said, I am particularly looking for strong science fiction stories for Volume Two.

Each volume of Eclipse features more than a dozen new stories by some of the best and brightest writers working in the field today. For example, Eclipse 1, which was published in October 2007, features Peter S. Beagle, Jack Dann & Paul Brandon, Terry Dowling, Andy Duncan, Jeffrey Ford, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Eileen Gunn, Gwyneth Jones, Ellen Klages, Margo Lanagan, Maureen F. McHugh, Garth Nix, Lucius Shepard, Bruce Sterling, and Ysabeau S. Wilce.

What I’m looking for

I am looking for stories that are between 2,500 words and 10,000 words in length (with a preference for stories around 7,500 words) and that are both previously unpublished and clearly part of the science fiction or fantasy genres.

Open reading period

I am accepting story submissions between Friday 1 February 2008 and Friday 29 February 2008. I will be reading stories during March, with an intention of responding to all submissions by the end of March.

How do you submit

Given the lateness of this announcement, I will be accepting submissions via email. Please email your submission in Rich Text Format (.rtf) to jstrahan(at)iinet(dot)au.

What about Eclipse Three?

Honestly, I’m not sure. At the moment I’m reading for Eclipse Two. If I receive too many stories that I’d like to accept then I will contact the author about holding them over for Eclipse Three. If I don’t, then I’ll most likely have a similar open submission period in early 2009.

Before There Were LitCritters...

Jeremy Arambulo, one of the talented contributors in the local comic Siglo: Freedom, uploaded videos of the comic launch party... back in December 2003. This was a time when Dean and company were making a splash more in the comic scene than the spec fic community (although he was writing and publishing some of his works then, including Hinirang). The first video was the actual launch while the last two were at the Christmas party.


Feature: Interview with Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem

Every Tuesday, I'll have a feature article posted.

Ed Note: Next week, we'll take a break from interviewing the Wizards of the Coast: Discoveries authors as I'll be interviewing award-winning author Jeffrey Ford about his upcoming book, The Shadow Year. On February 12, 2008, we'll finish the first batch of Discoveries authors with Richard Dansky whose novel, Firefly Rain, has already been released for a few weeks now. Also be sure to catch the novels The Automatic Detective and Last Dragon which are coming out next Tuesday by authors A. Lee Martinez and J.M. McDermott respectively.

Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem are award-winning authors who, between the two of them, have published several novels and collections. Their latest novel, The Man on the Ceiling, will be released on March 4, 2008 under the Wizards of the Coast: Discoveries imprint. Their other works will be included in several anthologies this year. There is also a recent interview with them over at Storytellers Unplugged by Janet Berliner.

First off, thanks for doing this interview. Can you tell us about your upcoming book, The Man on the Ceiling? What's been added or what's different compared to the previous novella?

Well, it wasn't a case of taking the novella and just making it longer. We realized that we had a lot more to say about how real life and the imagination intersect, and that the metafictional technique used in the original novella was a powerful tool for this kind of exploration. The original novella (more or less intact) is now section 3 of the book, and the other sections tell other fictions about our lives, building on themes which have had a significant impact on us personally and creatively such as a sense of place, naming things, transcendence, the importance of the invisible world, how we deal with fear, how we deal with hope.

What made you decide to expand it to a full-length novel?

The initial idea actually came from an editor at Simon & Schuster (who has since left publishing). We'd been sending copies of the novella around to various houses, trying to make something happen. She asked if we'd ever thought of turning this into a novel. We were extremely skeptical at first, because we had a strong attachment to the thing as it was and couldn't imagine what else we could do with it. But we realized we had a lot more to say, and that the original novella could remain basically intact (which was very important to us), and that we could build a longer work around that seed, adding pieces to it.

Why Wizards of the Coast? Did you submit a proposal when they had their open call or did they approach you? Also, did you think the awards for the novella and your own credentials helped you in getting it published?

We weren't involved in the open call, and we'd never actually thought of trying Wizards. It was a case of our terrific agent Robert Fleck putting a description of the book out there, and Wizards asked to see it. Once we talked to our editor, Phil Athans, and heard what he had to say about the book and his plans for their new imprint we were pretty much sold. Awards and credentials are nice, and they help draw attention to what you've done, but they don't get you published, and they don't sell the book when it is published, unless you're one of a handful of authors in the genres. A Hugo win seems to have a bigger impact than most of the others (but then, we didn't win a Hugo).

What interests me are writers who collaborate: how did the both of you write
The Man on the Ceiling? Did you divide the chapters or did you discuss each and every line?

Both. For the original novella we just alternated sections as a dialog between us, passing the story back and forth, then rewriting each others' sections. For the novel, we first worked out a basic structure, and each of us talked about what themes we were most interested in, and we wrote these independently, exchanged work, and rewrote each other. There's still some feel of a dialog, a sense that perhaps our first audience is each other (and that's literally true, as we are each other's in-house first-line editor for everything we write). At the same time, each section is a more extended exploration in one POV. We mix that up some through the book, though—one section uses us as characters, in third person, and there are third person "mini-stories" scattered throughout. And even when it's Steve's POV, for example, there may be stretches in which Melanie was actually the writer, seeing things through Steve's eyes, and vice versa. One thing we did in this collaboration which is consistent with all our previous collaborations is that, through editing and rewriting each other's parts, we tried to achieve a third writing voice which is different from our normal, individual writing styles.

In expanding
The Man on the Ceiling into a novel, was it harder or easier to write?

There were certainly more technical challenges. The very nature of the process we set up pretty much suggested that we needed to be even more revealing of our personal selves than we were in the novella, and at times that was surprising, and at times pretty uncomfortable. We had to be even more conscious of just how far we should go with this process. We had to figure out that line where self-indulgence comes in, and stop ourselves before we got there. The structure also encouraged us to discover all the stories-within-stories and themes-within-themes, which was exciting and also a little hair-raising at times.

This question is cliche but who were your writing influences and who are your favorite authors?

There are so many! Sometimes it depends on the project, but overall I'd say my major influences/favorite writers have been Borges, Kafka, Italo Calvino, Bradbury, Dennis Etchison, Ramsey Campbell, Harlan Ellison, Cormac McCarthy.

Melanie: It's hard for me to know who my influences are; I've never actually studied another writer to learn techniques or strategies, so influences are probably subconscious. I have favorite works rather than favorite writers, except that I want to be Toni Morrison when I grow up. I love poems like Frost's "Birches" and "Death of a Hired Hand," Amy Lowell's "Patterns, Mary Oliver's "In Black Water Woods," many haiku. Short stories that please me greatly include "Him with HIs Foot in HIs Mouth" by Saul Bellow, several by Amy Bloom whose titles I can't remember, Conrad Aiken's "Silent Snow, Secret Snow." Among my many favorite novels are The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, Bellefleur by Joyce Carol Oates, A Death in the Family by James Agee, The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner.

Both of you have written several novels and short stories. Which format do you prefer writing, if any?

I really like the unique challenges of the novel, but for overall fun with the process, I don't think you can beat the short story--because you can create a short story out of seemingly the most unpromising materials. You can pretty much create a short story out of anything, if you can find the right storytelling strategy for it.

Melanie: Poetry, plays, short stories, novels--I like them all. Usually when an idea comes to me it announces what form it's to be written in.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
  • Read as much as possible, the best stuff you can find, whatever the genre, and use that reading to build up your arsenal of storytelling techniques.
  • Look at rewriting as a path to a better story. Good stories rarely come full-grown—they're the end result of a process.
  • Try to focus your writing on things you have a genuine passion for. It's tempting to chase the markets, out-smart the markets, to write a piece on something you have no interest in simply because you think you can sell it, and putting your own personal passions on the back burner. But we all have less time than we think, and we serve our readers and our careers and our art better if we preserve most of our effort and time for the writing that really moves us
  • Stop aspiring and write! Stop talking about being a writer, and write!
Any upcoming projects or work you'd like to plug?

Toward the end of 2009 Wizards Discoveries will be publishing my next solo novel, DEADFALL HOTEL, which our agent described as "a literary exploration of the roots of horror in the collective unconscious told through the story of a widower who takes the job of manager at a remote hotel where the guests are not quite like you and me, accompanied by his daughter and the ghost of his wife." This is one of those rare projects of mine in which I'm dealing with some of horror's basic tropes: the werewolf, the vampire, the zombie, the thing without a name, and all manner of other beasties. It's a project with a long history—I began it back in 1985. A very early version of one chapter, "Bloodwolf," appeared in Charlie Grant's SHADOWS 9.

I also have a variety of stories coming out, actually in all the venues Melanie has listed below, as well as in Albedo One, Dark Discoveries, the literary magazine Matter, and several others. I also have a continuing graphic story in Blurred Vision out of the POD Gallery in New York.

Melanie: My new novel THE YELLOW WOOD will be out from Wizards early in 2009; Bob describes it as "a magical realism exploration of the father-daughter relationship and the struggle for a child to emancipate herself from the father she believes is a sorcerer." I'll have stories this year in Ellen Datlow's Inspired by Poe anthology, That Mysterious Door edited by Noreen Doyle, and Cemetery Dance.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Chinese New Year Articles at the Philippine Star

Over at The Philippine Star, one of the leading English broadsheets in the country, there's a couple of articles on the upcoming Chinese New Year:

Gaming Steve Article on Making the Transition from Console to Tabletop

There's an article at Gaming Steve entitled From Console to Tabletop: First Steps and mentions video games and what tabletop games might interest you. Here's an excerpt:
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: For me, this is a simple choice. If you like KOTOR, you should check out the new Star Wars Saga Edition from Wizards of the Coast. It's a great game system and one book gives you everything you need for countless adventures in the Star Wars universe.


City of Heroes: If you want to get your super-hero on (no capes!) the game I recommend is Green Ronin Publishing's Mutants and Masterminds. It's the best combination of depth (allowing you to make YOUR hero YOUR way) and ease of play. Whether you want something totally wild and new, or just want to rip off your favorite comic universe, this game gives you the tools to do it in one book.

Book Review: Mainspring by Jay Lake

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free book reviews.

I honestly have no idea what clockpunk is. Yet if there's anything that would describe this novel best, that word seems to fit. In Mainspring, Lake gives us the traditional fantasy narrative yet he uses unique and original elements to tell the tale, drawing from Christian myth and his own fertile imagination. Lake's tone is consistent all throughout and the characterization of the main character, Hethor, is the foundation of the book. The writing style of the author is neither intimidating nor overly elaborate and instead takes on a more functional feel, just enough to give the necessary details but not too sparse as if to make it appear lacking. The morality in Mainspring is neither black nor white as one would expect from a traditional fantasy tale. Instead, both the heroes and villains (who can identify which is which?) are well-developed characters both with noble and not-so-noble motivations. Lake also sprinkles just enough doubt to make you wonder whether our hero is truly serving the cause of good or not. If I have any complaint about the book, it's that it starts out strong but towards the end, it falters a bit when it starts to throw in all these alien elements that in my opinion haven't been seeded well enough. Overall, Mainspring was an enjoyable read and is a refreshing novel as far as the expected fantasy genre goes.

Rating: 3/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

Book Review: Rocket Science by Jay Lake

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free book reviews.

At first glance, Rocket Science might seem like a very short read at under 200 pages but Lake makes every word count. Set in a post-World War II Kansas, the novel starts off with a mundane premise but as one progresses through the book, Lake slowly adds an additional element of conflict so that by the time you reach the end, Rocket Science is this great novel about conspiracies, betrayal, family, friendship, and adventure. Lake's language is simple enough yet is also reflective of the era he is trying to portray. No lyrical prose here or extravagant descriptions but what you get is an easy to comprehend narrative. The strength of the book however is Lake's characterization of our protagonist, Vernon. It is through his lens that we experience everything that is going on and while he is far from the perfect human being, this fact makes him quite sympathetic. I'm not usually a big fan of novels that are American period pieces but Rocket Science was quite an enjoyable read. There's no padding here and every chapter has an intriguing moment that keeps you going. If you want a book that's dark and gritty and realistic, this isn't it. Rocket Science I think is one of those books that is reflective of a certain era and one is quite prepared at how everything gets resolved at the end. If you want a good, enjoyable read full of conspiracies and adventures in Kansas, one would do well to check out Rocket Science.

Rating: 3.5/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

Book Review: Inferno edited by Ellen Datlow

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free book reviews.

In my opinion, one of Datlow's true passions is the horror genre and she has a unique taste when it comes to the type of fiction she prefers. Her last anthology of original horror fiction (as opposed to reprinting them) was The Dark: New Ghost Stories back in 2003 and it's a pleasure to see her edit Inferno which is a non-themed anthology. The book has 20 new stories (mostly by authors I an unfamiliar with--my ignorance rather than a lack of credentials--since I am not as acquainted with the genre) as well as an introduction by Datlow. The layout is quite functional with the author's bio preceding the story; the author's name is on the left header while their story title on the right header. As for the stories themselves, they are all sophisticated and heavy, not the cheap-thrills horror fare but rather one that tends to be subtle and challenges the reader. There are a lot of horror stories out there that go for the shock factor but that isn't the case with Inferno. Rather, the stories are grounded in good characterization and slow build-up, requiring the reader's concentration and attention to detail to grasp the ramifications. Here's three of my highlights: "Lives" by John Grant was quite interesting for me because the horror aspect is not what we would immediately expect from the genre. It all would have fallen apart however if Grant did not make us sympathize with the narrator--the key to any good story. "Stilled Life" by Pat Cadigan is another story that relies on characterization and the author throws in a unique element that is seeded right from the beginning. Third is "The Janus Tree" by Glen Hirshberg which is a different coming-of-age tale and just when you thought you could relax, Hirshberg pulls a fast one on us like a skilled magician. Again, all of the stories in this collection are well-written but they do take time to process and appreciate. If you're looking for horror that lurks beneath the surface or simply good fiction in general, Inferno is one of those must-have anthologies.

Rating: 4/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

Book Review: The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free book reviews.

Another thematic fantasy anthology by the trio of Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling, and Charles Vess is Coyote Road: Trickster Tales. There's a good twenty six stories and poetry in this particular collection with each story preceded by art by Vess and ends with a short bio and afterword from the authors. In the Introduction, Windling gives us an extensive account of trickster tales around the world. The last few pages of the book is a Recommended Reading list of titles that tackle that subject as well. Perhaps the best description I have for the stories here is that they're sophisticated and well-written. They're not easy reading and some have a slow pace but they tend to leave a resonating emotion by the time you're done with them. This is probably one of the more "literary" anthologies, the type you read not because they're exciting but because they're well-crafted. What impressed me however was how diverse the stories were, especially the latter parts, as the authors explored the trickster theme and did not limit themselves to coyotes and ravens and foxes (but there is a fair share of those). Here's my top three stories in the book: "The Fiddler of Bayou Teche" by Delia Sherman not only has good characterization but carries with it the flavor of bayou country and could easily be a modern legend; "The Other Labyrinth" by Jedidiah Berry feels like an epic despite its actual brevity and was quite enjoyable; Last but not least is "The Dreaming Wind" by Jeffrey Ford which features the most unusual trickster of all and contains elements of magic-realism that work out quite effectively. There were other interesting stories in the collection as well but these were probably the ones that I appreciated the most. Is Coyote Road for everyone? Well, the writing is solid but the stories within isn't the type to immediately catch your attention but rather develops over time. Instead of action and adventure, you have protagonists and antagonists that outwit their foes (just as any good trickster should do). And while I generally liked most of the stories, there really wasn't a lot that gave me that emotion high because of their pacing. This is a good anthology with solid writing and a definite literary style but if you're looking for simple and quick reads, this isn't the book for you.

Rating: 3.5/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2008/1/20

From USA Today's best-seller list (you can find out their basis here):

  1. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  2. Plum Lucky by Janet Evanovich
  3. Atonement by Ian McEwan
  4. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
  5. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  6. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet
  7. Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney
  8. Eat This Not That! by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding
  9. The 6th Target by James Patterson
  10. Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography by Andrew Morton

Thursday, January 24, 2008

New Reviews and Columns at Comics Village

Just plugging, new reviews and columns are up at Comics Village.

Horrors from the Philippines: Tiyanaks

This is a series of articles that focuses on mythical creatures of the Philippines that can be used in your RPG games or fantasy/science fiction/horror stories.

The fey have been known to abduct newborn babes from their cradle and replace them with Changelings, taking on the shape of the babe and causing all sorts of mischief in the family. In the Philippines, there is a similar phenomenon but these shapeshifters are more feral. Cute and cuddly by day, Tiyanaks transform into wild and feral beasts (think babies with sharp teeth and claws) when their prey is most vulnerable, such as when the mother is breastfeeding the creature. The tiyanak is also capable of mimicking the voice of babies and thus lead unwary travelers to its location in a forest, making them think that they are coming to the rescue of a defenseless baby. Aside from that, they are for the most part glorified gremlins.

The Tiyanak's strength is the fact that it can disguise itself as a human baby. A creative GM or writer can easily weave a scenario where a family has been mysteriously massacred (no signs of forced entry, the household isn't reaching for their weapons) and the only survivor is a seemingly innocent babe. The situation might take a turn for the worse if the heroes turn over the baby to some friends or acquaintances for safekeeping, unwittingly sending them to their doom. The Tiyanak isn't particularly invulnerable and is very much mortal but discovering its true nature is the real dilemma. The Tiyanak tends to strike at night or wherever the darkness can conceal its features when it reverts to its feral form. If you don't want to delve too much into Philippine myth, the Tiyanak can easily be a variant of the Changeling that showcases the true horrors of the Unseelie Court. In science fiction, Tiyanaks could be children that were infected by a rare virus strain that mutates them into carnivorous creatures if certain conditions occur.

Variations: In local myth, the Tiyanak slays women by biting and feeding on their nipples when they are breast-fed. It then escapes by transforming into a bird afterwards. A less malevolent version of the Tiyanak is that it appears in the guise of a child, typically in the forest, and leads travelers astray.

2008/1/24 Fiction/Writing and Tabletop RPG Podcasts

Every Thursday, I post links to various podcasts that deal with the topic of fiction, writing, and tabletop RPGs.

More interviews from last week: Joseph Goodman (Goodman Games) at Pulp Gamer, Stan Brown (Dragonlance author) at Dragonlance Canticle, John Wick at The Bear Grove's Podcast, and The Wandering Men (1, 2) at the Omega Con Podcast. Fiction wise, check out Jeremy Lassen's (Nightshade Books) speculation on the Hugo's at The Agony Column.

Fiction/WritingTabletop RPG (Mostly)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Monster Match-Ups

On some days, I wonder what would happen if Filipino mythological creatures came into contact with Western creatures. For example:

1) Changelings vs Tiyanaks: Both take on the guise of babies yet where the former resorts to deception and trickery over time, the latter is more feral and savage.

2) Centaur vs Tikbalang: One is half-man, half-horse while the other is, uh, half-horse, half-man.

3) Gnomes vs Nuno sa Punso: Both are creatures of the earth and have beards. They certainly won't win their fight due to their size.

Knowledge Arcana Wants Your Campaign Settings

From Knowledge Arcana:

Get your world published on , here's how.

We all know that there are many worlds out there beyond those that are officially published settings. With the upcoming 4e release there will be at least one more. Here's your chance to show the community your world and get recognized. Who knows, maybe your world will become the next great campaign setting.

Submissions Guide: Rules & Restrictions.World submissions can be sent to submissions@knowled, with the header "Absent Worlds Query" in the Subject line.

Additional Rules/Restrictions:

  1. We only want to see a cross section in the submission, not the whole world.
  2. The era that the world is in(ie Dark ages, early development of life, future, post apocalyptic, etc.) at the time that the author of said world has taken the cross section.
  3. The name of the world, and location that the cross section is taken from.
  4. The Genre that this world falls into(ie Fantasy-Historical, Fantasy-science, Sci-fi-Futuristic, etc).
  5. Unless your cross section also covers an encounter that necessitates the inclusion of a stat block for a monster or NPC, no stat blocks will be necessary.
  6. Submitters retain all rights to the world, with the reserved right to publication on within one monthly article.
  7. Include a backdrop story about the world. You can make this a historical look up to your worlds present day.
  8. Please keep initial queries under 500 words.

PGS Special Crime/Mystery/Suspense Issue: Call For Submissions

From Philippine Genre Stories:
Given that we have a special call for submissions for the Halloween issue guest-edited by award-winning writer Yvette Tan, she with the penchant for the spooky, wouldn't it be wonderful if someone with the inclination for crime/mystery/suspense handle such a PGS issue?

Talk about good fortune. As with Yvette, Palanca award winner F.H. "Ichi" Batacan, author of the crime novel "Smaller and Smaller Circles", has taken on the guest-editing chores for this special PGS issue focusing on this genre. This might serve as a small push for these kinds of stories. No occasion like Halloween or Christmas is required. Crime doesn't need a holiday.

And so...this is another special call for submissions for crime/mystery/suspense stories, to be perused by Ichi, she who will shape and form that particular PGS issue, tentatively due last quarter of this year (*gulp* here's hoping enough material gets sent in).

Some restrictions: when we say crime/mystery/suspense, we're talking the realist kind. No cross-genre. Don't mix it up with scifi, fantasy, horror, etc. Ichi wants hard-boiled, gritty, dirty, down-to-earth, stuck-in-the-mud, empirical kind of crime/mystery/suspense fiction. To use TV shows as an example, think those programs on the Crime/Suspense or Fox-Crime channel on cable right now (Law & Order, Dexter, Cold Case, CSI, etc.). And keep the stories Rated PG people. You can get as close to Rated R as you want, just don't cross the (yellow police) line. Think deeply about character and motive, folks, as well as the common themes of such stories, like justice. Or injustice, for that matter.

Other notes: The story need not be set in the Philippines. Given how spread out Pinoys are, it is conceivable to write a story set anywhere in the world. Come up with your own conflict/situation. Ah, but Filipino leading characters, please.

Deadline is August 15, 2008. Please follow international manuscript guidelines as stipulated here. Send all entries as rtf attachments to pdocrmy(at)yahoo(dot)com. They will be immediately forwarded to Ichi. All previous submissions to that email address that are still pending will be sent to Ichi.

Essay: Three Reasons Why Anime/Manga Fans Don't Like Licensed Titles

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

It's amazing what technology can accomplish--and what new complexities it can introduce. The anime/manga industry is one of those fields that has greatly benefited from technologies that have emerged from the past ten years. For example, there always was a schism in the anime industry because of the nature of the material (anime was in Japanese and had to be translated into English or -insert native language here-). Back in the 90's, there was no absolute solution: some people would prefer dubs and some people would prefer subtitles. And so the great dub vs sub debate began (and still exists to this day). With the introduction of DVDs, that concern was partially addressed as one could theoretically get both dubs and subs in just one format (and more importantly, at one price, instead of the dubbed VHS tapes priced cheaper than the subbed VHS titles). Here, we see technology working for fans and the industry. However, that's not always the case and emerging technologies was pretty much like opening Pandora's Box.

In the 90's, as far as manga was concerned, consumers didn't really have a lot of options. They could either purchase the original manga in some Oriental shop or they could simply rely on the few titles that actually got licensed (this was a time when Tokyopop was still Mixxzine, when magazine anthologies for the most part were still unprofitable, and when manga was still priced over $10.00). Some fans however took it upon themselves to translate the manga itself and post them up on the web. That was empowering for those who could obtain the Japanese originals as they finally had a way to understand the manga they owned. However, when broadband Internet started to become more mainstream, the fan community evolved. We still have those manga translators around but what's become more popular these days are the scanlations--fans who scan the original manga (usually still in their newsprint anthology format), clean it up, translate it, then post it up on the web for fans to download. The fan sub community pretty much evolved the same way and instead of passing around nth-generation VHS tapes, fans started uploading and downloading videos of their favorite anime.

That was easily a new era for the anime/manga community. Previously, the endless debates usually revolved whether a particular title was dubbed or subbed. Now, there was a new topic that would gain momentum and rage to this very day: licensed and unlicensed anime/manga. This revolution pretty much came about due to the "free" material circulating on the Internet such as the scanlations and fan subs that you don't need to pay for to enjoy. What used to be a hobby by enthusiasts became a cottage industry (albeit one that wasn't necessarily earning a "profit"). I won't get into the pros and cons of scanlations and fan subs--I'm sure there are other sites and opinions out there that can expand on that point. As far as I am concerned, scanlations and fan subs both have advantages and disadvantages to the industry as a whole. What I want to talk about however is the side-effect these scanlations and fan subs have brought about: the schism between those who support and don't support licensed manga/anime.

Now to those who don't belong to the fan community, you must be wondering: why would fans not support (emotionally if not financially) the anime/manga industry especially if they're "fans"? This is an oversimplification, but some "purist" fan mentality falls under one of these categories: 1) the licensed title becomes mainstream hence they feel invalidated that they're not unique anymore, 2) licensing company will butcher the title, or 3) because the title has been licensed, their scanlations and fan subs go away. Let me expound on these three points.

For number one, I am sad to admit that there are fans like this. Of course to be fair to the anime/manga industry, these type of "fans" can be found in several other hobbies. The inverse of this is that if a title hits mainstream, it gives birth to posers. Honestly, if you're this type of person, there's nothing I can say that will sway you. If you're into a particular hobby solely because it makes you unique and different, well, that's honestly a personality problem and you have things to work out for yourself. My words alone won't convince, convert, or cure you. I mean honestly, if a particular anime or manga title is so good that you actually liked it, whether other people actually like it or not should not influence you. The work hasn't changed: only peoples perception about it has. If you feel you've outgrown a particular anime or manga title, that's fine, it happens. That's also why I can't name a favorite book or anime or manga because I'm always in flux. But if you stop liking it just because it's now popular, well, you shouldn't be getting advice from me.

Number two is usually associated with number three but they aren't mutually exclusive. The mentality that a company will butcher a particular anime/manga title comes from purists, the hard-core fans, those who are more or less acquainted with the industry. Sometimes their fears are justified. I mean honestly, not every company is going to do a good job. On the other hand, what a "good job" is varies from person to person. For some fans, no matter how good a translation and adaptation a commercial company does, it'll never match up. What they fail to realize is that there's no way of avoiding that. That's the concept of translations after all: they're like parabolas, approaching but never quite reaching the target. Honestly, if you want a "perfect" translation, the best way to go about it is to familiarize yourself with Japanese language and culture and read it in their native language. Why settle for third party translations? (Of course to the credit of some hardcore fans, they do just that.) The moment you're reading Japanese manga in English, something has already been lost in translation. Having said that, there are degrees of faithfulness and error. Some translators might meet the standards of some fans. Other translators, on the opposite extreme, might translate the very opposite of what the original authors wanted to convey. Of course the second assumption fans who fall under this bracket are making is that fan subs and scanlations don't suffer the same fate. Both commercial and fan translators are equally prone to making mistakes. Fans however are usually more forgiving of the latter than the former. Sure, it might be because you're paying the former, but then again, the former is also more motivated to fix things if the errors are brought to their attention because of the very fact that they're depending on it for their income. My caveat here is that one thing that licensed anime/manga does well is that it introduces the title to the masses, irregardless of how faithful or unfaithful the translation is. And hopefully, some of those people that do get interested in the series gets acquainted with the original. Just look at many "classic" anime such as Speed Racer, Battle of the Planets, and Robotech. I wouldn't call them faithful translations by any stretch of the word. There were lots of name changes and censorship in those titles and in the case of Battle of the Planets, a heavily modified story and concept. Yet for several people, that's what got them acquainted with anime in the first place. And some people from that market are aware of titles like Mach Go Go Go and Gachaman and Macross/Southern Cross/Mospeada. (Now I'm not saying that you should support a badly translated title but rather, I'm saying that a licensed title does serve a purpose and don't always equate good translations = scanlations/fan subs--the scanlation and fan sub groups are very much like the professional companies with their own identity and while some do a good translation job, others don't. Also, please reserve judgment when the actual product comes out, not before--a company with a bad reputation might come out with something good and a company with a good reputation might actually screw things up.)

The third point arises from the legalities of the industry. Many scanlations and fan subs out there are for titles that haven't been licensed in the US, which just means that no one will press charges against them. When a particular title gets licensed, the licensee has the legal rights to it. Some scanlators and fan subbers, they cease their translations of the series, whether because they don't want to get sued or because they want to support the licensee. That's not always the case though. Sometimes, the licensee doesn't press charges. But when they do, some scanlators and fan subbers might not desist and take their work underground. Now when this causes one of the scanlators and fan subbers to stop churning out their translated material, some fans get angry. Is their anger justified? Personally, for me, no. I mean first off, if you were truly a benevolent fan, you'd support the licensee because a) they're bringing your title to a wider audience, and b) you're paying the local as well as the original publisher for a product that you enjoy. If you're the type that says "Down with Capitalism!" then I can't help you (the same goes if you're the type who doesn't want their favorite title to become popular). Some fans however don't share that mentality and instead feel incensed that "their title" has been "taken away from them". Which isn't really the case: they just have to a) wait until the translations have been officially and legally released and b) pay for it. I'd be a hypocrite if I said I didn't download scanlations or fan subs. But when a licensee starts notifying scanlators and fan sub groups, I don't get angry: it's all within their right after all. And for the titles that I really really like I do buy the licensed products (as evidenced by my small manga collection) to support them. But not every fan takes this stance and sometimes blames the licensee company. Then throw in supporters of the second point (usually touting that the fan sub or scanlators did a better job at the translation than the licensee company ever could) and you have these message board rants that are dozens of pages long.

In the next few years, I'm expecting things to heat up between companies who own licenses to titles and the fan-subbing groups. Legitimate translated anime is slowly making the transition to the online video format (strangely enough, a late adopter) and they could very well perceive that the online fan-subs is infringing on their territory. Manga, on the other hand, is still safe for now. No major publisher--at least one that I'm aware of--has been releasing manga online (previews, yes, entire volumes, no). The most I've seen are samples but I don't see them eager to sell their product as PDFs or archived JPEGs. Still, I doubt if this will be the last instance when fans will clash with the corporations and vice versa.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Feature: Interview with Rob Rogers

Every Tuesday, I'll have a feature article posted.

Ed Note: In the coming weeks, I'll be having more interviews including Melanie and Steve Rasnic Tem, Jeffrey Ford, Richard Dansky, and SF Signal.

Rob Rogers is the author of the novel Devil's Cape published under the Wizards of the Coast Discoveries imprint and will be released on April 1, 2008. This is his first novel.

First off, can you tell us anything about yourself? Who is Rob Rogers? Is that your superhero name or your secret identity?

Rob Rogers is my un-secret identity, I guess. No pseudonyms here. I'm a mild-mannered writer and project manager who lives in Texas. In my day job, I work in corporate communications for a major technology company.

Devil's Cape your first work that's going to be published? Have you tried your hand at other writing markets like comics perhaps?

Devil's Cape is my first published novel and really the first fiction I've had published outside of school publications. I've written a lot of corporate communications that have been published by companies I've worked for--educational content, marketing copy, benefits information, that kind of thing. But as far as writing that really keys into who and what I am, this is the first. Way, way back in the day, a friend and I self-published a comic book using his father's Xerox machine, but the less said about that, the better.

How did you go about having
Devil's Cape published? Did you make a deal with Mephisto? Or perhaps this is just a parallel Earth you're living in...

I could crack wise, I guess, but I feel very fortunate about the whole thing. Several years ago, Wizards of the Coast had an open call for submissions for what eventually became its Discoveries line of fiction. Essentially, Wizards was looking for original speculative fiction, a step away from its previous fiction, which was tied to its various intellectual properties. Per the guidelines, I submitted three chapters and an outline. Those chapters don't exactly parallel the chapters of the final manuscript--for one thing, the chapters I submitted were a lot longer, as I eventually broke the book up into smaller chunks--but they essentially introduced the main characters of the book and gave me a chance to show what I intended to do with them.

I got my submission in just under the wire. In fact, I nearly missed the deadline. I had a last-minute rush to the post office by the airport the night before submissions were due, only to make a wrong turn and arrive after it was closed. I then sped to a FedEx office, only to find out that FedEx couldn't deliver to post office boxes, when I had no street address. I ended up having my submission printed at a Kinko's in Renton (where Wizards is located) and delivered via courier the next day after I found some kind soul in the book department who shared the correct delivery information with me.

Months went by without me hearing anything, and then I finally got an e-mail telling me that Wizards was interested in seeing the rest of the novel. Now here joy and panic set in simultaneously. On the positive side, Wizards was interested in my manuscript! On the negative side, the original call for submissions indicated that you were supposed to have your full manuscript ready within 10 days of being contacted (in other words, you were supposed to have a complete manuscript ready either before or shortly after your initial submission of three chapters). I work full-time and have two children and hadn't written anything beyond those initial three chapters. I begged for (and got) an extension of a few weeks, but I essentially wrote the rest of the book in the course of a month, while still working full-time.

(I don't recommend this. It was mentally and physically exhausting and I missed a lot of vital family time. But it did the trick.)

I got the completed submission in on time (again, just under the wire, by courier) and then, as before, waited months before hearing anything. I e-mailed Wizards a couple of times to check in, but didn't hear back. I was pretty crestfallen.

Then I got an e-mail from Phil Athans at Wizards, asking if I'd sold the book elsewhere and, if not, if I'd like Wizards to consider it. "Sure," I said. "That would be great." I eventually learned that the person who had initially contacted me and liked my submission had left the company. Phil had come across my submission in a box in the other man's office. He nearly pitched it, but decided to give it a once over instead, and I guess it managed to win him over. Lucky, lucky me. A few revisions later, and now I'm looking at publication in less than three months.

Another funny thing is that someone (probably the courier) had stamped "Paid in Full" on my manuscript submission. For a while there, Phil thought that that was the title of my book.

Can you tell us more about
Devil's Cape and who do you think should rush to the bookstore and pre-order it (don't give them a chance to say no to buying your book! It's only going to be a matter of when!)?

My goal for writing Devil's Cape was to write the kind of story I would enjoy reading. It's got superhero battles, atmosphere, carefully developed characters, and heroics. It's got carnival-themed bad guys, a pirate background, and characters carrying on the legacies of those who went before them. I tried to balance action with character scenes that make the people you're reading about feel deep and multi-layered. The city of Devil's Cape is definitely a character in itself, founded by a pirate centuries ago and still retaining a pirate mentality. I have trouble tooting my own horn, so I guess I'll just say that I succeeded in writing a book that I would enjoy reading. I hope you'll enjoy it, too. A recent review in Hellnotes says "Devil's Cape reads like a Disney World ride or a great burger"--I don't think I could ask for more than that.

Do you think superhero fiction is a genre (or should it have such labels)? Have you read other novels that tackle superhero stories like
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon or Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman?

I'd call it a sub-genre. I have not yet read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, nor Soon I Will Be Invincible, but those are both on my "to read soon" list, along with Perry Moore's Hero and Jennifer Estep's Karma Girl. Most of my superhero reading background comes from decades of comic book reading, although my strongest influences in writing Devil's Cape were from other genres. For me, the book was a matter of taking my own fiction writing style and molding it to the characters and the superhero "sub-genre." Yes, it's a superhero book, but it's foremost a book about people.

If it's a sub-genre, under what genre in your opinion should it belong to? To fantasy? To science-fiction? To speculative fiction? Or just fiction in general?

Didn't you notice me subtly side-stepping that question?

It's kind of a gray area, actually. I guess I'd call it a sub-genre to Fantasy/Science Fiction, and if you say that Fantasy/Science Fiction is really two genres, not one, then I'm stuck in a corner, but at least I'm in the same boat with most bookstores.

At any rate, Devil's Cape contains both fantasy and science fiction elements. Of the three primary hero characters, Argonaut has a mythological background, Bedlam a mystical one, and Doctor Camelot a sci-fi background.

Any favorite authors or works that you think have influenced you?

Sure. My strongest influences probably include James Lee Burke, Dick Francis, Rex Stout, Robert Crais, Katherine Dunn, and Stephen King.

How about comic writers? Who are some of your favorites?

A quick list includes Joe Casey, Greg Rucka (who was kind enough to lend a quote for my book!), James Robinson, Kurt Busiek (Astro City is wonderful!), Gail Simone, Jeph Loeb (particularly Batman: The Long Halloween and the other collaborations with Tim Sale), Alan Moore, Geoff Johns, and Paul Levitz.

Classic comics that had an impact on me include Paul Levitz's run on Legion of Super Heroes (especially The Great Darkness Saga), Walt Simonson's run on Thor, Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and The Watchmen, John Byrne's Fantastic Four, Mark Wolfman and George Perez's New Teen Titans, Frank Miller's Daredevil, Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland's Camelot 3000, Roy Thomas's All-Star Squadron, Cary Bates's Captain Atom, John Ostrander's Suicide Squad, Don McGregor and Gene Colan's Nathaniel Dusk, and William Messner-Loebs's Jonny Quest.

Do you have plans for future writing projects?

I'm currently working on a sequel to Devil's Cape.

Cool! Are you pitching it to Wizards of the Coast as well or just concentrating on the writing for now?

I hope that Wizards will publish the sequel, too. Mostly I just need to get farther along in the process.

On to the geeky segment, who's your favorite superhero? What's your favorite special power?

Definitely the Flash, although depending on the day you ask me, I might mean Barry Allen, Wally West, or Jay Garrick. The super-speed appeals to me a lot, but if I could have any special power, it would probably be teleportation. No more fighting traffic? Being able to hang out with friends in other states on a whim? Popping in at Disney World anytime I want (I'd still buy a ticket, of course)? Where do I sign?

What do you think of the terms graphic novel?

I guess I'm so used to seeing the term "graphic novel" that I don't think about it very much. Pretty often, though, it's a misnomer. A collection of six consecutive comic books (or so) can form a novel, but that's not always the case. Don't get me wrong--I love graphic novels and often pick up storylines I missed or want to read again in a bound format. But frequently the books are more collections of individual comic book stories (often good ones, mind you) rather than actual novels, with clear beginnings, rising action, climaxes, etc. It's a structural thing.

How about manga?

I admire manga, but mostly from a distance. It's not something I'm very knowledgeable about or that I've taken the time to explore in detail yet.

Do you think your novel would adapt well to comics and if so, who'd you want (publisher/writer/artist/whatever) to adapt it?

Sure! I'd love to see Devil's Cape adapted for comics and I think it would work very well there, although some of the structure would need to change to fit in the pacing of a comic book. As far as writers go, I'd of course love to write it myself, but if I were to choose someone else, I'd go with Joe Casey.

Naming an artist goes into wish fulfillment territory, but I'd love to see someone with a real flair for atmosphere and for making regular people's faces consistent and distinct. Someone like Tim Sale (yeah, like I said, wish fulfillment, but I absolutely love Batman: The Long Halloween), Gene Colan, Tony Harris, or whoever is doing the Dresden Files comic book adaptation.

What kind of role-playing games do you play? Do you think it encourages your creativity in terms of writing or is it more of a hindrance? Any other geeky hobbies you want to talk about?

I have played a number of role-playing games in the past, including Dungeons & Dragons, of course. Most of my most recent gaming (and by recent I mean in the past 20 years) has been with the Hero System, particularly Champions. As far as writing goes, it's kind of a mixed bag. I tend to be a gamemaster fairly frequently, and the work that goes in to GMing seems to draw from the same well as writing. If I do a lot of prep work for a game, I'm less likely to have the impulse to write, and vice versa. Before I wrote Devil's Cape, I became involved in a couple of very creative communities of play by e-mail (PBeM) superhero role-playing games that involved a lot of really good writing. The process of playing in/writing for those games helped sell me on the viability of superhero fiction and was a big part in my decision to focus on that area when I pitched the book to Wizards of the Coast.

As far as other geeky hobbies go, I have also recently started playing Magic: The Gathering again. I had played for several years back shortly after it debuted, then eventually had drifted away. It was actually my book that brought me back, at least indirectly. I had the opportunity to meet my editors in person at the Wizards headquarters in Renton, Washington, and they gave me a tour of the building. Walking around and seeing all the cool stuff at Wizards gave me the itch to play again. Once I started playing, I was hooked again. I'm going to try to wean myself a bit, though--I need that time for writing!

The Hero System is cool. (Ever tried Mutants & Masterminds?) How do you think GMing differs from the actual writing of a novel?

I haven't tried Mutants & Masterminds, but have heard good things about it. GMing and novel writing are two pretty different pursuits. Putting aside the size of the audience, you've just got so much more interaction and so many interruptions while GMing. A novel is a much more polished experience, but GMing really draws people in.

GMing online is a bit more of an experience like writing a novel than GMing in person is. Instead of shortcuts like props and maps and odd voices, you rely more on creating a scene with actual text. My GMing in general has petered out lately, and the drive to GM online has particularly died off, despite a great group of players and a story I was excited about. I think that that goes back to what I said earlier about drawing from the same well. I get caught up in the world of my book to the extent that I just can't afford to devote the time and energy to writing long e-mail posts for a game.