I tore a contact this morning.
This is less of a huge world-ending problem than it would have been the last time I wore contacts, because those were more or less eternal and cost several hundred bucks a pair. These are specifically designed to give out after a month, so I've got a bunch of them.
I just don't have them here, while I'm in the far north. (Not actually all that far, by one measure. Maybe fifty km north of the centre of British Columbia. Then again it's a twelve-hour drive to get here from Vancouver, so maybe it's just that BC is Way Too Big.) So I'm wearing my four-year-old glasses.
There's a mild but definite difference in my vision. Far-away things get fuzzier sooner than I expect them to. Not to mention the lack of peripheral vision, which I'd gotten to the point of taking for granted.
And I seem to be getting a headache. There's any number of environmental factors that could be causing that, but "minor change in vision prescription" seems to be the most likely culprit.
Might be time to start carrying a spare set of contacts with me when I travel.
(I've not gotten new glasses partly because they're expensive, and partly because I hate getting frames fitted to my face. It always involves several trips back to the optometrist and complaints of an earpiece that's rubbing weird right in front of my ear, or pushing into my skull behind my ear, or something like that.)
row 1: my kids; gardening; tutoring; the fanfic community; Octavia Butler;
row 2: stories; books; autonomy; Wiscon; storytelling;
row 3: dogs; Rachel Maddow; math; different points of view; raptors;
row 4: introversion; puzzles; podfic; logic; making people laugh;
row 5: compost; R.A. Lafferty; science fiction; due South; ecology;
I made this at http://myfreebingocards.com
I picked 25 topics that I like, and that I like to talk about.
I let the web page randomize the placement. I was lucky that "my kids" didn't end up in the middle.
I clicked "Play Online Now" to get an image I could snip.
Check off the things that also interest you and see if we have a bingo.
She's in ICU right now, unlikely to regain consciousness, unlikely to live out this day, and I'm sorry that she had such a mean, small, painful life, but I'm not at all sorry that she'll be gone, because it's hard to cause fresh hurt and injury once you've died. Not impossible, but hard.
I'll go with my mom this evening so she can say good-bye. For myself, I don't find it necessary; Barbara's been out of my life since my kid turned 18 (gosh, almost 8 years ago), and for the last couple years, she was in prison, so there's nothing to say good-bye to. For my mom, this is so so so fraught. She blames herself for my sister's mental illness, dissipation, and alienation. She feels like if she'd been a better mother, it would have gone better.
Honestly, my mom was a better mother to my sister than to me -- children who act up often get more attention and effort than the compliant, goody-two-shoes ones. I haven't made any secret of my sorrow over my mother's mistakes in parenting, but they're not the reason my sister is who she is. Not saying none of it was ever a factor. Just that picking one person as the cause of another's bad deeds is pretty much never the way to bet.
Anyway, I'm totally fine, emotionally. I'm just feeling pensive about the ripple effects we all have on the people in our circles, even years after we have any contact at all, and I'm feeling a renewed desire to be a positive force in my loved one's lives, instead of a negative one.
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
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.
Say hello to the lightest, crispiest, clumpiest granola around. The secret is buttermilk, which soaks into the grains to tenderize them from the inside out, giving this granola a wonderfully delicate crunch. The oats bake low and slow, picking up notes of caramel and brown butter along the way, with a deep graham flavor from a bit of added wheat germ. Get Recipe!
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.
Today I had my viva voce at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge (UK). I successfully defended my PhD thesis, “Norming the Other: Narrative Empathy Via Focalised Heterotopia.” I am Doctor Griffith.
I’ve kept my studies quiet because, well, I hate learning in public; I’ve had to do a lot of that in my life and I wanted this journey to be private. Also it was a huge experiment for all concerned; there was no guarantee of success.
I’ll give you more details in a few days when I’ve adjusted to the fact that HOLY SHIT I DID IT! I AM DOCTOR GRIFFITH !!!!
Friday is almost finished with this first draft…
- Dogs acting weird
- Glass blowing/glass art video compilation (I find this stuff ridiculously soothing to watch.)
- Redditors design the worst volume sliders possible (The curling one made me laugh)
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.