World Fantasy Con 2019

I am pleased to announce that I will be attending World Fantasy Con this week in Los Angeles. While there, I will be a part of the autographing session. You say you don’t have any of my books? Never fear–I’ll have a nice selection available!

Some of the biggest names in fantasy history will be in attendance this week, and I’m honored to be autographing alongside them. Top guests include Tad Williams, Reiko Murakami, Sheree Renée Thomas, Margo Lanagan, Beth Meacham and Robert Silverberg as Toastmaster. And wait’ll you get a load of some of the folks reading and on panels!

Sharpen Your Mind at the Table

People lament it all the time, this fascination we have with technology. The dumbing down of America, I’ve heard it called. I can’t throw stones myself, because my smart phone is indispensable and I’m constantly surfing the Internet. I also have a hobby that many might consider a waste of time, dooming me to eternal geekdom. To that I say thank you for the geek label, and that board games are anything but a waste of time.

Everyone played games like Monopoly as a child, and many progressed to Risk. While those kinds of games are fun pastimes, they’re not what I’m describing here (although Scrabble, without the falsified “official” dictionary, certainly fits the bill). I’m referencing the massive amounts of advanced board games that people are bringing to the table, games that sharpen as well as entertain the mind.

Take Terraforming Mars. It appears simple enough on the surface: when the oxygen and temperature are both maxed, and the oceans are all placed, the game ends, with the victor the individual with the most victory points. TM lists all the types of actions, many leading to those valuable victory points, in the guise of terraforming rating. Yet to win TM takes the mastery of engine building, finding the right combination of cards, standard actions, and other avenues to build up the best point-scoring approach. Should I fund this award, or will an opponent overtake me to snag the points from it? If I sell out to get this milestone, what do I do if someone beats me to it? Additionally, though I love getting the perfect cards to fuel my engine, I find it even more fun and challenging to build a winning engine out of components that don’t, on first blush, fit together. This allows me to exercise my mind while having a hell of a good time.

Then there are games that I suck at, that bend my brain, but that I love anyway. Goa is this kind of game. I’ve played upwards of thirty times and won maybe four or five. I certainly didn’t win within my first ten plays. I should hate it, except it’s such a great game that the challenge of getting better keeps me coming back for more. How much should I bid for which tiles? Will I take the money action and eschew other valuable choices to prepare for the next auction round? With a strict amount of actions in the game, you must figure out where to focus your efforts. Sure, maybe I’m getting better, but I’ll never master it. And I’d play Goa every day of the year, if I had the time and opportunity.

There ARE an increasing amount of board and card games that integrate technology, like One Night Werewolf. Heck, I use Chwazi to determine start player for many games. None of the games I have in mind use technology, but I won’t disqualify them because they mostly use it not to change the game, but to simplify things like accounting and DMing secret knowledge for the players. I don’t get into games like this, but don’t condemn board gamers who do.

Finally, really cool people play board games. Well, they’re MY kind of cool, and that’s all that counts! What else can you do that’s loads of fun, that you get to do with cool people, AND sharpen your mind? Well, you may come up with some ideas, but I’m sticking with board games.

To check out the games I mentioned, and many hundreds of thousands more, go to www.boardgamegeek.com.

Read These Writers Now!

This website, and the sort-of blog I sometimes post on it, is usually dedicated solely to moi. As it should be, since it’s named after me, and I’m kind of a big deal, right? Well, I’m rather tired of tooting my own horn all the time, and I reckon you, my readers, are as well. In order to spice it up around here, I’ve decided to let you in on some fabulous writers I know who are working on and have published some wonderful things. Read these writers now!

FRANK JASON ORETO

I know Frank well, sharing a writing group with him (Write-or-Die, or WorD), and have beta read a novel he’s working on getting out. Not only is Frank a great writer, but the man can cook! You can read about it on his social media pages. Frank’s a horror maestro with lots of creative, deviously wonderful short stories out there to find. In fact, he has a new story, “The Worm Turns,” out in Corpus Press’s “Creatures of the Night,” that just dropped recently. You can find Frank on Twitter (@FrankOreto) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/frank.oreto) Read Frank Jason Oreto now!

SHANNON EICHORN

I first met Shannon at the Nebulas in Pittsburgh, and it’s always nice running into her at events. She’s a freaking scientist with NASA–how cool is that? We even ran a kaffeeklatsch together at Confluence last month. Shannon was selling her book “Rights of Use,” which is book 1 in her Project Black Book series, at Confluence. She sold so many copies the first day, her husband had to drive several hours to deliver even more books. Get this one while it’s hot, folks! You can find Shannon on Twitter (@ShannonEichorn) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/shannoneichornscifi) Read Shannon Eichorn now!

LARRY IVKOVICH

I know Larry from the WorD group as well, and we just shared a dealer’s table at Confluence. Larry’s a great guy that’s fun to hang around with. Get him to laugh, because he has one of the most entertaining laughs you’ll ever encounter. And he has a lot of stuff out. His recent book, “Magus Star Rising: A Tale of the Galactic Nexia” has been getting great reviews. He also has an anthology of short stories out, called “Beyond the Numinous: Tales of the Galactic Nexia.” You can find Larry on Twitter (@LarryIvkovich) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/larry.ivkovich.3) Read Larry Ivkovich now!

ALFRED “AJ” SMITH

AJ is a relatively new writer with some fabulous credentials coming right out of the gate. He’s a good friend of mine, and a member of the writing group I run (https://www.meetup.com/pittsburghwritersmeetupgroup/). When he’s not rowing, or coaching rowers, he’s writing. AJ’s first short story got professionally published in Deep Magic. Another story, “Graveyard’s Whistle,” just won the 2019 PARSEC Short Story Contest and was published in the Confluence program. It might be more difficult to find that one, but imagine how valuable it’ll be when he’s a famous writer! You can find AJ on Twitter (@HarmonicAuthor) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Smity652) Read AJ Smith now!

There you have it, dear followers. I plugged some fantastic writer friends instead of plugging myself this time around. What’s that, you say? I did kind of mention myself a few times? Sh! I won’t tell if you don’t. Forget about that, and read those writers now!

Confluence 2019: Lost and New Voices

Last weekend at Confluence, I experienced a first. This was my first con as a panelist, vendor, reader, kaffeklatsch co-leader, and even contest coordinator. There was so, so much for me to do, and I was mad with anticipation. Then, just as I arrived at the con with my friends Jerome Stueart and Brandon McNulty, the unthinkable happened: I lost my voice. Those who know me know what a presence I am, my size and booming voice combining to create a force of nature. With my voice reduced to a squeak, I felt helpless. How could I possibly take on everything I wanted to do at Confluence without a voice? Through the support of wonderful people, that’s how!

First mention has to go to Jerome, who did yeoman’s work reading my unpublished story “Under the Dark Moon” on Sunday. I’m so sorry for all the difficult pronunciations, Jerome! Brandon McNulty, otherwise known as the Elder or the Slender, supported me in accepting less sleep so I could go to Giant Eagle for necessities like Throat Coat and cough drops. Karen Yun-Lutz and Kevin Hayes kept checking on me all weekend, with Kevin even giving me a throat massage. It didn’t get my voice back, but felt amazing! Cat Rambo gets honorable mention just for being her awesome self, and for running an amazing First 500 workshop. Shannon Eichorn’s help cannot be understated either; she provided moral support and ran an awesome kaffeklatsch with me. And Thunderchild…oh, you always make me laugh, Thunderchild! So, so many more wonderful folks at Confluence were patient with me, helped me when I needed it, and came together to create a truly memorable con experience.

Then there were the new voices at Confluence. The aforementioned Shannon Eichorn had her new novel “Rights of Use,” book 1 in the Project Black Book series. She did such robust sales the first day she had to call in her husband to ferry more books all the way from Cleveland! Also, a friend and fantastic writer made his debut at Confluence: Alfred “AJ” Smith. He won the 2019 PARSEC Short Story Contest, which I coordinated, with his story “Graveyard’s Whistle” appearing in the Confluence Program. He also had the experience of giving his first public reading. Now, AJ is humble and self-effacing about his works, and doesn’t like when I brag about his writing. He scoffed when I told him I cried the first time I read it. Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and his reading made someone else cry, in the very best of ways. So, it wasn’t just my lost voice, but some new and newer voices, that highlighted Confluence for me.

And, you know what? I think I lost my voice for a reason. Cat Rambo agreed with many others who have already given me feedback that my novel’s title needed changed. While my friends bantered over dinner about what the new title should be, someone came up with “Nomad’s Blade.” I loved it, and said (or tried to say) “Nomad’s Blade” would be perfect. Except Jerome didn’t hear “nomad,” and said “No Man’s Blade” is indeed perfect. And, right there, a title was born. A title which, if you know the book at all, fits perfectly.

The Edition Wars

I’d like to take a break from my regularly scheduled writer updates to chat a bit about another passion of mine: Dungeons & Dragons. Specifically, let’s examine the edition wars and my take on them. There are so many editions, from Advanced D&D to 5th Ed, and many more opinions than there are editions. Which one’s best, and why, has been a hot button topic for decades. A lot of people say the debate ended with 5th Ed, because it brought back the classic feel of the game with modern rules. Mine is a different stance.

I’ll probably never play 5th Ed. Not because I think it’s crappy–I don’t know enough about it to judge, although a quick browse of the Player’s Handbook made me think it’s overpowered–but because I’m not going to transition to another edition. The costs these days are astronomical, and I’m not dropping hundreds of dollars on an edition I’ll probably never play. Should circumstances change in my group, or should I get into other groups, then maybe, MAYBE I’ll give in and change. I just don’t see it.

I went through a 3.5 Ed phase, and I like a lot about it. Feats are pretty cool, and I liked a lot of other fixes, too. It’s more streamlined and easier for n00bs to learn, which can be vital. 4th Ed I will never play, because, let’s face it, 4th Ed was geared towards video gamers and minis fanatics. Which, hey, there’s nothing wrong with that, and nothing wrong with wanting to play that, but I knew it wasn’t for me when someone’s claim to it being the “best” edition was that you can create a character in five minutes. Yeah, that’s taking the R out of RPG!

For me, I’m solidly in the 2nd Ed category, with the caveat that it’s heavily home brewed. The DM and I have made many sensible rules changes, judged things differently based upon party size, have brought in aspects of Skills & Powers and Combat & Tactics, and all around used 2nd Ed as a platform to create whatever the heck we wanted to create. And that’s what D&D SHOULD be: a basis for having the kind of fun YOU want to have. So sure, I have opinions on the edition wars, and strong ones at that. The bottom line with every individual, with every DM, with ever party, though, should be about having fun. If it floats your boat, it’s the perfect edition for you. Yes, even if it’s 4th Ed. Maybe 🙂

In Your Write Mind Appearance

This past weekend I presented and sold/autographed books at the 2019 In Your Write Mind Workshop, hosted at Seton Hill University. What can I say? This is always a delightful time and a wonderful workshop. Saddened to only be able to attend on Saturday, I made the most of it. First of all, there were re-connections with friends and fellow authors. I also got to introduce around a new face, my friend Alfred Smith, and talk him up to all and sundry.

Then the panel I suggested on critique groups unfolded in a pleasant manner. With four panelists and few initial attendants, we sat around a big table rather than separate into panelists and audience. When more people funneled in, we welcomed them at the table for an insightful discussion on critique groups.

Finally, the book signing event was a smashing success. I lost so much money! Yes, I count that as a victory. This was only the second time I ever set out my shingle to sell books, so to speak, and I purposefully lowered prices to entice  sales. And it worked! Plus there were so many awesome people to chat with that evening. Honestly, it overwhelmed this introverted extrovert in a very, very good way. By the end of the night I was exhausted, ready for bed, and a bit chuffed at a fulfilling day.

New Story Published

I’m pleased to announce my story, “Surcease of Darkness,” is out at Mythic today. Find it here: Surcease of Darkness

Science Fiction Tropes Interview

I am pleased to say I have an interview up at the website Science Fiction tropes, which covers topics as wide ranging as my influences as a science fiction writer and how I got started in the genre. You can find it here: Science Fiction Tropes Interview

Crimson Streets #5

My story, “Mr. Leiber’s Collection,” is now available in Crimson Streets #5, a kind of a “best of” anthology they have recently put out. Find it here: Crimson Streets #5.

Punk Fatigue and the Opposing Viewpoints of Hopepunk, Grimdark, and Noblebright

At the February Pittsburgh PARSEC science fiction meeting, we bandied about the term “hopepunk,” which made me roll my eyes for the umpteenth time. Punk was always about running counter to the norm, not conforming to it. Steampunk and cyberpunk, at the beginning, were in line with this notion. But now Steampunk has tiny Victorian hats and seems to be more about costume and less about substance in theme (which is fine for others–it’s just not my thing), and we have everything from dieselpunk to greenpunk. My friend, a former punk, hates the trend of calling everything “punk” like we call everything “gate;” he gags over the titling of the fairypunk sub-genre. Credit where credit is due, hopepunk, after first annoying me, has grown into a concept that makes sense, even with its “punk” usage.

Begun by writer Alexandra Rowland on Tumblr in July 2017, she first described this latest trend simply as “the opposite of grimdark,” a term in itself that causes a stir of controversy whenever it’s mentioned. She asked followers and readers to pass it on. In later clarifications, she wrote that “Hopepunk isn’t ever about submission or acceptance…but about demanding a better, kinder world, and truly believing that we can get there if we care about each other as hard as we possibly can, with every drop of power in our little hearts.” The soul of hopepunk is resistance, the will to struggle in the face of adversity to make the world a better place. The characters may strive and never succeed in their lifetime, but if everyone pulls the same way, the world will someday change. I may not love hopepunk fiction, but I sure can appreciate its message, and appreciate it as an important sub-genre. In a world and culture where everything seems to be dark and gritty, hopepunk certainly runs counter to all that.

This brings me to probably my favorite sub-genre: grimdark. What exactly is grimdark? The answer is as nebulous as it is controversial. Grimdark began from the tabletop game Warhammer 40,000, which said “In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war.” Grim + darkness = grimdark. A term was born. But when the literary world got hold of the term, it grew into its own sub-genre. One blog, dedicated to noblebright, yet another sub-genre, sees grimdark as “The notion that the actions of one person can do little to improve this world in decline, that the forces of evil and inertia and temptation will ensure that all of us are doomed. The best we can hope for is a little struggle with morally ambiguous heroes to oppose danger and maybe rescue for a brief time a few others.” I, in vehement disagreement, find this definition both lacking and purposefully self-serving. For me, grimdark is about the “world” not being black and white, good and evil; people and characters live lives with their own motivations. Bad things happen, and it’s how we react to them that defines our stories. Villains rarely see themselves as villains. At least the good ones don’t.

Writer and editor Jared Shurin put it well when he wrote that “grimdark fantasy has three key components: a grim and dark tone, a sense of realism (for example, monarchs are useless and heroes are flawed), and the agency of the protagonists: whereas in high fantasy everything is predestined and the tension revolves around how the heroes defeat the Dark Lord, grimdark is ‘fantasy protestantism:’ characters have to choose between good and evil, and are ‘just as lost as we are.'” Yes, these kinds of stories are right up my alley.

But enough of my tastes. Grimdark doesn’t appear to have one definition a reader or writer can nail down. Enjoy it or not, it’s thematically in opposition to hopepunk. Well, what about noblebright, then? Surely it sits squarely in opposition to grimdark and in alignment with hopepunk. That’s what I thought when I set out to sort through these speculative fiction sub-genres. Well, the answer is both a resounding yes and a resounding no.

Noblebright, as author C. J. Brightley puts it, “exists to bring beautiful, fantastic, hopeful writing to the public, to provide a literary opposition to the forces of grimdark, and to remember the taste of strawberries.” Right there, noblebright is set as a foil to grimdark. So how can it fail to align with hopepunk, which seems to espouse the same exact ideals? It’s complicated. According to Rowland, hopepunk knows everything is impermanent and nothing is promised, whereas in noblebright, we can eventually win the fight and have a happy ending. The struggle continues vs. struggling and overcoming. Also in noblebright, Rowland contends that social systems are good because the leaders we choose are inherently good. With hopepunk’s strong themes of resistance, noblebright just isn’t comparable.

So where did my musings lead me? I learned about two new sub-genres, for one, and may someday write in them. Then there’s the realization that noblebright and hopepunk, two optimistic sub-genres diametrically opposed to grimdark, don’t quite mix with each other. And, you know what? All this research and reading has got my brain spinning in different directions, so maybe it’s high time I pick up a few lighter works and read how the other side of the speculative fiction community sees things.

I still wish the mind-numbingly unoriginal trend of naming everything “punk” would die a quick and painful death, though. My punk fatigue is real.

 

Note: I’ve relied heavily on some online sources and articles for this blog post, and it would be wrong not to mention and list them. No, I’m not publishing anything or claiming original content beyond my own thoughts and spins, but I’d still feel a plagiarist if I didn’t point to my sources and admit they did the heavy lifting for me long since.

References:

https://www.vox.com/2018/12/27/18137571/what-is-hopepunk-noblebright-grimdark

http://www.noblebright.org/grimdark-vs-noblebright/

http://www.noblebright.org/about-us-contact/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grimdark