Packaging for Kickstarter Fulfillment (with pix)

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After being six months past the “there’s-no-way-these-books-will-take-longer-than-this” deadline, I finally ordered the trade paperbacks for my new trilogy, The Great Way. The expected delivery date from UPS was last night, and I rescheduled a bunch of work so I would be ready when the boxes of books arrived (16 of them) and could slip them into the already-addressed and sorted envelopes.

Then, on Tuesday morning, I double-checked the UPS tracking numbers and realized the books had been bumped a day, to Wednesday. Sure, the boxes had arrived in Seattle before 3 am on Tuesday morning, but apparently UPS needed 30 hours to get them on a truck.

Do I need to say I was disappointed and angry? I griped about it on Twitter, and a UPS help account encouraged me to email their customer service department with the tracking numbers and other details to confirm that they were actually sitting in a warehouse down in south Seattle.

The customer service rep confirmed it. My books, which had been delivered to Seattle the night before, still had not been unloaded and sorted. I’d have to wait for them to be delivered the next day.

Three hours later, sixteen boxes of books arrived.

My son, to my great surprise, believed me when I said I needed his help. He got off his computer (not a small deal) so he could slip bookmarks into books so I could turn to the title page quickly and seal envelopes. When my wife got home at 9pm after a long day of physical work, she cheered to see us working together, then chipped in.

I started alone at 5:30. We sent the boy to bed at midnight. My wife and I didn’t finish until almost two am. This morning, we got up early, called a cab, and transported all the books to the local post office to mail them out.

Pictures behind the cut. Continue reading

A two-hour movie from a 32-page picture book???

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For the past several years I’ve been listening to people griping/mocking/whatever about the The Hobbit being turned into three movies. Frankly, I think it’s ridiculous.

Shrek is a 32-page picture book that was turned into a two-hour movie. See also Where the Wild Things Are and The Iron Man (which became The Iron Giant).

The next Captain America movie will adapt Marvel’s Civil War crossover story, but how are they going to fit everything from dozens of issues into one movie?

Did you know that the screenwriter of the KULL THE CONQUEROR movie took advantage of his contractual right to create a novel version of the movie, which was closer to his original script? I haven’t read it, but he says he never wrote the stupid stuff about Kull being terrible with a sword, and he included the reason for the “madness” that drove the king to murder his children, along with other complexities cut from the film?

In other words, yeah, people adapt things. They condense them. They expand them. They change them significantly. They put happy endings on the end of Romeo & Juliet. They turn Stephen King’s vampire into a wordless nosferatu. Works high and low are altered in the adaptation, and I’m tired of hearing the same old gripes about Jackson’s Hobbit films.

Yeah, there’s profit-seeking in it (says the guy about to release a fantasy trilogy of his own) and can I say that I’m shocked, shocked, to find gambling going on in this establishment. Of course, the only way to stop movie-makers from splitting adaptations into more than one film is to turn them into flops. Having just taken my son to see MOCKINGJAY PART ONE, I’m not holding my breath.

Me, I haven’t seen any of THE HOBBIT films yet. Maybe they suck. Maybe they’re fine and people are shit-mouthing them because they feel ripped off.

In any event, I have a ticket to see all three films, in a marathon, on an IMAX screen, this Monday afternoon. It’s going to be a nine-hour event, starting at 1pm (watching all three LOTR films on my birthday took 13 hours) and I’m going to be there for the duration. Unfortunately, my wife and son aren’t bit on movie marathons, the poor dears, so I’m having a Me-day.

(Seattle-area folks: is anyone else going? Drop me a note on Twitter at @byharryconnolly and maybe we can arrange to meet up)

Certainly, some parts will be dumb, some will be entertaining, some will be both. I last read the book a few years back, when my kid was young enough that we could subject him to family read-aloud time, so I won’t notice minor changes and won’t care about large ones. In other words, fuck Tom Bombadil. I expect that the worst thing about it will be eating meals out of the concession stand.

If I get a shit ton of work done this weekend, I’ll even be ready to sign and mail out the paperbacks when they arrive the next day.

Seriously, though: if you’re going and want to meet up, let me know.

Today marks 25 years in Seattle

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Leaving Philadelphia didn’t fix my life, but it sure gave me a new perspective on it. I also acquired a brand new opportunity to do things for myself. All my life I’d been told I was a lazy person who did the bare minimum to get by, and I believed it. Living in Seattle, I was waking up at 2am so I could write before leaving at 4:30am for my day job, but I still believed that story about being a slacker.

I haven’t made the friends here that I did back in Philly, but I did fall in love with and marry an amazing woman. It’s a good life, if a little quiet. It would be even better if we could move again, preferably someplace sunny.

Yesterday marks 25 years since I left Philadelphia

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I meant to post this on the actual day, but I was busy working on the Fate game supplements and fucking around on Twitter.

Yes, on November 13th, 1989, I hopped on the train and headed off to Seattle, where my friend Andrew had just moved. He promised to put me up in his living room, and I took off.

Was I excited to be going to Seattle? Not for itself, no. Andrew had moved here for a girl but I was just looking to get out of Philly. I had great friends there, but I was stuck in a rut, having graduated from college the year before and fallen into bad habits. In 1989, I was a wake-and-bake stoner, going nowhere, doing nothing, no money, no girlfriend, no prospects. I was still living at home, too. I knew I had to get out, but it just seemed impossible.

Looking back, I was probably dealing with some kind of mental health issues. Depression or anxiety or some mix of the two? Maybe? I don’t know. I’d suffered through a lot of self-loathing over the years, and getting high made it bearable. I’d also had lots of suicidal thoughts, but maybe they weren’t as commonplace as I’d believed. I’d never gone any further than laying a knife against my wrist, just to see how it would feel (answer: not sharp enough) but I figured everyone had those thoughts all the time so I brushed them off and never acted on them. Ignorance is bliss, I guess.

Anyway, Andrew had a going away party sometime near Labor Day, and I floated through it thinking “I should be doing this, too.” When I contacted him about coming out there a couple weeks after he left, he was enthusiastic about a friendly face.

So I left my friends, my family, and a McJob with a 90-minute commute each way. Plus side for the job, they were nice enough to let me bring my Brother WP 75 to the shipping dock, where they bagged it, stuck it in a box, and packed it with quick-drying spray foam. It arrived in Seattle in perfect working order.

Anyway, late in the day yesterday, 25 years ago, I boarded a train for the west coast to remake my life. I figure that’s probably a big deal.

Authors with six-figure incomes

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Twenty years ago, Donald Maass interviewed authors to find out who had six-figure incomes, and what they had in common. What did he discover?

No conventions. Hear that? They don't attend many conventions

Excerpt from ‘The Career Novelist’ by Donald Maass

Download a free copy of the book this is from at this link.

Obviously, none of them listed “Lucky” among the important factors in their success, but we can take that as a given. You can do everything right, but if you’re abandoned by your editor, or your preferred subject matter appeals to a small audience, well, that’s just too sad for you.

But how much of this advice (to the extent that it actually constitutes advice) still holds, twenty years later?

I suspect that writers really do need to be somewhat “plugged in” right now. Writers aren’t going to make a lot of sales by going onto social media and calling for readers, but they can recommend other authors, and those other authors can recommend them in return, if they like. Log-rolling! It’s not actually evil, if you liked the book.

I also wonder what other factors would weigh in here: how quickly do they publish? Are their books largely within a single series? Do they win awards?

Personally, last month I passed the five-year mark on my publishing career, and it hasn’t be great. When the trilogy and the new UF comes out this winter, I’ll have published or self-published ten books.

I’m not looking for six-figures here, but mid-five would be nice. Very very nice, actually. We’ll see.

I backed the third edition of CHILL (and so should you)

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When Pacesetter put out the first CHILL edition way back in the ’80’s, I snapped up a copy. For those of you who watched my Kickstarter video from last year (oh, shit, a year? must finish books) you might have noticed that box on the shelf behind me. It’s been 30 years since it came out, but while I have never played in a genuinely good Chill game, I still remember it fondly.

When Mayfair put out a second edition in the early nineties, I started snapping those books up. They were fun to read, for the most part[1], and suggested a great many story ideas, most of which I never got to use[2]. Someday, maybe. Someday.

Still, this was the ’90s, when The X-Files was all anyone talked about. It should have been the perfect moment for the game to break out. Unfortunately, the fear checks never really worked, and the horrors in CALL OF CTHULHU bigfooted all over the traditional monsters in Chill. People were more interested in Deep Ones than haunted houses, apparently. The game never sold as well as it should, and when Mayfair had a break-out hit in SETTLERS OF CATAN, they dumped rpgs in favor of board games and have never looked back.

There was an attempt some years back to put together a third edition; I was part of the crowd reading through the rules and discussing them. Sadly, people suck, and the nasty sarcasm I got when I dared admit that I sometimes ignored a die-roll to make the narrative work, convinced me it was more stress than it was worth. Much later they tried to raise $45k to print the rulebook, but it never happened.

Part of the reason I never quite had a successful game is my own weakness as a GM (excuse me… “CM”). Part was that the game required a certain willingness for players to face an enemy that was more powerful than they were[3] which had to be investigated before it could be fought. Part of it was that the players were unused to NPC interactions that didn’t mimic the might-uber-alles bullying that came with lawless murder hobo fantasy campaigns. Part was just an unwillingness to get in the spirit of things.

An example of that last:

Me: “The last thing you need to do for character creation is think up the first time you came into contact with the Unknown. It can be a haunting, a vampire attack, whatever.”

Player: “Uh, well, okay. I was walking down the street and I saw a werewolf driving a pizza-delivery truck.”

Me: “Dude.”

Player: “What?”

Sophisticated role-players, we were not. Suffice to say, I made several attempts over the years with different groups, but it never really came off.

However, I quite liked the way the rules handled creatures’ powers as though they were spells. I liked that you roll percentile dice for skill checks. I liked the idea of SAVE[4], the organization dedicated to fighting the supernatural[5]. I liked the genuinely scary creatures in the main rulebook. I even liked the weird psychic powers the PCs could access.

It was also nice to see that they broke the “rules” with regard to the creatures. I was raised to color inside the lines, and that attitude extended to pretty much everything, including the “rules” of monster movies: vampires can’t cross running water, ghosts have a task they needed to accomplish, werewolves could be killed with silver. There were boundaries! It was all laid out!

Then came Chill, which offered that sort of monster, along with other kinds. You could have werewolves that didn’t give a shit about silver or vampires that could walk in the sun. It didn’t matter, as long as it was interesting. For me, who had always broken rules on the sly because breaking rules meant trouble, the game was a bit of a paradigm shift, creatively.

Plus, for a guy who loves spooky horror but hated the sadistic pain movies and books of the 80’s (and who still hates modern grimy torture porn), Chill gave me some control. It let me imagine the stories I wanted.

That’s why, yesterday, I backed the third edition of their Kickstarter even though I can’t really afford it. The playtest materials are gorgeous; this is really the best art the game has ever had, and a quick glance at the rules is very promising.

It also looks like they’ve fixed the issue with fear checks.

Anyway, the materials they’ve already made available have me excited for the project. I hope they blow the doors off their goal and start funding a bunch of supplements or whatever.

Hell, I might dig out the adventures I was working on twenty years ago to see if there’s anything salvageable in them.

So, if traditional horror rpgs sound good to you, back them. You’ll at least have a chance to look at the playtest, with plenty of time to change your mind (you won’t change your mind).

[1] I was sorely disappointed by the “monster manual” for the game, called Things, but I’ve read enough horror game supplements to know how difficult it can be to make up a long list of horror creatures that are a) inventive, b) scary, and c) set the right tone.

[2] On Twitter, someone suggested that the playtest sampler for the 3e Kickstarter had a bit of Child of Fire in it, but in truth the influence goes the other way. The idea of a family (a whole community) that can’t remember one of its own comes straight out of the main rulebook for 2e. I read about that creature almost fifteen years before I started CoF. If you back the Kickstarter, you’ll get to see for yourself.

[3] In fact, I converted one of the creatures for 2e Chill (a mist mummy, which is a creature that spreads pestilence) directly into Champions so a five PC superhero team could fight it, and damn if it didn’t have blisteringly high points.

[4] aka Societas Argenti Viae Eternitata or The Eternal Society of the Silver Way, which was explicitly changed from “White Way” in the Pacesetter version because it sounded like an offshoot of the Klan. See also: The Dresden Files TV show changing the “White Council” into the “High Council”.

[5] In first edition, it was an actual functioning society that sent people out to investigate shit. The second, naturally, turned things all grim and dark, because 90’s. The new edition seems to have a rebuilding theme, which is welcome.

Playing Football and Erasing The Self

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing about his decision to stop watching football games because of his concern about head injuries.

Part of this is my own mix of spirituality and atheism. I generally think of the ghost not in the machine, but as the machine. My body is me, and while my brain is particularly important, when I dislocate an ankle I have injured part of myself. Anyone who is being honest about football knows that injuring people is part of the game.

One summer during my college years, a friend of mine broke my ankle during a particularly rough basketball game. Me, I thought it was just a bad sprain and didn’t seek treatment, After a week, I wrapped up the injury, went to my day job, and got back out onto the court. It was only months later, after numerous re-injuries, that I had it x-rayed.

My right ankle is still a problem to this day. It hurts when I walk too much, it aches in certain kinds of weather, it even hurts if I drink too much alcohol. I can’t imagine the effect of ignoring injuries to my brain.

Unlike Coates, I don’t really follow NFL news anymore, so I didn’t know that John Abraham, who is apparently one of the league’s best defensive players, retired for a year because of “severe memory loss,” but is now planning a return.

Maybe I’m being a bit of a writer about this, but to me, memory is self. It’s one thing to destroy the parts of the body that let you walk, or wipe your ass, or sit upright. It’s something else to destroy all the memories that make up your life. Whatever it is that drives players to wreck themselves for the sake of a win seems, in Abraham, to be the pursuit of a living suicide.

If that were the story of a movie or a novel, it would be LEAVING LAS VEGAS. A tragedy. Since it’s real life, it’s something people will make people jump out of their seats and cheer.

Abraham can do what he likes, provided no one convinces a court that his brain damage had made him unable to make his own decisions. Fans and casual viewers can do what they like. So can I, and what I like is to leave the TV off on Sunday morning and afternoons, so I don’t have to see men drive themselves into self-annihilation.

ADDED: Has anyone brought up the issue of brain damage and violent tendencies with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson?

Yesterday’s birthday celebration

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How many places around the U.S. (around the world, even) would be amused that yesterday’s high temps set a new record for July 1st: 94F, over a previous record high of 89F? In many places those numbers capture temps in the early morning, not the high for the day, but those places also have central air or even just air conditioners. My apartment in Seattle has no insulation and it doesn’t circulate air well, unless it’s a very windy day.

Anyway, we broke out the fan for the first time, but I still had an outbreak of heat-induced urticaria. (I keep meaning to blog about my health issues but never seem to find the time.)

My main birthday gift was a day when I didn’t have to do any work at all. The trash had been taken out, the floor cleaned, the toilet scrubbed, the carpet vacuumed (all by me the day before) so I had literally nothing to do around the apartment. I took a day off from my writing responsibilities, too. All I wanted to do was sack out on the couch and watch the extended LOTR movies.

You guys, I was really surprised by how much I was looking forward to this. Yeah, I do things that are fun or that count as goofing off, but they always come with a portion of guilt.

Yesterday was a day off from guilt.

Also, when I watch most movies I’m tempted to look at Twitter or have a comic book open next to me, but LOTR had my attention from the start. I managed to sit down close to my start time (which was 7am) and aside from looking at Twitter messages during DVD changes or checking the World Cup score for the Belgium match, I was offline most of the day. The movies themselves were engaging enough, even after multiple viewings, that I had no urge to turn away or fill dull time. What’s more, my wife–who generally has zero interest in Tolkien or other kinds of fantasy–was nearly late for work because the movie was so absorbing. I started the movies just after 7am and finished 8:30pm, and now I want to reread the books and replay the Lego game.

Weird thing: my kid is going through one of his bouts of late night wakefulness, where he sleeps all day and stays up all hours of the night. In fact, when I woke this morning, I found a plate of bacon, eggs, and toast waiting for me. My wife explained that she woke at 4am and found the boy wide awake in the kitchen cooking. He wanted to make a prepare breakfast for me, despite not being a kitchen person.

So, he dug up some YouTube videos for making scrambled eggs with bacon (and the video suggested boiling the bacon until the water steamed off and it could be browned in the skillet). Yes, by 6:45am, everything was stone cold, but while the bacon was a little bland, it was pretty good. Well, it was better than you could expect from twelve-year-old who never cooks and could barely sleep.

Dinner was delivery from a favorite pizza place. Lunch was a meatball sandwich on a fancy baguette, followed by the birthday cake cantalope-free fruit salad. See:

Inside the bag was a bottle of fancy rye whiskey. It was a good day, you guys, even if I did squeeze in a little writing work at the very end of the day.

I am 49.

I’m looking forward to Tuesday

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I’m looking forward to Tuesday, but not for any of the reasons you might think. Nothing will be completed or released. I’m not going anywhere. No one is coming over.

In fact, it’s my birthday.

Well, not my real birthday. That’s already passed. July 1st is the day I celebrate my birthday (I moved it because my wife and I were born on the same day, and it sucks to share something like that).

This year, the plan is simple: Up early, to the couch, the full Lord of the Rings extended trilogy, which I got for Giftmas a few years back. That’s it. Nothing else.

Well, except for a big fruit salad (I don’t like cake) and delivery pizza. And my son’s headset mic muted so he can’t bicker with his pals in co-op games. But it’s 13 hours of movie or something, and I’m going to do nothing all day but watch.

It’s been a long time since I could really take a day to myself. Usually I have work to do (or work I ought to be doing, guilt guilt). If it’s a family day, we’re going somewhere my wife wants to go, to a park or something. And when I do goof off, I’m always kicking myself it.

That’s why I’m really, really looking forward to a full day of doing nothing. I sorta can’t wait.