Dansky Macabre
With the niece and nephew on the shores of the mighty Lake Crabtree. 

With the niece and nephew on the shores of the mighty Lake Crabtree. 

Several years ago, I wrote a story called “The Mad Eyes of the Heron King” for the anthology Dark Faith. The story was later reprinted in my short fiction collection, Snowbird Gothic. 
This is, give or take a few feet, the location that inspired it. If you look carefully, you can see the Heron King himself in the tall grass.

Several years ago, I wrote a story called “The Mad Eyes of the Heron King” for the anthology Dark Faith. The story was later reprinted in my short fiction collection, Snowbird Gothic

This is, give or take a few feet, the location that inspired it. If you look carefully, you can see the Heron King himself in the tall grass.

For those of you who have missed it, I have another Tumblr, called People Doing Terrible Things To My Book. It is about - wait for it - images of people doing terrible things to my book Vaporware. Why? Because everyone else I know takes loving pictures of their beautiful new books, and I just felt contrary. So, if you’re curious to see what best-selling authors, world-renowned game developers, and people with a copy of the book and a certain amount of dastardly creativity might do, take a peek. 

And if you really get inspired, well, there’s always room for another pic…

This is Alcatraz.
In all the years I’ve gone out to San Francisco, for GDC or other meetings or once, God help me, for a press tour, I’ve never been. This picture is quite literally the closest I’ve ever gotten.
Now everyone tells me I should go, of course, largely because A)everyone goes, sooner or later and B)it’s supposed to be haunted, and everyone knows I’m a morbid little son of a gun. I mean, hey, I went to Eastern State Pentitentiary, after all, and if you want to talk “supposedly haunted prisons that occupy a seminal place in American penal history”, that joint’s kind of the mother lode.
And yet.
Alcatraz holds no interest for me. Not the history, not the ghost stories, not the over-dramaticized tales of attempted escapes. And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. Like I said, it should be right down my alley
Maybe it’s overexposure. There are a million documentaries on the place, after all, historical and “supernatural”. There’s the mock Ken Burns stuff and there’s the stuff that’s dripping with woo. Damn near every detail of the place has been diagrammed, exposed, recreated in blocky CGI, and analyzed to death. The famous inmates, the famous stories, the notorious cells and events from opening to the day the last prisoner left, it’s been told. Left behind are only little scraps of mystery, of things undiscovered that the imagination still maintains are lurking out on that rock.
If I go out there, maybe those scraps get swept away. Maybe it becomes all fact and memory and picture and plaque and tour guide lecture. Maybe there’s no place left on that island for the ghosts of my imagination to hide. And all things considered, that would be a sad thing indeed.
So I won’t get any closer than this. I’ll take the picture. I’ll think about what it shows, and what it doesn’t. And for that last bit, I’ll be thankful. 

This is Alcatraz.

In all the years I’ve gone out to San Francisco, for GDC or other meetings or once, God help me, for a press tour, I’ve never been. This picture is quite literally the closest I’ve ever gotten.

Now everyone tells me I should go, of course, largely because A)everyone goes, sooner or later and B)it’s supposed to be haunted, and everyone knows I’m a morbid little son of a gun. I mean, hey, I went to Eastern State Pentitentiary, after all, and if you want to talk “supposedly haunted prisons that occupy a seminal place in American penal history”, that joint’s kind of the mother lode.

And yet.

Alcatraz holds no interest for me. Not the history, not the ghost stories, not the over-dramaticized tales of attempted escapes. And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. Like I said, it should be right down my alley

Maybe it’s overexposure. There are a million documentaries on the place, after all, historical and “supernatural”. There’s the mock Ken Burns stuff and there’s the stuff that’s dripping with woo. Damn near every detail of the place has been diagrammed, exposed, recreated in blocky CGI, and analyzed to death. The famous inmates, the famous stories, the notorious cells and events from opening to the day the last prisoner left, it’s been told. Left behind are only little scraps of mystery, of things undiscovered that the imagination still maintains are lurking out on that rock.

If I go out there, maybe those scraps get swept away. Maybe it becomes all fact and memory and picture and plaque and tour guide lecture. Maybe there’s no place left on that island for the ghosts of my imagination to hide. And all things considered, that would be a sad thing indeed.

So I won’t get any closer than this. I’ll take the picture. I’ll think about what it shows, and what it doesn’t. And for that last bit, I’ll be thankful. 

This is my copy of Taran Wanderer, by Lloyd Alexander. For a very long time it was perhaps my favorite book, and certainly my most often read one. I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that a non-trivial portion of my younger self’s thoughts on life and creativity and all that good stuff was affected by this book. You will not necessarily succeed at your heart’s desire, the book says, though you will never know that unless you give it your best attempt. The easiest path isn’t always the best one. The best choice for others isn’t always the right one to make. Don’t find one thing you’re good at and stop there, or you’ll never find out what else you can do. Success is not achieved without hard work. Your early, unskilled efforts may well not be good enough, and that is reasonable and natural - learn from them and improve and the next ones may be better.
Heady stuff for a kid just figuring out that he was good with these “words” things and starting to get good at clarinet and trying his hand at some for-reals science and getting beaten up a lot and mainly trying to figure out who the hell he was and what he was supposed to do.
I confess, I didn’t take all of those lessons to heart, even the ones I knew were good ones. Some felt too hard. Some felt selfish to Much Younger Me. Some I didn’t necessarily have perspective on until later. But I always came back to Taran Wanderer, because my inner Assistant Pig-Keeper never let me forget where those bits of me had come from.
This copy is going to its final resting place soon. It is old, and the cover is gone, and the spine is going. The pages are yellowing and frankly, I don’t know how much longer it’s going to last as a physical artifact. And I have other copies of the Chronicles of Prydain, sturdier ones in better shape, and I suppose if I really wanted to I could get an eBook version as well, but, honestly, that’s not the point.
This is the one I read in third grade, after I’d chewed through Narnia during a bout of chicken pox and demanded more of the same. This is the one I went back to in fifth grade, and the year after, and the year after that. This is the one I’ve carried through my adult life, to where I sit now, and to where it sits next to me.
And yet.
It’s probably got one more read in it. At least one more.
We’ll see, won’t we.

This is my copy of Taran Wanderer, by Lloyd Alexander. For a very long time it was perhaps my favorite book, and certainly my most often read one. I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that a non-trivial portion of my younger self’s thoughts on life and creativity and all that good stuff was affected by this book. You will not necessarily succeed at your heart’s desire, the book says, though you will never know that unless you give it your best attempt. The easiest path isn’t always the best one. The best choice for others isn’t always the right one to make. Don’t find one thing you’re good at and stop there, or you’ll never find out what else you can do. Success is not achieved without hard work. Your early, unskilled efforts may well not be good enough, and that is reasonable and natural - learn from them and improve and the next ones may be better.

Heady stuff for a kid just figuring out that he was good with these “words” things and starting to get good at clarinet and trying his hand at some for-reals science and getting beaten up a lot and mainly trying to figure out who the hell he was and what he was supposed to do.

I confess, I didn’t take all of those lessons to heart, even the ones I knew were good ones. Some felt too hard. Some felt selfish to Much Younger Me. Some I didn’t necessarily have perspective on until later. But I always came back to Taran Wanderer, because my inner Assistant Pig-Keeper never let me forget where those bits of me had come from.

This copy is going to its final resting place soon. It is old, and the cover is gone, and the spine is going. The pages are yellowing and frankly, I don’t know how much longer it’s going to last as a physical artifact. And I have other copies of the Chronicles of Prydain, sturdier ones in better shape, and I suppose if I really wanted to I could get an eBook version as well, but, honestly, that’s not the point.

This is the one I read in third grade, after I’d chewed through Narnia during a bout of chicken pox and demanded more of the same. This is the one I went back to in fifth grade, and the year after, and the year after that. This is the one I’ve carried through my adult life, to where I sit now, and to where it sits next to me.

And yet.

It’s probably got one more read in it. At least one more.

We’ll see, won’t we.

So there are a lot of things that I could write about here tonight. Serious stuff. GDC-related stuff. Writerly stuff. Maybe even a light-hearted recitation of the wacky misadventures that befell the brilliant and charming Melinda and myself when we went to buy a mattress for our guest bedroom today.

But instead, I’ll give you this. Because if Animal Planet isn’t going to give me grainy sasquatch-themed footage without any actual sasquatches on a Sunday night, by gum, I’m going to have to make it myself.

GDC Thoughts - The Unexpected Case Of the Round Table In The Night

Something funny happened at the Game Writers’ Round Tables I hosted this year at GDC.

Now, I’ve been running these round tables for a while. This was, if my fuzzy memory serves, the eighth year the folks at GDC have kindly consented to let me gather up members of the scribblers’ tribe in a room to discuss techniques, concerns, process and other vagaries of game writing. They are generally well attended, and they are generally well reviewed (kayn-ahora for this year). 

This year, we talked about a lot of different things across the three days. Portfolio building. Character-driven narrative construction. Working with voice actors. You name it. I always take notes at these things; after the show I collate them and send them out to all of the attendees. When I started collating today, a rough word count for the three sessions’ worth of stuff was close to 5000 words. 

But what was just as interesting to me was what wasn’t talked about. In the early days of the round tables, there were a few topics we always zeroed in on. How do we convince teams that writing is important? How do we get a writer a seat at the table early on, so the narrative doesn’t feel tacked on? How do we start to interface with the rest of the team?

This year (and really, very little for the few years previously), there was none of that. The conversation we were having assumed narrative was important. It assumed that teams that wanted narrative would get writers on board and integrate them with the team. It assumed collaboration with level design and sound and creative direction. 

The goals we had aspired to had become part of the landscape, baked into the conversation as a given.

Which, in the vernacular, is freaking awesome. Because it means that we can move past the basics to discuss other things. Because it means game narratives are starting from a better place in the production cycle. Because it means the industry’s going to let us do better work.

So is this it? Are we done? Absolutely not. There’s still miles to go before we sleep, at least when it comes to creating interactive narratives. There’s so much still left to do. But as an industry, collectively, we’re closer than we used to be.

And to me, that feels like winning.

Things That Happened At GDC (Random Shuffle)

So these things happened at GDC…

  • Michelle Clough gave the blow-the-doors-off breakout talk of the Narrative Summit, and acquired the nickname “Atomic Ovaries” in the process. Go check out her talk on the Vault. I’ll wait. And you’ll understand.
  • I may have offered a sip from my flask to the honorable Mayor of Baton Rouge, LA.
  • Alexander Bevier did a great job of stepping up for the IGDA Writers’ SIG and ran a kick-ass edition of Write Club. The fact that the final question was about writing dialog for a gritty FPS about a vengeful cabbage whose family has been shredded (working title: Cole’s Law) is entirely beside the point. Bravo, Alex.
  • There was orange wine. Three kinds of orange wine.
  • Two of my favorite designers nearly got into a fight, and I’m not sure one of them even noticed.
  • Roughly 84 Californians, very few of them native, asked me “When are you moving out here?” When I said “I’m not,” they looked very surprised.
  • Over 70 people showed up for the last iteration of my Game Writers’ Round Table on Friday, during the last slot of the conference. I am humbly pleased that folks were that into the material.
  • There was a playtest of Squatches and Scotches, my home-brew card game. We did it in a bar. Because it was GDC.
  • The estimable Mark Nelson and I argued college basketball in front of internationally celebrated game designer Ken Rolston, whose transparent amusement at our hammer-and-tongs debate was one of the most genuine expressions of joy I saw all week. 
  • When it comes to college basketball, by the way, Mark Nelson is still wrong.
  • After innumerable years of saying “someday I’m going to…” I finally took a look around the Contemporary Jewish Museum, around the corner from the Moscone Center. It took maybe an hour. (But it was worth it for the Lobel exhibit alone.)
  • One of the security personnel at Moscone West told me, “I appreciate your enthusiasm.” Seriously.
  • Had breakfast with Nicole Lazzaro and Lee Sheldon, which made me feel a lot like the Sheriff character on Eureka, brain-wise. Wow. The smartness.
  • Many people whom I admire as professional peers did terrible things to my book.
  • The legendary Brenda Romero had multiple slides in her PPT presentation featuring asparagus.
  • I bought Hal Barwood’s book. You should, too.
  • There was a moment during an interview where I actually had to pull out the “I could tell you but I’d have to kill you” line. 
  • The game writing crowd found a new bar and promptly drank it out of most of its scotch. Monkey Shoulder, we hardly knew ye.
  • Some people did some really disturbing things with milkshakes.
  • I discovered the downside to staying at a hotel with hall bathrooms and showers is that it has hall bathrooms and showers. Especially if the shower is next to your room and two of your hall mates like showering together.
  • People ate the roast beef in the conference lunches. This was a mistake.
  • Steve Meretzky promised to show me 100 places with better drinks than the Tadich Grill. 98 to go. Next year, then…
Concert Thoughts - Drive-By Truckers

When I went to see Drive-By Truckers’ guitarist Mike Cooley’s solo show in Chapel Hill last year, the audience was a problem. Which is to say they were in large part less of an audience and more of a bunch of people standing around expecting Cooley to provide background music to their conversations, to the point where the man had to tell people to pipe the hell down on multiple occasions. 

So when the Truckers more-or-less kicked off the tour for their new album, “English Oceans” in Raleigh tonight, they decided to make sure that wasn’t going to be a problem. And the way they addressed this was by playing so goddamn loud, it didn’t matter if anyone was talking or not, because you weren’t going to hear a damn thing except the music. 

Which was, apart from a few early tracks where they pretty much overpowered the sound board with badassery, just fine.

###

Lots of flannel at the show. Lots of dad shirts bought at thrift shops by people wearing mesh trucker caps. Lots of beards. 

None of them, however, compared to DBTs drummer Brad Morgan’s. That, my friends, is the majestic Niagara of beards. How he avoided getting his sticks tangled in it is beyond my comprehension.

###

I think the encore was nine songs. I lost count. But we got “Zip City” and “Shut Up And Get On the Plane” and “Lookout Mountain” and, well, damn. Nine songs. Thats a set for some bands I’ve seen.

###

The first time I saw the DBTs, they were still trying to figure out their sound in the post-Jason Isbell era. (Note: All stories about the DBTs have at least one mandatory reference to Isbell’s leaving the band. This is mine.) It was an ugly, snowy night at the Lincoln Theater, and the crowd half past drunk before they hit the stage, and to be honest, there was an Isbell-shaped hole in the sound. Like they were still trying to figure out how the arrangements were going to work without that triple guitar attack. It was a good show, but it wasn’t the transcendent musical experience I’d been hoping for. 

Like I said, it felt like there was a hole in their sound.

Tonight, there wasn’t a hole. They’ve figured out what they’re supposed to sound like, which is a kick-ass rock band that happens to be from Alabama. They got rid of their flirtations with steel guitar. They had Jay Gonzalez splitting time between guitar and keys, recreating a version of that three-headed monster they used to have. They had a bassist in Matt Patton who looked really, really happy to be there. And they just plugged it all in and went for it, and it worked in a way it hadn’t worked that first time.

Damn, my ears are still ringing.

###

I think this show may have set a record for most second hand pot smoke I’ve absorbed at a concert. There was enough getting lit up to fog the stage lights.  

###

They played a lot off the new album, “English Oceans”, which was apparently was the highest charting album of the band’s career in its first week. The went to the well for songs like “Steve McQueen” and “Ronnie and Neil”. They pretty much split lead vocals down the middle between Cooley and Patterson Hood, who looks like a younger, healthier version of Dan Harmon. They had Jay Gonzalez take a bunch of the guitar solos. And they let Morgan take the last bow. And all of them were grinning like maniacs all the way through it, clearly having a good time, even when the sweat was flying off them so thick they needed to towel off onstage.

Was it a perfect show? Naah. Like I said, the sound was muddy at times. There were a couple of weird feedback issues. It was a first night, with all that implied. 

But it was a great show.

###

Outside the Ritz (which is a converted warehouse in downtown Raleigh and decidedly not ritzy), someone had set up a food truck selling Mexican food. On the way in, business looked slow, with everyone lining up for tickets (presages were capped) and afraid of losing their place in line and thus not getting in. It was, truth be told, a pretty packed show.

On the way out, they were doing land office business. 

Which, in hindsight, made sense.

On True Detective And Endings (No Spoilers)

And now, with the inevitable backlash in full swing, it can finally be said:

There was no way the finale of True Detective was going to make everybody happy.

It’s the show’s own fault, really. Well, the fault of Nick Pizzolatto and Cary Fukunaga and the cast and T-Bone Burnett’s musical direction and all the elements that came made the series so compelling from the get-go. Mix something that good with geek-bait like Robert Chambers references (and Thomas Ligotti, for the “Well, Actually” crowd that leveled up in this stuff) and you’ve got irresistible bait for speculation.

Speculate we did, of course. We went nuts trying to figure out who The Yellow King was, and whether Hastur would show up for a cameo, and the significance of every last detail (never mind that Pizzolatto made it clear in interviews that he was adopting the tone of dread of weird fiction without bringing the overt supernatural elements along for the ride). We had our pet theories. We invested in them. We believed.

Which meant, of course, that we were bound to be wrong - most of us, anyway. Because your personal theory didn’t match my personal theory didn’t match my buddy’s personal theory, and if any one of us were right that meant that everyone else would be wrong. And like it or not, when you speculate on something like this, whether it’s the identity of the Yellow King or the actor who’s going to get cast as the next Doctor or who the villain in the next Avengers movie is going to be, you get invested in the speculation. It’s impossible not to work your way to a conclusion like that through something you love and not get attached to it. 

So when the vast matrix of possibility collapses down to the single point of what’s onscreen, there’s inevitable disappointment because in our heads, it was something else. And the adjustment, from that theory to the artifact we view or read or whatever, is a wrench. It’s painful. And it creates the hurt of unmet expectations. 

So, regardless of how you read the denouement of True Detective (and there are a lot of ways to read it), odds are  it wasn’t quite what you were expecting, and thus a little disappointing. It’s too easy to take issue with what it wasn’t, instead of what it was. 

Which is not to say that I think everyone should think it was a perfect piece of television and bow down before it. If it worked for you, great. It certainly worked for me, dangling threads and all. If it didn’t work for you, too bad; hopefully you at least enjoyed the ride. 

And I suspect most of us will be back for season 2.