Interview with my Target Audience

October 14th, 2014fiction, interviews

My 11yo daughter is home sick from school—which means I’m home from work—so I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk books with her. She started reading early, at about 2.5yo, and has continued to be an avid reader ever since. Most of you know that my day job is writing for video games but my extracurricular ambitions is writing fiction, especially Middle Grade books. That puts my daughter smack dab in my target audience. In order to get a better understanding of my ideal reader’s preferences and perspective, I figured I’d go right to the source.

Below is the complete text of our conversation.

Let’s start at the beginning, what first got you interested in reading?

I don’t know. I like to read.

What was the first book you remember really liking?

Junie B. Jones. I’m pretty sure Junie B. Jones came before Franny K. Stein.

What was it you liked about Junie B. Jones?

I liked Junie B. Jones.

The character?

Yeah.

What about her?

She’s funny. And her friends are funny.

What’s your favorite book right now?

Mr. Terupt Falls Again.

What do you like about it?

I like how, in the first book Because of Mr. Terupt, because all the characters like Lexie was mean and then not and Peter was a troublemaker and then he became not a troublemaker and it’s all about of an event with Mr. Terupt. They all changed by the end of the book. I like how they have Mr. Terupt again as a teacher for Sixth Grade and how the characters, at the beginning, stay the same but then stuff happens to them that they weren’t expecting—I’m not going to spoil it though—and they change.

What makes you stop reading a book? Just putting it down for good?

If it’s boring and people keep talking about the same thing for two chapters.

What makes you pick up a book in the first place?

I read the back of it and I see if it’s good. Sometimes we read books in class. Like, in Fifth Grade we read books in class and that’s how I got into Because of Mr. Terupt. We listened to the audiobook.

What are you reading right now?

Third Grade Angels.

How do you like it?

It’s good.

What’s the best part of Third Grade Angels so far?

I’m not that far into the book.

Do you know who the author is?

I forget.

Who wrote Because of Mr. Terupt?

I forgot that too!

You said you loved Junie B. Jones. Do you know who wrote it?

I used to.

Who is your favorite author?

Andrew Clements. I love him. I love his books.

What’s your favorite book he wrote?

The Report Card.

If you wanted someone else to read The Report Card, how would you get them to check it out?

I would tell them how much I appreciated it. And that it seems like a good book for them to read.

Would you tell them anything about the story or characters or setting?

Well, it’s basically about this girl named Nora purposefully getting Ds for her friend Stephen and how much trouble she gets into and almost gets expelled. The whole mystery of the story is “Why would that help him?”

That’s what you’re telling me but would you say something like that to a friend?

Probably.

Have you ever recommended a book to a friend?

Not to a friend but I have to family. I’ve recommended books to you. I recommended Babymouse to [a friend].

What did you say to your friend about Babymouse?

I forget. That was like a year ago.

Do you know if she read any of the books?

Yeah. Yeah, she did. She read all of them.

So she liked them?

She liked them. Yeah.

Do you have a preference when it comes to books with illustrations versus books that are just words?

Depends on the book with illustrations. And it depends on the books with just words. Books that this thick [spreads her fingers about two inches apart], then no. And there are a lot of books like that. And some books with pictures [puts her fingers together really close] that I’m not into. Just depends on the book.

Do you have a preference when it comes to books with magic and stuff like that versus books that are more realistic?

I like fictional books. I’m not too keen on realistic fiction. There are some realistic fictions I really love like Because of Mr. Terupt and Mr. Terupt Falls Again.

Andrew Clements writes realistic fiction, right?

Yeah. It just depends on what the realistic fiction is about.

If you had a wish to create the perfect book for you, what would the book be about?

That’s a hard one. Can I just choose a genre?

Yeah.

It would probably be… [thinks for a bit]

Would it be set in the real world?

Um, yeah. Yeah, it would be. I have nothing against sci-fi though.

What age would the characters be?

They’d probably be about my age.

Would the main character be a boy or girl?

Oh man. Hm. It would probably be a girl.

Would this girl be special in any way?

No.

We’ve talked before about how stories are about change. Would this girl change?

Um. Hm. Yeah.

How would she change?

Like, her attitude. And the way she handles things.

Would there be a bad guy or enemy?

No. Probably not.

So what would make this book so perfect for you?

Like, the problems and the reasons she has to change.

Do you prefer standalone books or ones that are parts of a series?

I like series book because then it gives you more of that character to read. One thing that kind of bothers me about Andrew Clements is that every book has a new character and you have to get used to a whole new character.

Have any of your friends recommended books to you?

No.

Never?

Not that I can remember.

Do a lot of your friends read?

Yeah.

Do they ever bring their own books to school?

Not really. Not really, no.

How important are book covers to you?

I know they say not to judge a book by its cover but most people do so it kinda has to have a good cover or I might not read it.

So what makes a good cover to you?

If it has something to do with the story. Like in Because of Mr. Terupt, the cover has a picture of a guy holding a snowball. And that fits perfectly into the story. You wonder “What does that snowball have to do with this book?”

Where you find out about new books?

Usually at school.

But not from friends at school, right?

Yeah, but from like the school library. The library at [her former elementary school], the librarians told us about really good books. That’s where I found out about Wonder. We had a competition where we had to read as many of the prize books as we could and then we’d check off the books we read off a list.

How about bookstores?

Oh yeah. Yeah. School libraries, classrooms, and bookstores. And the public library.

Do you see yourself reading a lot when you grow older?

Probably, but not as much as Abraham Lincoln.

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New Stuff I’ve Done: SoB

August 25th, 2014news, rpg

I realize it’s been a while since I updated the sidebar on stuff I’ve done recently so I thought I’d do that and spotlight a couple things in a post as well. If you’ve paid any attention to the 2014 Plan on the left (and I know you all check it daily), you’ll see some of this reflected there. I’m breaking this into two posts with this second one focused on Streets of Bedlam releases.

Streets of Bedlam

I’ve released a pair of new supplements for my Savage Worlds setting Streets of Bedlam recently but figured I’d spotlight all four that have never made it over to this page. First things first.

SoB Stories #1

SoB Stories are standalone episodes that were funded by the very successful Kickstarter I ran back in 2012. Five total planned with the first one below and the second one due out this week.

StreetsOfBedlam_SoBStories1_FSZ220_dtr_COVER

“Y’know, I didn’t really understand what folks meant when they said no good deed goes unpunished, until I heard the story of Dory Brooker. You familiar? Aw shit then, pull up a chair. C’mon, buy me a round and I’ll fill your ears with one helluva tale.”

One year ago, a well-meaning citizen talked a mild-mannered accountant out of throwing herself off the roof of her apartment building. When that same citizen goes missing, the accountant looks for help in finding the man—not knowing just how many people want her savior to disappear for good.

A Bunch of SOBs

When I have a cool acronym, I like to milk it. The Streets of Bedlam setting makes use of character templates called Archetypes. The book contains a lot but I wanted to give as many options as I could so I decided to release more. The first two were part of that Kickstarter campaign and the third came along later. I have a fourth in the planning stages that I’d like to see out soon.

BunchofSOBs_TroubleRedacted_Cover-198x300 ABunchofSOBs_IngenueSawbones_Cover-198x300 StreetsOfBedlam_BunchofSOBs3_FSZ212_dtr_COVER-198x300

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New Stuff I’ve Done: LFNE

August 25th, 2014news, rpg

I realize it’s been a while since I updated the sidebar on stuff I’ve done recently so I thought I’d do that and spotlight a couple things in a post as well. If you’ve paid any attention to the 2014 Plan on the left (and I know you all check it daily), you’ll see some of this reflected there. I’m breaking this into two posts with this first one focused on Little Fears Nightmare Edition releases.

Little Fears Nightmare Edition

I’ve released a trio of new supplements for Little Fears Nightmare Edition with one full-sized supplement and two mini ones.

Book 3: Blessed are the Children

LFNEBook3Cover

Not every child is the same.

They are different than other kids.
Some would say strange.
Some might say cursed.

But they are called the blessed.

Blessed are the Children focuses on the realm of spirits and ghosts within the world of Little Fears Nightmare Edition. From the kids whose souls are different than others to the monsters who pursue them, Blessed are the Children introduces six new character options including Gifted, Soulless, and Changeling, numerous creatures from Closetland, rules for possession, a new take on the Spirit Drain ability, a full standalone episode called “My Soul to Keep”, and more.

Goodie Bags

First off, I wrote up a couple “Goodie Bags” supplements for my Little Fears Nightmare Edition line. Where “Campfire Tales” are standalone episodes for game moderators to use with their group, “Goodie Bags” are small expansions that introduce new characters, enemies, or (later) areas of the real world as well as Closetland. The first two in the line are below.

goodiebags1

They are the Butterfly Knights.

Goodie Bags #1: “The Butterfly Knights” is a bite-sized supplement for Little Fears Nightmare Edition that adds details to the sworn protectors of the mysterious winged creatures that appear in Closetland and have the power to heal–or to empower the very monsters the Knights must battle. Goodie Bags #1 talks about the Knights as an organization, details the three top members of the Knights, including full GMC and PC write-ups, and contains a half-dozen adventure hooks you can use to tell your very own tales about the Butterfly Knights.

goodiebags2

Baba Yaga’s Children are hungry. For you.

Goodie Bags #2: “Baba Yaga’s Children” is a bite-sized supplement for Little Fears Nightmare Edition all about the cannibalistic creations of the witch-crone Baba Yaga. Cast from their mother’s hut, these creepers roam Closetland and the real world looking for food. The more human, the better. Goodie Bags #2 talks about how these monsters come to be, how they hunt, who hunts them, and includes three new GMC characters, full write-ups for these creatures at all three monster levels, and a half-dozen adventure hooks you can use to tell your very own tales about Baba Yaga’s Children.

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Hey, Wanna Hear Something Crazy?

July 24th, 2014essays

I don’t remember the exact date that I went crazy, but I remember the weeks preceding it.

In mid-June 2004, I got sick. I didn’t know what it was at first. I worked during the day at a local internet provider. At 5p, I’d come home, and immediately go to bed. I couldn’t stay awake. I would get so tired, I could barely stand. I would pass out at 6p and stay asleep until I had to get up for work the next morning. At first, I figured it was just a bug and I would shake it soon. But it lasted a week. Then another week. So, at the urging of my wife, I went to the doctor. After a comedy of errors, including a completely unnecessary overnight stay in the hospital, I was diagnosed with mono. Which is as awful, soul-sucking, life-draining a disease as I’ve ever gotten.

Great.

Origins 2004 was coming up—a mid-sized gaming convention that was only a couple hours away from my house. I was with an outfit called Key 20 back then—a sideline tabletop publishing and consolidation business I ran with a friend—and had to be there. So I went. Sick. I powered through the first couple days as best I could. On the third day, a Saturday, a miracle happened. I woke up in my hotel room and I felt better. Not just better, I felt good. I was over it. I had survived mono. Naturally, I partied like crazy that night.

The convention was soon over. I’d had a lot of fun hanging with some faraway friends, sold some books, and came home. Whew. I had made it through.

Time passed. And I started to notice something.

Read More »

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Out Now: MIGHTY MIRROR MASTERS

May 2nd, 2014news, rpg

Some time ago, the wonderful Cynthia Miller asked if I’d be interested in writing a series book for the third edition of Cartoon Action Hour. Her company, Spectrum Games, focuses on genre emulation games, such as the wicked Slasher Flick and the pulp-horror game Macabre Tales, and this latest edition continued and refined CAH’s focus on the classic cartoons of the 80s.

I pitched a series inspired by one of my favorites and the result was the Mighty Mirror Masters. Here’s the ad copy:

In this Cartoon Action Hour: Season 3 series book by Jason L Blair, a mystical gemstone is discovered that can peer into the souls of those who view it and divine their true nature, bringing it to life in physical form. Those with kind souls were blessed with Divine Light, becoming paragons of good, able to call forth noble creatures made of pure light. Those whose souls harbored evil intent experienced Dark Reflection and were transformed into twisted monsters driven by greed and vengeance. Now, the two factions find themselves at odds, as the Dark Reflection seeks to get its hands on the mystical gemstone at all costs.

It’s out now in PDF. You can grab it for $4.99 over at DriveThruRPG. I’d love it if you could leave a review over there as well, if you get a chance to check it out. And feel free to leave some comments right here too!

Thanks to Cynthia and the Spectrum team for this chance to contribute to their amazing game. If you like Mighty Mirror Masters, be sure to check out the other series books, such as John Wick‘s Infinivaders, and check back for the rest of the series books they have in the pipe.

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Keeping Track in 2014

May 1st, 2014news

Something I’ve decided to do, inspired by the One-Year Plan from last year (which failed, but I’ll talk about that next week), is to keep public track of the projects I start (not including pitches, scripts, and things that I can’t share or aren’t worth sharing at this point). I’ve already updated it with the first four projects of the year. I’m estimating the Book 3 count because I tended to do a lot of that writing inside the layout program.

Keep your eyes peeled for more!

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And All of a Sudden, it’s May

May 1st, 2014news

It’s been four months since my last update. That’s…a long time. I not only aim to fix this but I’m currently working on a clutch of updates that I’ll put into the queue. (Expect the first one tomorrow morning!)

Future ones will address last year. What went right, what failed, what failed horrendously, what I learned from it all, and what’s on the docket for this year.

See you all tomorrow with the first update!

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New Year’s Revelation

January 3rd, 2014essays

Obvious revelation that reared its head into my brain a bit ago so I thought I’d share.

Doing nothing leads to doing more nothing. Most folks know that. But the inverse is also true. When you do something, especially if you feel a reward from it, you want to keep doing it. Inertia is the mindkiller. Want to create? Create. Start small if you want but keep doing it.

Want to write? 50 words a day. Anybody can do that. 50 words every day. That’s literally a couple minutes. You have them. Write during lunch. Write while in the bathroom. Write before you go to bed. If you can’t do 50, do 20. Write one sentence. Over time, you put down enough words, you’ll have something. A song, a poem, a story, a novel, a memoir. Something.

Want to draw? One shape a day. A circle, a square, a line. Again: minutes a day. If that. Over time, you’ll have a diagram, an illustration, a comic strip, a drawing of a loved one. Something.

Want to play an instrument? One note or chord a day. Over time, you’ll learn guitar, bass, violin, piano. Something.

Want to learn a language? A word or phrase a day. Over time, you’ll be able to converse with people in their native tongue.

Don’t worry about making any of this good. Or for other people. Do this for you. Don’t sweat whether a phrase is clumsy or a face is lopsided or you press too close to the fret or you might be pronouncing a vowel flatly.

The time is going to pass anyway. I hope you have a bunch of time. Spend it with loved ones, spend it on hobbies, spend it on entertainment. But take a few minutes a day to explore something or create something. You might find you love it and want to dedicate ten minutes a day to doing it. Maybe an hour. Maybe you set aside a couple evenings a week. Maybe not. Maybe you stick to doing 2-3 minutes a day. It doesn’t matter.

Do this for you. Do something new. Learn something new. You may have a lot more to contribute to this world than you realize.

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Game Writing: 11 Things I’ve Learned

December 20th, 2013video games

Veteran writer (and scion of Tom Clancy) Richard Dansky asked an interesting question:

So what knowledge do you think is absolutely essential to working in games writing? Concepts? Elements of craft? Specific terminologies? Legal and professional issues?

I responded with eleven tenets that have served me well. Most of these were learned the hard way so I thought I’d (hopefully) save other writers and would-be writers the hassle and headache. Feedback and anecdotes from other writers is most certainly appreciated.

11 Things I’ve Learned About Writing for Video Games

1. A writer’s role in a project varies not only from studio to studio and from project to project but from stage of production to stage of production.

2. Many aspects of writing are the easiest thing to change when developing a game. More than anyone, you must be flexible.

3. Chances are, no one will care more about the story than you. You will be called upon to champion ideas and fight for story elements but you cannot be precious about small things and must be able to compromise.

4. You must be able to find your voice in any project, work-for-hire or not. If you cannot put yourself into another’s project, you need to work on that first and foremost.

5. When I freelanced, I was often called in near the end of a project to give context and structure to pre-existing characters, locations, and situations. If you intend to freelance, be really good at assembling LEGO bricks.

6. Understand that seemingly small decisions–such as locations, animations, costume changes, and characters–can have a huge impact on budgets and workflows within other departments. You must be able to own the budgets, both time and money.

7. Games are a team project. Learn the lingo used by other departments and disciplines. Learn what they need to get their job done. Learn what their priorities are. They are your best friends. And if you get in good with them, they will do what they can for you when you absolutely, positively need a new location, animation, costume change, or character.

8. You are a step in the process. Be mindful that audio, cinematics, animation, level design, scripting, and others will work from what you create. Be realistic about your deadlines and, once set: HIT. YOUR. DEADLINES.

9. You are a step in the process. Others must be mindful of your deadlines and, when they are not, you must be comfortable addressing that issue and telling them how their delays affect you.

10. Changes happen. All the time. Notes come down from directors, producers, marketing, publishers, and changes must be made. Sometimes the deadline will shift to allow for those changes; often, it won’t.

11. Games are great but it’s your life that’s important. Don’t be so in love with writing for games that your quality of life suffers.

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Out Now: HOW THE SAINTS SAVE CHRISTMAS

December 10th, 2013video games

The holidays are here and they’ve brought new DLC for Saints Row IV. Cozy up to the fire and enjoy this delightful—and delightfully twisted—trip to save St. Nick and restore the holidays to the world. Here’s the sell text:

How the Saints Save Christmas (1953) – Santa is trapped inside the Simulation but the Scrooge-like Boss of the Third Street Saints can’t muster enough Christmas spirit to save him. Can the Saints help the Boss discover the true meaning of the season in time? A holiday classic for the whole family.

Most owners of the Season Pass should already have this (Europe releases tomorrow). If you’re buying a la carte, you can pick it up on Steam, 360, and PSN now.

Happy holidays, everybody!

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