This is gonna be mostly old hat to most writers, I reckon, but every author goes through their own journey and such so this is new and revelatory to me, at the very least.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the core essence of story lately in light of a) always wanting to get better at my craft and b) having a novel make the agent rounds to some initial interest but not enough to seal a deal.
And that initial interest is a really good data point to have. I managed to move beyond the query stage with a good handful of agents but the manuscript didn’t connect enough for them to say “Yes, I must have this!” What that’s telling me is that I am far enough into my novel-writing ability to have a solid concept and my query was good enough to pique their interest but the work itself wasn’t bulletproof which is where I ultimately want my writing to be.
Turning that over, and working on my 30k word Little Fears novel, The Wolf Pact, has caused a couple thoughts to bubble to the surface.
Thought One: What’s the story about?
More a question that a thought but it’s the first question I need to answer before moving forward. It’s essential.
Now, when most folks ask “What the story about?” they mean (or at least get an answer pertaining to) the genre, details of the world and characters, and cool stuff that happens. But that’s all much lower level than I initially need to be.
For me, the answer to “What’s the story about?” is “This is a story about how [BLANK] learns [BLANK].”
Everything else is details.
In The Wolf Pact, Nate Torrance is a boy who discovers there’s a world of monsters that exists next to ours. Throughout his investigation, he makes friends with a girl named Jennifer Mills who has her own tie to monsters and, together, they uncover the truth about some wolf attacks in the area.
But, really, The Wolf Pact is a story about how Nate Torrance learns about friendship.” As his oldest friendship with his neighbor starts to fall apart, he builds a new friendship with Jennifer. That’s the essence of the story.
Also, that second blank is the story’s theme. “Friendship” is the theme of The Wolf Pact.
Thought Two: What about the protagonist is being challenged?
Okay, so this thought is another question. And it stems from the first.
If this is a story about how Nate Torrance learns about friendship, what about Nate is being challenged that leads to an epiphany? In The Wolf Pact, Nate holds firm that friendships are fixed. They don’t change. They certainly don’t end. It’s one of his principles. That his neighbor, who is older than Nate, is moving on forces Nate to try to reclaim that friendship. Jennifer wants to be friends with Nate but the boy is resistant. Not due to a flaw in Jennifer but a flaw in himself.
Thought Three: How is the theme supported?
Okay, so now we’re onto question three which calls back to question one. How am I supporting the theme? Perhaps a better term is “exploring.”
I’m exploring the theme of friendship by presenting different sides of it: the neighbor is moving on from friendship. Jennifer is trying to build a new friendship with Nate. Nate is trying to learn how friendship works. The antagonists also address this theme of friendship which is tied into the book’s name. The titular wolf pact is a core expression of friendship and how beholden one is to a promise made in youth.
Thought Four: How does the protagonist change?
Hrm. So all these thoughts are questions. Good to know.
Okay, I know the story is about how Nate learns about friendship. I know his idea that friendships don’t change is what will be challenged throughout the story. And I know I’ll explore the theme of “friendship” by showing different perspectives and stages of it. But what will ultimately change about how Nate views friendship? Once he has all this information and has seen the theme of friendship from multiple viewpoints, what does he do about it?
I won’t spoil that in this post (you’ll have to read the book to find out) but the basic options are: he accepts that friendships change or he rejects that friendships change. There are additional levels of complexity to this of course but those are the top levels I’m concerning myself with.
With those in mind, I was finally able to approach The Wolf Pact armed with the information I needed to start. Next came outlining, developing subplots (which go through their own version of this but with a mind of supporting the established theme), and then the actual writing.
I’ll be very interested to see how this all comes together in the finished project and how everyone reacts to it. Either way, these kinds of revelations help make my writing stronger which is my ultimate goal. Is it bulletproof yet? No. But it’s another level of armor and that’s good enough for now.
So this was unexpected.
Late in December, Adam Gauntlett—one of the folks behind the tabletop section of wildly popular gaming/geek site The Escapist—contacted me to see if I was interested in doing an interview about Little Fears. Of course, I jumped on it. I’m very happy to say that the interview is now up and I don’t sound nearly as dumb as I usually do.
Another year has ended (and I’ll write about that soon) and another one has started. All comments about arbitrary date changes aside, the beginning of a new year is as good a time as any other for reflection and declaration.
I’m not one for resolutions—no slight against them—but I am one for goals and dreams. It’s no secret that I love my day job. Writing video games is amazing and Volition is an aces place to work. I love coming into the office every day so much that I’ve become horrible at taking breaks from it. But, as do most creatives, I have ambitions beyond a single outlet. I want to create all the things—and I continue to strive to do so.
Over on Twitter, I posted the following:
Goals for 2015: Sell a novel, write a comic, continue to be a better husband, father, and friend.
— Jason L Blair (@jasonlblair) January 2, 2015
Then, a little later, I added this:
— Jason L Blair (@jasonlblair) January 2, 2015
Now, for the top tweet, those aren’t all crazy ideas. I’ve finished three novels in my life so far and though none have connected enough to move forward to publication, I’ve learned something with each. I am currently working with an artist on doing our own comic series and we’ll see what grows from that. And I endeavor every day to be a better human being in all relations, especially my familial ones.
But that second tweet, well, that’s a bit harder.
Some folks think because I write for a living (in video games no less!) that I have some sort of power and pull when it comes to getting Big Ideas made. Maybe, inside the confines of a Volition meeting room, there’s some truth to that (though video games are all about collaboration and any “win” I have is balanced by the wins of other people) but not-so in the bigger world.
Truth is, hardly anybody knows who I am. This isn’t a cry for pity or validation; it’s simple fact. My co-workers do, for the most part, and both my tabletop and digital games have fans (who are amazing!) but on the big creative scale, where the movers and shakers do their moving and shaking, I’m just another guy with ambition. Sure, maybe some credits too, but not so many big ones that they have to take notice.
I’m trying for that by making the things I can make and meeting the people I can meet but I’m not there yet. I’m not someone who enters a room and draws attention (outside of usually being the tallest person in the room). So, I’m just another anonymous person emailing a plea for connection and fives minutes of their time. When one of my emails hits an inbox, it’s shoved into the same Will-Get-To-Later-Maybe-Or-Maybe-Not pile as the emails of anyone else who doesn’t have some real clout behind their name.
And it doesn’t help that, frankly, the creative fields are tight, crowded areas. There are SO MANY people vying for the same thing that those who swim in the big pond can’t spend their time combing through all those emails looking for brilliance without a good reason. That good reason being name recognition or a referral from a friend or something that shines a light. I can only imagine being in the position the heads of studios are in when it comes to sorting through the in-flood of Folks Who Want Work.
I followed up the above tweets with the following two:
— Jason L Blair (@jasonlblair) January 2, 2015
Please also add Zatanna to the list of comics I want to write, alongside Josie + the Pussycats and Cloak and Dagger. Thanks.
— Jason L Blair (@jasonlblair) January 2, 2015
I wrote a comic, oh, about eight years ago (as I’ve talked about before) and I would love to get back in the field. And I’m doing that small comics project I mentioned earlier but there are some really cool established characters I’d love to take a crack at. I spent a good month putting together ideas for a Josie + the Pussycats reboot that I’d love to work on. Same for Cloak and Dagger. Zatanna’s one of my favorite characters of all time and telling one of her tales would be oh-woah-amazing. I would give blood to work on any of these titles. (And Power Pack too, as my friend Doug Snook reminded me.)
But so would a lot of people. Including folks working in comics right now. So, it’s a long shot. A really long shot. A Hail Mary pass into gale force winds. But it’s a goal. And it’s a dream. And I’m a big believer in having goals and working toward dreams. Once upon a time, working in video games was a long shot for me too.
I see myself as a creative who lives somewhere in the middle of this whole artsy mess. I write for a living but, I hope, I’m not at the top of my potential just yet. I’m just a writer trying to make it. I have my ups and downs, my successes and setbacks, but, mostly, I’m a guy with ambition. A guy who’s trying to do more and be more.
Maybe 2015 will give life to some of these dreams. Time will tell. But I’ll still be here working, no matter what the Fates have in store.
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?
What was it you liked about Junie B. Jones?
I liked Junie B. Jones.
What about her?
She’s funny. And her friends are funny.
What’s your favorite book right now?
What do you like about it?
I like how, in the first book Because of Mr. Terupt, all the characters changed. Like Lexie was mean and then not and Peter was a troublemaker and then he became not a troublemaker and it’s all because 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?
How do you like it?
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?
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?
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?
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 are 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?
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?
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?
Not that I can remember.
Do a lot of your friends read?
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.
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.
“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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.