Sunday, June 30, 2013

I Am Jack's Precocious Writing Contest

Last year, I entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  Needless to say, I didn't win.

Today, I entered Write Club.  It's kind of like March Madness for all of us prose-addled keyboard-lickers out there:  your anonymous 500-word writing sample squares off against someone else's, and the winner of that goes to the next round, and so on.

I'm keeping my hopes modest, but as with ABNA, what I like about these kinds of contests is that they let you run in a crowd.  You know, normally the submissions game is you putting your best-ever in an envelope, dropping it in a black hole, and waiting to hear whether you made the grade.  Yes or no.  Black or white.  You vs. an indifferent universe.

Contests like these, though - the ones that run in stages, and show the results for each -  let you see how you stack up against the competition.  And as with an actual 5k, not everyone there is going for the gold: you might just be out to prove to yourself that you can run the race, or want to see if you can finish in the first 50%, or 20%, or whatever.  Because when you think about it, "better than 17 out of 31 other entries" is a hell of a lot more useful feedback than "no."  As often as we hear "no" (or more often, nothing at all), it's good to take a benchmark measurement every now and again, and see where you settle in the pack.

So if you're feeling brave, kick off your shoes, climb in the ring, and see how many uppercuts your literary genius can take.  (But do not tarry, fellow fictioneers, for the deadline is today - June 30th - at midnight!)

Failing that, stick around here awhile - GrammatiCats returns on the Fourth of July!

How much can you know about yourself if you've never been in a fight?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Armikrog Dilemma

Once upon a time, I was a child.

And in my childhood, there was a game.  It was called The Neverhood.

And this game was phenomenal.

Our hero, Klaymen, wakes up alone in a deserted world, and must solve puzzles and brave strange dangers to discover what happened to this abandoned paradise.  It's cool and weird and wonderful, with a colorful world (not as empty as it seems!), characters that sear themselves into your brain-engrams, and a story that goes eight miles deep.  And if there's one reason why it's my favorite game of all time, I'd have to lean on my previous post to explain it.  There's love and passion and one-of-a-kind creativity pressed into every clay thumbprint. It is unique, irreplaceable, a point-and-click platypus: accept no substitutes, because there aren't any.

Sadly, The Neverhood didn't sell well.  It's long out of print now, and so old that most computers can't even run it.  EA have been sitting on the rights for fifteen years, stoically disinclined to either sell them or develop a new game.

Then came Kickstarter.

And then came Armikrog.

"What's this?" said I, when it first hit my radar.  "Doug TenNapel, storied creator of The Neverhood and Earthworm Jim, is making a new game?  And he needs my help to do it?!  Quickly, kitten - dredge the couch for quarters!"

Let me tell you, friends - I salivated over the Kickstarter page.  I pored over every pencil sketch.  I watched this trailer too many times to count.

I have not pledged to this project.

Y'know, a lot has changed since The Neverhood came out in 1996.  What I know now, and what I couldn't have known then, is that Doug TenNapel is not only a brilliant, fantastically talented artist, but also a person with personal views I find appalling, and - here's the crux - a penchant for shouting those views from the e-rooftops.  MostlyRetro covers the specifics pretty well, but the AV Club's also done an excellent writeup.  Short story: while I would never advocate actively silencing him, I can't buy from this guy anymore.

"But Tex!" the kid in me says. "It's not like he's the man in charge - he's just the designer the studio hired!  And what about all those other perfectly nice wonderful people the studio ALSO hired?  When you go to a movie, do you think not a single one of those million and five people in the credits gives money to causes you find objectionable?  Come on, it's not like he's the CEO of a huge multinational corporation - any money he donates to Fear the Queers Inc. because of this project is going to be negligible at most.  And if you don't use your dollars to help prove that there's still a market for great games like these, how will they ever get made?"

My inner child can be a real punk sometimes.  Moreover, the super-annoying thing about being an adult is that you're old enough not only to know what's bad for you - cookies, all-nighters, methamphetamines - but also to have acquired some idea of what's bad for other people.  The alternative is saying, "don't worry, cherished friends and neighbors - I stand by you and support your fight for equality.  Except when I really want a new video game.  Or a fried chicken sandwich."  (And no matter which side of that fence you're on, I think we can all agree that selling your principles for a toy is poor form indeed.)

"Wow, Tex," you may be saying to yourself at this point, "this sure is a long-ass post for what basically amounts to patting yourself on the back.  And if you're so sure this guy doesn't deserve funding or a platform, why have you just spent 500 words showcasing his game?"

Well, three reasons:

1.  Armikrog and The Neverhood ARE interesting and special, and the more people are exposed to them, the more readily they can seek out and support projects LIKE these from people who aren't TenNapel.

2.  There are worthy conversations to be had, especially in this community, about separating art from artist and how the Internet has changed our ability to keep our idols safely up on their pedestals where we can't hear them.

and 3.  If you choose not to support this project, it ought to be because you've made a reasoned decision about it, and not because you never even heard of the damn thing.  (For one thing, it's worthy of notice, and for another, it's harder for people to claim censorship and oppression when everybody has seen and discussed the subject and THEN turned away.)

Anyway, the Kickstarter's still got a couple of days left, and I'll be interested to see how it turns out.  In the meantime, somebody tell me I'm not alone - when's the last time you regretfully stuffed money back in your wallet?

After many years' journey, Hoborg returned and was ready to build "The Everhood," a neighborhood that would last forever... so long as nothing went wrong.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dragon It All Out to the Curb

Hey guys - sorry for the long radio silence here.  On balance, the phrase "hey, why don't we move?" should be thrown about roughly half as often as "hey, why don't we quit our jobs and become hitchhiking mariachis?"

Anyway, funny story.  To facilitate the moving process, I gave away a couple carloads of stuff at my writers' workshop. Here is one small example:

Jangle is the fortune-teller.  Haromis is the harpist, natch.
My mom bought these two sweet dragon sculptures for me at a student art sale at her college, and gave them to me... hell, it must have been about twelve years ago now.  Pretty cool, huh?  I mean, anybody can grow a Windstone collection, but to say you have a pair of special one-of-a-kind dragons is pretty rad indeed!  Needless to say, they've had a special place on my display shelf ever since.

Still, I've moved pretty well out of dragon-flavored fantasy over the past few years.  And as I contemplated packing them up and finding a place for them in our new Fortress of Jollitude, I realized I was hanging on to them more out of guilt than anything else. 

So in the car they went - along with the digital camera, the DVD box sets, the super-fancy kitchen gizmos, the boxes of books and CDs and all the other wonderful things that had washed up in the lesser-used corners of my life.  I parked at workshop, threw open the car doors, and banged the soup pan to tell everybody to go get it while the getting was good.  Everything that was still left when the dust settled went to Goodwill.  (Don't worry about the dragons, though - they went to my great friend Trayce by special arrangement, and have begun a wonderful new life amidst a truly first-rate extended dragon family.)

Anyway, this endeavor had a pretty consistent refrain throughout.  "Tex, you can't give this away!"  "Tex, are you sure?"  "Tex, what's your damage?"  (I'm going to pretend that that last one was about the free stuff.)

Which is kind of funny, coming from a bunch of writers.  You know, because we get rid of stuff ALL THE TIME.  That god-awful indulgent prologue that's been weighing you down?  Axed.  That scene that was total genius and now makes your generative organs shrivel in shame every time you look at it?  Gone.  That one chapter you STILL love but does sweet jack-all to advance the story?  See you in the director's cut, buddy.

I still struggle with that part.  I can unload a fondue set in thirty seconds, but hitting that Delete key is agony.   "Butbutbut my deathless prose!"

Because getting rid of something is such an act of faith, you know?  It's saying, "Don't worry; I have enough already."  It's saying, "That's all right; there's more where that came from."  It's having the self-confidence to believe that your stuff, and your words, are fundamentally renewable resources... and that your one absolute NONrenewable resource - which is to say, your time - is better spent pruning and cultivating the truly great things, rather than meticulously curating everything you've ever owned or written.

And if you've mastered that last part, please tell me your secret.

In the meantime, many thanks to the DFW Writers Workshop and all my e-peeps.  You lighten my house, my books, and my soul like you wouldn't believe.

Denouement: Pamela "The Death Writer" Skjolsvik was so delighted with her car goodies that she commissioned a pair of art shoes for me from her super-talented daughter Lola (alias MangaShoes on Etsy!)  Say hello to Applejack and Big McIntosh!

So there you have it, folks. Prune bravely, and never fear to declutter, donate, downsize, or delete.  Empty space attracts amazing things.

What's the matter, my dear?  Don't you like your toys?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

And the Winner Is...

Okay, has been down for 14 hours now, and I can't stand the suspense anymore.  So, courtesy of, we have...

Febe Moss, come on down!  (Email me and let me know where Amazon can find you - soon, all the sentence-structuring secrets of the cosmos will be yours!)

HUGE thanks to all you guys who participated in this humble little project.  This has been hugely helpful and heartening, and I can't wait to start rolling out your awesome ideas. (I was surprised at how many people slipped me wonderful suggestions behind the scenes - maybe next time I should skip the prize and just ask y'all to wring your brains out on command!) 

Also, while we're conjugating "yay" and "huzzah", give a huge one to David Cambron - you know, the guy with all those naked bunnies?  Yeah, he's just signed papers with Inklings Literary Agency, but if you hurry and go right now, you MAY be able to say that you knew him before he was cool.  (This probably means I'll have to quit bullying him in the parking lot at our writers workshop, though.  Dang.)

Lastly, keep your eye on  Yes, it's the blog for the DFW Writers' Conference, but you don't need to be a local conference-goer to get good mileage out of it: we're going to be running weekly features on broader writing topics, and would really love to have input from writers of all types and stripes.  It's a quality operation.  And I'm not just saying that because they made me the editor.

--Hey, who wants to play Drink the Beer? 
--Right here.
--You win!
--All right, what do I win?
--Another beer!