Category Archives: Writing


When I run games, they become filters for me to experiment and play with themes and ideas that I enjoy most – namely horror tropes and elements of Gothic storytelling and tragedy, all seeped in misty atmosphere. I might even go so far as to say, my games allow me to be decadent in my indulgence of these thematic elements, and I might occasionally go overboard.

So last year, when my gaming group’s resident GM moved across the country to pursue a job at Paizo game company, I volunteered and took up the dice to run a game. The group enjoys playing through the long, connecting stories that Paizo publishes in six volumes called Adventure Paths, and I quite like the books they’ve put out so I’m happy to oblige. We decided on a vote to see which of the dozens of Adventures Paths we’d play next – the epic fantasy of reclaiming the world wound? The war against an underground army ? A classic adventure of Fantasy kingdom building?

Somehow, to everyone’s surprise, the Adventure Path that emerged was the Gothic Horror – a path that sneaked into the list for reasons I don’t even recall. I certainly never suggested it, and I didn’t vote for it either. And yet, it came out on top somehow!

To say the Adventure Path was in my wheelhouse would be an understatement. The whole adventure is set in a Gothic Horror setting, with mist and moors and mountains, an ever-hanging threat from a restless but slumbering undead wizard demi-god, vampires and serial killers in urban centers, werewolves in the woods and haunted old buildings everywhere.

Well, who’m I to say no to the people’s will? I dove in with gusto, running the adventure path more or less as written, but for the occasional flourish of Gothic flair. Everyone has been enjoying the game, and I haven’t had to do much more than play out the story as written. I’ve been quite restrained with my wishes to meddle with the story and to push it even further into horror tropes and themes.

That is, until the players decided to nibble at one stray side-quest that I tossed out to gauge interest. Like travelers in some Hammer Films production from the sixties, the characters arrived at an old inn in the countryside, and descended into a valley to recover some lost children of a failed branch of a once-noble family.

What followed was an utterly self-indulgent tale that ran characters through a barely-disguised Fall of the House of Usher remake. Roderick and Madeline were there, one wounded and failing, the other drained of all vitality, their children under the dark guidance of wraiths.

A valley full of mists where a servant’s corpse swings above a deep, cold pool, crypts beneath the house where generations lie restlessly, a haunted harpsichord, Roderick’s unexplained disappearance, Madeline’s utterly self-destructive depression, a girl unable to stop playing the same music over and over, past the point of exhaustion, a boy who follows new friends down a dark chamber to fall to his death, the youngest daughter, lost in the woods and hiding within a tree-hollow, like some feral animal, afraid of the sun.

By the time all was said and done, the players walked away from the house, a fire consuming its rotten timbers, before a crack split the house at last, like a rotten beam sighing with relief to be put out of its misery.

I do feel a little bit guilty for indulging myself so much, but man, did I have fun.

Warrior Princesses in the Realm of Everafter

A few months ago, I mentioned writing for a project that a friend of mine was working on. The project has finally completed, and is raising funds so that it can go to press and see the light of day. While I’m terrible at marketing my own projects, I feel much more motivated to promote a group project where I’m just a part of the whole.

The project is called Warrior Princesses in the Realm of Everafter. It is a setting for role playing games that’s fairly easy to adapt to any game system, but the one we’ve used is Dungeons and Dragons. Here’s a video outlining the setting and giving a few details about the project.

The video uses a (very nicely) edited down version of the opening fiction as narration, and it works to great effect. The art work is gorgeous and has a touch of Victorian whimsy to it. I think it looks almost painterly, which is a refreshing break from the de-rigueur of contemporary fantasy art, with its skulls and blood and dim, monochrome palettes.

Let me talk a bit about the project – we took the female characters from popular western fairy tales – Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel – along with other non-western sources – Pocahontas, Fa Mulan – and wrote the game around them. They are protagonists, with the agency to be the vanguard of change or the champion of their people. You play as one of them in a story of your own telling.

One of my favorite things about this project is that it’s female-focused, multi-cultural content in a genre that tends to speak only to white men. We’re seeing the tide shift toward plurality, and I’m glad to be a part of that movement. All that said, we’ve done our best to be as inclusive as possible, and if we’ve fallen short, we hope to be able to do better next time.

In addition to the writing and art, there is of course the game-setting itself. It includes fully constructed character sheets for the protagonists and antagonists, there are details on the settings with areas of interests and maps, and plot hooks to use in game. The game is ready to go more or less out of the box.

We’re hopeful that our first launch goes well, and we’re able to do a second deck in the setting, with more characters and realms. If this sounds like your sort of thing, we would appreciate your support, and any help you can providing in spreading word of it to other interested parties. Thank you!

Prepping for NaNoWriMo

Time is flying by so fast, and I just have so much writing to do.

After I finished my last short story and put it aside, I buckled down adn wrapped up my work on that side project I was writing on contract. since then, I’ve been wrestling with what to tackle next. I wanted to continue the momentum with another short project, and maybe tie a neat ribbon around something I’d written before that was executed badly. There are plenty of those stories in my drive.

I eventually settled on an idea that had a tremendous amount of atmospheric dread but didn’t deliver with the plot or characters. Plus, one of the two characters was just kind of there, and the main character was a bit of a bore. As I started working on correcting it, I realized that it would just be easier to rewrite it entirely. I’ve managed to get through about forty percent of the story already, but it’s Halloween and tomorrow is the start of November.

That means either I need to finish writing this sucker tonight (which would entail an exhausting four thousand words, give or take) or put it aside for a month. I certainly don’t want to do the latter, and the former is impractical (especially as I’m wasting about 500 of those potential words on this post.) Which means, I’ll be juggling both throughout the weekend, meeting my 2,000 words a day quota for the book and then getting in at least half as much again on the story.


With two kids, Halloween weekend, a friend visiting, and some plans throughout the weekend, it’s going to be tough to keep either of those promises let alone both, but what can you do? 2,000 words a day, every day.

I think I know what I want to write, and the ideas I’ve got rolling about are doable. Also, I’m determined, this time, to write something each time, even if it winds up non-linear. I’m also going to do my absolute best to avoid any revision whatsoever. That always eats up hours of my November, when I go back to re-read something, change a word here, rewrite a phrase there, and suddenly I’ve wasted hours fiddling instead of vomiting words.

That’s basically what NaNo is for me – a month of word-bulimia. I just need to force myself till the words come out. Word counts have never been my problem, brevity isn’t something I generally think about until I’m revising, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve also grown more critical of my writing. At least in fiction, if not in my blogs. When I find myself indulging my own pleasure, I always have to pause and give myself a head-check. Is this essential?

With NaNo, there’s no room for any of that, no time to correct a spelling (even if it just takes a second), no time to apply context, no time for anything close to elegance – there are just brute keystrokes making words.

This year, I’m probably going to avoid even using a word processor. I’ll be with just a flat text editor and a file in DropBox in order to avoid even the smallest distraction of squiggly lines.

I will report back when I can get my head out of the word toilet. Good luck, everybody!

November already?

I always get edgy in November because of NaNoWriMo.

Even though I’ve made a promise to myself not to start any major initiatives for a little while, even though I’m committed to short-fiction for the foreseeable future, even though I don’t really want to start a book right now… November just makes me want to write a novel anyway. I got through about 20,000 words last year around mid-November, but then never quite caught up again. The aborted draft is sitting somewhere, waiting for me to return. This time, an old friend has been poking and asking me to give him another chance.

Years ago, I tried to make a comic unsuccessfully – I’ve always had terrible luck retaining the attention (or interest, I can’t tell which) of any artists. Some day, I’ll be able to just pay someone to draw for me. Until then, I’ll just mutter wistfully about ideas that float by and wave farewell when they round the bend downstream, never to return. Anyway, those early, aborted ideas have been a fertile breeding ground for other ideas that linger long after the comic itself has faded, and this is one of them.

It’s vaguely autobiographical, which makes me leery, but I think I can keep enough distance from it to allow it to be its own thing, and let the character breathe, and be, on his own. It’s the kind of book that I’d love to read, but seldom see on shelves, perhaps because books like these are unmarketable or because, well, maybe it’s a dead genre after the sixties did a thorough job of exploring it (albeit mostly in non-fiction and traditional literature, not in speculative fiction or dark fantasy.)

Regardless, the idea – and maybe even the will – is there, it’s strong, and getting through 50,000 words would give me a solid boost of confidence. Not that I need very many more boosts, I’m on a fairly decent streak right now, but NaNoWriMo is one of those elusive animals that hunters go after every season. I’ve missed a few years since the project initiated more than a decade ago, but most years I toss my hat into the ring. I’ve tried. Many times, often loosing steam or missing too many days of writing, and the closest I got was about 30,000 words.

Maybe the current burst of creative instinct is what I need to get moving on this. Perhaps this is what I’ve been missing in the past. And if I’m entirely honest with myself, it’ll be a way for me to avoid getting sucked back into Warcraft again, with the new expansion coming out. But then, I’m going to have to put a hard stop to most of my other projects. Once again, I find myself marooned on an island of uncertainty. I think I’m leaning at a steep angle toward diving in, but the next couple of weeks might change my mind yet.

If you’re going for it – I wish us all the best of luck! It’s a tough climb, but someone needs to finish it, and it might as well be you and me.

Too Many Pots

Or maybe too many stoves.

With our brand new son in daycare, the days have become pretty hectic, and after a dormant period of easy maintenance, my work really took off last month with a number of high-profile projects, alongside some training… it’s been a mouthful. Did I just go from cutlery, to stoves, to food? Ah, well.

Regardless, I was able to squeeze in the time and finish the second half of my writing for that contract work I mentioned last time. It was similar in that there was a hard word limit and structure that I had to conform to, but it kept it focused again, I couldn’t meander on and had to remain on point. I really think contract writing is good for me, it’s teaching me to look at what I’m writing and examine it.

I recently organized my documents to better manage the short fiction side of things, and know what I should be working on and where. I think that’s a broader conversation I need to have, about how structure – not just in writing, but in organizing the things around the writing process itself – has been helping me… but probably later. Anyway, I came across a story I’d finished some time ago, but always felt strange about it, it felt a bit exploitative and I thought I could do better.

So, I took it out and began to read it and it surprised me how much I overwrote. I don’t know if it’s just a reaction from this really strict writing I just did, but I think in the last year or two I’ve really changed focus to examining what I’m writing and why it belongs in a story. That I like it isn’t enough, if I want to sell it. There’s pleasure in indulgent writing, I enjoy writing in a way that lets me sprawl, that lets me really stretch and let the words pour out faster than I can type… but it isn’t conducive to fiction, and it really isn’t good for trying to write anything that you want to sell.

For the last week, I’ve been picking this story apart, thread by thread, and I wonder if it wouldn’t just be easier to rewrite it entirely. But there are good bones in there, scenes that make me flinch in the sudden light or scenes that vibrate like bass strings in the dark.

Telling myself that I don’t have time, or that I’m too tired, or whatever else isn’t really an option anymore. I’ve been outlining new story ideas and setting them aside after a few hundred words and all of them are clamoring for attention. Some of them might even be good! And I can never keep the call of a novel at bay for long. Sadly, it’ll have to go unheeded till I’m at a place where I can be confident that isn’t going to just sit in my hard drive for all of eternity like my last book. I want to be good enough to write a book.

For now, these six to eight thousand word stories are where my focus is, and I’m building a structure around it, so that no matter how much food I’m eating while cooking on multiple pots in various kitchens, I can still sit down and write a couple of thousand words a day. It’s been a good year so far, I want it to continue.

An Unexpected Kickstart

A friend of mine is working on a game project that looks quite fun, but was suspended in need of some writing. I, meanwhile, was suspended in my own dead space, colliding with blocks and depression left and right, till there was nothing left to say or do except to stare the cursor blinking on and off in a white screen. Regardless, hearing him talk about his needs made me – impulsively – offer my services.

We talked about what he wanted, I threw out some ideas I had based on his description of the kind of game and world he wanted to create, and offered suggestions on altering the antagonist’s motivation, create more of a meta-plot to bind together the various groups he was describing, and an overarching narrative rather than distinct stories. He agreed to give me a shot, and I began to pound out words.

The writing had to be very structured due to the nature of the project – there were eleven settings that had to be outlined, within about 450 words each. Each outline was broken down into four segment – a brief overview of an area and then three spots of interest within them. I created more structure by organizing the three spots into a friendly area, the area of the enemy’s strength, and an adventuring node.

I also went through the various geographies and assigned each some kind of setting flavor – whether Arthurian, Arabian, French Military, Medieval, Germanic Fairy Tales – you get the idea. In the end, this didn’t help me very much, as the themes were more muted, but it was a good starting point and it put the right visuals in my mind. To organize this in space, I sketched out a very rough, circular map that helped me arrange things a bit better.

The first draft was laborious, and then my son was born. I took some time off from the project, while I handed it in for notes. When I got back to it a week later, I had some feedback to work off of. The second draft was much cleaner, I revised considerably, and rewrote a few sections entirely.

I tend to overwrite and my word-bloat grows quickly. Here, I was arrested by the structure. Further, the project wasn’t mine – there was no ego involved here, I was writing to please someone else. These factors played a considerable part in allowing me to write quickly and efficiently, and while the writing went a week or two past the deadline, what I turned in was pretty good. It even got me a second project from him, which I’m working on now – taking the various characters and settings and combining them together to form story devices for the players to hook into for their own games.

Even better, the writing finally got me through the years long block I’ve been struggling with, and for the first time in ages, I’m thinking of new ideas. Last week, I finished the first draft of a story, with some nine thousand words that needs to be pared down by a thousand or two words, and right after I finished that first draft, I began another, entirely new story with the opening paragraphs of a third also thrown out during lunch this week.

And I have this contract writing to thank for this renewed energy. Finishing things is such a motivation and inspiration, that it doesn’t matter what it is that you finish – it could be anything, even contract writing. I don’t mean to diminish the writing I did for this game – it’s good, and I enjoyed it, but it’s still not my personal writing, so there’s always a separation there.

I can’t wait to see where this current burst of inspiration takes me.

Family Expanding

Back in March, I wrote about the imminent spawning of my second child.

Well, he arrived back on the tenth of July. My world has turned a bit backward and upside-down since then, in a good sense for the most part. We called him Nadim. He’s a quiet kid, with dark hair, a small, curiously inquisitive face, a beak-like mouth that lacks any teeth, and blue-gray eyes like my grandfather, who died while my son was still incubating. His eyes dart around like manic fish in a milky ocean, afraid of an uncertain world full of weird colors and abruptly changing sceneries, where the only security comes from the voice he heard when he first grew ears. No matter where my wife goes, when she speaks, he turns toward her immediately.

His hands are small enough that when he wraps it around my finger, it only covers half the digit and his toothless mouth is always working, as if he’s trying to express the state of his being without language or sound. His lips shiver every so often, no matter the temperature, and when I holds his limbs together in a knot and then let go, they open wide, the hands ready to grasp at something that might save him from falling. A futile, but sweet gift of evolution, for the baby has no strength to hold itself up. His neck is so weak that his head wobbles, like a bobble-headed doll.

My older son has gone through a few phases and arrived at last to the station of acceptance, despite being initially charmed by his brother. On first meeting, he held the infant in his lap and sang him a song, creating a moment that filled me with such complex emotions, I felt ready to burst as if I couldn’t contain all the feelings. Things have become more prosaic since. We retain our late-night rituals. In a sign of the ever-marching pace of time, he achieved his own milestone, starting Pre-K yesterday. Things change, things move on. The seed plated so recently is already a sapling, the plant you were watering has turned into a shrub.

I think my greatest regret is that my grandmother died before she could meet either of my kids. Much like my younger son who was incubating as my grandfather died, so did she take her last breath while my first son grew in his mother’s womb. I took so much pleasure from introducing my first son to my grandfather, that I – greedily, I know – wish I had been able to introduce both of them to the people who were my surrogate parents.

Regret doesn’t even buy you a cup of coffee, I know. But that doesn’t keep it from knocking on your door, crashing on your couch, putting its dirty feet on the table and drinking that brew you’d been saving for a special night.


In the dusty aftermath of those initial nights after the baby was born, I found myself wandering Manhattan streets at midnight after leaving the hospital in a hazy overemotional state that demanded some room to breathe. Since then, time has started to contract and become so much more valuable. Green moments are hard to come by, everything is laden with importance and moments become heavy, demanding recognition. They pile up until there’s not enough space on the table to lay them all out, and dissect them, as one wants to, in the contracted frames that this urgent time demands Pressure adds up, becoming unbearable enough that it makes me lash out.

I leave Rorschach patterns in my wake, walking towards something old and new at once. I excavate them for words, and then cobble them into stories. Down in the word-mines, where I continue to toil, there is some light at last. Someone has turned on the generator, it makes the Canary sing, adding some cheer to the gloom. If I find a suitable gem for polishing, maybe I can make my way back out, for a little while.

I should now be back to my regular schedule of irregularly posting whatever comes to mind.