roll for initiative

Hey! Remember how last week we were discussing mixing together my love of games and my love of writing to create some side projects? Immediately after writing that post, I remembered “Hey, didn’t I buy a pen and paper RPG rulebook at PAX I could use for this…?”

Several days of hard work and 18,000 words later and we’ve got City of Angles: A Fate Core Campaign Setting.

Even if you don’t do RPGs, this document acts as a fun and interesting overview of the entire story series, with more details about the locales and mechanics and doings and goings-on. It has collapsable hidden spoiler sections, so if you haven’t caught up on the stories, you won’t ruin anything. It’s even got tables where you roll 1d20 to see what awful things you find in the Sideways!

I’m very curious to see if anybody will actually run a game with this. If you do, I’d LOVE details on how it goes. Remember, this is essentially fanfic; you can fiddle with the universe all you like, recast your players as the lucid protagonists, anything. Go nuts with it. I’m not gonna stop you from violating my precious, precious *snrk* canon.

This week you get the first half of the campaign book, next week you’ll get the rest… which includes notes on how to represent metadream connections with dice and stats. Neat stuff.

It does mean we’re delaying the next actual story chapter, //021, until May 10th (and possibly one week later) but since I have a spot of writer’s block AND I’m leaving for a week’s vacation soon, honestly, having something up else in the meanwhile is a good thing. Gives me breathing room. I appreciate your patience here and aim to keep you plenty entertained while I hack my way through the jungle of tangled plot threads.

So, whaddya think?

Something Old, Something New

Transitions can be trying times, truly.

City of Angles is simultaneously dead and alive. It’s dead in that I’ve completely and utterly finished writing it; the last chapter has been finalized, the bonus story is written, and now it’s off in the hands of my editor. Soon the book will be in the store and that’ll be all she wrote. And yet… now that it’s complete, it’s like it’s fully sprung to life. New readers can dive in and swallow the whole thing in one binge if they like, because it’s all there. The long tail kicks in and the whole unit is going to be discovered and enjoyed by people long after I’ve moved on, much like Anachronauts. Feels… strange to me.

Still, CoA’s a hell of a thing, isn’t it? Two and a half years in the making. Born out of anxiety and depression, fear and uncertainty. I worked my life into the pages during the long road of recovery and came out the other end considerably improved. It sings true of my optimism and my faith in humanity, that we can be more than we are. The City’s potential is within all of us, after all. I’m quite proud of the work and I’m glad you were with me for the ride.

While the wheels are turning behind the scenes to raise up the last of City of Angles onto the stage, I’m in the back drafting up the next project. It’s a slow burn; an hour or few a day of pondering, imagining, drafting up characters and concepts. I’m not ready to dive head-on into full chapter production, but that’s okay, I could use the time to rest and dream and imagine new things.

Would you like a sneak peek? Let’s assume yes.

Now, this is all VERY tentative, as plans can — and do — change. For instance, my first idea for this project was an alternate history of earth where Edison invented magic instead of electricity, but that was riddled with holes and simply unworkable. But the idea I’m grooving on right now, that one seems to be clicking and seems quite viable so far.

For the deep geeks in the crowd who remember the crap I was pumping out back in high school, I got my start in cyberpunk writing. It’s high time I returned to that.

Welcome to Floating Point, a lone oasis within a rolling sea of ever-shifting data known as Netwerk, a digital environment populated entirely by sentient programs. The connectivity of social structures yearning to be participated in opens up before you, beckoning you to laugh and cry and mock and jeer and lol and wtf. And if you should sense something dark and strange within servers disrecommended by the Sysops, just remember… everything has its own internal sense of scale. What can be tiny and unimportant in one context can be a maelstrom in another. Not much comfort when caught in the middle of that storm, but hey…

But… that’s for later.

Meanwhile, I’ve heard your calls in the reader survey (and am continuing to listen to them, if you haven’t filled yours out yet). You seem to be quite keen on additional blog material, such as analysis of writing tropes, or simply off-topic ponderings. I shall provide. In the chapter-free weeks ahead, the dead weeks between projects, this blog will be very much alive with updates. It’s high time I got back on top of that blogging thing, for longer form content than 120 characters can allow. These words you’re reading are the start of that, with more to come.

So much more to come. You are here now, with me, on this journey. Shall we see where it’s going?

The Lucid Path Challenge

The grand finale of City of Angles goes live September 27th, 2014.

But waiting is a sucker’s game. You want to read it now, don’t you? All of it, the entire chapter. Let’s see if we can do something about that.

Walking the Lucid path is simple…

  1. Promote City of Angles to your online friends or online community, using Twitter (basic retweets don’t count), Tumblr, forums, your own blog, whatever you like. Include a link to the City of Angles homepage. Tell people why you enjoy the series and recommend it to them. (If you don’t enjoy the series and don’t want to recommend it, uh, skip this step, I guess.)
  2. Drop me an email with a link to your handiwork, to prove your valor.
  3. In return, I’ll email you a secret link to the entirety of //025: Dreamweaver, to enjoy days and days ahead of everybody else.

Independent, self-published fiction is a very rough road to ride. It lives or dies on fic recs — recommendations by word of mouth. If you’ve ever wanted to do something nice for me, this is a hell of a nice thing to do. It’ll help me grow my audience, improve my future writing, and generally be totally awesome for everybody involved.

Thank you so much for your ongoing support over the years. We’re coming to the end of the line on City of Angles, yes… but there’ll be more writing in the days ahead. With your help, we can make this grand adventure even grander.

when the world lets me down

I’ll warn this is a very personal post. If you just want to consume my writing and enjoy it, the following words are not required reading. No harm, no foul.

This week has been rough on me. But not me, personally, no. The world hasn’t directed any venom and ire in my specific direction, so technically speaking I should be sitting pretty on top of a pile of good vibes right now. And yet… I’m not. The only reason we have any story for you to read tomorrow at all is because I was able to pull myself together DESPITE feeling down in the dumps lately.

No, no. The world hasn’t hurt me directly. But has done so indirectly. The world has let me down.

I was indirect witness to two wildly different yet oddly similar incidents in which humanity exposed its ugly underbelly for all to see. Namely: the horrific racism and systemic abuse of law going on down in Ferguson, and there’s the unending campaign of hatred and malice being poured on the head of Zoe Quinn, independent game developer. One offline, one online. One against a race, another against a gender. One physical, one psychological. But both are rooted in fear, hatred, and ultimately… bullying.

(Before you decide to lead the charge with flaming sword and war steed right into my comments section to say that Michael or Zoe deserve what they have coming to them… do yourself a favor. Turn right around and never come back here again. I know I only have a dozen or so readers, but I can stand to shed any that stand firmly on the neck of others.)

But I’m not here in my personal blog to talk the particulars about either of those. No, it’s not these incidents and the exact details of them that drove my mood into the toilet this week. It’s something larger than that.

I’m sitting here writing a story about another tyrannical bully — the Citadel — representing a seemingly unstoppable force that always gets what it wants. They are the rule of law gone too far, determined to bring all in line with their thinking or else. In my story, the essential core of human spirit struggles to push back against that kind of bullying. That’s City of Angles. But… the world is continually reminding me that, well… that’s not the reality of the situation, is it? Flashy heroics do nothing. In reality, the bullies tend to win.

What I’m writing feels disconnected, as a result. An escapist fantasy, where we can ultimately triumph over generations of fear and loathing. Where women like Marcy can walk the streets at night looking for tagging opportunities without a worry. Where Penelope can run a blog online where she’s got opinions and she doesn’t get tarred and feathered by a fedora wearing brigade. Where Milly can be cyberbullied but empathically turn it around to make the accuser into an ally. All lovely sentiments which do not reflect what IS, merely what I WISH was. Reality, this week at least, has been hammering home the point that No, That’s Not How Things Work.

I’d like to think that intellectually, I know tolerance and cohesion of community will win out in the long run. Humanity can overcome, can unite, can become something greater. But it’s tough to feel that in the face of incidents like this. Like the hippies of the sixties who saw their peaceful movement collapse, and became uncaring stockbrokers as a result… it’s disheartening.

I know I shouldn’t take this personally. I’m a straight white male, and despite technically being in a minority (disability) I have it good. None of these things really impacts me. And yet, I feel them. I feel them deep down, the injustice, the frustration, the sense of futility. As much as I know I shouldn’t internalize all that, some weeks it’s difficult not to, particularly when I’m trying to write about a world with similar conflicts but different resolutions.

I’ll still finish City of Angles. I managed to write a spectacular finale for //024 which you’ll be reading tomorrow; it’s got the flavor of optimism that I wanted. I won’t change one bit of my plans; the ending will be triumphant. (Hardly a spoiler, that.) But I figured I’d get words down on digital paper all the same, to explain why it’s been difficult. See you tomorrow.

roll up for the mystery tour

What’s this, you say? Some manner of “Writing Process Blog Tour” on the Internet thingamabob? What a whimsical and innovative notion! Mayhaps I shall partake.

Hi there, folks. I’m Stefan Gagne, an online fiction author who specializes in web serials and web novels. You might know me by my moniker “Twoflower,” named after the Terry Pratchett character back when I had to hide the fact that I was piggybacking internet access off my sister in high school. You might remember me from my old anime fanfic, or my earlier works such as Sailor Nothing and Unreal Estate. You might have played my Neverwinter Nights games, Penultima or Elegia Eternum or the HeX coda. You might know me from my recent books, anachronauts and City of Angles. You might not know me at all! Regardless of your level of knowledge, I bid you welcome to this stop on the Writing Process Blog Tour.

I was introduced to the tour by longtime reader Selphie Trabia, who writes for the Owl’s Well blog. If you’d like to back up one stop on the tour to see what she’s written, I’ve got you covered with this link. But, uh, come back here after and read my majestic words of wisdom kplox.

What am I working on?

I move from project to project, as a shark moves from swimmer to swimmer. My current main course is City of Angles, a harrowing adventure full of amused laughs and terrified laughs and terrified screaming. We’re two-and-a-half books in on the series and nearing the end, so no doubt I’ll have another gargantuan boondoggle to write after I’m done with this one.

Outside of writing, I follow the video game industry quite a bit, particularly the indie PC scene. I’ve always aspired to make my own games — and in fact DID make some games, back in the Neverwinter Nights era. But my strength is definitely in writing rather than designing systems, so I’m focusing on narrative in the here and now.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m often wondering exactly what genre my writing is. “Young Adult” fits, but only because once I start writing without dropping perpetual F bombs and showing lots of bewbs, I feel obliged to carry on in that vein for consistency’s sake. It’s certainly got its moments of abject horror alongside all the amusing wordplay; reading this to the Dr. Seuss crowd would get you hauled away by the cops. I’m not sure exactly how different the material itself is from other novels… I’m sure somebody else is writing comedy-drama adventure tales. Heck, most of the authors I love and adore do that.

But the manner in which I create it, that’s another story. In fact, if you’ll permit me to change the template a bit for this blog tour, let’s tackle that first before we do the rest of the questions.

How does my writing process work?

All my writing is done online, in full public view. (A few bonus short stories are held back for the retail versions, but otherwise it’s all on the website.) I post “drafts in progress,” with several new scenes going online each Saturday morning. I invite feedback and comments, from mechanical stuff like typo reports to full emotional reactions, and use all all this lovely communication to improve the work for the final drafts and eventual book publication. It’s a very interactive experience at the bleeding edge of the tale, with all the finished work up there as well for folks who are new to the series and want to dive right in.

I’ve even experimented with livestreaming my writing, describing the process as I go… why I cut out a paragraph here, why I reworded that bit there, etc. Recently I posted some “lost scenes” which were junked versions of a chapter introduction. It’s all here, warts and all, for an engaged reader to enjoy.

As to the nuts-and-bolts of the process, I like to work from the outside in. My books always begin in the planning phase: deciding how a story will start, and how it will end. I flesh out a few key steps that need to happen to get from the start to the end. Chapter by chapter this pattern repeats, like a fractal; the broad overview with starting point and finishing goal, then filling in everything between. Scene by scene, paragraph by paragraph, from sketchy to fleshed out.

The hardest part, really, is fleshing it out. I can have a killer opening and a great plan for how everything will wrap up, but deciding the little things can stymy me completely. “I know where this character’s going to end up. But is he going to be present for the conversation at lunch, or should he find out about it after? Which makes the most sense?” I can get stuck on something like that for a WEEK compared to “How does it all end?”. Bad craziness.

Why do I write what I do?

The simple answer is “because I have to.” I have a grave fixation on productive use of my free time, and if I’m not creating something — specifically something for public consumption, something that someone somewhere will get something out of in some way — I’m wasting my time. There’s no real choice here. I can write, I need to write, I have to write.

But as to WHAT I write… I like to explore some of my favorite themes, mixing it up with how I explore them and in what worlds. I like to write about short term consumption versus long term gains. I like to write about selfishness versus community support. I like to think about the patterns of history, and those who are doomed to repeat them. I like to write about desperately hanging on to your ideals in an imperfect universe which prefers to complacently chug along with whatever works. I want to show that there’s another way to live, a better way to live, whatever it may be…

A bit overwrought philosophically, there. In short: I write because I think, and I hope others think about these things too through my writing. And I hope these random ponderances brought a few ponderances to light for you, as well.

So, that’s all I’ve got for you. The next stop on your tour will be Katriel Page’s blog the Crown and Pen, where she writes about the study of Japanese culture. It’s non-fiction, but very fascinating material and clearly crafted with extreme care. I’m proud to be one of her Patreons, if that’s the correct noun.

I believe the plan is for her post to go up in two weeks, meaning June 23rd, but I’ll edit this post to reflect any changes (and will add a direct link to her post once it’s up.) Thanks!