2011 in Review

Continuing my tradition of slightly-too-early year-in-review posts, I'd like to take a good look back at 2011. This has been one hell of a year for me, you guys. And when I say that, imagine that I'm saying it with a film noir delivery, the way a detective might mutter it as the smokin' champagne blonde walks out: one hell of a year. Amazing. Almost too much for me. 

Client Work

So what made it such a big year? Well, there was my launch season, for starters: Between February and June, I launched so, so many projects. Six? Eight? Nine hundred? I can't even keep track myself. There was The Maester's Path for HBO Game of Thrones, Big Chill, Floating City, America 2049, Drunk and On Drugs Happy Funtime Hour, Neuro's QuestFour Codes and Keys... and that's not including any number of pitches, concepts, or skunkworks proposals that didn't pan out. 

That makes it look like I was a lot more industrious than I really am, mind you. The bulk of America 2049 was written last year, for example, as was Drunk and On Drugs. That said, through the first half of the year, I was continuously working on four projects at any given time. I'd close one out and sign a new contract before I could even archive the old folder. 

It was an enlightening experience. For one thing, I learned that my stamina and brain capacity for doing multiple projects at once is vastly better than I'd thought. I was stretched to my limit doing this much, to be sure, but it was fun. I like being juuuuuust to the point of overbooked, and no further.

But I finally learned how to say no this year, too. I actually turned away one or two projects that I would have dearly loved to be involved with, and working with people I think are phenomenal, simply because there weren't enough hours in a day. Heartbreaking, but it's a good problem to have. 

Indie Work

Not all of the doings this year were for clients, of course. On top of all of that big-picture client work, I did a number of indie and personal projects. Some of them were small: I contributed tiny shorts to Pandemic and Wanderlust, and enjoyed doing both things tremendously.

But I did some bigger things, too. This summer, we finally went public with Balance of Powers and put up a Kickstarter which funded so quickly and with such enthusiasm that I grew misty-eyed on several occasions. (We're chugging away on building it right now.) That experience later inspired me to put my short story Shiva's Mother on Kickstarter, as well, and the response for that completely blew me away. 

And then there's that whole book thing. Last year, I wrote that I was thinking about turning my Writing for Transmedia series into a whole book. That very post prompted Guy Gonzalez to introduce me to Jason Allen Ashlock, who ultimately signed me to represent A Creator's Guide to Transmedia Storytelling, and in short order sold it to McGraw-Hill. I got the contract on my birthday in July, I finished the draft the night before I left for StoryWorld, and it's coming out in June of 2012.

I'm still trying to process how all of this fits into my self-image where I'm just a scrappy freelancer trying to make a little noise so somebody will hire her. Have I mentioned that it's been one hell of a year for me?

Now and in 2012

Right now, as was the case this time last year, I am completely unemployed and a little nervous about it, despite my blockbuster year otherwise. I think every freelancer hits a quiet spell like this and thinks, "Well, it was a good ride while it lasted, but this is the point where it all goes downhill and I'll never work again." (Or is it just me?)

I do have some projects penciled in for next year, but that said, I also have lots of room on my dance card not yet spoken for -- so if you've got something cooking you might like me to help out on, please do get in touch. ...Especially if you already have a greenlight and a budget?

But 2012 isn't going to be a quiet year, no matter what. For one thing, A Creator's Guide will come out in June. (Actually, I've found a link where you can apparently pre-order it already in Canada!) But I think I need a game plan for what to do in 2012 even if no client work materializes, it being part of my long game to become more self-sufficient. So this is what I'm thinking of doing:

The biggest thing I want to knock off my list is my ChoiceScript game Superior, which has become my white whale. I've been promising to do this project for, what, two years now? And I love this idea. I love this project. I have substantial portions of it mapped out! But whenever I get serious about working on it, something comes up, whether it's paying work, travel, injury, or just plain old burnout. But hear me now: Superior is going to exist within the next 90 days, and it is going to be as funny as I know how to make it. And also completely debugged!

Given the success of Shiva's Mother, I may also do some more experimenting with short fiction and/or Kickstarter in 2012. I'm not yet sure what form that will take. If you have a suggestion for something you'd particularly love to see from me, I'm dying to hear about it.

Then there's Revision, my snarky, pacey novel about a wiki where your edits come true. This is the year I'm going to do something with it, one way or the other. If I haven't been able to bring it to publishers by, say, the end of the summer, it'll be time to think about going nontraditional through Kickstarter, Kindle, or other means. 

And of course there's still my big long-term fiction strategy -- I have that plan for a contemporary fantasy YA transmedia book series. The working title is Felicity. I don't have a complete proposal for it, yet, but I'll have one thrown together by probably February, and then I'll be on the lookout for publishers and production companies to partner with to make it happen.

And in Conclusion

Sooooo that was my 2011. One hell of a year. I should really update my portfolio or something, huh?

I of course couldn't have done it without any of several dozen close friends, colleagues, and clients supporting me, encouraging me, hiring me. I am constantly amazed at how generous and truly warm the transmedia community is; I am nothing without you. And I mean it. If I were a better person I'd be sending out about two hundred baskets of cookies I baked myself while contemplating your many kindnesses with loving gratitude.

So here's hoping your 2011 was just as good, and that for all of us, 2012 rocks the pants off 2011 so hard that we'll wonder why we were ever impressed with it. And I think that's enough navel-gazing from me for one day.

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Lit Crit: Shiva's Mother Edition

The text version of Shiva's Mother is up.

I'd love to talk about it, if anyone out there feels the need. Consider this an open thread for conversation on the story, what it was trying to do, how it does and doesn't work, etc.

And thank you a million times over to my funders for this project. I love you all so, so, so much. No, seriously.

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Transmedia Talk

I was absolutely delighted to be a guest on Transmedia Talk a couple of nights ago, and now the podcast is up! Go listen to the podcast, if you're... you know... into that kind of thing.

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Cloudmaker Nostalgia

My good friend and fellow Cloudmaker Jay Bushman has written a beautiful and incredibly well-documented account of what it was like to be a Cloudmaker during the A.I. Game, or The Beast, or whatever you want to call it. Go read it. If you were a Cloudmaker, read it twice.

I was treated to a special sneak preview of this piece before it went up, and my eyes were so clouded by memory that I had no criticism to offer at the time. Even now, the only thing I have to add is a sort of coda about the aftermath of Cloudmakers.

When the game was over, we -- or at least I -- felt a profound sense of loss. That was partly because we were drunk on the experience, and when it was over, we couldn't be sure if that lightning would ever strike us again. That one factor drove many of us into making stories of our own.

But it was also because the daily life of work-sleep-school-shower became a kind of dream for some of us while the game was on. It was less intense and less rewarding, after all, than the amazing thing we were going through together. While I didn't suffer as a result, I did have friends who did. In response, I wrote the essay Deep Water, a plea for designers and participants in a pervasive story to be careful what we ask of one another.

In a sense, my work today trying to untangle knotty issues like the ethics of a pervasive game is a spiritual descendant of that same concern.


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The Case Against Chekhov's Gun

Chekhov's Gun is generally regarded as a brilliant principle for writing tight narrative. The Russian playwright Anton Chekhov wrote:

If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. 

He elaborates that if you don't plan to fire your firearm in a subsequent act, then it doesn't belong in your story, and you should remove it entirely. 

The widely accepted interpretation is that nothing should be present in your story unless it's serving some critical narrative purpose. Judicious application of Chekhov's Gun can rid your story of elements that aren't doing anything for you. 

It might well be you're better off without that methodical scene in which a character checks into her hotel room, takes a shower, and goes to sleep for the night. And it's true, if you leave too many loose ends floating around, your final scenes risk leaving the reader feeling dissatisifed.

Generally, the novels I enjoy most adhere (loosely) to the Chekhov's Gun principle. For single-media narratives, it's an important reminder to be aware of what work each scene, paragraph, sentence is performing to keep your story rolling along.

There are problems with Chekhov's Gun even in traditional media, though, particularly where it meets up with Occam's Razor. From time to time, I've found an author adhere so zealously to the gun principle that an entire story unravels into tired predictability.

If your story is so tightly wound that every element serves a single distinct function, the discerning reader can often deduce what that function is. Yawn. So the principle is always best used with a bit of caution.

In transmedia, though, you just might be better off forgetting you ever heard Chekhov's name.

Locate Your Exits

I learned long ago from Uncle Jim that everything in a novel should reveal character, advance plot, or support theme. This is much looser, and it's something I can very nearly agree with.

For transmedia,  I'd add one more item to Uncle Jim's list: Adding color to your world.

Part of the juggling act that is telling a transmedia story involves creating depth and richness. You need to signal that there are more and deeper stories going on in your world than the single narrative at hand -- your world has to seem bigger than your characters. That means introducing elements that provide color and flavor to your transmedia world, even if they won't be immediately relevant to the story you're telling.

But there's another reason to do this in transmedia, too. You need to build in escape routes and back doors, because you never know when you'll need to make a hasty exit. This is particularly the case if you're planning on telling an ongoing narrative.

I wrote two years of Perplex City Sentinels, and in the process left so many guns lying about that you'd think a war would break out by the end, so to speak. Nothing ever came of Crispy Heaven's health violations. We never went anywhere with 78-year-old puzzle design superstar Alan Willow, and the cracks in the Mobius Strip were, indeed, nothing but ordinary wear and tear, never to be spoken of again.


But for every throwaway piece of color we never touched again, there was another that we picked up onto our needles and knit into the fabric of the story weeks or months or years later, because suddenly it solved a problem we didn't see coming, or added a complication that made for a more interesting story. A mayoral election produced  a new political nemesis for Sente Kiteway. A recording mogul became the employer to a sociopathic killer. A name fabricated for a single quote became a double agent working for the police to undermine a secret society.

We never knew what we'd need next, but we knew we could look back on our established canon and be sure we'd find something that would help us out of our latest pickle. We did this so often that it became our team motto: Ita est tamquam haec consulto fecerim. It's like we did it on purpose.

Your takeaway: The multithreaded and sometimes reactive nature of transmedia means that you can't always go back and revise your first act to include a gun if it turns out, now that you're in the third act, that you really needed one. Sprinkle your story with guns, just in case.

This is true of both spiderweb and sequential transmedia. If you establish in the movie that Bob dropped his gun into the river, you can't have him pull it out of his pocket in the comic that immediately follows. It's a curious opposite to narrative structure in a single-medium story. In transmedia, if you don't leave yourself loose ends in case you need them later, the resulting overarching story might actually be weaker.

Continuity can be a real storykiller.

So what do you think? Should we abandon Chekhov and his philosophy on ballistics for transmedia, or can you make a case for keeping him around? Take it away, Machinites.


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