Making Felicity

Closing Out 2012

That 2012, man. It's been a hell of a year, hasn't it? A hurricane in Manhattan, an election, the Olympics. Disney buying Lucasfilm. A South Korean pop star taking the world by storm. It's been one for the record books, I'd say.

A lot of people I know have had a terrible 2012, but actually... I think I had a pretty great year. I think? Let's boogie on down Memory Boulevard and take a look at all the stuff I did in 2012.

Invisible Projects

Through the first half of the year, I was incredibly frustrated, because I was getting a steady flow of projects... but nothing ever launched. 

A game for a Fortune 500 company that hasn't seen light of day, and as far as I know, may never; a prototype for a human rights game that never went on to further funding; a fair smattering of pitches that never went anywhere. It was kind of a downer, after 2011's eight launches in three months. It happens a lot, I know, but I'm not accustomed to doing much work that never makes it out the door. Spoiled rotten, I am.

All of the work in the world doesn't matter if you don't ship.

Bright Spots

But I did get to do quite a lot of work I'm proud of, particularly in the second half of the year. Perhaps the most notable was Is It a Deadly Affair? for Investigation Discovery. I'm still ridiculously proud of that structure, from both an implementation and a narrative perspective. I also got to contribute to a couple of Campfire projects, always a fantastic experience and a polished result -- The Wow! Reply for National Geographic's show Chasing UFOs, and Pledge your Allegiance for HBO's Game of Thrones. 

And this year, Naomi Alderman brought me in on a few things as well; another prototype, this one for an as-yet-unreleased fitness game (so many!), plus interval training missions for Zombies, Run! which also haven't been released yet, but I am 100% confident that it will happen!

Oh Yeah, That Thing

And then, of course, there was A Creator's Guide to Transmedia Storytelling. It's sort of cheating to chalk it up to 2012, because the writing was all done by Halloween of 2011. But in early 2012 there were still photo permissions and copyedits to sort out, plus June brought... promotion. Sooooo much promotion. Speaking and podcasts and interviews and articles. I'm going to have to properly collect some of that, eventually. And I guess update my projects list with stuff I've done this year, too. Wanion!

The book got a tremendous and flattering reception. I got to launch at Film Society of Lincoln Center! People tell me they like it! And I'm led to believe that it's on the curricula of courses at Columbia, Rutgers, USC, and several other universities. I'm secretly hoping that in next year's roundup, I'll be able to link to a bunch of projects made by people inspired or influenced by my book; helping people to make more and better work was, after all, the whole idea.

Original Work

In my heart, A Creator's Guide is linked with the idea of owning a stake in your work, flying your own flag, putting some skin in the game. This year, I made several steps in that direction -- more than I had thought myself until I started tallying up the score.

First, you may remember that Stitch Media announced the children's book Circus of Mirrors, my contribution to their forthcoming Imaginary Friends line, for which work is ongoing. You guys, I can't wait for the frabjous day when we can show it to you. 

Balance of Powers, the collaborative Kickstarted occult Cold War thriller, also finally launched in August after several painful and ultimately expensive months of trying to figure out how to make a small international business partnership on the legit. The plot has recently very much thickened, so it's a great time to take a look.

There is exactly one notable thing I did this year entirely on my own. Late in 2011, I ransomed a short story on Kickstarter. Early this year, I e-published the rewards from that as Shiva's Mother and Other Stories. This was a tremendous step for me. For all that I've professionally written hundreds of thousands of words, this was the first time I'd ever put just-my-own no-collaborators original fiction out in the world for other people to look at. It's a moody, kind of strange little collection of stories, which is fitting, because I am myself moody and more than a little strange. I'd be delighted if you picked it up and let me know what you think. It's only 99 cents!

Oh, and I, uh, started a vlog?

And last but by no means least, in late March, I started a blog series called Making Felicity, about my transmedia YA serial fiction project. I fleshed out the parameters in public view, but it took me a good long while to get rolling after that, because (see above) I had a lot on my plate.

That ball is inexorably rolling forward now. Behind the scenes, the cogs to make Felicity happen are turning, while I wait here and chew my nails and try not to obsess about it. I don't want to go into specifics because I don't want to jinx anything, but... the process has begun. 

And for 2013?

I'm still thinking about what I want for next year, and how exactly I'm going to go after it. I mean, obviously I want to land a fat nine-figure deal for Felicity and devote my life to her, but that's... shall we say... implausible.

I have a few very promising projects in my pipeline, too, though nothing set in stone (or writing, if you prefer), so if you've ever wanted to hire me, now is a good time to reach out.

Meanwhile, I think maybe I've earned a break. So for the rest of 2012, I'm going to read books, play games, and let the ol' brain-batteries recharge so I can do it all again next year.

Joy and felicitations to you. Here's hoping you had a wonderful 2012, too. Failing that, a colossal and magnificent 2013.

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Pitching Felicity

It's been almost exactly six months since I first started telling you about Felicity. That six months has been... hectic, I guess you'd call them. In that time, I've launched a book and written another, designed and run Deadly Affairs, wrote for or consulted on no less than five other projects, and then there's the speaking... so much speaking. 

But while speaking, nonfiction and work-for-hire projects are great for maintaining my visibility and standard of living, the fact remains that I want to be a creator, not a pundit and consultant. So I've kept the iron labeled "Felicity" on the fire.

Now that Kindle Serials has launched, the iron is too hot to ignore, so it's time for me to bring out the hammer. The market is primed to consider a serial project like never before. So early this morning, I got together a draft of a pitch document for Felicity, and I sent it on to Jason Allen Ashlock, the charming and incredibly savvy agent who sold A Creator's Guide to Transmedia Storytelling to McGraw-Hill. It's time to start looking for buyers.

We'll see where it goes from here. Maybe I'll get that traditional publishing partner, and maybe not; maybe e-publish through Kindle Serials, or another path. It's even possible it won't ring any bells for Jason, and he'll pass on it entirely, leaving me to steam ahead all on my own.

But the main thing is this: If I want my career to include making and owning my own work (and I do, very badly), the only way to do that is to actually do that work and then send it into the world. No sense sitting around being jealous of Chuck Wendig or Naomi Alderman for succeeding at doing something you aren't actively trying to do your own self!

So I'm on it. I'm going to make it happen.

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Lowering the Stakes

On Sunday evening, I took a deep breath, opened a brand-spankin'-new Scrivener document, and wrote about five hundred words of Felicity's first episode. I was very proud. I even pasted that little chunk to a couple of good friends, who said encouraging things. It was, how do you say? A good start.

Later, after I'd tucked my kids into bed, I fell into a... I don't even know what to call it. An obviously misplaced unhappiness winding its roots deep throughout my psyche. Not depression or panic. More like a blue malaise, a funk, a sort of diffuse but all-consuming sadness. And I had no idea why.

The last time something like this happened to me for any protracted period of time, it was during the initial scripting for America 2049. This was one of the most difficult projects I've ever done, and it wasn't because of ambition or production challenges (though of course the project had both). It was because it felt enormous and important -- I'd been given tremendous creative freedom to convey a message that was very, very meaningful to me. So I seized up. There's a lot I'm proud of in that game, and a lot I think I could've done better, but to me "America 2049" will always be shorthand for that one summer I spent totally wracked with anxiety.

Suddenly, Felicity is sauntering in that general direction. It feels like the weight of my entire future career is riding on the outcome of this one little thing -- this experiment that I openly admit has a great chance of not working out (but you won't know until you try.)

And it's ridiculous. Ridiculous! This is one thing I'm trying, and it will neither negate prior accomplishments nor erase past failures.  Nobody will measure the sum total of my worth as a creator on this one thing. I mean, you won't, right? ...Right?

So what I need to do is figure out how to lower the perceived stakes. Make it more about having a good time and less about attracting throngs of adoring fans. Rearrange my complicated ecosystem of neuroses to let me do this one thing by telling myself it really doesn't matter much. Because it is not, in fact, my one shot at Making It Big. That's the thing to keep in mind: there's nobody on the other team waiting to take the ball from you. Not one! So you get to take as many shots as you like.

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Taking a Vacation from Theory

You know what? I've become really, really tired of talking and reading and writing about the theoretical aspect of transmedia storytelling. And as deeply as I love all of you, I've been quietly pruning my personal information inputs to have a lot less about transmedia in them lately. 

I'm at a point in my personal creative cycle where I need to do instead of talk or even think. And in order to do more interesting things, I need to make room in my brain for stuff that isn't in there already. Time to learn about how eyebrows move to convey different emotions, or about the what kinds of paint street artist find the highest quality, or what trace minerals can make pink and green streaks in marble, or why it is that sailors need so many kinds of knots.

A lot of it -- maybe all of it -- is a reaction to the arduous process of writing a book about transmedia creation. One can only think about a single topic for so long before it becomes tedious. The last thing I want to do is let myself burn out on this thing that I love so much!

But there's another reason, too -- and it's the reason that maybe you should take a break from transmedia theory every once in a while yourself. Theory only gets you so far. It's no replacement for, you know, doing the work. Sure, it'd be dead easy for me to keep thinking and blogging about Felicity (for example) and what it could be or should be. But I think I'm at the point where I can't get much further by thinking about maybe making something and what it would look like and what wishy-hopey partners could make it super-amazing in Imagination Land. 

So the next step for Making Felicity is making Felicity. I need to do some intensive long-term story outlining, write an episode or two or three, work out exactly what the Turtles will be doing and how the interplay between text and interactive will work. Basically I need to sit down in a nice quiet place and get writing.

This doesn't mean the end of the Felicity series, mind. But it does mean that instead of talking about high-level structural principles, this may now change to something more like a production diary. I'll check in every now and again to let you know what I've been doing and why, and if I have any pernicious creative problems to grapple with -- like my Lindsay issue from the other day -- then I'll share those, too.

I'm sure I won't be able to resist talking about theory every now and again anyway, because who am I kidding?And I'll have a book to promote soon, so there's that. Meanwhile, though, I'm going to try really hard to let other people do all of the talking and thinking for a little while, and see if my brain doesn't grow some new ideas while I'm off making stuff.

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Being a Good Ally and Activist in Fiction

It's no secret that I have some strong feelings about sexism, racism, phobias and prejudices of many varieties. Naturally, I want to bring this perspective to bear on Felicity and make a point of including people-not-like-me in the work. It's turned into a thorny creative question for me, as it happens.

As previously noted, the main theme of Felicity has to do with the deep unfairness of life. So Felicity has to have a lot going on for her; she's the picture of privilege, right? Lindsay, on the other hand, was conceived as her counterweight. Originally, that meant he'd be The Unluckiest Person in the World.

After a little thought, I realized that wasn't workable. The truly unluckiest person in the world would either be dead before any story got going or would be enduring a degree of suffering so intense that I wouldn't be able to tell a fun adventure story with him in it. So Lindsay isn't the absolute unluckiest person in the world, he's just a person to whom a higher than average number of bad things happen.

Here's where I start to go off the rails. I was noodling about the characters I'll need, trying to think about pointedly including people-who-aren't-like-me into Felicity as prominent characters, and of course I looked to Lindsay. Surely it's unlucky to be certain religions and to look certain ways; it's unlucky to be gay, disabled, transgender, and so on. So Lindsay could be some combination of these things and that would be very unlucky indeed, right? Eureka! I'm being a good ally by making an important character some sort of muffin basket of oppression. Righteous smugness rises within me.

...But actually that's a really problematic approach. It implies that being any of these things is unlucky in and of itself, missing the part where it's unlucky because of the framework of hatred that people with these attributes are exposed to. In the real world, the unlucky thing isn't being black or Muslim or trans. If I made Lindsay these things, given the overarching themes of this particular story, I might well be saying something about who he is instead of just what happens to him. And that wouldn't be the message I want to convey. 

There's another issue with this approach, too, and that's one of appropriation and of sensitivity. Lindsay is the voice with which I'll be telling much of the story. I'm pretty comfortable with the idea that I can include diverse characters in my work, even as major characters, and do them justice. I am less convinced that I could tell a story from the point of view of, for example, a young man who is black and Muslim, and not get it so wrong that everyone would hate me. And I don't want that to happen.

It's a fine line to walk, that line between trying to make people visible in your work who often are not, and pretending to speak on behalf of groups you're not a part of. Probably I'll get it wrong, in this and in future works, but meanwhile I am at least thinking about it real hard. Practice makes perfect?

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