Behold, it is I, Vrokthar, Scourge of the Northern Wastes! I have once more emerged from my winter feasting, the stores of my longhouse long since depleted, and the meatier of my servants devoured. I look upon thy lands with a hunger that may be sated only by the screams of the cowardly, and soon will my ravaging hordes ride forth in battle.
First, though, I caught up on thy many professional sporting events, wherein you weakling fools pretend to be warriors for a limited period of time while maneuvering various spheres past various posts and, for some reason, slaughter no one and leave their weapons behind. Of this I have proclaimed my displeasure before, and it is not Vrokthar’s mighty purpose to repeat himself. No. There are other things that must be declared the farce that they are.
What is going on with post-game “entertainment?”
At first, Vrokthar assumed this would be an hour-long victory celebration, where we would watch the victors divide the spoils of their conquests, make merry with one another, and heap insults upon vanquished foe all while boasting that still greater victories were to come. This would be a worthy use of time, as few enjoy a good boast more than Vrokthar the Unspeakably Mighty and Crusher of Mountains. Ask any of my thanes, and they will tell thee that my hall is thick with the smoke of roasted meat and the roars of drunken warriors, describing their feats.
But this…this “post-game” nonsense was nothing of the kind. It was merely prattling bards asking idiotic questions of blank eyed athletes: “How did you think you did today?” and “What are you going to do to win next time?”
And their answers? Drivel! Garbage! Useless swill! “We worked real hard” these imbeciles relate, as though a man sweating from physical exertion to the point where he seems to have been greased like a pig has just enjoyed a leisurely stroll. “We went out there and we gave it our all and it was close, but we won.” OBVIOUSLY, you half-drunk donkey! We just witnessed this thing! Is this all you have to give us? Is this the extent of your insight?
Mayhap we should make these faux-warriors excuses – they are not employed to be great speakers, but great workers of deeds. Leave it, then, to the bards of your indolent society to make them seem mighty. And yet, AND YET, these puttering, puerile sycophants add even less to the meager boasts of their pathetic champions! “Did you see the way he moved his feet,” says one, as though being in motion and moving one’s feet could be exclusive states. “I mean, the reason these guys keep winning is they keep putting it in the goal.” OBVIOUSLY, YOU INCOHERENT SWINE, AS SUCH IS THE OBJECTIVE OF THE GAME!
What has become of the vigor of your people, wetlanders? How can it be that here, even in the midst of what passes for glory among your kind, can you be such wretched wastes of time and space and energy? Were Vorkthar to win one of these so-called “playoffs,” you would not find him shyly mincing words in the room-of-small-closets. NO! Vrokthar would be drinking deeply from the helm of his defeated foe! He would steal from the vanquished their livery and cast it down before the fawning masses. “BEHOLD,” sayeth he, “THE FATE OF THOSE WHO FACE VROKTHAR IN BATTLE IS FORETOLD!” Then there would be urination and the speaking of mighty oaths. I would swear to those present that upon the next meeting, I should slay their captain in open combat in center ice and, when the referees came to detain me in the Box of Ignominy, they too would be slain. And then the goals I would score would mount unto the heavens, so numerous would they be! The Scorekeeper would expire from exhaustion, and him too I would skin and mount upon my wall, so that ever afterward, when Vrokthar stood upon the field of contest, the other teams would weep and gnash their teeth and Vrokthar would be given ten goals as an offering to sate his eternal, volcanic rage, lest it melt the ice itself and the whole game be for naught.
Even now, as I speak these words, there are those among you who grow angry. “This cannot be said,” you say. “It is wrong, it is impolite, it is inaccurate.” Fools, I say! This is the point of boasting! Laugh in the face of thy foes, weaklings! Scoff at their warriors, scorn their pride – drive them to madness with your mighty speech. And if you were to lose (which obviously would happen often, because you are as a whole are an impotent and incompetent species), what of it? You would be shamed, and rightfully so, for those who are vanquished should be ashamed of themselves. And then you may plot vengeance! See, wetlander imbeciles? The fun never ends!
Methinks your post-game sports foolishness would be greatly improved by Vrokthar’s reforms. Nay, it is certain to be so. Go and see that these changes are done, or face my inestimable wrath.
So I hath spoken!
Hey, any of you nerds going to PAX East this year? If so, I think you should know that I and a select group of alpha nerds (Bobby Smithney, John Perich, John Serpico, and Samantha LeVangie) – authors, improvisors, directors, and teachers – will be heading up a panel on Roleplaying in the Now – how to use Improv skills in tabletop RPGs.
Have you ever wanted to break out of the monotony of killing things and taking their stuff? Have you ever wished there was a way to give your players more autonomy in a game without it driving you up the wall? Well, Improvisation in Roleplaying: How to Run a Game in the Now is the panel for you! A panel of experts (including me) who collectively have over 90 YEARS of tabletop gaming experience are going to tell you all about it. Oh, and here’s the kicker: PAX East (as of this posting) isn’t sold out for Thursday yet, so you can still go! There’s time!
So be there, or be a rhombus!
A friend of mine was recently looking for advice on how to run a Dungeons and Dragons game, as he had never done it before. He had put together a pretty straightforward and workable adventure to get everybody started – everybody winds up in this town to join some mercenary company, has to figure out how to get over the walls of said town, then they meet in an inn, and then there’s a bar fight.
Now, while this is perfectly serviceable, I feel that it sort of misses a really important aspect of storytelling that is directly relevant and essential to a really great tabletop gaming experience, as well, which is motivation.
Basically, all storytelling involves two basic building blocks: Motive and Obstacle. The character wants or is seeking something (Motive) and there is something that prevents them from immediately achieving that aim (Obstacle). Without the motive, there is nothing driving the character to overcome any obstacles (whether they are internal or external). Without obstacles, the character just immediately fulfills their motive and no real story occurs. What makes a story interesting is how motive and obstacle feed into one another and basically drive the story forward.
I would argue, also, that these elements transcend genre or even historical and cultural concerns. Even in so-called “conflictless” stories (such as the Japanese Kishotenketsu structure), this still exists. There is always something lacking/missing from the character, even if extremely subtle (a man is making dinner, preparing for his relatives – this is a motive for making dinner). There is always something that is going to stand in the way of the immediate realization of that goal (the man has to go to the store to buy more fish). All that changes is the nature of these two elements and their relationships to one another. In the stereotypical Campbellian Hero’s Journey (gestures vaguely at the whole MCU), the main character has an irresistible call to adventure of some kind and then must overcome a series of escalating obstacles culminating in a grand ordeal and, once victorious, returns to the world they once knew with gained wisdom and power. Even outside of that structure, though, Motive and Obstacle have to be present.
In a gaming setting, assuming your game is narrative focused, these two elements still need to be there for it to all work. What is most commonly forgotten is motive – a player makes an Elven Wizard, her identity is…Elven Wizard…and her character’s goals are to cast spells and be an elf. Naturally, this isn’t enough and this is also why the whole “we all meet in a tavern” thing is so cliche – the characters meet in a tavern because they have literally no other reason to meet or interact. The obstacles, meanwhile, are assumed – the players are going to band together, go to that dungeon, kill what they find, and collect the loot. This is fine, I guess, if all you’re involved in is a basic resource-management exercise. But assuming you’re not, it is clearly lacking…well, story.
It doesn’t take much, though, to give the game a story. All you need to do as a GM (or as a player) is to ask the players a few questions. Suggestions might include:
- What happened to you the last time you were in that dungeon?
- What have the goblins of that dungeon stolen from you and why it is important?
- What do you need the money from this quest for? Why is it important?
By establishing some basic motivations, the players suddenly have a vested interest in overcoming the obstacle before them. The story is no longer contrived. Furthermore, if your players buy into the motivations they’ve established for themselves (and hopefully they have!), the obstacles suddenly become more engaging. Saying “you can’t jump across this pit” is fine, but saying “you can’t jump across this pit, but you hear your baby girl crying your name from the other side” is a million times better!
All of this goes for writing, too, of course. If a character doesn’t have a clear motivation for doing what they’re doing, the audience isn’t going to buy in on their struggle. This is a common problem with in medias res beginnings – we don’t know why the character is in this car chase, so it’s hard to care. But if it’s managed well, we are instantly engaged and love every second of it. Then, as the motivations solidify or change into larger and more complex ones and the obstacles likewise follow suit, you’ve got the audience/players on a wild ride they don’t want to end.
The Far Far Better Thing, Book 4 in The Saga of the Redeemed, is available in e-book!
I’ve been interviewed about the series in a few places, too.
Go to MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape to hear all about the series as a whole and why you might like to read it.
If you want to know more about my inspiration and underlying intentions for the book, check out my interview here on Beauty-in-Ruins!
And for those of you waiting for the paperback version, it comes out next Tuesday (3/19), which is a mere 6 days away!
In Short Fiction News…
I’m happy to report I’ve sold re-print rights for my novelette “The Masochist’s Assistant” (which you might remember from the July/August 2017 issue of F&SF) to PodCastle, which means there’s going to be an audio version of the story! Very exciting news!
I’m going to be at PAXEast on Thursday, March 28th on a panel dealing with how to use Improv in your tabletop RPG game – I, along with a number of other performers, writers, and incredible gamers with whom I have shared a table on many a game night will talk GM-ing, gaming, plotting, planning, and everything in between. This is an excellent panel and I highly recommend it. I hope to see some of you there!
I just submitted a novel to my agent (a time travel caper) and I’m right now looking into what novel I’m going to write this summer (currently undecided), but of course I’m still writing short stories and novels and submitting things and pressing on. Ever forward – that’s the business! If there is any more news, you folks will be the first to hear about it!
Thanks for all your support, and we’ll talk soon!
This is it! The Far Far Better Thing, Book 4 of The Saga of the Redeemed, is available today from all e-book retailers! In other words, the fantasy series that I imagined and started writing almost ten years ago has finally culminated in this epic work!
Auston Habershaw’s epic fantasy series, The Saga of the Redeemed, which began with The Oldest Trick, comes to a powerful conclusion in The Far Far Better Thing.
War has come to Eretheria.
With Tyvian Reldamar feigning his death, the forces that still carry his banner are left to fight a vicious battle against the warlord Banric Sahand and the noble houses that flock to his side.
Led by Myreon and Artus, this band of freedom fighters and angry rebels is faced with an enemy the likes of which they’ve never faced before: one who will do anything, no matter how brutal, to secure victory.
Having had his fill of death, Tyvian tries to run away from the war fought in his name, but it just isn’t that simple. With his mother held prisoner, Artus and Myreon in grave danger, and Xahlven pulling the strings in the background, the ring drags Tyvian to return and set things right.
But how can one man fix a world this broken? And what will be left behind when the smoke clears? No one can say for sure.
Least of all Tyvian.
I’ll have more to say about this at another time, when I can gather my thoughts, but I’d like to at this point offer a massive, heartfelt thank you to those fans of mine who have stuck with Tyvian through all his trials and tribulations – you are the absolute best, and this absolutely would not have been possible without you.
I’d also like to thank my wonderful beta readers – Katie, Brandon, and Jason – for keeping me sane and pointed in the right direction.
And, of course, my agent Joshua and editor David, also without whom there would be no book.
Now get out there and get reading!
Boskone is upon us! New England’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention hits the Westin Waterfront Hotel this weekend in my home town, Boston! Not only will I be there, but many, many really interesting writers, editors, agents, artists, fans, and more! If you’re in the area, you really should swing by – it’s a really good con. For those already coming, I hope I’ll see you there! Also, check out my mini-interview here, on Boskone’s blog!
Here’s my schedule:
Editing Your Manuscript for Submission
Format: Discussion Group
15 Feb 2019, Friday 17:00 – 17:50, Griffin (Westin)
Join our panel of editors and agents for a discussion on what they look for in a submission. Is submitting to an agent different from submitting to an editor? Are they seeking the same or different things on first reads? Do you submit a precis, a chapter or chapters, the whole manuscript, or other material and, if so, to whom and when? How do you prepare your novel for submission? What are some tips and tricks on how to cut, embellish, or shape a manuscript?
Joshua Bilmes (JABberwocky Literary Agency) (M), Auston Habershaw (M)
The Trouble with Time Travel
15 Feb 2019, Friday 19:00 – 19:50, Harbor II (Westin)
Let’s consider the difficulties of time travel in the ever-changing multiverse. Can we change the past or not? What other interesting difficulties might real time travel present to real time travelers?
Ellen Asher, Kenneth Rogers Jr. (Lost Imaginations), Auston Habershaw, William Hayashi (M), Clarence Young (Zig Zag Claybourne)
Reading by Auston Habershaw
16 Feb 2019, Saturday 14:30 – 14:55, Independence (Westin)
Breaking Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth
17 Feb 2019, Sunday 10:00 – 10:50, Marina 4 (Westin)
Mythographer Joseph Campbell’s formula of the “hero’s journey” — an oh-so-familiar sequence of questing, crises, victory, and return — may not provide the only way to construct a story. But can narratives that don’t use this structure reach us as deeply? Is the hero’s journey applicable also to non-Western storytelling? Our panelists discuss Campbell’s “monomyth,” and whether and how to deviate from it. (For helpful graphics and resources, see http://www.sfcenter.ku.edu/Workshop-stuff/Joseph-Campbell-Hero-Journey.htm)
Auston Habershaw (M), John Clute, Teresa Nielsen Hayden (Tor Books), F. Brett Cox (Norwich University), Faye Ringel
Gimme That Old-Time Space Adventure
17 Feb 2019, Sunday 13:00 – 13:50, Harbor II (Westin)
The subgenre has been around a long time — but people still love a good space adventure story. Why? What are the greatest space sagas of the past, and what are the new classics of the field? How are they similar or different from each other? Do the new ones still have that good old goshwow sensawunda?
Brendan DuBois, John P. Murphy (M), MR Richardson (Room 10 Publishing), Auston Habershaw, Dan Moren
There you have it! See you all there!
It occurs to me that I don’t quite spend enough time (read: hardly any) hawking my own wares, so this is just me reminding you all that the fourth book in my fantasy series, The Saga of the Redeemed, releases in e-book on March 5th (available everywhere fine e-books are sold). Books 1-3 are available via e-book or paperback from any online bookseller and in select bookstores.
I’m proud of these books. As my first published novels and (soon) my first completed series, I think they are good work. They’re fun, they’re exciting, there’s twists and turns. It’s a redemption tale, but a slow one – no sudden magical epiphanies making a bad guy good, no easy outs. There’s swordplay and magic, poison and sorcery, and even a big dog/human lady who eats people and has cute puppies she’s trying to protect. If you like fantasy, you’ll dig these books as likely as not. Go and buy them.
I guess part of the reason I don’t hawk my wares as frequently as maybe I should is because I don’t feel like it makes much difference if I do or don’t. I can sell a few books this way – maybe, optimistically speaking, in the hundreds (and that is being very, VERY optimistic) – but this little platform and my tiny voice doesn’t get me very far. I do interviews, I write blog posts, you can find me on social media, and I publish short fiction fairly regularly in a variety of pro markets. Of all of those efforts, short fiction by far gives me the best return, and that isn’t saying a whole awful lot.
I don’t say this to complain, by the way. The market is what it is. I’ve seen the size of the boulder I’m supposed to shift and I know that I can’t shift it myself, no matter how I hustle. So I chip away here and there; I make friends, I write more stories, I publish on this blog. I hope more people like what I write and tell there friends (for serious now: TELL YOUR FRIENDS), but I’m one little droplet in a large ocean. Growing steadily, I hope, but trying to remain realistic for all that.
Maybe I should do more readings. Maybe I should visit more bookstores. Maybe I should do workshops at libraries. But guys, I’ve got a day job (which I need) and three kids and a marriage and so on and so forth – I only have so much time. Some guy on the internet recently was implying that a real writer quits their job and devotes themselves to their writing. And sure, yeah, in a perfect world I’d do just that. In the world we live in, though, it just strikes me as a uniquely privileged kind of madness. Want to make it for the long haul? Be honest with yourself. Be realistic. And keep working.
My book comes out March 5th. There is maybe just enough time for you to read the first three before it drops.
I’ve been (slowly) re-watching Star Trek: Deep Space 9 for the last few months or so and I just got to that episode in season 3 where Nog, son of Rom and nephew to that scoundrel Quark, declares to Commander Sisko that he wants to apply to Starfleet Academy. It was a subplot I had sort-of half forgotten about but then came raging back all at once – Nog’s struggles, his long journey, and his eventual triumph. I just love that subplot. In fact, it might be my favorite Star Trek subplot of all time.
Now that I’m watching it as an adult, this storyline has some extra resonance for me. Besides being an author, my day job is as a college professor – a teacher – and Nog and his quest represent a very important lesson we teachers need to remember. To look at Nog from a distance, the kid is obviously a fuck-up and a lost cause. He gets bad grades in school, he is always goofing off, he gets arrested by Odo on a semi-regular basis, and his uncle Quark is a known criminal and low-life who associates with known criminals and low-lifes. To top it all off, he’s a Ferengi! No culture is more opposed to what the Federation represents – they are greedy, dishonest, selfish, and cowardly. There’s just no way in hell a kid like that has any business wearing a Starfleet uniform.
Sisko knows this. Hell, Nog knows this! Nog knows nobody expects him to amount to anything. His father is a permanent, laughable loser and his culture would never accept him going to Starfleet even assuming he could get in! But you know what this kid does? As soon as he comes of age, he scrounges together what money he has, walks into Sisko’s office (Sisko – the most powerful person on the station by far), shakes his hand, looks him in the eye…
…and offers him a bribe.
Because of course he does! That’s how Ferengi society works! This, to Nog, is what being a man is all about. This is responsible, adult behavior. And Sisko – bless him – realizes this. Everything tells him to show this kid the door – it’s probably a trick, a trap, some kind of prank – but…he hesitates. Sisko does something that makes me love him forever: he gives this kid a chance. He decides to trust him. He gives him a day alone with a cargo bay full of valuable stuff and lets Nog prove himself.
And you know what? Nog earns his trust. He proves he’s the hardest working kid on the station. He wants to be taken seriously. He wants this.
What I take away from all of this – the person I identify with – is Sisko. As a teacher, one is often faced with students who are…well…less than impressive at first glance. They show up late. They sleep in class. They don’t seem to be taking their education seriously. But the thing that I need to remind myself of is that I just don’t know what this kid is actually capable of. I can’t judge them based on superficial characteristics. Yeah, maybe they aren’t much good in my literature classes, but this person could very well become an excellent doctor or nurse or scientist. Hell, they might even have within them to become a wonderful writer or artist. As a teacher, it is part of my job to give them that chance – to allow them the opportunity to prove themselves, no matter what they look like or even how they act. Will I be let down? Sure, sure – happens all the time. But if a kid who’s been goofing off all semester comes up to me and asks if I can help them clean up their resume or give them advice on how to bring up their grades or ask me to recommend books for them to read to improve themselves, I remind myself of Sisko, sitting in Ops, looking at that sack full of latinum from an eager young Ferengi…
And I say yes.
And, like Sisko, I am often pleasantly surprised.
As I’ve mentioned, my short story “Applied Linguistics” is currently for sale as part of the January/February issue of Analog Science Fact and Fiction magazine. As a companion to my story, I wrote a little blog post for the Astounding Analog Companion all about how language influences and even defines our sense of self and purpose. I’m fairly proud of it, and it’s always nice to get the opportunity to wax philosophical about what I’m trying to achieve or explore in any one of my stories. I thank Analog a lot for the opportunity!
Anyway, if you’re interested, go ahead and check it out. I now return you to your regularly scheduled internet.
Actually, just one more thing!
I’m going to be appearing at Boskone this February 15th-17th in my home town, Boston! Me and hundreds of other professional writers, editors, agents, and so on will be converging for what promises to be a great convention! I’ll be posting my full schedule for the event closer to the date, but I’d love to see you there!
Join me at Boskone (February 15-17, 2019) in Boston, MA for New England’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention. It’s going to be a fun weekend filled with discussions of books, art, games, film, music, and more. For more information, visit the Boskone website: http://www.boskone.org/
My wife and I just finished watching the first season of Fargo (the TV series). I enjoyed it immensely, especially the spine-chilling portrayal of assassin Lorne Malvo by Billy Bob Thornton. Much like in the Coen brothers’ film of the same name, the show juxtaposes the wide-eyed provincial innocence and “folksiness” of the people of North Dakota and Minnesota with the absolute horrors humanity is capable of. One thing I enjoyed about the show, though, was how much more thoroughly the series was able to explore this theme. (Spoilers below, obviously)
The central antagonist of the plot is the aforementioned Malvo, who moves through the small cities and towns of the frozen north with terrifying impunity. He can kill who he likes, he can do as he likes, and nobody is able to stop him. These back-country yokels are wildly unprepared to combat a menace of his dimensions. They can’t even imagine him in any real way – he is the boogey man, Lucifer, and Death astride the Pale Horse. Malvo’s every utterance is filled with malice and threat, to the point where everyone in Bemidji instinctually recoils from him.
This appears to give Malvo power. Likewise, those who Malvo corrupts also are afforded a measure of perceived power. Herein lies the tale of Lester Nygaard, hen-pecked loser turned murderer and alpha-male. Lester’s chance meeting with Malvo in the hospital changes him; Malvo demonstrates how the world as we know it – the world of rules and morals and laws – is an illusion. You can have what you want, Malvo implies, by just reaching out and taking it. Malvo even demonstrates how this is done by going out and killing Lester’s high school bully. Lester, taking these lessons to heart, kills his wife, covers it up, frames his own brother, and goes on to find himself a better wife, professional success, a bigger house, and his own name on a salesman of the year award. By leaving the rules of society behind, Lester achieves everything he ever wanted.
Molly Solverson – the only competent officer on the Bemidji police force – knows what Lester has done and even has almost enough evidence to convict him, but the bull-headed, dull, and plain old sexist police chief will not listen. His world is the traditional one, based upon commonly accepted values. He cannot accept Lester’s guilt because the crime exceeds his own limited imagination and won’t listen to Molly because of her status as a woman and as his inferior. This is all against “the rules;” things like this don’t happen in Bemidji.
One of the brilliant aspects of this show is that it makes you yell at the screen a lot. You are howling for Molly to press her case. You are terrified at the threat Malvo represents and so, so anxious that these people – these poor, good, stupid, guileless people – are totally, completely at his mercy. When Molly backs down and walks away from her poster board of evidence, it feels like a defeat. But then the show pulls another turnaround on us: it isn’t a defeat. It’s a victory. Molly made the right choice.
Fargo is playing upon our expectations as people living in an increasingly individualistic world. We see Malvo’s skill and Lester’s cunning and we think we have identified the true power in the story. But we’re wrong! This becomes clear when Malvo follows Gus Grimley home from his aimless investigation and sits in his car outside Gus’s apartment building, where he and his adolescent daughter sleep. They are in grave, grave danger, yes? Then there’s a knock on Malvo’s window – it’s the neighborhood watch. No one of great authority, no one of any actual power – just a concerned neighbor. He sees Malvo. He knows he’s up to no good. I half expected Malvo to kill him right through the door of the car, but he doesn’t. He growls something antisemitic, but he leaves and never comes back, warded away as surely as Dracula from a church.
And that is the true power in Fargo. Community, family, society – these things are juggernaut like powers in this film. Those who remain within the safe confines of a caring community are safe, immune from Malvo’s power. Those who choose to step outside the bounds of the “normal” are doomed. When the Supermarket King digs that money up and uses it to build his business, he is in metaphysical trouble. This trouble, however, grows exponentially worse as he gets further and further from the caring bosom of family and small town life. Isolated and wealthy, he is cosmically punished for his hubris and greed. As for Lester, his end – riding a snowmobile across cracking winter ice – is preordained the moment he refuses to accept responsibility for his actions. Indeed, when he denies the existence of any such responsibility. There is no one to save him not because those people don’t exist (Hell, the cops chasing him are yelling for him regarding his safety! “Come back,” they yell, “it’s not safe!”), but because Lester has left the fold and will not return.
Malvo, then, for all his pretensions, is not the powerful one in the story. It’s Molly, and always has been Molly. It’s Molly because she recognizes that going it alone leads nowhere good. No matter how stupid the chief is, he’s the chief. She gets married, has a family, moves on. When she tells Lester the story about the man running for the train and losing one glove and then dropping the second, in that metaphor she is the passenger and Lester is the gloves. She is saying “I cannot save you; you have killed yourself.” The arc of justice in Fargo is long, but it is inexorable. Those lone wolves? Those dashing villains and dramatic scoundrels? They die, are destroyed, and are forgotten. And Molly?
She gets to be chief.