Archive for June, 2012

Talk Part 3

Posted: June 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

Apologies for the delay on this third and final part; I can assure you all that it is kitten-related and therefore worth it. I promised pics of more kitties once I hit 150 followers on my author page and I am sticking with that pledge! For now though, the last part of the Nerd East talk now some time ago, relatively speaking! You may, as usual, find a link to the video here:

An image from my talk!


I had a couple of points left to the Wikipedia definitions which turned up in previous parts of this annotation:

Several tales of urban fantasy have appeared in live-action format. Additionally, some stories have debuted as films before finding further success as television shows. Well-known examples include the 1992 series Highlander, and the TV adaptation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is regarded as a seminal work of the genre.

[Urban fantasy] often features mythological beings, romance, and various female protagonists who are involved in law enforcement or vigilantism.

‘Live-action’ is of course the first half of LARP by definition. That aside, here it is meant as TV or film of course. But yes – if someone wanted to ask ‘what is urban fantasy?’ and needed a physical televisual example, I would probably hand them Buffy before I’d had a chance to think about it at length. I would certainly count vampire slaying as either a form of vigilantism, or perhaps even an allegory for it at times. I’d even make an argument for Harry Potter containing elements relating to the genre. Consider Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross Station, and the Routemaster bus running around London, for example. And now, the last taken quote:

Certain staples of urban fantasy novels are also present in TV series. The concept of peaceful coexistence with paranormal beings is explored in the 1996 series Kindred: The Embraced, which focuses on secret vampire clans throughout San Francisco. Conversely, works such as Witchblade present the more common matter of a protagonist attempting to protect a city.

Kindred: The Embraced brought me something perfect to talk about. You see, it was from the writers of the original Beverley Hills 90210 – who took their source material from… Vampire: The Masquerade. This was a source of huge excitement amongst those of us who spotted this landmark moment – a TV show with its origins in a table-top roleplaying game! This was a big deal in the community; perhaps as big a deal as the MMO in development. I’m not an MMO player really, but I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with this very much. Now, earlier on in the Kindred TV series, the 90210 part of it seemed the clearer part, and the changes rendered felt a little cringe-worthy. I won’t go into detail, but some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. However it was starting to get quite watchable by the end of it, and showed some promise until its cancellation, the tragic loss of the actor playing the lead protagonist putting a final end to it.

Gaming, then, has been without question a formative element to my own writing. Without having created one or two gaming environments over the years, I wouldn’t have had the same experience to do so with my writing these days.

Despite having read his stuff after starting mine, I have to consider Jim Butcher a real role model for me. He is a gamer and proud of it – even crediting as much in his book bios. The Dresden Files universe, or ‘Dresdenverse’, is a fine example of a GM in action, and nowadays has a great roleplaying game series of its own, which he was heavily involved in the production of. Check it out if you haven’t already – I’m in a campaign even now!

Nerd East provided a wonderful audience of fellow gamers and those who write about such things. Revisiting this, I mentioned that within the urban fantasy ‘rules’, there is the option of a significant ‘real world’ person, place or thing being brought in – or taken out. Charlaine Harris of the True Blood series has, in her books, Elvis running around alive (in a manner of speaking) and well in the present day. This, or another such celebrity figure, is very possible in any roleplaying game, should the Gamesmaster deem that it would add something to it. I put out there the possibility of a game’s players having to solve the mystery of the Milton Keynes concrete cows for example, clearly conduits for some otherworldly force…

What IS their secret??

As mentioned earlier in the talk, the current fashion isn’t for third-person omniscience in writing nowadays – more commonly, first-person is where it’s at now. It’s great for those moving between gaming and writing – that literal thing of getting into the head of your character, just like you’d expect to as a player.

From my experience of gaming, drawing up a character is sometimes as straightforward as an idea coming to me straight away about what I want to play – however attaching the nuts and bolts isn’t as simple as just putting pencil to paper. And here’s another analogy I have with writing; I find that it never quite comes together until I’ve actually played that character for that first session, maybe a second or even a third. Certain combinations of perks, merits or advantages and quirks, flaws or hindrances – whatever you want to call them depending on your system, don’t always quite work for the way you want to play the character. Stats or skills may need a little adjustment. And sometimes, the character just isn’t the one you pencilled in at all, and you need to do something different.

One area in which they differ is that a starting novel character may not at all be a suitable starting gaming character. Harry Dresden for example, is somewhat beyond a starting character, even when we first catch up with him in Storm Front. I’d argue the same about Rose, in my story, Misery’s Tear, even relatively early on. And also, occasionally in character development too. Sometimes, novel characters make significant advancements in terms of power and skills without having done the kind of grind that RPG players put in four hours of gaming time in once a week for two or three years to reach. Novel characters can be utter munchkins, and it isn’t fair at all, but sometimes, that’s how it’s got to be for a story.

Finally, it’s probably worth me putting out there that in some form or other, urban fantasy is not necessarily a new thing. It finds older relations in more general fantasy, but it is also the descendant of the original Gothic novels. Vampires, werewolves, and ghost stories have been cropping up for quite some time. In regular generational cycles, these elements crop up and trend in popularity most likely too. Look at: Christopher Lee’s lengthy stint in the fantastic Hammer movies from the late 50s to the 70s, Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles from the mid to late 70s onward – and accompanying movies, The Lost Boys, the True Blood series and I could probably name a dozen more. And that’s just the vampires.

I would be delighted to hear how your stories, readers, came to be. On the gaming side, there are very few games I’ve played in, games-mastered or attended as crew in the case of live-action, that have not seen a character turn up – mine or another player’s, that I haven’t taken some inspiration from. Stories breed stories, no matter what universe they start or end up in.

Talk Part 2

Posted: June 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

This is the accompanying post to part 2 of the video up on my Facebook page here: Once more, apologies for the occasional dip in sound quality, but I’m some way from having a proper documentary series at the moment (for which most of you are extremely grateful).

Wikipedia was revisited in this stage of the talk, as I began to define in Part 1:

Several characters of urban fantasy are shown to have self-esteem issues or tragic pasts. These matters often tie into the larger story or the development of the protagonist.

Without spoilering Misery’s Tear, I certainly found it something I’d be inclined to agree with.

I got to the name-dropping at this point:

Jim Butcher, and in particular his Dresden Files series, seemed a good foundation point. Though Harry Dresden is one of the last characters I’d ever accuse of having self-esteem issues, he undoubtedly has a tragic past.

Ben Aaronovich has produced the character Peter Grant in Rivers of London and Moon Over Soho. (and soon, Whispers Underground) Peter Grant again is not particularly hampered with self-esteem issues, but his past certainly has an element of tragedy, or more accurately lament, tied in with his father’s own story – a highly talented jazz musician who never quite managed to fulfil his potential. I certainly cite a theme whereby essentially the rigours and grind of city life are often somewhat crushing and equally, often formative, amongst the grittier protagonists increasingly forced to save the day.

Next Wikipedia spot:

Though stories may be set in contemporary times, this characteristic is not necessary for the fiction to be considered urban fantasy, as works of the genre may also take place in futuristic and historical settings, real or imagined.

I agreed with this from experience of what turned up in Misery’s Tear – noting Victorian/Edwardian eras are seemingly the periods of choice. I observed that  the ‘urban’ element, by definition, begins to apply more solidly from this era on. Of course, I’m only a part-time historian, so I’m sure someone will leap in and attempt to correct me!

Another quote!

Many urban fantasy novels geared toward adults are told via a first-person narrative.

Agreeing with Adrian, I revisited a statement that there isn’t much in the way of third-person omniscient writing within current fantasy trends. This is even more true of urban fantasy. The vast majority of books on that section of the shelf tend to be written from a first-person perspective. Or sometimes more than one. Again, backing up Adrian’s earlier point, it seems to just be the way we tend to absorb things these days.

I decided this wasn’t just a book thing. Novels are always a zeitgeist in some way or other –  always reflecting in some way what is going on in the real world at the time. They are some of the greatest historical documents we have, even when they’re not directly talking about a particular time. Social and political commentary in novels sometimes turns up as a subconscious matter, and sometimes intended, but a book written in the 1920s, even if it’s written about the future, will still likely tell you something about the 1920s, or at least be distinctly from that time, etc. etc.

At this point, I chose to digress slightly, talking about the increasing interactions the ‘real world’ have with the gaming world.

[Interlude: WARNING: May contain historical inaccuracies/time jumps]

Back in the late 70s and early 80s, both video gaming and tabletop gaming were relatively new to the world. Space Invaders became Pac Man, became Afterburner and Outrun, and eventually we got Zork. Dungeons and Dragons sprung up in the 70s, got advanced and eventually became a later edition. Fantasy was the 80s version we had before. Vampires, and then zombies – and then vampires again, resurfaced in popularity in the mainstream during all of this [and check out this amazing article on which explains it almost perfectly.]

As we went on, (we, that is, being the demanding consumer), began to want a bit more from our video gaming experience. While the timeless charms of our retro classics remain to this day, if you were to tell this generation of gamer that if they wander too far out of a relatively small gaming zone and are likely to be eaten by a Grue when actually they are stupidly encumbered with adventuring kit, then they are likely to want to frogmarch the programmers straight  to Yahtzee for a thorough and medicinal ‘reviewing’. MMOs are so massive, they even have it in their name.

So this inevitably bleeds over to gamers –D&D 4th Ed and Star Wars: Saga Edition reminded me a lot of what I’ve experienced of MMOs, in terms of rigid party character class roles necessary for success.

These days, a significant number of people play video games, casually or otherwise. It was a pleasant observation that those sat in the talk (and indeed most of my blog readers) are busy shaping my world right now  – along with anyone else who’s ever played a game and decided they wanted to write a novel about it, or even a serial adaptation. At the top of this tree, someone might even make a movie out of it. Doom, Silent Hill, Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy, Super Mario Brothers – I’m looking at you. And Dungeons and Dragons was worth a mention for obvious reasons.

And that was my contribution to why geek is currently the new cool.

I have one final part of the talk to put up – look out for it this week(end)!


My First Talk!

Posted: June 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

Last Saturday, I actually completed my talk at Nerd East as mentioned in my previous post. It got video recorded in three parts; the first of which as just gone up on my Facebook page, which you can see here if you wish, and can excuse the sound quality, especially towards the end. The other two parts will go up over the course of this coming week.

Below, I’ve put in a slightly remixed transcript of what I was talking about for those who missed it, or just can’t hear me:

  • I confessed that I’d never even heard of the existence of the urban fantasy genre when I started the book, and I barely had when I’d finished the first draft!  But after the nineteenth-odd person asks you what it’s about, you kind of have to look into these things.
  • The Wikipedia definition of urban fantasy provides a base both for writing urban fantasy and building a world for a game. The two are certainly not mutually exclusive. The world-building process is somewhat different to pure fantasy, in that the obvious difference is while you can’t just load up your car and travel to Mordor or Westeros from your house (though LARPers may beg to differ on this), London, Manchester, Bristol or even Chicago are all perfectly feasible real-life destinations to get to.
  • In some ways it’s more straightforward, in that you can just grab a map, or hop on your computer, and most of the time you’ll know exactly what’s where easily enough. But in some ways it’s harder too. People will usually know of The Gherkin Building or the Houses of Parliament, and will have already formulated their own perceptions of it – which can help you greatly, but hinder you too. There will regularly be certain expectations of a place which you have to either meet when writing them up – or make crystal clear that you’re taking them somewhere else as soon as is necessary.
  • This is where the ‘fantasy’ element really comes in. Though you may have the foundations of your cities, villages or hamlet ready to visit for research, you’ve still got a blank slate on important stuff. What really goes on inside the Gherkin Building anyway?
  • One direct example provided was from Misery’s Tear, in the use of the Half Moon pub in Croydon. It *does* exist – or at the very least did, for now it is a boarded up, derelict wreck. But I used to pass this place every day, and it was open once, though I never got a chance to set foot in there. In my world though, it provided me a scene in which the reader gets to meet a ghost that has haunted the place since the Second World War – and to see how the main protagonist, Rose, ‘levels up’ in her interaction with him.
  • At the larger end of the scale, you have the metaphysics of your version of this world to consider. Will the words, Avada Kedavra  have any effect if mumbled by a casual passer-by in your world? Does being caught in dark alleys at night time mean getting your blood drunk or turned into a frog? How far can you fly on a broomstick anyway? Is there a god? Or are there five hundred? And are they walking the streets at night time and threatening to drink your blood, before turning you into a frog and riding off into the moonlight on their broomstick? These are all questions you have to consider amongst the basic ‘game rules’ of your world. This probably sounds familiar to both player and GM alike, and so it should. With gaming, hopefully there’s a nice, convenient rulebook that’ll answer most of these questions for you. If writing, unless you’re doing so for an existing fictional universe, such as the World of Darkness stories, you’re on your own with that one. Though a homebrew system will do that for you too.
  • Consider the people populating your world. Is your boss just a regular git? A werewolf? Or the mentor who will teach you exactly how to cast a proper spell, instead of that Harry Potter one she caught you comedy miming at lunch time?
  • I agreed with Adrian,who gave the first half of our joint talk adventure, in that there’s nothing like a good gaming campaign to train a writer for world building. Games Mastering trains one very important adage: that no plan ever survives contact with the players. This is true for characters, even ones technically controlled by the GM writer. You want to treat them like NPCs, but they’re just not. You’ll sit there writing, totally certain of how a scene’s going to go and then one of your characters will be perfectly happy to engage Plan E. If any of you are kind enough to read Misery’s Tear, just you try and work out how I managed to control Tally for any of her scenes.
  • Oh, and as a final note on world-building, having not been to half the places I’m heading to for Book 2, I would remind budding urban fantasy writers that, just as with GMs, that Google Maps is your friend.

Stay tuned for the second part soon…

Talking The Talk

Posted: June 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

Hey all, I know, I know – it’s been a while. I’m claiming ‘busy’ this time rather than lazy though. Just come back from holiday and soon will be going into my almost annual stint as a Tudor. But this weekend, something new and interesting for me, and I really should tell you all about it!

I’ve been asked to do a talk at Nerd East – that’s Durham University Students’ Union’s ever growing con. I will be doing a joint speaking spot with this man: Adrian Tchaikovsky, author of the Shadows of the Apt series, which you should check out if you haven’t already.

Following a few chats, we are somewhat collaborating on a talk on writing, followed by a joint Q & A session. My side of things will be a little something on the Urban Fantasy genre and our link to roleplaying games. Given our audience will be in the serious majority those of roleplaying game tendencies – including myself and Adrian, this seemed like the way forward.

I’ve been asked to talk about two of my great passions in life. It’s an honour and a privilege, and I hope that what I do lives up to it. I’m kind of new to this side of things, but I can tell you now that I’m most certainly going to enjoy the experience!

If you can get along, you should come along – it’s going to be a lot of fun. What I will do next week is a longer post with how it went, and what I ended up talking about. This may or may not bring us round to how some of my characters came to be. I’ll try and record some of the Q&A as well, because I reckon it’ll be interesting.  I shall also be bringing more news, as I get it, on the upcoming release date for Misery’s Tear. Strange as this may seem, I actually can’t wait to have a copy in my hands. It’ll make this whole exciting journey this year feel that bit more real!

Until next time then…