Novel in Six

Columbia Writers, back at it again. We’re bringing back a really popular program from years past: Novel in Six Months. It’s a slightly less murderous sort of NaNoWriMo, giving participants six months to write a first draft instead of just the one. Myself and my two co-organizers are going to create a series of small (4-5 person) groups, matched up to align their needs, and set them loose to write together, brainstorm, do exercises, meet, outline, talk, and support one another using a wide range of tools that we provide.


These are support groups, accountability groups, and also just a great group of people to experience something stressful yet amazing with. We encourage write-ins, monthly check-in meetings, and using shared spreadsheets and documents to brainstorm and keep track of word count. In past years, for meeting our word count goals, we made mix tapes for one another and all went out to a celebratory dinner at the end of the experience. I’m still great friends with most of my fellow Ni6 survivors from when I last participated.

What tools do you find work best to keep you on track? What does your ideal accountability/support system look like?


Blades in the Dark

As a Game Master, I handle things one way: I perpetually over-prepare. I try to plan for every possible outcome and do everything in my power to keep the story relatively on track. I write up some key beats that need to happen and some sample dialogue for NPCs to use. In a numbers-heavy system, I have stats written up for just about everything (I have created stats for a door once, just so you understand where I’m coming from with this).

Being super prepared falls squarely in my wheelhouse; it’s how I handle a lot of things in my life to help mitigate my anxiety. It’s just my go-to method for dealing with the world.


Then Blades in the Dark by John Harper came along. My friend Mark was kind enough to gift me several game books that they thought I’d find interesting. Blades is the one that really stuck out to me. Set in a fallen fantasy setting in which the gates between the worlds of the living and dead have been shattered, Blades takes place in the eternal nighttime of Doskvol, a Venice-like, canal-laced city with Industrial-era London technology. Oh, and it’s also haunted. Extremely haunted. Beyond the demon-blood-powered lightning barrier lies the Void Sea, inky and dark, which is teeming with malicious spirits and massive demons called Leviathans.

Now if that setting didn’t win you over (and I don’t know how it could fail to), know that the basics of the game are that you’re a baby street gang, trying to work your way up to fortune and power in the ever-dark city of Doskvol, pulling all sorts of daring jobs or fighting rival gangs for turf. I saw this and immediately offered to run a one-shot in this system for some friends. It was a heist job in a trap-filled mansion and, in my usual style, I over-prepared. I scripted some of the dialogue, provided maps, and had written out the traps and puzzles that I was presenting to my crew. Everyone had such a great time with this system that they asked to turn it into a campaign.

So here I am. And now that I’m running a longer campaign, I’ve abandoned my over-preparing ways. Why? Because that’s not in the spirit of how Blades is supposed to run. This game is more about a running conversation between myself and the players and it’s not up to me to decide what jobs they pull – they get to choose. So while I can come with some ideas for heists or goals, it’s ultimately their choice what they pursue in a game session and it’s my job to be flexible and willing to just improv like I’ve never done before.

And it’s terrifying, you guys. I’m not the person who gets stage fright, but before my first session, I was a nervous wreck. See, this is a fail forward system, meaning that a bad roll of the dice doesn’t stop the action, but rather moves the story forward with some degree of consequences. And it is the consequences that make this game interesting. There’s an improv game called Yes And, in which actors must go along with everything that their fellow actors pretend to be true on stage and never negate that truth. I think of Blades as a Yes But game – yes, you can do the thing you tried to do, but there could be a cost that goes along with your success.

There are also very few numbers and not a ton of dice rolls in this system. There’s almost never an opposed roll; rather, the player rolls and the results they get determine how well they do, how bad any consequences are, and how all of the NPCs around them fair in relation to the player characters. The game can be a little clunky at first – there are a LOT of rules. But they all make a kind of intuitive sense with a little practice. John Harper created a truly beautiful game here and I’m so excited that I get to play in this world.

KM Weiland to the Rescue

KM Weiland is a gift. Her books, Structuring Your Novel and Outlining Your Novel have been incredibly helpful tools for me over the past few years. I cannot recommend these books enough! In her latest blog post, she uses some examples fromĀ The Last Jedi (which I loved, but which was also kind of a mess) to talk about five crucial secrets of good storytelling. Check out this blog post and definitely consider her books if you’re at all like me and could use a hand creating plots that more powerfully hook your readers.

New Year, New Goals

I’m not really the biggest fan of New Year’s resolutions – they tend to be based in a sort of effervescent optimism that so often dies off in a few weeks. Myself, I believe in constant self-improvement regardless of what month it happens to be. All the same, I’ll take this changing of the guard as an opportunity to lay out some of my goals for the following year:

  • Publish three pieces of fiction
  • Be accepted to Viable Paradise or another intensive writing workshop experience
  • Sell Widowmaker
  • Visit Portland, OR
  • Roll out the proposed changes to Columbia Writers
  • Continue exploring creative activities that help me manage my anxiety
  • Wrap up my tabletop campaign in the Elysium system
  • Continue running my Blades in the Dark campaign
  • Foster another parrot for Phoenix Landing
  • Find ways to enjoy a funerary trip to Europe in memory of my mother


Sometimes it’s Personal

What is it the kids say? “Lord help me, I’m back on my shit?” Something like that.

Folks, I have an albatross around my neck that has haunted me for four years now. It is a 6,000 word, genre-busting story about disability and humanity and I cannot, for the life of me, sell it. It’s won an award, but no one is buying it. It’s starting to drive me a little crazy.

Widowmaker is a time-travel mystery set in the old west, starring a cyborg laden with a sense of self-loathing. It’s a project that I love and believe in, but which haunts me to this day. It just went through a round of critique with the Columbia Writers group that I run and I have some ways I can tighten and pace it better… but I have a lot of my own ego all tangled up in this thing.


I’ll be submitting it to Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction in 2018 because I suffer from chronic body-wide pain, depression, C-PTSD, and anxiety (I’m a hot mess, but it’s part of my charm) and because the story also examines themes of trauma, pain, and examining ones own humanity in the face of disability. I feel like it’s perfect for the anthology, but the fear of rejection is exceptionally high for me this time.

Generally, when I receive a rejection, I shrug it off and try to improve the piece before submitting it somewhere else. I don’t take it personally and I don’t give up. The worst thing I do is shelve a project to come back to, pull apart, and rebuild into something new on another day.

But Widowmaker? Widowmaker is very personal to me. The protagonist’s struggles to accept her damaged and flawed body and mind mirror my own. Her self-doubt and transformation into a confident, fully-realized version of herself is the story of the past year and a half of my life. A rejection of Widowmaker is going to sting a lot more than anything else I’ve had to deal with before. A rejection of Widowmaker is a rejection of my own journey.

I need to be strong. I am baring my soul with this one and that which makes us vulnerable also gives us the greatest opportunity to grow.

December Doodles

For over ten years now, myself and my friend Marty LeGrow have had a little tradition: we participate in a doodle-a-day challenge for the entire month of December. These usually take the form of little one-panel comics, starring cartoon versions of ourselves, our friends, and our pets, and with silly punchlines or visual gags. There are also a lot of in-jokes that have developed over a decade, which tend to carry over into each year. And, to be totally fair, we rarely manage to finish all 31 days. But it’s the thought that counts.


This sort of deadline/challenge is a great way to force creativity out of me. I really do work best under pressure. It’s even motivated me to purchase a new drawing tablet (a really basic cheap one – I don’t do enough drawing to justify anything fancy) and to start learning how to work in Adobe Illustrator (holy crap, anchor points have changed my life!). The learning curve on Illustrator is really steep and I’m slowly working through a series of video tutorials with exercises, so it’s going to be hand drawn doodles for a little while longer while I hammer that out.


Day 1: Vices


Day 2: Excuses

At the end of November, Marty and I each come up with a list of about 15 themes and then merge our lists to give ourselves a month’s worth of daily prompts. Here’s this year’s list

Working Hard
Weird Pets
A Bad Plan
Learn a New Skill
Musical Instruments
Good Hygiene
The Very Best
Winter Clothes
Your Favorite Color
Watching TV
Haters Gonna Hate
Holiday Shopping
Taking Out the Trash
Hats For Everyone
Yule Log
Pizza Time
The Elves Are Back
Social Media
Deeg and Marty’s Bodexcellent Radventure


Day 3: Snowstorm


Day 5: Weird Pets