Mar 28, 2013


There's a thing gamers do, typically when playing video games, that I've been doing for years, but never had a name for.


Video games are relatively limited in terms of freedom to react to in-game events. Even the best roleplaying computer games can only offer so much. Headcanon is when the player imagines story elements that are not inferred by the game itself, or that even directly contradict game events. It can be as simple as deciding your character's way of unwinding at the end of the adventure, or as deep and complex as how they felt the the first time they killed someone, and how that experience colours their response to violence now.

There's a link here to a Tumblr full of headcanons for the Mass Effect series. It does contain spoilers.

This is a pretty cool tool, both for writers and roleplayers, to help get into a character's head. Have any of you tried this? Or are there games you'd consider doing it with?

Here's my own list for my current Mass Effect run as a female Commander Shepard, Earthborn Sole Survivor for those who know the game, obvious spoilers below:

Mar 21, 2013

Cross-Gender in Games

One of the attractions to gaming is that it allows the player to explore worlds and personalities that they would otherwise never experience. Fantasy wish-fulfillment is a major part of the hobby. We play aliens, robots, mutants, demigods, superheroes, elves, wizards, detectives, sentient gas clouds, and everything that falls in between.

Yet there aren't many gamers I've met who'll regularly play the opposite gender to their own, at least in a tabletop game. I suppose the reasons are different for everyone. Some guys find it uncomfortable to act like a woman in front of their friends, especially if a romantic sub-plot comes up and they're expected to flirt with a male character. Some people, like myself, just find it easier to get into the mindset of their own gender. Others just haven't really thought about it much and choose their own gender because it's what first comes to mind when creating a character.

Now, I'm not saying I find it difficult to portray women. I have lots of women in my books and frequently use female POV characters. But that's different. That's work, and I work very hard to make sure I'm not screwing things up when I write women. My crit partners will tell you, one of my biggest sources of insecurity as a writer is the fear that someone will read by books and think "there's no way a real woman would think that!"

Gaming is fun. It's my downtime. I want to play characters I find comfortable and easy to slip into. So when coming up with character ideas, my mind tends to tick off the "male" box. It's a habit. But it's one I wouldn't mind breaking, in the right circumstances, where I don't feel quite as much pressure to "get it right."

For example, I'm playing through Mass Effect again, this time with a female character. I'm flirting with Kaidan, and fully intend to romance Thane in Mass Effect 2. I'm enjoying the experience, in no small part because Jennifer Hale is an amazing voice actress. Also because I find I'm looking for more strong female protagonists these days.

Someone once said to me that the female Commander Shepard is so much more impressive than the male. Where the male Shepard is a badass, female Shepard, Femshep, is like a force of nature. I found this interesting, since Femshep has the same dialogue and physical actions as a male Shepard. So, setting aside the comparative quality of the two voice actors, what we have is people crediting the female Shepard with being more impressive than the male, despite the fact the two do exactly the same things. The only difference is gender. Are certain actions more impressive, more heroic, just because it's a woman doing them?

In contrast, are gentler, softer actions, like showing compassion or caring for someone with an injury, considered more kind if the character is male?

Society holds men and woman to different standards. It's unfair and I believe it's most often damaging, particularly when a woman is shamed for behaving like a man with regard to her sex life, or when a man is mocked for showing a feminine side. But can this inequality give rise to positive responses? Is it right that we applaud an action more when a person is acting outside of typical gender stereotypes? Perhaps. Perhaps things have been so unfair for so long we need a little extra positive reinforcement to fix it.

One thing I love about gaming is the chance it offers to explore these concepts. We can create our own stories, where men and women can show their weaknesses, their softer sides, and find the strength to overcome their challenges.

Hmm, this topic became more of a ramble than I'd intended. Still, it's given me some things to think about. What about you guys? Anything to add?

Mar 19, 2013

Authors' Nationalities

Last Sunday was St. Patrick's Day, the day when national monuments, rivers, and even beer are coloured green and most the world becomes more proud of the Irish than we are ourselves.

Characteristically, it was a cold and wet day. St. Patrick's Day is notorious for its bad weather. Still, it got me thinking about nationality, in particular relating to how authors let their nationality influence their work.

I have not yet written a book set in Ireland. While Nathan Shepherd is of Irish descent, he's about 2 generations removed from his ancestral homeland. His Catholic upbringing influences his dreams for having a family, but he is lapsed in his faith, like many Irish people.

I do have an idea for a book about an Irish character, but I haven't decided yet whether it'll be set entirely in Ireland.

Essentially I like the freedom of being able to set my books anywhere I choose. American cities, especially in urban fantasy, allow me to play with contrasting themes of progress and history; the old world and the new, myth and science clashing, coming together, becoming something new, just like the story of so many people from so many different countries coming together and creating a nation.

What do you guys think? With the resources available today, it's hard to excuse a lack of research on foreign locations. Do you like seeing an author's interpretation of other countries? Would you rather they stuck to their own countries, whether because they know them best or because you want to read more about them?

Mar 14, 2013

Damsels in Distress

A while back there was a bit of controversy over a Kickstarter set up by Anita Sarkeesian to fund a series of videos examining gender discrimination in video games.

The first video in the series, dealing with the Damsel in Distress trope, is up now.

It's a good watch, and highlights some of the more notable examples of discrimination in early video games. That said, it does ignore some classics such as the Golden Axe and Streets of Rage games, which always featured a lead female character fighting right alongside the men. Still, I think it's worth a watch just to see how readily game developers have jumped to the quick and easy plot device of a weak female in need of a strong male to save her.

Mar 12, 2013

Silent Oath

A few days ago I received confirmation from my editor that the title for my second book had been finalised. Of the various titles I went through while working on this book, the one that stood out most was Silent Oath.

There is a line at the very end of Locked Within which refers to Nathan making his "silent oath" to protect the people of New York. Well, the next book builds on that and features Nathan's ongoing fight to keep people safe from the Council of Chains. There will be some old friends and new allies, as well as more powerful enemies for Nathan to fight. If you thought Nathan had to struggle before, just wait until you see what he has to endure next!

Though the release date for Silent Oath isn't yet decided, we are on target for release this year and I'll be doing some promotional posts as we get closer, sharing music that I used as inspiration and talking about how different this process has been from getting Locked Within onto the shelves.

I realise I haven't asked this on the blog before, but how did people feel at the end of Locked Within? What questions did you want answered? Assuming of course, you liked it enough to read more?

More generally, what do you guys like from a sequel? Particularly the ever-tricky middle installment of a trilogy?

Mar 7, 2013

Self-Publishing - Don't Rush

Today is World Book Day, and recent discussions about self-publishing got me thinking of a topic that connects gaming and writing.

One of the reasons given for writers to self-publish is time. Traditional publishing can take anywhere from a year to two years to produce a book on shelves, and that's after a contract is offered in the first place. Whereas you can have your book uploaded to Amazon and on sale in an afternoon. I'm sure that's a tempting proposition. I've seen some authors put out four books in a series all in the same year.

However, while there are writers out there capable of drafting and editing a manuscript to the best quality in such a short space of time, most simply can't. I know I certainly couldn't manage it. The fastest I ever drafted a book was the re-write of my second novel, which I managed in two months. That was full on, balls to the wall work. I did nothing with my free time except write. By the end I was exhausted, and it still needed editing before I could send it to my publisher.

Back in 2000, when Wizards of the Coast released their new edition of Dungeons & Dragons, they introduced their Open Game Licence. In a nutshell, this licence allowed independent game designers to use the D20 rules system for their own products.

What followed was a rush of new game companies releasing titles under the OGL. More gaming material was published between 2000 and 2008 than any time in the history of roleplaying games.

And most of it just wasn't very good. Most of the companies never got themselves firmly established, and to this day, there are maybe three games companies still turning a real profit from product lines made possible by the OGL.

I would hate to see self-publishing become the realm of forgotten books. Amazon's Kindle store could, if enough writers rush their books out before they're ready, end up filled with 1-star-rated books that will sit there forever. Self-publishing is really starting to be accepted as a legitimate path for authors. I think every author who chooses it owes it to themself, and to other authors, to work just as hard as a traditional publisher to make sure that their product is the best it can be. Otherwise the very things that make it an attractive option could lead to it being branded as the path for authors who just aren't good enough to be traditionally published.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Am I worrying for nothing?

Mar 5, 2013

Some Writers Don't Want to Self-Publish

 The topic of self-publishing has come up time and again. I sometimes wonder if the debate will ever end as to which one is "better."

The thing is, neither is better than the other. Any more than mayonaise is better than ketchup. They're both just different choices people can make. On more than one occassion I've had to defend my decision to go traditional. And not only that, to stay traditional. I honestly can't see myself ever wanting to move over completely to self-publishing.

I read this article last week, on Chuck Wendig's blog, and everything he said made perfect sense to me. It felt like I finally found a way to articulate the differences between traditional and self-publishing and why my preference is for traditional.

At some point, perhaps, I might dabble in it. Maybe release something on my own, perhaps if I decide to sell one of the roleplaying games I've designed or I really want to put a particular book out, come Hell or high water.

But the fact is, I love being a writer. I love the promotion work I get to do alongside my writing.

I do not love the idea of having to deal with cover artists, layout designers, a freelance editor, distribution, Amazon's upload system. They're just things that lie so far outside my comfort zone and areas of expertise that I am more than happy to let my publisher handle them.

I hear a lot of worrying things being said about traditonal publishing. Another timely post on Chuck Wendig's blog addresses the misinformation being spread. I'm all for people making their own choices and deciding their own path. However I can't abide the spread of misinformation, whether intentional or accidental. I think it's hugely important that, as much as traditional publishing is not held as being superior to self-publishing, it can't be demonised, either.

And aside from that, I love my publisher. I enjoy working with them. I want them to succeed as much as I want to succeed myself. I was once told that, when I become famous and can rely on my name to sell books, I should make the move to self-publishing so I'd get even more money. I was told I could even set up my own publishing company to handle all the non-writing side of things.

Well I'm sorry to say that won't be happening. If I'm not built for self-publishing on a small scale I'm certainly not built for running a company!

And the thing is, if I am fortunate enough to become a household name, why wouldn't I want my publisher, the company that brought me into the industry in the first place, to share in that success?

I'm not a publisher. I'm a writer. And I couldn't be happier with that arrangement.