The Indiana Accords

I started drafting this post in the car during the twelve hours I spent hauling myself and a car full of stuff from Indiana post-GenCon to New Jersey, so if it’s a bit incoherent, it’s because I drafted it out loud in 45-minute chunks throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania.

As I’m told repeatedly, you can’t manufacture moments, you can’t force or make them happen, they’re a confluence of circumstance and things lining up with some coincidence. And every time I hear it, as you’d expect, I think that might be the third most-maddening thing someone can say to me, because what’s basically being said is that you can’t control a moment, and lacking control is one of those things that doesn’t go so well for me. I like control, I like order, and I like being charge of me and what I do.

So of course I love moments, and I chase them, because whatever’s uncontrollable and just out of reach is always the most desired thing.

I spent much of GenCon on a sly pursuit of moments. I wanted there to be little crystallized pockets of experience with specific people. To go to a meal with this or that person. To hug that person. To tell this other person I had missed them. To have, just between the two of us these little bubbles where nothing else mattered.

Now go contrast that with how badly I wanted to speak to rooms with 100+ people and make them all laugh and nod and walk out of the room thinking and feeling and energized.

This is the duality I think a lot of people struggle with, and my own struggle with it transcends the specific knowledge of writing craft of story development. It should, frankly, be bigger than what I know about query letters or marketing or dialogue, because life is more than the total of what you know, it’s the expression of what you know in way(s) that build(s) a bridge between you and the next person.

GenCon this year was about building a whole lotta bridges and moving away from demanding there be a-moment-or-else-right-now-goddammit.

See, there was this woman in the audience on Friday at my last panel of the convention,  I remember exactly where she sat: a row back from the front, on the the interior aisle. She wore a green dress, had dark hair, and kept her hands in her lap a lot. I don’t say any of this in a creepy way, I’m saying this because this woman changed the trajectory of my weekend, my plans, and my entire outlook on what I do.

It was a panel on setting goals and not giving up, and it had okay attendance for a Friday afternoon panel. Of course I would have liked to see more people in the room, but it’s okay, the people who were there were the ones meant to be there. And there was this woman. I cannot for the life of me remember her name, I’m not even sure she said her name, but I remember she was a seamstress, a costumer, and she was nervous.

Now I don’t know if she was nervous because she was asking a question of three people on a stage who had microphones or if she was just nervous in general, but she sticks out so sharply in mind. Now I’m going to paraphrase our interaction:

Her: I’m a costumer, and what do I do when I get discouraged about what I’m doing? I know the flaws in my work, and how do I keep going and doing this this when I know it’s  going to be tough and have problems?

Me: Tell me what you love about costuming.

And it was right there, everything turned. It was like a light switch flicked on her soul and she wasn’t this nervous person who sat quietly and timidly, she was this person who loved a thing and was excited about a thing and it mattered to her.

Her: I love that I can make a dress, an outfit, something out of nothing, and it’s really good and I love doing it, I love how it looks, and the work that goes into it because it’s fun and it makes me happy.

Me: Remember that every time you feel like it’s too hard. Can you do that for me?

Her: Yes. Thank you so much.

There was something about this reaction, this conversation, that wiggled its way into my brain and it took a long time the rest of the weekend to sort itself out. It wasn’t a bad thing, it was a great thing, the best of things, and I couldn’t stop seeing in my head.

The look she had on her face when she described how costuming made her feel. The eye contact when she said she could remember that. The way I asked her if she could do that for me.

Boom.

Moment.

See, up until that point, all the panels I was on were there to give information ahead of ego stroke. Yes, I’ll cop to it, I love the sound of my own voice, yes I love the fact that people come up and thank me. I love attention and I love the fact that I’m smart and good at a thing. And I know that this is not the healthiest space to constantly be submerged in for four days. I don’t want to be “on” for a whole weekend because it makes me an insufferable asshole who doesn’t relax and who is generally unbearable to be around. I’m conscious of that, and I wanted to avoid doing that.

But in the absence of that, I was feeling really lost. And when I feel lost, I try to focus on things that make me feel grateful, and things that make me feel like I still matter, because of course I need to ride the pendulum swing from it’s-all-about-me to I-don’t-matter-at-all and back again.

I look at the people who inspire me: here, here, and here (for starters) and one of the dominant feelings I take away is that they’re aware of the bigger audience, but they’re not talking to the group telling us that blessed are the cheesemakers, they’re speaking to each person one-on-one.

One-on-one, even when there’s this group.

One-on-one, just like the costumer and her question.

One-on-one, just like how a moment …

Boom.

Again.

The moments I felt best were not the moments where the whole room laughed or the whole room looked up at me. Those were nice, but they couldn’t touch the moments where a single person came up and said something nice.

Going forward, I’m committing myself to putting the one-on-one ahead of the group.

I’ll panel the hell out of everything every chance I get because I’m comfortable when I’m talking and teaching and encouraging, but I want anyone who comes in the door to feel like it’s just me and them.

I’ll put out videos and audio where the priority is one-on-one because that’s where the good connectivity and truly helping someone lives. Me talking to and with you. Not at you. Not over you.

And I’ll coach and edit with this same conversation, this same discourse in mind, because as a client, it’s me and you, riding to the end.

Because when I say I believe in you, I believe in YOU. You, person reading this. You, person wondering if they should get something edited. You, person who isn’t sure if coaching will help them. You, right there.

Let’s talk. Let’s work. Let’s get better and grow good things and expand and throw light out against the dark and be happy and make great stuff. Let’s be awesome.

Don’t you dare give up.

Happy creating.

My GenCon schedule

GenCon this year is August 4th to the 7th. I’ve got some really exciting days planned, but I’m always free to say hello, answer questions, rant about people and things, and hang out.

Also, there’s the not-so-small matter of my birthday on August 7th.

Here’s the schedule:

THURSDAY, AUGUST 4th

SEM1686117 Building A Better Freelancer Thu @ 10AM – 11:30AM
(Crowne Plaza :: Grand Central Ballroom B)

THERE ARE STILL SEATS AVAILABLE
Hear me talk for 90 minutes about it takes to be a working freelancer. I’ll explain good versus poor techniques, strategies to get started, and red flags to avoid.

SEM1686113 So You’re Making Your First Game Thu @ 1PM – 3PM
(Crowne Plaza :: Grand Central Ballroom C)

THERE ARE STILL SEATS AVAILABLE
For two hours I’m going to talk about the ins and outs of game development, while Mark Richardson will be telling me I should be writing, so that he can talk about what it’s like getting Headspace into the hands of consumers. Also, I will mock him for being Canadian. And there will be profanity.

SEM1686108 Gaming and Your Mental Health 2015 Thu @ 3PM – 5PM
(Crowne Plaza :: Grand Central Ballroom A)

THERE ARE STILL SEATS AVAILABLE
One of my favorite but also toughest panels to give, here’s my yearly two hours on living with mental illness and disability with all the struggles and victories therein. This panel is incredibly personal to me, and I would appreciate your attendance.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 5th

SEM1686114 Writing Effective Scenarios, Settings, and Campaigns Fri @ 10AM – 12PM
(Crowne Plaza :: Victoria Stn C/D)

THERE ARE STILL SEATS AVAILABLE
In two hours, I’m going to talk about the blueprints of a “good” module, no matter if it’s just for your friends at the table or you want to get it out for sale. This panel gets into craft as well as game development, while remaining system neutral.

SEM1686110 Getting Into the Industry Fri @ 11 AM – 12PM
(Crowne Plaza :: Pennsylvania Stn B)

THERE ARE STILL SEATS AVAILABLE
Mark Richardson is back with me to talk about starting in the gaming industry. We’ll talk about what works and what doesn’t, when you want to talk about working in the industry and getting games into people’s hands.

RPG1699936 Noir World: Tragedy In The Heartland Fri @ 1PM – 3PM
(Marriott :: Santa Fe :: 5)

SOLD OUT
Hey look! It’s Noir World at GenCon.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 6th

SEM1686118 Working & Playing Nice with Others Professionally Sat @ 10:00 AM – 12PM
(Crowne Plaza :: Grand Central Ballroom C)

THERE ARE STILL SEATS AVAILABLE
You might not believe this, but at times I can kind of be tough to work with. Shocking, right? Spend 2 hours with me and learn how not to do what I do. Learn how to work with others, learn what to avoid doing, find out the communication skills/tips/strategies to make it slightly easier to work with your friends.

RPG1699935 Noir World: Murder on Main Street Sat @ 1PM – 3PM
(Marriott :: Santa Fe :: 2)

SOLD OUT
More Noir World.

My birthday is Sunday August 7th. I don’t have any panels or games, but I will be around. You should come say hello.

A Whole Mess of GenCon Thoughts

I’ve been home now about two hours, which for me is just enough time to really begin the deeper marination process of feelings and memories. I’ve put some of my thoughts already up on Facebook, but those are the first blush at these ideas. I’ve had delicious lasagna and a pint of iced tea, so I think there’s more to say.

I want to start by saying this was a good convention for me. I came home with far fewer business cards than I left the house with, and I’m hopeful that with all the people I’ve met, the horizon will have some good work ahead. While I didn’t walk the convention floor nearly enough for my liking, I have to recognize that lengthy periods of walking, even with a cane, aren’t easy for me anymore. I had quite a few moments of exhaustion and “Let’s just sit down/lean right here” and I am sure that I should have done it more than I did.

This was the first year I didn’t have some rushed sense that I was running out of time or that I should have been doing something else (more on that in the next paragraph), and this was the first year I didn’t have something looming over my head while I was there. There wasn’t a big spectacle at an awards show this year, I didn’t have to spill too many guts out for the first time at panels, I didn’t have to worry about staying high or drunk or anything like that. I just got to be me, and I liked that.

A funny thing happened when I stopped living and acting for other people and made myself a priority – I started having a lot of fun. I started laughing at jokes again. I started making jokes again. I started liking things that I somehow convinced myself were “beneath me”. Like peach cobbler. Like pickled jalapeños. Like 90s music. And all this liking gave me a renewed sense of purpose towards what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I don’t think I lost sight of that entirely, but I know it got obfuscated by a lot of people and paranoia and pettiness. Without a feeling like I should be doing something else because it would have been boring for other people to stand around and watch me hand people business cards or chat with people I see once or twice a year, I let myself enjoy things. And that’s … good. It felt good. Also, it saved me a ton of money in bar tabs and loads more in frustration.

I’ve never had a good sense that my panels help people. Sure, I get a few people who follow me on twitter after a panel. I get maybe some passing bit of information that so-and-so did something, but more or less, I leave a seminar thinking I’ve reached no one and left no evidence of an impression. It can be tiring to think about the days of prep and the hours of rehearsal all amounting to nothing, so I try to make sure that I did do something that helped, even if asking or thanking people grows annoying. This year though, I am confident, so absolutely confident that I helped people. Not just because I gave them a place to sit for an hour, but because they got answers to questions, or they made new friends or they got to put a voice to something they had been sitting on for a while. I watched people get hugs (seriously, hugs happened). I watched people do a lot of nodding to the people seated next to them. I attribute this to two things – I stopped making panels about me and how great I am, and I didn’t overload the panels with information.

See, I used to think that my panels were boring, so I’d jam them with material, far too much material, and leave people in an overwhelming cloud of “what do I take away from this”. Partnered with a sense of “Yeah I just spent sixty minutes talking about how cool I am, this is sure to bring me work”, I am pretty sure this often made me an asshole, and as I step away from that now (somewhat, I mean, leopards and spots, guys), I realize that the panels are there to help people. And I like helping people. So I did.

Oh! That brings me to the awards portion of the blogpost. Something I worked on, the Designers and Dragons industry encyclopedias, was up for a few awards. I was very eager to win one, as I was closer to this project than many of the other things I’ve done. And I’m happy to say, the book won an award.

It's a pretty sweet certificate. It comes with a medal too.

It’s a pretty sweet certificate. It comes with a medal too.

I could not have won this award without the hard work of so many amazing people at Evil Hat Productions, but I would be lying if I said this award didn’t also feel like some personal recognition too. These books had A LOT of words in them, and they took time to edit. No, don’t take that to mean the words all sucked, just that there was a lot of reading and checking and little corrections like commas or unclear sentences to trim up. And yes, I did ask for my own copy of the certificate and medal. Call it an early birthday gift to myself.

((At this point in the writing, I’ve written and deleted a few paragraphs about something that happened about the awards show (didn’t involve me), and I’ve decided that warrants its own post, probably later in the week. So instead of paragraphs of words, look at these doughnuts))

2015-08-02 10.09.38

I miss my friends. I miss the family I left back there. I miss being woken up early. I miss the way the shower I used all week creaked underfoot. I miss the stink of sewage that seems to drape over downtown Indianapolis but no one ever seems to be talking about it. I miss the sight of 61,000-something (!!) people milling around a few blocks in a city I’ve come to really like (except for the smell).

But, I am glad to be home in Jersey. I missed my dog. I missed my garden. I missed my iced tea and my video games and my music.

The inbox is crowded and dense, and there are many thank-yous and replies to messages to write. Better get to it.

Be good to each other, and make awesome things.

My GenCon 2014 Schedule

August 14-17 fast approaches, which means that it’s time to put my GenCon schedule for 2014. It’s a great schedule this year, I’m doing a lot of stuff, and thankfully do most of it in the same room, so there’s little risk of me getting totally lost (as I did last year and was late to my own panel). I should point out that this is the first year my panels are listed under “Indie Game Developers Network” (of which I am a member) as part of the over 100 events the Network is running this year. So let’s get into it.

Thursday

WHY DO YOU HATE YOUR READERS? ( Thursday 3p-4p Crowne Plaza: Hay Market B)

I’m spending 60 minutes explaining what it means to hate your reader (read: make it hard for people to read/understand/like/follow what you’ve written), and how to fix it. Examples will be provided, both good and bad. (Hint: I’m citing myself as a bad example)

UPDATE! I’m also going to be at BOTH Evil Hat Panels (State of the Hat and Look Under The Hat). Maybe I’ll be in the audience, maybe I’ll be at the table, who knows! (No seriously, I don’t know, you should come and find out along with me).

Friday

GETTING STARTED AS AN EDITOR (Friday 11a-12p Crowne Plaza: Grand Central C)

Do you want to be an editor? Not just “do you want to be able to edit your own work”, I mean do you want to be an editor for other people and companies? How does someone get started doing this? Is there anything special they need? Is it difficult? And what’s the big deal? I will explain what I do, how I started doing it and why I love it.

FREELANCING FOR FUN AND PROFIT (Friday 1p-2:30p Crowne Plaza: Grand Central C)

I make my living freelancing. It’s a good life: no cubicle, minimal dress code, high intensity, inconsistent paychecks, high stress, short deadlines. Learn about all the pros and cons about being a pro who goes to cons to talk about making game design and game writing more than something that just happens random on some Sunday afternoon.

 

SO YOU’RE MAKING YOUR FIRST GAME (Friday 3p to 4p Crowne Plaza : Grand Central C)

I’m getting together with Mark Richardson (and possibly others) to talk about how you produce your first (or fiftieth) game. You can come to this panel and learn how we got off the ground and have a good time doing this, also, this will be a great panel to attend if you want to watch me bait a Canadian into a playful argument and/or watch a man admit he’s really nervous giving a panel. (Hint: that’s not going to be me)

Saturday

WRITING WORKSHOP Q&A (Saturday 10a-11:30a Crowne Plaza: Grand Central C)

It’s Saturday morning, so let’s talk writing. This panel is driven by your questions, so bring them. Ask questions, get answers. This is one of my favorite panels to do, and I love the questions people offer. I make an effort to answer every question, though I cannot guarantee you’ll like my answers. The questions don’t have to be limited to gaming, we can talk fiction, or screenplays or anything with words in it.

WRITER EDITOR RELATIONSHIP (Saturday 1p-2p Crowne Plaza: Grand Central C)

Join me after lunch for a panel where I hang out with a writer friend of mine (might be Brian Engard, might be someone else, or multiple someones else) where we’ll talk about what it’s like to work together, why it’s important to have a good relationship with your editor and why editors don’t actually want to ruin writers’ lives, just … fix them. Or something. This is a great panel if you’re looking to see what it’s like behind the scenes of a game company.

MENTAL HEALTH AND GAMING 2014 (Saturday 2p-4p Crowne Plaza: Grand Central C)

Here it is, the crown jewel of all my panels. My absolute favorite panel to give ever ever. Come spend 2 hours (!!) with me as I spill my guts out and share my story of anxiety, depression, self-destruction and my rebuilding myself over the last few years. Learn some strategies to help deal with whatever issues you’ve face (NOTE- I’m not a doctor, this is NOT medical advice), and in a safe environment, let’s talk about our lying brains, our feelings and our fears. Also, super bonus points if you ask me to tell the ‘crystal’ story. And triple super bonus points if you ask me to tell the ‘Ericka’ story’.

Just when you thought that was enough John for one convention, here’s more … I am running 2 games ON THE BOOKS this year as well!

Sunday

A DRINK BEFORE DYING (NOIR WORLD) (Sunday 10a-12p Marriott Blrm 7)

Powered by the Apocalypse (Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, Monsterhearts, Headspace, and others), Noir World is my first game I’m actually producing myself, and this 2-hour session on Sunday will be the first public reveal/test of it. The year is 1944, and a wealthy woman gets killed at her own party. Anyone can be a suspect, anyone has a motive, who killed her, and why? Will they get away with it?

THE TROUBLE WITH 1908 (Sunday 1pm – 3pm Marriott Blrm 7)

Timewatch isn’t my game, it’s Kevin Kulp’s game, but it’s amazing, and I want to play it with you. Think Bill and Ted meet Doctor Who meet Quantum Leap meet Night’s Black Agents meet Terminator 2. I’m not sure the pitch needs any more than that sentence.

I love GenCon and look forward to seeing you there.

 

Come hang out with me, come play games with me, and let’s have a great time together.

The Other Pre-Convention Checklist

GenCon approaches, and so many of us are counting the hours until we squeeze into crowded hotels (let’s all take a moment to mourn the fact that I’m not in a penthouse this year), see friends we’ve not seen since last year and spend days indulging our gaming desires and for some, our professional pleasures. 

This is also a great time for blogging, since you can easily put together a post or two about not being a jerk, or being respectful to others, or (my actual favorite) reminders to bring good toilet paper. Those sorts of posts are by this point obvious and that isn’t what I’m writing today, although you should totally use good toilet paper every chance you get. 

Today I want to come at this from another angle – the anxious, mood-swingy realm where you don’t measure a convention by the number of hours you stayed awake or the number of dice thrown, or even the number of cocktails ingested, but rather by the number of triggers avoided, situations managed and care taken. 

For me, any convention where I have to travel more than fifteen minutes from my bedroom (which to date means Gencon, and this year, WyrdCon so far), is a huge test and obstacle course I have to navigate. Everything about the convention, starting from today when I’ll pack a suitcase to next Monday when I board a plane to come home, pushes, abrades or challenges me. I’m going to break down my whole mental checklist and thought process, speculating where I can, and give you a little insight into what sort of things may roll through the mind of someone else. Be aware that my process on this isn’t your process, and that I’m not speaking for anyone other than myself. 

Tuesday

Packing. Do I have enough clothes? Maybe I should get a bigger suitcase, but then I’ll definitely have to check it. And there’s still a chance my suitcase would get lost. Are my pills counted out? Do I have all the chargers I need for everything? I know I just checked for the fifth time, but check again, I’m not sure. 

The Carry On. Do I have all the paperwork I need? Do I have the badges and lanyards? What about the tickets? Am I going to be able to fit the keyboard in the bag? I put my pills in here, right? (This often leads to packing and repacking the bag right up until I go to sleep)

Wednesday

Pre-Flight. Am I going to be late? Have I printed multiple copies of every bit of paper I need? Do I have everything? Do I have enough time to check? How much should I eat? Should I tell the dog I’m going? What’s the easiest clothing to wear to expedite airport security? Do I have a pack of gum? 

Flight. I hope I’m on the right plane. What’s that sound? Are planes supposed to make that sound? I wish I had someone with me. Yeah, I need a companion. I know, I know, even the Doctor travels alone sometime, but companions make this sort of thing a lot easier. Is the stewardess giving me dirty looks? It’s because I’m wearing a t-shirt, right? Maybe I’ll just read my book.

Airport. Okay, did they lose my luggage? What would I do if they lost my luggage? Last year I took that bus thing. Where the hell did I get on it? Did I pay the guy? Am I on the right bus? 

The Hotel. I hope they have my reservation. I cannot wait to put all this shit down and catch my breath. I wonder if I can upgrade to the penthouse? Should I ask? Will the lady behind the desk laugh at me? 

Food & Friends. I should eat something. I wonder if anyone wants to eat with me. Where would we go? Why am I over-thinking this? I wonder if the other people can sense how alien all of this is to me? Should I say something? Where can I get some comfort food to calm down? 

Sleeping Arrangements. There are other people in this room. This is weirding me out. I mean, I know they’re my friends and all, but like, they’re right on top of me. It’s okay, just be cool, Think about goldfish or flowers or … okay, don’t think about how lonely you are, yes, even in a room full of your friends, late at night, in the dark … go back to flowers.

Convention, Day 1

Morning. Okay, did I take my pills? How can I adapt my morning routine to account for other people? Should I get up and out of the room earlier? Should I just sit-slash-lay here and wait for everyone else to get moving first? Maybe I shouldn’t adapt my habits. 

The first panel I’m attending, but not leading. Have to remember that the spotlight isn’t on me, and I’m going more to support my friends than hog attention. What if they give me a shout-out, does that count as a chance to say hello? Maybe I should duck out? Holy shit, how many people are they going to put in this room? These chairs could be more comfortable. Can anyone tell I’m rehearsing my own panel while I sit here?

My first panel. Okay, this is it. First panel I’m doing at GenCon. I feel like there should be photographs. Alright, don’t go down that mental road … stay focused, but yeah, that thing that happened did suck. Okay, back on point. You’re going to swear, often, is that going to weird people out? Why the fuck do you care? I mean shit, I have an hour, do they really need the whole saga of John? is this about me or about the conversation. Be proactive, find the solutions. If this panel leaves me mopey, what’s my plan? 

The rest of Day 1. Self-care, stat. Fire up the encouragement engines. Engage the supportive statements. Celebrate the fact that I just spoke in front of people on a much more visible stage. No, do not go to a bar to celebrate this fact. Have some water. And walk. Walk off the energy. 

Convention, Day 2

The big panel. Having already done this once, this one should be easier. No it doesn’t matter how detailed I get, the goal here is to convey information. Be the lens, show the material, answer questions. Rock and roll. 

That hour break between panels. EAT SOMETHING. Make smart choices. Breathe.

Panel #2. Okay, this one is easier. Just talk. Just share my experiences. No, don’t worry about anyone digging it, I’m here in this moment, for me. Rock and roll.

The rest of Day 2. More self-care, yo. Bonus points if I can spend time with friends who make me extra happy.

Convention, Day 3

One more panel. Alright, by this point, seriously, if I can’t manage my favorite kind of panel with my eyes closed, I totally need to rethink things. Go kick this panel’s ass. 

The rest of Day 3. What the hell else am I supposed to do? How about some self-care and generally bohemian and vagabond ways? I wonder what my friends are up to? 

Convention, Day 4

Awesome, a whole day without responsibilities. I can just lounge. 

At some point. I should start organizing my return home. 

Monday

Check out. Oh, god I hate check out. And my flight isn’t until later. What the hell am I going to do? Where am I going to go? Should I just wait at the airport? Do I have everything out of the room? 

Flight. See above flight.

And for some reason, even after all this, I still want to do it again, and soon. 

Some Notes

[1] The best way to find me, assuming you don’t have my number to text me, is via Twitter

[2] If you do have my number and you’re at the convention – No, don’t call me. Well, try not to call me, since the likelihood of me being able to hear you on the phone in a crowded of people is limited. But if it’s after hours, call me. 

[3] I will absolutely and categorically be transparent about my moods, my feelings and my current state whenever you find me. Do not be afraid to ask.

[4] I love you guys, you’re beautiful, you’re awesome, and I cannot wait to see my friends.