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#RPGaDay 2: What is an RPG you would like to see published?

One of the problems I have as an adult with a job and a family is that there are too many games and not enough time to play them all.  I own stacks of RPG sourcebooks and systems that I have never played, and probably never will, unless I live long enough to end up in a retirement home with a bunch of grognards with too much time on their hands.  That’s about the only form of retirement that appeals to me, actually.  A return to my childhood, where I spent nearly every day with a group of close friends having adventures without ever leaving the couch.   I figure that would be a good way to wrap up my life, if I manage to live that long.   Someone should start planning the themed retirement home for old gamers right now.

Anyway, I’m very reluctant to suggest new games when I have such an embarrassment of riches, because likely anything that I would like to see published would go unplayed along with the rest of the games that I have.  That said, I’ve always wanted to see a game setting, for really any system, based on the New Cobrazon and Bas Lag setting by China Miéville.

Perdido Street StationInstrumental to me getting back into science fiction literature post-college was reading Perdido Street Station, along with some short stories by Charlie Stross in Asimov’s.   One thing about games is that they’re usually somewhat derivative of the cutting edge work going on in literature, which is not something I say as disparagement.  I think that trend is changing as more talent is attracted to working in games, given that it’s still a decent way to make a living, where all but a slim few barely earn minimum wage writing prose these days.  But for most of my life, where innovation of setting and world-building is concerned, prose fiction has led the way.   Miéville’s work for me was like an atom bomb of creative world-building.

That’s not to say it wasn’t inspired by things that came before.  Miéville has been open about how much of his work was inspired by reading the monster manuals of various roleplaying games.  Relatedly, he also explains that he never really played RPGs, which breaks my heart.  It’s long been a dream of mine to some day have China at my game table with a few other people who never got to know the joys of playing in their youth.  I imagine he’s received better offers than mine, though.

Anyway, Perdido Street Station describes a wild, bizzare, thriving city that made me want to explore it. I wanted to go off the page as written and poke around in the dark alleys and tunnels.  New Crobuzon would be a fertile place for adventure and intrigue.  The various characters are already practically archetypes for good character classes and races to build further, interesting player characters.   And later books like The Scar only served to deepen and broaden the world as all good RPG source material does.

From what I understand, work has been underway for 6 or 7 years on a game set in this world, but nothing has come out yet.  Maybe it’s better that way; it can live in that perfect and ephemeral state of idea, rather than as an imperfect execution.  It might just be too good an idea, and I would always be disappointed with any execution.  Things that I spend so much time pining for can rarely live up such unfair expectations.  But if it ever does hit the store shelves, I’ll happily buy it and add it to my pile of unplayed game reference books.  I’ve got a space for it picked out on my shelf.

For the month of August, I will be participating in #RPGaDay. I haven’t posted much on this blog about my love for role-playing games, and for a while, I wasn’t really acknowledging that love myself.  But RPGs were my entry point in the the geek lifestyle, and they are very important to me.  I’ll be exploring my relationship with RPGs all month with these posts.

Map image by JenJenRobot via DeviantArt.

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On the Innate Values of My Fiction

I have been corresponding with my good friend (and astonishingly great writer) Gord Sellar lately about writing in general and my writing specifically. I’m still working through that mid-life crisis moment, although with the help of close friends and some thought, I’ve been developing a plan of attack. I hope that the end result will be much more of my work to read in professional venues, and less uncertainty as to my purpose in life.

In our conversations, which are long and winding and go on for pages and pages of emails, Gord hit on something that really stopped me in my tracks.  He has this idea that I write fiction that seemed to be based in a belief in human decency. My initial reaction to this was one of surprise, but I suppose I can happily own this descriptor if it’s true. I do believe, and have believed, in the basic decent-ness of people. I do believe that together we are capable of great things. Gord calls this quality “American.” I think perhaps not American as a whole, but maybe Midwestern? I think perhaps it is only modern politics that makes me flinch away from the description of “American” writer. I will never consider myself truly a part of Trump’s America. That is an America rooted in fear, and one that stands for values I stand against. I honestly hope that my writing never, ever reflects that vision of my country. I hope it will continue to stand for a belief that people do more good than harm, and that fearing the other harms us all.

So, yes; I do believe that most people are fundamentally good and kind on a base level, but I didn’t realize it appeared in my fiction. And that something of my deep values does show up in my work made me pleased; reading his comment made me feel more pride in my work than I have in a long time. I write about fun, joyous things mostly, and often I worry that there’s nothing deeper to take from my work beyond a little entertainment. But if by accident I am conveying some deeply held beliefs about the nature of humanity, well, then… gosh. That’s a whole new reason to go on writing, I think.

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A New Story At Lightspeed: “The West Topeka Triangle”

My latest short story is live over on the Lightspeed Website today.  It’s a semi-autobiographical tale with a lot of painful childhood memories rolled up into a tale of the supernatural… or is it?

It’s something very different for me as a writer.  I’m very nervous about how it will be received.  Some of the early reviews haven’t been great, so I’ve lost some of the confidence I had in the story.  But it’s out there, and now each reader must judge it for themselves.  It’s no longer my story.  Now it belongs to everyone.

You can read the story here.

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Futuristic Foods and Where to Find Them

I learned over the holiday weekend that my story “Taste the Singularity at the Food Truck Circus” made the Tangent Online recommended reading list.  It received two stars out of a possible three. My posting this news is not a tacit endorsement of Dave Truesdale or any of his behaviors.  Anyway, I’m proud of this story and its reception.  It came out during WorldCon in Kansas City and a lot of people mentioned enjoying it to me, which made me really happy.

Speaking of future food, io9 has an article today called “Eight Futuristic Foods You’ll Be Eating in 30 Years” which, see above, is a subject that holds considerable interest to me.  I think the list is kind of disappointing and arbitrary, but I do wish I had done more with bugs in my story.  I do there there’s interesting material there.   What about you?  Would you eat bugs or food made from processed bugs? I think this may be one case where the processed version is preferable to the natural form.

This next bit of news has absolutely nothing to do with food — I have a new story out today on Drabblecast called “Garen and the Hound.”  This story is another Garen the Undreaming story — the first appeared in last year’s Swords v. Cthulhu.  It’s a short short, an easy read or listen.  I’m hoping to write another, longer Garen story later this year.

Finally, a personal note from me to you.  I am glad that you survived 2016, and I wish you the best of luck in 2017.  I hope to have some interesting things for you to read in the coming days.  2017 is gonna be the year of the blog comeback. I’m calling it now.

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2016 Will not End When 2016 Ends

I fear that this year has been not an aberration but is a preview of things to come. This year has been characterized by rising xenophobia and anti-Islamic sentiments across the globe, catalyzed in large part by Syrian refugees.

To use a rare Biblical parody, it feels like the developed world is saying loudly “there is no room in the inn” and slamming doors.  Simultaneously,  we are ignoring a growing global climate crisis that will lead to a hundred times the refugees we are seeing from Syria. Resources will be stretched far more thin by this, and I believe it’s unavoidable – the time to act was 20 years ago.

Recently in a story, I imagined this trend of climate refugees to be met with relative compassion and little disagreement, but I am afraid that 2016 has taught me that was overly optimistic. When people are afraid, they cling even harder to what they have, it seems. They demand an exile of the Others.  Climate refugees won’t be met with friendliness.  Communities will not open themselves willingly to those who flee coastal flooding.   They will close ranks and refuse them…that is what it seems to me now.

2016 has been a lesson for me in what’s most likely to come. I don’t want to witness it. But I know I will, and worse yet, so will my son.

Prove me wrong, world. Show that we can overcome differences and take care of one another. Show me that 2016 is a blip, a bump.

Show me. I’m waiting.

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I’m not a College Kid Anymore: Thoughts on Being a Dad in a College Town

Thanks to an understanding wife, I went for a solitary walk in downtown Lawrence. It’s the first evening I’ve had out downtown by myself in a while, and after talking this morning with some friends from out of town, I’m in a contemplative mood about my town and how I relate to it now.

I understood my relationship with my geography and activities better before I had a kid. Prior to Matty, I spent 20 years taking advantages of the amenities of a college kid’s life. The restaurants, bars, activities aimed at them were all things that overlapped at least somewhat with my life. Once Matty arrived, my notions of how to take advantage of where I live went out the window.

Having a child is isolating. You do what you can to get out and about with them, but kids go to bed early. The idea of being outside of our home past 7:30 PM is an ordeal, and often one that requires careful orchestration of babysitters, etc. It’s no coincidence that 95% of my socialization is now via board gaming. This is an easy pick-up hobby that can be participated in within earshot of a baby monitor. This works to give me some real world socialization, but when you work from home, sometimes you just get tired of staring at the walls of your own home.

I love being a Dad, and I adore my child. He provides me a lot of entertainment. Lawrence is a great town and I love it too, but I’m struggling to see what Lawrence offers for parents like me. I’ve had a tendency lately to blame the town, but it’s no fault of it; I think any town would like this to me now. There is a disconnect between what I am, a father of a young child, and what I used to be, a young no-child guy. It’s not Lawrence that is the problem. The problem is me, and the continuing life shift that has arrived on the coattails of parenthood. As far as problems go, it’s not a very big one, but it’s one that occupies my time right now.

I’d love to hear from others who became parents later in life, and how they adjusted to the lifestyle changes that go with it. How did you cope? What adjustments did you have to make?

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My Short Time as a Viral Hit Maker

On June 23rd, as the results from the British EU Referendum or “Brexit” began to come in, it was clear that the Leave vote was ahead.  Once the lead solidified and the BBC called the result, the Pound Sterling began to tank. The mood on Twitter turned grim.  I had an IM window with Nick Mamatas open at the time.  Sparked by I’m not sure what, I shared the notion that I might Photoshop the big reveal at the end of Planet of the Apes and replace the Statue of Liberty with Big Ben.  Nick said, paraphrasing, “DO IT.”  Not the most original joke I’ve ever come up with, but I’m fairly proficient with photo-editing, so I got to work.  About twenty minutes later, I had this:

planet-of-the-brexit

This is actually a slightly cleaned up version of the original image, because I can’t resist fixing mistakes that I let go by in my rush to make the joke first.

I sent the image over to Nick, and before I could tweet it out myself, he tweeted the image along with credit:

Nick sending it out turned out to be the ticket to success for it, because it spread the image far faster and wider than my own followers list would have. Within seconds, the retweets began.  Early on, Cory Doctorow retweeted it. By the time I went to bed just after midnight, the tweet had over a thousand retweets and showed no sign of slowing down as morning came in the UK.

Somewhere along the way, the image began to circulate without attribution.  Warren Ellis (my favorite graphic novel author of all time!) picked it up and retweeted it:

A couple of different people, especially one @Guy_Lawley, pointed out to him that I was the original creator of the image.  Warren Ellis, forever cementing for me his reputation as a stand-up guy, apologized to me (unnecessarily, but much appreciated) and sent out another tweet with attribution:

At this point, I completely lost track of where things were going with the image.  It spread faster than I could keep track of.  I tweeted the image in response to a similar idea from Dara O’Brien (an Irish comedian big in the UK), and it picked up dozens of retweets from that as well. I had no idea so many people read the mentions for a famous person’s tweets.

Pretty soon, other versions began to circulate.  Accusations of copycats were made, but I didn’t buy that personally.  It was an easy reach, and I don’t doubt that dozens of people came to the joke at the same time.  I probably was not the first to make the joke, although maybe the first one to photoshop it.

Word spread on Facebook that I’d created the original and first image, and people began to tag me in posts acknowledging me as the creator on posts by people such as Hugh Howey and many random viral Facebook pages.   The Guardian ran an article with a hand-drawn illustration that had a similar concept, and people called them out on Twitter, tagging me.   For about four days, I could barely keep up with my Twitter mentions and notifications.  I am very glad I had them mostly disabled on my phone.

My rough estimate is that the image was shared and retweeted over 20,000 times, but it is impossible to know for sure because of how easy it was for the image to drop attribution.  I imagine I could have added a watermark, but I didn’t want to mar the image and frankly I didn’t really care if attribution was maintained.  The only reward I wanted was to see people get a laugh in a kind of dark and shitty moment, and in that regard, the joke succeeded better than I ever expected.

The lasting result was that I picked up 40 new Twitter followers and three or four new Facebook friends.  Otherwise, my life is now back to normal. No, as some friends have asked, I did not get rich.  I did not make any money, and if I had somehow, I imagine the people who own the rights to the movie would have deserved 99% of it.

As a postscript to the whole experience, I want to note that things have turned darker in regards to Brexit since I made the image, with many accounts of  public acts of racism circulating on the Net.  I don’t find racist attacks funny, and this image was not making light of such things.

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Recap of A Parenting Conversation

This is a conversation, roughly paraphrased, that we just had in my house.
 
Me: So the Dad’s a rabbit and the Mom is a cat. They have a cat son, a rabbit daughter, and somehow, a goldfish child as well. Apparently when you mix cat/rabbit cartoon DNA, one possible result is a goldfish?  There are so many things I don’t understand about that.
 
Wife: I assumed the fish kid was adopted.
 

Me: *does Google search* Ah. He’s Gumball’s pet Goldfish that grew legs and learned to talk, so they adopted him into the family. So I’ve just spent four days thinking about cartoon genetics for NO REASON?

Wife: Uhhuh. So I was right?

Me: *scrolling* Wow.  They have wikis about EVERYTHING now.

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“Not by Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass” Out Now in February Lightspeed Magazine

ls-feb-16

The scent of fresh lilacs and the boom of a cannon shot muffled by distance prefaced the arrival of the rabbit hole. Louisa jerked upright in her seat, and her book fell from her lap to slap against the cold pavement of the station floor. Dropping a book would normally cause her to cringe, but instead she allowed herself a spark of excitement as a metal maintenance door creaked open on rusty hinges. Golden light spilled out onto dazed commuters. Was this it? Was this finally it?

My latest fantasy short story is available for purchase in this month’s issue of Lightspeed Magazine, along with the work of other great writers such as Rachael K. Jones, Sarah Pinsker, Rachel Swirsky, Karen Tidbeck, and Christopher Barzak.  It will be online to read for free February 9th, also.  I hope you enjoy it!

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Welcome To the New JeremiahTolbert.com

For a while now, I’ve been a cobbler’s child; “the cobbler’s children have no shoes.”  Oh, I had a website, but it was old, out-dated, and didn’t demonstrate any of the cool features that I am able to bring to bear for my own author clients.

Working between paid gigs, I’ve been putting this one together for a while, because my own writing career is very important to me.  It was time to finally give myself the gift of a new website, one that I didn’t have to feel embarrassment for.  I’m pretty proud of it, actually.  This is what I picture when I picture my ideal author website, minus a listing of a whole bunch of published books (but those will come with time).

Drop me a note if you find anything broken or odd.  I’ll likely continue to tinker with it off and on for a while.

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