In cleaning up the home office, I came across a file of old character sheets. These were the character's I've run in various campaigns, some of them going back decades but most in the past ten years. Some were one-shots, others had long lifespans, running until we decided to close that campaign. And so, let us bow our heads for these characters who will probably never return again:
Emjar Dwin - Eladrin Warlord/Spiral Tactician/Demigod (4e)
Whappamanga - Wookiee Fringer (Star Wars d20)
Edie "Fast Edie" Romanova - Charismatic/Fast Hero/Telepath (D20 Modern)
Morris "Moondog" Greenberg - Tough hero (D20 Modern)
Hahn-Keh-Tahnk - Asari Kebenti (Rogue)/Priest (Horus) (3E)
Gomez "Go-go"" Gnozaria - Gnome Artificer (Eberron)
Rellique - Warforged Paladin/Exorcist/Fighter (Eberron)
Mog of Magni - Cleric (Magni) (3E)
Wicker of the Pierone People - Mindbreaker/Plant (Gamma World)
Sir Blaine of the Islse, Angelsea (Pendragon) Shield a white Bend Sinister on red with Narwhale Rampant)
Al-Malik - Dragonborne Sorceror (4e)
Raham - Deva avenger (4e)
Thruggoth - Minotaur Ranger (4e)
Breedeep - Bullywug Monk (4e)
Roland "Rollie" Hempsmith - Dilettante (CoC Gaslight)
Elmer Sanderson - Groundskeeper (CoC Gaslight)
Kelden - Human Duskblade (3E)
Oliver Weston - Essayist (CoC 20's)
Jimmy Milhouse - Oil Geologist/Team Leader (CoC 20's)
Chauncy Griggs - Professor of Anthropology (CoC 20's)
Jacob Wecht - Private Investigator (CoC 20's)
Archibald "Archie" Grigsby - Cavalry Colonel (ret.) (CoC 20's, Orient Express))
Matthew "Mutt" Nolan - Professional Driver (CoC 20's Coming Full Circle)
Charlie Ho - Sailor (CoC 20's)
Aḯ - Dwarf (D&D Cyclopedia)
Nathan Chames - Writer/Naturalist (CoC 20's)
Margaret Jones - Activist/Retired Accountant (CoC Modern)
Réja hai Várrga - Njáshte of Ksarul (EPT)
Avarok - Fighter Servant of Réja (EPT)
Guy la Frénaie - Noble (d20 Cthulhu set in Averoigne)
Hugo Maison -Doctor (Trail of Cthulhu).
I'll talk about the illo to my right, but first some other more important things first.
While Scourge has had a great deal of promotion (particularly on these pages), an upcoming release by a fellow Alliterate and former TSR/WotC coworker has been coming in under the radar. Bruce Cordell's Spinner of Lies is a sequel to his Sword of the Gods, wrapped up with the Realms, the planes, and the drow. It is worth taking a look at.
On the subject of old TSR expats, I saw a note that Karen Boomgarden is in the midst of dire financial troubles. Karen was (among many major things in gaming history), the editor of the original greybox Forgotten Realms set, was the product manager of the line for a good long while, and as such has been responsible for curbing the worst of the literary excesses of Ed and myself. She's a lovely woman, a great editor and has proved time and again that she can keep up with Ed step for step. She's currently fighting off losing her house. Fundraising is going on until 9 tonight CDT - more information here.
And finally, the art piece attached here (see, I told you I'd get to it) is by Joe Corroney and is one of three pieces that go with "Hunting the Gorach", a short story starring Parella the Hutt that I wrote for Star Wars Insider #135. The other pieces of art from that story, along with a whole bunch of Joe's work, can be found here,
Clybourne Park, by Bruce Norris, Directed by Braden Abraham, Seattle Rep, through May 13.
The conceit of Clybourne Park is that it takes place backstage from the Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. In the Hansberry play, the African-American Younger family makes the decision to move from Chicago's slums into an all-white community. Clybourne Park tells the flipside, the story of the house and neighborhood they move into.
The play is broken down in two smaller plays, sharing the same cast. The first act takes place simultaneously with Raisin, set in the house that the Younger family is planning to move into, and works off the question of why such a house would be available at an affordable price in the first place. The second act takes place in the same house, fifty years later, where a white couple is moving into the neighborhood with intentions of making the property a tear-down.
And race hangs over the proceedings, showing how far and how little we have come in 50 years, moving from the hard racism of the 50s to a softer, more casual but equally toxic modern form. The two halves echo and rhyme against each other, as each builds to the same punchline (the hidden history of the house itself).
However, the characters that carry that plot are shallow and the dialogue tedious. Both halves feel like sitcoms of their respective ages trying to grapple with issues they are not equipped to deal with (racism, yes, but also sexism and suicide). The 50s incarnation is wincible in its repression, while the the post-millennial act is more risible, but too carries that uneasy laughter of discomfort.
I've hit this before plays like God of Carnage or some of the Albee plays - so much would be solved if someone just left the room, but the conventions of the play keep the characters contained in a pressure cooker until the inevitable explosion. Therefore every line either moves you towards that explosion, or denies it temporarily. The plot as a computer program would look as follows:
10 Someone says X
20 If X=stupid, insulting, or racist thing to say, then 40
30 Go to 10
40 Anger +1
50 Go to 10
Foreshadowing in this case consists of someone starting to say something, then getting interrupted, so it sits there like the gun on the mantlepiece to come back at the worst possible time. The bulk of the play itself is the banal talk of daily life, which frustrates but does not illuminate us as to the nature of the characters.
Now, I am bashing on the characters, but the actors are excellent. One of the great gems of a Rep operation is getting to see familiar actors in new roles. Susan Bouchard is excellent as the 50s housewife trying to maintain, then downshifting into the real estate lawyer in the modern age. Peter Crook is the 50s husband pulling in on himself and the worker finding the house's secret in the backyard. Darragh Kennan takes on Karl Linder, the only character from Raisin to show up, and his struggling modern equivalent. All of them are good, but their lines just fail to measure up.
What I am increasingly coming away from in this is the feeling that "Pulitzer Prize Winning Play" is a warning flag for me - I have often come away from such plays confused, frustrated or angry. I Am My Own Wife, Top Dog/Underdog, and Three Tall Women were all winners of the award and all problematic for me. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed Doubt, Angels in America, and Glengary Glen Ross, which also took the prize, so your mileage may very.
For Clybourne Park, I think the best way is to judge it as an item apart as opposed to a gloss on Raisin. As that, it frustrates and, like most of the discussions in the play, is frequently interrupted and fails to come to a point.
I tell stories by trade. These stories take a variety of forms. Sometimes I look at a story concept and think that it will work in a short form, or a long form, or as a comic or as game. It is part of the process, and allows me a wide variety of options, much like a visual artist having a wide variety of media available.
Actually, that paragraph is totally wrong. In most of what I do, people come to me and say, can you give me a story on this particular subject of these particular dimensions? Often the limits as to length and general subject matter are exact, in others they are relatively lax. But in the end, they are looking for a comic book story (twenty-some pages, illustrated), or a short story (5-6k words for me) or a novel (anywhere from 70k to heavy 120k words). In addition, there may be content limitations as far as license and audience. In this way I am closer to a illustrator asked to customize my creative impulses down a particular channel than the archetypical artist facing a blank canvas.
As a result of this, I'm thinking about ebooks, and what happens when you say, "I'm going to write an ebook". What is different in that statement that is different than "I'm going to write a book"? What are the limitations of form and word count that come out of reading a bunch of pixels on a screen as opposed to dark chemicals on mashed and dried vegetative matter?
Previously, I've always thought of electronic publishing as another format, like a foreign translation. The words are all there, as are the ideas, and sending it to the Kindle or Nook is the same as, in computer game terms, a direct port. As much of the original is there, within the limitations of the new media, but precious little is added. The limitations of the new form are particularly noticeable when you see things in print that do not transfer over to the new media. I once picked up a copy of Richard Dawkin's Greatest Show on Earth for the Kindle, and discovered that not only the color plates were a hash in a B/W can, the interior diagrams, suitable for print, were unreadable in the electronic format.
So, OK, some graphic elements change are right out. What changes itself in the text. I mean, a book is a book, right?
Well, how about chapter length? In most books, I want to have a maximum of 30 chapters, which works out to about 3000 words per chapter (actually, I tend to range between 3-4k, so we're looking at fewer chapters). There is often an intro and/or a denouement that occupy a thousand words. If I get over the 4k limit on a chapter, I look to see if there are section breaks in that chapter.When I am reading, I flip ahead a few pages to see where that break is, particularly if it is late at night. I'd rather stop at a break than in the middle of a scene.
But with my primitive first-gen Kindle, I don't know where that break is. And scrolling ahead means I either have to bookmark or count the clicks as I move forward or just search to find where I've stopped reading in order to regain my chain of thought. So should chapters, an artifact of physical media, be a necessary part of electronic media? Should we see a steady stream of text, or more section breaks? How does that affect the rhythm of the story?
As another example, with dead-tree media, I know roughly where I am in a book by the weight in my right hand as opposed to the left. My Kindle has a progress bar along the bottom, but that doesn't always work, in particular for books with extensive footnotes and/or backmatter (like the Dawkins book I mentioned), and I run out of book before I anticipate it.
And anticipation is part of reading a print book. I know I'm coming to the end of the book as clearly as I know I am getting to the end of a play or a movie, for no other reason that I start regretting that big gulp diet soda I drank before sitting down. Here comes the resolution!
Those are two real differences, and I am wondering if there are others. And yes, this is what I think about late at night.
Here is the New York Times bestseller list for this coming Sunday. Star Wars: Scourge is listed among the "Also Selling" category at #33. That's darn good.
Now, that does not make Scourge a New York Times Bestseller (you should be in the top twenty before you start adding that to your byline), but it is a big deal for me, and I am very, very pleased by this turn of events. This represents the initial "push" of the book, and indicates that a lot of copies reached fans who were looking forward to it, and as such is not just a nice thing for the writer (which it is) but a commendation for both the marketing and, ultimately, a testament to the devotion of Star Wars fans who enjoy the novels. Thank you all.
... Be with you, always (what, I'm going to pass this opportunity up?).
So, more Scourge news. Last time out I posted a Hutt piece from my talented co-content team member Kim Kirch. This time we have a scene from the novel by Jeff Carlisle, which will appear in Pablo Hidalgo's Star Wars: The Essential Reader's Companion, which comes out in October.
I had no idea that this piece existed until it showed up on the Star Wars Books Facebook page. Color me surprised (and kinda giddy).
In addition, Star Wars Insider has released Issue 133, which includes my short story, "Hunting the Gorach", which stars my favorite big game hunters, Parella the Hutt, in a prequel story to Scourge.