Author Archives: Matt Jones

About Matt Jones

Software Engineer for a living. Fantasy writer for myself. I'm a writer, veteran, gamer, hacker, maker, astronomer, thinker, and altogether indescribable.

World Fantasy Convention 2013

World Fantasy LogoEarly this month the World Fantasy Convention finished their 39th convention.  The convention was filled with hundreds of published authors, nearly a hundred artists, dozens of editors, and many fans and hopeful writers looking for their big break.  While this is true for pretty much every convention, the World Fantasy Convention has one aspect that I find unique and enjoyable, the number of attending memberships are limited to 850 and typically sell out early.  If you can plan ahead and get a membership, you become a member to a convention that has amazing authors and well known publishers, but retains the small personal feeling you get at the smaller cons.

This year we were treated to Neil Gaiman acting as toastmaster and were specially treated to a guest appearance by Sir Terry Pratchett.  We had about 60 publishers in attendance from all over the world willing to answer questions and talk shop.  It wasn’t uncommon to see Neil walking around the bar or encouraging spontaneous musical guests to perform for us.  Authors were friendly and the talk and great camaraderie was felt throughout.

With all that said, I’m sure it’s not hard to figure out why such events are great for networking.  The limited numbers means you have a greater chance to talk with the people that matter and get actual feedback and opportunities to pitch your work.  This is definitely why I first started coming, but I found another element to this convention that I didn’t realize until after my third year of attending.  There really is a community that is formed within these smaller conventions.

I started going to the World Fantasy Convention in 2009 when it came to San Jose, California.  I’ve heard of the convention before, of course, and would follow the World Fantasy Awards to see what was popular and find new books to read.  As a writer looking to get published, it seemed like a good environment to put myself into.  I would walk around and introduce myself.  I would meet many different people, with many different reasons to attend.  All were friendly, and they all treated me as a fellow author, despite being unpublished.

I knew after the first one that I wanted to attend the next, and signed up right away.  Each year I would meet new people, and each year I became closer friends with the other members who attend yearly.  I began to form my own community of writers from all over the world.  Writers who care about my works, as I care about theirs.  We encourage each other and each year I come home with renewed vigor ready to get to work and finish my next manuscript.

I don’t do it so I can join their ranks.  I’m already a member of their community, and they never make me feel like less of a person for not being published.  I do it because they are the people I want to be like, and just by being around them I’m encouraged to work harder for my own dreams.  The convention just has the added benefit of including many of the publishers and editors that I want to see my work.  The network is there to help, and the opportunities are available to those who seek them out.

The World Fantasy 2014 will be held in Washington, D.C. on November 6-9, 2014.  If you don’t currently go to any conventions, it’s not a bad one to start.  They welcome newcomers with open arms and the community is open to everyone of all skill levels.  There are other communities around as well, and they all have their benefits.  This is just the one I’ve found and I enjoy.  Keep writing, and get your novel out there!

Worldbuilding with Games

AriaA guest post by Martin Greening

Most of the articles this month on The Fictorian Era have focused on inspirational video games. I have to admit, as an IT guy, I’m pretty low tech and really don’t play too many of those other than an occasional jump into Star Wars The Old Republic or Rift. What I do play a lot of are table top roleplaying games, like good old fashioned Dungeons and Dragons. My shelves sag heavily under the weight of my growing roleplaying game collection, with titles like Burning Wheel, Blue Planet, Dungeon World, Traveler, and Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth.

That’s the game I want to talk briefly about today, Aria.

One of the biggest tasks for anyone who wants to write fantasy is worldbuilding (creating the world in which your characters live). It can be a daunting task; creating the people and cultures, political systems, economy, environment, flora and fauna. Where do you start? How do you keep it sensible so the reader doesn’t say “whatever” and stop reading your story? And readers are smart. They will find the inconsistencies in your world.

That’s where Aria comes in. The game was published in 1994 by Last Unicorn Games (sadly they are no longer in business). Only two books were released, the main rulebook and Aria Worlds. Aria is more of what you might call a metagame, a game about creating a game, or in our case, a game about creating a world. It can be a great tool to guide an author in creating a consistent and logical setting for their stories. How does it do this? Typically, most table top roleplaying games assign numerical values to a character so their abilities are easier to determine in comparison to another character’s. Aria does this same thing, but not only with characters, Aria does it with any entity: nations, cultures, etc. This is especially true for the Aria Worlds book, which outlines a method of creating a logical and consistent society.

The book begins by asking about the foundations of that society. What is their primary orientation? Conquest? Survival? How much interaction does that society have with neighboring societies? From there the book guides you towards the societies technology level and their tendencies to innovate and assimilate. These aspects of a society are used to determine what is their likely subsistence pattern, which in turn directly relates to the society’s mobility. For example, a society that has developed metalworking is more likely to be a sedentary agricultural society. The chapters in Aria Worlds then move into politics and kinship, economy, military, religion, arts, scholastics, magic, and end with the development of the society’s hierarchy of social estates. Each of these aspects can be rated on a scale of 1 to 10 for easy comparison with other societies.

The main Aria rulebook also covers the hierarchy of social estates and a very general look at the other topics in Aria Worlds, but it also has chapters on the nature of magic and what they call heritage. The chapter on magic provides interesting guidance on creating the magic system for a world, including its origins and nature, along with the repercussions of those who utilize magic. Heritage is a term used to incorporate both species and culture since they are often intertwined. The heritage chapter outlines some of the aspects of culture that are covered in Aria Worlds, but also discusses species creation, which can be very useful when creating the non-humans that populate your world.

And for more inspiration there’s the artwork in both books. The covers by Michael Kuleta are stunning and the interior design and art will tickle anyone’s muse.

Being out of print, it may be difficult to find either of the Aria books, but the hard search is definitely worth it as inspiration in building your own story worlds.

Guest Writer Bio: Martin Greening Martin Greening hails from Southern California and has been drawn to fantasy and science fiction from a young age. He is currently working on a fantasy adventure novel and several short stories. Martin lives in Sin City working as a IT guru by day and a dreamer of the fantastic at night. He can be found at his webpage.

The Story in the Game

Gaming Dice When I was a child, I considered myself lucky enough to own an original 8bit Nintendo Entertainment System. Even back then, I gravitated toward the role playing games, and deeply enjoyed the Zelda, Dragon Warrior, and Final Fantasy series. Even those games, in their primitive brilliance, were able to tell great stories.

As more advanced systems arrived, the ability to tell an amazing story improved. I was able to curse the evil brilliance of the Zelda Water Level. I was lost in the harmonic masterpiece of the Final Fantasy 6 Opera Scene. I cried as Aerith died in Final Fantasy 7. I lived many different adventures, and died many glorious deaths. My name is still immortalized in an old online MUD (text-based multiplayer game) as a warrior who helped destroy an old god and bring about a new birth to the world. All these things showed me what worked and what failed when it came to telling a fulfilling and interesting story.

That being said, being able to write a novel and working to bend the fates that are a dice roll away from destroying you may seem like completely different mediums, but they both require a lot of imagination, creativity, and a little bit of luck to succeed. And, in my case, my adventures in a game has inspired more than a few stories. There are even quite a few novels out there that the authors claim came completely from a game played with their friends.

I’ve asked my fellow Fictorians how a good game has influenced their writing. We’ll jump from Halo to Barbie Queen to paper and dice role playing systems. Some will be a story similar to my own, others may be a cautionary tale. Sit back and enjoy the Fictorians talk about Gaming.

Mononoke-Hime (Princess Mononoke)

Princess Mononoke Cover“Narrator: In ancient times, the land lay covered in forests, where, from ages long past, dwelt the spirits of the gods. Back then, man and beast lived in harmony, but as time went by, most of the great forests were destroyed. Those that remained were guarded by gigantic beasts who owed their allegiances to the Great Forest Spirit. For those were the days of gods and of demons…”

Hayao Miyazaki wrote of medieval Japan at the dawn of the Iron Age. He beautifully told a tale of the gods that owned the forests, and the men who sought their riches. While the story seems simple, he went well beyond good and evil, and talked about the hearts of men, and the ambitions and consequences of our choices. And he does this in one of the most visually stunning and beautiful films I have ever seen.

Mononoke Hime, which translates literally to Princess of spirits, is the tale of a young prince whom is cursed while protecting his home. Doomed to die, he seeks out the old gods of the forests to lift the curse and attempt to understand what is happening to the old gods. His travels leads him into a land ravaged by war as different factions are attempting to take the riches found in the forests. The gods of the forest seek to retain their home, while the humans seek to either encroach further upon these lands or to take the land already claimed by others.

The film is violent and brutal, showing characters getting their arms shot off and heads decapitated, but it does it to show how brutal war is. Miyazaki delves into deeply philosophical topics in many of his films, and Mononoke Hime is a look at the war between humans and nature. It looks at the fantastical angle of the gods of the forests and how they would protect, and fight for their home. In war, blood and death is inevitable. However, even in the midst of carnage, beauty can be seen and love can be found. Miyazaki said it best in the project proposal: “There cannot be a happy ending to the fight between the raging gods and humans. However, even in the middle of hatred and killings, there are things worth living for. A wonderful meeting, or a beautiful thing can exist. We depict hatred, but it is to depict that there are more important things. We depict a curse, to depict the joy of liberation.”

While I can’t, and never will be able to create such a beautiful world that Miyazaki does, I do consider it a great study for an author. The conflict is created early and is maintained throughout the film. Each character has their own personality with their own motivations. The world, despite the fantastical elements, feels real and alive. And at the end, when death is all around and you see the characters that have grown and gained something new and wonderful are about to sacrifice everything for their ideals, beauty and new life come forth.

The film ends leaving the viewer satisfied. Promises made have been resolved while still maintaining a realism that defies the usual moral boundaries you usually receive in animated works. The humans won the war, despite taking on the gods themselves. The princess talks of how the forests might return, but they will not belong to the gods. Even the new love has trouble bridging the two worlds leaving a gap between them that may never fully be breached. It’s not a fairy tale, but it is a tale of magic, beauty, and wonder. It is a tale we should all strive to tell.