Solipsism and Celebrities

  • The 80s saw, for example: Call of Cthulhu (81), Paranoia (84), Ars Magica (87), d6 Star Wars (87), Cyberpunk 2013 (88), Shadowrun (89).
  • The 90s brings the World of Darkness, Torg, Amber, Underground, Blue Planet, 7th Sea, Aberrant
  • In the 2000s you get the Forge/Story Games movement (Sorcerer, Dogs in the Vineyard, etc.), D&D 3.0, the OGL, etc.
  • And in the 2010s we have Apocalypse World and Powered by the Apocalypse games, RPG Kickstarters, Tons of anniversary editions of old RPGs (WoD 20th anniversary editions, 7th Sea 2.0, etc.), Pathfinder’s rise, D&D 5e, Critical Role, Roll20, etc.

Where’s the stagnation in there? I see mechanical innovation, troupe play, bridging across to other genre influences, acting techniques, roleplay theory, scene framing, etc.. And that was just a short thread overview of a way more complicated and nuanced tradition.

It’s okay to say “I got bored with RPGs, but since video games have become so much their own thing, I got excited about RPGs again.”

It’s also sensible to say that technological innovation with streaming and podcasts enabled RPGs to become an outward-facing art form and that Podcasts of Acquisitions, Inc. PAX events, and streaming games like Critical Role turned small group experiences into shared experiences. Yeah, for sure. You don’t get The Adventure Zone or Friends at the Table being A Thing without the rise of podcasts.

Roll20, Skype, & other systems let people re-connect with childhood friends to play across a continent or play w/people they’ve never met. *Raises hand* That’s me. Playing a Roll20 D&D game with old SCA friends and their friends.

There was this trend in confessional gamer memoirs in the 2000s where the white male gamer waxes rhapsodic about loving RPGs as a kid, about how it was this secret only he and his friends knew about and appreciated. But then he “discovered” girls, went to college, and/or “grew up” and cast RPGs aside, only to re-discover his love for them later, returning not just with nostalgia, but with renewed appreciation. Harmon’s bit seems like this, but probably across a different life path. It’s okay to have left and come back, but RPGS were always here.

WoD (World of DarknesS) and esp. Mind’s Eye Theater enabled women to claim space in RPGing that had been largely denied. Women & people from other marginalized populations/identities have always played RPGs, but World of Darkness and its LARPs were a major vector by which even more people got into RPGs, continuing to shift the balance away from the straight white male perceived monolith.

Yes, this is a golden age of RPGing, but it’s not because of video games. Video games & Tabletop RPGs have evolved in tandem, borrowing back and forth from one another, but tabletop is not a symbiote thriving only because of video games.

Do better, Dan Harmon. Like it or not, you’re seen as a major name in RPGs now because of HarmonQuest. Do right by the community people see you as representing. You need to roll better on your Save vs. Be That Guy.

P.S. Shout-out to SF writer John Appel for strong contributions to this original twitter thread.

Birthday Reflections

It feels weird to have a birthday and focus on joy with the current political climate, but the concert I went to last night was 100% what I needed. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Pulse events present orchestral music in a fresh, accessible way, and last night they played alongside Lake Street Dive.

I listened to classical pieces (new and old) that I’d never heard and got to lose myself in the richly textured performances. Next was Lake Street Dive themselves, a band of classically-trained performers who have found solid success in popular music, thanks to technical skill, great songwriting, and a lead singer with a truly singular voice. This set was far more rocking than the festival show I saw several years ago as they were starting to break out. It brought me so much joy to see them pack and captivate a 2,000+ person room.

And then, after 100 minutes of amazing music performing each on their own, the BSO and Lake Street Dive combined for a short set of LSD’s songs with 20 performers on stage. Lake Street Dive’s music is already textured and dense, and with 5x as many instruments, the magnified effect was transcendent.

But it wasn’t just the music that made the night. Before the show, there were local food vendors and local performers, like a mini indoor festival.Food, drinks, and then unforgettable music.

But that wasn’t the end.

After, we got to go backstage.

The friend whose +1 I was knows one of the bandmates, and so we got to meet and chat with each of them. I found out that the guitarist and the guest keyboardist are both SF/F fans, so we talked science fiction, the differences between prose and music, writing across media traveling for work.

The whole night was a magnificent, life-affirming event that reminded me of the power of the arts. I’ve spent so much time these last few months on the day-to-day short-term resistance – calling, sharing info, etc. All important stuff. But to keep from burning out, I need to resist through art as well as the day-to-day. To celebrate & remember what we’re fighting for.

So the birthday gift I need to give myself is permission to rotate off the front lines and make art. I’ll still make my calls, but the last few months have been utterly exhausting, reacting to every new indignity and making dozens of calls per week to rouse my reps to action. I’ve been recovering from surgery, which has kept me from the protests, but I’ve been no less active for it.

It would be easy to focus entirely on art, but I want to fight the short-term and on the cultural level. As with many things, balance. So that’s my goal for this year. To find and maintain a balance. To live fully without burning out or hiding behind my privilege.

Kameron Hurley, a brilliant fiction writer and one of the sharpest, clearest voices in SF/F, has talked about her strategy for getting through the Trump era – she talks about how she imagines herself 30~ years from now, looking back on who she was and what she did to get through all of this. And then she tries to figure out what it will take to get through to that future.

What we do right now will be remembered. Not just personally, but by our families, our friends, our neighbors, and by the world. Most of us would prefer to live in peaceful times, to never know a massive upheaval. But that is not the world we live in.

So this year, I will fight, I will live, I will laugh, I will love. I will make art and phone calls, I will go to conventions and to rallies. I will geek out with my friends about comics and share information about executive orders or legislation.

This push for balance is not some revolutionary new idea – activists and civil rights advocates have had to find this balance throughout history. I’m just a bit late to the game, like many of us are. But we’re in this together, and there are people who have been fighting the good fights for many years, people we can support and learn from.

So if you need permission to take a break, like I did, this is me giving you permission. As the resistance shifts from the rage of the inauguration and the flurry of horrendous initial actions to the sustained opposition and campaigning for run-offs/special elections this year and the big races in 2018, we’ll all need to take care of ourselves and one another to make it through this.

Because we can do this. The DJT White House and the GOP have abandoned their duty to the American people, but we’re still here, we have the numbers and the tools to protect the vulnerable, and if we can survive to 2018 with elections about as fair as we had in 2016 (noting that the 2016 elections had major problems in voter suppression, gerrymandering, and voter intimidation), the resistance can win, and can hold DJT accountable where the GOP won’t.

Off to NerdCon!

NerdCon: Stories

As this post goes, live, I am on my way to Minneapolis, MN for NerdCon: Stories, a two-day celebration of the power of storytelling (October 14-15th). I’m honored to be a Featured Guest for the con. I’ll be on a gaming panel, reprising my How To Hand-Sell Your Book presentation, and reading during a showcase event. You can check out my full programming schedule for the con here.

I’ll also be running a booth at the con all weekend with my friend Jay Swanson. If you’re coming to the con, please swing by (#817) and say hello! I will have a limited # of the paperback omnibus editions of Genrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection, as well as other books.

Here’s a quick guide to where you can find Jay and my booth during the con:

 

NerdCon booth directions

 

As a special bonus, the Ree Reyes novels (speaking of Nerds + stories) are still on discount through this weekend!

Amazon * B&N Nook * Kobo * iTunes

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NerdCon: Stories Schedule

NerdCon: Stories

 

Hello, all!

I’m very excited to be a Featured Guest at NerdCon: Stories in Minneapolis, MN this October 14-15th. NerdCon: Stories is a new convention (in its 2nd year) celebrating stories and the power of storytelling. I couldn’t imagine a convention more up my alley if I started it myself. I heard great things about the con from several friends, and was eager to be a part of NerdCon: Stories this year.

The schedule for the con is up for all to peruse.

And here’s where you can find me during the show:

 

Saturday, October 15th:

11:00 AM – Room 101A – How To Hand-Sell Your Book

Author and publishing professional Mike Underwood shares lessons from seven years of hand-selling books to readers, booksellers, and sales reps.  Learn how to put your work into a market context, showcase what makes it special, and connect with readers when selling at conventions, festivals, and more.

12:30 PM – Room 101 BCHI – Storytelling in Tabletop Games

Role-playing and other tabletop games are a fantastic catalyst for collaborative storytelling. Creating narrative frameworks and game rules that allow players to have enough control over both story and interaction can be a tricky business. How do game designers do this, and what makes a game truly great?

3:30 PM – Saturday Afternoon Variety Show

Hosted by Paul & Storm

Featuring:

  • A rapid-fire Q&A with Chris Rathjen, Eileen Cook, Joe DeGeorge, Jonathan Ying, Karen Hallion, Kevin MacLeod, Nalo Hopkinson, and Paolo Bacigalupi
  • A talk by Sara Benincasa
  • Daniel José Older and Nalo Hopkinson in conversation
  • Ms. Pacman vs the Patriarchy – a talk by Paul DeGeorge
  • A reading by Michael R. Underwood
  • A lip sync battle with Blue Delliquanti, John Scalzi, Paul Sabourin, Matt Young, Mikki Kendall, and Darin Ross
  • A talk by John Green

 

I’m very excited to reprise and further refine my How To Hand-Sell Your Book presentation, which I’ve given at the Nebula Conference and GenCon.  The other programming looks fabulous, as well. Other than this official programming, you can find me in the Expo Hall all weekend! I’m sharing a booth with fellow author Jay Swanson (check out his cool real-time fantasy blog Into The Nanten). And if all goes as planned, I will have paperback copies of the Genrenauts Season One Omnibus!

You can register for NerdCon: Stories here.

Hope to see you there!

My Hamilton Reaction Post

Or: We Got to be in the Room Where it Happened

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So yeah, that happened.

Meg and I visited NYC over the weekend to celebrate my birthday and to take a short vacation. We visited old haunts, explored the vast halls of the Met, and played the Hamilton lottery, just in case.

We lost on Friday, twice on Saturday, but then on Sunday, emerging from the subway as we made our way to Caracas for lunch, Meg looked at her phone and said, in a surprisingly calm voice, “I won.”

I managed to not scream and shout with joy in the corner market where we stopped to buy tickets. There was dancing, however. And it’s really good we decided to hit lunch when we did, since we had a mere 11 minutes to spare when Meg got the lottery notification.

The first thing I noticed walking into the theater itself is that the Richard Rogers is not a large theater. It holds 1,319, but it looks much smaller.

The stage set up is modular and mobile, with rotating floor sections and moving stage fixtures and a balcony in the background:

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Since we had lottery tickets, we were in the front row, on the right hand side of the center section. This meant that we were looking up at the performance the whole time, which helped create a sense of epic wonder – that these performers were larger than life, as was their story.

Because it was a Sunday matinee, the title role was played by Javier Muñoz, rather than Lin-Manuel Miranda. Since I’ve listened to the show’s OST many times, having that major difference helped make the live show a wholly distinct experience. Muñoz’s performance is a bit more Broadway than Manuel-Miranda’s, stronger in the singing and a bit less fluent in the rapping.

Leslie Odom, Jr. is AMAZING as Aaron Burr. I’d already been really impressed by his work as Burr in the few videos I’ve seen and in the OST, but seeing him in person, the passion and polish in his performance totally blew me away. Daveed Diggs as Lafayette/Jefferson is even more hilarious than I’d imagined – Diggs fills moments and elevates scenes with his reactions and fantastic physical comedy. Also worth calling out for delight is Jonathan Groff’s King George, who uses a full range of comedic tools to make his numbers and scenes laugh-out-loud funny, including participating in “The Reynolds Pamphlet,” which I hadn’t realized was part of the show – he dances around the stage celebrating Hamilton’s self-destructive move, along with Jefferson and company.

And if there is any justice, Phillipa Soo will have a long and celebrated career in Broadway, because DAMN she is brilliant. The Schuyler Sisters (Phillipa Soo, Jasmine Cephas-Jones, and Renee Elise Goldsberry) have great rapport, and their number is incredibly fun.

Even having heard the soundtrack several times, the performances moved me to tears twice in act one, and three times in act two.

Other notes from seeing the full performance:

  • Muñoz and Odom Jr. do a great job of portraying the complicated friendship/rivalry/enmity between Hamilton and Burr. Muñoz’s Hamilton shows naked ambition and arrogance in key moments, showing how he alienates the people around him, including those in his closest confidence (Washington, Burr, and his own wife Eliza).
  • There’s much more b-boy and pop & lock in the ensemble’s dance pieces than I thought – it was really cool to see.
  • Jon Rua (an ensemble player and Hamilton understudy, who usually plays Charles Lee) has the most boss undercut I’ve seen. Like, seriously, Undercut Goals. He could be the rival-friend in a martial arts anime.
  • I got a T-Shirt. It’s the “Just Like My Country – Young, Scrappy, and Hungry” and it will be my new Writing Power-Up shirt.
  • If you buy drinks, they come in Hamilton cups. They’re cool, but they’e plastic. I would happily buy Hamilton pint glasses. Can you say strategic partnership with the Sam Adams Brewing Company?
  • OMG HAMILTON!

Of course, now I want to see the show again with Lin-Manuel Miranda, but I may be waiting quite a while. Even having seen the show, I still really want the original cast to do at least one weekend live-cast to movie theaters the way some operas have done. They could charge $25 a seat and make tens of millions in one weekend. The show has legit, Tumblr-level fandom, and a huge % of those fans cannot afford tickets and/or the cost to come to NYC to play the lottery, but are no less devoted. I’ll be interested to see how Miranda and the team continues to deal with the show’s phenomenon status.

Now, back to my regularly scheduled program of singing Hamilton songs to myself as I work.


 

Mike’s latest book is The Absconded Ambassador – Genrenauts Episode 2. Weird aliens, diplomatic wrangling, space dogfights, genre ruminations, and more:

The Absconded Ambassador

 

The Genrenauts Challenge: Round One!

Dear all,

We’re just two weeks away from the release of The Absconded Ambassador: Genrenauts Episode 2!

The Absconded Ambassador

 

And to help build excitement for the series, I’m kicking off a set of competitions.

Before Genrenauts launched, I recorded a series of videos with the fine folks at Tor.com about the series, including some videos inviting the viewer to step into the role of Genrenauts and create endings for broken stories.

 

First, watch the video:

Then go to the YouTube page for the video and post your proposed story fix. This doesn’t have to be fully written out, it can be a summary of how you would manipulate the existing story to create a new, satisfying ending.

Comment with your story patch by Monday, February 22nd, and you could win a set of signed and personalized Genrenauts paperbacks as well as a letter of welcome to the Genrenauts team, signed by team leader Angstrom King himself.

If you have any questions about the contest, comment below. DO NOT post your story patches here. They need to go on the YouTube page for the Sci-Fi challenge.

There will be other challenges later on, if this scenario doesn’t catch your interest. Stay tuned!

The Shootout Solution Promonado Round-up: Week 2

The Shootout Solution is here, and the glorious Promonado, distributing promotion and love and geekdom all across the internet, has reached Category V. You can catch up on last week’s Promonado if you haven’t done so.

First, I celebrated the release itself.

The Shootout Solution Final

 

Serial Box had me over to their blog for an interview.

I sent my mailing list subscribers the password to my development diaries for The Shootout Solution.

Books

Barnes & Noble’s SF/F Blog gave me space to talk about genre-aware stories.

B&N also included the book in its weekly round-up of SF/F releases, repeating the kind review from a couple of months back.

Book Riot Podcast All The Books! Included The Shootout Solution in its longlist of releases. I’m a big Book Riot fan, so this was a treat.

At Tor.com, I talk about Leah as a Stand-up hero, and the three tries it took to get her stand-up routine right.

I gave away some copies on my friend and Speculate Co-host Gregory A. Wilson’s Twitch channel.

I geeked out with the fine folks of the Grim Tidings Podcast.

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Stephen Geigen-Miller interviewed me for his Breaking In series.

Library Freaking Journal reviewed The Shootout Solution, prompting joyful flail.

Author Jay Swanson and I talked about genre for writing and marketing on his Creative Mines video podcast.

I rambled about work/writing balance and more with Mahvesh Murad on Midnight in Karachi.

Mary Robinette Kowal gave me space to talk about My Favorite Bit from The Shootout Solution.

And the Audiobook edition came out today – performed by one of the best audiobook performers of our time, Mary Robinette Kowal.

If you haven’t seen them, Tor.com has been posting fun Genrenauts adventure prompts on their YouTube page:

So, that’s the state of the Promonado! Remember, if you buy The Shootout Solution – Genrenauts Episode 1 before November 23rd, you can enter to win a signed galley of Episode 2 – The Absconded Ambassador.

Genrenauts Combined

World Fantasy Kick-off Event

I’m headed up to Saratoga Springs next week for the World Fantasy Convention, and if you’ll be there on Wednesday, I’d love to invite you to come to Northshire Books, where Tor Books/Tor.com Publishing is hosting an event. I’ll be there (possibly even with copies of The Shootout Solution!), along with many other fabulous authors.

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Click here for more details!

#TinyComicsReviews

Over lunch, I tweeted out a handful of short comics reviews from recent books I’ve read. Here’s a Storify of those reviews, and some links below to help find the books:

 

Go forth and read!
What comics are you all enjoying lately! Share some sequential winning in the comments.