9
Mar

Numenera – First observations

   Posted by: Michael Diamond   in Numenera, World Building, Writing

I don’t talk a lot about my gaming nights here, but I feel this setting deserved a highlight –

Last night I kicked off the first session of my new game – Numenera . It will take place every other Saturday until the group collectively decides it wants to go in a different direction. Numenera is a game I’ve been looking forward to ever since the Kickstarter campaign, and with our 5th edition Shadowrun game at a stopping point, we set out on our new adventure.

I opted for buying the pdf’s for the game, which I waited to buy when Monte Cook Games opened their new store and placed them on a dramatic one day sale. This will be the preamble for me purchasing the hardcover, as I love having a physical book at the table. Even without the hardcovers in hand, I can tell the amount of hard work placed into the product. Not just art – which is stunning – but typeface, editorial, and placement. Its one of the best role-playing products I have ever read, hands down.

When the group made it down to the gaming den, I started with a presentation of what I believed Numenera was. I wanted to paint, with broad brush strokes, the idea of what the setting is. Highlighting the population of the Ninth World was my first task. It was important for me that the players understand the mindset of the people they would be playing. We have a deep sense of recorded history, where people in the Ninth World really don’t know where it all came from, except that they understand they were not the first civilization present. From the Monoliths to The Iron Wind, the people always living with something fantastically terrifying around the next bend. This is great for the players because it means they have the agency to create what they choose – beyond character creation methods – and form their own unique story, but that isn’t the best part either.

The best part for me as the GM is – the amount of whitespace on the canvas. Numenera is like a massive pool of water, with small ripples left over from the creators fingertips. This leaves the storyteller in the most advantageous position possible for creative license. I can write anything, create anything, and so long as I can fit it in the pool of water, it probably fits the setting.

The players I have are all veteran gamers, so as we talked about character creation, they had understandable questions about equipment, money, and ciphers. We first focused on what character types we were going to have. Instead of having the usual discussion about who was going to play what class or style, I reminded them they could play anything they wanted to – no matter the type. I wanted them to be free of any cliche party requirements, which I hope will free them up to experience more of the story I have planned.

Character creation went faster than I first thought, highlighted by some imaginative potential stories (mixing characters with “Who Murders” and “Who Barks at the Moon”) until the group settled into picking out what they wanted. My job quieted down for a few moments, giving me an opportunity to observe the process, and barring a couple of questions about equipment it went without a hitch.

It picked back up when we came to completing the characters, by rolling up ciphers. Even with the Cipher Collection I picked up during last week’s sale at Drivethru – I chose to stay with the core table, rolling each characters stating loot. Other than games where characters started higher than first level, and gain a substantial amount of the starting wealth, I’ve never made a habit of giving out items like these at the start of games. Looking back on it, I think I had as much if not more fun that the players did, with each Cipher adding to the potential future story hook or GM Intrusion.

Speaking of – if you are interested in Numenera – the GM Intrusions podcast by lex Starwalker gave me something to listen to while I worked. It is worth your time (and monetary donation to his Patreon )

The Ninth World is another amazing resource for players and GM’s alike, stop by there and join in a great community of players, GM, and fans in general.

Without question this is a unique system and setting. This isn’t science fiction or fantasy, its both and possibly neither. No matter what it ends up being (Science-fantasy?) its going to be a great addition to our gaming nights.

2
Mar

Blog: Progress Report

   Posted by: Michael Diamond   in Writing

Sorry for the radio silence readers, I’ve spent the past few months in production of the follow up piece to Origins. I toyed with the idea of posting a blog about the progress so far, but each time found myself fighting with the idea of writing other things, I saw it as wasting time for writing the current work.

The truth is, I have the time for a blog post, and shouldn’t have let it fall to the wayside. On the up side, I’ve put a large chunk of the next book behind me. I’m in the great creative place right now, and I want to make the most of it. My perspective and environment is right for this work, even as insane as it might read.

In the follow up you’ll read about the Mythos Division itself, how it came about, and who its founders were. Time has passed since we left Julius standing on the docks with Dr. Pierce, and much has changed. The Division has several members from many nations, and each have their own special area of expertise.

The aim is to give you a glimpse of the world through the eyes of an investigator. The framework of history hasn’t changed from what we know, so these events simply run alongside what has happened. I’ve loved this type of storytelling since I watched Back to the Future as a kid. The idea that something so amazing could happen alongside accepted history, and since it happened in the shadows, no one knew of it.

Good luck to all my fellow creators out there. Keep working and keep writing.

3
Dec

Where to buddy?

   Posted by: Michael Diamond   in The Black Idol, Writing

So where to from here?

In the days following the final edits on Origins, I sat down with myself and asked a few critical questions. I wanted to ascertain how I felt about writing it, and then if it was something that I wanted to keep doing.

I felt like many other writers do about their own novels. At first I felt like I could have done a much better job, and then after further reflection I remembered – analysis can equal paralysis – if you allow it. The truth is I could have gone back and rewritten, added to, changed, chopped, or modified several parts of the book. I decided against it, because I felt if I went back again, I’d keep going back and never get it out to production.

This has its own drawbacks of course. There are people that will read Origins and comment its not what it could have been, and I fully agree, they are allowed to have that opinion. No manuscript is ever perfect, and attempts to make it so will only frustrate the writer who goes back and makes those changes. Origins went through several changes from the start of the project to the final form it has now. The original outline changed more than once, as I got a better feel for the story as a whole. The most important goal I met was a completed piece I was happy with, nothing else matters.

After I realized I was finished with Origins, the next question was – what now? I knew I wanted to keep writing, so I decided that I’d change gears and work on a near future Sci-fi piece I’d been inspired to put together. Fictional history runs close to alternative future stories for me, as they have the same general “What if?” feel to them. I started constructing the world as I saw it decades in the future and developed the political and social structures the story would have as a backdrop. I took a few days to draw some story elements together, but nothing seemed to stick, so I put it on a shelf and decided that I’d come back to it later.

A few weeks later I began outlining the sequel to Origins and finished it the days after the release. My perspective on novel writing has changed since I started. I know more about what it takes to bring one to life, but that’s not to say I know it all, or even enough. Writing the sequel will give me a chance to expound on the world I’ve started to create and bring readers along for another wild journey.

No writer can promise a perfect story – nor should they. All they can hope to provide is a story that makes a reader forget the car troubles, stress, and bills they have for a few hours – an escape from the day.

The current piece is going well and I hope to have updates for you in the near future. I’ll be writing a few other short stories, which I hope will show up in some anthologies you can pick up.

Where to now? Only time will tell.

19
Nov

Blog – World building with relevant history

   Posted by: Michael Diamond   in World Building, Writing

History for me is a first love. It took root at an early age with the books I read and time spent dreaming about far off places. Historical figures always left me wondering if what was written actually happened. I took the quote “History is written by the victors” to heart and questioned if many of the events I read about were really true. From there I delved into alternate histories and science fiction which only served to fuel my imagination.

This is why Star Wars hits such a deep mark for me. From the opening credits to the sweeping scenery and vast galaxy of characters, I couldn’t get enough. I wore two different sets of VHS tapes – kids ask your parents – out just watching it. It gave me the inspiration I was looking for a young age to dream that things like this could happen..somewhere.

As I grew older things got serious and my personal library grew , but that wasn’t enough. I took to telling those types of stories in my tabletop games as well. Since Star Wars was deemed “acceptable material” in my parents house, I focused like a Death Star laser on the product line without fear of losing anything I purchased.

In my adult writing life I spend time researching the areas the piece will take place in. I find this critical for the right look and feel for the reader. This starts at the macro level and goes as far as I am comfortable writing to the micro level. This comes from two major sources – the first is the relevant data that I can get my hands on. To feel comfortable I have to have a bit of a foundation to put my literary foot on. If I can’t push off that ground and stand up, then I have to either research more until I am comfortable or alter what location I am going to write in. Second, I have to feel like talking about it is relevant to the story itself. Very few writers can keep readers engaged as they discuss the inside of a barrel for five pages, musing about the contents that might have been in it previously. I’d rather keep the story moving along than bore someone out of their skull.

What I aim for is a middle ground that melds both factors into a story which is believable if the reader looks back at the historical period. The story should have the all the environmental factors and social factors taken into account as well. This affects the way people think, speak, and act in scenes. Once I have those plotted out, I lay the outline out to see how it could be affected by those period factors and determine if I come across any “there’s no way this happens” situations. Its one thing to exist in a time period and another thing entirely to change that time period by the events of your story. I’m not saying the latter is wrong – far from it – but knowing the rules before you break them is key to keeping the message clear to your audience.

Once I have these items fixed in my mind I get back to the most important part. Writing.

How do you feel about historical fiction? What’s your favorite novel or movie that deviates from our own history?

12
Nov

What is the Black Idol?

   Posted by: Michael Diamond   in Julius, Mythos, Origins, The Black Idol, Uncategorized, Writing

Describing the centerpiece to a book series without giving away everything is difficult, but let me give it whirl.

The legend Julius learns about is one cloaked in mystery which lacks any real documentation in historical records he can find. The idea it exists at first is laughable to Julius, and if not for the breadcrumbs he finds during his studies, he would never pursue it.

But fate does funny things to Julius.

The crumbs are there, and his love of knowledge propels him find the truth, what ever truth it might be. Documents found in the library at Brown University suggest it is a Pre-Christian Polynesian artifact rumored to have been used by tribesman in secret rituals to enhance one’s mind. Native shamans channeled great power with it, casting aside the need for weapons to defend themselves. Tribes fought to control it, only to be destroyed by the power of it. Then it vanished.

These rumors drew Julius across the sea, to France’s vast libraries where he followed up with a former professor, a font of ancient information. MacDonald put him on to a few pages of writing he had, which pointed toward the Indian sub continent as a possible landing point for it. While the notes weren’t much to go on, it was enough to stoke the fire back up, and Julius set out on a long cross continent train trip to Delhi.

The Idol appears as a statuary piece, with two figures standing tall – their backs to each other. Both figures have arms held high helping to support a disk sitting atop their hands. The figures are not as we expect them. The appear transgender, with mixed body types and organs. The strong male upper body paired with the feminine hips and womb. The full breasted female figure has a noticeable phallus. Both characters have large eyes and mouths filled with teeth. The Idol is crafted from a jet black stone which shimmers in the light, giving off a warm energy when held.

Over the centuries it has existed, many have attempted to wield the power contained within it, affecting each in unpleasant ways. The Idol opens the holder up to a world the human mind cannot comprehend rationally, but the power the power within comes without warning or care. Legends speak of wielders driven mad, sacrificing whole villages to sate their inner desires.

Find out more at Smashwords – http://bit.ly/1bty37r

5
Nov

Unmasking Lyra Dubois

   Posted by: Michael Diamond   in Mythos, Origins, The Black Idol, Writing

Calculating. Deadly. Sinister.

A young French girl taken from the streets of Lyon nine. Cloistered in a distant farmhouse and taught the mysteries of shadows, she emerged years later with an intense desire to please her masters. The cabal she committed to is a group of French revolutionaries bent on expanding their power through assassinations and occult study.

The girl from Lyon – as she was known in her early years- was kept as a scullery maid, and taught the careful method of controlled hatred. Le Coeur empoisonné – The Poisoned Heart – let her hate simmer just below the boiling point. They taught her to focus her hate and channel it into punishing butter churns, bags of flour, and chickens. Lyra held the belief from an early age that she was meant for something greater – that her situation was a test of what she could become. The first months were difficult and she was beaten often to remind her who was in control. The farmhouse was a prison of the mind and Lyra became determined to beat it.

As the years moved along, Lyra began to learn the tools of her life’s craft. Her instructors schooled her in the art of silent movements, beating her brutally if they were able to detect her walking the weathered floors of the farmhouse. It took months for her to hone her skills and overcome the bruises she was given. Her bedroom was little more than a closet cell, with no window to the outside world. Lyra spent her days surrounded by a “family” that despised her, forcing her into the lowest of work for their own amusement.

Lyra hardened into a piece of beaten steel, and was soon ready to be loosed onto the unsuspecting. When she reached age twelve, she was taken into Paris for finishing school – a long and arduous process for a girl from the French countryside. Lyra was forced to bend and twist for her new masters during the day, and return to true masters home each night. She preferred Paris to the French countryside. The sights and sounds of the city were a welcomed relief to her mind, which escaped each night into the streets to become whatever she wished.

The masters in Paris were demanding though, and she was used to spy on dignitaries and political opponents when her lessons ended each day.. They backed off on the beatings and chose to punish her by forcing her into rooms without windows when she failed to deliver what they asked for. As she flowered into a woman, she dodged the men of the Paris house as best she could, choosing to punch and bite where she had to. The masters watched as she struggled to keep them at bay, only intervening to gain her trust. It was her Paris masters that truly poisoned her mind, filling it with dreams and desires she believed were her own.

With finishing school behind her, Lyra Dubois was a well crafted woman of society. She was invited to gala events and inserted into a high ranking political family where she spied on her masters friends and enemies alike. Having grown into a attractive young girl she drew many eyes and requests from men, but the family kept her unattached for their own plans.

The night the masters put a blade into her hand was one of the proudest moments she experienced in Paris. Her masters gave her a simple order – remove a member of the far right Action Française without being detected. Lyra knew the penalty for failure and took up the challenge with an intense desire to show her masters the value of her studies. Trained to be silent and deadly, Lyra completed her task with vicious amusement. With her masters’ pleased and a sense of purpose in front of her, the next few years became a whirlwind of upper crust social gatherings and political killings. Each one fueled the fight between right and left wing parties in France and gave the Poisoned Heart a stronger foothold in the deepening shadows.

As the Great War began, her masters unleashed her in the trenches of the Western Front, killing friend and enemy alike, so long as it pleased the Poisoned Heart. The targets themselves were faceless to Lyra, to shield herself from attachments or emotion. As the war came to an end, Lyra returned to Paris for her next orders to find her own master dead, the victim of overlooking his own enemies. The master that replaced him, Therin was a cold and calculating man who was determined to push the aims of the Poisoned Heart higher. Convinced the only way this could happen was by locating occult relics long forgotten, Therin taught her ancient magical spells and enchantments to protect her. He also infused her with an understanding that something existed beyond what man could see, beings from a great beyond that could be harnessed for their power.

One day Therin came to her with a new task. He found scrolls that spoke of a powerful artifact lost in the mountains of northern India. This relic had to be recovered if they were going to leave their mark on France and the world. Therin tasked her with retrieving it at all costs, failure would mean her life. Lyra pledged herself to find it and set off to return with the Black Idol to France.

30
Oct

Who is Julius Godom?

   Posted by: Michael Diamond   in Julius, Mythos, Origins, The Black Idol, Writing

Intelligent. Adventurous. Determined.

Origins of the Black Idol protagonist Julius Godom is a man at war with himself. Steeped in centers of higher learning for the better part of his life, Julius had the benefit of the best teachers and educators around. The son of a university professor and master librarian, the formative years found Julius tagging along on his father’s expeditions to Africa and parts of western Europe. Julius’ father Thomas chose to teach his son the value of learning the truth, whatever that truth might be.

As he grew into a young man, Julius centered his life around uncovering mysteries, which got him into trouble with several members of his parents’ social group when he revealed his father’s long time university colleague had not one but three mistresses.

His non traditional education path gave him a leg up on entrance exams when he applied to Brown in 1918. He shunned the attempt of his parents to push him towards Harvard, even with the religious background of Brown and their presidents. Having breezed through the examination process, Julius took to his studies, choosing to see them as challenges put before him, rather than courses to learn. This mental framework allowed him to excel through his first few years, but as time wore on, and The Great War died down in Europe, Julius grew bored with classroom studies.

– photo by Kevin N. Murphy

Taking the summer off to gather his thoughts about where to go next, Julius spent time rock climbing, boating and in personal study. When not trying to better himself he engaged in romantic escapades with a woman named Diana from a local finishing school. Instead of learning how to interact with people, Julius learned how to unlock them through psychology and observation, probing for what makes a person tick rather than honest friendship.

All of this is not enough to keep his mind from searching for the next scholarly prize. Tipped off about a mythological artifact during his summer break, Julius is challenged to find the truth. With the fire lit, Julius dives in to finding out more about the artifact, studying every scrap of knowledge he can lay his hands on. He eventually is forced to take his research overseas, but not without selling his own possessions for the traveling money.

Julius is willing to give up whatever it takes to find out the truth behind the mystery. His “must win” mentality receives its first stiff challenge as the mystery unfolds. In the end will his mindset win the day, or will it be his undoing?

25
Oct

Mythos & Meaning

   Posted by: Michael Diamond   in Influences, Lovecraft, Mythos, Writing

Lovecraft.

The name evokes a whirlwind of imagery, sensations, and mind-bending discoveries. Tomes of short stories dedicated to his works are available – inspired by everything from Sarnath to The King in Yellow. Lovecraft is a great example of an author that became a hit years after his passing. A craftsman whose work was only truly realized in the dim light of his late years.

I wont bore you with a blog of Lovecraft’s life. Over the past several decades he and his work (and the work of other men close to him) have been very well documented as the genre itself has gone through a revival.

For me, Lovecraft is synonymous with unknown terrors and the creeping creatures from the beyond. His writing always reminds me of twisted mythological tales gone wrong. Unlike many of the heroes of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian tales. The people subjected to Lovecraftian experiences are always left changed or mentally debased in such an awe inspiring way.

It stood in stark contrast to the stories I read in my younger days. the main characters (I wont call them heroes – many of them are nothing close to heroic) not only fail but most go completely insane in the process of the story. I took a sick satisfaction in reading each page, wondering what mutated thoughts would bubble up from the inner parts of their brains. They also seemed doomed from the start, unable to break the chains of their own lineage.

The idea of the Mythos infused world intrigued me. Instead of a world that was surrounded by powerful gods that tinkered with mankind for worship or offerings, he filled his world with creatures from the beyond that would fracture men’s mind even trying to comprehend their true power. These beings didn’t care for the worship of mankind, they didn’t require it. Humanity was a gnat in comparison to them – one to be collected and eaten by a sticky, wet tentacle if possible.

My favorites are : The Doom that Came to Sarnath, The Nameless City, and The Dunwich Horror

H.P. is a great study for any reader or writer looking to expand from the normal theme or “Hollywood” effect that gets written into many of the mainstream stories. Lovecraft didn’t pull punches or seek to please a worldwide audience. He took his mind full of dreams and put them on paper, daring all comers to step into his world where they could lose themselves to the Old Ones.

I’ve seen it mentioned in more than a few places that much of what Lovecraft wrote was directly inspired by his own dreams. Imagine waking up after dreaming “At the Mountains of Madness” and trying to come to grips with the cosmic horror that your own subconscious had just come up with?

All this draws me to the work on the next piece of my writers’ puzzle. Change is required for the next piece I am working on, and that change has to come from within the characters rather than without. They are going to grow, expand and find out more about themselves – probably more than they want to really know. With the first book days from being on my doorstep (literally) I’m almost to the precipice of jumping off the cliff and into the beyond of writing the next novel.

20
Oct

Influences

   Posted by: Michael Diamond   in Influences, Writing

Everyone has influences in their writing, whether it be the style they use or how they form scenes in their mind. Our job as writers is to entertain, and if we fail to entertain – much like a bad movie – we aren’t going to hook our prospective audience. I spent most of my childhood consuming the books around me.

My first books were book son Greek and Egyptian mythology that sat on the high shelves at my grandmother’s house. I can still remember stealing the nearby kitchen chairs and slowly pushing them over to the shelf where I could procure my prize of the day. To her credit, my grandmother never got in the way – in fact she encouraged it. I would sit and read the tales of Theseus, Heracles and Perseus while the world around me would melt away. I found those tales so engrossing that my mother would have to pull the books away from me. They lit the fire of my imagination and stoked it into a blast furnace of possibilities.

As I grew older I was exposed to more great stories, specifically the works of Tolkien, McCaffery and William Gibson. It was in these books that I stepped outside my comfort zone as a reader and expanded the possibilities of what my brain could imagine. I look back now at the work of Tolkien and have a much deeper appreciation at his ability to take a large world and boil it down to a pinpoint focus on a small group of travelers.

Anne McCaffrey and her series of Pern novels kept me up reading well past my bedtime. It was one of many books that I was forced to hide between my mattress and box spring. My parents have a deep religious background and we did not (and do not) share the same opinions on what works are permissible to read. This erupted more than a few times into full blown arguments with my short stack of books being pitched into the garbage because they disagreed with their theme or racey cover.

In the end all they did was continue to stoke the fire that fueled my engine of desire when it came to books. I went into the garbage, imagining myself in the Death Star’s trash compactor to save the literary works of the month that had been discarded. As I grew older, the books I leaned towards were futuristic but still maintained a bit of their own fantasy

Reading Neuromancer at the age of eleven was like mainlining some amazing and horrifying future that both terrified and intrigued me. With my parents steeped in religious fear of a one world government, the discussion topics at church and even in our own home centered around a fear of the future. I escaped to books that fast forwarded to a time where the fall of man had already happened, and the people left behind were striving to survive in the fetid corpse that humanity had left.

The only series of fiction books that I had full approval for were novels graced with the letters “STAR WARS” – and I grabbed every single one I could. I filled by bookshelves with all the stories, role-playing books, and pictorial hardcovers that I could find. I immersed myself in the timelines, side tales, and unknown corners of space.

Each of these titles varied greatly, in theme and style, but they forced my brain to expand its ability to imagine. They all serve as influences in my writing, but this doesn’t mean that “I write like them” or “I would say my work is like..” because that would be the height of hubris. I owe those authors more than they can imagine. They put fuel – in the form of literary works – into the fire that burned inside me. In turn, I hope to do the same someday for other authors to keep the fire of storytelling going.

8
Oct

The long road behind & ahead

   Posted by: Michael Diamond   in The Black Idol

The past few months have been a long, tiring struggle, and I couldn’t be happier.

I know it might sound strange, but all of the bumps along the path of birthing (and I use that term lightly having watched my wife give birth) my first novel, Origins of The Black Idol, have been great learning experiences.

I think along the way it was easy to forget how much I was learning about how the whole process works. My editor Darius (find him on Twitter – @vaygh) has published several books, working as a writer or editor. He gave me a lot of great advice on how the process works by using a birds eye view in our conversation

An example of one of our early conversations went like this

Me: “Well the outline is done and I’ve started writing the first few volumes.”

Darius: “Great, keep writing. In your off time read The Elements of Style. You need to brush up on the technical parts of your writing, just like most writers.”

Me: “Okay. I’m sure you’ll see more than a few mistakes.”

Darius: “Of course I will. No one writes a perfect first draft. Just keep writing and pay attention to the notes I make in the margins, that way you can try to write better first drafts. No written word is ever perfect.

The last part stuck with me a lot longer than the rest of it. I still make many of the same mistakes that I did when I first started writing, but I’m more conscious of them before I send the drafts off. I think throughout this process I’ve been able to see a progression to my writing, and that was my top goal.

Get better at what I love doing.

I’m eager to get my hands on the first print proof of my book. I can’t wait to see how it looks and feels. I feel like I’m seven years old all over again, waiting on the night before my birthday for a special present.

It will be available at all the major outlets, and print in demand for those of you that like to physically turn pages like I do. That’s not to downplay the importance of ebooks, far from it. They have as much of a place in this market as print books, and in many cases have launched a writer’s career by rapid exposure.

For a writer, I think muse and passion can come from many different places. It doesn’t matter to me what inspires creative people to create, provided they aren’t hurting others to gain that inspiration. I went through highs and lows in my personal and professional life while writing it. What is coming on October 28th is inspired by that, for better or worse.