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Posts Tagged ‘memento’

indicted on two charges of negligent authorial cruelty

You would think I’d notice when I’m doing something horrible to my characters — but sometimes the penny drops quite late.

The context for this post is the scene I wrote for Chains and Memory last night. There’s a detail I put into Lies and Prophecy that seemed like an interesting twist, an additional layer to an aspect of the world that the characters hadn’t realized was there. When I started planning out this book, I knew I was going to add another component to that detail; the adding happened a few days ago. And then last night, writing a follow-on scene, I finally realized what I’d done to Julian, by tossing in that little detail so many years ago.

I can’t get more specific than that without massively spoiling things, but I can give a different example of what I mean: Nicholas Merriman, an NPC in my game Memento, which is the campaign that ultimately gave rise to the Onyx Court series. Nicholas is nowhere in the novels, so there will be no spoilers for the Onyx Court if I tell you I may have been more cruel to him than any other member of the Merriman family save Francis. (Who did appear in the novels, so if I tell you his role in the game was pretty much the same except it ended a little bit worse, you’ll have some scale for comparison.)

Memento was a Changeling game about a group of faeries reincarnating in mortal hosts over a period of centuries, trying to create the Philosopher’s Stone. They were assisted in this process by a faerie-blooded human family, the Merrimans, who passed down the knowledge of their quest through the generations . . . but lost bits of it along the way, because seven hundred years is a long time to keep that kind of thing alive. Nicholas, living in the modern day, had only the fragments he’d gleaned from his Alzheimer-afflicted grandfather, and almost no connection to the faerie world whatsoever.

Under the mechanics for fae blood in that game, Nicholas was permitted one single “fae gift,” i.e. an ability inherited from his changeling ancestor. It could be a powerful ability, but he could only have one. I chose Parted Mists. In Changeling, the Mists are a metaphysical force that causes human beings to forget about magical things: to come up with “rational” explanations for them or dismiss them as mere fancy or just forget them entirely. Parted Mists allowed Nicholas to actually remember his interactions with the PC changelings, which was pretty necessary to make the plot go; ergo, my decision seemed like simple common sense.

So they meet Nicholas and realize they were doing something important and go through a process that causes them to remember their past lives, which takes up the bulk of the campaign, with them flashing back to previous centuries (and previous Merriman helpers) before finally snapping back to the present day and finishing what they started.

By which point I had realized that I had been horrifically, unthinkingly cruel to Nicholas.

Because he remembered.

Here’s the thing about Changeling: in that setting, there is a magical layer to the world that we can’t generally see. Changelings can see it; children can see it, but lose the ability as they grow up; adults can be temporarily enchanted to see it, but the Mists make them forget after the enchantment fades.

Nicholas did not forget.

After he met the PCs, Nicholas knew that he was living in grey, dreary Kansas. He knew Oz was right there, all around him: a fantastical world filled with color and magic and wonder. He knew the PCs lived in that world, and he’d been permitted to visit it a few times. But every time, the magic ended, and he was back in black-and-white Kansas — remembering precisely what he had lost.

I did not mean to be so cruel to him. But I was, and it took me months to realize I had been.

And that’s more or less what I’ve done to Julian. Not the same flavor of cruelty, but the same failure to notice until an embarrassingly long time later. The good news is, I have noticed, and that means I can make story out of it; that’s what I was doing last night. Not only that, but in writing up the problem, I realized it had a whole second layer to it, so that he’s asking Kim the question she hears, and also a second question she won’t hear until it’s almost too late.

If I’m lucky, readers will hit this part of the story and think “oh, wow, that’s a really awesome thing Marie Brennan set up there.” They won’t realize how much of it was an accident, that I only just caught at the last second. 🙂

Mechanical difficulties

I haven’t run a lot of games. (In fact, I’ve run precisely two: Memento and the ongoing Once Upon a Time in the West, plus one almost completely rules-free LARP session.) In the case of Memento, going into that game, I had a large amount of familiarity with the LARP mechanics for Changeling (i.e. what sorts of things their powers did, though there were occasional points of massive discrepancy between the two sets of rules), and a similarly large amount of familiarity with basic World of Darkness tabletop mechanics (i.e. how combat and such worked, though certain Changeling-specific rules were new to me).

That isn’t the case with OTW, and man, is this an eye-opening experience.

With all due respect to certain readers of this journal who were involved in the design of Scion, there are some honking big holes in the mechanics, which I mostly find when we fall into them headfirst. For example, there’s a first-level Justice Boon which allows you to accuse somebody of a specific crime and know if they’re guilty or not. The rules specifically tell you that the roll isn’t contested by the suspect’s player. So, in theory, a brand-new Scion of Tyr could walk up to Loki and say, “Loki! You arranged for Baldur to be murdered!” And know immediately that Loki was guilty. Erm, no: I respectfully submit that a trickster god should not be so easily caught, unless he wants to be. Also, there are a truckload of Manipulation knacks that have no mechanic for resistance; you could just say to Loki, “Tell the truth!” and he would have to obey, at least briefly. This seems unbalanced to me.

But the interesting thing to me — and the point where I diverge from some of the attitudes I saw expressed on the Forge, back when I was reading their forums — is that I don’t think house-ruling is necessarily a sign of failure on the part of the game designer. I do think the examples I’ve just given are things that would have been better fixed before I got my hands on the book, but that isn’t true of everything. For example, I prefer to have Legend increases (which are kind of like level increases) happen at narratively appropriate points, rather than whenever a given player saves up enough XP to buy the next dot. Ergo, our house-rule is that I announce when the PCs all go up in Legend, and in return they don’t have to pay for it. That’s a personal choice, not necessarily a flaw in the original design.

Then there’s the stuff that isn’t broken, I just have to learn how to use it. Boy howdy, does it make a difference how familiar you are with a system before you start running it: things like “what difficulty should this roll be?” and “will this opponent be somebody the PCs can take down?” and so on are tricky enough when you’re trying to remember which of the eighteen different White Wolf dodge mechanics this system uses, and a good deal harder when you start throwing in system-specific powers that can really change the odds. Scion has a particularly brutal setup on that front, I think, because of the way epic attributes scale. I think the scaling is appropriate — we’re talking about characters on their way to becoming gods, after all — but it makes me remember that the one thing I like out of D&D mechanics is the nicely mathematical formulae for calculating challenge ratings.

And yet, I wouldn’t want to run D&D, because I find its rules too confining for the kind of game I want to run. (Or for that matter, play in: most of my D&D experience was in a game that was really just a Forgotten Realms game, a world for which D&D happened to be the system. We regularly threw the rules out the window, and got by on group consensus.) It all just hammers home to me that whatever some die-hard fans preach, there is no such thing as a perfect system: there are systems better or worse suited to what you want to do; there are systems you know well or poorly and navigate accordingly; there are systems with more or fewer obvious mechanical holes. Only that third aspect rests in the hands of the game designer.

And that’s why we don’t live in a world where every game runs on GURPS or d20 mods. But I admit, there are times when I think about how much easier my gaming life would be if I only had to know one system. 🙂

Admittedly, there *is* a downside.

Not counting a one-shot LARP, I’ve run two games in my life: Memento and the Scion game currently in progress.

The year I ran Memento was the year I did not write a novel.

If there’s a causal relation there, it goes in the direction of “no novel, ergo free time for a game.” I was in negotiations with my editor for what I would write next, and reluctant to commit to a spec project just to fill time, when odds were good that I’d have to drop it halfway through in order to do something contracted instead. The causality was not that running a game ate the energy which would have otherwise gone into a novel.

(And the negotiations ended up settling on Midnight Never Come anyway, which grew directly out of Memento. So.)

But it is true that I did not write a novel while running that game. This year is the first time I’ve tried to do both at once, and the result is . . . interesting.

I’ve been thinking for a while that I need to find a way to build some downtime into my noveling process. The usual way of things is that I work virtually every day for three or four months straight, and at the end of it I have a book. But that’s exhausting, and after two months or so I start getting really bitter about not having weekends or days off.

One idea I’ve toyed with is giving myself a break on Thursdays. That’s the day I run the game, and it turns out to be singularly difficult to get anything done then — especially since I have physical therapy appointments Thursday afternoons, too. So I spend part of my afternoon at PT, and the rest of it prepping for game; since I am not a morning writer, that leaves me with only the time after the session ends to do any work. Which requires a rather massive change of gears in my head: game and book may be only about nine years apart temporally speaking — 1875 and 1884, respectively — but one’s in the Western frontier and the other’s in London, and their vibes are VERY different. Last week I managed 733 words after game because I knew where the scene was going, but last night I did jack, because the scene needed chewing and my brain already had its mouth full.

I’ve built in enough margin of safety that I could afford to take Thursdays off and still finish the book on time. But it does eat a large portion of that margin of safety: if the book runs long, or I miss days for reasons of backtracking or being sick or whatever, I’ll still end up with some crunch time — though hopefully not as bad as it was for Ashes and Star. On the other hand, once PT is done, odds go up substantially that I’ll be able to do at least some writing during the day, so I can then give my brain over to Scion with a clear conscience. So I think what I’ll do is this.

Until PT is done, I have permission not to write on Thursdays. I should, however, try to make up that lost ground in subsequent days, if I can do so without too much trouble. After PT is done, I’ll try to write something every Thursday before game, even if it’s not the full quota; if I manage that, I’m not required to play catch-up afterward. Put that together with the more complicated background math (involving certain things that add to the word total of the book, but don’t get counted toward quota, etc), and this should work out.

But yeah. Unsurprisingly, running a game eats many of the same processing cycles in my brain that book-writing does. (Moreso than if I’m just playing in a game, by quite a bit.) I do believe I can do both — I will certainly try — but this is going to require some awareness and planning on my part.

Signal Boost: want to commission some art?

I’ve mentioned Avery Liell-Kok before; she’s the artist who did (among other things) this portrait of Invidiana, this painting for my game Memento, and the webcomic My Name Is Might Have Been.

She’s just launched a new website, and is actively seeking commissions. If you’ve always wanted a sketch or painting of something from one of your books (or works in progress), or a game, or something else entirely, drop her a line.


5008 words for Labor Day.

It isn’t labor if you love what you’re doing.

Almost done. Almost. It was five thousand because this was the climax; yesterday I wrote the first of the two scenes I’ve been wanting to write since I put together this proposal more than a year ago, and today I wrote the second. Ding, dong, the plot is dead, but the denoument lives on. There’s a bit of work to be done yet — at least one day’s worth, possibly two. We’ll see.

So very nearly done.

Word count: 130,090
LBR census: Blood and love, and some horrible, horrible rhetoric.
Authorial sadism: Memento people know I was never sure which Merriman I was crueler to, Francis or Philip. There’s no Philip Merriman in this story, but Galen’s taken his place. ‘Nuff said.


An exchange with kitsunealyc has got me thinking about one of the aspects I really love in Changeling: The Dreaming, namely, the fact that the premise incorporates reincarnation as one of its fundamental elements. The faerie souls are born into a series of mortal hosts, and sometimes they remember their past lives, which means you can have all kinds of fun with patterns and echoes and change over time.

Hell, that was the precise notion that set the ball rolling for Memento.

And it makes me wonder — who out there has written fantasies that make use of this idea? Not just reincarnation, but remembering past lives, telling a story where the fixed and mutable characteristics of a soul are a central part of the tale. Katharine Kerr’s Deverry books come to mind, and Jo Graham has started a series of history-hopping fantasies that appear to feature the same souls incarnating as central and peripheral figures in various periods (the Trojan War, Ptolemaic Egypt), but those are the only ones I can think of offhand. The Wheel of Time, I suppose, but that’s one of a billion ideas swirling around in that series, and it doesn’t get the exploration I’d like to see.

I had fun running the idea in Memento, and I had fun playing with it via Ree, my long-term LARP character. What’s it like to remember — in your early twenties — that you generally don’t live to see your twenty-fifth birthday? What does it mean for friendships and enmities when the universe hits the “reset” button on your lives? How can you take something that appears to be a fundamental part of your nature, on a metaphysical level, and work around and with it so you don’t repeat the same mistakes you always have? I have no idea what kind of story I could use to explore those notions again, but I suspect I’ll think of one eventually, because clearly my brain isn’t done with it yet.

So where can I go to feed my brain? Kerr, Graham, Jordan — who else?

novel soundtracking

I’m not sleepy yet, so you get another post about writing.

Or in this case, soundtracking.

I’ve had the habit of listening to specific pieces of music while writing since I got seriously going on what turned out to be my first complete novel. But it’s generally been a small number of songs associated with each book: usually about two. (And by “associated” I mean “I listened to them most of the time while writing the book,” which does, yes, lead to a terrifying number of repetitions.)

But since coming to grad school and getting involved in the local gaming community, I’ve picked up a local habit of making soundtracks for games: character soundtracks for the ones I’m playing in, game soundtracks for the one I ran. And I speculated, some time after I started doing so, that one day I might find myself making a proper novel soundtrack.

That day is today. Or rather, that novel is this novel; I knew months ago that Midnight Never Come would be the pioneer in this field.

The reason is obvious: as I’ve mentioned before, the novel grew out of one segment of that game I ran. I made quite a few soundtracks for Memento, and each segment basically ended up getting ten songs, which meant I had ten songs already associated with the seeds of this story. Not all of them are applicable, of course, since the novel is not identical to the game, but it gave me enough of a starting block that it felt quite natural to create a proper soundtrack for this book.

It’s an in-progress thing; I haven’t chosen songs for certain characters yet (like oh, say, Deven), and a lot of the “event” tracks are also undecided. But I thought I’d provide a sampler, so that anybody who recognizes these songs will have an idea of the mood of the book. (Mostly you need a good film score collection for this one; I’m not the sort of writer who can use a lot of modern pop music to inspire a sixteenth-century novel.)

The soundtrack to date . . . .


London, mostly. But also a jaunt up to Derbyshire to see Hardwick House. There’s probably an Elizabethan manor closer to London, but I’m not sure I can pass up the chance to see Bess of Hardwick’s actual house.


I realized a moment ago that I haven’t been out of the country since 2002. Which necessitates the world’s smallest violin playing for me — oh, woe is her; she’s twenty-six and she’s only been to the British Virgin Islands, Costa Rica, England, Ireland, Israel, and Japan — but it’s a bit sad to trade approximately once-a-year overseas trips for multiple-times-a-year domestic trips, especially when the domestic trips mostly mean the hotel the conference or convention is in.

So, yeah. May 22nd to May 29th, flying out of Chicago, so buzzermccain, if you’ve got Internet access again, be warned that I’ll be taking you up on that crash space.


Edited to add: Okay, so, trying to type a post while on the phone with kurayami_hime doesn’t work so well. I should clarify that I am going to England as research for Midnight Never Come, not that you all probably didn’t guess that anyway. I’m going for a week, and will spend most of the time in Central London, Westminster, and Southwark, with the aforementioned jaunt to Bess of Hardwick’s house, and things like a riverboat trip to Hampton Court Palace, which still has some Tudor-period architecture left, though not much. (On the other hand, it means I get to float down the Thames. Yay!) Anyway, I’ll post more details about my exact plans when I have them more concretely formed. Right now, I’m still giddy. ^_^


the story behind the story

When I announced Midnight Never Come as my next novel, I made some allusions that, for some of you, need expansion.

Or, to put it a different way, I need to apologize for (on the surface of it) committing one of the cardinal sins of fantasy writing: I’m writing up a role-playing game.

Generally, of course, that phrase indicates something along the lines of “an elf, a dwarf, and a ranger walk into a dungeon . . .,” and in such cases it is rightly despised; god only knows how many bad queries agents and editors see that are thinly-disguised writeups of D&D campaigns, even when they aren’t working on the Forgotten Realms. But of course game systems have come a long way since D&D debuted, as have the uses to which people put them, and this particular instance is about as far away from the dungeon scenario as one can get.

Last year I ran my first RPG, a one-year (okay, ten-and-a-half-month) tabletop game based on White Wolf’s system Changeling: The Dreaming. In a very tiny nutshell, the idea of the system is that faerie souls have survived into modern times by taking refuge in mortal bodies, and that when the mortal host dies, they reincarnate. So I ran a game that went through 650 years of English history — backwards — going from 2006 to 1916 and so on back to about 1350, and then back to 2006 to finish up the plot. For structural reasons, I called it Memento, after the very intriguing Guy Pearce movie.

The 1589 segment of the game grew like kudzu. It didn’t run any longer than the others (three sessions), but by the time I was done, its background and consequences stretched the entire length of the game, from the time of the Black Death through to nearly the last of our 2006 sessions. And at the heart of that web of action and reaction, folly and consequence, was Invidiana, Queen of the Onyx Court, who ruled the fae of Albion for a period of time mostly overlapping Elizabeth’s reign.

Midnight Never Come is not really a Memento novel; the overarching plot that spanned all that time (which was basically a 650-year alchemical experiment) will be absent, and many of the outlying tendrils of Invidiana’s plot will be pulled in, to make a more compact story. But she wouldn’t leave my head, and neither would a lot of the characters surrounding her, and I gradually came to realize that it wouldn’t be all that hard to file off the Changeling-specific serial numbers and make it an independent story about curses and dark pacts, lost memories and betrayed loves, Machiavellian intrigues and faerie/mortal politics. And while the proprietary ideas that belonged to White Wolf will be gone, those were never the central part of it anyway; the most important bits will still be there, and that’s why I can make it a novel. It was very nearly standing on its own two feet to begin with. (Hell, I’d thrown in so many things that violated White Wolf canon, half of it was hardly recognizable as Changeling anyway.)

So there you have it: I am committing RPG novelization. I pray you all forgive me.