Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Working Introduction

I started working on the introduction to my book this week.  The book's been through a couple of working names lately.  Right now, I'm leaning towards either "War Stories from Wanderhaven" or "War Stories from the Western Isles," but I haven't decided yet and don't need to.  Anyway, there wasn't any real need to write the Introduction as of yet, but I had an idea for how it might go over the weekend, and I figured that by the time I wrote the idea down, I could've just drafted the whole things, so there you have it.
I'm not promising that everything that's in here is gonna wind up in the book in this form, but this is sort of what I'm thinking.  If you have time and thoughts, I'd appreciate some feedback.

“Wanderhaven” is the name of the fictionalized setting in which my kids and I play Dungeons and Dragons.  I don’t say this because I think that you need to play D&D yourself in order to enjoy this book, but rather because I want to try to put these stories into some kind of context.  
This is Ouroborous, the World Serpent.  In Norse
mythology, he was known as Jörmungandr.
I'm thinking of using something like this on the cover
of the book.
I taught my kids to play basic D&D in the summer of 2012.  As we played through those first few sessions, I was surprised by how strongly my older daughter, Hannah, bonded with her character, Sneakatara Boatman.  Hannah is an arch-girly-girl.  She loves dresses, plays with Barbies and American Girl dolls, takes voice lessons, and generally delights in all things girl-related.  She’s also a deeply spiritual girl, to the point where it wouldn’t surprise me if she someday decides to go to seminary.  I was therefore not entirely sure how well Hannah was going to take to D&D, and I figured that if she did enjoy the game, it would be because the game allowed her to play some kind of fairy princess or perhaps some kind of priest of a benevolent god.
I could not possibly have been more wrong.
Under Hannah’s gentle guidance, Sneax became a ruthless killer, a street urchin who swung through the back-alleys of Wanderhaven like a knife-wielding monkey, a rogue-for-hire who would as soon slit your throat as look at you.  The dichotomy between Hannah’s real personality and the way that she played her character was so striking that it got me wondering about Sneax in odd moments during the day.  What could make a girl act like that?  What kind of background would she have to have?
When my wife Sally suggested that the members of our family make presents for each other for Christmas that year, I knew immediately that my present to my girls was going to be a short story about their D&D characters—and most especially about Sneax.  That story, “Sneax and Elaina Emboo vs. the Fire Elf” was a hit, both at home and in my office, and so I followed it up in 2013 with “Sneakatara Boatman and the Priest of Loki.”  But as I was writing “Sneakatara Boatman and the Priest of Loki,” I realized that it was very obviously Act Two of a Three Act Play, and thus, this project was born.
Or, to quote my boss: “You can’t end it like that!  What, are you crazy?!”
I mention all of this because I want you to see the many, many ways in which these stories are grounded in our families’ lives.  The stories are crazy fantasy-adventures, yes.  They definitely are that.  But they’re also set in and around a kind of fictionalized, fantasticalized New York, which is near where we live, or near Mount Desert Island in Maine, which is where we vacation, and the characters all have characterizations that were inspired by real games that my family and I actually played while we were on vacation.  When you’re tromping through the backwoods of Ellesburg in these pages, realize that we started working on the story you’re reading on the day that we climbed Cadillac Mountain as a family, that Ellesburg is a real place, but it’s called Ellsworth in reality, and it’s where we stayed in a little cabin down by the lake.  While we were there, we dreamed up these characters and some of these situations.
You don’t have to like D&D, but I think it’s worth mentioning that the game has a tremendous following—and that it often gets a bad rap in its portrayal in popular culture.  I blog daily, and whenever I write about  D&D, those entries get at least ten times the traffic that the other topics get.  I also write about triathlon training, comics, movies, TV, my family, you-name-it, but if all those topics together are written in twelve point font, then D&D comes out in towering two hundred point Verdana, dwarfing everything around it by an order of magnitude.  
Pop culture has this tendency to personify D&D fans as fringe-culture loners and nerds, but the reality is that the fringe has long since gone mainstream, and in any event, D&D is a game that you play with people, around a table, and it’s very social.  To me, a fringe-culture loser is a guy (or girl) who’ll dump twenty hours per week into Grand Theft Auto or one of its many clones.  Truth is, D&D plays like fantasy improvisational theater, but it also requires a minimal comfort level with basic mathematics—up to and including basic statistics—and a very slight understanding of fantasy-based small unit tactics.  The people who like that sort of thing are perhaps a particular breed, but they’re not losers.  They’re engineers, mathematicians, storytellers, and current and former members of the United States military.  The game that I ran on Myth-Weavers.Com had two professional physicists, a librarian, a computer engineer, a semi-professional mixed martial artist, and me, an electrical engineer and occasional freelance writer.
I’ve personally always found running a game of D&D to be similar to scripting a comic book.  You come up with a story, and then hand it over—either to your artist or to your players—and they then turn it on its head and make it into something you’d never have imagined when you started.  As either a writer or a DM, you can either be frustrated by that, or you can embrace it for all of its quirky wondrousness.  By contrast, I’ve always found writing prose to be a comparatively lonely and difficult process, which is a big part of why this particular story exists as a set of short stories, most of which were targeted at my kids.  They were—and are—an integral part of my process, both because they’re usually my target audience and because they interjected so much energy into the story itself because of the crazy ideas that they brought to the performance of their characters.
One final word, on content:
Most of these stories are new, and as I just finished telling you, I wrote most of them for my kids.  A few, however, are from back when my friend Jerry Bonner and I used to run a (very) small press comic company called Proletariat Comics, LLC.  Those older stories have a slightly different, slightly more adult tone.  They’re grittier and there’s some content that’s not just appropriate for kids, especially in “The Tower of Al-Kafiri.”  
The “Sneax and Elaina Emboo” stories are all rated PG.  They make up the vast majority this book.  
“The Legend of Tolandias” and “The Caravan” are both PG-13.  They contain some sexual situations, particularly “The Caravan.”  It’s nothing that you wouldn’t find in one of the Twilight novels, but still…  After spending two pages talking about how I wrote most of this for my kids, a little warning is probably in order.  These two stories could still be considered “Young Adult” if you ask me, i.e. not Harry Potter but also not inappropriate for teenagers in the modern world, but I’m a parent, too, and this is the kind of warning that I would want before I let my kids read this book.
“The Tower of Al-Kafiri” is a hard R.  There’s tons of filthy stuff in there—sex, language, drinking, extortion, murder, you name it.  If you let your kids read that, don’t blame it on me.  I’m personally planning to put out a version of this book without “The Tower” (and with a very minor re-write to the “The Caravan”) specifically for the YA market, but that’s just because I want people to be able to share this thing with their kids the way that I have.  That said, I like “The Tower of Al-Kafiri,” and I think that it does the best job of showing the city of Wanderhaven out of any of the stories here.  I just know that I would never let my kids read it, which is why I’m telling you that you probably shouldn’t give it to your kids, either.


  1. Great info on D&D. I didn't know it was a social event. Book idea sounds good. I'm very fascinated my your daughter's alter-ego in D&D. Does your wife play D&D too?

    My son, a college student, plays World of Warcraft a lot. As in everyday. He did go to the gym once last week. Ha ha. He plays with "online friends." After reading your blog, I'm thinking I should show more interest in it by playing with him. Is that game similar to D&D?

    1. I've never played WoW, so I don't think I can really speak to it, but D&D is played around a table, with pens, paper, and dice. We don't play a lot, but when we play it's mostly me and the kids, with my wife popping in and out as she can. That's why I wrote her character in "Sneax and the Priest of Loki" as a mute; I didn't feel like I had much of a read on what Sally was trying to do with it.

      Anyway, I don't know about playing WoW with your son. I don't know him, but it occurs to me that he might not get why you want to play. However, you could probably take him to a Dragon*Con or something like that, get him in loved in the tabletop version of these games, and maybe drag him away from the screen that way. That'd be what I'd try first, anyway.

    2. I didn't know it was pencil & paper! Who would have thought!!! Anyway, I've already told him I'd like to try his game and he is excited to have me pick out a character. Perhaps, I'll find out what he sees in it. Plus, I will get to spend time with him.