28 Nov 2012
by Jeffrey Thomas
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You’ve seen it. It’s ubiquitous among writers’ blogs. Some call it a blog hop, others a blog pyramid scheme, but it’s best known as the “Next Big Thing.” The way it works is a writer answers ten questions about a forthcoming book or WIP, then tags five other authors to do the same thing the following week. Plus, the writer says some words about the person who invited him or her to participate. Last week I was invited by Ted Grau (AKA in bylines as T. E. Grau) to take part in this game, and I agreed. Sounded like fun. But then I started reaching out to writer friends to be amongst the five I would tag in my post. Turns out they’d either already been tagged for the game, or didn’t keep an active blog, or else wrote reviews or short stories but had no actual book coming out. I spent hours in search of suitable victims, and fun started to turn to annoyance. I finally rustled up one or two maybes, but by then I realized that instead of passing along fun to them I’d be passing them headaches, as they in turn sought to find authors to tag from the steadily dwindling supply. I couldn’t do that to them…I just couldn’t, damn it! And so…and so I must let Ted down. Oh, how I wish I’d never agreed! But this game can’t persist forever, can it? The tree has only so many braches, the branches so many twigs, and I…I AM THAT LAST TWIG! AND THE TWIG HAS SNAPPED!
Yet it’s unfair to Ted if I don’t make some kind of effort, since I did agree to be tagged in his post last week. I won’t be tagging five other people below. (Though I did consider creating five fictitious blogs for five fictitious authors…heh.) But I will answer the ten questions I was given. More importantly, since part of the game is giving a plug to the writer who invited you, I still owe Ted that plug. But ahh…no, this plug won’t simply be a matter of fulfilling an obligation. This plug is wholeheartedly sincere. It’s a plug I would give all too readily, blog game or no!
A short while back T. E. Grau let me see a short story he’d written, called The Screamer, which appears in the anthology Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities. To say I was greatly impressed by this story is an understatement. Here are some of my comments to Ted:
“The Screamer is one of the best modern horror stories I’ve read. Ever. I keep wanting to discuss it at greater length and detail, to acknowledge its remarkable construction, its superb prose voice, its volcanic build-up of power (from subtle anxiety to all-stops-pulled-out-madness), and its brilliant sense of metaphor, but I have been too distracted. Oh wait…I kinda just did, a little. That one story is better than entire short story collections I’ve read by respected and (so far) better known writers. If you took all the stories in those collections and condensed them into one small mass like a collapsed star, you’d have The Screamer. For real. (And:) I liked how characters I thought were merely placed in there for background detail (and that would have been fine) reappeared later under other…circumstances. I liked the prose voice. I liked the masterfully tuned shift in volume from 0 to 11…the beautifully balanced ending. It is one of my favorite modern horror stories…I wish I’d written this.”
Get the picture? Has a writer ever become a new favorite of yours based on a single novel? A single short story? It can happen. It did to me with The Screamer.
Ted’s wife Ives Hovanessian is a similarly gifted horror writer. I loved a grueling, tragically moving, eerie-as-fuck, and sometimes blackly humorous story she showed me called Dog Will Hunt. Well, this crazily-talented husband and wife super-duo are at work on assembling a short story collection, to be published by their own imprint SlaughterHaus Press, called I Am Death, Cried the Vulture. Based on the two aforementioned stories alone (both of which will be included), I anticipate this book with the greatest enthusiasm. And I highly recommend you seek out Ted’s fun and informative blog The Cosmicomicon http://cosmicomicon.blogspot.com/
Okay then. So now I guess it’s time for the ten questions that the Next Big Thing posts mandate. Sorry again, but this is all the twig could support before it gave way!
(1) What is the working title of your next book?
Right now the publisher, Miskatonic River Press, is calling it: Punktown: An RPG Setting for Call of Cthulhu® and BRP. Because that just about says it right there. The book will a role-playing game guide based on my dark future world of Punktown, which is the setting of many of my novels and short stories. The game will be compatible with the Call of Cthulhu® and BRP systems.
(2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
It was suggested to me by Michael Tresca — author of the nonfiction book The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games and the novel The Well of Stars, among others — that my milieu of Punktown would make a great setting for a role-playing game. He started constructing a set of “core rules” based on his extensive reading of my Punktown material, devoting chapters to game mastering, character types, powers, weapons and technology, aliens and creatures, etc. All the aspects of Punktown that make my stories set there so varied: now at a gamer’s disposal. Once we had these core rules to present, Mike took them to Tom Lynch, president of Miskatonic River Press, and Tom was sold on the project. Tom then invited writers Brian M. Sammons and Glynn Barrass onboard, based on their experience with gaming and their enthusiasm for Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, to write game scenarios for the book.
(3) What genre does your book fall under?
My Punktown stories are a fusion of science fiction, horror, noir, pretty much any genre or subgenre that strikes my fancy. They’ve been variously described as cyberpunk and New Weird, but when I write one I don’t think in terms of genre…I’m just going to take another trip to Punktown. And incidentally, I’ve always written each Punktown story — whether short story or novel — so that it could exist on its own, without a reader having to catch up on any other Punktown story first. I’ve even utilized the Cthulhu Mythos in some of my Punktown stories, most notably in my novels Deadstock and Monstrocity, so gamers are going to be able to play Call of Cthulhu® -type scenarios in a refreshing new setting…a dystopian far future setting. But they can also leave the Mythos out entirely if they’d rather. The possibilities — and dangers — in the city of Punktown are endless.
(4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Besides having inspired the game’s setting and monitoring all material to make sure it’s consistent with the Punktown universe, my own contribution to the book is two original short stories…included as an introduction to the game’s world through the creator’s eyes. It’s hard for me to imagine who might play the characters from those stories — particularly since one story’s protagonist is Jeremy Stake, the private eye hero of my novels Deadstock and Blue War. Stake is a mutant with the ability to change his appearance at will (and sometimes even against his will). In his natural state, he has an oddly bland, android-like face. But I suppose if I had to pick an actor to play him, it would be Ryan Gosling. Thirty years ago I would have said Christopher Walken.
(5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
This book offers the foundation for an entire role-playing game compatible with the Call of Cthulhu® and BRP game systems, set in the nightmarish future city of Punktown, but will also appeal to non-gamers with its new fiction and a core set of rules that can serve as a kind of fanciful encyclopedia from another world.
(Miskatonic River Press publisher Tom Lynch ventures into Punktown.)
(6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Neither. As I say, the publisher is Miskatonic River Press, and I don’t have an agent. I’ve only ever self-published one book, my collection Aaaiiieee!!! in its original incarnation (an expanded hardcover edition was later released by Delirium Books). For me, self-publishing isn’t nearly as rewarding as having a publisher invest money, time, and faith in my work. But to fund this book, the publisher feels the best approach is to use a Kickstarter campaign, to make the book the very best product it can be. The Kickstarter for the project, which closes on December 19th, can be found here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1799183063/punktown-an-rpg-setting-for-call-of-cthulhu-and-br
(7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
The project has been ongoing for a couple of years now, and it’s still underway. At this writing I’ve finished one and a half of my two tales, and the book’s game scenarios still need to be written by the book’s other contributors. But the core rules of the book, as I said before, are complete at a meaty 37,000 words.
(8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Punktown is sometimes compared to China Mieville’s New Crobuzon (Perdido Street Station) and Jeff VanderMeer’s city of Ambergris (Finch), and I suppose there’s a superficial resemblance. Those settings also combine elements of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, but in such a fusion that the borders and limitations of genre dissolve. I’d call their work fantastical or imaginative fiction, if I had to label it at all. Same with my Punktown work.
(9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
As I say, the idea to turn Punktown into a game setting was Michael Tresca’s. Thanks, Mike!
(10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Artwork! There are going to be interior illustrations…there’s even talk of a map of Punktown (I’ve never tried to map out my city before!)…and the cover — ohh, the cover! I’ve been watching it develop, in stages, at the hands of Polish artist Mariusz Gandzel, and even though he’s only just begun laying in color the thing is looking magnificent. It’s a wraparound cover, very exciting in composition, and I think it’s worth the price of the book itself!