Lagging Behind on the Leading Ladies, Part 3: The Creative Side

Introduction

Business Perspective

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It’s that time again! Time to talk about how I don’t get to play like a girl as much as I want to, and look into possible means as for why that is.

Today, we’re going to talk about the creative aspect of having women as leading characters in your video games. And it’s purely going to be about the art of making video game women, in a vacuum. We’re not going to discuss the impact audience reception has on creating just yet, that’s going to be a topic for our next post in this series, when we’re talking about the social factors. Most creators do create for their audience, but if we start working that in alongside everything else we’re talking about the lines between this post and the next post will blur and then I’d have to write the two of them together and I am too monumentally lazy right now to do that. So yeah, just focusing on the creative side of things today, looking at things from the perspective of the designer, not considering the marketing or receptive aspects of these.

This didn’t come up so much in the last post we did in this series, but at it’s core, the whole issue behind gender representation and everything else we’ll talk about here stems from the way we as a culture look at gender identity. So let’s talk a bit about that first.

I’m going to say I’m pretty experienced at being a man. I’ve got a lot of experience at that. Enough that I have pretty much mastered the art of physically being a man. On top of that, I’ve known plenty of women throughout the course of my life. Taken in their stories, their personalities, their… eh, let’s keep this G-rated. Never been a women, but I’ve observed them plenty. On top of that, as I continually demonstrate through this blog, I am a genius. My thinking is just of a top-tier quality.

What I’m saying is I have absolutely the highest credentials to talk about matters of gender. Accept no substitutes. My word on this is the best-informed you will ever see. And I’m telling you that men and women just aren’t all that different. Naturally, we barely have anything between us. Personality-wise, we in general have a few different drives, usually related to partnering or evolutionally instilled upon us from a period of life that we’ve outgrown faster than our biology has, but aside from that, we’re basically the same. Yes, we have some biological, hormonal, and brain developmental differences, but the differences account for so little proportion of who we are. Men and women have far more in common than we realize. Stripped of everything else, we all have basically the same capacity for caring, for aggression, for nurturing, and for enjoying video games.

But cultures in general do not recognize that. That’s one of the human absolutes, every single known human culture has developed a distinction between gender roles because people in general have a hard time not getting blinded by obvious distinctions. It’s human nature, in an attempt to understand people we attempt to see them as instant wholes based on the most obvious characteristics, rather than taking the time to figure out their individual features and building our concept of them around that. This creates expectations. Implicit, unstated expectations of how different genders are supposed to act, instilled in us since birth, and the mold by which we’re supposed to grow up into. Which is ridiculous. You cannot define a single personality trait or feature that reasonably applies to a full half of the human population. But cultures try. And in so doing, they create more differences between the genders than actually exists.

And that has negative impacts on both sides of the coin. Those impacts don’t always reach a one-to-one match, but the defined gender roles are hurting both men and women in different ways.

But still, it persists. That’s both the cause of what we’ll be talking about today, and the whole reason I’m writing this post series in general.

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Dark Souls was the first Let’s Play I finished, but not the first one I started.  No, even that ill-fated Recettear LP was not my first.  My first LP actually went on about five years ago, on the online forum I took part in at the time, covering good old Shin Megami Tensei.

There I was, trying baby’s first screenshot LP on a board that was already full of frankly excellent screenshot LPs by a lot of people far more eloquent, funny, and informed than I was.  That was one of the first online writing things I put so much effort into,, but reading over my stuff didn’t seem as good as what everyone else had, and frankly, I lost my confidence in the quality of my work.  I stopped the LP and quit the forum a few months down the road, which was really in large part because I was going through some big life changes and just didn’t have the time to keep up, but a not insignificant part of it was because I thought my work was poor and I just couldn’t hang.

Well blast from the past, on a lark, I just went back and read it yesterday.  And you know what?  It was great!  Five years gone, I’m divorced enough from the creation of it to actually enjoy it as I would something that anyone else did, and I really enjoyed it.  It’s like somebody who knew exactly what I like in a screenshot LP was putting it together!  Seriously, reading through it now, I am really proud of what I created.  And yet I was feeling nothing but uncertainty while I was creating.

It’s kind of a running joke among authors that everyone hates their own work.  There is no pride in a job well done, there’s no honest ego, there’s only all those flaws the artist can’t get their eyes away from.  There’s truth to that, though.  When you’re in the middle of creating something, you’re already committed to seeing it from a different perspective than the eventual reader will be, and that changes the way you look at it.  Necessitates a critical eye.  There’s still some things you can look for in the quality of your work, but once you’ve moved yourself that close to the source, you lose your perspective.  That’s why you get John Romero saying he’s going to make you his lady for the night when the game he proposed to do that with played like a migraine on wheels, because everyone involved in creating and marketing that game was just too close to the project to get proper perspective.  Although they realized Daikatana was falling down the tank towards the end of development, they still didn’t have the perspective required to take the steps necessary to either fix the game or at the least not make the marketing campaign a horrible embarrassment.

And that happens all the time.  Every creative work you’ve experienced.  Every game, every book, every movie, every work of art.  For someone to have created something worth experiencing, they would have needed to have improve their craft, and improving  requires the critical eye that leads one to doubt their own work.  All but the most arrogant of creators, everyone from my fellow bloggers to the highest paid content producers, go through this every time they make something.  And even the arrogant creators lose perspective on their work.  Hell, even now, calling my first LP something I can be proud of may stem from a complete lack of perspective.

This lack of perspective does go a long way to explain why studios spend so much on making bad things.  That’s why Disney un-cancelled the Lone Ranger film and spent $375 million in production and marketing only for it to fail so, so hardcore.  That’s why Marvel so often announces these big events, their authors putting so much spirit behind their works, only for them to actually come out and be infuriating.  That’s the reason for almost everything Silicon Knights has produced and failed to produce since Nintendo stopped overseeing them.

Creation is hard.  And it gets even harder just by the fact it’s next to impossible to get the consumer’s perspective on your work, after you’ve gotten so involved in building it.  Even the stuff I put up on this blog, although entertaining to me, I have no idea how good it is to anybody else.  But that’s the way it goes.  There are a set of skills you can develop to overcome this, to start getting a sense of what is going to translate well for the reviewers, but oddly enough, overcoming that gap in perception is not always necessary.  Sometimes, the greatest works come out of letting that risk be, out of ignoring the focus testers and going your own route.

That’s just something to keep in mind the next time you play something and start wondering what the developer was thinking.  And hey, the next time I write something that sucks, just keep in mind it’s all because you don’t have my obviously proper perspective.

Freytag’s Pyramid vs. Non-endings in Storytelling

Man, Frank R. Stockton was such a punk.

So, there’s a lot of bad endings in the world of stories.  I’m not talking about downer endings, those can actually be quite good no matter how sad they may be.  I’m talking about those blatant sequel hooks, rushed finales, story threads you’ve been waiting for the conclusion on that never finish up, works that just skip the denouement entirely, and the like.  Narrative tricks that stop the story without finishing it.  Non-endings.  Non-endings have been around for quite a while.  Longer than you or I.  Frank R. Stockton punking it up all over the 19th century is proof enough for that.  It seems they’ve been getting more and more frequent in the modern age, though, as pretty much every writing industry gets more competitive, as serial fiction gets more popular, as more creators either get lazy or try to leave things open for the follow up.  It’s easy to see why.  Endings are really, really hard in the first place.  Keeping track of all the myriad threads you’ve opened up?  That’s for nerds!  And hey, if you set things up so that people have to keep with your story beyond the initial work in order to get a satisfactory conclusion?  Who cares if it’s manipulative as all hell!  There’s dollars/ego at stake!

Yeah, so non-endings abound, they’re getting more pervasive, and a lot of authors seem really, really attached to them.  They also make all of your stories worse, though.  And I’ve got the science, in the form of pretty line graphs and century old literary theories, to prove it.  And you can’t doubt any of it.  I got my Bachelor of Science degree.  See, “Science”.  It’s right in the name.

Anyways, once upon a time there was this guy called Gustav Freytag, better known to modern literary historians as the Frey-Dawg.  The Frey-Dawg was a novelist and playwright who wrote some things you’ve probably never heard of unless you’re European or something, but he moonlighted as a literary critic because nothing picks up women in the 1800’s like talking smack about Shakespeare that they’ll never understand.  Remember than in case you ever get your hands on a time machine.  It was in the latter field that the Frey-Dawg truly made his mark on history.  Check this out.

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This is Frey-Dawg’s Pyramid.  Also known as Freytag’s Pyramid or Dramatic Structure because your English teacher had all the personality of a brick wall.  This showcases what is just about the most basic plot structure you can have and still have a story anybody’s going to want to read.  That line could represent a lot of things, like tension, pace, reader’s interest, the amount of changes being made, whatever.  You could argue about that for years, and it really doesn’t matter.  It’s something you feel mostly by impulse, what specifically it is doesn’t make a difference.  Basically, this plot structure sees your hero kicking it in his crib at the start, spends a bit of time showing you the base level of what the story-world is, before shaking it all up with the Inciting Incident.  Said Inciting Incident starts up the rising action, with the hero progressing through the plot and leading up to the big “Luke, I Am Your Father” moment at the climax.  After the climax, the story stops introducing new elements and focuses on wrapping up the threads it does have, the mysteries have been uncovered, the hero is whaling on the bad guy, that sort of thing.  Then there’s no more to do, and you hit the denouement, where all the happily ever after happens, and the story sets the stage for the life you’ll assume the characters and world will have after you put the book down.

The Frey-Dawg built this pyramid strictly with five-act Greek and Shakesperian dramas in mind, but you can actually fit most stories ever since mankind was hanging around in caves telling tales of rocks mating into something approaching this mold.  Not only is this such a basic measure of storytelling, this also outlines what are usually the minimum requirements to tell what most readers will consider to be a ‘complete’ story.  This is generally what it takes to satisfy readers.  This is the structure that most simply fills the needs of storytelling.

Of course, tastes in narratives change over time.  While this structure fit a lot, possibly even most, of stories up through the early 1900s, most modern authors and readers alike prefer something considerably more complicated.  Modern storytelling tends to extend the rising action greatly, pushing the climax back into the endgame, and adding in a lot of mini-climaxes or complications on the way there.  Both the exposition and the denouement tend to be shorter, establishing the baseline and wrapping things up a lot faster compared to the time spent on the main thrust of the plot.  You have little bits of falling action interspersed among the rising action, then the main fall happens over a lot less time than Shakespeare would give it.  So, for an example of how Frey-Dawg would work that structure around a modern story, here’s the pyramid for an absolute masterpiece I just spent the last five minutes thinking up.  Man, I’m awesome.

Modern story freytag

Don’t get too stunned by how amazing I am.  We still have some talking to do.  So, the important part, at least for our discussion today, is at the end there, the bit starting right after the climax.  Even in modern-day stories, where the post-climax period is a lot shorter, our stories still have a period where they wind down, then plateau before THE END.  That is vitally important.  That is what you need to have a good, satisfying ending, no matter how happy or sad your conclusion is.

And that is what all these various non-endings fail at.  Frey-Dawg clearly showed future generations just what it takes, and our storytellers are just stomping all over it.  These endings suck because they fail to take into account the basic needs of a finale, as demonstrated by Frey-Dawg’s Pyramid.

Let’s take a look at exactly how these work out.  There’s three main structures these bad endings tend to fall into.

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Flavor Matters

With most creative works, whether video games, books, movies, whatever, it’s often the little touches that really make the whole experience.  You can have a great plot, excellent gameplay, perfect cinematography, whatever, but if you ignore the tone, atmosphere, visual details, continuity, all those small details, it’s going to drag your whole work down.

From a creation standpoint, it’s really easy to forget that.  It’s just habit to try to direct the audience’s focus wherever most of the creator’s efforts are going.  After all, I just delivered this big shiny fight scene with such vibrant imagery!  Did you see the way Brick Stronggroin just shot that guy’s head into the air where it exploded like an Independence Day firecracker, before he stagedived into the Sea of Tits?!  That’s high art!  I should be showered with awards!  So what if the costumes are not really appropriate for the tone of this work, or the soundtrack at this part is all bloopy reggae jams?   Who cares if I had previously established that Brick hated explosions of all sorts owing to the death of his entire home planet in a freak explosion accident?

The thing is, creators experience a work differently than consumers do.  Creators, even when going back and reviewing their own creations, tend to look at it piece by piece, breaking it down by its components, and naturally giving more importance to the little bits they spent more effort on.  So it’s easy for creators to forget the impact of all the little touches, such as internal consistency, the atmosphere they’ve built, continuity, and all that jazz.  All those little pieces combine to form the flavor of the work.  For consumers, who, unlike the creators, usually view a work as a whole, more concerned with how well the parts work together than the quality of each individual bit, flavor is generally just as important as every other component.  Flavor matters.

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A great example of that comes in Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel.  There is a game that is just reviled.  It’s hard to find anywhere that has anything good to say about it.  Fallout fans are absolutely disgusted by its existence, even nonfans have soundly marked it as decently below average, and its sales were incredibly low and likely a large contributing factor to Interplay’s bankruptcy.  Perhaps most damning, the owners of the Fallout franchise has determined it completely non-canon, in spite of the fact that it seems to have fewer plot inconsistencies than Fallout Tactics, its fellow side game.

I played Brotherhood of Steel recently.  If you take the flavor out of the equation, this is a decidedly average game.  The gameplay is uninspired but doesn’t have many major flaws, the visuals are functional, the controls are tight enough, and the plot at least makes sense.  Compared to its contemporaries, the game at least hit par.  Without the flavor, it doesn’t nearly deserve the heaps of scorn it’s gotten, and it’s probably worth at least a few points more than reviewers have been giving it.

Yet, even so, the game is rightfully remembered as downright foul.  And it all comes down to flavor.  The flavor in this game is so bad it drastically impacts ones enjoyment of the game.

For the Fallout fans, the flavor inconsistencies are obvious, even as the plot roughly matched up.  Fallout is almost defined by its retrofuturist aesthetic.  Everything is built around the 1950’s idea of science fiction.  And yet, in Brotherhood of Steel, the characters look as if they walked out of the pages of Heavy Metal magazine, the soundtrack was a decidedly modern roll of droning metal, and the game featured product placement from a brand that didn’t even exist until the late 90s.  Even ignoring the other games in the Fallout series, the flavor was wildly inconsistent in its own right.  Matching the 50’s aesthetic with all the features mentioned above just creates a level of cognitive dissonance that’s absolutely baffling.  Moreover, the game swears so much the English language itself starts losing any meaning, the soundtrack is flatout bad, even without the dissonance, and the visual design is flatly uninspired.  The game is bad.  And it’s bad because of its flavor.  It’s bad because this one link in the otherwise average chain is so very, very poor.

It’s easy to go too far with this.  I think everyone can remember finding some discussion somewhere where one consumer placed flavor so far above everything else in terms of importance that the slightest inconsistency absolutely shattered their suspension of disbelief and their enjoyment of the piece as a whole.  Even so, flavor matters.  Flavor is an important component of enjoying a work, and it’s not one that can go ignored.

Crafting the Experience vs. Sidequests

Imagine you’re reading a book, or watching a movie, or whatever you’re into. It’s still in the exposition, and the hero’s just received the call for some big epic quest. Oh, woe is us! The dark lord, Slapdick the Tormentor, ruler over these lands for the past 86 years, is now letting loose his last gasps of life on his deathbed! Normally, this would be cause for celebration, but in an effort to make sure nobody in the world outlives him, he’s engaged an ancient global-destruction magic! The mages of old, foreseeing this would come to pass, instilled a holy bloodline with the power to cancel that magic, but only by activating magic stones hidden in the most monster-infested dungeons around the world. Unfortunately, members of that bloodline were universally bad with women, and so you, Hammercles von Chunkmeier, are the only descendant left! You must save us! You’re our only hope!

And so, noble Hammercles sets off on his great and fearsome quest to activate the stones and save the world. Well, almost. First he has to tend his livestock, make sure they’ll be alright while they’re away. Then he has to write a farewell letter to his mother. Then, on his way out of town, the local cleric asks for his help collecting herbs for healing poultices, and what kind of hero would he be if he left his healer poorly stocked? And so on, for hours and hours of screentime or chapters and chapters of pages.

That’d be a pretty miserable story, wouldn’t it? The author would be completely ruining the experience there. It wouldn’t matter how epic the quest was, you’re just sitting through the granular experiences of this guy you’ve yet to find reason to care about. The pacing’s all ruined, the tension so masterfully built up by the intro is all gone, and your time is being wasted. Readers will experience a story as they well, through their own individual lens, but even so, it’s up to the author to craft it, to build things towards the story they’re really trying to tell. What was the author thinking?

I had that experience recently. I was in for an epic story, yet ended up just grinding through a huge amount of mostly-meaningless minutia. Save for one major difference. In that case, it wasn’t the author who had failed in crafting a good experience. It was all on me.

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Dragon Age: Inquisition opens up with some really massive stakes. The sky itself has torn in twain and is pumping demons out into the world. You’re the only survivor of the massive strike that caused it all, and the world can’t decide whether to worship you or blame you for it. What quickly becomes clear, though, is that you’re the only one with the power to close that tear and stop the demons from coming through. A really powerful opening, all in all.

Then, once you’ve gone through the starting mission, it dumps you out into the Hinterlands, a sprawling, expansive area with much to explore and lots to do, with no more direction than “Hey, go talk to this lady, then, you know, whatever.” It essentially leaves you at the mercy of the many, many sidequests in the region. In retrospect, it’s obvious that the developers intended you to just hang out there until you got bored and come back later on for another round of sidequests, what with part of the area being blocked off until later in the game, the few enemies too strong for you in the first round, and the fact that new sidequests keep being added as you progress. Thing is, they don’t really give you much in the way of guidance as to what you should or shouldn’t do. And I’ve been trained by hundreds of other games to always do all the sidequests, for they shall give you POWER. And so, while the world was reeling from the loss of its lady warpope, I was hunting rams to feed some refugees. While the populace lay in fear as to what would come out of the massive rift in the sky next, I was collecting herbs for some medicine. While the harbinger of the end of days moved his pawns around the land, I was racing my new horse. I was really good at it, too. Beat all three courses on my first try.

Anyways, by the time I was done in the Hinterlands, I had done pretty much everything they had to offer there. I was twelve hours in without doing much of substance, way overleveled, and bored with the game. Luckily, it picks up strongly afterwards, but the point remains that staying there for so long was really harmful to my experience.

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It reminds me a lot of Xenoblade Chronicles. That’s an excellent game, one of my favorite of last gen, in fact, providing a really transcendent experience… so long as you ignore sidequests. Each area is filled with stuff to do, packed to the brim with small sidequests, that, if you try and complete it all, will totally choke out all the plot, the new characters, the action, the areas, with just their sheer mass. The sidequests in Xenoblade Chronicles are like an invasive kudzu to a tree, you, the player, have to carefully keep them in check or they’re going to smother everything else. And yet, just like in Dragon Age: Inquisition, that stuff is only there as an option for me. Even though I have the urge to do everything doesn’t mean the game is making me do so.

If I had made a story where the side plots and minutia so completely got in the way of my pacing, flow, and main plot, my readers would have rightfully blamed me for ruining my work. It was my responsibility to craft the experience, after all. But I’m not a game developer. The types of stories we’ve been talking about here are told in partnership between the author and the player. And maybe this time, it’s the player who’s been messing it up.

When playing games, I have a strong impulse to try and finish up any side content I can as soon as it becomes available. It feels shameful to me to move on with something left undone. But that’s not always the right way to experience the game. It’s not wrong of the developer to choose not to carefully craft the experience, instead leaving a great mass of content strewn over a wide area for me to enjoy at my leisure. It’s not even wrong for them to refrain from giving me direction and letting me make my own way through the great fog of content. A lot of great video game experiences have been built that way. For me, there’s a bit of a learning curve in being able to let things go, but in these games, I have the power to craft some of my own experience. As the player, I need to learn to use it.

Never Trust an Author

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Western culture has an odd fascination with liars. So many people, telling lies so blatant that everyone’s learned not to trust them, yet still we place them at the highest echelons of our societies. Politicians, corporate executives, lawyers, and the like, all very well known as fibbers of the highest order. Yet still we raise them up, largely because of their lies, giving them some of the highest salaries and greatest honors our communities have to offer. They’re some of our culture’s most accomplished false witnesses, some of the most public liars, yet they are far from the most blatant. No, the most devious, the boldest, the most blatant liars take up an occupation that generally gives them a lot less income or prestige, but it’s worth it to them because it affords much more opportunity to lie. Most professions at least have to give off the impression that they’re there for legitimate reasons, but this one, we’ll readily pay them to lie to us. In all of human history, has there been a bigger rat liar than the humble storyteller?

Authors, writers, dramatists, playwrights, that whole blasted trade. They will give us the most obvious lies imaginable and expect us to take them with a smile. These are the people who will just make up a tale from whole cloth then devote themselves completely and utterly to making us believe it could be true. They’ll do their best to convince us, through words, details, and any other tool of their trade, that their imaginary words are real, that their characters exist, that their stories are actually happening, even as you read them. They will do anything they can to immerse you in their lies, to make their words leave the page and overtake your own reality, at least for as long as you’re reading them. These are the mendacious folk who will just spawn a character from their own twisted minds, then make them complex and fleshed out enough that we feel for them just as much as we do those in real life. These are the cruel beings who will use their wicked powers over words to make us feel every twist and turn in the plot as if it was actually happening to us. The author is the malicious mage who draw us into their cold, cruel worlds and personally feel every smile and tear their characters go through. It is they who trick us into making the unreal real in our own minds, in tearing and boosting our emotions with nothing more than their tall, tall tales.

And we love them for it.

The Bookshelf Tag!

We haven’t done one of these viral social blogging posts in a while.  Which seems a little odd to me.  After all, there’s plenty of questions I know people are just dying to ask me.  Questions like “What’s a day in the life of the world’s sexiest man like?” or “What deities do I have to thank for the fact that you’re in my life?” or “How exactly are you supposed to pronounce Aether, anyway?”  Given that I’m still one of the internet’s biggest enigmas, I felt I owed it to the world to respond when our good friend Mishka Jenkins hooked us into the Bookshelf Tag that’s been going around the internet.  Basically, got ten questions here, all about me and books.  And because I basically carved out this corner of the internet for me to do nothing but talk about myself, I’m going to answer these questions.  With words.  And self-indulgence.  Because really, isn’t that what the internet’s all about?

Here we go!

1. Is there a book that you really want to read but haven’t because you know that it’ll make you cry?

Not really.  If a book can make me feel, that’s a beautiful thing.  Even if that feeling is sad.  If a story can break me out of my bitter, mortal shell, and actually feel for the characters to the point that I weep for them, that’s that almost always something worth experiencing.  There’ve been times that I put off sad stories until I was in the mood for them, because I knew they’d make me feel that way, but nothing I avoided outright.  Also, I’m a rock-hard stone-cold hunk of manly manliness who never ever cries.  That part helps too.

2. Pick one book that helped introduce you to a new genre.

‘Stolen Bloodline’ by Mishka Jenkins.  I very rarely dip into the romance genre, but I’ve actually been enjoying the works Mishka’s been putting out since she decided to start making a living as an author.  It’s not just because she and I are close, I’ve honestly been enjoying her works on their own merit.  She mixes up a lot of the fantasy and adventure and conflicts and other stuff I do usually like with some well-written love stories, and it’s made me a lot more open to the romance genre than I was previously

3. Find a book that you want to re-read.

‘The Burning City’, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.  I read it a lot as a kid, and really liked how well-realized and unique the world was, but looking into it more recently I’ve been seeing that there’s a lot of transparent and blatant allegory and imagery that was lost on me in my younger days.  Haven’t read it in years, but I’d love to give it another go to see what my older, better-educated mind might be able to pick up now.

4. Is there a book series you’ve read but wish that you hadn’t?

Nope.  Even bad media has some sort of value.  There’s been stories that have wasted my time, but none that I’m actively worse off for going through.

5. If your house was burning down and all of your family and pets were safe, which book would you go back inside to save?

Well, I’d probably try to save my video games first, but if it had to be a book… well, it’d probably be my collection of the original Elfquest publications.  Those are available for free online now, but the copies I’ve got were part of the first run, back when you had to get a subscription from a small time independent publisher to get your hands on them.  They used to belong to one of my relatives, before being passed down to me, so it’s more sentimental than anything else.  The fact that the story’s really, really good helps the decision.

6. Is there one book on your bookshelf that brings back fond memories?

Any of my Star Wars books.  I used to be crazy into Star Wars as a kid.  ‘Wraith Squadron’ is probably the one I carry the most memories for, to the point that I actually got a bit depressed when its author passed away earlier this year, despite being as jaded as I am.

7. Find a book that has inspired you the most.

Hmm… that’s a tough one.  Terry Goodkind’s early books in the Sword of Truth series, I’d guess.  I don’t particularly like his work nowadays, but those were one of the biggest influences that got me into writing in the first place.

8. Do you have any autographed books?

My copy of the Ocean at the End of the Lane is autographed by Neil Gaiman.

9. Find the book that you have owned the longest.

A copy of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ I’ve had since we put on the play in 6th grade.  I played Oberon.  Unfortunately, my parents were in the habit of selling everything as soon as they thought I was done with it, so I don’t have anything older.  I lost a lot of my childhood, that way.

10. Is there a book by an author that you never imagined you would read or enjoy?

I’m not actually a fan of most classic or older literature.  I find the writing style and plot development to be a bit less nuanced when written before the era where people were studying and educating themselves on these things.  So, I was very surprised when I found myself getting drawn into Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels in such a major way.  The plots are generally just as poorly developed compared to most of its modern counterparts as everything else of the era, but the stories are still really well-written otherwise, and I find myself drawn into them quite easily.