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This is a series of articles in which I talk about how living in the UK really informed my gaming life. Particularly by giving me first-hand experience with a lot of the sort of stuff that pops up in games all the time. You know what I’m talking about: Castles, medieval towns, inns, and cathedrals. But not just the medieval stuff—also Roman forts and steam-age/Victorian stuff and sailing ships and lots of other peeks into the sort of places and lives that are part of the fictional worlds we inhabit.

OK, to start with, a disclaimer or two. By “live in” I mean “spend some time in.” But more than just a five-day visit—enough time to really see and experience a lot of what I’m going to talk about. Oh, and by “England,” I really mean Great Britain—England is not the same thing as Wales, Scotland, or even Northern Ireland, but they’re all part of the UK. Confused? See this post on the topic.

This isn’t a travel guide, per se—though a gamer visiting the UK could do worse than treating it as one. I’m skipping a lot of common tourist destinations and focusing on specific topics of gamer relevance. But almost every square inch of the UK has something cool to offer the gamer’s imagination.

Oh, one more thing before I (finally!) get to the point: I’m only going to cover places I’ve actually been. Indeed, unless otherwise noted, every photo you see in this series was taken onsite in a Ryan family visit. You get the benefit of my personal experience, but, sadly, it does mean there are great places I just didn’t get to in my four years there (like the entirety of Scotland).

In This Episode: Getting a Peek into Medieval Life. By Way of Southampton.

When I lived in England, I got to go to a lot of really cool places. (You can see a bunch of them by clicking on the Ten Reasons to Live in England tab near the top of this page.) We were members of both English Heritage and the National Trust, the two organizations that operate 98% of interesting historical sites in England, and we took advantage of those memberships on an almost weekly basis. We visited huge places like Dover castle, famous ones like Stonehenge, and grand ones like Winchester cathedral. But perhaps my favorite site of all is neither huge nor famous nor grand. It’s this place:

The medieval merchant’s house in Southampton. It’s all of five rooms huge, and open maybe 20 days a year. Ironically, although I found it one of the most fascinating sites in the UK, I managed to never take a photo there, so this and my others are ripped off of the intarwebs.

You can visit lots of cool sites around England and be awed by how they look. But they don’t often give you a sense of what it was like to live there. What people did and how they spent their days and interacted with one another and all that. And yet, once your characters emerge from their old-school dungeon and stand blinking in the pallid sunlight of your grand campaign world, that’s really what our games are all about. We build fantasy worlds based on the medieval lifestyle.

But then we fill them with characters and places that are essentially just modern equivalents with a veneer of ye oldeness. I’ve already talked about how our inns and taverns tend to be based on modern bars. Need a sword or a wand of magic missile? No problemo; just hop on down to the sword or magic shop. OK, it doesn’t look like a Wal Mart, but it probably looks like the shops in your local strip mall, with a little extra thatch on the roof for color. Our characters order off the menu at the tavern, our buildings and towns are well lit at night.

But thatch and firelight are not the only differences between the then and the now. The people of earlier years were not like The Flintstones, living just like modern people but with everything made out of rock and animals. Medieval folk—and the Romans and Victorian folk and those living in the Iron Age and the times of the Celts and the Saxons—actually lived differently. They interacted differently with the world around them and the civilization they built. If you want your game to feel a bit more authentic than an episode of Gilligan’s Island, a little insight into how these folks lived their lives is really helpful.

What Is It?

The Southampton medieval merchant’s house is, well, a house that belonged to a merchant. A wine merchant, in this particular case, as you might gather from the signage. It was also a shop, because that’s how they rolled in those days: A merchant or tradesman worked out of his (or sometimes her) home, with a room in front for business and perhaps some storage space for extra stock if that stock tended to use up much space. Although it’s hard to see in the photo above, there’s a large window underneath that overhang; a big shutter closed the shop up after hours, but opened horizontally to create a counter onto the street during business hours. Behind that is a smallish room that served as the shop itself. The rest of the building is the house (expect the cellar, which was mainly used to store wine).

It dates to the late 1200s, and it’s pretty typical of city homes throughout Europe for a period of six or seven hundred years if not longer. It’s the original building, although it saw many uses over the centuries and had to be restored back to its current (medieval) condition.

Incidentally, the merchant’s house isn’t the only authentic peek into medieval life in England. The clues are all over the place, if you know where to look for them. The roads of virtually every town and city follow the same plan they did in the Middle Ages. Heck, take the A3 into London, and marvel not just at the twists and turns as you approach the city center, but also at how the road shifts from four lanes to two and then back to some ill-defined three-and-a-half lanes, and so on. That’s quality medieval urban planning, right there.

But another good place to visit is Dover castle. (There are a million great reasons to recommend Dover; this is just one of them.) When I first moved to the UK the keep was a big mostly-empty building like the majority of castles across the UK, but while we were there they completely redid the interior as it was in the era of Henry II (earlyish Middle Ages; the period of the Crusades and Robin Hood). It’s a bit more opulent than the merchant’s house, but the kitchen and chapel and other workaday areas are also done up in this manner.

What’s Cool About It?

The merchant’s house isn’t a dazzler of a site. It’s not big and it’s not grand and it doesn’t draw a huge crowd of tourists, and that probably explains why English Heritage only bother to open and staff it about 20 days out of the year. But it is fully restored and fully furnished, and, unlike the echoing, empty chambers of most castles—or the treasure-filled galleries of stately homes—it gives you a genuine sense of what daily life was like in an era that’s almost unimaginably different than our own.

For starters, the layout isn’t what you’d come up with if you sat down with your graph paper to lay this place out for your game. Like a castle, the principal space is a great hall—a big room that serves as living, dining, and lounge space. In this case, the hall sits in the middle of the building, a two-story space that extends to the open rafters above. A staircase leads to a gallery, which connects to the front chamber (above the shop) and the rear chamber (above the kitchen, which sits at the back of the ground floor).

Some larger, and probably more modern, shops in Canterbury. By "more modern," I mean they're only 600 years old, not 800.

Some larger, and probably more modern, shops in Canterbury. By “more modern,” I mean they’re only 500 years old, not 800.

Something You Didn’t Know

The thing that struck my most about the medieval merchant’s house is the utter lack of climate control. The windows don’t close; they’re open spaces barred with wooden slats for security. Where the rafters meet the walls there’s a six-inch gap between the top of the wall and the roof, all the way around the building. The place would have been drafty and cold whenever the weather outside was. I noticed the same thing in many of the castles I visited. The truth is, a medieval building was more like a permanent tent than a modern home. It kept the rain off your head and warded the worst of the wind, but that was about it.

(You know those big old-fashioned beds with curtains all around, like the curtains Scrooge shivered behind as he attempted to hide from Christmas ghosts? That wasn’t just the style at the time–it’s how people kept from freezing to death. A fire couldn’t be left blazing unattended while people slept–even if you could afford the firewood, that was just asking for a catastrophic fire that might take out the entire city (which happened every couple of decades as it was). So the medieval house was cold at night.)

Cozy! Note the daylight where the roof meets the wall.

Cozy! Note the daylight where the roof meets the wall.

The medieval house also didn’t have much in the way of security. And by much, I mean anything. Most houses had no locks. But that really didn’t matter, because the house was probably not left unattended very often. The business was in the house, families were large, and anyone in the middle class or higher probably had a servant or three. The unglazed windows were barred, and the doors could be bolted from the inside for security at night. Things of particular value were kept in a large, heavy chest in the kitchen, and that might have a lock. But most of the time security was provided by the simple fact that someone was always home.

This is where I'd keep my game collection. That silverware can sit out and tarnish.

This is where I’d keep my game collection. That silverware can sit out and tarnish.

What’s This Mean to the Gamer?

Appreciate that the medieval world doesn’t just feature different buildings. (In fact, it doesn’t necessarily feature different buildings at all: Go back to that first picture from Canterbury—see the word “coffee” on the building to the right? That’s a Starbucks. Seriously.) So if you want to bring it to life–if you want it to feel real— it’s not enough to stock your world with timber framing and thatched roofs. It needs to feel like the different–even foreign–place it really is.

A stable isn’t a garage; it’s a place where animals are fed and cared for, where their medical needs are seen to, where they poop and have babies and where they sometimes die.

An inn isn’t a restaurant or a roadside motel. There’s no menu–you eat what they’re making that day and you sleep where they have room.

Even houses aren’t much like what we think of them.

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

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My first brush with game licensing was way back in–well, I’m not sure I remember exactly. 1994? 93? Something like that. Chameleon Eclectic pitched an RPG based on Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed manga. It was a beautiful pitch–well written, liberally illustrated, bound up, and with a color cover. (Color! in 1993!) We never heard a single word back from them.

Man, this would have been an awesome RPG. Anyone out there want to take it on?

Man, this would have been an awesome RPG. Anyone out there want to take it on?

Since then my career has been interwoven with licensing. Chameleon Eclectic published the first Babylon 5 RPG. Then I went to work at Last Unicorn Games, where Star Trek was our bread and Dune our creamy, delectable, sweet-salty butter. My first task at WotC was writing the bulk of The Wheel of Time RPG. I then went on to work on Call of Cthulhu d20 and Star Wars before I contributed to my first D&D book. When I was in Brand, I oversaw a number of licenses–the d20 Licesnse and OGL, the various computer games, and even the second D&D movie. Well, sort of–we didn’t have any approval rights on that. But Silver Pictures wanted to work with us on it, and among other things I once traveled down to LA to meet Joel Silver in his office.

That was pretty cool, but it’s a story for another time.

Today’s story is more closely connected to my time at Last Unicorn. We produced so much content for Star Trek that we actually paid the salary of a guy who sat at a desk in Paramount’s offices approving our stuff.

The history of RPGs is replete with licensed games that were disasters–books released months or years late; supplements taking forever or simply never getting made; promising licenses starting out strong and then fizzling for no apparent reason (and no lack of fan enthusiasm), taking their small or mid-sized publishers with them. Anyone who’s ever been in the kids’ clothing department at Wal*Mart knows that licenses in other product realms are quite the thing–so why are they so problematic with games?

Here’s why: To approve a T-shirt, a guy at the studio looks at a picture of the T-shirt on his computer screen, and says, “Yeah, that looks good.” Or, “Make the logo a little bigger.” Or, “Do you have to use green? I hate green.” And then he’s off for his daily half-caf double decaf with a twist of lemon.

That same guy approved your license for the MegaBrand RPG. You had a couple of conference calls, and signed the contracts and sent in the check for the guarantee. And then, a few months later, you send him the manuscript for the 320-page corebook. And he says, “Wah? What the f**k is this? I thought it was supposed to be some kind of game or something?”

He’d blocked out an hour or two in his schedule to review your licensed product. And you sent him an RPG corebook. He’s never heard of an RPG before. Congrats: You’re looking at a 4-month delay while he figures out what the hell he’s going to do with this thing. And he hasn’t even considered the idea that you’re going to send him a new book every six weeks!

Remember that guy at Paramount, spending his days poring through Star Trek manuscripts on our dime? That’s why LUG rarely ran afoul of approvals delays with Star Trek; we had actually insisted on him. Totally worth it. (Dune was another story–also a story for another time.)

(Fortunately, nowadays the bigger geek-oriented brands are a bit more savvy about RPG approval requirements (and are more likely to have folk on their brand staffs who are familiar with RPGs in general), so this issue isn’t quite as common as it used to be.)

A week or so ago Monte Cook Games released our Limited License for Numenera, allowing small-press publishers to put out Numenera-compatible products within certain, fairly confining, limits. As the internet (especially the internet of gamers) is wont to do, people began at once speculating about our motives. Why this limit or that? Why a fee? Are we trying to grow the community? Kill small publishers? Encourage licensed products? Discourage them?

The answers are complex, and many of them have been brought up in the online discussions, but here’s one that’s been widely overlooked: Approvals. As so many game publishers have been astonished to find out, approving RPG materials takes time. A lot of time.

And now I’m on the receiving end of that. Guess who has two thumbs and wants to give up hours of his copious free time approving third-party PDFs that might net us, like, fifty bucks in royalties? This guy! Not.

So the next time you’re wondering why MegaBrand’s latest release is late–again!–you now have a likely culprit.

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
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Learning How to Kickstarter

So, I work for Monte Cook Games now. About a year ago–well before I started here; in fact, before MCG was its own company–Mr. Cook set out to publish a new roleplaying game, and to generate funding he turned to Kickstarter. If you’re a gamer, or at all in touch with what’s going on with crowdfunding, you probably know the story: He set out to raise $20,000, and instead topped half a million. Along the way, Monte added stretch goals and additional rewards, and by the end of it an attempt to publish a single, relatively conventional book had turned into an entire premium product line with 5,000 paying customers already in-hand.

You've heard of Kickstarter, right?

You’ve heard of Kickstarter, right?

It also generated some interesting licensing, and one of those licenses, the Torment: Tides of Numenera CRPG, included two Numenera titles among the rewards of its own highly-successful Kickstarter campaign. And in the months following MCG’s campaign, the company received hundreds of pre-orders from people who had missed the Kickstarter but wanted their foot in the door when the game launched. So when the product was finished–about two months after I started with Monte Cook Games–we had a lot of stuff to send out.

The final tally:

  • Over 12,000 orders
  • Roughly 50 different products
  • 11,272 physical items shipped
  • Shipping to 59 countries
  • North of 40,000 digital items sent out

And that was just the first wave–we’ll have several additional waves of product over the year to come, though fortunately the rest are not nearly as big or complex.

And when I say “fortunately,” I mean it. The first wave practically killed us.

A Monte Cook Games staff member after the first wave of fulfillment.

A Monte Cook Games staff member after the first wave of fulfillment.

Because if that sounds like a big project, well, it was. The Numenera Kickstarter was a record-setter at the time, and it remains one of the most complex fulfillment processes in Kickstarter history. Through the entire process, we were hacking a path through the jungles of the unknown, charting a course through unexplored territory and creating new processes for ourselves and our fulfillment partners.

You see, we weren’t the only ones overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge. Our warehouse has served the game industry for a decade or more, and has shipped many millions of orders. But they didn’t fully realize the impact of a campaign this size. DriveThruRPG set up a mechanism for us to send out PDFs, but their servers couldn’t handle our loads. We created an iOS app, but despite the fact that there have been many iOS Kickstarter campaigns, Apple’s systems don’t yet support distribution on our scale. Even Kickstarter itself doesn’t have data management systems capable of supporting campaigns of our size and complexity. We had to develop workarounds, on the fly and with the clock ticking, in every case.

(Did I mention that fulfillment started while Tammie and I were on vacation (a family vacation that had been planned and reserved many months before MCG brought me on board)? While our children and their cousins and grandparents cavorted on the beach, Tam and I huddled in the rental house, working 16-hour days getting the initial waves of digital product out to backers. Worst. Vacation. Evar.)

We mostly got it right. We mostly came up with those on-the-fly workarounds and got product into backers’ hands mostly on time. We made a few mistakes along the line, though, and learned a few lessons. Fortunately, I’m good at learning lessons.

We’re into our second wave of fulfillment now, with our adventure book The Devil’s Spine currently winging its way around the world, physically and digitally, to our backers. This is a much less complex wave–only two products: a physical version going to around 750 people and a digital version going to 4,000 or so. We’re pulling out all the stops to make sure it goes off without a hitch.

In addition to that, we’ve also made it a policy to reach out to other large-scale game-related Kickstarter campaigns, to share what we’ve learned and let them walk through that path we’ve hacked through the jungle. To date, I’ve had conversations with about half a dozen other companies that have had large, successful campaigns and are headed into their fulfillment phases.

So the long and short of it? Four months ago I was, at best, Kickstarter-curious. I’d backed a project or two. Like many in the world of gaming, I’d seen what it could do, and started to wonder if I might do something with it myself.

Now I’m one of the world’s foremost experts on fulfilling large, complex Kickstarter campaigns.

Which just might come in handy should, you know, Monte Cook Games ever want to do something like this again. . . .

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
  • Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

So the cat was officially released from the bag yesterday: I am now an employee of Monte Cook Games. I’ve taken up the reins as COO, which basically means I’ll be running all the operational, marketing, and business side of the, erm, business.

There are many reasons I’m super, super excited about this. Monte and I go way back, for one, and we’ve been good friends for many years. (There’s a story out there involving the two of us and a crocodile, but for better or worse it’s been swallowed by the intarwebz, never to be seen again–so I’ll just vaguebook about it here.) And then there’s returning to the games industry, my first love (industrially speaking). And of course it’s just nice to rejoin the ranks of the employed. But the main reason I’m excited is this:

Numenera

To be clear, while I loves me some RPGs, there is no specific game so awesome, in and of itself, that it would draw me to the company that makes it. Numenera is awesome, but what makes me so excited to be working with it is how it’s been received.

Perhaps you are not into roleplaying games. Or perhaps you are, but you live under a rock. In those cases, you may be excused for not knowing what I’m talking about–so let me explain. Monte launched a Kickstarter funding campaign for Numenera last year, looking to raise $20,000 to publish the core book. The campaign raised a bit more than that, and by “a bit” I mean “a lot.” “A whole lot.” Enough to demonstrate in no uncertain terms how huge Monte’s following is and how enthusiastic gamers are for his ideas. And when inXile announced a computer game license for Torment: Tides of Numenera, their own Kickstarter topped $4 million in funding and proved that Monte’s was no fluke.

Third edition wasn’t an accident. Planescape and Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil were not aberrations. WotC was not wrong when they courted Monte to lead D&D Next. It turns out people really like Monte’s work–and that he can deliver, over and over again.

When I posted about the end of my last job, I mentioned that I’d love to return to the games industry–but only to a job that promised a level of stability most game publishers can’t promise. Nobody can see the future, but here’s one thing I can predict: Numenera’s going to do great. And so will Monte’s next project. And the one after that.

This is a company that’s going places, and I’m really, really happy to be on board!

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
  • Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

On to a New Chapter

I have not been a very good blogger for the past year or so. Nor a good writer in recent months. Not even as good a gamer as I would like to be. The reason? My work at RiverKey Creative has been pretty all-consuming. I was brought on as a senior manager 18 months ago to assist in the turnaround of this terrific, but ailing, company.

Have a look at just one of our many really neat projects:

Despite the cool nature of our work, RiverKey was in bad shape when it came into our hands. We used every means at our disposal to restore it to health. Unfortunately, our best efforts were insufficient, and, over the past couple of weeks, the patient succumbed its wounds. Although some assets and employees may find new homes, possibly in some coherent form, RiverKey as it has existed is no longer. It’s dead, Jim.

Which means I’m looking toward a different future. Game design and writing remain my first great loves, and if there happen to be opportunities in those fields that would provide the stability my family requires, I’ll jump at them. More likely, though, I’m looking for a more conventional home for my talents.

I am an accomplished creator and, even moreso, a manager of creatives and the creative process. I have a particular penchant for bringing order and efficiency to creative processes and teams, and my experience ranges the gamut from written material through still and motion visuals, interactive, and game design. If my strengths interest you, you can find all the gory details over at my LinkedIn profile.

So I’m looking to hire a new employer. The qualities of a successful candidate might include:

  • A love of creativity and a belief in its power to change the world. That’s an environment where my leadership skills and extensive experience can help a creative team soar.
  • A culture (or the need to instill a culture) of process. I excel at organization; at detail; at bringing efficiency and order to highly dynamic workplaces—and at bringing the rest of the organization along with me.
  • A brand beloved by its adherents, or that that will grow to become beloved as is makes its way into the public eye. I cut my teeth on highly-evangelized, identity brands. I understand their communities, and the relationships they have with their constituents.
  • An environment that asks the most of its employees and appreciates what they bring to the table. I wear a number of hats with ease, and my experience across a range of disciplines can be a real asset to a company that makes the most of it.

If you have any leads along those lines, I would be very appreciative if you could steer me toward them. You can reach me directly at 276-794-2667. Feel free also to drop me a line ([my first name]@[this site’s domain name]) or hit me up on Twitter. A full resume is, of course, available on request.

I think my family and I would lean toward remaining in the Kansas City area, but we’re open to opportunities elsewhere.

So that’s it. I’ve lost jobs before, and ultimately every time the change, while harrowing, led to bigger and better things. My experience at RiverKey was terrific, and I can’t wait to see what it now launches me into!

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
  • Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

My boy dutifully kicked off May the 4th with a viewing of Star Wars. I lie: He popped Star Wars into the DVD player because that’s what he does on a Saturday morning. He had no awareness of today’s geeky significance.

But in honor of May the 4th, here’s a small, insignificant fascination I have with the original Star Wars.

I remember 1977. Here’s what I remember: 8-track tape players. Really big cars with carburetors under the hood. Pocket calculators that were just beginning to fulfill the promise of actually fitting in your pocket.

Considered awesome because you never had to rewind it!

Considered awesome because you never had to rewind it!

There were no cell phones. No computers in people’s homes—and certainly not in their pockets. No internet—people wouldn’t start commonly using the web for nearly two decades. Heck: Microwaves and VCRs were just hitting the market. The Atari game console was still several years away.

Star Wars had droids and computers. Nothing special about that; both had been in the public consciousness (and movies) for decades. But when did we become aware of networks and their potential? I don’t recall being at all aware of such things—but when R2 shuts down a garbage disposal from a network interface half a small moon away, the audience went right along with it. In 1977.

I guess maybe this concept was already out there. Or maybe it made such intuitive sense that people bought it without thinking. I don’t remember it being a “wow” moment.

But then, it was Star Wars. It was the summer of ’77, and there had never been an experience like it. Maybe it was just lost in the blinding glare of a hundred “wow” moments.

Am I right to find this bit of trivia fascinating? Or am I misremembering—were we already all like, “Yeah, duh, it’s a computer network. Happens all the time.”?

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
  • Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

I’ve talked a lot recently about the cover of The Mason of New Orleans. Here’s a related point: The image of Martin it portrays.

Martin, as envisioned by cover artist Drew Baker.

Martin, as envisioned by cover artist Drew Baker.

So one of the interesting things about commissioning a piece of artwork like this is seeing someone else’s vision of the people and scenes you’ve created in your written work. Oddly (perhaps), I have a clear vision for some of my characters. If I were casting the movie version of The Mason of New Orleans, for example, the role of Madeleine would go to Naomi Rapace. (I wasn’t really familiar with her before Prometheus, but when I saw that I was all like, “Holy crap, that’s Madeleine!”) But in other cases—including that of Martin—my vision wasn’t so clear. I didn’t know exactly what Martin looked like, so this image of him was sort of a surprise to me.

I think it works. Heck, I’d go so far as to say it’s helped me firm up an image of him in my mind. And now it’s got me thinking who I’d cast in other roles. Celestine? Stephan? Gaspard?

What are your thoughts? Is that the Martin you’d pictured? Who would you cast in some of those other roles?

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

The process of commissioning cover art is an interesting one. In the old days, it was pretty simple for the author: The publisher handled it. Maybe you got a chance to comment on or even approve the choice of artist or the design, but if you weren’t Stephen King, you probably didn’t even get that. Hopefully you liked it, but in the end what matters to the publisher is not that it’s true to the author’s vision—or even true to the story—but that it sells books. We’ve all read books with covers that seemed barely related to the content, and that’s why.

As a self-publishing author, I had the chance to right that wrong—but at the same time, I lost the author’s luxury of caring only about my vision. Like the publishers of yore, I had to worry equally—or perhaps moreso—about selling the book.

And what sells a book? Opinions vary, and sometimes it just comes down to a certain magic, but I think a cover painting needs to convey atmosphere. It needs to be colorful and eye-catching (in the world of electronic publishing, it has to look good at many sizes, all the way down to icon scale). It needs to tell just a bit of a story. It needs drama and tension. Most importantly, it needs to ask questions, so the reader wants to crack that book open in search of answers.

Way, way down at the bottom of the list, it needs to represent something that happens in the novel.

The Mason of New Orleans cover

Unless this is your first visit to my site, you’ve seen this already. More times than you probably want to. So, what the heck, here it is again.

The events in my cover “happen” in Chapters 10 and 11, so if you’ve read the book (or the chapters I posted here on this site) you might recognize that stage of the story. But you might also notice that no scene exactly like this occurs: The bloodied arm, the hunted skulking, and the frescoe of St. Martin don’t all occur at the same exact point in the story. As the reader, should you be outraged? Should I, as the author? Not, I think, if the painting has achieved the goals I mention above.

So what do you think? Did the fabulous Drew Baker (who, unlike many cover artists, did in fact read a draft of the book before composing this) knock it out of the park? Is this a book you’ve gotta read? Or should I have insisted on something right out of an actual scene?

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
  • Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

It has been a week since The Mason of New Orleans went live on Amazon, and I have been incredibly fortunate in that several people have taken the time to review it. Even more incredible: They seem to like it! The novel has received nine reviews as of this writing, with a very gratifying average of 4.8 stars. Here are a few snippets:

amazon-4-star“The story vividly evokes medieval times from the point of view of a modern mason, magically thrust upon the twelfth-century scene. His character made it easy for me to get into the book because Martin’s reactions seemed to mimic how I might face troubles like swords, horsemanship, cults, ruthless nobles and more: with wit, courage and modern knowledge, applied as best he can. The twists in Martin’s adventures were always fresh, and I never got caught in a trope trap. Indeed, it is not going too far to compare this to “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” yet it’s all the more enjoyable because it embraces the opportunities rather than using them as a foil or for commentary on modern life and troubles.”

amazon-5-star“I have a degree in history, and I loved the historical accuracy of the setting. The author clearly researched what life was like in medieval Europe, which of course really makes Martin feel like the fish out of water that he is. It’s easy to settle in and view the world from Martin’s perspective. What is foreign to you is foreign to him. And in Martin’s new world, not everything works out the way it would in our more relaxed society.”

amazon-5-star“Martin was a well-written character and hearing his internal dialogue gave the book a great sense of humor as well as an enjoyable take on the time-travel genre.”

Now here’s the thing: Most of these reviews were written by beta-readers of the novel—people who responded to my call back in July and received ARCs in trade for a willingness to review the book when it came out. Just one or two are by people who read the book since its release. Which begs the question: Where is your review? So here’s an offer:

Read The Mason of New Orleans, then post a review to Amazon or any other public forum (EN World, anyone?) where interested readers might find it. It’s easy. Then post a comment below letting me know that you’ve done it, and where people can find it. You are under absolutely no obligation to say nice things—if you don’t like it, feel free to say so.

I will personally send the first three people who do so a giant kiss. A giant Hershey’s Kiss, that is. (Offer valid only within the US of A.) Along with my undying gratitude. Because:

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)
  • Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing

And It’s Live!

The Mason of New Orleans is now available at Amazon.com:

Click through to Amazon.com!

Click through to Amazon.com!

If you’ve followed this blog and maybe read a few chapters along the way—or if you’ve ever enjoyed any of my work on D&D, Deadlands, d20 Modern, Star Wars, The Last Crusade, Millennium’s End, Hell on Earth, Psychosis or anything else—I urge you to check it out. Of everything I’ve written, this is the one thing I may be most proud of.

C’mon, it’s $3.99. What do you have to lose (you know, other than $3.99)?

Writers live and die by the feedback they get from their readers, so I’d love your comments—there’s a little link just down below to the right. Also:

  • Receive an email notification of every update to this site by subscribing (see the link to the right)Follow me on Twitter at @charlesmryan, where I post lots of game, writing, and geek news and can often be dragged into conversation
  • Follow my writing diary on Facebook at Charles M Ryan, where I post frequent short bits on the writing process and state of my current projects
  • Encircle me (is that right?) on Google+, where, like most people, I have no idea what I’m doing
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