Chronicles of Craddock: 2015
Welcome to the inaugural edition of Chronicles of Craddock, what I hope will be an annual review of my writing projects for the past 12 months, and a taste of the projects still on the fire. If you've followed my blog (this one, or the old one) for any amount of time, you know I'm terrible at blogging. Fortunately, one of my New Year's Resolutions is to blog more (at least 2x a month, preferably once a week), and I have a fairly decent track record of keeping resolutions.
Proof: I am here at my computer, blogging, rather than resolving to do something crazy — like lose 10 pounds only to stay as far away from the gym as possible.
Ideally, I'll post Chronicles of Craddock blogs during the last week of December. This edition is a couple of weeks late because I'm busy, a good problem to have when you're a freelance writer.
Before we dig in, I'll talk a bit about how I see these blogs unfolding, and where the name comes from. Back in 2007, I spent a few months at IGN. It didn't work out for either party. You win some, you lose some. In the "win" column, I made a few fans while I was there, and one of them designed a snazzy logo themed after the "Chronicles of Craddock" quip one of my cohosts of Three Red Lights made during my first week or two at the company. I love the design, I love alliterations, and I love the title, so it stuck.
As for the rough structure of a Chronicles of Craddock blog, here's how it'll go. I'll start out by looking back at what I accomplished over the previous year. If you've read my book breakdowns, where I talk about how I put drafts of my books together, you can expect that same level of detail and honesty: I'll do my best to reflect on the good, bad, and ugly of each project.
Once we've finished reflecting on the past, we'll look toward the future by way of discussing the projects I'm working on — which ones should be out in the year to come, and which ones are works in progress you can expect to see further afield.
Ready? Set? Here we go!
Press Start Press and DM Press
I get emails almost every week from readers asking when the next book in the STAY AWHILE AND LISTEN series will be available. I talk more about that below, in the "Future Projects" section, but an important aspect of those books, their publisher, warrants its own section.
In 2011, my wife, Amie and I co-founded DM Press as a publisher for my books about the making of video games. My primary job would be to do what I do best: research and write books. Amie would handle the business side of the business: she built our website, filed paperwork, and such. She also got to flex her creative muscle by designing book covers and writing the code responsible for the formatting used in SAAL: BOOK I, our premiere title.
Unfortunately, some of the personal problems I mentioned stem from my marriage. Amie and I are working on things; any more detail is far beyond the purview of this blog, or public knowledge in general. What I can share is that Amie has been ill and unable to see to her duties at DM Press. Therefore, I decided it was in my best interest to open a new publishing company that I would manage myself.
Press Start Press published DUNGEON HACKS, ONE-WEEK DUNGEONS, and ANGELS, DEVILS, AND BOOMSTICKS. It will likely publish STAY AWHILE AND LISTEN: BOOK II and BOOK III as well.
You can visit PSP's online home here. As of this writing, the website isn't much to look at; that's what happens when you put a writer in charge of designing anything with graphics. A friend has offered to renovate it, and I hope to unveil a new look and feel for PSP by the time SAAL 2 is published.
One of the reasons I need a break from series is because the books I write tend to weigh in on the heavy side. After spending months or years researching, interviewing, and writing for one project, I need to cleanse my palette. I love writing about game design and culture, but books like SAAL take a long time to put together. I got the idea to write shorter stories consisting of a small amount of chapters that I could serialize month by month, chapter by chapter, using Patreon to collect subscription fees per publication. If you're unfamiliar, Patreon is a subscription-style service where you can "tip" creators a set amount each month in exchange for regular content — YouTube videos, music, articles, whatever it is they make that you want.
That idea gestated as a monthly webzine called Episodic Content. A webzine is a magazine you read on the Web, and I was going to embrace the term to its fullest, even going so far as to hire a professional graphic designer to set my text and assets (screenshots, etc.) into a magazine-style layout that could be distributed digitally. Each issue would contain one chapter from two ongoing stories recounting the development of a triple-A (or big-budget) game, plus an interview, and a complete story about the development of an indie game.
That quickly grew expensive and would have taken far too much time. We're talking 30+ pages an issue; I simply could not have kept up with the lofty per-issue expectations I'd set for myself. The idea of Episodic Content underwent some revisions and now exists as a blog over at www.EpisodicContentMag.com. I've published four stories this year, nearly a dozen interviews, and have big plans for the webzine this year.
I wrote End Credits, a year-in-review-style post over at Episodic Content, which you can read if you're interested. The long and short of it is, Episodic Content is where I publish short stories about the making of video games and the people who make them. You can read the blog for free, or show your support by kicking in money through PayPal or Patreon. Patreon supporters ("patrons") receive early access to content, and each story will also be published as a standalone eBook several months after it concludes its serialized run on the blog, which patrons get for free.
Next to Episodic Content, which I foresee myself writing perpetually, DUNGEON HACKS was my biggest project of 2015. And in the interest of total honesty, I dropped the ball a little. You can read my postmortem of the book if you're interested in the nitty-gritty.
DUNGEON HACKS grew out of my interest in the roguelike genre of RPGs. I learned of roguelikes back in the mid-90s, when I started playing Diablo. In talking to Dave Brevik for STAY AWHILE AND LISTEN, he gushed about how impactful roguelikes were on Diablo's design, so I decided to interview Glenn Wichman and Michael Toy, the creators of Rogue. I thought it'd be interesting to include a few comments about the game and the genre it shaped. However, I enjoyed talking to Glenn and Michael so much that I decided to spin their interviews off into a book focused solely on roguelike antecedents — Rogue, Moria, NetHack, and a few others. Enter DUNGEON HACKS, begun in earnest in July 2012 and published 37 months later in August 2015.
I'm proud of DUNGEON HACKS. I said so in my postmortem; I meant it there, and I mean it here. I'm proud of the stories I told, the anecdotes I helped to convey, and the history I've encapsulated in electronic and paperback form (the latter being an exciting first for my videogame-history books). So, what went wrong? The book needed more time in the oven. Yes, even after 37 months of research, interviews, writing, and rewriting.
My editor is fantastic. I just didn't let him do his job to the fullest extent of his ability. Rather than go through our ritual of two to three passes (or more, if the material needs more elbow grease), I let him do one pass, made his edits, made changes and additions to the manuscript, and then kicked the book out the door.
That's not on my editor. That's on me. All of my published books have contained typos and other blemishes that slipped through the crack. I take full responsibility for all of those. Over the past two years, I've been dealing with some personal issues that have bled into my professional life. No matter what line of work you're in, it's one thing to tell yourself to leave your personal problems at the proverbial door; it's another thing entirely to do that.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. First, most reviews have bene fair to positive. Those reviewers enjoyed the book's content; they just cringed at the blunders I made. Second, I like to think I'm intelligent and passionate enough about my work to learn from my mistakes. I won't go so far as to claim everything I publish from here on out will be perfect. Mistakes do happen. But I will not force any book out of the next until I believe it's ready to fly.
ONE-WEEK DUNGEONS and ANGELS, DEVILS, AND BOOMSTICKS
ONE-WEEK DUNGEONS and ANGELS/DEVILS were published on the same day as DUNGEON HACKS — August 10, 2015. All three books marked the official unveiling of my new publishing imprint dedicated to books about game design and culture: Press Start Press. (More on PSP and the fate of DM Press below.)
ONE-WEEK DUNGEONS was originally part of DUNGEON HACKS. A bonus chapter, in fact. It follows select indie programmers as they attempt to design and program a roguelike over a seven-day period. Over that week, they must juggle personal and professional responsibilities while pushing toward the finish line. Most people finished. Not everyone did. Drama!
My editor and I decided to spin "OWD" off into a separate book not to make more money (sorry, roguelike fans, but books about your favorite type of RPG don't make much money; these were passion projects, not goldmines waiting to be mined), but because OWD got lengthy and worked better as a separate publication. If you're interested in seeing games come together (or almost come together), I recommend checking out OWD. It's only $3, and is available for pretty much every e-reading device on the planet.
ANGELS/DEVILS is the first webzine-to-eBook publication from Episodic Content, and I'm quite happy with how it turned out. It tells the story of an aspiring programmer, a guy named Nick DiMucci who I met through Shacknews.com, an online community we both frequent. Nick wants to program games, but he's always harbored a healthy fear of math. Over the course of ANGELS/DEVILS, we see Nick conquer his fear and follow him during the early days of the development of Demons with Shotguns, his premiere indie title that he released on Steam last year.
Like OWD, ANGELS/DEVILS is only $3, and available on a bazillion eBook platforms.
Around the end of May, I received an email from the co-founder of Audiobooks.com. He expressed interest in converting STAY AWHILE AND LISTEN: BOOK I into an audiobook, and I expressed interest in making more royalties. We inked a deal, and I mentioned that I was working on a similar book called DUNGEON HACKS. He snatched up the rights to that one as well. You can get it now on Audiobooks.com and Audible, and maybe other audiobook platforms as well. (I really have no idea. Does anyone use services besides those two for audiobooks?)
The audio edition of SAAL 1 is taking longer than expected. It's a complex book. The first step was casting Mike Rylander as the narrator for both SAAL and DUNGEON HACKS. Mike did a fantastic job on both. The next step was casting a half dozen other narrators to read the parts of the developers I interviewed for SAAL. Remember, I wrote SAAL as a narrative with block quotes from developers interwoven through it. I thought it would be difficult to follow who was talking if a single narrator alternated between reading my narration and then reading a developer quote.
Ultimately, casting was taking too long, so my contact at Audiobooks and I decided to have Mike read all the narration, and simply state who was talking before each quote. Hopefully it turns out well.
Writing is a feast-or-famine business. Right now, I'm feasting. I'm getting a little full, but the courses just keep coming. File that under Problems Writers Want to Have.
POINT OF FATE: Book 2 of The Gairden Chronicles
I cannot believe HERITAGE was published 18 months ago. It blows my mind. I got the idea for the book in 2004, wrote the first draft in 2005, seriously contemplated burning it because it was that bad, revised it every 12-18 months going forward as I learned and poured in the skills I learned as a writer, sold it in 2013, saw it published in 2014.
Reception has been great. There's just one problem: people (maybe even you) expect a second book. What? That's ridiculous! Who said you're entitled to a second book? That's this generation's problem: entitlement. Entitlement runs rampant. Thanks, Obama.
If you're a fan of Gairden Chronicles or STAY AWHILE AND LISTEN, you know I have a nasty habit of taking breaks between books. By "breaks," I don't mean sitting around doing nothing. I have wanderlust. I love to write lots of different things, so it's rare for me to finish one book in a series and then immediately start in on the next one. (Even though I really, really should, and predict that that's a habit I'll have to break, and soon, if I ever want to clear my plate of any one series and move on to new ideas. Ever.)
Let me explain. Since 2008 or so, I've worked on virtually nothing else except for "SAAL" and Gairden Chronicles, taking breaks only to take freelance work that helped pay the bills until the books were done. So, after finally publishing HERITAGE, I took a much longer break to write other stuff. DUNGEON HACKS, Episodic Content, and so forth.
Now, I didn't just drop Gairden Chronicles and run off without a plan. POINT OF FATE existed, but it was outdated. I hadn't revised it since making major revisions to the world, magic system, characters, and plot of HERITAGE. Those revisions caused a ripple effect that shook "POINT" to its core. I outlined the way POINT would unfold and sent it to my editor at Tyche Books, along with a request that we wait until 2016 to publish the book instead of 2015 so that I could do something, anything else for a little while.
Depression and personal issues I referenced in the "2015 Projects -> Press Start Press and DM Press" section of this blog set in, and I didn't get started on revising POINT until June 2015. That was a problem, because the manuscript was due in October. I got to work, alternating between outlining and writing. By late September, I realized handing in a manuscript in mere weeks was simply not going to happen. I asked for an extension to December. When it became apparent that wasn't going to happen either, I wrote a lengthy State of the Book address to my editor. I'd also been keeping her apprised of the personal issues I was dealing with, and she agreed to another extension.
I want to say at this point, that my editor, Margaret Curelas, is absolutely wonderful. She's been patient and understanding, mostly because she believes in HERITAGE and she knows I am working on POINT. Believe me, I hate being one of those writers who misses deadlines. I pride myself on punctuality. But, again, things do happen. Life happens. I'm only human.
An interesting development occurred as a result of my State of the Book. I explained to her that as of late December, the book stood at approximately 500 pages, and stood a stronger-than-fair chance of adding at least another 300 more. It would be a first draft, which means roughly 200-300 of those pages would probably get lopped off with a rusty saw. Still, POINT was shaping up to be something of a doorstop. I was fine with that. Aidan isn't the only main character this time around; Daniel, Christine, Edmund, Nichel, and some newbies have stories and character arcs to explore.
Margaret had some concerns, however. Printing costs dictate that she can't put out a doorstop. So, we made the decision to chop POINT into two books: POINT OF FATE, and... a book whose title I haven't decided on yet. How about Gairden Chronicles: The Third One of Those? Works for me.
Oh, come now. You're not surprised, right? This is fantasy literature! Delays and propagating series are par for the course! Don't fret, though. POINT will feel like a complete story, the third book will be awesome, and I've even got an idea for two or three follow-up books that will take place approximately 16 years after the end of the third book. Also, I had a trilogy structure in mind for Gairden Chronicles from the beginning; in an ironic twist, Margaret was the one who convinced me to condense my series outline from three books into two, many years ago.
As for when POINT will be finished: this year. When will it be out? This year. I'll share more details on the Book Breakdown post I have planned for when I finish this draft.
"Apple II Book"
Times got tough in 2015. Not wanting to go back to the same freelance wells I'd been drawing from for the past five years, the water from which was starting to taste rather stale, I got an idea for a series of self-help books about computers and operating systems. Sometime in early May, I drove to my local Books-a-Million to browse their computer books, looking for layout and content ideas. In the "Computers" section, I found a beautiful hardcover book by Brett Weiss called THE 100 GREATEST CONSOLE VIDEO GAMES: 1977-1987.
I picked it up, and a card fluttered out. It was from the publisher, Schiffer Publishing, announcing that they were interested in book submissions along the lines of the book I held in my hands (I'm sure they include the same insert in most of their books). On the drive home, I put together a proposal for a book I've wanted to write for years: a look at classic Apple II games that formed the bedrock for the types of games players enjoy today.
When you think about it, most today's most popular game genres came to fruition in some form on the Apple II. Stealth games? Escape from Castle Wolfenstein. Open-world games like Grand Theft Auto? SunDog: Frozen Legacy. Edutainment? The Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?. The list goes on.
I outlined that thesis in the proposal I banged out in 30 minutes or so when I got home from the bookstore, sent it off, and promptly forgot about it. A few weeks later, I got an email from an acquisitions editor at Schiffer. He was interested in my proposal. I hedged my bets and parlayed my experience writing the type of book I'd proposed into a sizeable advance. He agreed, and I got off and running.
This book, the title of which has not been finalized, will be published sometime in 2016. I hope. Depends on when I submit the manuscript. I'm three chapters away from finishing the first draft, after which I'll go through my usual ritual of letting it marinate for 2-4 weeks and then brandish my red pen. Schiffer has a particular formatting style I have to follow, so I need to apply that, too. It should turn out well. Each chapter focuses on a specific game or company, and features quotes from my interviews with the parties involved, just like STAY AWHILE.
I've been writing "Apple II Book" and POINT OF FATE concurrently since July. Note to self, and to other aspiring writers: do not agree to take on two books at once. It's a recipe for missed deadlines, lack of sleep, and very little free time. In my case, I had to do it. "Apple II Book" will be published in hardcover — my first hardbound publication! — and, as I said, I got an advance for it, which came through in the nick of time to pay off some bills.
RETRO Videogame Magazine
Back in November 2014, when the idea for Episodic Content was taking shape, I called up Mike Kennedy, publisher of RETRO Videogame Magazine, a bimonthly print and digital publication. I explained to Mike that I wanted to launch my own magazine, and asked him for some tips to hit the ground running. We got to talking, and Mike revealed he was still looking for freelancers. RETRO was only four issues in and growing rapidly. I pitched him an article on the making of Donkey Kong Country, and he accepted.
RETRO issue 5, the issue containing my four-page making-of story, comes out. I look it over, my chest swells with pride, and then I move on to other work. Fast forward to February. I get an email from Daniel Kayser, the new editor-in-chief of RETRO. He loved my DKC piece and wants me to become a regular contributor. True to his word, Daniel puts me to work writing long-form pieces over the next three issues of the magazine.
Fast forward to September 2015. Daniel steps down from the EIC role to pursue other interests. Mike calls me up, tells me I'm probably RETRO's best writer, and gauges my interest in taking the reins as editor-in-chief. Flattery will get you everywhere with me, so I say yes. And here we are.
Managing RETRO has been an interesting journey so far. First, I have to say that Mike Kennedy is a great guy. Patient, enthusiastic, and a huge fan of retro gaming, which, given the books I've published and am working on now, makes him my kinda guy. He told me up front that RETRO was experiencing some growing pains, and that I'd need to help him work through them. Circumstances caused a huge delay between issue 9 of the magazine and the forthcoming 10th issue, the first under my headship. Issue 9 came out in August; issue 10 will be published by the end of this month.
So, quite a delay, but Mike and I feel the wait will be worth it. I got to help choose the theme and direction of the magazine (Star Wars and first-person shooters), write several new pieces (the making and "REmaking" of Resident Evil; the history of first-person shooters, featuring interviews from John Romero, Scott Miller, and Richard "Levelord" Gray!), work closely with writers on their pitches for articles, put the magazine through round after round of editing with my excellent copyeditor, Alexandra "Alyx" Hall, and oversee layout and production, the current stage.
I can't wait to hold issue 10 of RETRO in my hands. It's going to be something special. In fact, I'm kicking around the idea of devoting a blog post to my experience putting together my first issue of a magazine. A lot goes on, and I'd enjoy sharing the particulars and putting my memories down on paper for posterity.
RETRO will remain a current project, and my primary means of income, for the foreseeable future. It offers a flexible schedule: certain periods, especially editing, eat up more time than others, but it affords me plenty of time each and every day to work on my books and Episodic Content as well. I love managing RETRO. I get to write about games, and read excellent articles from other writers who share my passion.
If you're interested in learning more about the mag, check out www.ReadRETRO.com.
In this section, I discuss books I will be starting as soon as I polish off one or more of the "Current Projects" discussed above.
STAY AWHILE AND LISTEN: BOOK II
SAAL 2 is in an interesting place. Technically, it's finished. I could publish it today if I wanted. Right now. But I won't. It needs more editing, and I've found holes that can only be filled in by conducting a few more interviews. Trust me, though, it'll be worth the wait. SAAL 2 is The Big One: StarCraft, Diablo II, and the Blizzard North shake-up in the summer of 2003 that sealed the fate of the company and its staff.
How long will that wait be? I sincerely hope to publish SAAL 2 in the 2016 calendar year. I can't believe this Halloween will mark the three-year anniversary of SAAL 1. Time truly does speed up as one grows older. My hope was for this book to be ready on June 29, 2015, the 15-year anniversary of Diablo II. Obviously, that didn't happen. I'm aiming for this summer, but I'm willing to let it slip to Halloween if necessary. Why? See: DUNGEON HACKS above.
THE X-COM FILES
X-COM FILES ("XCF") will chronicle the making of the original X-COM, and delve into Julian Gollop's formative years as a game designer. Interviews have wrapped, minus a few I may have to conduct if I need more insight into a particular game or time period. SAAL 2 must come first, though. People have been waiting for that book for coming up on three years; it's only right to publish it first.
New Young Adult Novel
I can't go into detail on this one yet. I can tell you it's not a fantasy novel, and it's an idea I've been nursing since 2009 or so. More details forthcoming.
I wrote this in a single sitting. What was I thinking. Just look at this word count. You can't see it? Let me tell you: a tad over 4500 words, and nine pages in MS Word. Whoa.
Looking back at 2015, it's clear I stumbled a few times. But I'm also humbly impressed at how much I accomplished. My hope is that my current and future projects go even better to make 2016 my best year yet, and that you'll be pleased by both the books of mine you're waiting for, and maybe giving a few of my other projects you're not familiar with a try.
Thank you, as always, for your support. Happy New Year!