Miskatonic University Podcast Episode 175: How Adair You

 

MU Podcast InterviewI was invited to join the hosts of the Miskatonic University Podcast again, this time to talk about many of the things I have been up to recently. We spend some time talking about my recently released Pulp Cthulhu campaign, A Cold Fire Within. Then we discuss the Kingsport issues of The Arkham Gazette and how my trip to Marblehead provided inspiration for a new NPC that Keepers can drop into their game. After that, we talk a little more about my part in An Inner Darkness from Golden Goblin Press, a scenario anthology that sheds light on society’s ills of the 1920s. That segues nicely into my first announcement of the episode: “A Dread Gift of Flame,” a fundraiser in conjunction with Stygian Fox Publishing in support of the trans community. And then I make another announcement: I’m working as an editor with a new imprint, Stay Strange Publishing.

This was my third time participating in the podcast. The first time was in a conversation regarding Robert M. Price’s controversial keynote speech during the opening ceremonies of NecronomiCon Providence 2015, in which he declared that Lovecraft’s writing foreshadowed our modern culture wars and clash of civilizations. The second time was shortly after 2017’s convention to talk about psychic powers and weird science in Pulp Cthulhu and how those optional rules feature in A Cold Fire Within.

 

The Cover for A Cold Fire Within

A Cold Fire Within

“Brendan Sterling sought answers in experimental past-life regression. Unfortunately, his mind isn’t the only one seeking answers in the past….”

On Sunday, May 12, I woke up to find this amazing cover all over the place. The PDF is scheduled to be out at the end of the month, with the hardcover to follow once it’s ready. My name is alone on that cover, but of course there are so many more names inside of those who helped bring this to realization in a way I simply would have been incapable of otherwise.

Thanks again to all my play testers for journeying with me across space and time and places that are neither: Arianne Adair, Erik Brandvig, Brandon Drake Forcier-Reed, Rose Forcier-Reed, J Kenneth Johnson, Mark R Loveland II, Patrick Loveland, Maxwell Mahaffa, Jay Mueller, Ben Plont, and David Ruiz.

Thank you to my editors, Lynne Hardy and Mike Mason for your diligence and support.

Thanks to the Mariusz Gandzel for that cover. Thanks to Kristina Carroll, Emanuele Desiati, Andrey Fetisov,
Doruk Golcu, Victor Leza, and Pat Loboyko for the interior art. And thanks to Matt Ryan for cartography.

Thank you to Nicholas Nacario for layout and Keith Mageau for proofreading.

And thank you to Gail Marie Christiansen Smith. You supported me as best you could, no matter how hard I resisted and despite the frustrations I heaped on you. You taught me to read when no one else would. You were endlessly proud of me when I was incapable of being so. You did what you could to understand a confusing and confused kid and the confusing and confused adult I became. I wish you could have seen this.

Interview with the Sexy Grammarian

For those who didn’t catch it on social media, I was the author interview on sexygrammar.com in November. This was a great opportunity to talk about what I do and how I work for a general audience, the majority of whom have never played a table-top role-playing game. Each month, the wonderful writer and teacher Kristy Lin Billuni features an interview on her website. I chatted with the Sexy Grammarian about my process, why I’ve chosen role-playing games as my primary form of expression, and what I’m looking at doing next. I’ve been laying the groundwork for that personal project and hope to be able to devote more attention to it soon.

Here is the link to that interview: Creator, Performer, and Audience: Interview with Christopher Smith Adair

 

What Should We Do with Our Darlings?

There’s an old saying in writing: Kill your darlings. William Faulkner gave writers this piece of advice, to essentially purge the things that you adore from your manuscript. Don’t hold on to things that are weighing your work down. They’re often the little things, ones you feel precious about but are not essential to the story. You may be enamored over your own cleverness or attached to something that has some deep meaning to you. But the reader may not care, and the darlings may ultimately detract from the overall work.

Identifying these darlings can be tricky. In practice, at least for me, the time to fret about them is when I’m looking at the divide between the word count I’ve been given and the amount of words I’ve written. Something has to give, certainly, so identifying things that simply aren’t necessary is key. Writing, in many ways, is the act of carving down and honing the words.

The metaphor, however, has always struck me as a little creepy, and it also puts me in mind of Lou Reed’s “Kill Your Sons”:

There are, of course, lots of ways to kill those we love, literally or figuratively. We can also reject and abandon them because we believe it’s for the best.

I’ve found that when I consider my darlings that simply eradicating them isn’t always the best solution. Better is to try to come to an understanding with them–to learn what they actually want to be. Rather than either making them fit into my story the way I initially expected them to or discarding them, I try to meet them on their terms. I am often surprised, discovering that they are more beautiful and complex than I had assumed.

Often, my darlings are tied into some piece of history I’ve uncovered during research for a Call of Cthulhu scenario. There are sometimes too many interesting details to adequately put into a scenario. Recently, I was working on a scenario and ran into this problem. There was a historical detail that wasn’t integral to the plot but would have been significant background color. To adequately include it seemed to require an additional NPC and a sidebar explaining the subject. Having an extra NPC in and of itself wasn’t an issue, since the scenario takes place in an isolated town and the investigators will likely interact with numerous townsfolk. But I needed to trim things down, so I turned my Saturn eye toward this NPC and the historical details he embodied. While I considered it, it struck me that this NPC could be combined with another one. Both NPCs would be stronger and more interesting for it. That interesting historical detail was incorporated fully and briefly into the character’s background instead of needing a lengthy digression in a sidebar.

If I foster and support my darlings, maybe they fit just fine. It was only my view of them and what I wanted them to be that was wrong. And, yeah, I think this is something to be mindful of for parenting and other relationships.

Podcasts, Various Writing Projects, Music Albums, Etc., Etc.

Miskatonic University Podcast

Miskatonic University Podcast Episode 133

Episode 133

I joined the hosts of the Miskatonic University Podcast for episode 133 and their main topic of Pulp Cthulhu‘s sixth chapter. That chapter explores how magic works in the setting, as well as the game’s primary optional rules: psychic powers and weird science. My upcom

H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival Logo

ing campaign, A Cold Fire Within, prominently features psychic phenomena, so I lent my experience to the discussion. I also talked briefly about my recent trip to Portland, Oregon, for the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and CthulhuCon. On the forum thread for the episode, I list my viewing highlights from the festival, all of which will hopefully be available to view at some point.

A Cold Fire Within and Other Writings

PULP CTHULHU

The PULP CTHULHU Rule Book

I returned the revised manuscript for the aforementioned Pulp Cthulhu campaign A Cold Fire Within in August, a couple of weeks after returning from NecronomiCon. It is scheduled to move into production in 2018, and I hope for us all to have it in our hands toward the end of that year. Chaosium and I will have more to say later, but some hints appear in that podcast regarding its stylistic aims. Pulp Cthulhu allows me to take the player characters deeper into corners of Lovecraft’s universe than usual.

I’m currently working on my scenario “Deeper than Skin” for New Comet Games‘ Devil’s Swamp after its successful Kickstarter for a source book on Massachusetts’s Hockomock Swamp.

I’ve also turned in another article to Sentinel Hill Press for its Kingsport issue of The Arkham Gazette, this time for an NPC inspired by an artistic figure from Marblehead, the real-world basis for Lovecraft’s fictional town.

Sadsadsex Album Release on Bandcamp

The first album as such from kittycat lollipop, sadsadsex, is out now. These songs, along with the first two tracks on last month’s re-release of False Starts and Second Chances, were the first we wrote, recorded, and performed. They were sent via CD-R and electronic file to various reviewers, Internet radio stations, and mp3 sites, often to the confusion (sometimes dismaying, sometimes delightful) of the recipient. Kittycat lollipop was the first act mentioned in the inaugural Great Demo Review in San Diego CityBeat, serving as a cautionary tale. During the description of how all the paper’s columnists took part in reviewing everything that was sent in, our reviewer was described excitedly snatching up the CD upon seeing our name and subsequently regretting that decision. I still treasure this memory.

Kittycat lollipop, you scare me. You remind me of Soft Cell’s “Sex Dwarf”–you know, the one about “luring disco doggies [sic] to a life of vice”? That kind of thing leaves a mark on little Catholic schoolgirls, ya know? I like the first song here [“A Reunion (of sorts)”], though–kind of Figurine-meets-Fischerspooner. Go with more of that. — Kelly Davis, San Diego CityBeat

“There Is a New Star in the Skies Tonight” was written at the end of this first group of songs, joining the live-set rotation with the second show. It strikes me as a bridge between the early songs and what came later, easily fitting with either. My deadpan vocals were giving way to something more frenetic, even unhinged at times. I often looked at my lyrics as not just observations of the flawed world around me but as warnings, including to myself. Perhaps I was becoming more and more frustrated and desperate.

A Tear in the VeilFilm projection was a key component of our performances, one we used whenever feasible. Patrick Loveland shot a series of films tied to the initial songs. Since serving as our beloved filmographer, Patrick has become an accomplished author. His debut novel, A Tear in the Veil, a delirious admixture of genres and life experiences, was recently released.

One of those films was edited into a proper video and posted on YouTube, featuring stop-motion animation created by Patrick, as well as treated shots of one of Golden Gate Park’s windmills.

As mentioned previously, he created videos for both the songs in our CD-R single. Here they are. The video for “What Then?” remains a highlight of kittycat lollipop’s existence for me.

Lastly, in celebration of Halloween, here are photos taken during a 2006 house party.

Kickstarter, Campaign Announcement, and Bandcamp Release

Kickstarter for Devil’s Swamp

Devil's SwampI am part of the Kickstarter campaign for Devil’s Swamp, a Call of Cthulhu supplement based on the Hockomock Swamp from New Comet Games. The $20,000 stretch goal adds a scenario written by me to the book. At this moment, the campaign has just passed $17,000, with 18 days remaining. I expect the campaign will surpass the amount required for my inclusion in the finished book, but you never know. And there are far more stretch goals after mine, including unannounced writers. The stretch goal to include a scenario by Brian Courtemanche has already been reached. Take a look, and, if you are so moved, join in on making this a reality.

Announcement of My Upcoming Campaign

The big news during the Campaigns for Call of Cthulhu panel at NecronomiCon this year was that Masks of Nyarlathotep, one of roleplaying’s most famous campaigns, will get a significantly updated and expanded edition, shepherded by Mike Mason with the help of a stellar group of writers, Lynne Hardy, Paul Fricker, and Scott Dorward.

Of much more minor note was the announcement of my own campaign for Pulp Cthulhu, A Cold Fire Within. The campaign should be out at some point in 2018, and there will be more to say about it in due course.

Release of the First Kittycat Lollipop Single on Bandcamp

From 2005 to 2009, I created and performed music as part of kittycat lollipop, a strange mix of often upbeat electronic music and darkly surreal lyrics. These were in the days when MySpace dominated the music scene, and, while kittycat lollipop never garnered much attention, we connected with fans and like-minded bands around the world, as well as confusing local audiences with our live performances. I was busy enough with it that I left RPG writing for a few years. After having a number of RPG projects fall through, I chose to concentrate on the creative pursuit that was actually going somewhere. Eventually, kittycat lollipop came to an end, and I returned to RPGs fully when I jumped at the chance to work with Keith Herber, a writer and editor I greatly admire, on New Tales of the Miskatonic Valley. In 2010, Strange Aeons II finally saw publication, eight years after I wrote my scenario for it.

I performed for the first time in six years a few months ago. My partner in kittycat lollipop was in town, and we both played solo noise sets. Certainly, having something of a reunion put me in mind of those days, so I’ve decided to start putting our songs up on Bandcamp for those who fondly remember them or those who might want to come to them with fresh ears. The first single is up now, and it can be downloaded for free. The band page also has links to YouTube videos based on the films that were sometimes projected at our performances.

Photograph by Titanium Exposure

Photograph by Titanium Exposure

Duct tape mask. Photograph by Sam Lopez of Stay Strange

A Scattering of Updates

I’ve had a busy couple of freelancing years and rarely seem to take the time to talk about what’s keeping me busy outside of some scattershot mentions on social media. Let’s rectify that a bit.

Kickstarter for Fear’s Sharp Little Needles

Fear's Sharp Little NeedlesAs I write, Stygian Fox Publishing’s Kickstarter for Fear’s Sharp Little Needles is underway, ending on March 1st. Recommended for mature audiences, the book is a collection of more than twenty modern-day micro-scenarios for Call of Cthulhu. They’re intended for Keepers to easily pick up and run in one session. The publisher’s previous CoC book, The Things We Leave Behind, has been very well received, and this Kickstarter is far past its initial goal, with more stretch goals waiting to be unlocked (including a PDF fiction anthology for backers). As an author involved in this, I’m in great and varied company. “Waiting To Be Born” is by far the shortest scenario I’ve written (by about a third), which was an interesting challenge.

 

Other Writing

On the opposite end of the length spectrum, I recently turned in a fifty-thousand-word first draft to a publisher. This, then, is by far the longest thing I’ve written (albeit a campaign of six linked scenarios rather than a single one). The word count provided its own interesting challenge, and I suppose, no matter the length allowed, it never seems quite enough. My outlined research notes alone came to about twenty thousand words. Of course, few of those words directly made it into the draft. Nonetheless, being able to refer to that (thankfully searchable) outline was a great benefit. Even if something I gleaned from a fictional or nonfictional source didn’t make it directly into the campaign, it all provided a foundation, even in its absence or allusion.

I fell in love again with outlining my research notes while working on an article for the upcoming Kingsport issue of The Arkham Gazette earlier this year, using nested bullet points to organize the information. While that article is only eleven thousand words currently, I dived deep into the source material, W. H. Pugmire’s tale “The Fungal Stain” and the many HPL and REH stories that inspired it. Following are a couple of examples pulled from that outline.

  • The fungal avatar
    • First appears to narrator when he reads The People of the Monolith in bookshop
      • Possibly his first time doing so in Kingsport, since he is visiting
      • Later can’t recall if he read it aloud
        • He sometimes does read poetry aloud
        • Likes to feel the words on his lips
      • Her presence
        • Face “seems all wrong, more bestial than human”
        • The way she lifts her curious mouth to “drink in the evening air” seems unnatural
        • Tall? Must bend to kiss accordionist and narrator
        • Unsettling
        • Beguiling
        • Narrator fancies he can sense her bestial appetite
        • The narrator is able to run when she kisses the accordionist a second time
      • Touches narrator’s hand when taking The People of the Monolith
      • Hums an odd song
        • Issues as mist from her unmoving mouth
        • The thickening fog meets and mingles with her exhalation
        • Beguiling
          • Draws listener to her with “almost unconscious motion”
          • Listener creeps toward her slowly
          • May not be sexual (narrator considers women an “alien race”)
  • Black Stone
    • The Black Stone is composed of a dully gleaming black stone, whose unmarred surface creates an illusion of semi-transparency
    • Characters inscribed on Black Stone
      • Completely blotted out up to ten feet from the base
      • Narrator climbs up and discovers the rest are more or less defaced
    • Natural stone seat near Black Stone
      • Narrator leans back in it
      • Narrator believes Geoffrey must have sat in when he composed poem
    • Visions
      • Gazing at the Black Stone for any length of time causes insanity (The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia)
      • Those who sleep nearby are haunted in their dreams the rest of their lives
    • Visions usually at night, particularly witch holidays like Midsummer’s Night
    • What is it?
      • A tower of an obscured castle?
      • “New made I rise, a pillar of dark stone, a nascent thing on Yuggoth’s hoary sod”?
    • The witch in the vision
      • Appearance
        • Naked young woman
        • Long black hair

Riveting, eh? There were a couple of other writing projects I was involved with over the course of 2016, as well as some others pending, including some more possibilities with publishers I’ve never written for.

My Appearance on the Miskatonic University Podcast

After writing my three-part series on Lovecraft’s racism, I was invited to participate in a long-awaited special episode of theMiskatonic University Podcast Special Report Miskatonic University Podcast., which aired on January 12, 2017. The discussion between me and Keepers Chad and Jon centered around Robert M. Price’s controversial opening remarks at NecronomiCon 2015, wherein he presented his perspective on jihadism and political correctness by drawing on Lovecraft. We attempted to provide context and analysis of the meaning of Price’s words, as well as some of their repercussions at the convention. I appreciated being asked to join in on what I hope was a valuable and interesting discussion.

Copyediting?

This has been my focus for the last few years, and I’ve written an occasional scenario or article during that time. Last year, I copyedited the first three releases for TimeWatch, Pelgrane Press’s GUMSHOE game of time-traveling agents protecting the universe from chronal disruption. I also provided assistance with part of Cthulhu Confidential, the first GUMSHOE One-2-One game. Unfortunately, I was unable to fit the entirety of that book into my schedule. As you might surmise, my focus flipped over to writing at the beginning of 2016. There are many reasons for this change, but a crucial one is simply time. As with many freelancers, that work is not my only source of income. I currently work full time for the county library, which provides both stability and a career I love. I realized that maintaining steady copyediting work under those circumstances wasn’t working–not if I wanted time for anything other than work, no matter how enjoyable. So, I made the difficult decision to take an extended hiatus and focus on writing. Anyway, on to the future–it keeps coming, no matter what we do.