The Lion and the Aardvark: Aesop’s Modern Fables

So about halfway through 2011 I got an email from Robin Laws which said, in essence, I’m doing this anthology of modern fables for Stone Skin Press; might you be interested in contributing? I was. In fact, my first response, which didn’t actually get put into my emailed reply, was oh, fucking, yeah I’m interested. You’re Robin-freakin’-Laws. That kind of enthusiasm is unseemly in an professional email, and I do try to contain my inner fanboy when talking to editors. The actual email probably said something like I’d love to be involved. Here’s the premise for my story. You know. Sedate. Professional.

Only twice have I written for editors or been published in markets that my gamer-friends have recognised. The first time that happened, it was when I was published in Weird Tales. This is the second. In this instance, my enthusiasm probably seems somewhat mysterious to any writer-types who aren’t involved in gaming, so the short introduction to Robin is this: he’s one of the smartest RPG designers I’ve ever come across.

Lets set aside the fact that he designed the Feng Shui RPG, arguable the best RPG game ever printed, and the fact that he unleashed Battlechimp Potemkin on the world as a result.

Lets set aside the fact that he was one of the first game designers I ever found who applied cultural theory to RPGs and saw the solid capitalist impulses underneath D&D’s basic premise that equated the acquisition of capital resulted with increased power and personal competence.

Lets set aside the fact that he actually thought about *what made games fun* and designed with that in mind.

Lets set aside…actually, lets not. The man is smart. Capital S Smart. One of the highlights of being involved with the first Gen Con Oz was inviting him out as guest of honour. It can be depressing and strange to meet your idols, particularly in the gaming industry. But Robin was smart and affable and charmingly Canadian, and he was the first person to point out to me that Australian’s will appologise to you before they tell you how much they enjoyed you work. I’m pretty sure I’d done exactly that a few minutes prior, when I asked him to sign a copy of my Feng Shui rule book.

In short, there was nothing disappointing about meeting Robin Laws. If anything, the man RULED EVEN HARDER when you met him in person, and I’ve got a whole bunch of friends who cite meeting Robin as one of the best things about the first Gen Con Oz show.

So yeah, I was excited to write something for an anthology he was editing, especially since the concept seemed kind of interesting.

Of course, 2011 was the year of manic deadlines, so there was a certain trepidation when I said yes. Especially since it turns out the final submission date would make it the very last deadline of the year. Extra especially because the wordcount was tight – 1,500 words max – and I’d spent an entire year unable to write something that clocked in lower than 5K.

It got worse when I realised I’d be moving in December. And that the deadline for Robin’s anthology was exactly twelve hours before I was scheduled to go pick up a truck and start moving furniture.

So I spent a week packing and writing and revising, and about two AM in the morning I finished a draft of my story, The Minotaurs and the Signal Ghosts, that seemed to work pretty well. I think half the reason it actually got done was the sheer joy of finding myself back writing a first person POV after a year of Flotsam’s third person narrator.

I’m not, by nature, a writer who enjoys third person omniscient or limited, so I kinda went crazy with the idea that I could have a distinctive voice telling the story again. The net result was three straight hours spent cutting words from the draft so it’d fit the word count.

Then I mailed it off, got a few hours sleep, woke up, moved house, and proceeded to crash for the next three months, refusing to even consider writing things that weren’t work-related or the equivalent of pro-wrestling fan-fic. Never again, I swore. Never again am I agreeing to write so much to deadline in one year.

And now Stone Skin Press have announced The Lion and the Aardvark. They’ve put the cover up on their blog and it’ll be out towards the end of the year, and when that happens I’ll have a story I’m pretty damn proud of sitting in an anthology edited by Robin-freakin’-Laws, and all-in-all that’s pretty damn cool.

In the film of Adaptation, the character who is not Robert Mckee basically says that it’s the endings that matter. You can make a mess of three quarters of the film, but if you nail the last act, you’ll wow them in the end and the audience will go home happy.

For a long time 2011 was one of those writing years I tried to forget. It was, personally and professionally, a fucking mess of a year.

But the ending kind of rocked, and I’m going home happy in the end.

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