Announcing Plant Girl Game on Gamefound

Sly Robot Games is excited to announce our next release Plant Girl Game

Plant Girl Game is a cozy tabletop roleplaying game  about a family of plant children saving their town from ecological disaster, written and designed by Dominique Dickey and project managed and edited by C. J. Linton. We hope you’ll back it on Gamefound, where it will be crowdfunding this spring.

Most folks with a toe in the tabletop gaming space right now are aware of the ongoing issues with Kickstarter, but in case you’re not: in early December, Kickstarter made the horrible announcement that it will be switching its services to blockchain. We were dismayed for many reasons, but primarily because:

  • The carbon offsetting that companies do to ameliorate the environmental damages that blockchain, cryptocurrency, and NFTs cause is always insufficient, and Kickstarter is no exception. Other people have spoken more articulately about this issue than we can, but there’s no such thing as carbon neutral or carbon negative blockchain. 
  • We had planned to crowdfund Plant Girl Game on Kickstarter at the beginning of February. 

So, we pushed the timeline back, and are switching to Gamefound for our next campaign. We don’t know if Gamefound will be our long-term solution, but it’s the one we’re going with for Plant Girl Game

There was a version of this where we decided to stick with Kickstarter. These are the reasons we decided not to:

  • Not using Kickstarter right now has the potential to be materially impactful. Kickstarter has announced the intention to switch over to blockchain in the next year, but they haven’t yet. So there’s a chance, even if it’s slight, that if creators and backers boycott Kickstarter they’ll reverse the decision. We’re not big creators in the scheme of things: our only Kickstarter, Tomorrow on Revelation III, funded at $11,327. But if every small potatoes creator shrugs and stays on the platform with that reasoning, it adds up. To us, this was an order of magnitude different than, say, continuing to use Twitter now that it has its new little NFT icons, which Twitter will not be rolling back regardless of whether or not we log off.
  • Personally and professionally, we have equity and justice commitments for ourselves, and one of those is environmental stewardship. We definitely don’t consider ourselves the paragon of sustainability or ethics, and this is not a condemnation of anyone who made the same calculations and came to a different decision. But we’re trying to make choices that we feel comfortable standing by. Using Kickstarter to crowdfund this project would not have been one of them.
  • Plant Girl Game is literally about mitigating environmental disaster. The idea of crowdfunding a game with those themes, on a platform doggedly committing to the opposite for no reason other than profit, felt pretty deranged. 

We’re not sure whether or not Sly Robot Games will use Kickstarter again, and we’re still evaluating our stance on working on projects that crowdfund via Kickstarter going forward. In full transparency: Dominique was attached to Yazeba’s Bed and Breakfast as Lead Editor before Possum Creek decided to switch to Indiegogo (though we’re happy they made the leap!), and they wouldn’t have departed from that project over the funding platform. The decisions each of us make personally, based on our financial needs separate from the company we’re running together, will also certainly vary as we move forward, but we’ll continue to be honest about them. 

We’re committed to releasing games in a way that is sustainable for us, working within a creative and ethical framework we feel proud of. We’re looking forward to sharing more about our equity and justice commitments later this year as we expand our online presence. 

– Dominique and C. J. 

I wrote a narrative rpg in two days with no prep.

Look. It’s a hard time. We’re all struggling, each of us in our own way. And on top of all that, I’m a planner. My creativity is rarely spontaneous. I brainstorm. I think of every possibility. I get lost in the weeds. I lose sight of the forest for the trees. I spend more time complaining about making art than I do actually making the art.

In spite of all that, I wrote a narrative rpg in two days with no prep. It wasn’t the game I was planning to write, the one I’ve been saying I would write for months and years. It wasn’t even something I particularly wanted to write. I went from idea to product in a few scattered hours, and I have never felt more unlike myself, and I have never had more fun.

Here’s what I learned: Creativity can be a small thing, wedged in among other commitments. It is possible, even in these most trying of times, for me to make space to create in my every day life. Yes, I have school, and a job, and all the other mental/emotional demands of quarantine, but I also have this: my hands on the keys, turning ideas into text, the purest reminder that I am alive and that I matter. Not everything I write has to be perfect, or even good. I can sit down and hammer out a game for the hell of it. It doesn’t have to be the project I’ve been carrying close to my heart. I don’t ever have to show it to anyone, or playtest it, or publish it. 

This game, though? Y’all are gonna see it, and you aren’t ready for it.

What do we do when the canon fails to include us?

Let’s talk about the literary canon.

Literary canons are groupings of related works, often centered on a theme such as location, form, or time period. The books that you may think of as “classics” have been canonized, or made permanent members of the canon, due to their popularity, longevity, and teaching ability. This is why so many of us read the same books in school — because our professors choose literature from the same canon.

Anthologies are the most tangible example of the canon because those works are literally grouped into a single unit. Let’s say you want a general familiarity with the history of English literature, from the Middle Ages to the late twentieth century, so you read The Norton Anthology of English Literature from cover to cover.

Do you understand the history of English literature? No. You understand the canon, but what about the countless works that are denied a place in the canon?

Science fiction is historically marginalized because the canon was created as a teaching tool, while genre fiction is seen as pure entertainment (which clearly is not true — arbitrary binary distinctions tend to fall apart if you think about them for long enough). That problem is solved, at least in part, by the creation of genre-based canons: genres are works that share the same form, style, or subject matter; canons exist across and within genres. However, like most canons, the classic canon of science fiction includes a disproportionate amount of straight white male authors. The canon does not represent the readers.

We use canons for the same reason that we use labels for our various identities — because they help us find the stories and communities that we’re looking for. But what do we do when those labels don’t fit? What do we do when the canon fails to include us?

The short answer: we create new ones.

New words are folded into the English language every day. New genre distinctions are popping up everywhere you look, defined by authors who are telling brave stories that reveal the truth about who they — and we — are. Literary canons, both genre-based and general, are created in anthologies, in classroom syllabi, and in the shelving patterns of bookstores, alongside awards and critical recognition. These are systems that we can access and therefore change. We can alter how literature is taught, how books are sold, which books become bestsellers, and how anthologies are compiled.

At the end of the day, an understanding of queer literature is essential to an understanding of literature. An understanding of science fiction is essential to an understanding of fiction. Let’s canonize narratives that reflect who we are.

This post was initially published on on 9/27/17. 

It’s okay to show them who you are.

When I was eleven, I wrote a short story set in 1960s Tennessee. It had all of my favorite things: time travel, family secrets, sprawling estates, beautiful girls. The story dealt with the Civil Rights Movement, but it wasn’t about the Civil Rights Movement — that territory felt foreign to me. I didn’t see the problem with my writing until my mom read an early draft and circled the single sentence I devoted to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the margin, she wrote: “You sound like a white person.”

It took me several years to understand what she meant. Why? Because when I first started writing, I was imitating the books I read and the shows I watched. Society had sold me the concept of white beauty. I was addicted to the dream of fair skin, suburban life, a two-parent family, perfect health… the list goes on.

Five years after the “You sound like a white person” incident, I showed my mom a short story I’d written about a girl who was in love with her best friend. She asked me if it was about friendship. I told her that it wasn’t — it was about queer teenagers. I never said that my main character was gay for the same reason that I’d rather not describe characters at all than say that they’re black: because I was scared to reveal too much of myself in my writing.

“You know,” my mom said, “it’s okay to show them who you are.”

That changed everything.

I sounded like a white person. I sounded like a straight person. I sounded like a healthy person. The way I came across in writing never felt like a conscious choice, but an act of mimicry. I didn’t sound like my real self because I didn’t know of many authors or characters who were like me. I hadn’t yet found Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Nalo Hopkinson, Yoon Ha Lee, or Colson Whitehead. While I’m comforted by the knowledge that there are authors out there telling stories that I need to hear, I’m also alarmed by the thought that there are not more of us. There really ought to be more of us.

So here I am — black, queer, brainweird, chronically ill. I’m ready to write the stories that my younger self needed so desperately.

Here’s the story I want: A black trans kid who manages to save the world in spite of relationship drama and chronic severe asthma. I want my hero to take breaks to use their rescue inhaler while chasing down the Forces of Evil™. And if they have OCD? Even better.

If I want to read this story, I’d better get back to writing.

A version of this post was initially published on on 6/26/17. 

Revision Anxiety

When I recently reflected on the hurdles that stand in my way before I begin revisions, I felt excited and optimistic about turning my abysmal first draft into something worth sharing. I looked forward to throwing myself wholeheartedly into the work.

That … is not what happened.

What I failed to anticipate was my anxiety. I’ve been trying to write this novel for five years — that’s five years of attacking the story from different angles, experimenting with different variations on plot and point of view, sending rotten draft after draft off to beta readers and being told that it just wasn’t working. After six or seven such drafts, I feel like I’m finally coming from a place of raw potential. I feel like the draft that I’m revising could really be the one, like I’ve found something worth running with. And that is absolutely terrifying.

The problem is that this idea exists in mint condition in my head. No matter how good a writer I am, the story will never be as good on paper as it is in my imagination. I’m okay with that when I’m writing first drafts, because I’ve accepted that first drafts are meant to be bad. The same isn’t true of revisions. Revising this novel is guaranteed to be a process of disappointment, because it will never quite be what I want it to be.

So, I haven’t been revising. I’d go so far as to say that I’ve been actively avoiding revising, because stagnation is less painful that letting myself down by telling this story poorly. I’ve poured so much of myself into this story. I’ve picked it apart and interrogated it over and over again. Now that I can clearly envision what it would look like to tell this story well, how could I possibly let myself do it badly?

Here’s what I’ve found: I will inevitably fail to tell this story the way I’ve imagined it, but that doesn’t mean I won’t create something worthwhile in the process. I cannot do this work perfectly, but I am the only person who can do this work at all. No one else is qualified to tell this story — I don’t think anyone else even wants to. The only way out of this story is to tell it, once and for all.

I’m going to put my big kid pants on, sit down, and write.

Claudia Rankine (or, what is poetry?)

I had the fortune of seeing Claudia Rankine read at my university early last month, and it was easily the most captivating poetry reading I’ve ever attended. This is likely because I went to the reading having just finished Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. In the 2004 collection, Rankine touched on topics such as loneliness, mental illness, and brutality against black bodies. The book was a whirlwind of vulnerability and I can’t possibly recommend it highly enough.

I went into the reading wondering how an artist who writes so openly about pain and hardship can be so brave, and how she protects her own sanity. I’ve noticed that I avoid looking at race, gender, and queerness directly in my own work for two reasons: I don’t want readers to hold me accountable for any controversial opinions, and I’m afraid of what feelings it might raise to write about such difficult things. While I’ll admit that the first of those reasons comes down to cowardice, Rankine addressed the second beautifully. She explained that she doesn’t find writing to be emotional, but instead views it as a puzzle or a math problem; the task isn’t to process her feelings, but to make all the pieces fit. I am a mathematician, and I felt my perception of writing change in response to to her words — I don’t worry about interiority or vulnerability when plotting a complicated graph, so why should writing necessitate a visceral emotional response? I can focus on how best to tell a story, rather than worrying about dredging up trauma whenever I sit down to write.

Rankine also reshaped my idea of what poetry can be. I do not consider myself a poet, but that is likely because of where I draw the arbitrary distinction between prose and poetry. I see poetry as lineated, formal, and stiff. I see prose as fluid, more casual, and less concerned with devices such as assonance or alliteration. Rankine blurs the lines between forms, writing poetic prose and prosaic poetry. Her work forces me to question: if Don’t Let Me Be Lonely is poetry, then what’s stopping me from writing poetry? The most valuable lesson I learned at Claudia Rankine’s reading is that the limitations of genre and form are meaningless, and that I must push past them in order to create bold and worthwhile art.

I’m excited to experiment with prose poetry! Who are your favorite form-defying writers?

Revision Hurdles

I have a confession to make: I have drafted (at least) five novels, and I’ve yet to revise a single one. Novellas? Sure! Short stories? No problem! But for some reason, I can’t make myself do any structural revisions on something longer than maybe 45k words.

I always understood that I would have to revise a novel … eventually. The number of hurdles I’d have to overcome to get to that point made it feel like the most distant possibility. First, I’d have to have an idea that was worth writing. I’d have to research and plot and plan, look at the idea from all directions without falling out of love with it. Then I’d have to draft it, which is tricky. I work best in a format like NaNoWriMo, dashing out a draft in a month. As a student, I rarely find four consecutive weeks without major exams or projects. If I take breaks from drafting, such as spending a few days studying instead of writing, I tend to second guess myself and overthink, which pulls the joy out of the project. This can be enough to stop me altogether.

Assuming I made it past all of those barriers and actually put the idea to paper, there was one more thing stopping me from revising: I’d have to feel proud enough of what I’d made to want to return to it. I’d have to balance my disdain and my hope — to know that the first draft was terrible, but to also know that I could make it better, and that the work I’d put into making it better would be worthwhile.

Last summer, the variables lined up perfectly. I fell in love with an idea, and that love survived my pre-writing process. I wrote 62000 words in 40 days, the perfect pace to keep me from losing momentum. I reopened that Scrivener file for the first time in December, and I knew that the draft, while awful, would be worth fixing.

Fixing this abysmal first draft feels like an impossible challenge, but I’m hopeful! Doing something for the first time means finding a routine and rhythm. I know how I outline. I know how I draft. Revising is something that I’m figuring out as I go. Maybe I’ll work best in sprints, or in long slow stretches. Maybe I’ll go through the draft chronologically, or maybe I’ll skip around and work on my favorite scenes first. Maybe my word count will swell, or maybe it’ll shrink. I am the only person who can seek those answers. My true goal is to learn how I revise; a new and improved draft will be the result of that knowledge. This is a process of discovery, and it’s been marvelously fun so far.

Writers, what strategies do you use to revise?

Happiness Isn’t the Goal

The most important lesson I learned in 2018 is that happiness is not a tenable goal.

I’m sure that sounds dramatic, but here’s the thing: goals are meant to have fixed endpoints. The entire reason why I set goals is so that I get the thrill of accomplishing them, which means that they have specific and measurable deliverables. It’s the difference between “read more” and “read three books a month” — one is a goal, and one is not.

When a goal isn’t measurable, or when it’s measured against moving goalposts, you never really get to feel like you’ve “made it.” For someone as goal oriented as myself, this also leads me to discount the progress I’ve made towards that moving goalpost. All that matters is that I’ve failed to reach it.

Happiness is a moving goalpost. No matter how happy you are, you could always be happier. And, because joy isn’t quantifiable, it’s not truly possible for me to know if I’m happier now than I was at any other point in time. If I go into 2019 with the goal of being happier, I’ll never really get to feel like I’ve achieved it.

As I set goals for next year, happiness isn’t one of those goals. I can’t aim for happiness, for an intangible and immeasurable thing. What I can do, however, is take on incremental goals that I know will bring me momentary happiness. I love the rush of finishing a good book, so my goal is to read fifty books in 2019. I love the catharsis of journaling, so I plan to journal every day.

Happiness may be a moving target, but there are several concrete steps I can take towards it. The progress that I’m making is what truly matters.

What are your 2019 goals?

On doing the damn thing yourself

What’s a young writer to do when both platforms they write for are no longer options, either having dissolved altogether or simply become unfeasible? Once upon a time, I was a regular contributor at two popular blogs, one of which focused on queerness and science fiction, and one of which focused on student life at my university. Now I only write for myself. Now I’m working on building my own platform, on learning how to decide which stories I want to tell, and learning to promote my own work. And let me say, I knew it would be difficult, but it’s a thousand times harder than I ever imagined.

While I’ve always been pretty independent, I find external structures highly motivating. Writing for established sites came with accountability: I had co-writers and editors waiting to hear back from me, and I would not let them down. Comparatively, running my own blog has been a nightmare. I’ve been sitting on this half-finished blog post since September — September! — because, without an enforced deadline, it kept falling to the bottom of my to-do list. I started the semester aiming to upload weekly, but as I got busier and busier it became clear that that wasn’t going to happen. As the weeks passed and I failed to pile up content, I felt disappointed and disappointing — if only I could try a little bit harder, or care a little bit more, I’d be running an internet empire! Still, it was a busy semester, and I had to put down my guilt so that I was free to pick up all of my other responsibilities.

Now I’ve got some free time, and I’m able to return to this deferred dream. In hindsight I can see that aiming to post once a week led to action paralysis — instead of posting biweekly, or just whenever I could find the time, I gave up entirely. I’m changing my goal in order to reflect why I created this space: so that I could post the content that makes me happy, on a schedule that doesn’t stress me out too much. For the foreseeable future, I’ll be posting whenever I can. I think that beats not posting at all.

The Value of Sensitivity Reads

To start with, let’s talk about beta reads. A beta read is sharing your work with anyone between writing it and submitting it for publication. Literally anyone. This sounds necessary, right? After finishing a manuscript, the first step isn’t to ship it off to your dream literary agent. You revise, and you solicit opinions from trusted friends. Those friends, whether or not you label them as such, are your beta readers.

If you’ve embraced beta reads as part of your process, there’s no reason to shy away from sensitivity reads — a sensitivity read is just a targeted beta read! While beta readers will evaluate the strengths of your story as a whole, sensitivity readers work with manuscripts that are near completion in order to evaluate how certain identities are represented on the page. My main objective as a sensitivity reader is to help you avoid stereotyping, tokenizing, or excluding people on the basis of their marginalized identities.

I don’t claim to be perfect, and I don’t claim to speak for the entirety of any of the communities I represent. But here’s what I can do: I can offer my perspective, as a queer, black, mentally ill, nonbinary person. I can spot some of the ways your work could harm me or people like me. I can educate you, as much as you are willing to learn. I can help elevate your story and clarify your ideas before you seek publication. I can also offer a young person’s point of view; given the rates at which trends, language, and culture change, I can help make sure that your work is relevant and that it will resonate with today’s youth.

Here are my qualifications: I have a background in academic writing, so I’m experienced with conveying complex ideas clearly. I’m studying creative writing in an accredited program, and therefore have access to all of the informational resources of a major university. Due to my studies, I’m familiar with workshop environments and writing critique letters — I know how to give constructive feedback and help improve a story without changing its basic plot or premise.

As a final reminder, sensitivity is attention to detail and dedication to getting something right. I can help you use your imagination compassionately, by approaching identities other than your own from a place of love, empathy, and understanding.