Presentation Does Matter

I’ve been playing a lot of Skyrim on my Switch lately in those rare instances when I’m allowed to turn my brain off for a while. Skyrim is an odd choice for me, not because it’s a huge RPG — I love those — but because I’ve already played it when it first came out over seven years ago and decided that I didn’t like it.

The urge to pick it back up again came to me on a whim and boy am I glad I listened. Aside from the inclusion of the DLC material, there’s nothing new about the game on Switch. It’s still the game I played seven years ago and put down. So what changed?

I think its the portability aspect. I love having this entire world in my hands. Usually, I hate open world games. Its part choice paralysis and part narrative pacing problems — I’m looking at you Final Fantasy XV. See, in open world games, you’re given the main quest line to follow and then as you go through it, you’re constantly running into peripheral things to do. With the fate of the world or empire or whatever at stake, it kind of breaks all narrative immersion when you stop to help someone find their chickens. Find your own dammed chickens! But I digress …

This time, I knew what I was getting myself into. I decided just to play the quests I wanted as long as they were relevant to the plot in some way. Each decision, I massaged out in my brain so it was all part of a single narrative experience. And the fact that I could take this entire world with me in the palm of my hands was what sealed the deal. Even if I only have ten minutes to spare, I can just dive in and lose myself in Pict, the Dragonborn for a bit.

It reminds me when I tried reading Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind for the second time. I’d heard all the usually things when it first came out, read about fifty pages, and just couldn’t get into it. I figured I’d never read it. Who has the time to read books they don’t enjoy anymore? Then fast forward a couple of years. My wife is pregnant with the twins and going to sleep at 8pm every night. Good thing the Switch doesn’t exist yet, so instead, every night when she’d fall asleep I’d read. I read A LOT!

That Christmas my mom had joined the Rothfuss train and bought both The Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear for me as presents. I’d finished whatever I was reading and needed something new and figured why not. I owned them now and if I didn’t like them, I’d donate them. I’d been working through a stack of free books and a trip to our library to offload them was on the horizon anyway.

Now the copy of tNofW I’d tried before was the big, honkin’ tome you’re probably familiar with. The version I’d been gifted was this little thing (I’ll find the exact edition when I get the chance), still a hard back, with the thinnest, softest pages. It kind of forced you to hunch your shoulders a little to hold it. And the nature of the narrative being told in the first person made it feel like I was reading someone else’s journal. Like Skyrim on the Switch, something just clicked and it just pulled me right in. I thoroughly enjoyed it and even read the next two.

As writers, the goal is to pull a reader into your world through the power of your words alone. But it certainly helps to present those words in an appealing format. I have a definite appreciation for layout that I never had before which was why when I was working with the cover artist for Fairfax Cleaners, it was really important for me not to display the main character on the cover. So many urban fantasy covers feature some photo realistic – or real realistic – protagonist just kind of standing there and looking badass, I guess?

Personally, I find the covers boring. And unless you have some quality art production behind you, that style is so easy to screw up and look cheap. It may be just me, but I think it’s kind of a trope at this point and I wanted nothing to do with it. So instead, I opted for a severed foot, a bloodied hacksaw, and some rubber gloves. Let the words paint the picture of what my protagonist looks like. I wanted the art to prime that stage. The right presentation can prepare the reader for the journey, but it’s up to the writer then, to make sure that journey is one worth taking.

To Do or Not to Do

Things have been a bit busy lately. So while I’ve (mostly) kicked this cold, it seems to be tormenting my wife on a recurring basis. On top of that, she and I have begun a rotating schedule of crazy days. Last week, I had a couple 12 hour days back to back and this week, its her turn. And as the only parent home with twins, your attention is pretty much just focused on them and nothing else.

And because of all of this, work has become sort of condensed. Or just dense. Lots to do all the time. I was out Monday with my kids and I’ll be out again Friday traveling for a friend’s wedding, making my remaining free time all the denser.

I’ve found that I need the occasional to-do list of tasks or things to accomplish, but I only ever seem to work from the bottom up. The newest stuff is checked off pretty quickly and the stuff near the top tends to sit there. Hence why my first line on today’s list is and has been “blog” for about a week and a half now.

But with all these things I have to do vying for my attention, let’s talk about things I want to do …

I’m still pitching The Red Door. It’s hard not to get discouraged at times, but I keep myself motivated by only querying maybe three people at a time. I don’t always wait a full 8 weeks or whatever to try again – maybe only 2 – but I do try and keep the numbers small. My reasoning being that with every pass, I go back and revisit the pitch. I’ve tweaked the letter and opening couple pages a bunch now to make them as strong as possible. Obviously, this is a subjective business, so I’d like my work to speak for itself and I’d hate to be the one getting in my own way with a bad pitch.

Blame my career services day job, but I see this kind of thing all the time. Great candidates sometimes have terrible resumes and cover letters. Employers will never know how great they are until these documents get cleaned up and the applicant gets out of his or her own way. It’s not them who aren’t working, it’s their approach. I try and do the same.

As far as distractions go, I’m still working my way through The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild again. I could beat it at any time, but I’m getting all the shrines now. I’m up to 91 or something. I’m basically just twiddling my thumbs and turning my brain off until the next game. Having a console-quality experience in my work bag is the best brain brake ever. I used to think that my PS4 was my favorite guilty pleasure, but hands down, its the Switch.

Siren

My cousin got married in Hot Springs, Virginia the other weekend. I went out for the ceremony. Now that the kids are two, my wife and I figured that buying four plane tickets for one person to attend an event was a little superfluous.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I’d actually never been to that part of Virginia before. And living in Indiana now, I don’t know if I’m just tree-deprived or what, but man that state is gorgeous! Hairpin turns included.

I brought my Switch with me, eagerly looking forward to some time to myself. I got some writing and reading in under my belt, but I also played an S-ton of Switch. I’d purchased I am Setsuna, a game I’d had my eye on for a long time, specifically for this trip. Yet, when a friend loaned me Mario Kart and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for my travels, all I did was play Zelda. A game I’d already played and beaten on his Switch.

In fact, I’m still playing it. Much to my detriment.

Gaming-wise, the Switch is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. And the worst. It’s portable nature means its never far from my side and I’m always playing it. After playing Zelda on my friend’s machine, the final nail in the convincing-myself-coffin to buy my own was that now that my kids have transitioned to their toddler beds, it means we’ve pretty much lost our family room for nightly hangout space. The room is right across the hall from their bedroom, so just being in there will wake them up. Our retreat is back into our own, now baby-free, bedroom with my X-Box 360 to watch movies, the last iteration of Apple TV, and our old TV from almost ten years ago. Sensing a trend here? Outdated technology.

My Switch comes with me of course. I never know where I’ll be allowed to hang out and play games, so having a console not far from hand is a great perk. It also means that as I type, say, this post, I keep glancing over to that blue and red siren sitting on the edge of my desk.

If I was having a hard time getting back into Altered Egos, then the Switch isn’t helping things.

Know what? I think that’ll do for blogging today. I just remembered that there’s a gentleman in a hot air balloon selling monster masks that I need to go speak with.