Creative Colleagues: James Dawsey & Jack Norris

Jack Norris

Jack Norris

Each week, I’ll pester one (or two) of my creative colleagues with five questions about his or her work and, if I’m feeling wicked, deeply personal issues. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

The worse problem for a writer is not to have enough work, but sometimes you have the opposite one: more potential projects than time to write them all. That’s where I found myself this summer, when James Dawsey was looking for contributors to a fiction anthology for Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade. Declining was extra painful since I’d love to write off all my recent kung fu movie purchases.

Since all fans of wuxia are brothers, to paraphrase a favorite film title, I wanted to know more about the project, designed by Jack Norris and currently wrapping up a Kickstarter campaign. James and Jack tag-teamed my questions to prove that, together, their kung fu is strong.

1. The big thing we have in common is a love of kung fu, martial arts, wuxia, and Asian fantasy movies. Some folks refer to them all as “kung fu movies,” and others feel it’s important to differentiate among the genres. What’s your take on the subject?

James: Jack is more of a connoisseur of the films than I am. Without being as nuanced in my understanding of the different subgenres, I tend to blend them when I represent them in my games. I think Jack was pretty keen on supporting that kind of play with Tianxia, while at the same time underlining the differences between the genres and maybe educating people like me a little bit about the differences between, say, a kung fu action film and a wuxia film.

Jack: I actually break down my own definitions of wuxia and kung fu action in the book when I discuss that Tianxia is a mash-up of both, with maybe a bit more wuxia than kung fu. A film scholar might need to distinguish in ways a GM doesn’t, and a game designer probably falls somewhere in the middle of those two extremes: you need to recognize some people will care about these things greatly, and other won’t even know much less care about the differences. Trying to design and write for both? Well, that can be challenging at times, but a lot of fun.

James Dawsey

James Dawsey

2. All too often, great fantasies set in Asia, or anywhere outside of a European-style setting, get overlooked by a large portion of the North American audience. How will you overcome that bias with Tianxia?

James: I think the main reason people overlook something is simply because they haven’t had a spotlight thrown on it in a way that excites them. There are only a few games that focus on wuxia and kung fu fantasy, and often game designers are trying to work kung fu aesthetics into a subset of an existing world. I think what makes Tianxia special is that the world is defined by kung fu and how those who are masters at kung fu, the Jianghu, live outside of the mundane world. That’s something that most fantasy fans can immediately understand and get excited by, and the rest is just educating them on how to recreate the aesthetics and the types of drama that you’d find in a wuxia film or novel. We also took the opportunity with creating our own setting to bring in some modern conceits, such as our stance on gender equality, and weave that seamlessly into Tianxia in a way that wouldn’t have worked in a “historically accurate” setting.

Jack: I think pop culture has done some of the heavily lifting for us in recent years, but this is a good point. Fantasy fiction is a bit more behind than movies, which means there’s a whole category of media where it’s hard to say, “Hey, why not Asian fantasy?” The same challengers would arise if we did Middle Eastern, African, or other settings.

I think there are some definite ideas about what Asian fantasy is and isn’t and what it can be used for or should be used for. I tried to play to those strength while also occasionally pointing out you don’t need to always do these things. For example, I point out how you might run an old fashioned “hex crawl” game with Tianxia and discuss dynastic, troupe, and other play options. So if the only dynastic game you’ve played is Pendragon (which I love and is a personal favorite) we’re pointing out you can do that here. Or if your idea of troupe play is Ars Magica, we’ll show how you can do it Tianxia style.

Art by Denise Jones for Vigilance Press

Art by Denise Jones
for Vigilance Press

3. Your Kickstarter has already been a great success. What are some of the stretch goals that should entice people to join in during these last few days?

James: One of my favorites is the fiction anthology, because it will give us the opportunity to work with some amazing authors and do something Vigilance Press hasn’t done before. Another exciting one is the Tianxia: Spirits, Beast & Spells supplemental book, which will be written by Ryan Macklin. He’s someone I’ve wanted to work with for a while.

There are the other stretch goals closer at hand, like the Tianxia: War, Iron & Stone supplement, which will have mass combat rules from Mike Olson in addition to new setting material from Jack Norris, and the Tianxia: Strife, Fire & Smoke supplemental book which will include a new martial art sub-style, the Leopard sub-style. We’re also very close to unlocking the Tianxia Arcana for the Deck of Fate, a set of cards that will work with Evil Hat Productions’ own Deck of Fate product. I was thrilled when Fred Hicks agreed to let us license the design on the cards so we could seamlessly integrate some Tianxia-themed cards into their deck without recreating the whole thing from scratch.

Jack: The one I’m pulling for the most I’ll admit is the anthology for one really simple reason: how many wuxia stories can you go buy in English? The answer isn’t none, but its “damned few.” Heck, Jin Yong (also known as Louis Cha) is one of the bestselling fantasy writers in the world whose work has been adapted to comics, TV, and movies. He’s a huge literary force whose wuxia stories really should be considered alongside Tolkien, Martin, and other giants as some of the great fantasy of the last century.

4. The “research” for Tianxia must have been a lot of fun. Which five movies would you most recommend for players seeking inspiration for their characters?

James: We have a whole list of films in the Tianxia book that we point people to for inspiration. I know Jack took particular care in making that list to pick films that would be relatively easy to find on Netflix or on DVD. Off the top of my head, I’d point people to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Jet Li’s Hero, and The House of Flying Daggers. I tend to gravitate to the big war movies, too, so I’d also point people to Red Cliff (the international version) by John Woo.

Jack: Oh man, it’s hard to recommend a top five without swelling the numbers to ten or twenty. But okay, off the top of my head:

Bride with White Hair: I love it, it’s a favorite, and I think it’s just a beautiful film. It also has really powerful character inspirations.

Last Hurrah for Chivalry: John Woo’s only real “kung fu” film if we don’t count Red Cliff. You can find fairly easily, and in my opinion it’s the best of that period in his filmmaking. It’s just a solid action film by a young director who would one day become one of the best in the biz.

The Duel: starring two personal favorite actors of mine, Ekin Chen and Andy Lau, this movie is filled with really interesting characters. It can be a bit silly at times and then suddenly switch to deadly serious, but honestly I think that’s part of its charm and hardly an uncommon thing in wuxia or kung fu films.

Hero: I keep going back and forth on whether I like Emperor and the Assassin or this better as the story of Jing Ke and the Qin Emperor, but this one is definitely more of an action kung fu film with a larger variety of characters to use for inspiration.

Storm Riders: I know this hasn’t aged as well as some due to the reliance on special effects, and it’s a very truncated version of the excellent comic series, but I really love how well they managed to capture the feel of the Storm Warriors comic series. And Sonny Chiba is just a great scenery-chewing bad guy. It’s like how Duel to the Death is cheesy, silly, and has an alarmingly bad soundtrack but I still love it.

5. Who’s your favorite kung fu star? There’s no pressure, but just keep in mind that I have an opinion and will surely judge you.

James: Michelle Yeoh can play comical characters or characters with great gravitas. She’s been in several of my favorite genre films (including the aforementioned Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). And she’s probably been in one of my favorite “off-topic” Chinese action flicks, the wuxia/superhero genre mash-up Fei Ying (aka Silver Hawk), which might not be the best movie ever made, but for a superhero fan like myself, it really made me smile.

Jack: Oh, man, again that’s tough. I love the greats (Lee, Li, Chan, Yeoh, and so on and have a soft spot for Brigette Lin, Ekin Chen, Wen Jiang, Vincent Zhou, the late Leslie Cheung, and some others. Even Anthony Wong and Chow Yun Fat, who mostly did non-kung fu stuff, had some great roles. But if I have to pick just one with the genres involved firmly in mind? Andy Lau. He’s one of those “can do anything” actors who I’ve seen play so many different roles and he’s always entertaining and compelling, and I’ve always enjoyed his forays into wuxia and kung fu.

You can check out lots more information and gorgeous art for Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade at the Vigilance Press website. There’s also still time to back the Kickstarter.



Creative Colleagues: Jaym Gates

Jaym Gates

Jaym Gates

Each week, I’ll pester one of my creative colleagues with five questions about his or her work and, if I’m feeling wicked, deeply personal issues. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

Jaym Gates hugs on first meeting. So, you know, brace yourself for that.

We first met in person at Gen Con 2012, but she’d already been attached to my then-latest Pathfinder Tales novel as publicist. She did a terrific job putting me in touch with podcasters and online magazines I’d never before encountered, and the work she did for Queen of Thorns was still helping me when she’d moved on to other ventures and King of Chaos rolled around.

Speaking of King of Chaos, Jaym was the one I consulted to make sure my descriptions of the horses and unicorn seemed reasonable to a woman who’s raised and trained the magnificent beasts.

Jaym is also an accomplished writer and editor, most recently of the anthology War Stories, which is charging toward its Kickstarter goal with about another week left to achieve total victory.
1. Before we met, we “met” when I heard one of the contributors to Rigor Amortis read her story at the Pure Speculation convention here in Edmonton. Something tells me there’s a story behind your first stint as anthology editor. Care to share it?

This is a where the “Jaym’s not allowed to make jokes on the internet” thing started. A couple of friends were talking about how passe zombies were, and I made some comment about how “it’s not over until there’s a zombie erotica anthology.” Even when people started getting excited, I figured I was safe, because no publisher would ever touch it. Then someone introduced me to Erika, who had a publisher who was willing to take a chance. The rest, as they say, is history.

3. While Edge Publishing brought out your first anthology, you’re Kickstarting your latest, War Stories, for publication with another traditional publisher, Apex. What’s easier and what’s harder about taking that route?

The easiest and hardest thing are actually the same, I think: Kickstarter allows the editors or authors more control in the final product. However, that also means that we’re doing a lot more than just choosing the stories. There’s still a safety net, but it’s smaller, and there are more balls to juggle. I mean, it’s great, it’s just more nerve-wracking.

4. Once again as a publicist, do you have a short and sweet summary of advice for authors maintaining their own websites?

CONTACT INFO. I can’t emphasize that enough. I can’t tell you how many times someone’s lost out on an opportunity I wanted to give them because I couldn’t find any way to get in touch with them. It doesn’t have to be a fancy website, just name and email. Seriously. Every author website that doesn’t have an email address makes a publicist weep.

Cover by Galen Dara

Cover by Galen Dara

5. No one spends more than a couple of minutes with you without realizing you’re a warrior at heart, but as a writer what unique perspective are you bringing to the War Stories anthology?

The first part of that statement may have made my day. I think the unique perspective I bring is that of a person between the civilian and military world. I’m not military, but I’m very much influenced by many of my friends and family who are. Since one of the big problems now is that the average civilian doesn’t have any understanding of what a service member goes through, I hope my perspective might help.

6. You’re also a horsewoman. Since they are such a staple of fantasy fiction, can you offer a few helpful tips to writers on capturing horse behavior?

Horses are frequently like big dogs. If they’re raised right, they’re loving, loyal, sweet, and protective. They’re also frequently aggressive, prone to idiotic flip-outs, and goofy as hell. Each horse has a very distinct personality, so they’re an excellent way to add some color and distinction to your story.

Check out the War Stories Kickstarter and Jaym’s website.


Know Direction Kickstarter

Dan Scott pits the boys against the Sczarni werewolves.

Cover art by Dan Scott

Jefferson Jay Thacker was one of the first people to interview me about the then-new Pathfinder Tales line and my first Radovan & the Count novel, Prince of Wolves. The circumstances weren’t ideal, since we started in a noisy convention hall and then moved across the street to a noisy restaurant, but it was cool to talk with someone who knew the setting and was excited about the new line of novels. And that, as we expats say, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Since then, Jefferson and his partner Ryan Costello, Jr. have invited me on their podcast, which is now a Youtube video channel, to talk about each new novel featuring the boys. Their knowledge of and love for Pathfinder make them some of my favorite ambassadors of the game and world, and before our conversations they’ve already read the book (more often than not), which makes the whole experience that much more enjoyable.

The boys (the other boys, I should say) are in the home stretch of their Kickstarter campaign to upgrade their equipment and host additional events. If you’ve never heard or listened to their ‘cast before, I encourage you to check it out at their website or on Youtube. If you like it as much as I do, consider sending a donation their way.


Kickstarter: Broken Eye Books

When Scott Gable first asked me to contribute a faerie story to his anthology, By Faerie Light, I was eager to write more Asian-tinged fantasy. On the other hand, after 27 action set pieces in Master of Devils, I was ready for a quieter story. Thus, inspired in equal parts by real Japanese history and the vague influence of Hayao Miyazaki, I sketched out “Shiro Hears the Cicadas.”

When he launched his Kickstarter, Scott paid me the compliment of including that story with sample chapters by Richard Pett and stories by Stephen Norton & Clinton Boomer as part of the JUST A WEE NIBBLE sampler in CROOKED AND OTHER ODDITIES FROM BROKEN EYE BOOKS.

For just a buck, you can read three stories and three chapters, which we hope will encourage you to back the project at a higher tier. Me, I’m in for the MAD LOVE all-electronic feast, which spares me the existential horror of international shipping charges but gives me all the books from an exciting new publisher for the next year.

Did I mention that Scott sends the WEE NIBBLE immediately? You don’t even have to wait for the project to fund to read the samples. He must be confident that you’ll want to raise your pledge after reading them.

Did I mention the art? Never mind. Go read the Kickstarter page. It tells you much more much better than I can here.

Are you a frequent Kickstarter backer? I’ve lost my mind several times these past few years, both for fiction projects and for miniatures, two of my great weaknesses. What are some of yours?