Happy Halloween!

DSCF0926There’s no trick-or-treating in Finland. I think it’s just too cold to be walking around in the dark, going door-to-door foraging for candy, for something like that to ever have caught on as a tradition. There are a few decorations, but not many. There are no haunted houses and such. The only people who really celebrate it are adults, who throw costume parties. Overall, it’s pretty low-key. The official holiday here is All Saint’s Day, tomorrow, and I’ve got a whole post coming about that.

Since we’ve been together, Katie and I have used the month of October as an excuse to mainline old horror movies. Classic Universal Monsters. Hammer Horror. American International Pictures, and Corman Poe flicks. We’ve been binge-watching episodes of the original Dark Shadows and Boris Karloff’s Thriller. I wish I were running a horror RPG, even a one shot, but that wasn’t in either the schedule or the cards.

Tonight we’re going to a party, thrown by a lovely Chinese friend of ours. I cannot remember the last time I went to a Halloween party. I had to have been in my twenties. I have a touch of social anxiety, as I do not generally enjoy these types of gatherings, but I truly like any of the people who will be there, and it will be a chance to see them. As they’re mostly graduate students, it will be a bit more mellow and mature, and not a “college party.” Maybe I’ll get to see what some other cultures do with this holiday.

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Get The First Starship Tyche RPG Adventure For Just $1!

tyche-s1-be-not-afraidWhen the Starship Tyche encounters a strange energy field that causes a crewman to suddenly develop psionic powers, the crew must find a way to escape, or else the ship will be destroyed!

Be Not Afraid is a space opera adventure set in the Starship Tyche universe. It is designed to be played in one game session, as an episode of the fictional Starship Tyche television series. It can be played with those rules, or as a stand-alone using Fate Accelerated Edition.

This weekend only you can get this adventure for just $1. You must use the links in this post to redeem this offer! It expires Sunday, so do it now so you don’t forget!

If you haven’t already purchased the Starship Tyche roleplaying game, here’s a chance to get a taste of Frontiers and Fate!

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I Am INTJ

Introvert(56%)  iNtuitive(38%)  Thinking(1%)  Judging(67%)

  • You have moderate preference of Introversion over Extraversion (56%)
  • You have moderate preference of Intuition over Sensing (38%)
  • You have marginal or no preference of Thinking over Feeling (1%)
  • You have distinct preference of Judging over Perceiving (67%)

Yup. I’d rather sit quietly or hang with a small group of friends, because crowds and mass social situations are draining. I tend to think big picture and long-term rather than dwell on the immediate, which goes hand-in-hand with being a planner and wanting some degree of predictability. I can go either way with thinking and feeling, because I believe there’s a balance to be struck there; go with the fact, but remember that people are emotional creatures. When it comes to matters of principal, I tend to be unwavering.

Less than 2% of the population are INTJ. That allegedly includes people I admire, like Isaac Asimov, John Adams, and Stephen Hawking. Of course, this also lumps me in with Ayn Rand, Vladimir Lenin, and the Unibomber.

If I’d tipped a little over the line from thinking to feeling, INFJ, I’d be in the company of Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa… and Himmler and Kanye. Ugh.

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Pay What You Want

There are publishers that have apparently done very well with “pay what you want” (PWYW) pricing strategies. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, it means the customer gets to set their own price. There’s a suggested price, but people can pay more. They can also pay nothing. The people that tout this strategy as a success claim that they end up making more per unit than the suggested price, because people are honest and also tend to feel a little guilty.

This hasn’t been my experience. What I’ve seen is that people see “pay what you want” as a wordy way to say “free.” I did a few experiments, as part of one of my classes. I released two nearly identical products side-by-side. One was priced PWYW. The other was priced very, very low. The PWYW was downloaded far more times, by a factor of dozens. The one with the low price also did a low volume, but it make a lot more money.

I’ve had similar experiences with releasing free previews. I began with the basic strategy of using freebies as a way of getting people onto the mailing list. When I released the paid version of the product, I sent a coupon code just to those people who bought the freebie. I was able to track sales by that coupon code, to see what benefit I reaped from the freebie. The answer: none. Conversion rate was .0004%. The product sold well, but it wasn’t based on the freebie strategy.

Now, I could take this as a commentary on the quality of my products, and to be objective I sort of have to. Customers don’t see my stuff as worth paying for. Ouch. But on the other hand, those paid products do sell well otherwise, and get favorable reviews. Is it me? Or is it simply the reality that no reasonable human being can be expected to pay for something that they can get for free?

I’ve relegated these pricing strategies to the same domain as “working for exposure”. No. My work has value, and I’m sort of insistent about getting paid. The only reputation you gain from doing something for free is as the guy who’s willing to do it for free. You devalue your own work by sending the message that it isn’t worth paying for, or that you lack the confidence to put a price on it. The best way to get your name out there is to do good work, and to continually improve the quality (and value) of that work.

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Where Do You Find Value?

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”

–Thomas Paine

It’s in this quote that I find a link between my commitment to minimalism the hedgehog principal. Do that which has value; do not clutter your life with projects and processes and products that do not add value.

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I Am A Hedgehog. Wubble.

Long_Eared_hedgehogIn business there’s a thing called the hedgehog principle, which is attributed to a story by the ancient Greek poet Archilochus. The super-short version goes like this:

There’s a fox and there’s a hedgehog. The fox wants to eat the hedgehog, and keeps coming up with all sorts of terribly clever but not particularly effective Wile E. Coyote-type plans. The hedgehog only knows how to do one basic thing, which is curl up into a spiky ball to avoid being eaten. No matter how creative and out-of-the-box the fox may be, the hedgehog always wins.

The moral of the story is that you really only need to do one thing and do it well. You don’t need to be the fox. You need to be the hedgehog. More serious types call this things like defining your core work. There are fancy Venn diagrams and things that people use to sort these things out, showing that the intersection of your passion, ability, and something something whatever hedgehog.

I’ll be over here writing games if you need me, and each game will be at least a little bit better than the one before it. I am a hedgehog. Not a blogger or an aspiring YouTube star, although those things can be used to help publicize my hedgehog-ness. But they’re not my core work. I am a hedgehog wearing an asparagus jumpsuit. Wubble.

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Liberating the Blog (You’ve Been Warned)

All of the “experts” will say that it’s important for an author to have a really keen blog, in order to better connect with the readers. They must know what they’re talking about. After all, they’re experts. They’ve written books and run big websites about writing books and running big websites, so their qualifications self-referentially eat themselves. or something.

This here blog gets what I think is a respectable amount of traffic, given that I’m not a name-brand writer or game designer. It can be kinda fun to rite, now and again. But it doesn’t pull in a lot of engagement by any of the standard measurements of comments and emails. Doesn’t make me any money, though. There’s no data that proves there’s much correlation between the readership of this blog and the people who pay me cash money for the other things I write. If it was a Venn diagram, the two circles would smile at each other fleetingly across a crowded room at a cocktail party, but wouldn’t end up having some deep meaningful conversation outside by the pool or hooking up on top of other peoples’ coats in the master bedroom.

The same goes for making videos. I still hate the word vlog. Whatever you want to call them, they’re fun to put together, but they’re not paying my bills, either. Plus I still haven’t figured out why YouTube keeps eating the sound and honestly, there are things I’d much rather be doing than trying to figure that out.

I could turn these things into revenue streams if I wanted to put in the work. Or I could focus on the thing that actually is a revenue stream and has been paying my bills, and do more of that. Hmm. Gee. tough one, right? Where is my core work, and what does a good solid SWOT analysis say about where I should be focusing my efforts?

No, I’m not killing the blog. I’m just going to write when I feel like it, and write about what I feel like writing, because hey, my blog. Forget about quantity and regularly scheduled whatever, let’s have some fun!

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Don’t Dream, DO

“Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams — fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them — it’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change. So… ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer.”

-Shonda Rhimes, in her commencement address at Dartmouth College

Writing is solitary, lonely, and hard work. Making a living as a writer can be even harder. It comes down to having to grind, day in and day out. It kicks my ass sometimes. With the arrival of the long Finnish darkness — sunset was a 4:30 this afternoon — depression can start to set in. Self-care is important. That’s why I love the Shonda Rhimes quote.

See, you can tell yourself things to make yourself feel better, or you can actually f’ng do something. There are days that I have to remind myself that I have done, and am doing, things. There are days when I have to point out that my critics — most of whom only still exist in my head at this point, having been silenced in real life by my actual accomplishments — are the ones talking rather than doing. There are days when I have to give my humble self permission to brag on how awesome I can be.

Less blogging for the moment. Less talking about writing, in favor of doing the actual writing. 9,261 words today in 8 hours of keyboard grind. That completes a manuscript of over 25,000 words. World domination proceeds apace.

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Commonplace Book: My New Tumblr

This is an idea I’ve toyed with before, and now I’m going to make another run at it. Commonplace Book, my Tumblr page, is based on two things. The first is the “commonplace book” that H.P. Lovecraft referred to in his letters, a journal where he jotted down thoughts, ideas, and even dreams that later served as inspiration for his stories. The second is a mention of Tumblr made by Warren Ellis years ago, about how he used it as a way to bookmark various bits of reference and research for current and future projects

My intention is for this to be a “professional space”, as opposed to social media accounts that are more personal and oriented toward hanging with friends, or my blogs which as geared for blatent self-promotion. As such, all of the content will likely be writer- and business-oriented, or related directly to things I’m working on.

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The Finnish Darkness

darknessDaylight Savings Time ends here today. We moved the clock back and lose an hour, which will in theory make it less dark in the mornings. We’ll see how well that works, because it’s already dark a lot of the time.

It’s taken a while, but I’m starting to get it. The sun hasn’t been coming up until after 8:30am, and it’s only October; it makes getting up at a reasonable hour like 7am feel like it’s still the middle of the night. Sunset is getting closer to 5pm, so the days are getting shorter. This isn’t especially weird to me. I grew up in Pennsylvania, so I’m used to the idea of going to school or work in the dark, and coming home in the dark, with overcast days in between. What’s different is how dark it gets.

There aren’t a lot of street lights here, of the kind we’re used to in the United States. They face down and don’t put off a lot of light, so there’s less reflected light. Jyväskylä is hilly and heavily wooded, and even the tall buildings aren’t very tall, so there’s not a lot of artificial light spread that way. It’s overcast, so there’s not a lot of stars or moonlight.

The law is that all cars have to keep their headlights on all the time, regardless of the weather or the time of year. It seemed silly in the summer. It’s less silly now. The law also requires pedestrians to wear either reflective clothing or reflectors pinned to coat sleeves and backpacks. Given that most people walk or bike, I get that, too. You need to take extra steps to be seen.

What I really get is why Finns spend as much time outdoors as possible when the sun it up. It doesn’t matter how cold it is, they’re outside. They’re out on the weekends. They’re out on their lunch breaks. Katie and I are lucky, because her school schedule and my self-employment make it easy for us to be out during daylight. I plan all of my errands for early afternoon, so I can enjoy it and appreciate it while it lasts. We’re also taking vitamin D tablets daily, and looking into getting a sun lamp for the apartment.

It really doesn’t both me. I kind of like it. I feel like I’m in a submarine sometimes, when I’m in the flat alone working. I moved my desk so that it faces the window. I think that, in terms of depression, I’ve been more affected by distance from friends and the time-zone shift, where most people in the US are sound asleep until about 3pm my time, than I am by the darkness.

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