The War of the Cross: A Letter From John

Hi everybody!

It’s hard to believe that the Kickstarter launch for The War of the Cross is just one week away. We’re going to be publishing updates every day this week to talk more about the game and to share our excitement. Today, I’m here to tell you a little bit about the history of The War of the Cross board game. It all starts twenty years ago. Actually, twenty-two, but who’s counting?

Back in Rancho Cucamonga, California, in the AEG offices, Dave Williams and I (and others) were working on the Legend of the Five Rings collectible card game. We were all first time game designers, flying without radar, fresh out of college and thought we knew everything. Dave and I began bonding over games, and as we talked, we found out we two mutual favorites: Avalon Hill’s Dune and Diplomacy.

Dune Board Game print-and-play recreation, Image from Board Game Geek

We used to talk about a board game that combined the best aspects of both games. Not a lot of math, intuitive rules, lots of diplomacy and secrets. But L5R dominated our time back then. Dave and I both went on to win Origins Awards—for Best Collectible Card Game and Best Roleplaying Game—and a lot of that had to do with the chemistry we had. Dave was in charge of mechanics and I was in charge of story, but I was always in Dave’s office making suggestions and he was always in my office making them, too. It was kind of like a guitarist and lead singer playing off each other’s strengths. That chemistry, I think, is one of the many reasons L5R really felt like capturing lightning in a bottle.

Many years later, when the 7th Sea Kickstarter exploded, Mark Diaz Truman and I talked about making a board game stretch goal. And as soon as we did, I thought of Dave and the game we always wanted to make together. So, we gave him a call.

Dave jumped at the opportunity, but insisted we bring Luke Peterschmidt on as well. I’ve known Luke almost as long as I’ve known Dave. He’s been doing board game Kickstarters for a while and had the kind of experience neither of us had: actual production. That’s so important. So many landmines you have no idea are out there waiting for you, and Luke knew them all.

Dave and Luke drew up a board and started proposing rules. Mark and I threw feedback at them and things started moving fast. Big changes, little changes. But the goal was always the same: simple game, intuitive rules, no dice, lots of diplomacy, and secrets. We stuck to those goals and one day, I received a working prototype in the mail.

Meanwhile, Thomas Deeny and Mark Richardson—layout and cartography, respectively—started making a board. Thomas has experience in board game layout, so his insight came in useful as well. And, of course, Mark’s attention to detail added even more awesome.

Side-by-side of early version of map and final map

And now, as I write this, we have a game that I think achieves all the goals young Dave Williams and John Wick wanted those twenty years ago.

And let me tell you, honestly, no BS plug here: I love playing this game. I’ve been playing it almost non-stop since I got the materials in the mail. I’ve been playing it with folks new to strategy games, folks who play a lot of strategy games and a whole ton of grognards (a term I not only use as a compliment, but considering my age and time in the industry, now wear with pride). A local game designer here in Phoenix—a man with some merit—told me, “I like this game more than Diplomacy.” That made my heart two times too big for my chest.

The game also accomplishes another goal of mine: it broadens the world of 7th Sea. The 30-year long incident known as “The War of the Cross” has always been a kind of mystery. Everybody knows about it, but not everybody knows what happened. Now, with this game, we can tell the story of a three decade long war that nearly tore Théah apart. And there are secrets—oh, yes my friends, there are secrets—waiting for you to uncover in the game. The origins of the war go deeper than politics. And why did the war go on for so long? There’s a reason. It’s ugly and awful. And you’re going to be mad.

Let me say that again: you’re going to be damn angry. And when the Heroes of Théah discovered it…

Well, let’s just say you’ll be finding that all out in The War of the Cross.

See you there!

-John Wick


The War of the Cross launches June 20th on Kickstarter. We’ll be counting down with daily updates and sneak peeks of the board game on the 7th Sea mailing list. Sign up to receive those updates here:

Wonder Woman

The first person I fell in love with was Wonder Woman.

In 1975, when I saw her first, I was only seven years old. Sitting in the little room where our family set up the TV, watching her on the screen, I fell in love. Now, being only seven, I had no idea what I was feeling or even why I felt it. All I knew was I felt good when I saw her or thought about her. She wasn’t the first superhero I saw—I had already been collecting comics and drawing my own by then—but she was the first woman superhero I saw. And I was in love. My first love. The first time I felt my heart beating faster, my skin tingling, my thoughts turning to her…. It had nothing to do with sex—remember, I was only seven at the time. No, I was in love.

When I got older, our relationship evolved. I started becoming more complicated and sophisticated in the things I read and as I learned about her sordid past, I understood she was more complicated than I first knew. That’s because characters like Diana are more than just characters, they’re myths.

Myths are not stoic, nor are they made of stone. They have elasticity and they can stretch. I saw Diana as a living symbol, someone who could change as the times changed. Wonder Woman is a myth, a creature of great power. A woman of great power. All at once, she can be a symbol of peace and love and she can be a warrior. She’s big enough to mean different things to different people.

Like all myths, her strength depended on the storyteller. If the voice was weak, she was weak. If the voice was strong, she was strong. Myths are like that: they need us just as we need them. And that means when we engage with them, we must do it with respect. Mishandling a myth is a lot like mishandling a weapon. Symbols have power. And Diana’s power…

…ahem. Yes. I should get back on subject.

When people ask me about characters I’ve created, they often ask me why they feel so real. And I reply, “Because I treat them that way. As if they’re real.” When I wrote The Last Kachiko Story, I cried. I told my (then-)wife Jennifer, “It’s the most cruel thing I’ve ever done to a character.” There’s a moment in Daughter of Fate that broke my heart when I wrote it and every time I read it. (If you’ve read the book, it’s when Ignacio asks Elena to dance.)

Ideas are real. At least, as real as us. Even if they’re only electricity flashing through our brains, the electricity is real. The signals being passed from brain cell to brain cell are real.

Diana is real. She’s impacted and influenced my life in so many ways, there’s not enough space in the world to tell you how. But she’s just as real as me, just as real as you, just as real as anyone else.

I try treating my characters with profound respect, even the ones who don’t deserve it.
So, when I see characters I love mishandled—such as the gross and ignorant portrayal of Kal-El in Man of Steel—I feel like someone has taken a crap on a friend’s head. Or that someone slapped them and said, “You’re welcome” and walked away. I take it personally. Both as a fan of the genre and as a storyteller.

I tried explaining this to a friend of mine who told me I was taking things too seriously. “It’s just a story,” he said. My friend happened to be a Christian. I told him, “How about I make a movie called Jesus of Nazareth about a guy named Judas who’s the King of the Jews. He gets betrayed by this guy named Jesus who betrays him so he can sleep with Judas’ wife Mary Magdeline and that’s how the movie ends. Judas on the cross and Jesus and Mary humping like rabbits.”

His eyes got big. His mouth just opened wide. And I said, “It’s just a story. Don’t take it so seriously.”

And yes, Diana means that much to me.

Myths may be elastic, but if you stretch them too far, they snap. You can’t pull them beyond recognition. Otherwise, why are you using the myth in the first place? That’d be as silly as making a movie out of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and making it a parody of the book you were…

…yeah.

Or making a Superman movie where the whole idea of Clark being a farmkid from Kansas with the ultimate power set is thrown out the window so you can tell a story about an Ayn Rand übermensch who…

…yeah.

Ahem. Yes. I should say what I wanted to say.

I saw Wonder Woman tonight. Saw Diana in her new garb. And I don’t mean the costume. Paid my money down, sat with my popcorn and Coke and watched the screen.

And I remembered exactly why I fell in love with her in the first place.

A myth is only as powerful as the storyteller. And in this case, the tag team of Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot knocked me down and out for the count. My first love found herself two storytellers who treated her with dignity, respect, and most importantly, with love.

I can’t wait to see it a second time.

Awards Suck…Until You Win One

That picture is me holding the “Golden Geek” award for Best RPG from Boardgamegeek.com. See that look on my face? It’s a look of suspicion. As in, “I don’t trust you.”

I have mixed feelings about awards. And as award season begins this year, I find myself thinking a lot about them. I mean, I could write an essay about awards after awards season, but that seems…you know…disingenuous. Best to do it before all the nominations start so I can sabotage my company’s efforts up front rather than seeming to bitch about them afterward.

I’ve won a pretty good number of them. RPGA Player’s Choice Award for Best RPG, Origins Award for Best RPG (twice), I was on the design team for Best CCG (again, twice)…I’ve won my fair share of them. And winning an award is fun. It’s recognition from fans and peers that you’ve done a great job.

7th Sea Second Edition was the result of a lot of work from a lot of different people. Mark Diaz Truman, Marissa Kelly, Mike Curry, Rob Justice, Jess Heinig, Thomas Deeny, Mark Richardson, Brendan Conway, Sally Richardson, Amanda Valentine, Shen Fei, Giorgio Baroni, Manuel Castañon Gurerero, El Tio Drake, Young Yi Lee, Digeo Rodriguez, Beth Sobel, Meagant Trott…and that’s just to name a few. That’s a lot of people doing a lot of hard work to make 7th Sea a great game. And they all deserve recognition for their work.

But is it “the best” game?

I’ve never been a fan of the idea of “best.” In fact, it unsettles me. I don’t know how you evaluate any work of art over another. Is 7th Sea better than Masks (the runner up)? I don’t know. Or Wrath of the Autarch? I don’t know. I own both of them and I don’t know which measuring stick anyone uses to evaluate one RPG over another one.

Instead of definitive terms such as “better” and “best,” I like to use more subjective terms such as “favorite.” Pendragon is one of my favorite RPGs. I don’t know if it’s the best RPG, but I do know it’s one of my favorites. Over the Edge kicked me in the teeth with its design and presentation and I know other game designers have cited it as an RPG that influenced them as well. But is it “the best?” Very soon, Pinnacle will be launching a Kickstarter for the new edition of Torg. I love that game and can name at least ten other designers who do as well. But is it “the best?” I have no idea because I don’t know what criteria to use. And I’m pretty sure every person has their own way of evaluating games. Kind of like measuring apples and oranges but worse because everyone has their own definitions of apple and orange and what makes those things better than the other.

I’m also suspicious of awards because they make the whole creative process into a competition. I’ve already played in the Camarilla and I’ve seen what happens when you add PVP to the creative process, so no, thank you. I prefer helping and working with my fellow creators, not compete against them.

Awards also get into your head. Make you feel like you’re better than you are. Go back to the early days of the Legend of the Five Rings forums and look for my name. Yeah, you’ll see how quick awards can go to a normally humble guy from Minnesota’s head. It happened so fast, I don’t even remember when the transformation took place.

I remember winning the Best RPG Origins Award for Legend of the Five Rings. I was so damn proud, but at the same time, I also felt awful for the folks who didn’t win that award. I wanted to apologize. I loved their games. At the same time, I remembered that my mom—who threw away all my RPGs when Oprah said they were “Satanic”—was waiting by the phone to hear if we had won. I broke up on stage in front of a bunch of people. I was proud of what we accomplished, but at the same time, I was thinking of everyone else who was nominated and how they deserved the right to stand on the stage with me. They had produced games I loved. They deserved the same spotlight as me.

So, as awards season approaches, I view it with both hope and suspicion. Hope because a lot of the folks who worked on 7th Sea haven’t won awards yet and they deserve to have a moment standing on stage, feeling that joy and elation. And suspicion because…well, all that I’ve already said. To all the winners this year, I offer you my congratulations. And to all the “losers,” I offer you my congratulations as well. Maybe I’ll make my own awards and hand them out at the big cons this year.

Yeah…I’ll have to talk to Hannah about that…

#trekforthefirsttime

Last week, I got sick. The kind of sick that sits on your chest and won’t let you breathe. The kind of sick that gets into your head and screams until your skull starts to crack. The kind of sick that you have to fight all day long, so by the late afternoon, the only thing you want to do is just lay down.

That kind of sick.

My doctor tells me I caught a cold. No big deal. But the cold triggered asthma. I said, “Asthma?”

She nodded and said, “Asthma.”

Well, ain’t that fun?

So, I got sick. I had five different bottles of pills, kettles of hot tea, and the empty cardboard corpses of tissue paper rolls strewn around me. I couldn’t do anything except lay back, be miserable and watch Netflix.

Well, as it turns out, you can watch the entire run of Star Trek: The Original Series on Netflix.

I’m not a Trekkie, but I know a lot of them. Jess is a Trekkie, Chris is a Trekkie, Lenny is a Trekkie. Hell, even my dad is a Trekkie. But not me. I saw Star Wars before I saw Star Trek, so…well, you know how that goes.

Now, I may not be a Trekkie, but a whole bunch of people I love are. And because I love them, I want to understand the things they love…even if I don’t. For example, both Jess and Chris have Trek bathrobes. Jess has blue and Chris has gold. So, I got red. And one day, we’ll all be in the same place at the same time and wear them together. I also have an idea for a Trek RPG scenario I want to run for both of them. I won’t spoil it here, but it involves two of their favorite episodes from the classic show.

Yeah, I indulge in the things my friends love because I love my friends. And so, with my red Engineering robe on, I settled in and started watching the classic Star Trek tv show…for the first time.

That’s right. You heard me. For the first time.

Now, I’ve seen a couple episodes before. About…three, I think. “City on the Edge of Forever” (because I’m a fan of Harlan’s), “Trouble with Tribbles,” and “Balance of Terror” (at the urgings of many Trekkies). And I have to say, I liked all those episodes. In fact, “Balance of Terror” even beats out Harlan’s episode as my favorite. I loved that one.

But as for the rest, I’ve never seen them. Never once sat down and watched TOS. So, I figured, it was time. I started writing brief notes about each episode on my Facebook with the tag, #trekforthefirsttime. And the response has been pretty fun. At least it gets my mind off the fact that I can’t sleep because I can’t stop coughing.

Now, as of this writing, I’m not finished with the series. I’m halfway through Season 2—just watched “Conscience of the King”—but I still have a few thoughts I’d like to share with you about the experience. Specifically, as a Game Master. Because that’s the hat I’m wearing when I watch these episodes. And it’s gotten me thinking a lot about a Star Trek RPG.

As I began watching, I noticed that there are three kinds of episodes. I’m dubbing them:

  1. Kirk vs the Machine
  2. Kirk vs God, and
  3. The Good Ones

In “Kirk vs the Machine,” Kirk beats a godlike machine or android by using logic or absurdity. I didn’t like it the first time, I didn’t like it the rest of the times. I mean, it’s clear these episodes were written (or, in many cases, re-written) by people who don’t understand what the word “logic” means. It’s infuriating as someone who studied philosophy to hear “logic” thrown around so freely. In the world of Star Trek, nobody can agree on what “logic” actually is because they all have different definitions. Just like folks can’t agree on what “god” is because…

Well, let’s talk about that one, shall we?

And another thing before we get to the last category. Any episode that ends with someone solving the problem with technobabble is just not for me. Instead of Scotty saying, “We re-routed through the Jefferies tubes,” he may as well be saying, “I waved me magic wand and made the problem go away.” That’s boring. It’s like telling Dorothy should could have gone home at any time by tapping her heels together. I call bullshit. But more on that in a moment.

Let’s talk about Kirk vs God. Yeah. I…just…can we just not talk about this one? I mean, I’m the openly atheist in the room and this one just makes me feel dumb even thinking about.

As for the third kind of episode, this is where we get stuff like “Amok Time,” “Space Seed,” and the always delicious “Mirror Mirror,” along with the previously mentioned “classic” episodes. This is the real stuff. Nothing gets solved because of technobabble. And the reason is simple: there are no easy or simple solutions to the problems in the episodes.

Everyone likes talking about the Kobayashi Maru test: a test of character. And how Kirk fixed the test so he could win. But what’s interesting to me is how many Kobayashi Marus there are in the series. No good choices. Just choices. And you hope you made the right one.

“Balance of Terror” is an hour-long series of vague choices. Any one of them could doom the Enterprise at any moment. Kirk and his crew have to be at their best against an enemy that’s just as smart, clever and capable as they are. As fun as it was to see Khan in Star Trek 2, I would have loved to have seen the unnamed “Romulan Commander” make a return.

“City on the Edge of Forever” is another example. There’s no tricorder reading that can solve the problem of having to watch another human being die.

“Amok Time” sticks in my head for so many reasons, all of it weighing heavy on the dynamic chemistry between Kirk, McCoy and Spock. I understand why this was the first episode of the second season. Hell, I wish it was the first episode of the first season. And again, there is no easy solution to the problem. Sure, McCoy pulls a bit of trickery out of his med kit at the end, but the choice was still Kirk’s to make. A choice for his best friend.

These are the episodes that resonate in my head because they are about watching characters I care about—and yes, I’ve grown to care about them—facing real and certain challenges. The banter is fun. I like the banter. But what hits me hardest are the real moments of the show. When the characters talk to each other. And when they face dangers with no easy answers.

Remember that the next time you sit down at the game table. Do you remember your character’s stats? Do you remember how cool the initiative mechanic is? No. You remember when your character had to make a choice and nothing on the character sheet could help you.

That’s when shit gets real.

So, more of that, if you would Mr. Roddenberry.

D& Acquisition

Game designer John Wick, via his company John Wick Presents, has acquired the rights to the Dungeons & half of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise. “The 7th Sea Kickstarter was so successful, we had enough cash to do something important.”

While the dragons are still out of reach, Wick is excited for the possibility of taking the dungeons to new heights. “It turns out the dragons are pretty expensive,” Wick said. “But we’ve got some neat things planned for the dungeons part.”

Wick announced Dungeons & would be released into the public domain in five years, making the gaming public owners of the property. “The fans can do what they want with it. It belongs to them now.”

In the meantime, what are JWP’s plans for the property? Wick said, “We don’t plan on changing much. 5th Edition is my favorite edition of D&D. Maybe some new lighting for the dungeons. More pirates. Switching to a d10 system. Nothing major.”

Along with the acquisition of D&, JWP has also acquired Raven-, Plane-, Dying and Birth-. Wick said, “When we get the rest, we’ll be giving the full rights back to the original creators. Until then, they’ll have to settle for halfsies.”

For further information, please visit www.johnwickpresents.com/d-and.

Distractions and Mans

So, I’ve tried to write three different blog posts. I’m supposed to do this twice a week, and this time, it just isn’t happening. Why? Well, this little gif pretty much lays out why.

Writing is different for everyone—which is why there are so many different writing advice books—but one thing seems to be true among the writers I read and admire. That’s momentum. It’s hard to get started, but once you’ve got momentum, once you’ve been writing for ten-to-twenty minutes straight, you just keep going. You’ve found a rhythm and that rhythm keeps you going. Unless, of course, the world throws a fire in your face. Then, you have to start all over again.

And that’s pretty much what happened to me this week. I’ve been trying to avoid the news and politics and culture, trying to catch the momentum, and I’ve failed. All week long, I failed. I’ve gotten very little writing done, but I’ve been posting a lot on social media. More than I should have, to be honest. Because arguing on the internet is… well, we all know what arguing on the internet is all about, don’t we?

XKCD says it all

Way back when I was writing 1st Edition 7th Sea, my then-wife Jennifer (isn’t she knockin’ it out of the park with her 7th Sea fiction bits, folks?) put a rule on my head. No Internet Before Writing. I wasn’t allowed to check e-mail or go to any websites until I had written my daily word count.

I guess I’m gonna have to go back to that rule.

No internet before word count.

So, I’ve got very little for you this week. But I do have one thing. One very small thing. It’s small but very important.

The Mighty Matthew Colville—whose Youtube channel is required viewing for Game Masters, and that’s coming from the guy who wrote Play Dirty 1 & 2—introduced me to a couple memes that have become important in my life. The first is “Friendly Game,” which has become an important part of my game design philosophy. But the second is the concept of “mans.”

“Mans” is the name for the figures/chits/bits/pieces you move around in a board game. We were playing the old Dune board game (a brilliant, but flawed gem) and Matt referred to all his pieces as “mans.” I found the term absolutely delightful and adopted it into my own vocabulary. I even unofficially brought it into Houses of the Blooded. I’ve always loved RPGs that allow me to have “mans.” Folks who are linked to my character. I once designed a Noble character class for D&D that gave me more mans as I leveled up. And when I wrote Houses, I made sure one of the elements of that game allowed me to have mans. I could have a Spy Master and a Valet and a Poison Master. You know, like I was a Landsraad noble from Dune.

That was many years ago, but the word has stuck with me. And I should mention, in my head, it’s gender neutral. “Mans” means both men and women. But I’ve also become considerate to the fact that I cannot ignore it has a masculine connotation, and there are women friends of mine who would not appreciate being called a “mans.” (Yes, “mans” is not only gender neutral, but also both plural and singular.) And so, I’ve been looking for a new term.

What’s more, just recently, I realized that I actually do have mans. My company, John Wick Presents, has a whole bunch of people working on projects. We just released Heroes & Villains and Pirate Nations is off to the printer. Nations of Théah, Vol. 1 & 2 are both on the fast track to coming out in a couple of months, and just today, I saw Secret Societies has an outline deadline of this week.

Secret Societies! The very last book on our schedule for 7th Sea has an outline deadline for this week!

I have mans. A whole lot of them. And they’re doing some really damn amazing work. But, I can’t call them mans. I really can’t. I need a new term. Not because I’m afraid of offending people—if you know anything about me, I don’t give a single flying @#$%ing @#%% about @#$%ing offending people. But because people get to choose their labels. And if someone doesn’t feel comfortable with being one of my mans, then they deserve a new nickname.

Especially if they’re doing outstanding work for a company with my name on it.

Still, I’m a little sad to lose it. Nevertheless, a new word for the folks who work for me.

“Employees” is stale and boring. These people aren’t my employees. Some of them are the best friends I have in the whole world. And “friends” isn’t right, either. It just lacks the charm of the original term.

And entourage? Yeah, no. That’s just demeaning. That’s too close to “hangers on,” which does not denote the fact that I need these people.

And then, in the shower, the place where all great ideas hit you in the head, I knew what to do.

I knew the term I needed to use. Something for the JWP folks working so hard to make the company with my name on it look so good.

I have a crew.

Sure, I may be the captain of this mad voyage, but I’ve also got officers who manage things and keep us going in the right direction. A captain without a navigator and a pilot… yeah, no good. And the crew working the sails, we need them, or the ship goes nowhere.

A crew. All working together so we all get to where we’re going. We all heave together or the ship don’t go.

Yeah. That sounds about right. A crew.

I’ve got a damn fine crew at JWP. Looking at the books we’ve produced so far, at the Wiki page, at the Free Rules we just released, at the maps, at the art, at the innovative mechanics, at the editing, at the fiction… at just about everything. All working together to keep the ship going.

I’ve got a crew. And that’s about as much anyone can ask for.

Sing ho! for a brave and gallant ship

With a fair and favorin’ breeze

With a bully crew and a captain too

To carry me over the seas

To carry me over the seas, me boys,

To me true love far away

I’m taking a trip on a Bucca ship

Ten thousand miles away

Listen to “Ten Thousand Miles Away” for 7th Sea by Sheldon Morley

Let It Go

I do a lot of game design seminars and I always meet “The Guy.” He always says the same thing, too. He raises his hand and says, “I’ve been designing a roleplaying game for twenty years now…”

I stop him. Right there. I know exactly where this is going and I need to stop it before it gets any further. I say, “In twenty years, I’ve designed almost thirty roleplaying games. You need to crap or get off the pot, pal.”

That’s usually when The Guy gets up and walks out. And in twenty years, he’ll still be designing the same game. He’ll never be finished.

That’s because he’s unwilling to do the hardest part of design or writing or painting or anything else: letting it go.

I told Mike Curry and Rob Justice this. “Every day, you wake up and know how to make your game better. Every day. Even the day after you sent it to the printer. Even the day after it shows up in bookstores. Even a year after that. Every day.”

The hardest part is letting it go.

I’m elbow deep in the second draft of Born Under the Black Flag, the second 7th Sea novel. The first one was damn hard. This one was easier. Not a lot easier, but I did a few things I did not do with the first novel. First, I made an outline. Black Flag jumps back and forth through the life of Thomas St. Claire, a pirate in the world of Théah, and I wanted to know where the past and present were going to be. I outlined the chapters on index cards and put them down on the floor with numbers. Then, I picked them up in the order I wanted the novel, giving them letters. I shuffled them around a bit, scratched out some numbers and letters, and when I was finished, I started writing.

I finished just as my deadline hit. I mean, on the same day. Daughter of Fate—the first novel—got pushed back 30 days because I wasn’t finished with it. But St. Claire had a goal, a simple goal, and he was able to reach it because he was willing to spill blood to do it.

First draft done, I sent it off to Amanda Valentine and take a year end vacation, not thinking about the novel for a while so I could approach it with new eyes. Also, I spent some time doing research and reading Patrick O’Brien.

I knew a novel about pirates would need some O’Brien in it. There was already a little—maybe 1 O’Brien’s worth—but I wanted more. Not a lot more, but enough to satisfy myself and the other fans of his work.

O’Brien was the author of the Master and Commander novels—among others—and his storytelling made my heart ache. I couldn’t capture the same authenticity he did—I simply did not have the level of knowledge he had—but I wanted to make sure the nautical elements felt authentic enough.

I told Amanda that when I sent it off to her and she said she would help me out. She had a couple of friends who were O’Brien fans, so when I finished the second draft, she would hand it over to them for feedback.

Last night, I was going through her edits, making changes both big and small, when it came time to introduce the first ship in the book. And this is where I needed to raise the O’Brien Factor. I spent an hour and a half writing a single paragraph. One hundred and thirty words. I wanted them to be the right words. To make St. Claire’s inspection of the ship feel authentic.

Ninety minutes on those words. It was some of the hardest writing I’ve ever done. But I went to bed happy. This morning, I sent them to Ben Woerner who gave me feedback and added a little bit about hammocks. And then, I read it back to myself—out loud. And I was happy. Damn happy.

The Galente was a fluyt out of Vestenmennavenjar. A merchant ship smaller than those from Montaigne or Castille, clearly influenced by recent Avalon designs. The ship was round like a pear when viewed from the fore or aft and the forefoot had greater rake. Despite its size, she could handle shallower waters than most and the aftcastle was tall, giving plenty of room to the officers and the captain. A sure sign of vanity. The masthead caps were wide and she had little room for cannons. All of it was for crew and cargo. Her rigging was designed to minimize the first of them. She was tall and proud, few guns. And she was fast. Damn fast. Just a few carpenters and the right directions, and she’d be a fighting ship in a month.

After I was done, I sent the words to Jessica. She’s my Jane Austen fan. I sent them along with the request, “Please tell me if you get lost in the jargon.” I wanted to make sure there was just enough she could understand what was going on. She sent me this reply:

This is the sort of paragraph I skip when reading. If a fluyt is a real ship, then I don’t want someone spelling it out for me in text. That’s what Wikipedia is for. Talk about the significance that whoever’s POV would be considering.

Things like “A sure sign of vanity” are hints of a good direction.  I want to hear the captain (or whoever) size her up, like a sailor would. I know no one knows what a fluyt is anymore, but ignore that. hide the information in the captain’s evaluation of his dreams and plans for her.

A merchant ship means he can hide his nature. That should be emphasized rather than comparing it to other nations.

A sure sign of vanity, but he could afford that. or maybe it would extend to his men, proud to have such a vessel. They will work harder.

I don’t know. But make it personal. Make it real. This is a text book description. Jargon smargon. It’s missing the people and the reasons.

Needless to say, I was heartbroken. I loved those words. I worked hard on those words. Dammit. DAMMIT.

Okay, okay. Take a breath. You know why you’re upset. You know why.

She’s right.

So, after stomping around the room for a little while, I set myself back behind the keyboard and began editing. Looking at Jessica’s feedback and using it. And what I got, after another hour of work, was something better. Not just better, something that Ben Woerner said “gave me chills” after reading it.

Yeah. It was better.

I wasn’t The Guy. I wasn’t going to walk out of the room when someone challenged me. I was going to listen and think.

And let it go.

St. Claire walked along the Galente, his eyes and mind taking in all the details. She was a fluyt out of Vestenmennavenjar: a merchant ship smaller than those from Montaigne or Castille, clearly influenced by recent Avalon designs. She was round like a pear when viewed from the fore or aft and the forefoot had greater rake. That meant he could sail her in shallower waters, hiding behind islands from larger ships. He could sail her up rivers, giving him access to ports and escape routes larger fighting ships could not manage.

The aftcastle was tall, giving plenty of room to the officers and the captain. St. Claire snickered. A sure sign of vanity on the part of the captain. Made the officers’ cabins easy targets for other ships. That would have to go.

She had little room for cannons. Only six per side. Instead of cannon decks, the Galente had room for cargo. She was a merchant ship, after all. Claire didn’t need many more guns, what he needed was speed, and the Galente had plenty of that. Her rigging was designed for minimal crew and outracing pirates. She was fast. Damn fast.

He knew what he had to do. Lose some cargo space with double hammocks and she could carry plenty of fighting men along with a small working crew. Add chase guns to the fore and aft, keeping sharp shooters in the rigging. Hiding in shallow waters at night, waiting for larger ships to go by, sailing right up to their hulls, moving so fast, the enemy’s cannons would fire too long, splashing cannons behind them. Then, unleash the marines. If he got that close, most ATC ships would surrender without ever firing a shot.

Just a few carpenters and the right directions, and she’d be a fighting ship in a month.

We Are the Heroes of the Stories We Tell

I’m starting my own church. A church of one. This is what I believe.

I.

I believe in a reality that is very close to our own, a reality that sometimes touches our own, and sometimes even crosses over. This reality has been called many things by many people. It has been called the Astral Plane, the Dreaming, the Tellurian, and Ideaspace.

We feed this place with our dreams, our ideas, our inspirations and aspirations. We visit this place when we dream. When our minds are set at the right speed. Shamans used peyote to reach this place. Tibetan monks used meditation. If we refuse to sleep, sometimes the dreams fight their way through. This is the place where dreams and dreamers meet. We call to them and they answer back.

Heroes are born here, live here, and die here. All our legends, all our faiths are born in this place. It is the home of Robin Hood and Beowulf. Buddha and the Christ are here, breaking bread and drinking wine. Just over there, Jacque de Molay and the Old Man on the Mountain play an endless game of chess. Odin and Loki argue with Zeus and Prometheus. All our dreams, all our legends, all our myths. They come from this place. This holy, sacred place.

I believe this place can be reached through various means. We use ritual and ordeal. We use the ritual of enacting the stories of heroes. We do not simply tell the stories of heroes, we don’t walk in their footsteps. We make the footsteps. To summon the energy of heroes, we tell their tales. We wrap ourselves in their symbols and invoke the hero. We do not simply tell the myth, we become the myth. We are the heroes of the stories we tell.

We are shamans, summoning the spirits of heroes.

We are magicians, making magic with rituals and ordeals.

We are gamers.

II.

Every man, woman and child is part of the Imagination, but all of us see it differently. All of us know it by different names. The Astral Plane, the Dreaming, the HeroPlane.

For me, I call it, “Valhalla.”

This sacred place where heroes went after they died. In that holy hall, the victorious fallen drink, feast, sing, and make love until the fighting begins. They fight to the death, each and every one of them. Then, the Allfather calls their names and rises them up, mending their broken bones and torn skin, so they can do it all again the next night.

The victorious fallen. The Einherjar.

(As a sidenote, what most people don’t realize is that only half the Einherjar actually go to Odin’s hall. The rest go to Freya’s hall, Folkvang. As for me, I’d rather hang out with the Sex Goddess than the Allfather, but to each his own.)

My last name is Wick. My grandfather changed it from Vik when he arrived in America. (He thought it sounded too Scandinavian.) I grew up in Minnesota, learning the tales of my ancestors. I learned about Valhalla and the Grey Wanderer, about Loki and the Lay of Thrym. I learned about Mjolnir and Bifrost. And I learned about the Einherjar. And I used to brag that my funeral would be me with everything I own, floating down the Mighty Miss on a burning barge.

Most importantly, I learned the only true immortality was having your name spoken after you were in the ground.

I believe in Imagination. This place where heroes go. The Victorious Fallen. The Einherjar.

Heroes are there. Sherlock Holmes and Lamont Cranston. John Constantine and V. Tim Drake and Jack Burton. Irene Adler and Kachiko.

(“Who?”)
(“Jack Burton! ME!”)

Heroes go here. My heroes. Your heroes. Like Hemmingway and Roger Zelazny. Dorothy Chandler and Harriet Quimby. Buddy Holly and Harry Chapin. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. The Buddha, the Christ, and Owen Hart.

This is what I believe. I believe we can make stories of our lives that we too may eat and drink and make love with the heroes in that sacred place. As long as our names are spoken after our death, I believe we may stay in that sacred hall. With Johnny Cash and Ossie Davis. With Elvis and Byron. With William Blake and Jim Morrison.

And my grandfather.

I perform the ultimate alchemy: transforming my life into a story. And when I am gone and I go before Freya, she will ask me, “What have you done to earn the right to sit beside my Einherjar?”

I will say, “I have a story worth telling.”