Category Archives: Writing

Posts about the writing and editing process of the new edition.

The Blog of Many Covers

This is the story of how books can go strange, far places, change their covers and yet stay the same.

In 2016 I was lucky enough to have a story included in She Walks in Shadows, the first all-woman Lovecraftian anthology, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles of Innsmouth Free Press. If you don’t have a copy of this you can get the e-book by supporting Silvia’s Patreon at the $2 level. Bargain.

She Walks in Shadows

She Walks in Shadows

Silvia started the project because people were wondering about the paucity of female writers being published in Lovecraftian anthologies. You can read her musings on the reasons on her blog page. Two years after publication the stories that stay with me are ‘Eight Seconds’, by Pandora Hope, which shows just how long a mother’s love needs to last, and ‘The Thing in the Cheerleading Squad’ by Molly Tanzer, a terrific retake on ‘The Thing on the Doorstep’. Silvia was a really wonderful editor who has gone out of her way to keep us in touch with the project as it moved through its various incarnations.

My story, ‘Turn Out the Lights’ was a speculative tale on the life of Sarah Phillips Lovecraft, Howard’s mother. The story is available as a free sampleShe Walks in Shadows went on to win the World Fantasy Award for best anthology 2016, edging out Chaosium’s King in Yellow anthology, Cassilda’s Song, edited by Joseph S. Pulver.

She Walks in Shadows was reprinted in America (same stories, different cover) as Cthulhu’s Daughters.

Cthulhu's Daughters

Cthulhu’s Daughters

The anthology has has now been translated into Turkish, and has yet another very cool cover. But, no I don’t know what ‘Golgede Yuruyen Kiz’ means either. I’m assuming it means She Walks in Shadows but Google Translate confidently tells me the word in the middle means ‘Screaming’. So let’s not go there.

She Walks In Shadows, Turkish Cover

She Walks In Shadows, in Turkish.

However perhaps 2019 is Chaosium’s year as they are releasing Sisterhood, edited by Nate Peterson. Sisterhood includes my story, ‘Unburdened Flesh’, a strange tale of a Venetian nunnery during time of plague. It was inspired by the alternative history which we created for Venice in Horror on the Orient Express, and explores the history of the outre Brotherhood of the Skin.

Sisterhood

We’re all sisters, under the skin.

I’ve been in quite a few anthologies, but Mark’s favorite cover is from Tales of Cthulhu Invictus by Golden Goblin Press. The collection features stories set in Ancient Rome and the cover is a re-imagining of the classic ending of ‘Call of Cthulhu’ but with Cthulhu menacing a trireme. And for my part, I’m quite pleased with my story too, ‘Magnum Innominandum’, about a patrician noblewoman dealing with a little slave problem. Suffice to say it ends with madness, death, despair and toads.

Tales of Cthulhu Invictus

Cthulhu is not amused.

 

In other literature-related news, another of my Horror on the Orient Express co-authors is also writing fiction. Geoff Gillan, who masterminded the plot for the entire campaign, has just started self-publishing his own new series, The Man from Z.O.M.B.I.E. This is the undead Cold War spy thriller you’ve been dying to read – just like the lead character.

The Man from Z.O.M.B.I.E.

The Man from Z.O.M.B.I.E.

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An Australian in Trieste

Our friend and collaborator, Russell Waters, who wrote ‘Cold Wind Blowing’, the Horror on the Orient Express chapter set in Trieste, visited the city recently and has sent back an account of his travels. Until Mark & I finally reach the city this wonderful description will have to suffice. Be warned, if you are planning to play in the campaign there are spoilers in this post!

Now, over to Russell to tell of his journey…


 

In Trieste

Outside the Postojna Caves. (Note the T-shirt!)

Upon arriving in Trieste we checked into our hotel, which overlooked the waterfront. As we were there in September, we didn’t have to contend with the bora, although as we arrived and wove our way down from the surrounding hills and through the narrow streets leading leading to our hotel on the waterfront, I’d been delighted to note that some of the streets, (mainly those that were steeply sloping) did have chains strung between poles. Whether this was to assist pedestrians struggling against the blast of the bora, as I’d read in the 1920s era Baedekers that formed my original research for ‘Cold Wind Blowing’, or whether it was to prevent pedestrians stepping off the narrow pavement onto the roadway was less clear.

Trieste (which I discovered is pronounced in three syllables: tree-est-uh) is still a pretty town, at least in the area near the harbor, where there are still many old buildings. There is a single canal, of sorts, which runs inland from the harbor and ends at the church of Sant Antonio Turmaturgo and gives a Venice feel to the immediate area.

Trieste

Not Venice, Trieste!

Whilst I was keen to visit some of the 1920s tourist sites in Trieste I’d read about in Baedekers, we’d been recommended to visit Castello Di Miramare, which lies a short distance from town. Built for the Austrian Arch-duke Ferdinand Maximilian (Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico), the castle was completed after his capture and execution in Mexico, so he never actually lived in it. I found his bedroom most interesting; Maximilian had been a successful navy officer, and his bedroom had a lowered artificial ceiling and wood paneled walls to make it more like a ship’s cabin. The ceiling of the dining room has a compass rose and an indicator linked to a wind vane on the roof so that the diners can know the wind direction at any time!

Back in town we visited the Cathedral and the Castello, both sitting on top of a hill and named after San Guisto. Johann Winckelmann was buried at the Cathedral, although the actual site of his grave is unknown. The Castello has an interesting museum that features a range of medieval weaponry and is adjacent Roman ruins which, according to some old photos we saw, have been a popular place to promenade and even picnic since the early 1900s.

One of the things I really wanted to see was the Johann Winckelmann monument, which features in ‘Cold Wind Blowing’ and provides the Investigators with their first inkling that “looking up Johann Winckelmann in Trieste” may be more difficult than they thought. Ironically, we fell foul of one of the obstacles I’d set up for Investigators; the Museum in which the monument is situated closes between 13.00h to 16.00h! Fortunately, our weather was fine, so we were able to spend some time at the Cathedral and then exploring nearby streets until it reopened.

The monument has its own building at the end of L’Orto Lapidario, the lapidary garden accessed from the museum. As well as the monument, the building houses an exhibit about Winckelmann and some statuary, including a torso missing head, arms and legs, which aroused my immediate suspicion. Some early designs for the monument apparently included a scene of Winckelmann’s murderer being broken on the Wheel (as actually happened) so perhaps it is a good thing that they eventually went for something a little less confronting!

Johann Winckelmann monument

Note suspicious torso on the right

Whilst in Trieste, we also saw (but didn’t travel through) the tunnel formerly used by the local tram service (now automobiles only); a tramcar (the trams were not running at the time due to an accident back in 2016 which had still not been repaired) and pleasingly, a Roman amphitheatre. I say pleasingly because the Investigators visit a cellar in which one wall appears to be part of a buried amphitheatre, and the amphitheatre we saw was not excavated until the 1930s!

Clues found in Trieste lead the Investigators to the caves at Postumia, now Postojna in Slovenia. Because Marissa and I were not following the Orient Express route, but coming into Italy from Austria via Slovenia, we had actually visited Postojna before Trieste, but I’m mentioning it now to better fit the Horror on the Orient Express chronology.

Entrance to Postojna Cavern

Cavern entrance

Even back in the 1920s the caves were a big tourist attraction in the area, and our visit reflected this, with large tourist groups being sorted by language so that multilingual guides can then lead their groups on the tours. The caves extend for about 24 km (about 14.5 miles), but the tour only takes in part of this. As was the case for tourists in the 1920s, we initially took seats on a train which traveled 2.5 km (1.5 miles) into the caves before disembarking and walking another few kilometres. There were plenty of signs of underground waterways, but generally the caves were mercifully dry and we didn’t have to go wading at all, or find any dark lake with mysterious stalagmites dotting its shore. To my great delight, we did see some olm, which were kept in a dimly lit aquarium/terrarium (having no natural pigmentation, bright lights distress them). The specimens we saw were about 20-25 cms (6-8 inches) long; not too threatening at that size. The olm are a real feature of the caverns, and are used as a mascot/logo by the cave operators.

Olm

Olm decoration at Postojna

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In with the new year and out with the old

2018 was certainly a stellar year for us.

First things first. Reign of Terror was published. We originally developed this scenario as a secret history, a prelude to the Horror on the Orient Express campaign, back in 2013.  Over the years the book grew and took shape as intrepid writers Darren Watson  and James Coquillat contributed additional background history, scenarios and scenario seeds to fully flesh out the experience of horror role-playing during the French Revolution. We were incredibly honoured to receive the 2018 Gold Ennie for Best Supplement for the book.

Reign of Terror hardcover

Then the PDF of the new edition of Terror Australis was launched (with the book itself due in 2019). This is a whole new edition of the first Call of Cthulhu project we ever worked on in 1987. It has new scenarios, new background, and all new scares! Dean Engelhardt of Cthulhu Reborn did a wonderful job assembling this new version, and it has great new writing from our longtime Aussie mates Marion Anderson, Phil Anderson, Geoff Gillan, John Hughes, Richard Watts and others.

Terror Australis

Do you think it might be friendly?

Just in time for Halloween, the official Call of Cthulhu computer game arrived from Focus Home Entertainment. Mark had wicked fun coming up with ideas for the story line with the clever folks at Cyanide Studio in Paris.

og_image

Finally, Mark’s scenario ‘Dead-Man Stomp’ was included in the new Call of Cthulhu starter set. He has always loved this jazz-fused scenario co-written with Lynn Willis, and this new 7th edition version is with a new co-writer, his friend Chris Spivey, who wrote the incredible supplement Harlem Unbound. In fact, “Dead Man Stomp” was Chris’ gateway to the world of Cthulhu, so this collaboration is especially meaningful.

Call of Cthulhu starter set

Sure let’s visit this spooky old house. What could possibly go wrong?

However we are not ones to rest on our laurels. You want more? We have a stellar line up for 2019!

For starters, we’ll be running two new scenarios from the upcoming Reign of Terror 2  as well as my 1920s Samoan scenario ‘Curse of Aforgomon’ at Arcanacon 2019 on 26 & 27 January here in Melbourne. The new 18th century scenarios are by Kelly Grant (Parisian investigators are sent to recover animals from a former aristo’s menagerie), and James Coquillat (a cold snap turns deadly, and then gets worse). So you can go mad in Revolutionary France or perish miserably in Samoa, you choose. Tip: avoid coconut palm groves! And Madame La Guillotine. And don’t get the two confused.

Arcanacon 2019

Crash landing in  a tropical paradise was only the start…

Mark has been invited to Poland in March 2019 as a special guest at CarcosaCon, a Call of Cthulhu convention in a genuine Polish castle. The Czocha Castle is located in Sucha village in Poland, and was nearly burned down in 1793, the same year as Reign of Terror…

Carcosa-con 2019

One previous owner… how do you spell that again? D-R-A-C-U-L-A.

And we have even more Revolutionary Horror to come, with Reign of Terror 2 in the pipeline. This features our scenario, Love Eterne, in which our citizen investigators thwart an aristo’s attempt to flee Paris and find themselves facing a horror worse than even Madame La Guillotine, as well as the new scenarios from Kelly and James, and a longer scenario from Darren Watson about a most peculiar investigation.

What’s that you say? You want more? We continue working on our Cthulhu by Gaslight campaign, Curse of Seven, and I have contributed a scenario, ‘Market Forces’ to the new RuneQuest relaunch, so stay tuned!

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Reign of Terror

Reign of Terror hardcover

Just when you think Horror on the Orient Express is done, along comes one last carriage, and a bloody one at that.

Reign of Terror is the 20th and final chapter in the campaign, out now in hardcover from Chaosium.com and from retailers in March.

The scenario started life as the secret backer scenario at Gen Con 2013. Jason, Thomas, Tom and Travis were the four backers at the One Night at Gen Con pledge level, which got them a ticket for a never-to-be-revealed secret scenario. Penny vague blogged about it at the time, without revealing what horrors took wing in that landlocked Pullman car at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Indianapolis on a hot summer night. We all had a fantastic game and parted as great friends, with me promising to send them the written version before too long…

And then life intervened, as it does.

Or, um, let’s be honest, my poor deadline management. As it does.

In 2016 when Chaosium realised that the backers were still waiting patiently for their written up version of the scenario, they asked the four players for permission to hire me to formally write it up as a proper full length piece and share with the world. The backers agreed (they got some extra bonuses), and so the Reign of Terror book was born.

Here’s the short synopsis: the scenario is a playable version of the handouts in the Paris chapter of Horror on the Orient Express which describe events in France in 1789 which, as you know, was quite the calendar year. One month after the activity described in the handouts, the Bastille was stormed, and France (and western democracy) was forever changed.

Storming of the Bastille

Storming of the Bastille. (Source: Wikipedia)

In future posts I’ll write more about what inspired the scenario and how the full sourcebook took shape, with superb help from my co-conspirators: Penny (of course), plus with James Coquillat (his scenario Terror Itself co-written with David Naylor was a launch title on Miskatonic Repository) and Darren Watson (who contributed the excellent air travel article in Horror on the Orient Express, as well as much of the new 1923 historical headlines and snippets). Until then…

Vive la Mort !

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The Last Post

Horror on the Orient Express is at last pulling into its final destination. The first copies have arrived in backers’ houses generally with a resounding ker-thump, and a twinge of sore backs. You are warned, folks, the Thing on the Doorstep is actually a brick.

It was a two year journey, and far longer and stranger than any of us planned. To stretch the analogy, possibly to breaking point, we have dug the train out of snow-drifts, left friends stranded at out of the way stations, and scattered a trail of lost toothbrushes, odd socks and broken suitcases in far and foreign lands. However all these travails are forgotten as at last we hold the Brick  in our hands (and always remember, folks,  when picking it up keep your back straight and bend at the knees).

Stack of books - from Games from the Front blog

Stack of books – from Games from the Front blog

We already have a photo blog of the formal Unwrapping of the Campaign Box by Ty Snouffer from the Games from the Front blog, and a nice review on The Escapist by Adam Gauntlett (“Where the reprint expands on the original scenarios, it’s almost always for the better.”)

The short story collection Madness on the Orient Expressoverseen by the all-seeing editorial eye of James Lowder, will be out by the end of the year. The PDF is already available. Two of the original Horror on the Orient Express crew, myself and the erudite Geoff Gillan, have stories included in the anthology, along with a host of luminaries. It has an evocative cover, perfectly capturing that moment when one must confront the tentacled monstrosities that have taken over the dining car.

Cover art for Madness on the Orient Express

Cover art – Madness on the Orient Express

Like the people on the train above, this is our stop. But as our Kickstarted journey is ending, someone else’s is beginning: Bret Kramer of the splendid WordPress blog Tomes in Progress is crowdfunding the Third Issue of The Arkham Gazette, a magazine all about Lovecraft Country. If your investigators refuse to set foot on the Continent again after Orient Express, Bret will give them plenty of things to fear back home in the Americas.

Don’t be a stranger on the train. You’ll find Mark over at Campaign Coins. He also has his personal Twitter feed, more to do with our writing projects. If you want to haunt us, start there.

One more round of thanks before we go, first and foremost to the much lamented, redoubtable Lynn Willis, the original editor and visionary.  To Charlie Krank and Meghan McLean and Nick Nacario and Mike Mason and everyone at Chaosium who kept the dream alive, and took the reprint to heights we would never have dared dream. All the other writers, those who came back, those who joined us, and those who wished us well: Bernard, Carl, Christian, Darren, David, Geoff, Hans-Christian, Marion, Matthew, Michael, Mike, Nick, Oscar, Paul, Paul, Phil, Richard & Russell.

Most of all, we thank all you lovely Kickstarter backers, who kept faith in this ambitious project. Georges Nagelmackers could not have dug the Simplon Tunnel without help from his backers and without you this mighty tome would be but an unsavory gleam in a cephalopod eye. Together we have arrived at our destination, and now, alas, we part. This is our last stop on the journey of this blog. Our last post. Our last words, our last hurrah, and our last point of Sanity.

Good bye all, and thank you. It has been one hell of a ride.

 

Georges Nagelmackers and his train

Georges Nagelmackers, and his train, depart

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De Horrore Cosmico

It will be ripe in a yeare’s time to have up ye Legions from Underneath, and then there are no Boundes to what shal be oures.

In the new edition of Horror on the Orient Express we included “Sanguis Omnia Vincet”, a historical scenario by Oscar Rios set in Nova Roma aka Constantinople 330 AD. It tells of the events which set in motion the madness that follows, many centuries later.

That got us interested in Cthulhu Invictus. The playtest was particularly fun, and the players had a great time as investigators who were Roman soldiers. So, when Oscar Rios invited us to contribute a scenario to his new Golden Goblin Press project, De Horrore Cosmico, we jumped in with both sandals.

De Horrore Cosmico

De Horrore Cosmico

De Horrore Cosmico is Kickstarting now and many stretch goals have already been unlocked – in fact, not only did Mark help with the scenario, he will be making three Roman coins (a Sestertius, Denarius and Aurius) in his other gaming life as one half of Campaign Coins.

The idea behind the book is surely inspired by the divine Jupiter himself; Ancient Roman scenarios based on classic Lovecraft stories. Our scenario is ‘The Case of Tillius Orestes Sempronius’, a tale of a young man who has strangely lost his memory. Or as Lovecraft might well have put it, ‘From a private villa in Tusculum there recently disappeared an exceedingly singular person’. We very much enjoyed speculating on how the events of the story would unfold in an earlier age.

The other writers are the legendary Chad Bowser (co-creator of Cthulhu Invictus) and the imperious Oscar Rios, along with veteran authors Stuart Boon and Jeffrey Moeller, and new recruit, Phredd Groves. Lisa Padol is co-editing the book with Oscar.

Oscar then bravely decided to add a fiction anthology as a stretch goal and thus the idea for Tales of Cthulhu Invictus was born, edited by the wonderful Brian M. Sammons. I was delighted when my story ‘Signs of the Black Stars’ was accepted, especially as I based it on an obscure piece of Lovecraftania, ‘The Very Old Folk’.

Tales of Cthulhu Invictus

Tales of Cthulhu Invictus

Lovecraft was a lucid dreamer and the dreams he describes in his Selected Letters have an amazing, and occasionally, terrifying verve and momentum. You can see where the Dreamlands came from. On the night of October 31, 1927, inspired by the neighbours’ Halloween celebrations, Lovecraft had a nightmare from which he had to force himself awake, a dream of being an ancient Roman by the name of Lucius Caelius Rufus investigating a strange Iberian hill tribe. He wrote about his dream to several of his correspondents; it has that vivid and inexorable pace of nightmare that Lovecraft could summon up so well. You can read his description of the dream courtesy of the University of Adelaide. (Ia! Truly Lovecraft fans are found in strange, far places.)

In my story I decided the incident in which Lucius Caelius Rufus came so memorably unstuck was caused by a certain entity evoked in a wonderful invocation that Lovecraft generously passed on to a very young Robert Bloch, for use in his story, ‘The Shambler from the Stars’: Tibi, magnum Innominandum, signa stellarum nigrarum et bufoniformis Sadoquae sigillum. The quote gave me the title of they story, ‘Signs of the Black Stars’, and I used Caelius Rufus as a historical figure in an affectionate tribute to old Grandpa himself.

Our interest in Ancient Rome has long roots. As a child travelling with my Classics-loving father around Europe I visited many a Roman ruin. He once severely embarrassed my teenage self by reciting (from memory, bless him) Horace’s Ode to a Sacred Spring at an actual sacred spring near the Temple of Hercules in the ancient Roman spa town of Glanum. I’ve now read some of the Classics for myself, in translation I hasten to add, and I am only sorry that my true enjoyment of these works came too late to share with my father, who has now passed away.

Many are the good men who weep for his dying,
none of them, Virgil, weep more profusely than you.
– Horace, A Lament For Quintilius

On a happier note, Mark has already co-written a project about Ancient Rome: QED: Cosmo’s Casebook is a game for history students in Year 7, in which you win legal trials in the time of the Roman Republic. The themes and lore are accurate, but there are also a lot of jokes. Mark had a great time writing this with fellow Orient Express author Nick Hagger, and videogame artist colleague Lewis Mitchell. The game is free, and you can learn all the secrets of the Ancient Rome – how did they clean their wigs (urine) and the never-fail cure for hiccups (kissing a she-mule).

QED: Cosmo's Casebook

QED: Cosmo’s Casebook

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Island of Ignorance

‘We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity and it was not meant that we should voyage far…’ – H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

Island of Ignorance - the Third Cthulhu Companion, Golden Goblin Press

We’re delighted to spread the world that Golden Goblin’s Island of Ignorance is now out in PDF with the physical books soon to follow. Island of Ignorance kicks off with essays on fiendish cultists, devilish artefacts and new Mythos beings. Geoff Gillan’s essay on the Golden Goblin is expansive and entertaining, taking in the origin of the Goblin, its various manifestations, and its chequered history as mascot of a fictitious and ill-fated publishing company.

Scott David Anolowski’s essay on the Devil’s opera, ‘Requiem for Shaggai’, tells of a cursed opera that dooms all who try to produce it. I’m a big fan of the documentary, The Curse of the Gothic Opera, which follows the travails of an eclectic band of musical enthusiasts as they try to mount a production of Havergal Brian’s ‘impossible’ First Symphony. I could immediately see a similar scenario involving the investigators in ‘Requiem’.

‘With Blue Uncertain Stumbling’ by Jeff Moeller is a creepy and atmospheric scenario with a terrific back story that makes excellent use of what I assume are genuine myths of the island of Key West. I can really see the players and Keeper having a whale of a time with this one. Just mind the flies.

‘Consumption’ by Brian M. Sammons is a gleeful tale of small town conspiracy which offers a different play experience and would provide a change of pace for seasoned investigators who don’t mind a little, er, meat in their scenarios.

‘Darkness Illuminated’ by Jon Hook makes ingenious use of a morally ambiguous narrative – there are no good guys in this scenario, possibly not even the investigators.

‘The Lonely Point Lighthouse’ by Oscar Rios has a stand out setting, however the back story had plot holes that interfered with my enjoyment as a reader. A seasoned Keeper should be able to focus on the setting and situation, which offer plenty of opportunities to scare the crap out of the players.

‘Let the Children Come to Me’ by Mark Shireman uses child abuse. It has a trigger warning but this did not prepare me for the fetishizing of the description of the abuse in a section that only Keepers are going to read. This should have been edited out. I couldn’t read past the first page and thus can’t comment on the scenario.

To sum up Island of Ignorance has terrific scenarios but out of five scenarios, two use the disempowerment of powerful females as a theme, and two use the degradation of children. My feeling is that in the end the multiple calls on these themes unbalance the book.

What I love about this project is that  Golden Goblin ran a model Kickstarter campaign. It was well organised, had regular updates, and delivered on schedule. As final touch Oscar Rios and the gang thank their Kickstarter backers right out of the gates on the first page, giving straight back to those whose generosity supported the project. We know from experience that this takes dedication, time and effort.

I look forward to the next book about New Orleans, Tales of the Crescent City. I am also very happy that we have the good fortune to have one of our scenarios appearing in the next Golden Goblin Cthulhu Invictus  book, De Horrore Cosmico. This is scheduled for release in 2014. So keep an eye out for more Kickstarter Campaigns coming soon from Golden Goblin. Assuming there isn’t a repeat of than unfortunate incident where the entire warehouse burned down leaving behind two corpses, each clutching a statuette of a Golden Goblin…

Tales of the Crescent City

Tales of the Crescent City

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