Chronicles of Craddock 2020
Welcome to the 2020 edition of Chronicles of Craddock, a yearly blog in which I look back at my writing year that was, and offer a glimpse into what I'll be working on in the new year.
If you want to compare my progress on 2020's various projects to the hopes and dreams I had for them as I wrote previous editions of this column, click here to read past installments of Chronicles of Craddock. These blogs are as much a writing exercise for me as they are a detailed report for you, my readers, and a way to offer a glimpse into what goes into my writing behind the scenes. With that said, fix yourself a drink, sit back, and enjoy.
2020: Year in Review
As has become customary, I'll begin by stating that 2020 was my busiest year to date, as 2019 was before it, and 2018 was before '19, and so on. It was also my most challenging year in recent memory, and I imagine many of you can agree. While the COVID-19 pandemic forced me to stay in and write more than usual, all that concentrated productivity had serious drawbacks.
One: I missed friends and family terribly. My mom lives 30 minutes away; my brother lives five minutes away; and my sisters live 25 minutes and 4 hours away, respectively. Our family is tightly knit and used to getting together several times during the year. That didn't happen much in 2020, at least for me. Some family members felt comfortable gathering after quarantining, but my wife, Amie, has a compromised immune system, so we limited meeting with people in-person. It was necessary, and I don't regret it. All that time together was good for our marriage. At the same time, we both missed family dinners, movie nights, and other relics of 2019 that can, fingers crossed, resume safely by this spring or summer.
Two: I took full advantage of not having to travel by writing as much as I could, but the drawback was severe burnout. I'm a workaholic, and I'm fine with that. I love writing, and I love creating. However, work-life balance is important. I've worked from home for closing in on 20 years, and what many people who were new to working from home discovered last year was that work and personal spaces have a way of bleeding together that makes one feel obligated to be productive when one should be refilling their creative juices.
I suffer from depression. The combination of my body's natural, messed-up chemical processes, the isolation brought on by the pandemic, and my proclivity to push myself harder than I should took a toll on me. I'm only just now feeling recovered, and then just slightly. I took the past 2 weeks off from writing--with the exception of daily journaling, which is just for me and something I look forward to--and I still feel like I need more downtime.
Since 2018, I've started every year by taking a sabbatical from freelance writing to devote time to personal projects. This requires saving up so I can work on those projects without bills hanging over my head. In 2018 and '19, I took January off from freelancing. I did well enough in '19 that I was able to extend my 2020 sabbatical across January and February. This year, I'll be away from freelancing until early April.
I'm sharing this to illustrate a point. 2020 sucked in a lot of ways, but it also brought me to a goal I've been chasing since I began writing. I have worked long and hard to reach a point where I can afford to step away from some responsibilities for a month (or two, or three, and eventually more) each year and spend time on others. As grateful as I am for the fruits of my labors, and as much as I know I have earned them, they came at a cost. I juggle book writing and freelance writing every other month of the year, but that requires long days and longer nights.
The next three months, with my weekday mornings devoted to writing and my afternoons and evenings given to relaxing, will be as important for my mental and physical health as they will for my wellspring of enthusiasm and creativity. I feel proud of myself for reaching this point, but I want to be candid: Self-care is so, so, so important. It's okay to take time for yourself: to play that video game, or read that book, or binge that TV show, or whatever you like to do to escape. It's okay, and it's necessary.
If that's a hard truth for you to grasp, you're not alone. Take pride in your accomplishments, but when you can, take time to rest. We've earned that.
As always, my work at Shacknews stands out to me. I've been the long reads editor at Shack since 2017, which means, in essence, I'm paid to write long-form features the size of books, and this year, I published more long reads than in any year of my tenure.
(March 20) Hell Razer: The Making of Doom Eternal
A follow-up of sorts to 2017's Stairway to Badass: The Making and Remaking of Doom, in which I interview Doom Eternal directors Marty Stratton and Hugo Martin about the making of the 2020 game. This long read was published the same day Doom Eternal released on PC (and maybe PS4 and Xbox One, although some console versions were delayed, and it's all a blur to me at the moment).
(April 3) Terraform: The Making of Doom 64
I set out to celebrate Doom Eternal's impending release by posting Doom-related features every day that week, culminating in Hell Razer's publication on Friday, 3/20 (see above). That worked out… mostly. I bit off more than I could chew, and had to push the publication of Terraform back. That was for the best, I think; it allowed me to publish a long read in March, April, and in May, rather than cramming too much together and overloading our audience. Plus, Doom 64 is one of my favorite Doom games, and I wanted it to get its due.
Shacknews CEO/editor-in-chief Asif Khan and I are proud that long reads have become popular enough for publishers and PR firms to reach out to us about coordinating one for an upcoming game they're overseeing. (This doesn't compromise Shack's or my editorial control; we make clear to everyone we work with that they have no editorial input, but are free to chime in on factual inaccuracies and things of that nature.) Tara Bruno of Tara Bruno PR, one of my favorite people in the world, got in touch on behalf the developers of Life is Strange, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, and Life is Strange 2, and I jumped at the opportunity.
I like to do something different with each long read: cover new ground, find a new angle on a familiar story, etc. For From Chaos, I concentrated on the connection between narrative design and game design, and how that affected players and in-game characters.
More than writing about how games are made, I look for opportunities to write about the personalities behind them and how local and global culture influences production. Nothing had a bigger impact on the way we lived and worked in 2020 than COVID-19, so I interviewed developers from several companies to dig into those particulars.
Asif and I have also informally delineated long reads into two categories: Long reads, and epic long reads. Bet on Black is an epic long read--so epic I had to split it in two. I pitched Bet on Black to Asif as a full history of all four Xbox consoles and significant games on each platform.
As I began research in the spring, I noticed there wasn't much online about Microsoft's pre-Xbox history. Most fans know they published Age of Empires and Flight Simulator, and you can find scattershot articles and interviews about those years, but Microsoft's early history in game publishing and development happened pre-ubiquitous Internet access. So, I set out to write as comprehensive account as possible of those years leading up to the launch of Xbox for part 1.
Part 2 is still TBD. Possibly later this year, but Part 1 took a lot out of me. It entailed months of research, interviews, transcribing, outlining, writing, and revising. All books and long reads require those phases, but Bet on Black was an order of magnitude more involved than any other long read I published last year, and possibly more than any long read I've written in the past three years.
(November 12) "Green Machine: Launching the Xbox" - Documentary
My biggest non-long-read feature was "Green Machine: Launching the Xbox," a documentary video I made with Shacknews video editor Greg Burke. I scripted the feature and found video footage, and Greg did excellent work tying everything together and narrating events. Check out "Green Machine" when you have a spare 23 minutes and 33 seconds.
I also uploaded my script, which I learned how to write over a couple of days by following examples online. Hopefully my work can serve as an example for others looking for advice related to formatting and structure.
Above, I mentioned other features that weren't long reads. Those were:
- Last One at the Table: Phil Spencer on Inheriting Xbox One and Launching Xbox Series X
- Super Doom: How id Software's Opus Made the Jump to Super NES
- Apollo 11 Situations: John Romero on Porting Doom and Wolfenstein 3D
I published three new books in 2020. Well, kind of. Let's get into this.
Stay Awhile and Listen: Book II – Heaven, Hell, and Secret Cow Levels
I was so busy last year that I had no time to pack and ship paperback copies of Stay Awhile 2. Fortunately, my wife and business partner is awesome. Amie single-handedly managed our database of addresses for Kickstarter backers, ordered shipping supplies (label printers, boxes, and plastic wrap to seal books in case their boxes should get wet in transit), and packed books. It was a major operation, and she knocked it out of the park. All I did was drive to post office boxes and our UPS store to drop off book. Without her, the only time I'd have been able to handle this would have been late at night after long days of work.
Thank you, Amie. I doubt I could have done this, and so many other things, without you.
I also worked with fellow gaming journalist and audiobook narrator David Giltinan on the audio production of Stay Awhile 2. David did a fantastic job capturing the spirit of story, and I'm excited to work with him on more audio productions. We've delivered the audiobook to Kickstarter backers but are stuck in a waiting queue on Audible. I'll post a link to the audiobook once it goes live, hopefully later this month.
Bottomless Pit: Running and Jumping Through Platform Games - Volume 1
Last January, I started a blog called Run and Jump. My goal was to play and review a platformer each week, in chronological order. Platforming games comprise my favorite genre, and I wanted to write something besides narrative-style books/long reads as a change of pace. When the blog got shunted off because of lack of time, I adapted it into the first in a series of books with the same premise.
I had a lot of fun writing Bottomless Pit. It was cool to see where platforming mechanics--namely running and jumping--originated, and how developers capitalized on trends. Volume 1 launched on StoryBundle last summer and will be available on Kindle and in paperback later this month. Volume 2 will probably start out exclusive to StoryBundle in this year's summer or fall bundle, depending on when I have time to write and revise it. I'd like to keep these books on the short side, though. A big part of their appeal is I can have fun writing them without them sucking up 12+ months of my life.
I'll post a link to Volume 1 when it's available for purchase.
The Dumpster Club
I spent most of 2019 and 2020 pitching this contemporary novel for young adults to agents, and received approximately half a dozen requests for the full manuscript. Unfortunately, each agent turned me down, but offered insightful feedback that I applied to revisions. That brought me to a crossroads: Should I continue querying agents, or self-publish?
I'm what's known as a hybrid author. I've sold books to publishers, such as Break Out, Heritage, and Shovel Knight; and I've self-published. After much deliberation, I decided to self-publish The Dumpster Club. Before I go further, here's the synopsis from the Amazon store page:
Every morning, fifteen-year-old Joshua Reece goes for a run. The farther he runs, the easier it is to forget. That his mother walked out on him. That he and his father share nothing in common. That he blames his little sister for their mother's abandonment. That his so-called friends at his new school set him up for a crime he did not commit.
Before Josh can run away for good, the book appears. He recognizes it instantly: It was a gift from his mother, but he threw it away. After all, she threw him away first. Now it's back, placed by the Dumpster behind his dad's apartment, with a note made out to him, signed Reader.
Whoever Reader is, he (or she) knows things. Secret things, like that Josh is dangerously close to failing school, and that he wants to be more than friends with the goth girl who lives in his dad's apartment complex. Reader also knows that buried deep beneath Josh's reckless behavior and endless anger, he's terrified of losing anyone else.
When more books and notes materialize, Josh musters his courage and writes back, determined to discover Reader's identity—and his own.
I didn't decide to self-publish out of impatience or frustration with agents. While rejections always sting, I've long since reached a point in my writing where I know rejections aren't personal. My decision was based on the pride I take in promoting my nonfiction books such as Stay Awhile and Listen as an indie author. I wanted to apply that same level of commitment to a novel--a considerable challenge since I don't have a network of connections to help me promote fiction.
I sent the book to over a dozen early readers. A few weeks before publication, I submitted it for awards and to Kirkus, one of the world's most prestigious literary magazines, for review. I wasn't interested in winning awards or getting glowing reviews to stroke my ego. Every review, every award, would be another means of promoting my book. I was thrilled when Kirkus wrote a positive review, and when Shelf Unbound named it as one of the best indie books of the year. It's up for more awards, and I hope some bear fruit.
But if not, that's fine. I love The Dumpster Club, and will soon offer it through another avenue I've been intending to explore. For now, you can read The Dumpster Club in paperback and on Kindle.
I wrote a short story in 2020 that was shortlisted for consideration in anthology, but did not make the cut. That's okay; I've got plans for it in 2021.
2021: Looking Ahead
Unlike last year, I can talk about some of the projects on my plate this year, especially over the next few months. I'll have to talk vaguely in some cases, but more will be made clear later this week.
The Making of X-COM
Last year, I wrote a long-anticipated book on the making of the original X-COM over three weeks in July. I revised it in December and sent it to early readers. I plan to release it on Kickstarter later this year, applying everything I learned from crowdfunding Stay Awhile and Listen: Book II. More on this, including an official title, later this year.
Serialized Young Adult Fantasy Novel
I've wanted to serialize a novel since reading The Green Mile, a story Stephen King serialized before it was published as a standalone book. The first chapter of the book will go live this Friday. I'll post more about it then.
Adult Horror Novel
It's hard for me to believe there was a point where I believed I would consume horror stories, but probably wouldn't write one. I wasn't sure it was up my alley as a writer. Three years ago, I got an idea after reading a newspaper article, and I haven't been able to shake it. That's proof positive an idea will probably work, so I intend to write the first draft this year. I intend to shop it around, so I'd rather not say much at this point.
Yeah. 2020 was a busy year. Terrible in many ways, but the light at the end of the tunnel brought me and my loved ones safely into 2021, and I'm so grateful for that. I hope you and yours are doing well, and that my stories will help you escape when you need a break. Remember: Self-care is important. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.
Thanks for reading, and happy new year,