R.I.P. Gary Gygax

Please forgive this minor interruption, but a shadow passed over my heart today. I read on CNN that Gary Gygax, co-creator of the Dungeons and Dragons game, died today at his home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

For those who are D&D detractors, it may not be news at all. But for me, this is very sad news, because I’ve been a gamer since about 1978, and D&D was an essential part of my formative years. I grew up in a world where I was constantly worried about nuclear destruction due to the Cold War, and for me, D&D not only offered an escape from grim reality, but it also encouraged my creativity in ways that school did not. Playing D&D taught me group dynamics, and I think that’s part of the reason I fit in successfully in whatever job I work. D&D taught me how to work cooperatively with others to solve problems, and it gave me more than a little humor over the years.

Although I am not currently active in a D&D game per se, I am still gaming, using the same skills, dice, and imagination that Gygax’s product first awakened in me.

R.I.P., Mr. Gygax. May your ride to Valhalla be pleasant.

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The Man on the Ceiling

A few weeks ago, my wife and I did something we haven’t done for a while; we read to each other.

We’ve done that off and on since before we married, but lately it’s been more off than on due to different sleep schedules. The particular night in question, however, the timing was right, the decision to read was spontaneous, and we couldn’t have picked a better story to read each other.

In 2000, American Fantasy Press published a chapbook by Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem called The Man on the Ceiling (as opposed to Jules Feiffer’s The Man in the Ceiling.) The little book, sold only in a limited edition run, garnered critical acclaim and is the only work to have won the a literary trifecta of the International Horror Guild Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the World Fantasy Award in the same year. In March of 2008, Discoveries (the literary fiction imprint of world-renowned gaming juggernaut Wizards of the Coast) will release a full-length novel version of The Man on the Ceiling, a complete rewrite of the original by the Tems themselves. The book is available for pre-order through Amazon. Better yet, have your local bookseller place an order for ISBN-13: 978-0786948581.

The Man on the Ceiling is a unique book. Part autobiography, part nightmare, and all true (though not necessarily factual), it alternates between Steve and Melanie’s tales of their encounters with the Man on the Ceiling. Who is the Man on the Ceiling? I can’t — no, I won’t — tell you that. It’s not my place to tell you about things you already know.

What you may not know is that The Man on the Ceiling is a wonderful read for couples. When Lannette and I read it to each other, we passed the book back and forth. I read the “Steve” sections and she read the “Melanie” sections. A few times, we paused to shiver or say “Wow” after particularly well-crafted paragraphs, and it was interesting to note that such different writing styles could produce the same effects in us. Steve’s writing is surreal and very visceral, and Melanie’s writing addresses the deeper, less tangible fears that we all face. But the shivers induced in us by both styles were the same. The two writers took different paths, but arrived at the same fearful, insecure, vulnerable spots within us, and that is simply astounding in a work so concise.

The story works exceedingly well for reading aloud in separate male and female voices, and I recommend that other couples do the same (if they can find a copy of the chapbook; otherwise, wait for the full-length release in March.) When we finished the book, we sat on the couch and cuddled for a while, grateful that we could experience the story together, secure in the realization that some fears are universal, and glad we have someone with whom we can share the burden.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that we are friends with the Tems, and you might think that gives us an edge in appreciating the story. Maybe; I thought so at first, too. But the more I think about it, I don’t think knowing them makes that much difference. Sure, when they mention the house that they share with the Man on the Ceiling, images of that house jump immediately to my mind, and since we know what Melanie and Steve look and sound like, we automatically “hear” their voices reading the text and “see” them in the story’s scenes. But those elements, real as they may be, are not the story itself. The story is about him — the Man on the Ceiling — and our interactions with him. The setting could be any Victorian house in any historic neighborhood, and the people could have any faces concocted by the reader’s imagination.

I think that’s one of the things Melanie and Steve mean when they say in the story, “Everything we’ve told you is true.” Whether the details provided by individual readers match the “real” details is irrelevant; the experiences in the story are universal, and the Man on the Ceiling is, himself, universal.

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Tired & WotC

I am beat tonight. I will definitely be going to bed early. I won’t get any writing done tonight, but I will get some done tomorrow at lunch an also after Stories for All Seasons tomorrow night.

I did a little creative work tonight, though it was primarily tedious. If you look to your right, you should see that the scroll bar for this (and every page of this site) has turned an interesting shade of bluish-gray. I just figured the site could use a balancing effect for the spiral down the left side of the page. Whatever.

There is one more thing I want to cover before turning in. Today, my son got a letter from Wizards of the Coast, with his Magic: The Gathering DCI tournament card in it. He also claimed that a hand-written letter accompanied it. In this day of custom-printed mail merges, I figured he had just gotten a well done form letter written in some kind of cursive font. I asked to see the letter.

To my surprise, he actually got a hand written letter from someone named Dee Bleifield (sorry if I’m mutilating your name, Dee), a DCI tournament director that he had met while visiting his Mom in Texas. Dee took the time to hand write his letter, complete with her direct phone number and an offer to call her if he needed help finding local tournaments.

That’s pretty damn cool. Evidently WotC hasn’t lost all the small company feel that TSR used to have in its early days. I remember sending a query letter to Kim Mohan, who was then editing Dragon magazine, asking if he would be interested in an article submission about D & D druids and listing different specs for some possible animal forms that high-level druids could assume. I was only a couple of years older than my son is now. Kim responded to me with a personal letter, saying that he would be interested in seeing the article, though I’m sure he knew that the person behind the query letter was still very wet behind the ears. I’ve always remembered that, though I never got up the guts to send in the article.

It seems that Dee has tapped into that same importance in the youth market. Keith, my son, will always remember getting a personal letter from a Wizards of the Coast staff member, just as I remember getting the letter from Kim Mohan. If WotC ever revives Amazing Stories (please please please) I will definitely submit something to him this time.

(Update, 12/9/2014: Amazing Stories has indeed been revived, but not by WotC. It’s now being run by Steve Davidson.)

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