On Being Thankful

I don't remember why, but decades ago I decided, as part of reflecting on the day, I would name whatever good things had happened that day. Whether they were big, awesome things like getting to speak to the girl I had a crush on (it happened once!) or small, stupid things like getting a green light on my way home from work. My teen years, like most, included some dark times, but I believe that habit helped me through.

Today, when I'm having a crappy day or bordering on depression, I'll force myself to name five things I'm thankful for that day, whatever they are. The first one or two are easy but have little effect. The third or fourth is always difficult to think of. I often want to give up. But by the time I get to number five -- for some weird, nigh-magical reason -- I actually feel better (and usually name one or two more things because it's easier all of a sudden).

With social media, I've seen at least a couple of people now post one thing they're thankful for each day for a year. My brother, in particular, has kept going and is now on year four. These posts don't often make me laugh out loud or inform my day (the two main things I hope for in social media), but they make me smile. They provide pleasant bright spots in what can sometimes be a dark feed.

They remind me there are things to be thankful for.

With all the crap my feeds have been filled with, I don't know why I haven't started the same thing sooner. But I have now. You are more than welcome to follow on Facebook or Twitter, but honestly it's not for you. It's for me, to remember that there is always something good -- there is always light.

And if that light touches even one other person? Well, that's awesome. That's the one thing I want most to do.

In the comments then: What are you thankful for today? There is nothing too small.

5 Things You Might Need to Hear Right Now

My hand-crafted echo chambers are full of mourning and outrage (with a sprinkling of praises and celebration). Reading through it is hard and not good for anything useful of any kind. Expectations have been shattered, and some are genuinely afraid for their lives or livelihood.

If your echo chamber is similar -- or if it's your life or livelihood that's endangered -- I'm not going to tell you it'll be okay or it will get better. I don't know that. I don't. But I do know a few things you might need to hear right now.

1) Take care of yourself. If you fall apart, nothing else you take in or put out will matter. There is no shame in taking a few days off to cry or laugh or escape. In fact, there may be shame in not doing that.
2) Turn off the Endless Browser of Outrage. I'm in a much better place than I was a month ago, but even I feel the gravity of the downward spiral with each turn of the scroll wheel.

STOP IT. Your life is not in here. It's out there, with friends and family. Nothing here will affect what you do out there, so if the Browser of Outrage is stealing your life, kill it. Take that life back.

3) Love someone. Love everyone. Be nice to nobody in particular. Be the change you want to see in the world.

I mean in real life. You can love people online too, but it's way more effective in real life.

4) Do you create? Then create. If you can't create for anything right now, then don't. Create for you. If you can create for a purpose, do that too.
5) Have a booplesnoot.

I Took Two Weeks Off Social Media and All I Got Was This Lousy Blog Post

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook then you may have noticed that I took the last two weeks off from social media.

So there were a lot of reasons, but mostly it was my kids being off school for two weeks and the aforementioned big ugly reason I haven't blogged much. (My kids are not related to my anxiety, but both things affect how much time I have to get creative work done).

"Okay, so... what'd you get out of it?"

Right, well first you need to understand how Twitter and Facebook factor into my normal life. 

On a good day, the first thing I do is get through all the e-mails the US sent me while I was sleeping. Then I sift through Twitter/FB (and any associated articles) while I'm eating breakfast. It's my newspaper. I have a couple of lists of people for whom I try to read everything I missed, and for the rest I just read whatever Twitter and Facebook deem important for me to read. I usually do this again at lunch and then at night when I need to decompress.

On a bad day, I will additionally be checking them constantly -- every time Unity compiles, every time Torment loads a new scene, every time I come back from the bathroom, every time I get a glass of water or someone asks me a question or a cat mews outside. Hell, I checked Twitter three times just now while I was writing that sentence.

Lately, I noticed I was having more bad days, hence the social media vacation.

So what happened these two weeks? A list:
  • The first 2-3 days were hard as hell. I felt disconnected from everything and everyone. When Unity was compiling, I had to sit there and watch like a chump.
  • I found myself checking fivethirtyeight.com and Izanami's Amazon ranking about ten times more often than their updates can possibly justify.
  • I gathered news from primary news sources. It was super weird.
On the other hand....
  • I had way more time for Torment, my kids, and Shadowrun Hong Kong.
  • I watched the third debate without commentary and it didn't make me mad even a little (exasperated isn't the same as mad, right?).
  • I remembered how to solve Rubik's cube.
  • I didn't get depressed even once.

Let me say that last one again: I DIDN'T GET DEPRESSED EVEN ONCE.

When it came time to get back on, I was actually afraid. Did I want to go back to the monster that sapped 2-3 hours of my day and an immeasurable quantity of my joy?

Well, yes I did. Because among other things, that's how I connect with the world and that's how people connect with me. (The second day of my break, my mom IMed me to say my posts helped her get out of bed in the morning and now she didn't have a reason. I love my mommy.)

But I didn't want to do it the way I had been doing it, so I decided to change a few things.

Limiting the time is easy (for certain values of easy). For one thing, I don't need to read every single damn post that went up since the last time I checked. If I'm afraid of missing something? Hey, look: actual news! For another, I really really really really need to stop checking every time I'm in mid-thought.

Yeah okay, that part's not actually easy. But you know what they say.

How to limit anxiety? I spent a lot of time thinking about that (because I had time, you see). Turns out social media can cause depression (shocker), but why? Well, for me it was mostly all the outrage. There are a lot of legitimate things to be outraged about, but when you're scrolling The Endless Browser of Outrage, it kinda bores into your skull. I mean, that's why you're not supposed to read the comments.

I needed to remember that the world is not outrage. It's mostly pretty mundane -- or even happy -- especially the part of the world that has any effect at all on my life.

So for now, I'm trying to pay closer attention to my emotions as I read. Am I getting upset? Bored? Depressed? Maybe it's time to stop scrolling.

Will I stick with it? God, I hope so. Maybe you can help keep me accountable on that.

I don't know how or whether this applies to anyone else. But having done so I would definitely recommend a break from social media from time to time. And if you do take a long break (like a few days or more), before you turn it on again stop and think about how you want to consume it.

So what's your deal with social media? How do you handle the terrible signal-to-outrage ratio?

Two Reasons I Haven't Been Blogging Much

Reason #1: Because the intersection represented in this not-to-scale diagram is very small.

The red circle is the real killer. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has read this blog before. Something about having 2-3 fulltime jobs and only 24 hours in a day. WHATEVER.

I do tend to talk about things on Twitter and Facebook from time to time, so I'm not silent (most of you probably got here from one of those platforms, so you know). There has just been very little I have required a long-form medium for.

But also, there's been Reason #2:
I know. I completely ruined the Venn diagram thing I had going. But you know what? That's what anxiety does it ruins everything and makes you talk in all-italic run-on sentences.

Before you worry about me too much, don't. My anxiety is relatively mild and hasn't lasted for more than a couple of days at a time (I only had one really bad weekend a few weeks ago). I don't even know that it would count as clinical anxiety. I just know that whenever I thought about writing a post on something, my brain shouted, "HERE ARE ALL THE REASONS YOU SHOULDN'T DO THAT, YOU UTTER SCREW-UP!" and then it would launch a 3-hour marathon of Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen.

Mainly, I just had to remind myself to focus on my work, take a walk, get off social media, and talk to my three-dimensional loved ones (though not all at the same time). I won't say my anxiety is over, because the triggers are all still out there, but I'm coping all right.

Anyway, I'm just letting you know the blog still isn't dead. It may never be (because where else would I post long-form thoughts?), and it's definitely not dead now.

So. How are you guys doing?

And hey, how do you deal with anxiety when it pops up in your life (for those of you in whom it does)?

Giveaway winners and the future

The Izanami's Choice signed giveaway is over, and our two winners have been selected. Congratulations to Jeanna M. and Jackie! I've e-mailed the winners and will send out your copies as soon as I can.

For the rest of you, I know. I'm sad, too. I wish I had signed copies for everybody! But you can still buy your own copy at any of these fine places: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Broken Eye Books. I can't sign them for you, but maybe some day. Yeah... some day.

So what's up next? Several things:

1) Torment. We're pushing toward our release (early Q1, 2017), so expect to hear more about that as we get closer.

2) I'm working on my own stuff (specifically, I'm plotting the project listed as "Secret Fantasy Project" on the Works in Progress page).

3) I hope to write more in the world of Izanami's Choice, but that's not up to me yet. (In a way, it's kind of up to you. BUY MY BOOK!)

4) I'm obsessively watching my Amazon sales rank, because I heard you're not really an author until you do that.

5) I'm coming up with the next No Thank You, Evil! campaign for my kids.

6) I'm trying to finish Stranger Things before somebody spoils it for me. I mean spoils it more.

All of which means I'm... still doing more than one human should be capable of in 24 hours. Yeah, I don't know how it works either (most of the time it doesn't, I think).

As always, watch this space (or this one, or this one) for what I'm doing, whether any future giveaways surface, or whatever the latest ridiculous thing my kids' said is. And stick with the newsletter to make sure you don't miss any new fiction I have coming out.

Izanami's Choice Giveaway, less than 2 days left!

Right, folks, if you haven't already entered to win a signed copy of Izanami's Choice well... I'm sure you have a good reason.

If you don't have a good reason, best sign up right now, sirs and madams!

And I'll tell you what. As I write this, there are 200-some entries in the contest (an "entry" being the number in the form there -- it goes up not only when a new person enters but also whenever somebody uses the form to share the contest on Twitter, Facebook, or elsewhere). If you guys can get that number up to 400, I will give away an extra signed copy.

So for those of you who look at these contests with a cynical eye (like me), you know that every time you share it, you risk lowering your own chances to win. This will help balance that out: share the contest, get more entries, get other people to enter, and it will increase your chances again by throwing another prize in the pot.

How has the release been going, you say? I'm glad you asked, imaginary straw person. In my experience, having never launched an actual book before, it's been great. And I am in no way unqualified to say that!

(Really, I have a very limited view. Those who have read the book and told me about it have loved it. The book's Amazon sales rank has been a nice, nigh-horizontal line instead of the jagged mountain range it was in pre-order. And John Scalzi even let me borrow his blog for a day. So... good? I guess? This is probably why authors don't talk about this stuff....)

Also, I've received another review, this one from author S.J. Paponas. Here's an excerpt for those of you who are still undecided as to whether or not this book is for you:
I’ve always wanted to write a Japan alternate history book and now I don’t have to because Adam Heine did a wonderful job with IZANAMI’S CHOICE! Rich with culture and tradition, he wove androids into early 1900s Japan and IT MADE SENSE....

The pace of the novella kept me reading furiously all the way to the end. I even read it while I WAS IN JAPAN! And that was such a treat. Itaru’s own demons about a mission gone wrong and his estranged daughter came to a thoroughly satisfying conclusion, and I especially loved the final scene which was a great nod to the samurai way of life.

This was the first book I’ve read by Adam Heine, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.

I know it sounds like I'm only showing you the good reviews, but the truth is I haven't seen a bad review yet. Seriously.

And for three bucks? There's really no reason not to try it out.

Izanami's Choice Launch Day and Giveaway!

It's here! It's here! Today is launch day for my little samurai sci-fi story Izanami's Choice. E-books have been making their way to people's inboxes, and I've even heard news of paperbacks in the wild. You've bought one, right? Why haven't you bought it yet?!

Here are some of the nice things people have been saying about it so far:
"Choice is a ferocious little genre blender in book form: part Hammett novel, part Kurosawa Samurai epic, part Blade Runner, and entirely obsessed with keeping the reader’s eyes moving from one page to the next." ~ Seattle Weekly

"Once I started the book, I couldn’t put it down.  Heine does a great job of building a world replete with rules and history and uses both to construct a mystery with an awful lot of intrigue and surprise." ~ Nerds on Earth

"So if Science Fiction action and exploring cultures through different phases in time is something you enjoy, this is worth a read." ~ SF Reader

"The writing is spectacular, there's fantastic use of period-fantasy-language, and the story is tight, enthralling, and leaves you wondering what's *really* going on right up until the end." ~ Susan Kaye Quinn

"Mr. Heine did an admirable job of making his robots (Jinzou) both sympathetic and terrifying." ~ Victoria Dixon (with interview)

"If you want a really fun, fast-paced robot vs. samurai story then I really think you'll enjoy this." ~ Elena Robertson

And if you can't get enough info (and I'd like to think you can't, because I'm unrealistically optimistic), here are a couple more interviews from the fabulous Natalie Whipple and Authoress. (For you writerly types, Authoress is also running a contest in which you can win a 30-page critique from me, so check that out, too).

But wait! I promised to give away signed copies! To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is subscribe to the newsletter and fill out the form below. I'm very nice to my subscribers -- I give them free excerpts, advanced notice of fiction and giveaways, and I've hardly killed any of them at all!

If you're really ambitious, you can earn additional entries by sharing the giveaway on Facebook or Twitter -- every day, if you want!

This contest is open worldwide. I'll sign 'em and ship 'em anywhere.

I'm offering two signed copies at the moment, but if enough people enter, I'll give away more. So don't hesitate to tell everyone!

Robots in 1901 Japan?

Izanami's Choice comes out in three days. So for the next 72 hours or so, this is me:

Interviews and reviews are trickling in, with more due to appear around the release date. Seattle Weekly loved it, calling it "a ferocious little genre blender in book form: part Hammett novel, part Kurosawa Samurai epic, part Blade Runner, and entirely obsessed with keeping the reader’s eyes moving from one page to the next."

Nerds on Earth said, "Heine does a great job of building a world replete with rules and history and uses both to construct a mystery with an awful lot of intrigue and surprise."

I'm not even kidding! They actually said those things!

On release day, I'll be giving away two signed copies of the book. There may be other giveaways going on around that time too, so watch this space for more info. (Watching Twitter space or Facebook space will also get you what you want). UPDATE: Oh, look! Here's one of them now: a chance at a 30-page critique.

So in Izanami's Choice, Japan has functioning robots and machine intelligence as early as the 19th century. I was recently asked how the heck that's even possible. After all, in our 1901 computers didn't exist then, and things like simple radio technology were still very primitive.

First of all, it should be noted that Japan has had actual automata as early as the 17th century. Karakuri puppets are relatively simplistic  compared to the creations in Izanami's Choice, but it shows the idea of Japanese robots is very old -- much older than the timeline of my novella.

As for machine intelligence, well that's where science fiction comes in. It's primarily a combination of two what-ifs:
  1. What if Charles Babbage had successfully completed his difference engine and analytical engine designs? (This is essentially the same what-if behind The Difference Engine by Gibson and Sterling).
  2. What if evolutionary programming were discovered around the same time?
The latter would require a variety of factors, like Babbage chatting with Charles Darwin and coming away with programmatic ideas, and 19th-century logicians figuring out how to codify reasoning as mathematic deduction -- not probable, but plausible.

Evolutionary programming is the idea of pitting competing parameters or programs against each other to achieve a certain goal (like getting a computer to handle facial recognition). Those parameters that perform best are then modified further and tested against each other again. This process is repeated until you have a programmatic solution to otherwise difficult problems.

The key idea behind Izanami's Choice, then, is that this method was used with the analytical engines to rapidly improve the design of the engine's programs and even the engine itself. The engine was improved to the point where it could evaluate the results automatically, and then it was improved further to where it could revise the programs itself as well. When that loop was closed, the engine would become capable of revising and improving upon itself at a rapid rate -- a robotic singularity.

Of course the novella doesn't have a big old infodump like this in it, but I do love talking about world-building!

No Thank You, Evil!

I consider the age suggestions on the sides of game boxes to be total lies. Boss Monster (13+) is one of my 9-year-olds' favorite games to play on their own. My 6-year-old daughter kills at Love Letter (10+). One of my sons, when faced with an inevitable loss at Star Wars Risk (10+), blew up his own planet so the rebels would either have to call the game or spend another hour of gameplay going around the long way. He wasn't pouting. It was a carefully thought-out tactic.

He was 7 at the time.

So of course I try to get these kids into role-playing. Unfortunately, most RPGs have a lot of rules which, although my kids are capable of learning them, make playing the game kinda like wrangling velociraptors.

"You can't cast fireball. You don't have any material components or enough 3rd-level slots to.... Fine, you cast the spell."

Numenera's story-focused rules are great for kids, but the Ninth World is kinda creepy, and homebrews, although fun, are a lot to keep track of.

So when Monte Cook Games announced they were doing a kid-focused RPG, based on the rules of Numenera, I knew I was in. No Thank You, Evil! is the perfect game for our family.

Part of that, admittedly, is that my kids are ridiculously amusing to GM. They're fearless to the point of idiocy (requiring me to come up with clever ways in which to not kill them). They have no in-game morals, so persuading, lying, and attacking are all perfectly valid options (and usually all suggested simultaneously). And most of all they're deviously clever.

Two days ago they were trying to convince a guard they were innocent and should be set free from prison. The guard said it wasn't his job to determine innocence, and that if they were in prison it was obviously because they were bad (the guard was aptly named "Justin Justice").

Later on, a mostly successful escape attempt resulted in the PCs being outside while Justin was trapped inside. "I told you you were criminals!" Justin shouted through the door.

"But you're the one in prison," said Joel. "That means you're bad."

As the GM, I didn't know what to say to that. I didn't say anything for several minutes because I was laughing. Justin eventually tried to argue, but Joel had a point. Justin is still trapped in that prison trying to work it out.

But as amusing as my kids are to GM, it works mainly because No Thank You, Evil! enables their creativity. The game's got rules -- even advanced rules for kids who grow beyond the simple version -- but it encourages players to try crazy things. For example, of the six characters my kids created, only two use corebook character classes, none of them have corebook weapons, and at least three try to use their self-defined abilities to slide past the rules at every opportunity.

Sometimes I even let them, because it's funny.

The thing is NTYE doesn't break when you do this. Everything players try to do boils down to one simple rule: roll a d6 to attempt it. They all get it (a little too well, actually -- I have to keep telling them their rolls don't count until I've told them the difficulty), and they all feel free to try anything at any time, knowing that something fun will happen no matter what.

There are some things I questioned about the game. I thought it was weird to ask my players to describe a character I just introduced, and sometimes I feel like the world is too whimsical for my boys who want quests and villains. But (1) I don't have to do any of that stuff -- I mean, I could make the world all Forgotten Realms if I wanted to -- and (2) it turns out my kids like this stuff.

Like, the whimsy keeps everything light, even though one of my boys threatens everybody he meets (and another doesn't waste his time with threats; he just goes straight to zapping them). The moment I described above with the prison guard occurred after they had befriended, and then betrayed, him to get out. Justin liked them, and they turned on him. It's a dark, almost villainous turn, but Joel found humor in it.

And it works perfectly well within that world.

My daughter hit Justin in the face with a sandwich. It did 1 damage, but he also lost his next turn because, honestly, the sandwich was pretty delicious.
As for asking them to describe people, what a time-saver! I'm starting to think I should do this with grownups, too. I didn't have time to detail a full adventure for our most recent session, so I asked them to describe the main villain and name several characters (hence the name Justin Justice). They love it, and it's less work for me!

When I GM adults, I feel like there's a lot of pressure to either have everything prepared or to think quick on my feet. I no longer have time for the former, and I'm terrible at the latter. But my kids don't care! If I stumble on a plot point, they start yelling out ideas. Sometimes I even run with them because they're so crazy I just want to see what happens. It's true collaborative storytelling -- the best part about role-playing.

So, hey, if you're a gaming parent who's been looking for a family-focused RPG, maybe check out No Thank You, Evil. You might be surprised what comes out of your kids' heads.

Why "It's Just a Joke" Doesn't Make It Okay

I had a little rant on Twitter earlier. It's primarily in response to Donald Trump's terrifying implication that maybe 2nd Amendment people can "do something" about Clinton, but it's also build up from years and years of online death threats to people followed up with "that's just the internet" and "geez, it's just a joke."

What's terrifying about Trump's joke is not the joke itself, but the fact that so many people are nodding along, the fact that he says crap like this all the time, the fact that he could conceivably be our next President, and...

Well here's what I said on Twitter.

Izanami Auto-Fan Art

The inestimable K. Marie Criddle forced -- forced -- me to draw fan art for my own book.* So here you go, a non-canon** drawing of Shimada Itaru facing off against I dunno let's call it one of the police droids. Click to embiggen.

* The means of forcing was that she chose "Izanami's Choice" as the topic for our drawing blog Anthdrawlogy. You can see hers and other drawings over there. Please do. Those guys are way better than me.

** Itaru carries a folding sword, not a regular sword. I wasn't thinking about that until I had already started inking. Go me.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, you should definitely buy my book.

Izanami's Choice release date and pre-order info

Here we go, guys. Izanami's Choice has a release date! It will be available for purchase on September 1st, 2016.

Or -- because you want to support an author, or you don't want to forget, or you just like clicking links -- you can pre-order it RIGHT NOW:

And now for answers to some common questions.

Q: Why am I only finding out about this now?!
Clearly you haven't subscribed to my awesome newsletter. If you had, you'd have known this over a week ago AND gotten an exclusive excerpt from the novella AND gotten the free short story that everyone gets on subscribing.

But don't worry -- that won't be the last exclusive my subscribers get. Obviously, the only reason you aren't already signed up is because you didn't know about it, so you can remedy that by subscribing to the newsletter right now.

Q: I want samurai sci-fi today! Why so long?
Because publishing.

Seriously, the awesome people at Broken Eye Books have good reasons for how they set the date, including but not limited to:
  1. The anguished howls of the deprived fuel machines buried deep beneath their offices, which in turn get them 20% off their electricity bills.
  2. An old woman told them September 1st would be the first time in 500 years that the moon would be in conjunction with both Mars and with Voyager 1. They believed her.
  3. September is my birth month and they wanted an excuse gift in case they forgot to get me a real one.

Q: I want to interview you and/or review your book for my followers/blog readers before it comes out.
Awesome! I would love to talk to you about that.

Q: But I don't want my paperback from Amazon.
Great! You can get the paperback directly from the publisher if you want.

Also, if you give your local bookstore the ISBN, you can buy it through them:
  • ISBN-10: 1940372216
  • ISBN-13: 978-1940372211

Q: Why paperback so expensive, man?
Yeah, so, here's how part of publishing works. There's the Big Guys -- the publishing houses like Penguin and Random and Penguin Random -- that do these enormous print runs and ship them to all the bookstores in the world. They can do this because printing thousands of books is way cheaper than printing a few, and because they know they'll sell thousands of books (or close enough) so why the heck not print that many?

Everybody else -- small presses, indie authors, and even Amazon -- has no guarantee of how many will sell and can't afford to print thousands of books only to be stuck with them later. So everybody else has to print paper books on demand which, as you might imagine, is more expensive.

But at least that way they don't get stuck with lots of books and debt. Because as cool as it is to make a hobbit-hole of books, it's cheaper (and more structurally sound) to not be stuck with them and to build your hobbit-hole out of dirt and bricks like a regular person.



Q: I have a question that you neither answered nor anticipated.
To the comments, good madam or sir!

The great paperwork coup

Anyone remember the coup? Probably not. It's pretty boring, and the news is filled with far more interesting things. (Though I'm sure life under the junta is more interesting if they think you're making trouble.)

For our children's home, it's meant paperwork requests at inconvenient times, lost paperwork at any time, and surprise government inspections (well, one inspection -- fortunately I was dressed at the time).

This week, it meant this fun enactment, while applying for my yearly visa extension:
Immigration Official: Sorry, you need a new document this year from your district office.
*goes to district office*
DO Official: We can do that, but we need this document that you left at home.

*comes back the next day with missing document*
DO Official: Now we need this other document from city hall.
*goes to city hall*
City Official: We can't do that at all. We could do this instead, but you either need to go back to America or get this document certified by the consulate.
*goes to consulate*
US Official: We can do that, but you need an appointment. Come back Tuesday.

So what's life been like under the coup so far?


The States of Things


New part-time project:

Izanami's Choice:

Currently playing:

Ultimate Chicken Horse
Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut

Current mood:

Currently answering questions in the comments:

Izanami's Choice cover reveal

If you follow me on social media, you may have seen this, but it's important that it's here. So behold! The cover for my upcoming samurai sci-fi novella IZANAMI'S CHOICE! CLICK TO EMBIGGEN!

And here's proof that I'm not just making this up (that's not my hand, though -- so I guess my editor could be making it up):

I love what they've done here -- the droid legs, the sword, the bloody kanji characters, the part where my name's on the cover. It's all just great.

I don't have a date for release yet, but I'll let you know when I do. It should be soon. If you want to make sure you don't miss it, sign up for my newsletter here. I haven't actually sent out a newsletter (because I promised only useful information), but as soon as there's a date or a pre-order link or something, you'll get it there.

There may also be another pretty picture I get to show you later. We'll see!

For those of you unable (or too lazy) to embiggen, here's the back cover copy:

Samurai vs. Robots

Progress. Murder. Choice.

In 1901, the Meiji Restoration has abolished the old ways and ushered in a cybernetic revolution. Androids integrate into society at all levels, following their programming for the betterment of every citizen, as servants, bodyguards, and bureaucrats. Jinzou are the future. Japan is at the threshold of a new tomorrow!

As a ronin steeped in the old ways, Itaru wants nothing more to do with the artificial creations posing as human. But when a jinzou is suspected of murder, he's pulled into a mystery that could tear the nation apart.

Malfunction or free will? When is a machine more than just a machine?

How do you write a good twist?

Phil says:
I'm writing a sci-fi story as part of a game, and one thing I'm having trouble with is how to gracefully drop hints of an upcoming twist.

One character is set up so that everyone assumes he is a villain; the midpoint twist shows that he's actually just misunderstood and trying to survive; he actually has a lot in common with the player character.

I want to drop hints of this fact earlier on in the game. I think I can do this without it giving away the twist, but I'm worried that players will assume the apparent contradiction is due to sloppy writing rather than building to something intentional. Is there anything I can do to help readers embrace the ambiguity rather than try to resolve it too soon?

There are few things more satisfying than blowing someone's mind with a good twist. Done right, it'll stick in the player's (or reader's) head, making them need to talk about the story for years to come.

Done wrong, it's lame. If the hints are too obvious then the twist is predictable. If they're too subtle, it can feel like a deus ex machina. Achieving the balance between the two is super tricky for two reasons:

1. You are always too close to your story. It's almost impossible to tell what clues a reader will or will not pick up on when you know what they all are and what they point to. Everything's so obvious to you, so you keep things super subtle. Or you over-correct and make it too obvious. You can't win.

2. It really, really depends on your audience. Ever notice how kid's stories are more predictable than adult stories? That's not because kid authors suck. The opposite actually: they know their audience and are really good at writing for them. They know what tropes kids are familiar with, which is far fewer than most adults.

(Which is not to say you can't write a kid's story that subverts the tropes. You most certainly can.)

It's not just age-dependent either. Someone who has never seen a sci-fi/fantasy movie in their life might be completely blind-sided by a Chosen One or its many subtropes.

So what's the best way to find this balance? I'm gonna say it in really big words, because it's pretty much the same solution to all writing problems.


No, wait, that's not it. It's


You are too close to your story, so get others in your target audience to read or play it. Fresh eyes will help you nail down where the story is working or not. And if you can get detailed comments as they go through, you can even see where they start to guess things and what those guesses are.

For a game, I'd recommend writing up the story as a synopsis first -- revealing information as the player would discover it -- and running that by a few people. (Unless the game's playable, of course, then running that by people might be more useful). It won't be perfect, but it'll get you closer than you can get by yourself.

And perfection's not the goal anyway. No matter how many eyes and how much revision you get on a thing, there will always be people who see the twist coming and people who think it dropped out of the blue (although the latter seems less egregious to me, which suggests you might want to err on the side of too subtle rather than too obvious). The point of getting fresh eyes is to get perspective, not perfection.

"But won't the twist be spoiled?"

For your early readers, yes. But they know that's the deal for getting an exclusive look.

For other people? Maybe. But that kind of spoiler leakage only really matters if you're writing the next Empire Strikes Back, which -- if you are -- I'm flattered you would ask me how to do this. But also if you're at that level in your career, you've probably had enough practice twisting stories that you have a feel for the balance of it by now.

That's another trick, too: practice, practice, practice. Until then? Critique and revision.

Anyone else got tips for Phil? Tell him in the comments!


Got a question? Ask me anything.

The Best Dr. Strange Gif

Maybe there are better Dr. Strange gifs out there, but if so I have not seen them. (Also this was ridiculously hard to find for my sister, so I'm intentionally trying to increase its SEO a little).

Random SEO crap: Benedict Cumberbatch animated gif jumping leaping flying funny hopscotch harry potter anchorman avengers dirty dancing pokemon eaten by a shark SEO's a thing right I'm not just making this up? oh god what if i am what if people are reading this who am i and what have i done with my life oh look there's cake in the fridge!

Izanami's Choice excerpt and update

The fine folks at Broken Eye are working on the last edits for Izanami's Choice. Next steps after that are me addressing the edits and then all the fun stuff they get to do to finalize the whole thing and make it a For Real Book.

There's also a cover coming. Watch for that.

Izanami's Choice is my samurai, sci-fi novella set in a Meiji-era Japan that has adopted androids and other ridiculously advanced technology. Here's an excerpt:
The droid was a newer model. It did not wear a wooden mask, nor was its face made of metal widgets that moved to imitate emotions. This thing's skull was covered in a molded synthetic material. The corners of its lips moved up and down in a remarkable caricature of a human hoping to make a good impression. If Itaru were not standing so close, he would've taken it for a human in the darkness. Up close, however, the synthetic features looked fake and unnerving. "What the hell are you?"
The droid bowed deeply. "I am called Gojusan. My full designation is Service Droid I-Ka 53."
"I-Ka?" Itaru had heard of that model, but he'd never seen one up close. The first droids had been western imports using English letters as designators. When Japan constructed their own master machine intelligence—the fourth in the world and the only one in Asia—they used katakana characters for the designs it produced. I-Ka was approximately the eightieth designator in only thirty years.
They're evolving too fast.
"Hai, Shimada-sama." The droid's oversized eyes flicked behind Shimada into his house and back again.
Itaru stood up straight, anxious to get rid of the machine. "What is your message?"
It looked down, seemingly embarrassed. "With great apologies, Shimada-sama, my message must be delivered privately." It gestured inside and bowed once more.
Itaru shivered uneasily. The jinzou's behavior bothered him more than he'd like to admit. He decided that it was simply too new, that he'd never met one like it before. "Fine," he said, grabbing his tamiken from the shelf as he stepped aside. "But make it quick."
The droid bowed again, removed its sandals—it wore socks underneath—and stepped politely inside. "I apologize for bothering you at this hour."
"You said that," Itaru snarled.
The droid clasped its hands at its waist, looking at the door and back, as though it wanted to flee but had decided against it.
Ridiculous. Droids didn't act like this. They followed their orders and programming. If a droid pretended to have feelings, it was because of a human’s order. Either Count Kuroda-sama had given this droid very specific—and strange—instructions or Gojusan's programming was remarkably advanced.
But what purpose would it serve to have a droid act nervous? To set Itaru at ease? It was failing at that. Everything about this meeting made his skin quiver. "State your message. What does Kuroda-sama want?"
It looked directly into Itaru's eyes. "My master is dead."
The full novella is coming soon! If you want to know the moment it comes out, subscribe to the newsletter or follow this blog.

Izanami's Choice -- a story about samurai, robots, and AI singularities

I've been head down writing Torment conversations, but I have an important announcement to make: my new novella, Izanami's Choice, is coming soon from Broken Eye Books.

It's a book. That you can buy. About samurai and robots in a cybernetic Meiji-era Japan.

If any of that sounds remotely interesting to you, I recommend you sign up for my newsletter so you'll know when it comes out.

Not sure? Read on!

Tokyo, at the dawn of the 20th century. The Empire has gone through an industrial and political revolution. The samurai are a thing of the past, railroads connect every major city, and the artificial jinzou serve in every aspect of Japanese life, from servants to soldiers to assassins.

Shimada Itaru is an aging ronin, a survivor of samurai rebellions from the early days of the Meiji Restoration. He hates the jinzou, but he knows quite a lot about fighting them -- or he did, before the Emperor made it illegal for humans to carry weapons.

Gojusan is a jinzou framed for her master's assassination. Hunted by her own kind, and unable to turn to the police, she runs to Itaru for help. Before Itaru can throw the jinzou out, assassin droids storm his home, trying to kill them both. Now Itaru's on the run with the thing he hates most, and the only way he's going to get his life back (such as it was) is to figure out what really happened to Gojusan's master.

Of course, the truth is something neither of them suspect.

I'd love to say more, but Torment! Conversations! (Seriously, I need to get back to work if I'm going to make my deadline). Sign up for the newsletter or subscribe to the blog for more information in the near future.

You can also ask me questions, if you like. I'll get to them when I can. (Yes, I'm busy, but sometimes answering questions serves as a nice break. So don't be shy.)

Want a free story of mine?

Want to read a free fantasy story of mine? One you've never read before? I have one for you.

There's a string: you gotta sign up for my mailing list.

But hold on, because there's a better string attached to that string. Once you're on that mailing list, you'll be notified the moment there's new Adam Heine fiction to read.

And there will be new fiction to read. I can't officially say much yet, but you may recall me hinting about a novella? It's coming. Maybe more than that is coming. We'll see!

If you want to know when I've got something new out, or you want to read a new fantasy story, or you just like to sign up for stuff, then sign up for the mailing list now!

Torment Beta is going live

As you read this, either the Torment Beta is live or it will be very soon. A few thousand of our backers (everyone who pledged for it) will get to play the opening and first major location in the game I've been working on for over three years.

Better than that, the Beta will go public on Steam Early Access next week. Anyone -- even you -- can see what I've been working on, and why I haven't talked much about writing (or anything really), for so long.

Am I excited? You bet. I love creating, and I hate not being able to show people what I'm creating. It's about time.

Am I scared? Not as much as you might think. I was scared before the Alpha Systems Tests went out, because Torment is not a typical RPG, and I wasn't sure what people would think of it. But the Alpha backers got it. They read thousands of words, made tough decisions, and they got it.

The Beta has its rough edges that I'm sure we'll get comments on, but the stuff that really makes it Torment -- the art, the writing, the characters, the choices -- that's the stuff I'm least worried about. It's all in there. A lot of the remaining work is prettying up the package.

So, yeah, if you want to see what I've been working on all this time, check out the Steam Early Access release next week. Or, if you can't wait -- or you're not sure whether epic reading, tough choices, and dying Earth fantasy is your thing -- then watch this video, where my boss Brian Fargo and colleague George Ziets play through the first hour of the Beta. Enjoy.

Accomplished this year; expect to accomplish next year

My head has been deep in Torment for so long that I feel like I haven't done anything else this year. Turns out I have!
  • The public got to see part of that game I'm working on.
  • I got two new short stories published: "The Patch Man" and "Curiosity."
  • I officially met the requirements to be an active member of SFWA (not that I've joined yet, but I can!).
  • I read 11 books. (That's not a good reading year for me, but a couple of those books were part of James Clavell's enormous Asian Saga, and I also critiqued a couple of novels).
  • I went to PAX, had breakfast with Pat Rothfuss, and even spoke to people.
  • I wrote a novella.
  • I have a new novel on sub.
  • And in my personal life: our blind daughter started school, we finally made progress in getting our paperless child an ID card, I fell in love with Star Wars again, and the teen-formerly-known-as-Sullen is no longer sullen -- she even laughs at my jokes again!
What's coming in 2016?
  • The public will get to see the rest of the game I'm working on, and we'll find out whether the last three years were worth it. (Hahaha! I'm just kidding. I haven't had to worry about income for three whole years! What do I care if you like the game or not?)
  • (Still kidding. Please like the game.)
  • You'll probably get to read that novella I wrote.
  • I may finally discover a way to consistently write novels as well as design computer games for a living. Either that or time travel. We'll see!
Also, for your edification, here are a couple of things I loved in 2015 that I want you to love to. I'm deliberately trying to focus on things you might not have heard of.

House of Ivy and Sorrow. A young adult fantasy from Natalie Whipple about witches. I have always loved Natalie's worldbuilding, and I love unique takes on witches. House of Ivy and Sorrow delivers both.

Primordia. A graphic adventure in the classic style of the Sierra *Quest games, with a heavy dose of influence from Planescape: Torment. It's an insanely cool world in which humans are gone and only intelligent -- and surprisingly sympathetic -- robots remain. Written and designed by Tides of Numenera's own Mark Yohalem. If you liked Planescape or Space Quest, you should definitely check this out.

Frostborn. A middle-grade, Norse-influenced fantasy novel from Lou Anders. If Banner Saga were a book about a boy and a half-giantess, this is what it would feel like. My boys loved it. I loved it. I need to get my hands on the sequel for them.

Shovel Knight. A crowd-funded side-scroller in which you play a knight whose primary weapon is his shovel. It's way more fun than that sounds. Shovel Knight is Mega Man and Ducktales and every platformer I've ever loved.

Tales of Monkey Island. If you know Monkey Island, then odds are you've heard of this one, but I only just played it this year. I love it almost as much as the Curse of Monkey Island (being my favorite of the series). My only real problem with it is that there will probably never be a sequel.

What did you love in 2015?