Since Murder With Monsters comes out Saturday, I thought it behooved me to set down the strange and laborious path that leads an otherwise rational individual to self-publish. Let stand as a warning to the curious, or walk my dark path yourself. I'll retweet you, fellow sinner.
In any case, for the first entry, I feel like I have to point fingers. Who do I have to blame for this strange direction in my life? Who's at fault for two years of having vampires, gargoyles, and sasquatch on my brain even more than usual?
Blame Sailor Moon
It really is her fault.
Yes, it's true. About two years ago, my role-playing game group were all pretending to be magical girls. Because of that, I publish a book this month with the Loch Ness Monster on the cover and the Jersey Devil inside taking selfies.
I really should sketch that timeline out with a white board.
Writers get inspiration from weird things. Stephen King wrote The Mist after fantasizing about pterodactyls swooping through supermarkets. Conan exists because Robert E. Howard rewrote a Kull the Conqueror story to please an edition. I wrote grew my police procedural in strange soil.
The game in question was two levels of Kevin Baconesqe separation from Sailor Moon. I refer to what is, for many, the ur-example of the magical girl genre. School girl gets magic powers, monster attack town, romance happens, lots of people die. Really, it's stunning how the body count of the first season Sailor Moon dwarfs the entire televised run of G.I.Joe. That's one reason it hooked a lot of people on anime back in the 90's days.
One night, my high school girlfriend brought her VHS tapes over for a sleepover. Yes, my Mom was very lenient. It was better than a back alley, to her mind.
My mother's fears were not to be realized that night. We hit play after dinner, and when the Sun came up, my girlfriend was passed out on the bed while I was spellbound by watching a reformed villain get brutally murdered by dozens of spikes while his prospective girlfriend watched. I quickly realized that these Japanese cartoons could turn on the brutality switch on a second’s notice.
This prepped me for Puella Magi Madoka Magica, which is best thought of as Sailor Moon mixed with Breaking Bad. It's about the step-by-step corruption of several teenage magical girls. Imagine Sabrina the Teenaged Witch disemboweling rapists on a subway while she's wearing a cutesy Halloween costume. You start out thinking it'll be sweet and light, than the character who is obviously the protagonist gets her head bitten off three episodes in.
I loved showing that episodes to the kids in the middle school anime club I ran. Their tears have less calories than adult tears.
That brutal yet touching show captivated me, so a friend found me an easy sell when he asked, “Would you want to role-play it?” Apparently someone had written a free indie role-playing game called Magical Burst to simulate the spiraling corruption of super-powered teenage girls, and my friend Kev wanted to run it. Now, this man had already ran a tabletop RPG version of Pokemon that incorporated the Cthulhu Mythos and a literal interpretation of the Book of Revelations; I knew this would be a gonzo game to remember.
It was. My girls kept dying.
Not in the classic Dungeons & Dragons “You enter the room, and the wizard dies” way, mind you. They had romantically tragic deaths, full of drama that kept me from getting too frustrated. Still, after two or three characters, I wanted to try something new.
Since it was a dimension-hopping game, we were allowed to create entire worlds to justify the ridiculous backgrounds of our characters. The game was all about teenage girls making pacts with alien entities for power, and I was tempted to try something more traditionally dark yet paradoxically lighter.
Those alien power-granters were jerks; what if some world somewhere fought them? Maybe they had some traditional inhuman creatures. What would a world run by monsters be like, if they were open and public about it? Most importantly for me, what kind of dark super-powered girl could I make? Was there a type of powerful monster that you could theoretically volunteer to become?
“Hey, Kev,” I asked my game master over the phone. “Can my next girl be a vampire?”
As you do, I threw myself in the game. As these things go, I never got to tell the kind of stories that I wanted. I desperately desired to focus on the world of monster cops, without the distraction of dimension-hopping magical girls or Machiavellian fluffy aliens.
When I sat down at my laptop that November and felt the urge to type, I pruned everything that went beyond even my lax and liberal standard of crazy. I started with a dead policewoman answering an inter-species domestic disturbance call, and the rest gradually took form.
People say that many gamers are frustrated writers. You know what relieves that frustration?
So I did, and I created something near and dear to my heart, something with bits of Columbo and Isaac Asimov mixed with a dollop of sarcastic New York Jews and splashed with Lovecraft, mythology, and the Universal Monsters. But somewhere, deep in my murder mystery’s DNA, there’s the slightest evolutionary trace of Sailor Moon.
We all have weird branches in our family trees. I'm just glad there's no genealogical resemblance; Mildred would kill me if I tried to fit her into a schoolgirl outfit.