Is This Thing On?

It sure has been quiet around here, hasn’t it?

The last year has been strange and eventful in Casa Phillips; a lot of factors have combined to keep me from writing too much over here. (Or anywhere, if I’m honest.) But that’s about to change. For starters, I went to the Immersive Design Summit in San Francisco last weekend, and came away with no less than 15 distinct topics I urgently want to write about — so brace yourself for a new burst of energy from me over here.

And elsewhere, too! I’m thinking hard about resuming my habit of Half-Assed Weekend Projects; a,pmg other things, I’m thinking about doing a goofy heist-themed ARG over a weekend sometime soon. (If you’d like to be in on the heist ARG, shoot me an email at and I’ll let you know when it’s ready to go.) I just need to clear a couple of things off of my decks first. Mainly that novel manuscript.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a new serial project coming in May; as mentioned, yes, I’m still desperately trying to finish that same novel; and I’m going to try to get my act together and make this a Summer of Lucy Smokeheart. You’ve heard it all before, but this time I really MEAN it, I promise. Pinky swear!

Buckle in, folks. I’ve woken up from a long sleep, and we’re going for a ride. We’re gonna have some fun!

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I’m Not Quitting Twitter. Yet.

Let’s talk personal social media strategy, and how I’m trying to protect democracy by setting up a way to get my blog posts by email. No, really.

Look, we all know the stark truth. In the year 2017, Twitter is a hot mess, a festering swamp of villainy, a miasmatic and oppressive empire of Nazis and the people who enable them. The company’s attempts to fix rampant abuse and harassment have been shallow and ineffective, often targeting victims more than perpetrators. Something has to be done. Nothing is being done.

I say this as someone who loves Twitter. I wouldn’t be enjoying the career I have now if it weren’t for Twitter.

But time and Trump have changed the world, and social media most of all. A lot of people are increasingly uncomfortable with the knowledge that being on Twitter makes us complicit in an ecosystem of unrelenting evil. And there’s a certain vulnerability that comes from making commercial advertising networks your primary internet home. Not just the constant knowledge that at any time the eye of Sauron might fall upon you and evil will come your way; no, something subtler and more pernicious, even, than that.

Social media are a vector for propaganda, paid and otherwise. They’re sources of bad information and unsupported opinions. They are the domain of emotion over fact, and what you let into your brain shapes your very identity. Ordinarily a certain skeptical vigilance would armor us from this. But now we live in a world where anyone with a botnet or a troll farm can exploit the human urge to engage with our peers in good faith. This is a danger to democracy, and it is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

And yet. Twitter is where my friends and colleagues are. It’s where my readership and reviewers are. It’s a source for work and promotion that I don’t have a replacement for. Leaving Twitter and quitting writing are not the same, but it’s hard to see where the difference lies for me.

Which is a third kind of vulnerability: as goes my Twitter account, so goes my readership. And if Twitter falls, or if we do collectively decide to leave the platform en masse, then I could face a real struggle in keeping my head above the vast ocean of obscurity.

That’s doubly true on Facebook, where what you see and who sees you are heavily regulated by an invisible and ineffable algorithmic hand. When you speak up on Facebook, there’s no telling if anyone will ever hear it. And often the things it chooses to show are the least important things of all.

So it’s time to start looking for an escape plan. Time to execute a diversification strategy, as they say. This is risk mitigation, pure and simple. There are too many of my eggs in Twitter’s basket.

I have long maintained that the best platform is the one that you own. And this is the place that I own — if you can find it.

But blogs aren’t what they used to be, and for a lot of reasons. For one thing, search engine visibility relies a lot on social traffic, these days, for good and ill. When Google Reader went bust, a lot of people just gave up on their RSS feeds, preferring instead to just click links as they happen to see ‘em pop by in a social feed. You can post, but there’s still not any guarantee that anyone’s paying attention.

There is a third way, pioneered by outfits like Tinyletter. The good old-fashioned email newsletter.

I do have a newsletter already, and if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re subscribed already. But it’s a sporadic sort of thing where I mainly announce new ways for people to give me money. It’s got a lot of subscribers! But I don’t figure those people would be happy if I started mailing them every day, or even every week.

So I’m starting a new, higher-frequency list. This new Deus Ex Machinatio newsletter is going to send out my blog posts, no more than once a day, and probably less because ha ha ha ha ha who are we kidding if we think I’m going to be blogging every day. Though who knows? Maybe I will.

You can subscribe here: (And if you subscribe before 4pm on Oct. 19, 2017, you’ll get this very email in your inbox! Neat!)

Going forward, I’m going to move a lot of my social media energy back over here again. No more threaded tweetstorms. Maybe I’ll post my daily sketches here, and talk about... you know... day-in-the-life social stuff. How my work is going, or how I like my haircut, or which conventions I’m going to this year and why. And as always, I’ll noodle over writing craft, game design, or post my hot takes. You know, what you expect from me.

That means I’ll be somewhat less visible online unless you’re opting in or following me here. Please consider opting in.

I’m really excited about this, I won’t lie. I miss the depth and substance of the blogging days. This might be a path back in. Dang, do I hope this works.

But to make it work, this is needs to be a two-way street. So I want to know where to find you in your space, too. Do you have a newsletter, too? Link it in comments. Got a blog? Hook us up so we can our hearts out. Tell us where you live on the internet and why you’ve picked those places.

It’s not a solution. Not a bold or brave stance. This is just damage control. But listen, if we’re going to save democracy, we all have to start somewhere.

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Patreon 2: Electric Bugaloo

I'm reposting some stuff here that I just sent to my Patreon backers. It's not all baked yet, but I am setting the wheels in motion. Ready?

First, some history. I stopped posting here because I had some qualms about limiting access to my work, and therefore limiting the number of people who would ever be exposed to it. Eventually I was posting stories to my blog, too, and nobody here minded... but nobody elsewhere read, either. And that's not a great way to get new readers.

Now, though, I'd like to do something a little different that I'm super excited about. Growing my audience is important, but there are a lot of kinds of projects I'd love to do that I don't because there's just no market for them anywhere. Stuff I used to do as a weekend project: a story in a Google Calendar, or My Super First Day, or quick little interactive twiddles with a voice mail and a couple of email autoresponders. 

I want to play.

Not full-fledged ARGs, though. Nothing episodic. Just me poking at the edges of form and story to see what I can find, and sometimes iterating to see if I can do a thing that's been done before in a different or better way.

These things will be short—minutes to go through them, and certainly never as much as an hour—and very unchallenging, since I'm interested in narrative dynamics way more than puzzles. I'll try to do monthly but we'll see where life and deadlines take me.

Updates to the Patreon coming soon. Gotta make a new video, gotta rewrite rewards and goals and so on. Happy to hear your ideas if you'll give them to me. And then... let's see what happens, OK? In the meanwhile, if you want a quick peek of what the Patreon used to look like (or you want to get in on this new thing right the heck now), you'd better click fast.

Thank you, as always, for believing in me. I hope we can have a lot more fun together going forward. <3

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Is This Thing On?


I don't call anymore, I don't write... things have been kind of crickets around here unless I have something to sell you. And that's not cool. I'm not just saying that because I have some things to sell you. Let's leave that until later. Future posts, even!

I've let this place fall by the wayside over the last year or two for a lot of reasons. One is that I don't have a lot to say about transmedia specifically, and that's why I started this place up back in 2005. Hence my bad pun in Latin: deus ex machinatio. It means divinity from a plan, and so the art that makes my heart pound and fills me with gladness.

Why does that mean haven't I been posting? Partly because I stepped back from the conference circuit. Partly because even beyond transmedia, I say a lot of the same things I would otherwise be blogging about on Twitter or on my podcast The Cultures. (Did you even know I have a podcast, with Naomi Alderman and Adrian Hon?) I've been pretty busy! And I won't lie, the chilling effect of Gamergate is real; I'm reluctant to engage in some of the social issues that used to be one of my hallmarks.

There's also a bit of uncertainty about how to engage in thoughtful conversation via online media anymore. Should I be posting on Medium instead? It would probably be good for "exposure," but I'm not a fan. Should I be posting things on Facebook instead, where it would be more highly shareable? Or posting here and linking to Facebook? Should I be cross-posting to my Imzy community, or or or?

This stuff used to be easy when I was just a freelancer and my audience consisted almost exclusively of colleagues digging in the same salt mine as me. But now I have a mixture of colleagues from games, marketing, film, and academia mixed together with students learning from A Creator's Guide, friends who are non-transmedia authors, just friends with no work-related relationship, and even a few fans who don't know me except as a person who has made some stuff they like.

This used to be almost all talk shop, but it's slowly shifted into being a vehicle almost entirely for announcements of launches and conferences.

I don't like that very much. It feels kinda gross and manipulative. I like to be human on the internet, not a marketing bot.

So let's give this a whirl: I can't promise this is going to be the start of a bold new era, but I do have a whole slew of posts I want to make for now: some launch announcements, yes, but I also want to talk about the state of transmedia (no, really), some things I've been doing in my personal life, and some serious writing-craft challenges I'm mulling over, but have not yet solved. Maybe some politics?

And if you have things you'd like for me to talk about here, I'd love a comment. Should I be reviewing media I'm excited about? (OMG K-dramas.) Do you want an accounting of how much work I get done in a week? I dunno. You tell me.

Mostly I just want to feel like I have a home and a voice in the internet again—a place that belongs to me, where I'm not just sprinkling words into the ephemeral stream. So let's see how this goes.

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Goodbye, 2014

This sure has been a corker of a year, huh? Up and down, up and down. 

I feel like I shipped practically nothing this year -- the only things I can point to and say "I did this" are National Geographic's Expedition Granted plus a handful of short stories and Lucy episodes. Not enough. Nowhere near enough, and that's not just the neurosis that insists nothing is ever enough.

But this has been the year my daughter almost had glaucoma (but then didn't) and we almost didn't have health insurance (but then we did.) The year I had my gall bladder removed. The year I had skin cancer. (Again.) The year I had freaking pneumonia, and in fact I am not quite recovered as I write this. And so this has been the year of blown deadlines and despair. The year of extenuating circumstances.

But this is also the year The Walk game came out. It's the year I started to sell original fiction to publishers, including what will be my debut novel. The year I got to eat gluten again, and the year I got to go to London's Worldcon and even attend the Hugos party. It bears noting that this has been a year in which I got to see many layers of kindness from my friends and colleagues, who have been universally compassionate about the neverending litany of extenuating circumstances with which I have wrestled.

New seeds have been planted, too. 2014 is the year I started thinking about and inching toward some larger-scale indie transmedia works, the fruits of which are not yet ripe. Perhaps most important of all, this is the year Lothian Airsoft came into my life, again, the fruits of which are, again, not yet ripe. 

And next year is looking really amazing

So. 2014. It's been a wild ride, and somehow I've lived through all of it, not much worse for wear -- arguably better than ever. There's been a lot of bad but so much good mixed in that I can't quite resent you.

Welcome, 2015. You're walking into some very high expectations. But you're up to the job. I believe in you.

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