I just finished reading an e-copy of the new book, Stealing Cthulhu ($35). The 30,000-word book was written for those who run tabletop role-play games (RPGs), and who need to devise new scenes, unique plots, and familiar-but-fresh monsters. But the book will also interest writers, especially since the remix culture is now breaking down old writerly taboos around unique ‘authenticity’. Writers won’t be swamped in tedious RPG rules arcana, since that particular monster is safely locked away in a single short appendix (where the author sets out his own simple RPG system called Cthulhu Dark). In the body of the text the reader is offered clear and intelligent breakdowns of what Lovecraft does and how and why he does it, drawing on a clutch of his key stories. The author has obviously wandered freely in the vast catacomb of Lovecraft’s writing (and also a few of the wider Mythos stories), but what he loots from it is then rigourously and sensibly organised. The writing is clear and concise throughout. There may be “how to” books on writing horror (I haven’t bothered to look), but this book is the only writing guide for Lovecraftian horror/SF that I’ve ever heard of. Maybe it’s better than standard “writers guide” tomes, since it doesn’t suggest how to write — simply how to come up with ideas about what to write about and how to structure those ideas. Another advantage is that the author’s approach arises from oral RPG storytelling sessions, not from academic lit-crit theories or writers’ workshop ‘rules’. He simply gets down to giving easy-to-follow guidance on how to recombine and re-work ideas / characters / monsters / settings / atmospheres, etc, to tell new stories that can satisfy tabletop gamers. The structural story breakdowns are followed by light suggestions for adapting these elements so they work with RPG player groups, but the author never gets bogged down in this. Of course, one then needs a slathering of freshly weird imagination laid on top of these basic re-mixes. And a writer may need to insert plot switchbacks, like Lovecraft did. But the book presents a good system for getting a starting base story, and will no doubt help jump-start many blocked writers. For an ebook (I had it as a PDF) it’s rather expensive at $35 (about £23), but not so when you factor in that your $35 will also eventually get you a collectable print copy. A unique and recommended book.

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