[THE COMPETITION] Round 2 Winners Q&A
As they work on their scripts for Round 3, get to know the writers behind the winning outlines.
One of the nice things about building a concept universe with our readers and community is that we can not only show you what we’re working on or ask your opinion on things – including whether to print things in English or Kreska or “boots or no boots?” – but we can actually invite you inside the process.
That’s how [THE COMPETITION], our first ever writing contest open to members of the 3W/3M community, came about. It started with a question, became a contest, and now it’s been one of the highlights of 2023 seeing the imagination, creativity, and passion from all of you.
In Round 1, we sorted through the overwhelming number of entries and killer ideas to select our favorite pitches. Then we dissected some fantastic outlines and narrowed those down to seven winners in Round 2. As we speak, those seven writers are working on scripts to show us that their story deserves to rise to the top, and we cannot wait to read more – and to share them all with you.
Today we have a special treat for you. We spoke with the talented winners of Round 2 about their backgrounds, their stories, and their favorite places across the Three Worlds and Three Moons.
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Now, let’s hear from the seven members of the 3W/3M community who are working hard to make their mark in our burgeoning concept universe.
3W/3M: What is your background as a writer/creator? Do you have any work our community can check out right now?
Isaac Platizky: I’m primarily a screenwriter. I make movies with my brother and our indie film company Narrow Bridge Films. Most of our stuff can be found on our website www.narrowbridgefilms.com. This is actually my first go at comic book script writing since my brother, our friend Jason, and I made a comic in High School. It was called HONOR BOUND, and I think I still have a copy somewhere…
Reed Beebe: After years spent fighting monsters and solving mysteries, I became a writer. My comics work includes the offbeat prose spy thriller DEEP COVER (published by AHOY Comics in EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SNIFTER OF BLOOD #1), and my essay “Sea Dogs and the Bleak Naval History of the American Revolution” appears in the DC Comics SEA DOGS collection (found exclusively in the JOE HILL PRESENTS HILL HOUSE COMICS trade paperback box set). I also blog about comics on Medium.
Thom Dunn: Storytelling has always been pretty central to my life. I’ve had several plays produced; my first successful one was actually a sort of rom-com set at a comic book convention. As a fiction writer, I’ve published work in a bunch of major sci-fi/fantasy magazines (I have one free story up on Gumroad about anarchist unicorns fighting god). I’m a graduate of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, and I have a supernatural Irish Boston punk rock noir novel I’ve been trying to sell. Perhaps unsurprisingly (given my story pitch), I’m also a musician. I sing/play guitar in a power-pop/indie rock band called the Roland High Life, and have a separate Irish folk music career, too. Finally, I write for a living: I’m a blogger for BoingBoing.net and a staff writer for the New York Times’ Wirecutter (which is both more and less glamorous than I make it out to be).
Ramsey Ess: I’ve written many things, including sketches, articles, and a Paul McCartney text adventure game, but my most visible work has been as a freelancer. I’ve written for New York Magazine, McSweeney’s, and I’ve written approximately a billion jokes for SNL’s Weekend Update (and even got a couple on the air). MERGER is my first comic book work that’s out in the world, but I plan on self-publishing the first issue of my comic, STILTON, about the domestic challenges of a superhero’s butler, later this summer.
Alison Humphrey: My first and, to date, only published work in comics was in a NEW MUTANTS letter column, quoting Shakespeare on the Demon Bear Saga. (Please don’t look it up.) I’d be more embarrassed by that adolescent hyperbole if I hadn’t gone on to intern at Marvel in college, then deke into classical theatre directing for the first part of my career. (“Deke” is Canuck-speak. That, you can look up.) I’ve done a lot of experimenting with drama and digital media, producing a proto-augmented reality game for Douglas Adams’s STARSHIP TITANIC, initiating one of the earliest transmedia blogs for the TV series TRAIN 48, and directing and co-writing several live-animated motion-capture interactive narratives, including FASTER THAN NIGHT and THE AUGMENTALIST. I’m currently finishing a doctorate on the “citizen science fiction” project SHADOWPOX: THE CYTOKINE STORM, a storyworld co-created with young people on three continents to imagine immunization through a superhero metaphor.
Y. Lu: My parents tell me that when I was really little – we’re talking pre-kindergarten here – I’d wrangle whoever I could into being a captive audience and tell them stories. I’d even do it in Mandarin to people who didn’t speak the language, apparently either too young to know or too young to care that the listeners couldn’t understand me. Now, I have no memory of this whatsoever, but I guess it shows that those particular cogs have always been grinding, in some fashion. I’ve written stuff for myself over the years, but nothing released publicly.
Steven Douglas: I studied creative writing and TV writing at the University of California, Riverside, for five years. Beyond that, I’ve basically been writing stories on and off for about twenty years, ever since I saw FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING in theaters as a kid. Unfortunately, none of my work is published, so there isn’t anything our community can check out right now.
Where did the idea for your 3W/3M story come from and why is it important to you/why did you want to tell it?
Ess: In the [SYSTEMS] Sourcebook, there’s a single sentence about escape artists on Ordo. I read it, started typing, and pretty much immediately had my whole pitch. My favorite 3W/3M stories involve a character taking a leap and, for better or worse, suddenly unlocking a realm of knowledge they had no concept of before. With this story, I wanted to try and do that at a personal level. What would it be like to suddenly unlock exactly one other person’s entire life? What could you learn? What would it do to you? Plus, in a universe filled with space whales, royal duels, and a cabal of gods, I was really excited to examine a pocket of this universe and merge a technologically advanced world with the mundanity of an executive management office building. In short, I’m having so much fun telling this story.
Humphrey: The first kernel was a diary entry from when I was a kid and moving to yet another new school. That got mashed up with my doctoral research on the vaccination conflicts to which we’ve all had a front-row seat these past three years. Medicine has always been a tango between magic and science. There’s endless drama built into the desires to keep those we love alive, to keep hope alive when science has no answers, to do no harm, to weaponize lies, to make a living, to make a killing. How might long-lost and myth-remembered Kaoso magic filter down through the ages into earnest faith healing or profitable snake oil? What would the Institute version of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 look like? And who might have an interest in ginning up conflict between proof and belief, responsibility and freedom, knowledge and the great unknown?
Dunn: I was hungover as shit on New Year’s Day when I decided to read the [SYSTEMS] Sourcebook front-to-back, making notes of various things that stuck out to me — one of which was the idea of Harmonio. It being New Year’s Day, I was also being bombarded with pre-programmed emails from various music services about how little they were paying me for streaming royalties. The idea of having my artistic fate dictated by algorithms (managed by corporations who deliberately undercut their own IP contracts in order to increase stock values) clearly fired some synapses with the idea of an algorithmically-valued fiat currency and the criminal enterprises that find their ways to exploit it. As a recovering Catholic, I was also drawn to the religiosity of the 3W/3M universe, which I think resonates with the inherent conflict in a lot of creative types between agnosticism or atheism and the sort of divine spirituality of artistic inspiration. And so naturally that all just sort of gelled together into, as Jonathan put it, CLOUD ATLAS meets THAT THING YOU DO!
Lu: Reading the DUELS stories, what struck me was the sense of ritual and regulation to it all. Which brought to mind a duelist still hunting his target after decades, no choice but to keep at it because he’s duty-bound. A scene came to my mind of a duelist finally catching up to their prey after those long years, both of them visibly older and greyer than when it started, both aware of the gravity of this moment decades in the making. That seed ultimately didn’t germinate, but it put the idea of a prolonged duel on my mind. Around the same time, I happened to be reading some stuff on game theory, and the two concepts collided. The final story isn’t about game theory, but it’s kinda adjacent if you squint?
Also, as someone who’s unfortunately gone in divergent paths from former friends who I used to think I’d be close to for life, I knew there was stuff to mine in the story of two close friends drifting apart over distance and time.
Beebe: There must be dissent. Beneath the adventures and intrigues, the 3W/3M mythos features a static society dominated by corrupt elites; denizens are doomed by rigid conventions that benefit no one — including the nervously insecure elites, whose positions are institutionally constrained and transitory. In this seemingly unalterable social order, how might art — outlined briefly in [SYSTEMS] –allow creative critiques of this dim status quo, given the dangers of dissent? That question (along with my admiration of 1920s Mexican muralism) inspired my story.
Douglas: So, one of the chief conflicts of 3W/3M is “science versus magic,” and I wanted to explore that conflict through a character designed to be the opposite of Tajo Vallar. Where Tajo is a scientist who explores for the sake of knowledge and discovery, Kryos (my protagonist) is a thief who steals for their own sake. They’re a cynic and non-believer decked out in these cybernetic implants they use to complete jobs, and by the end of the story the technology they’ve relied on has failed and it’s magic that saves their life, throwing their entire world view into question. Mainly, though, I had this image in my mind of Kryos floating through space, holding a golden flower and surrounded by glowing pollen, and it would not leave my mind until I finally put it to paper.
Platizky: When I was first thinking of pitches for the contest I did a reread of the [SYSTEMS] Sourcebook. I kept coming back to the Assassins and Royals of Fayrii and Heir. It felt like the perfect set up for a Sci-Fi/Action/Rom-Com between an assassin and her potential target, which is something I haven’t seen before. And the world needs a good Sci-Fi/Action/Rom-Com!
Which of our Three Worlds and Three Moons would you like to live on, and why?
Douglas: Honestly, I would actually want to live on one of the Vojogonto. Is that an option? Space whales are cool!
Beebe: You would find me haunting the Great Bibliotekas of Ordo, researching my yet-to-be-published monograph on the obscure pulp horror fiction of Heir-based writer Stefano Rego.
Lu: I used to belong to what some would call an offshoot religious sect but is more accurately described as a cult. And I live in a country at the whim of “billionaires” who, if they were in a foreign country instead of homegrown, we’d all more accurately be describing as oligarchs. So I feel like I’ve kind of already lived on Akva and Heir/Fayrii, and no thanks. Which leaves the Therra set. So I’d regularly rotate between Ordo and Therra as an excuse to ride vojogonto as much as possible, because of course. (Plus, if Kaoso is the font from which magic and imagination are returning to the world, who wouldn’t want to be close, yet not too close so as to burn. Imagination can do that, too.)
Humphrey: As exciting as Fayrii, Heir, and Akva are to visit, and as down-to-earth as Therra is, I’m enough of a nerd to know Ordo’s where I’d find my peeps.
Platizky: The part of me that wants to live a life full of action and danger would say Heir, but I’d probably be more comfortable living on Therra.
Dunn: If there’s a hipster enclave on Ordo, you can probably find me squatting in a warehouse there.
Ess: Look. I’d absolutely love to say Akva and talk about all the seafaring adventures I’d get into but I know I’m getting hit by a boom and falling overboard on day one.
Advanced technology? City-sized libraries? Robes, stoles, and Nehru collars? I’ve gotta be an Ordo boy.
Finally, where can our readers find you and your work online?
Beebe: I blog about comics at https://medium.com/meanwhile
Dunn: A single link to contain my essence ~ thomdunn.net
Thanks again to Isaac, Reed, Thom, Ramsey, Alison, Y., and Steven for taking the time. We’ll be hearing from them again next month once we’ve had a chance to check out their scripts, all leading to choosing the winner of [THE COMPETITION]!