It’s release day for Secrets in Scarlet, a new anthology celebrating the upcoming Arkham Horror: Scarlet Keys expansion. Bonus? Yours truly contributed a little story called “In Art, Truth.”
Ece Şahin. Art historian. Curator for the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. Member of the Red Coterie, an organization dedicated to finding and safeguarding dangerous artifacts of otherworldly powers. One of which may be hidden in Istanbul. Yet as Ece and her assistant Haluk seek the past, a rival cult emerges to challenge her cabal. Unwilling to play the game on their level, Ece will discover just how alone she is… unless she changes her approach.
Suffice to say, my gaming friends where gobsmacked by the news. We even celebrated by playing a round of Arkham Horror: The Card Game.
“How did James do it?” you may ask. Believe it or not, my writing magic involves no blood sacrifices. Just sleep sacrifice and a whole lot of reading. Here’s a few of my author’s notes for “In Art, Truth.”
1925. Turkey was about two years old. It was a period of transition, as the new country stepped away from Ottoman rule on the road to democracy. Yet President Mustafa Atatürk had a few notes, a few very Western ideas. Here’s just a quick taste of his vision.
- Abolishing the Caliphate. An act that made many Turks realize, “Oh wow. He’s… he’s serious about this stuff.”
- Moves to secularize the country, like banning dervishes, the reorganization of religious education, and laws regarding acceptable clothing, including the Hat Revolution. No, I’m not making this up.
- Abandoning Arabic for the Latin alphabet around 1928. There are still opinions about this decision.
- Adoption of a new civil code that allowed women to divorce, inherit property, and eventually vote.
As you can imagine, Atatürk’s speedy changes upset some folks just a little. There was the Sheikh Said rebellion. Oh, and a widespread plan to assassinate him emerged, sometimes called the İzmir plot. While that was the most memorable attempt, it almost certainly wasn’t the only one.
But politics weren’t the only changes happening, as the Ottomans had been quite distrusting of new technologies. Telephones were banned until 1908 and they also hesitated to allow cars into the country. The 1920s were a time of catch up, and by 1929, the Ford Motor Company began producing cars in Turkey. Alas, this ended with the Great Depression.
No, there was no way I’d get all of this into the story. But you better believe that politics were on everyone’s minds at the time. All I wanted were the undercurrents, an awareness of how times were changing. However, history buffs are in for a treat. If you notice an esoteric name or two, search around. You never know what you might learn…
A tricky element when working within franchises is nailing a character’s particulars during the conception phase. Companies have different needs. If stakeholders don’t think you’ve got it, you’ll be told “thanks for your time.” Even if they recognize potential in your words, it’s critical to embrace their comments.
Banner Saga was in active development while I wrote the prequel novel and short stories, so there was a fair bit of red light, green light. For example, a character’s name could be reserved early on, before the developers “released” it for use. A visualization for a protagonist formed in my head, but was overridden with the arrival of artwork. Stoic’s team was a collaboration between the lead writer, artist, developer, and composer. Feedback from each member influenced the others’ decisions. They had enough cooks, so it was my job to be the waiter.
For Secrets in Scarlet, the process was more straight forward. Fantasy Flight Games already knew Ece’s background and appearance. Plus, the documents they provided gave great insight into her thinking and motivations. With much of the guesswork eliminated, much of the focus went into the research.
Still, the story demanded its fair share of creativity.
The companies I’ve worked with gently encourage writers to develop “extended universe” characters, their own social networks if you will. This should be embraced. For canonical reasons, “borrowed” characters often possess plot armor… if only physically. Yet original cast members do not, allowing greater flexibility over where stories can go.
Awesome Stories, Plural
Fun as developing the manuscript was, reading Secrets in Scarlet was even better. Aconyte Books sent me an advanced copy and seeing my name next to a few heavyweights was a shellshock.
Lisa Smedman, author of Shadowrun: The Forever Drug, upped the ante with “Strange Things Done.” I loved her esoteric setting—an Alaska-bound steamer, as I did her protagonist’s motivation to research and write a biography on the real-life poet Robert Service. This was an inspiring direction.
“A Forty Grain Weight of Nephrite” by Steve Philip Jones was another tale that impressed me. Jones builds his world well with an eye for the historic details. I even learned a few new terms from his work, like “yeggman.”
Finally, “Honor Among Thieves” by Carrie Harris gave us a lot to love with a pair of high-class thieves and conwomen in Buenos Aires. Her yarn packs the unexpected upon the unexpected. My gut says this one’s going to be a fan favorite.
But why take my word? Aconyte has earned heaps of praise on Goodreads, What You Tolkien About and the Cosmic Circus.
All in all, Secrets in Scarlet is just in time for spooky season. A whiff of the Cthulhu mythos mixed with Indiana Jones action and adventure. We’ve had many tricks the last couple of years… so why not pick yourself up a treat?