Update Mar. 25/17

In life:

Been dealing with a series of colds and flus since Christmas, thanks to the germ pool that is daycare. What doesn’t kill me just makes me really sick, right?

In bookish news:

Edits for THE DEVIL’S REVOLVER (book 1) and THE DEVIL’S STANDOFF (book 2) have been turned in! The first two books of The Devil’s Revolver series should be coming out back to back, I’m told. I’m working on THE DEVIL’S PACT (book 3) now. Book 1 is going out as ARCs now, so if you’re interested in reading and reviewing, please contact my publisher, Brain Mill Press. Also, I got a glimpse of the cover painting by the amazing award-winning artist Cassandre Bolan–it is so beautiful and perfect. I absolutely LOVE it. (Sorry, no peeks just yet!)

In other great news: the Ontario Arts Council has given me a Writers’ Reserve Grant to work on THE DEVIL’S PACT on the recommendation of publisher Wolsak & Wynn. Thank you, OAC and W&W! This is why supporting the arts is so important: so that people like me can continue to work and, you know, eat. You can check out all the awesome work the OAC does here.

In my other life as a romance author, check out my blog post on a behind-the-scenes look at a Harlequin photo shoot! I was there…as a MODEL. It was the most amazing day of work I’ve ever had. There’s a viking and a real live horse in an elevator and I get swept away by a hunky military man…

In pop culture:

Logan was amazing. I don’t need a Last of Us movie after watching that. Still psyched for the sequel, of course, though I didn’t play it–I’m more of a stand by and watch between my fingers while I hide my face kind of gamer when it comes to zombie games. Except for Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare. I feel safe on top of a horse, you see.

In stuff I like:

For writers and anyone interested in worldbuilding and storytelling, the Imaginary Worlds podcast is terrific. The episodes are relatively short–around 15-20 minutes–but they’re really well researched and produced. While not strictly about sci-fi or fantasy, there are lots of episodes about Harry Potter and Star Wars. One of my favorite episodes is about what Avatar: The Last Airbender meant for Asian Americans.

Update Dec. 30/16

In life:

Christmas this year was a bit of a bust. The baby caught a horrible stomach bug on the Wednesday before Christmas, and two days later, both my husband and I caught it. We were flattened for three days, and I broke my 31-year no-barf streak. Had to cancel Christmas and Boxing Day plans and send the baby to stay with family. It was tough but we’re over it mostly now. Just dealing with a wicked cough.

In bookish news:

I’d hoped to get more writing done on book 3, THE DEVIL’S PACT, this holiday, but dealing with all this sickness has been tough. Instead, I’ve been reading, refilling the tank and just trying to get better.

In pop culture:

ROGUE ONE was terrific. I’ve always been a Star Wars fan and Disney has taken the franchise exactly where it needs to go: the universe is rich and needs to have more stories told within it.

I am deeply saddened by the death of Carrie Fisher. There’s not a lot I can say that others haven’t said about her life and career. What I will say is that Princess Leia was the first feminist figure in my life, and the moment she takes control of her own destiny trying to escape the Death Star told me as a child that I could be a princess AND rescue myself.

In stuff I like:

Just finished Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper–one of the first books I’ve read outside of work in a while. It’s a richly painted YA featuring diverse characters. I’m reading Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring next–long time overdue in my TBR pile.

If you’re a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I highly recommend The Greatest Generation podcast. It’s salty and irreverent and often off-color, but it’s also a thoughtful episode-by-episode review of series by two guys who have a background in television production.

Update Dec. 13/16

In life:

Dealing with a mild case of hand-foot-mouth disease, which I probably got from the daycare, but who knows? Holding my breath and praying baby and hubby don’t get it.

Christmas is upon us, and the stressful joy is high! Mostly looking forward to vacation time, in which I can write and watch movies with hubby while baby is at daycare.

Star Wars: ROGUE ONE is out Friday. Am really, really excited to see it. Arrival, Moana, and Fantastic Beasts are also on the to-watch list. Any others?

Earl Bonehead

I’ve mounted this gift from my sister and brother-in-law above my TV. It’s a carved cow skull, purchased from a special dealer in Ontario. Cow skulls and other animal skulls are carved as part of the Balinese tradition, and have numerous meanings. It’s partly to honor the use of the entire animal, as well as linking life and death. It’s also damn cool.

I’ve named him Earl Bonehead. When baby comes home from daycare, she waves to him, and he asks about her day in Bullwinkle’s voice. They are quite friendly. I may have to get him a hat.



In bookish news:

I have a tentative publishing date! The first edition of THE DEVIL’S REVOLVER should be out from Brain Mill press next May. So exciting to see them be excited for the book!

I’ve completed a draft of THE DEVIL’S STANDOFF, book 2 in The Devil’s Revolver series. It is with my editors now. Wioth any luck, it’ll be released quickly after the first book. I’m currently working on book 3, THE DEVIL’S PACT.

In pop culture:

Westworld is everything I’d hoped it would be and more. Flavors of Battlestar Galactica and Dollhouse in there. So chewy. So good. Can’t wait for season 2, which unfortunately won’t be out till 2018. Good things are worth waiting for, though.

My review of Dr. Strange: Meh, but fun meh. Visually stunning–I didn’t think Marvel could actually make the superhero genre more interesting, and yet they did. Cumberbatch with an American accent is a bit disturbing–why not let him use his magnificent voice per its usual mellifluous British drawl? Also pretty sure Mads Mikkelsen walked off that set and onto Rogue One without changing his costume.

In stuff I like:

Captain Cowboy and the Moneymaker is a local Toronto band that plays Cowboy and Western classics. They busk and play shows all over Toronto, and every time I hear them, I feel like I’m walking into Hettie Alabama’s world. Love them. Check them out here.

I’ve discovered amazing Creative Commons Zero licensed hi-res photos at unsplash.com. I’m combing through their collection and marveling at how any of these photos can be free. Trying to decide what to use to make banners…or maybe some merch or something. So good.

Stuff I like

Apologies to anyone who’s been trying to visit my blog and only got maintenance messages–something crazy has been going on with my website and I’ve only now fixed it. 8 (

Greetings from the tail end of my maternity leave. If you’ve followed me at vickiessex.com or on Twitter @VickiEssex, then you know that about a year ago I gave birth to a wee little human. The wee bairn is in daycare now, and I’ve been spending the past few weeks recovering physically and mentally from the very long/very short year. Having a baby is hard, yo.

I’m going to *try* to write regular posts, but with my day job starting up again soon, a one-year-old bent on walking, a husband who loves me, a sick cat, writing, and innumerable hours of excellent TV to watch, that may be a pipe dream.

For now, here are some excellent things in the world of Westerns!

  • io9 is reporting Rockstar games’ latest teaser and IT BETTER BE RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2. As my only other post (culled from vickiessex.com) of any substance says, RDR was the inspiration behind THE DEVIL’S REVOLVER and it is probably the only sandbox console video game I have managed to complete (in addition to its zombie cousin, RDR: Undead Nightmare). 
  • If you haven’t seen HBO’s WESTWORLD yet, you are missing out. The nearly perfect pilot episode had me at Howdy. A fantastic and talented cast, great dialog, characterization and story actually tie in well with the idea of sandbox gaming and moral alignment. I was a huge fan of the J.J. Abrams/Jonathan Nolan collaboration Person of Interest, so I know this will be a real treat.
  • The Magnificent 7 remake debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, and while I haven’t seen it yet, it’s pulling a steady 63% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Kind of hard to judge a modern remake of a Western  based on a Samurai film, but I’ll get around to it eventually.






Lessons Learned from Red Dead Redemption

Reprinted from vickiessex.com, February 27, 2011. Still pertinent and relevant.


For the hubby’s birthday, I bought him Red Dead Redemption by Rockstar Games for PS3. He’d been coveting it for a while, being a fan of the game developer’s other titles including the Grand Theft Auto series.

Red Dead Redemption is an open-concept third-person shooter/adventure-type video game set in the final days of the Wild West. You play John Marston, a reformed hoodlum forced to go after one of your ex-posse buddies. During your quest, you have to complete tasks for various people, accumulate weapons, ride hither and tither on your horse, and so forth.

I think the best review and summary is still here. (Warning: profanity laden, but hilarious.)

Generally, I don’t play a lot of newer video games—I’ve always preferred the old point-and-click or type-based PC adventure stories of the late eighties and early nineties made by Sierra. They had linear paths and set story lines. You had to do everything in sequence, and any deviation from that would likely result in a run time error. RDR, however, gives you a lot more leeway in terms of when and how you complete missions. You don’t even have to play the set storyline, as long as you’re content to ride across vast, scenic southern desert plains, hunt animals, pick flowers, collect bounties, and stop the occasional horse thief, rape, stage coach hijacking, or runaway bandit.

Which is generally what I enjoy doing. Or what I now enjoy doing, after watching my husband get to the very end of the game.


See, John Marston has a wife and son the government is holding hostage, to ensure you carry out your mission. After shooting your old friend dead, you get to go home, and there’s even a lovely, wistful song that plays as your ride your faithful horse across the lush landscape…but that’s not the end of the game.

Upon your return, you have to rebuild your ranch and your family’s trust in you—buy cattle to replenish your herd, do chores, accomplish various tasks for your family members. It’s all very domestic. Plus, you still have the whole world to explore and pick flowers in. There really doesn’t have to be an end.

Except there does.

After all, you’re a thug. A former wanted man. You’ve killed and maimed dozens in your quest for some skewed justice. So the government comes after you and your family at the ranch. An epic battle ensues. It’s just you and your son (but mostly you) against, like, forty guys. If you play through this mission, you will likely be killed a half dozen times before you actually get through it. But the gods of video games give you the power to come back to life and start at those blessed automatic save points, so all is well…for now….

The cut scene ensues. You get to the barn. You get your wife and son on a horse. You tell them not to worry. You kiss your wife goodbye and tell her you love her. You watch them ride away. John Marston is all alone now in the barn, surrounded by a dozen lawmen.


I think I nearly burst out in tears when I saw this. How could you devote an entire game—hours and hours of game play—to helping/being this almost unstoppable (anti)hero and not have a happy ending? He was just getting his life back in order, reconnecting with his family and rebuilding his ranch. And then, unjustly, it’s all taken away from him. More importantly, it’s all taken out of your hands.

Therein lies the real tragedy of this epic. Up until that moment, you had a choice in almost all things: you could choose to help those in need, or ignore them, or shoot them in the back and take their belongings. There were consequences to your actions, whatever you chose to do. But in this final moment, you can’t run away. You can’t get on a horse and follow your wife and son. You can’t surrender, or even find a place to cower in fear. The computer gives you exactly one second—that gold-hued flash of dead-eye cognizance that slows down time enough for one final act of defiance—to realize how futile your actions are.

No chance to respawn. No save points to be reborn into. The video game gods decide that’s the end of Jack Marston’s journey. Game over.

I was shattered. Inconsolable. I nearly flung myself upon the screen and cried along with his wife.

But that’s not the end of the game.

You “return” as John’s son, Jack Marston, three years later after burying his mother. Young Jack has a mission, and it’s to find the man who killed his father. My husband played through these missions right to the final showdown. And even as the man’s body lay bleeding out in the dust, there was no satisfaction in revenge. No riding off into the sunset or even a chance to move on from there. That’s the end. That’s where the curtain comes down.

I was thoroughly disappointed. Playing Jack was not like playing John—and I came to the horrible conclusion that John could never be replaced. It didn’t have anything to do with an actual change in the character’s identity, age, experience, game play, or any of those things. Sure, I’d miss that horse-straddled gait, those scars and that gruff voice, but Jack looked enough like his father that those things could be overlooked. And anyhow, you still got to play and do the same things you did with John.

Rather, it was about the character arc and the stakes the senior Marston faced. I didn’t like Jack because the only thing he had to look forward to was a cold, empty vengeance with no consequences. He didn’t have anything to lose. And we really didn’t want to spend any more time with him performing the same drudging tasks we’d gone through with John. The end result: most people who’ve played RDR hate Jack for deigning to fill his father’s worn, dusty, blood-splattered boots.

So what does this all amount to? What did this time sink of a video game earn me except a flat butt, a lot of heartbreak and an inability to move on with my own saved missions, knowing what lies ahead for poor John Marston?

On the writing side of things, it turns out I learned that one’s emotional investment with one’s characters is dependent on their journeys and the stakes.

Not that those are the only things that makes a good story/video game—I wasn’t nearly as invested in Super Mario Bros., ever. The story is as two-dimensional as the characters themselves (despite being iconic). Sure, there is satisfaction when you finally save the princess, but really, who the heck cares? Mario didn’t exactly grow as a person (no mushroom jokes, please) and the only thing he ever had at risk was his own overall-covered hide.

In addition to character journeys and high stakes, good storytelling involves unpredictable outcomes. Will they/won’t they? is the classic sexual tension plot. “Will he defeat this dastardly villain?” is typical of adventure and crime-fighting genres. The higher the risk, and the more that the character is developed with flaws and foibles to interfere with the goal, the more in question those outcomes become.

When things end happily, it’s great; but when it ends tragically, shockingly, you mourn for them, with them. And you look for what’s next, what the characters will do now. Just think of the end of The Empire Strikes Back—arguably one of the most successful cliffhangers ever. Or look at any of Joss Whedon’s work: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is rife with twists and deaths and shockers that become pivotal to a season arc.

So all those hours spent on the couch riding mustangs across an alternate-universe Texas didn’t go to waste. I now have a plot bunny for a Western fantasy I want to work on. And I can now add “scarred reformed cowboy” to my list of men I admire as (anti)heroes.

At the very least, I learned this from John Marston: life sucks, but you make the best of what time you have. And then you die.