For the internet masses, who are you two and what do you do?
J: We are Fiona Maeve Geist and Jarrett Crader, founding members of The Moonrat Conspiracy (along with our layout wizard and design genius Christian Kessler and our amazing apprentice Corey Brin) and we edit.
F: I’m Fiona Maeve Geist, I run a fantasy football team with Jarrett Crader and also sometimes we edit RPG books.
J: We are also a budding comedy duo.
And a success story! What got you both into roleplaying games?
J: I lucked out and had the legendary ‘cool uncle’ who taught me to read via comic books and Moldvay Basic, then I had to DM for my two younger brothers. Played a bunch of TMNT, Rifts, D&D and other systems in my youth, then focused on boardgames for a few years until I discovered DCC in 2013. I started telling people that I could help them make their books more readable in 2015 and I’ve been editing, developing and project managing since then. Fiona and I met working on Mothership last year and it’s been a wild ride since!
F: I started when I was 5 at the suggestion of a child therapist. I played D&D (2e, roughly) throughout my childhood and played CoC, Paranoia, Vampire: the Masquerade and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in college. Later I started doing stuff on G+. I played roleplaying games because I have a difficult time socializing and I’m an incredibly shy person. They’re a venue where I learned how to at least act like I’m confident. I’ve also consistently played them because I’m totally unabashedly in love with playing them, I love talking about mechanics, I love settings, I am excited for people to tell me about their characters. I met Jarrett working on Mothership and we have really complimentary skills and figured out working together is pretty great?
J: Yeah we’re the dynamic duo of punching words!
F: We will (double?) handedly overcome the oxford comma.
J: We catch those commas and kill them!!!
I definitely have questions about working as a team, and comma philosophy. Stepping back for a second though, what was the experience like of moving from being just a fan to working in the industry?
F: I mean, there isn’t much of one? I see how sausage is made but I still like sausage and somehow the whole process makes me really excitable about stuff like kerning being aesthetically pleasing or a spread being really useful? I think if i started working on things I don’t like or won’t play I would maybe feel differently but I work on stuff I believe in–like the theoretical lawyer that only defends innocent people so they don’t have to deal with the complexity of lawyering?
J: It was seamless for me. G+ was a solid place to make connections and work with people that had great ideas but who understood they could benefit from a bit of polishing. Like Fiona says, I love playing and running so it seemed like the smart thing to do: work on what I love.
So to be clear: Jarrett is doing a job that he loves. Fiona is a primetime protagonist.
J: Yeah, but it goes both ways for both of us. Nothing turns me off from an rpg book like sloppy design and editing.
F: I’m more someone so guileless that they wound up doing a job. On G+ I just sent people like… typo lists? I didn’t think of it as being viable work and I just wanted them to have the best possible book and then I figured out I should maybe not do that for free just because of how much time I put in? This is maybe one of the things where me being on the spectrum kinda helps: I didn’t realize how that could be a faux pas.
G+ was pretty impressive in the way it removed that creator/fan divide. I imagine writing in to Dragon or Dungeon every month and hoping for an answer would be a much harder way into the industry.
F: I mean, I think there are some stories of how things worked kind of the same? A lot of the people who early on called Gygax to clarify rules from college radio stations wound up doing work for TSR. If I’m recalling my lore correctly which means you should fact check that.
I definitely won’t!
F: I wouldn’t!
J: Yeah g+ was great. My first game on there was playing with Adam and Katie Muskeiwicz (Adam co-wrote Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad), Beckett Warren (owner of Weird Realms game store) and Doug Kovacs (lead DCC artist). The divide never really existed, we’re all just people making shit up as we go along, right?
F: I joined G+ late, I got Logan Knight to make some weird rulings for his thing I ran for fun after hours at Gen Con which I think was also my peak on G+.
I got in pretty late in there too. Maybe a year and a half before the whole thing got shuttered. So you created The Moonrat Conspiracy after meeting on Mothership. I’m really interested to hear about how you do work as a team. Do you divvy up work as you’re available, or do you have a set way of handling new projects?
F: It depends on the form that a job takes?
J: Yeah it’s really job dependent.
F: Like if it is in manuscript we can throw it up on google docs and edit it out of synch but if it is in InDesign or PDF we have to plan time together. But also we’ve passed things back and forth before, it just ends up being a bit more time consuming
J: For example, with Luka’s Ultraviolet Grasslands, since it was all in manuscript form we could make our suggestions in the document as we were available and then once we get to the proofing stage, post layout, one of us screenshares the InDesign document and we both proof the shit out of it together. We also have a really good time working together, like, it’s actually fun to spend time with each other goofing on words and stuff.
F: Yeah like editing stuff solo is significantly less convivial and it makes work feel a lot more relaxed. Also it is good to have someone catch when my cat walks across the keyboard while i’m away from my laptop for a few.
How do you decide these days if you’re going to work on a project together or solo?
F: It depends on the scope of a project a lot of the time? Also if we both want to work on it and if it is effective for us to team up.
J: Larger projects like UVG we share, as well as stuff that needs a quick turnaround. Smaller stuff we knock out separately. For some jobs we’re approached separately, but we always credit the MRC and cover each other in a pinch. I hate using the word but it’s legit ‘organic’ the way we work most times, and we’ve sorted out a good process and flow over the last year+.
Overused doesn’t mean wrong.
F: We have fair trade communal editing practices?(this joke is not funny but I made it anyway)
J: As much coffee as I drink, yes! (also not a funny joke but I made it anyway).
(funny in both cases)
F: Like Jonesy and Riley but editors. Just crush some sandos and edit. Wheel snipe edit.
Let’s talk about the editing process a bit. I know you both do a lot of different types of editing, but let’s start with developmental editing. Someone sends you what they have. What are you looking for when you get it?
F: A concept that has a good stickiness to it? Something where if I was talking to a friend about it I would be like “this is why you should be excited”.
J: Exactly. It doesn’t have to be the reinvention of the wheel, it just has to be something we’d want to run or play ourselves. Then we kinda break it down into usable bits and get a rough idea of how the finished book will look, i.e. which sections go where. Then comes the thing that authors dread: NEEDS MORE! We go through and give it a solid read, cleaning up grammar and spelling along the way, and offer suggestions on what needs to be punched up and what can really be chopped hard. Then we wait for a rewrite.
F: Which is I think why different projects hit one of us first is because we’re good at pitching the idea to each other but also one of us usually leans more towards the sort of thing the hypothetical project is.
J: A lot of times the authors have a solid idea of the development and we’re just cleaning up/reinforcing structure during our development pass.
That makes a lot of sense. I do want to spend some more time on one thing you said that doesn’t get much discussion: “which sections go where”. How do you think about information design/order of information?
F: I think some of it is related to play and some to genre?
J: Yep. For a rules book you want player facing stuff up front and DM facing stuff (bestiaries) at the back. For modules it really depends on the system and genre it’s for. Luckily we get to work with CK and Sean McCoy, two of the best designers in the game when it comes to info design, so a lot of our work is already done for us because those guys just know what they’re doing. I’ve learned tons from those two and Jez Gordon in the last few years, more than I would have from any school or coursework.
F: Also like “storygames” (which we don’t usually get much work in) often have a lot of the setting up front because more than mechanical mastery it is about a setting and knowing the genre expectations of the setting and then you need mechanics and playbooks. Bluebeards Bride is a book I really love the organization in and it would be extremely confusing to use that ordering in a trad book?
Thats really interesting. I hadn’t thought about genre playing a role.
F: Also echoing Jarrett: working with layout really helped me look at books differently (I’ve never worked with Jez tho), but Sean, CK and David Shugars have made me really think about editing in additional senses.
J: Cookbooks are a really large influence on me. Growing up my grandmother and mother would always be reorganizing recipes in their own way because a lot of cookbooks are poorly designed. Modern cookbooks really get info delivery so I try and model my thinking on them as much as I can.
F: Also like having good cookbooks is vital. And like the Flavor Bible is just such an attractive book and super useful (damnit Jarrett now I’m hungry).
Cecil Howe mentioned cookbooks on twitter the other day as good inspiration too.
J: Ha, sorry, Fiona! Recommendation for a really well designed cookbook: The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School by Alison Cayne. So good.
F: Cecil is really smart. For reasons other than agreeing with us.
For someone just getting started, what do you think they should keep an eye out for, and what should they avoid?
F: In terms of?
You can take it pretty broadly. What advice would you have found useful when you were first looking to get editing work? Whether that’s regarding the actual business side of things (getting paid, getting hired, etc) or things you’ve learned along the way to look out for while editing
F: Never work on spec.
J: So I’m pretty terse and straight forward with my editing remarks. The first bigger project that I did, Fever Swamp from the Melsonian Arts Council, I had the author, Luke Gearing, convinced that I hated him! It went on to win an Ennie, so yay team, but I would have told myself to say what I always say now: EVERYTHING IS A SUGGESTION. We’re legit just making suggestions and authors don’t have to accept every single thing we say. And yeah, never work on spec. Doing some proofing in a trade with a friend is good but if you are doing the work, be it writing, art, layout, editing: value yourself.
F: Be nice to people and be helpful? Probably the thing that like really helped me a lot was suggesting trinket and patch tables to Sean for Mothership which is why I got hired on Dead Planet which is why I got to say stuff on a stage with my friends which was cool as hell. Also like don’t disparage work for being in different sorts of publishing. I will work for a lower rate for zines and first time projects and whatnot and have a lot of fun doing it and I think taking everything equally seriously (even stuff that I’m trading with a friend for favors) is why I think I do pretty good at this because everything is practice. I think (on the above) the cachet to working on a big project is something people want and it’s a bad reason to edit? Also BE GAY / WRITE HEARTBREAKERS
J: Agreed. I love doing zines the same as doing Troika! the same as doing UVG. Working with folks’ budgets means when their stuff really pops off you might get to go along for the ride, but don’t stop working for them when you get bigger gigs.
On the flipside, what should a writer or publisher keep in mind when looking to hire an editor?
J: A lot of publishers don’t want an editor, they want a proofreader, but they hire folks under the editing moniker. This is a common misconception that I see around rpgland. Yes, we can do both, but if you don’t need actual editorial input as far as development and line editing then just advertise for a proofer. For writers: be prepared for feedback that might make you feel squicky. We’re not out to hurt your feelings but some of the stuff we suggest might get under your skin.
F: I mean, it would be weird to not feel defensive about something you put work in, but like you are working with suggestions and different people are also to different degrees committed to a very exact writers voice. For awhile I tracked the % of suggested edits people took and the more I work with someone generally the better that % becomes.
J: Yeah we figure out who does and doesn’t want serial commas rather quickly. We ask up front nowadays.
Ok. Commas in general, Oxford Commas in particular. I made certain promises prior to this interview, and I wouldn’t want to disappoint. This is your chance to inform all the people who are wrong on the internet.
F: They’re not wrong they just disagree and I think it is aesthetically ugly because it makes some phrasing look really choppy. For example: X, Y, and, finally, Z. looks better as X, Y and, finally, Z.
That may be the most diplomatic response I’ve seen to the topic.
F: I think being angry about it is pointless, I can fix my copies with white out.
J: Yeah, and as we’ve noted some authors prefer them so we’ll go with the flow in those cases. Commas in general are overused to try to impart gravity to a description when in most cases they just make things harder to read. But we’re both getting NO EXTRANEOUS COMMAS tattooed on our left arms next GenCon. We were just too crazy busy this year.
Thank you both very much for taking the time to do this interview with me. Before we get going, are there any projects you’re working on now, editing or otherwise, you want people to keep an eye out for?
J: There are a bunch of chapbooks (short modules) coming out for Troika!, UVG is going to the printers soon, Lief’s OMNIMYTH: Fables is close, there are some more Mothership modules coming down the line (Fiona and CK are co-writing one!), the next issue of J. Mal’s Excellent Travelling Volume should hit my desk soon, there are a bunch more books coming from Melsonia, umm, I have to get a few more things edited for some friends, we did proofing on the English version of Mork Borg. I’m probably forgetting something (I know I am and mean no harm to anyone who reads this if I didn’t mention your project). Oh, and House of Dogs, the journal of Mongrel rpg criticism, should be out real soon. Thanks for letting us ramble!
F: I’m still fussing with Troikahearts? I’m actually writing a thing (well it is almost entirely written) that’ll be the first thing I wrote solo for RPGs going on KS in the fall. We are editing Liberte for GMDK which goes on KS really soon and is an English naturalization for a French game so I’m really excited because that is new. Ben L hired me to edit an academic thing and was surprised to find out I have a PhD in philosophy which is really cool to me because RPGs got me more work in philosophy than my PhD did (mild exaggeration). We are both puttering around on a bunch of things related to MoSh (Jarrett hates when I do that, but it was invented by ENnie winning wunderkid Luke Gearing & I stan for it). I’m working on a project with DLJ that has time travel and is my first thing I’m doing formally as a dev. We just wrapped up OMNIMYTH by Lief (who has a real person name but I always remember peoples Discord handles, it’s why we did our Vaudeville routine at the ENnies–also I can’t pronounce last names). I wrote the introduction to a fiction collection by Farah Rose Smith and I think the collection is stellar. I write a quarterly column for Lamplight about neglected women in genre fiction and I’m gonna accept defeat and say if i didn’t list you I am really sorry but I have pretty severe ADHD and a literal heart shattering anxiety for me is the idea I forget to thank or acknowledge someone… BE GAY / WRITE HEARTBREAKERS
And where can people find you on social media?
F: I’m on twitter as @coilingoracle , I received a permanent ban from Tinder, I am deleting my old blog and starting a new one sometime in the future, my Goodreads and Facebook are largely inactive, finding me on Grindr requires proximity as far as I understand the app.
Last but not least, if people are looking to hire an editor, how should they get in contact with you?
F: Discord or Twitter and then email at skramz.necros (at) gmail (dot) com.
J: Yeps. One or both(email at jertcrader (at) gmail (dot) com), we’ll get back to you usually within a day, most likely a few hours. Super thanks, again, for having us spiel about the hidden side of rpgs. Much appreciated!
Thank you both. This has been great.
F: Thanks for having us!