Sunday, June 03, 2012

I Know That I'm Wrong...

...about everything I said,
But here it goes again...

Busy, busy, so much gone by and yet - so little to talk about. But I'm sitting here in the USO Internet Cafe (*contains no actual cafe) with nothing to do, it's 6 AM back home and nobody's going to be awake for a while, and I've done my daily k - Sunday is Letter To Wife Day - but I might as well write anyway. Also, this is the last opportunity for a decent internet connection for about a OPSEC, since we won't be coming back here anytime soon and wireless connections in our other two ports of call this deployment are... fickle.

So... hi.

Very little has changed since my last update, really, except to add "more so" to everything I said before. It was hot - now it's more so, as summer inevitably looms. I have, in fact, written a poem about it - a little bit of doggerel I tossed off for my friend Allison, and I'll throw that in at the end of this, just for S&Gs, since that postcard should have reached her by now.

I mentioned that I was losing weight - I've lost more. I'm down from about 310# at the start of this trip, with a definite weigh-in of 308 at one point in the early weeks, to 286 1/2 yesterday when I checked. Losing fat has also come with a gain in muscle - I've been hitting the weights pretty hard - so I've probably lost more than twenty pounds thus far. I've got a long way to go before I fulfill Goal 1, but since we're only halfway through the year and I'm almost halfway there, I figure I'm off to a good start.

We've been working - and now, more so. Our regular captain is on leave, and the temporary captain doesn't have his hangups about offering overtime - so, we've been able to get some extra work in on the evenings, and scuttlebutt says this may be a regular thing soon. Even if it isn't, our operational tempo has been pretty steady, and while I can't talk about our customers in detail (as much as I'd like to gripe about the unprofessionalism and sheer incompetence displayed by a Left Coast MSC T-AKE we recently fueled), I think it's safe to say that situation is unlikely to change.

I've been reading... a lot. Finally got around to reading A Perfect Blood, the latest Hollows novel from Kim Harrison (*contains no actual Hollows... I'm wondering which novel actually had that rundown, magic-infested neighborhood featured prominently in it; it's been a while...) - short review, not the best of the series, not the worst, takes a little while for the main character to get over her whinging and resume arse whupping. I've been managing about a novel every day to every other day, and keeping up with my nonfiction reading, as well. So, that's coming along. I've also been catching up on movies, something I don't watch much when I'm home, and I've made it most of the way through the current run of "Lie To Me" thanks to my generous, loving, adoring wife.

I've been writing... well, this one's a "more or less so," rather than a "more so." We had a week there where I was working twelve hour plus days pretty constantly, so I didn't have much time to keep up with the daily accounts; a lot of days, I don't quite have the motivation (or the willpower, to be honest) to push myself to a thousand words. Some days, like today, I comfortably pass that, but they're far fewer in number. I have managed to come up with not one but three ideas for this year's NaNoWriMo; I played around with the idea of enrolling in Camp NaNoWriMo this month, but decided that I had enough on my plate already without adding in insane deadlines. Besides, the last time I was on this ship (2007), I finished out NaNoWriMo with projectile vomiting and dire rear from hell. I'm not saying the two were related (there was Djibouti involved), but I'd really rather not take the chance...

And that's about it, really. One of the things about life at sea, you fall into a routine; every day is much like the one before is much like the one after, or as I mentioned to a friend who made the mistake of giving me a bellyfull of TGIF optimism, "At sea, every day is Monday." I actually took a half day today, seeing how it's a)Sunday, b) my last opportunity to get some quality internet time for a while (and I'm trying to download Wikipedia to my computer, a Quixotic quest if ever there were one...), and c) my cheat day on my diet... not that that's gone particularly well. Nothing appetizing for lunch, nothing appetizing for dinner, breakfast was barely tolerable... I may head over to the Seaman's Center for a pizza later, but that's about as far (or as much money) as I really wanna spend. One good thing about the coming month; plenty of opportunity to save.

An Ode To Dubai (and the rest of the Burning Lands)
Gray sand, gray sky
The dust flies thick;
Breathe soupy air
And cough and spit
Hammer sun strikes
And we sway and sick
What do you mean,
"Summer's not here yet?!"

Saturday, April 21, 2012

It's been a while since I could hold my head up high...

And it's been a while since I first saw you
And it's been a while since I could stand on my own two feet again
And it's been a while since I could call you...

And it's been a while since I've written. I've got a pretty good excuse, I think - I'm halfway around the world from where I started, with computers that won't connect to the internet, won't e-mail home, are in fact little more than glorified paperweights. I've been keeping up with my writing, and there are a couple of days of rants, whines, and digressions that probably could have been turned into blog posts with a little spit and polish. We've had a couple of days in port where I could have posted them off, so I guess my excuse isn't all that good.

But here I am again, so here we go again.

It's been fifty days, as I write this - more, by the time it gets posted - since I've seen my family. I've heard their voices a couple of times, in phone calls and Google Voice sessions, but it's an awfully long time without being able to see their faces, without being able to hold them, and it'll be longer still until I get the chance again. I'm about a third of the way through my personal commitment to this deployment; one hundred six days and a wakeup to go. Less, by the time I post this, wherever we might be when that happens.
So, OPSEC. Operational security. I can't talk about where we are, I can't talk about where we're going, and I can't talk about what we're doing. Pretty simple, overall; it goes along with the old "loose lips sink ships" theory, where a drunken mariner in a bar mentions his ship's sailing tomorrow, and some Nazi spy radios the U-boat waiting outside New York harbor. In today's world of cell phones and internet, it's a pretty pointless adage - I can't count the number of times I've come into port to find the local cab drivers and bartenders already expecting us, knowing when we're leaving, knowing when we'll be back. You know, things the brass hasn't bothered to told we poor mushrooms yet. But that's neither here nor there; I disagree with it, but I'm going to follow it. 'Cause the last time I goofed, I got my tail reamed out by the Old Man, and that's something I'd like to avoid happening again.

I think I can tell you that it's hot, and it's dusty, even as far out to sea as we are. That the gas flares from distant oil platforms give the air a particular tinge that's unmistakable, that the breeze is a cool blessing, and that as miserable as it is right now, it's nothing compared to what it'll be in three months - or two months - or even one month, as the summer heat really begins firing up, and the sun becomes a merciless hammer that drives you to your knees the moment you step out of the airconditioned skin of the ship, that sucks the air out of your lungs and dries the sweat on your brow into an instant salt crust. I've mentioned time and time again that I'm headed for the Burning Lands, and it really is an apt name... especially when there's a hundred percent humidity, and you're stewing in your own juices with no way to cool down.

Yeah, that's going to suck.

But - we're not scheduled to go to Somalia's Next Door Neighbor, that country whose name I use as an epithet whenever we visit, who stinks of camel dung and fires and a million unwashed bodies squatting on the breakwater rocks defecating in the same water they will, a moment later, use to wash their bodies... so, that's a plus.

Ship's e-mail is FUBAR. This isn't effecting our work - we've got a thousand and one methods of communicating with the rest of our fleet, and we haven't even been forced to resort to flashing lights or signal flags yet - but it's the only way I have to communicate with home, so it really irks me when they can't keep it operating. I've been writing a lot of letters and postcards, but with something like a two week - or greater - turnaround time between sending them, when we get to port (which might be two weeks or more after they were written in the first place), it's a very slow, very tedious method of communication. My letters become more like tiny journal entries, trying to cover the events of a week gone by in a digestible format, knowing that whatever I speak of is already distant past to the person reading it. Except when I tell my wife I love her, and miss her, and hope she gives my Squeaker a thousand kisses for me. That's pretty current, no matter when she reads it.

Anyway, that means the only word I get from home is when we pull into port, something that happens only when we have work to do... cargo to load, fuel to load, garbage to discharge. Unlike the Navy, we seldom get "liberty" ports. This means I don't get to go ashore and use the internet - provided I can find wifi, which thankfully has been far more present this deployment than any other I've been on, a sure sign of the steady march of progress - until we're done working for the day. One of those double edged swords, they've been pretty tight with the overtime this deployment, trying to get the most out of us on regular time and shutting down operations when they threaten to go past 1700. So, I'm not making quite as much money as I'd hoped, the whole reason I set out on this bloody adventure in the first place, but I get more time to do stuff, and more time to communicate home... once the wife wakes up, given that I'm eight hours ahead of her and my 1700 knock off is her 0900 alarm clock.

I've actually gotten bored enough to be creative, lately... more than my regular writing, that is, which probably fits somebody somewhere's definition of creativity. I've been doing a lot of work with paracord, making sheaths for my Leatherman and knife... thinking about doing some for flashlights and stuff, plus shipmates have started asking me about making stuff for them. So, that's cool.

I'm losing weight. That's cool.

And I'm out of time for this update, which is less cool, but will hopefully lead to cooler things.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

If you miss the train I'm on...

You will know that I am gone
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles
A hundred miles, a hundred miles
A hundred miles, a hundred miles
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles...

I'm sitting on my couch with my daughter in my lap and my wife at the other end. Christina is playing with her computer; Squeak is almost comatose, up past her bedtime, blinking wearily at the ceiling. We're listening to "Cabin Pressure," a BBC radio comedy she picked up because it features Benedict Cumberbatch - the actor who portrays Sherlock Holmes on the BBC show, "Sherlock," with which she's been quite obsessed of late. "Cabin Pressure" is hilarious, but it's not doing much to help my mood.

We've just spent a lovely evening with the family; dinner at my parents', with my aunt, grandmother, brother and future sister-in-law, and my mother-in-law. Plus, of course, Chris and Squeak. Dinner was Mexican; Chris made enchiladas, my dad had the fixings for tacos/nachos/burritos set up, plus a rather tasty chili. Conversations were had, mancala was played, and many laughs were laughed.

The clock ticks ever closer to midnight, and my departure.

We're gone early tomorrow morning; not too early, within the ordinary working hours, but I'm expected aboard early enough to make it a hassle for Squeak and Chris to wake up, drive in with me, and then drive the car home. Likewise, it would be a major hassle for them to have to come retrieve my car from the base if I drive myself in tomorrow morning. So... tonight it is. I'll spend my last night at home, sleeping aboard. All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go...

Perhaps that should have been the Peter, Paul, & Mary song I chose for this entry's title; but since I'm not leaving on a jet plane (this time), I figured I'd go for another classic. I'm not leaving on a train, either, but I've used some of the best 'sailing away' songs for previous entries. One of my favorites: The Wanderlust by Heather Alexander. Used the last time I deployed on USNS Supply, four and a half years ago.

Squeak is asleep. So are my legs. I hate to wake you up to say goodbye...

This never gets any easier.

The Bear departed the ship's company a week or so ago, and last I checked I haven't acquired a new cubemate - snoring, or non. I doubt this situation will last, but it least it means I might actually get some sleep tonight, if my mind and body calm enough to let me sleep. We've got a busy couple of weeks ahead of us before we depart the U.S., most of which I figure I can't discuss on an open forum - enough to get a jump start on restoring my bank account to a healthy balance, and certainly enough to save money at a time when gas prices are spiking. I keep telling myself this is a good thing, and sometimes, I can even feel it. I tell myself I'm looking forward to this, and that's a little harder to swallow. I tell myself that my time abroad will fly by just as quickly as the last few months here at home have, and that's the roughest one to believe.
Here we go again.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Review: "Discount Armageddon," by Seanan McGuire

I just posted this to Amazon, but it's entirely possible that they'll edit or reject it. So, in case I have to go back and curtail some of my previous comments, I thought I'd go ahead and get the original post out here.
Early, But Worth Waiting For

I keep going back and forth on how to start this review, which you might notice is going up a couple of weeks in advance of the actual release date. I'm not a prereader in the normal sense of the term, haven't received an ARC and I'm certainly nobody from whom you'd expect to see a blurb on the cover; I'm just a guy whose wife knew he enjoyed Seanan McGuire's October Daye series, so she preordered the first Incryptid novel when it was announced. And Amazon, in blithe disregard of release dates, sent it on to our greedy hands well in advance. Which is great, except for the fact that the NYT Bestseller list focuses on week one for its ranking system - and here we are in week -2, receiving our books, generating all of these sales. It's astoundingly unfair to a novel that deserves accolades and praises, and it's a resounding shame.

And yet, at the same time, I can't help but enjoy a guilty frisson of pleasure because I got to read it first. It took me less than six hours to consume this tale of monster hunting, monster cataloging, ballroom dancing and assorted deeds of derring-do, not because I'm a freakishly fast reader (although my wife would be one of the first to point that finger - "J'accuse!") but because it was, quite frankly, that good. This should come as no surprise to other readers of her Toby Daye series - Ms. McGuire is a talented author, with equal skills in creating memorable characters, spinning witty dialogue, and laying out a gripping storyline that catches you quick and rockets you along the rails (and sometimes above them, below them, or to one side or the other as you do those crazy, hairpin Wild Maus turns) to the conclusion.

"Discount Armageddon," on this note, does not disappoint; our heroine, Verity Price, is a daughter of the infamous Price family, who broke from the genocidal Covenant generations past to make their own way in the secret world of the supernatural. Far from being monster hunters, the Prices are monster catalogers - cryptozoologists, bound to study and protect the hundreds of races of unrecognized creatures, the Cryptids, living in the nooks and crannies of the daylight world. Some of these beasts are dangerous animalistic predators, and for the good of anything edible around them (i.e., humans), they must be contained or destroyed. Many of them are sentient creatures who just want to live their lives in peace - to bake pastries, to accumulate gold, or to eat pigeons in the park. The Prices are the unsung champions of the Cryptid world, believed a myth by most, hunted by some; and yet, despite this fantastic world to which she belongs, this is not the life Verity chooses. She is, at heart, a ballroom dancer; she has even managed to win something of a reputation in her field, thanks to reality television, dogged persistence, and an insanely deprived sleep schedule as she rushes to fill her family and professional obligations, both. Now living in New York City, far from friends and family, she finds herself in the middle of a Cryptid crisis that could very well threaten all she's tried to build for herself; the Covenant has come to the city, and Cryptids are disappearing. Especially young, female Cryptids...

Old hands in the Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance genre will see the romance subplot coming from a mile away - from first meeting, perhaps, as I did. On the other hand, the betrayals and twists in the plot - and there are a couple - are both richly layered and cunningly laid, and are likely to catch the reader as much by surprise as they do the characters. This is an enjoyable beginning to what promises to be an enjoyable series, and is to be looked forward to by all fans.

Which leads us to another point, one only tangentially related to "Discount Armageddon," and that is this; people are bastard covered bastards with bastard filling. Because Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other distributors have released the printed copies early, but not the e-books, the author - who has no control over the release date of any of her material - has been the recipient of vulgar abuses and threats. It shouldn't have to be stated in any sort of civilized society that threatening physical violence over an intangible offense, especially one that does no actual harm (like having to wait two weeks for a story - two weeks to a release date that has not altered). And because the author is a woman, of course, many of these threats and taunts take on demeaning and sexually aggressive tones. This is, quite literally, behavior that should have been curbed in kindergarten. It's behavior that, quite honestly, makes me ashamed of my gender, and ashamed to hear these people refer to themselves as fans. The story, and a plea from Ms. McGuire, can be found here - - but it's no exaggeration to say that the people in question have nothing more than my complete and utter disdain and contempt.

TL;DR version of the above: people suck, this book does not. Read it. Enjoy it. Don't be a bastard to the writer, because it discourages her from producing more such fantastic stories.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

We're leaving together...

But still it's farewell
And maybe we'll come back
To Earth, who can tell?
I guess there is no one to blame
We're leaving ground (leaving ground)
Will things ever be the same again?
It's the final countdown...

So, I've got those predeployment jitters. We're down to less than a week now - just a few days, really - before we head up to New Jersey for the big loadout, and get ready to go overseas. For purposes of operational security, I won't be naming any dates. I'll simply vanish into the mists, and the next you'll hear of me will be from across the seas, unless I'm sufficiently motivated enough to e-mail an update into here from somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic.

Which, to be honest, I probably will. We're going to be undergoing the usual "beginning of the deployment" training sequence with some of my absolutely favorite people in the world, the Afloat Training Team, and I'm sure I'll have lots to talk about. That last sentence is so dripping with sarcasm I may have to change my sheets tonight.

I'm looking at two days off this week, which is a big happy booster for me. I've still got some things I'd like to do before we leave - eat all the food ever, for one thing, plus restocking on coffee. Pack some things, although not as much as you might think; my parchment, ink, and nibs to write the weekly letters home to my wife (the first time, by the way, that said letters will be addressed "to my wife" - the last time I deployed, we were only dating. Ours was a brief engagement, and it didn't start until I met her in the airport on my return to the States). Maybe some books, although I already have several on the ship, plus my Kindles, and I have to weigh the costs and weights of carrying hardcopy books with me; they'll either be left on the ship, shipped home, or carried back in my luggage. Either which way, they're likely to be a burden. My electronics; inevitably, I get the urge to play a PSP or DS game while we're underway. Most of the time, the two systems languish, abandoned, somewhere around the house. So, the first task there will be finding them, and their games. Should be fun. I'm sure there's something else I'm forgetting - laundry detergent, perhaps, or shampoo/body wash. I can buy either from the ship's store, or from Navy Exchanges on our way across, but eventually we're going to find ourselves in the Burning Lands, and getting American cleaning supplies is generally costly and difficult.

Two days off is also two more than I've had since I finished small arms, Friday before last. I worked straight through this past weekend, and the Sunday before; not only that, but most of this week has been fairly hectic, as we've been dealing with various inspections and overhauls in preparation for our trip, not to mention being somewhat shorthanded as people attend to their last minute details, training and personalwise. One day last week was an overtime nightmare, as we swapped out numerous fire suppression bottles in the engine room that had come up low on inspection; low, not empty. The damned things still weight well over 250 pounds apiece, and their full replacements were closer to 300. The most convenient way of getting the new ones in, and the old ones out, of the engine room involved a Bolted Equipment Removal Panel - a BERP - which, unfortunately, could not be simply left open at the end of the work day, so the task could be completed the next day. Or the day after. No, we had to plough straight through once we'd started, which is how I ended up working a 17 hour day, finishing up at 1 AM. And then had to report for work at the regular time that morning, and work most of a regular day, running around with contractors. (We worked late enough, as a matter of fact, that when I came in the next morning I found my partner sleeping in our office, sprawled across several chairs - he hadn't bothered to go home, or even to take a shower or switch out of his dirty coveralls. I did all of the above, but he got way more sleep than I did. We both made it to work on time and drank roughly equal measures of coffee, so I guess that worked out for the best).

Despite this, I managed to devour the final book of the Parasol Protectorate series, "Timeless" in a little less than six hours yesterday; this, despite the fact that I could only read it during free time or while waiting for something else to happen, while juggling a fair to moderate workload. Walked around with it in my pocket, for the most part, one of the advantages of paperbacks - they tuck away a lot easier than an e-reader, even my Kindle Fire. Don't get me started on the Kindle DX... comfortable and easy to read it may be, but easy to carry? Only if you're used to tucking a legal pad around with you, and I've yet to find a pocket I can comfortably stuff it in. Anyway, "Timeless" was an excellent read, full of the characters and adventures we've come to expect of the Parasol Protectorate, and answered many long lingering questions raised over the course of the series' plot; and yet, I can't help but be disappointed in it as the conclusion of the series. There are future novels to come, some of them set in the same world, so I can't help but hope that perhaps we'll simply be turning, as other novels have done (Kelley Armstrong's "Women of the Otherworld" series most notably) and following other characters for a while; Timeless certainly did have more scenes from the point of view of not-Alexia than I can recall from the other stories, although perhaps it's merely time interfering with my memory.

I finally got around to reading my nonfiction book of the month, a memoir/treatise on forensic anthropology called "Dead Men Do Tell Tales" that my wife found while we were wondering about the viability of pulling fingerprints off fingertips that had been swallowed - a path of inquiry inspired by a Castle episode, if you're curious. I followed this up with reading Tucker Max's free set of stories, "Sloppy Seconds" which impressed me enough to actually cough up the $5 to buy "I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell". He's an asshole, but he's a funny asshole; considering most of the stories seem to consist of at least twenty to forty percent hyperbole, I think I can live with that.

Other than that, there isn't a horrible amount exciting going on in my life; work, home, read, poke at writing, get to sleep too late and get up entirely too damned early (although still well behind my alarm) to repeat the whole process over again. I'm trying hard not to be irritable or mopey over the fact that I'm leaving home, friends, and family for nearly six months; at the same time, I'm trying hard not to grab my wife and daughter and simply hold them like I'll never let go. I haven't started listening to my Homesick Blues playlist yet ("Sloop John B," "500 Miles," "10,000 Miles," "Far Away From Home" and other songs of that ilk) but I imagine it won't be long before I'm humming them, or singing them under my breath. I'm enjoying those things I know I'll be missing - food I can choose for myself, sushi, unfettered internet access - and trying not to think too hard about how long it'll be until I can see them again. I keep telling myself I'm ready for this. It's not like I haven't done it before. It's not like I won't do it again.

Sometimes, my job really sucks. At the end of the day, though, nobody's shooting at me and my wife and daughter are living decently because of it. I guess that's about all one can really ask for.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Help I'm slipping into the Twilight Zone...

Place is a mad house, feels like being cloned
My beacon's been moved under moon and stars - 
Where am I to go, now that I've gone too far?
And you will come to know -
When the bullet hits the bone...

The following rant contains spoilers for Psych season 6, Castle season 4, and Firefly, episode 1. Reader discretion is advised.

Here's another one of those gun related media cliches that annoys the bejesus out of me. Our hero (or one of our heroes) has his weapon drawn; facing him is a villain, also with their weapon drawn. Villain may have a hostage at which they are pointing their weapon, or they may be pointing it at the hero; either way, we have a Mexican Standoff, that great dramatic cliche. Except these particular scenes are inevitably examples of both "Fridge Logic" and "The Idiot Ball," and often times require out of character behavior as our hero inevitably surrenders to the villain, or allows them to escape, thus increasing the dramatic stakes of the story. This is cheap, and smacks of creative and intellectual laziness; more bad messages from Hollywood storytellers.

The first example to pop up here is the recent Psych episode, "Neil Simon's Lover's Retreat". Carlton Lassiter, ace detective and semi-psychotic gunbunny, walks into the hotel room of a suspect to find said suspect holding two of his ("friends" is a mighty strong word to use involving Lassie, so we'll merely say "more than casual acquaintances") at gunpoint. Lassie has his weapon drawn and on the aggressor rapidly, and orders him to drop the gun. The suspect instead instructs Lassie to drop his gun, and to show he's serious, cocks the hammer on his weapon - which looks to be a 1911 or Hi-Power, both of which are single action firearms (it's also possible it's a Dan Koonan - the gun was explicitly mentioned to be .38 Special, which is an incredibly rare caliber to find in a semiautomatic. The Koonan, a 1911 derivative, is the only one I know. It's far more likely that a writer botched his research when he tried to be special, and the gun in question is a 1911 in .38 Super. In all of these cases, though, it's a single action firearm and cannot be fired unless - tada! - the hammer is cocked.) Lassiter lives to shoot people - it's perhaps the defining aspect of his character, save perhaps for the fact that he will always be upstaged by Shawn - and yet, one scene break later, we find Shawn and Juliet freeing their two friends (and Lassie) from a steam room, having surrendered to the enemy.

When I point out that the weapon is single action, and therefore must be cocked, and therefore was not ready to fire without a gross movement of the thumb that requires breaking the proper firing grip (and also, on most 1911s, will result in disengaging the grip safety while you do so), I both refer to my earlier entry where I waxed eloquent on how hammers and slides are not "drama switches," and I also point out that Lassie would have recognized this - probably on sight, as he's more gun obsessed than I am - and should have taken appropriate action.

And at the risk of contradicting an earlier comment I made to a friend, where I remarked on the extreme difficulty of aiming for non-vital points as opposed to the often lethal center of mass, and how more people should visit a range and actually shoot a gun rather than demanding cops perform ridiculously difficult, nigh on impossible, trick shots to the weapon or arm rather than shooting to stop and winding up with dead offenders - Lassie was all of five feet from the guy. He could easily have put a slug in his shoulder before he cocked the hammer, thus ending the episode quickly. Which, of course, is why he didn't.

A second example, the season four episode of Castle, "Cuffed". Detectives Ryan and Esposito have discovered their friends and partners, main characters Beckett and Castle, imprisoned beneath the floor in a suspect facility. As they go to rescue their friends, who are in danger of being immediately eaten (it makes sense in context), the criminal foe throw down on them. Words are exchanged, including the dramatic pump of a shotgun. This situation has a little more leeway than the last; the risk of getting shot in a confrontation is higher, the reward of immediate capture of the criminals that much less. There are three bad guys, and only two police detectives, and the cops are armed with handguns whereas at least one criminal has a shotgun. Letting them go makes a little more sense in context, especially since they can be caught later - which, of course, they are. Except...

Reactions under stress are variable; different people react differently, and the same person will react differently to two different situations, even when they're outwardly the same. There was a police officer murdered during a traffic stop whose name I sadly forget, who could only scream "drop the gun! Drop the gun!" as the perp retrieved a rifle from his vehicle, loaded it, and began shooting. It wasn't until the murderer actually began to fire that the officer took steps to return fire and defend himself, and by that time he was quickly overwhelmed - all of this caught on tape. Similarly, one of the four victims of the 1970 Newhall Massacre was found with spent shells in his pocket - when he reloaded, rather than dumping the empties he'd caught them and pocketed them, a habit learned in training, which may have cost him precious seconds - and his life.

With all of this caveated, it still raises the question of why Detectives Ryan and, most especially, former Special Forces combat veteran Esposito - both of whom have been in numerous shootouts in the past, just over the course of the four previous seasons - would stand idly by and allow themselves to be threatened; more to the point, would move their weapons to allow the criminals to flee, blindly trusting that they wouldn't simply be gunned down by the desperate to flee villains who had already murdered at least one person. It defies belief - except, of course, that it doesn't move the story along, or allow the next scene to play out.

That most notorious gun writer, researcher, and advocate Colonel Jeff Cooper said, in his book Principles of Personal Defense, "Speed is the absolute essence of any form of combat... on the very instant that we know that our assailant intends us serious physical harm, we must work just as fast as we can. If he has shot at us, we must hit him before he can shoot again. If he is holding us by threat of force, we have the edge of reaction time over him... the perfect fight is one that is over before the loser really understands what is going on."

A great example of this is the pilot episode of Firefly, and one of the reasons that I adore the show. Federal agent Dobson, who has already demonstrated his ruthlessness, lack of professionalism, and ineptitude by shooting adorable engineer Kaylee, is attempting to escape the Serenity and has taken crazy girl River hostage. As he stands there, gun on the girl, monologuing about how anyone who attempts to stop him will have the girl's death on his head, returning captain Malcolm Reynolds shoots him. No hesitation, no speech, he simply draws and plugs the man on his way up the cargo ramp; immediate reaction, immediate result. One can argue that this scene is a demonstration of Mal's recklessness, and that's entirely possible. Had he missed, had he failed to stop Dobson with that one shot, River might have been killed, or another crewmember; on the other hand, had Dobson escaped, the whole crew would have been imperiled, River might have been killed anyway, and by the by, there's a ship full of cannibalistic rapacious and rapist Reivers about to descend, and can we get this ship in the sky now?

This is probably one of the reasons Firefly was cancelled so quickly; as with so many things Joss Whedon, it delighted in turning the cliches upon their heads. And it is for this reason that it is so gravely missed and needed on today's television.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

That's when I reach for my revolver...

That's when it all gets blown away
That's when I reach for my revolver
The spirit passes by this way...

So, lately I've been reading Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels. I'd call these guilty pleasures, but the sad fact of the matter is, I feel very little guilt over this; sure, they're formulaic, episodic, and fluffy chick-lit, but they're also entertaining, quick reading, and might give me some ideas I can utilize for my own writing. After all, everything's grist for the mill, everything's a tool for the toolbox. Unfortunately, I realized early on that she was going to commit a grave sin - I refer, of course, to Ms. Evanovich, not Stephanie - and yesterday while I was reading Seven Up, it finally happened.

Somebody used the safety on a Glock.

Now, pretty much anybody who knows me knows that I'm something of a gun nut. I know guns; I work with them, not on a daily basis, but regularly enough (as a matter of fact, my job this week is annual small arms training; I get to spend what looks to be a chilly, damp week on a range out in Pungo, shooting guns instead of, you know, actually working for a living. Class doesn't start until nine, and it's a much easier commute for me - not to mention, no searching for parking on the overcrowded Navy base. It's like a vacation, only I still get paid). I didn't grow up with them; my parents don't much like them, and I wasn't allowed to play with toy guns when I was a kid, which is probably at least part of the reason I have a gigantic arsenal of Nerf and airsoft guns now that I'm an adult. They are, however, something that's interested me since my early teens, and something that even before I owned or used any, I had read and studied a great deal about. I'm probably not the best person for this particular rant, and I'm no doubt treading over ground that's been beaten down many a time before, but it's one of those battles that will no doubt continue to be fought over, and over, and over again.

The cause of my frustration is this; Glocks don't have safeties.

Somebody, no doubt, read that last sentence and immediately headed for the comments box to point out the number of intrinsic safeties on the Glock "Safe Action" pistol, to complain about how Glocks have an undeserved bad reputation due to the number of people giving themselves "Glock leg" due to carelessness, or conversely, to complain about how horribly ugly or unsafe Glocks are. This rant isn't about Glocks, safe the above mentioned bit, that Glocks do not have (manual) (thumb operated) safeties. One could advocate that this is pretty much Glock's thing; their lack of safety and long trigger pull strongly resemble the old cop standby, the double action revolver, and their uncomplicated, straight forward method of use (draw weapon, point, shoot) are one of their great advantages. I've heard a gun shop clerk advocate not having a manual safety as a plus for a weapon, since under stress and fear for your life you might forget to deactivate it or fumble while trying to. I don't personally have a dog in that fight; I prefer my guns to have a manual safety because I like that extra step between "inert metal block" and "dangerous bang stick", but I follow the four rules as religiously as I can, so having or not having one shouldn't make much of a difference.

I'll digress quickly into the four rules here, for those who haven't seen them. They are, in no particular order and of equal importance:

1) Treat every gun as though it were loaded.
2) Keep your finger off the trigger until you're willing to fire.
3) Don't point a gun at anything you don't intend to shoot.
4) Be aware of your target and what lies beyond it; bullets travel.

The point of the four rules is that you can be breaking one at any particular time, and the other three should be in effect to prevent you from killing someone; you have to break several for there to be catastrophic effects. And yet, people are harmed almost every day through carelessness and neglect.

But to get back to the point of all of this, and end the digression; Glocks don't have safeties. The Glock semi-automatic pistol, in it's many different calibers and loadings, is probably the most popular handgun in America - possibly the world, overall, although I imagine one or another of the Warsaw Pact firearms has that honor, due to sheer number available, in much the same way that the Kalashnikov does. Law enforcement from local to federal levels favor it, private citizens buy them in droves, and probably the only reason the military hasn't switched from the Beretta 92F/M9 to the Glock is that aforementioned lack of manual safety. Uncle Sam likes his Misguided Children (and the rest of 'em, too) to have plenty of steps between paperweight and bang stick; it cuts down on paperwork. Two seconds of research (, wikipedia) could point this out in a heartbeat. Yet writers continue to namedrop the Glock, and continue to have their characters activating or deactivating the nonexistent safety. Before the rise in popularity of the Glock, this was common on revolvers, another firearm that lacks any sort of manual safety; I suppose there might be a revolver out there with a thumb safety, just as there might be a Glock out there with the same. These would be a custom job, and rarer than hen's teeth, and unless one is present at the same writer's college all of these novelists have been going to, I fail to see why this error keeps popping up.

Sure, it's a small thing. But it's a glaring, grating omission, a failure to do basic fact checking, an error that could easily have been avoided - and there's no reason for it. Bad writing, in other words, or perhaps worse, lazy writing.

Back in 1990, a pulp novelist named Michael Newton wrote "Armed And Dangerous: A Writer's Guide To Weapons" It's a cute book, a good though shallow overview of various popular weapons of personal destruction, with a couple of errors that are mostly only of importance to the real nitpickers among us. Sadly, though, it's dated; the field is ripe, especially after the developments of the last ten years, for a new edition. This blog doesn't have the scope to cover all the ground a book of that caliber (forgive) should, and I doubt I have the knowledge to do so, but I figured I'd throw out a couple of the most egregious offenders here really quickly, and hope that somebody, somewhere, might learn something. These are as they occur to me, in no particular order.

Number one, Glocks don't have manual safeties. We've covered this, but I'll repeat it again, simply because it's so often repeated. If there's a round in the chamber and you pull the trigger, using a proper grip with your finger engaging the little second trigger inside the primary firing trigger, the gun will go bang. If your finger's not on the trigger, the gun is not supposed to go bang.

Number two, you can't put a suppressor on a revolver. First off, suppressors don't silence a gun; they merely lessen the sound to, as they say, a dull roar. Two, firing normal bullets out of a suppressed gun still results in a sonic crack as the bullet breaks the sound barrier. Bullets go very fast, in case you missed it, most things propelled by an explosion do. And third, most revolvers (all but one, actually, the Russian Nagant revolver, which is a curiosity) don't form a gas tight seal between the cylinder and the barrel when firing, so there's still a bit of gas and noise leakage from the gun, thus allowing sound to escape.

Number three, it's not a clip. It's a magazine. With again rare exception (the WWII era M1 Garand for example), you use a clip to put bullets into a magazine, the magazine is what actually goes into the gun. Clips are generally optional, a way to speed feed a magazine; unless you're fond of single-shooters, magazines are not. More on this here.

Number four, with the caveat that it's generally television that's guilty of this particular sin, the slide on a semiauto and the pump on a shotgun are not drama switches. Trying to use them like cocking the hammer on a double action revolver or a SA/DA pistol like the M9 doesn't work; they don't suddenly make the situation more serious, they mean the guy was threatening someone with an unloaded pistol before that. I illustrate what I mean with this scene from The Big Lebowski (warning, naughty language ahead), but I can think of scenes from Psych, Supernatural, and a couple other shows.

My friend Jared pointed out one I'm going to use for number five here, the slide lock/reload phenomenon. The bad guy has the heroes on the ropes, with gun aimed, and when he goes to pull the trigger - click! He's out of ammo and didn't realize it. Except the vast majority of semiauto pistols (and inevitably the one they're using in this scene is among them) have their slides lock back when the magazine runs empty, a handy visual cue that it's time to stick in a fresh one and get back to work. This one is growing less common - at least, I haven't seen it quite as often. Still, if you're a writer and you'd like to use this particular cliche - use a revolver.

Number six, any gun wherein the impact of its projectile will send a man flying will probably have the same result on the person flying - something along the lines of the "Noisy Cricket" from Men In Black. Newton's Third Law. It should be pointed out that most of the energy in a kinetic projectile is spent penetrating the thing it hits, or else ricocheting off; not much is transferred to the media, hence the reason you don't generally see people sending milk jugs or pop bottles flying when they shoot them (they tend to explode, instead). If the target is wearing an armored vest that stops the bullet, the force will transfer over and knock them back; otherwise, the main reason people tend to fall down when they get shot is because of shock/pain, not because they're getting blown off their feet. Consult your local physicist for more info on this.

I'm rapidly approaching 2,000 words here, and I'm sure I could go on for hours - but the key thing here, the really important thing, is that most of these errors are simple. They're things that could be picked up in a matter of moments with a Google search and some free time, and they're mistakes that could be avoided with a little thought. They're little things; but they're so obvious and glaring to those in the know that they can easily remove you from the mood the story is trying to set you in, disrupt your chain of thought, and nag at you. A hair in your soup isn't horrendously insanitary, but it's digusting, and it ruins your enjoyment of the soup; these little errors are the same thing, and there's no excuse for a published author, with the back up of editors, prereaders, and a score of previously published books under their belt, to make them.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Walk with me, my children...

Walk into the sea
I can give no reason
For you to follow me
I come without conscience
And I don't have a name
Those crazy little voices
They walk with me and say...
They say...

I'm having another one of those days where I simply can't think of anything to write. I get the feeling there are going to be a lot of these; I'm going from writing rarely, when the mood strikes, to writing as a daily phenomenon. Despite having a fantastic NaNoWriMo last year (finishing my 50,000 words - and most of the novel - in half the allotted time), I'm still rather out of shape when it comes to exercising the writing muscles, especially that most important one of all, the brain.

So it's unsurprising that I should find myself, once again, flailing for subject matter. Add in a fairly busy day, with the morning spent shifting berths one pier over and the afternoon spent draining down a fire main and replacing a valve, a filling dinner of spaghetti and a dessert of banana, peanut butter, and various sugar filled additions (mmm... dark chocolate syrup...) and I suppose it's totally expected that I should find myself coming up blank when it comes time to pound out a thousand words on any possible topic.

The most surprising thing of this self imposed task, actually, is that it hasn't been harder. I know several people who have set themselves a five hundred per diem goal; many of them end up /averaging/ that, as opposed to completing it. Many of them complain about finding the time, or the motivation, to write. Published authors have been known to recommend as few as three hundred words a day to start with, since the major point is to get the butt in the chair and make the words come out; it's more important to write anything and everything than agonize over the exact number (or, at least to start with, the quality). So the fact that I've managed to pound out a thousand words or more over the last thirty three days, just about each and every day, is fantastic. Astounding. Wonderful. And all sorts of other adjectives that I could use to puff up today's word count, but I'm not going to... right now, at least. I've noticed a couple of times where the goal just seemed to fly on by, especially when I'm working on blog posts (and believe me, I'd have my fingers crossed for that to be today's case, if typing with crossed fingers weren't actually physically painful). Many's the time when I've been in the middle of a point, or the story is moving along particularly pleasantly, and I've glanced down at that ongoing word count meter that is a grand part of why I prefer to write in Q10 (the typewriter sound is easily another third to half of the reason) and found that it's clicked over to four numbers, without warning. Amazing. Astounding. Oftentimes, so fast that it could make my head spin. My average NaNo word speed is about one thousand words an hour; since starting this project, I've pounded out a grand in as little as twenty minutes. Literally, triple my previous best speed. Admittedly, that speed has adjusted some; I remember doing two grand over the course of an hour and a half, and thousand word sprints on coffee breaks during NaNoWriMo 2011 (which, by the by, I still need a title for... and a satisfying ending, since right now it's just kind of hanging there with the heroine shooting somebody. Which is definitely an ending, but not a very good one for the story.)

As my friend Allison says, "Wait, you're telling me practice actually helps? What?"

But just having the ability to physically transfer the thoughts from head to keyboard (to computer screen to internet site to reader's ocular units, hopefully) isn't enough; I need to get the thought up there in the first place. Some days, this is easier than others; I'm working on three "current" stories right now, two for my cooperative writing project (Spire) and one as part of a personal series that had been nagging at me for a while, and I finally set out to get it down. Of course, no sooner did I get about four thousand words in than I felt the urge to get it out diminish... in large part, helped along by the subject matter. Writing erotica is awkward. The fact that nobody seems interested in reading it doesn't help with the inspiration much, either.

On the flip side, the story that people do seem interested in, a fanfic I was very fired up about and which represents pretty much my sole non-NaNo writing in 2011, doesn't particularly appeal to me right now.

Although, I could justify playing Rage as research for said 'fic's post-apocalyptic setting...

Yes, you read that right, I have stopped playing Skyrim - I finished the main quest, Companions, Wizard's College, and Thieves Guild storylines (although I have one more city and "special mission" to do for the Guild before I become Guild Master for real), and I have only storming Windhelm left in the Civil War storyline. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of miscellaneous other quests I could tackle, more shouts to acquire, and no doubt more dragons to slaughter - but I've reached a point where the magic has, at least for the moment, stilled. Given my tendency to want what I can't have, I anticipate going crazy with desire to play the moment we deploy overseas... an event descending upon me with all the inevitability of an overloaded freight train. On a downhill slope, in the snow.

Rage is fascinating; my wife says it reminds her of Borderlands, and I have to agree, although I also get a strong vibe of Fallout from it. Unsurprising, seeing how it's (partially) made by Bethesda; it doesn't quite have the humor of either game, at least not yet, but the driving aspects are interesting (what little I've experienced), and I adore wingsticks, the sharpened boomerangs that are the (current) best stealth weapon. I was given the "Anarchy" edition for Christmas, which gave me a double-barreled shotgun as a starting weapon; helpful, for the early missions, but soon overshadowed by other guns, like the combat shotgun. On the other hand, the Anarchy edition also included "Crimson Elite Armor," a "Rat Buggy", and something else I can't recall at the moment and can't be arsed to Google - and none of those have made an appearance, yet. On the gripping hand, I also haven't played very far into the game - one session, really, a few hours long. Unlike Skyrim, I can't just cover Squeak's eyes, or put her under a blanket, while I'm playing. She has to be in another room, thanks to the language, and I don't feel comfortable banishing her from a room in her house just because I'm playing a game. There's also the fact that banishing her from a room is an invitation to her making unexpected visits, asking for hugs and the like, and then trying to stick around. The child, she is a stubborn one. (Takes after her mother).

And hey, look... that's a thousand words, and I haven't even talked about everything I've been reading, lately. Maybe that can be tomorrow's entry.

(I fully expect all five of my readers, whom only started following this because I wrote a story about the Mighty Mighty MJ, to realize that most of my stuff isn't really YA related, and stop reading from here on out. )

Monday, January 30, 2012

[D20 Modern] Twitch Reflex

There was a stranger sitting in the living room when he got home. He thought about going for the gun in his waistband, hesitated. The stranger already had his out, sitting in his lap, one hand resting casually on the butt. Glock service pistol, old style; looked like a custom barrel, nickle silver instead of the usual black. Weird looking writing all over it, too, like somebody's kid had tried to decorate it with red nail polish.

"Sit." The stranger gestured at the couch with two fingers, not moving the hand with the gun. A professional; not what he'd expected. Matsumi had indicated that there were strangers sniffing around the operation, but he'd been expecting Scoobies. A bunch of teenaged punks, more bravado than brains, who had stumbled across something they didn't understand, and couldn't realize they were in over their heads. The stranger looked like a punk, but more like a street bum than a super sleuth; he was pale and skinny, drowning in an old Army jacket at least two sizes too big for him. The old woodland style camouflage, two or three uniform changes ago - before they started going to chameleon cloth. Olive green cargo pants peeked out from underneath the jacket, the black of the Glock very stark against the faded canvas. Probably not a very tall man. The face could be young or old, not wrinkled by worn - like the owner had been awake too long, seen too much. The dark hair was lightened in streaks, sun bleaching or premature aging he couldn't tell in the light. But the hand on the gun didn't look particularly old, and it was steady as a rock.

"You're James St.Maarten," he said calmly as James settled into the couch, folded one leg across the other, and rested one hand in his lap. He let the other fall to his side, where it was hidden by his leg and close to the partition between the cushions. He kept an antique Smith & Wesson in the couch, a 5 shot J-frame revolver loaded with .38 frangible rounds. They wouldn't do much good if the kid was wearing armor; if he wasn't, they'd make a gaping hole out of his chest. Khorvath had given it some of his own "special" modifications, as well; concealment, silence, speed. The kid would never know what hit him. Oblivious, he kept talking. "By day, you're a mild mannered middle manager for a minor manufacturing concern. You have a good relationship with your workers, you get decent but not outstanding evaluations from your supervisors, and in ten more years your retirement will be vested - if you live to see retirement, at any rate." That sounded uncomfortably like a threat, and James shifted uneasily using the fidgeting to disguise his hand feeling for the gun. The damn thing had shifted since the last time he'd checked it, the downside to hiding something where there was movement and activity. A cop would have produced a warrant by now, and a gangbanger wouldn't be making veiled threats; he would have started off the conversation by taking out his knees with a tire iron as he walked in the door. Gangers lacked subtlety. "After all, your night life is certainly riskier than the average person's. Night time, that's your secret time, for your whole other life. You like to think of yourself as a criminal mastermind, and you call yourself 'Purple Haze' or some such to deal your drugs, but the sad fact of the matter is that you're a very tiny fish in a very large pond." The stranger looked off into the distance, as though staring straight through the wall, and then shrugged. James gritted his teeth as he tried to remember if he'd moved the revolver or not. Maybe he'd tucked it under his pillow after he had to ditch the derringer... "You think you're a bad man because you've had to kill one or two people and you keep a gun in your couch, but really you're just small potatoes."

James stiffened slightly. The stranger smiled slightly and slipped his free hand into an inside pocket, pulling out the revolver by the butt with two fingers. "Looking for this?" He dropped it back into the pocket and continued his monologue without a pause. "Matsumi, Khorvath, Belegenn - these are bigger fish, but they're still pretty tiny, still just local. But they work with big fish, world shakers, and they're the ones I'm interested in."

"Who are you?" James asked quietly. It was the first thing he'd said since he'd gotten home.

"They call me Twitch," the stranger said, as though it were of no account. You could tell a lot by someone from their nickname, though; that sounded like a drug handle, the sort of name junkies called each other by. Short, few syllables, descriptive. He wasn't twitching now, though; he was staring at James as though if he wrinkled his brow a bit, squinted his eyes, he could see inside the drug peddler's head; he just wasn't sure if he wanted to. "I'm here because they figured I could do this with the least amount of mess. Kinnan is scarier and Tyson is tougher, but I'm the one who knows the scene the best, so I'm the one who got the job. They could have asked Eris, of course, but she spends enough time swimming in scummy pools as it is. She's got morals, too. Might have wanted to call the cops after she saw your file, we couldn't have that. So, the way this is going to go, Jimmy boy, is I'm going to ask you some very specific questions concerning your activities and your friends, and you're going to give me some very specific answers. After that, you're going to go legitimate. Don't worry about cutting off contact with your circle, we're going to do that for you. You're going to focus on your day job, you're going to be a constructive citizen, and you're going to live until you see retirement age."

"And if I fail to give you those specific answers?" James asked, quietly filing away those names for later. He wasn't entirely sure what conclusions these clues were leading him to; the stranger talked like a spook, but made amateur errors like a Scooby. He thought James was small time, but he was making small time mistakes left and right.

"Then obviously, none of what I just said is going to happen." Twitch smiled gently, as though seeing something very pleasant through the wall past James' head. "We'll have to pick up another little fish who can lead us to the big fish. We have plenty of hooks, after all. Let's start with the name of the club you've been meeting at, and go from there."

James shrugged, and complied. There weren't very many questions; most of the answers, he knew by heart. The rest, he didn't bother to lie about. After perhaps half an hour of the terse exchange, Twitch stood up without warning. "I guess that about does it. Imagine I won't be seeing you again, Mr. St.Maarten." He slipped the Glock into a coat pocket; James stared at him, dumbfounded. The punk had just given up whatever advantage he had, in that baggy coat. A full size service pistol, even in a pocket as baggy as that of the fatigue jacket, would hang up if he tried to quick draw it. He slid a hand to his waistband, feeling the butt of his carry gun stabbing into his side; only a .380, but it carried some of the new Velicitor bullets, and Khorvath had done his magic on them, too. Literally, in this case. He tensed his muscles as Twitch walked towards the door, and raised his hand to touch the latch. One quick move, and then all he'd have to do is make some phone calls to get rid of the body.

"Mr. St.Maarten?" Twitch asked, his voice slightly amused.

"Yes?" James tried to keep the wide rictus of the smile from his face, but it was hard - so hard. His fingers brushed the pistol butt, and he leaned forward to draw and empty the magazine into the idiot's back.

"You never asked why they call me 'Twitch.'"

He pulled the pistol free, focusing on the needle thin front sight, finger tensing on the trigger. Time froze; Twitch was no longer standing with his back to him, hand on the latch. Instead, he had half turned, and the Glock had appeared in his hand as though by magic. It roared, just once, and the world went black.

Twitch whistled softly to himself as he stepped outside. Kinnan's Hummer growled as he brought it up to the curb; Eris was sitting shotgun, so Twitch got in the back. "Tyson still following Matsumi?" he asked cheerfully.

"Yeah," Kinnan said. "You get anything out of that St.Maarten prick?"

"Just confirmed what we already knew," Twitch shrugged. "Nothing really important, but I wasn't expecting much. He was just a little fish."

"So what was the point of this? Let's just call the cops on his ass and call it a night." Eris huffed, folding her arms across her ample bosom.

Twitch shrugged. "Nah, guy like that's got a short lifespan. He's going to draw down on the wrong person one day, find himself on the bad end of a gun. Learn he's not as slick, or as fast, as he thought he was." He looked out the window as the Hummer started to pull away from the curb, then brightened. "Oh! I gotcha a present." He pulled the .38 out of his pocket and passed it up to Eris, who took it gingerly and looked at it as thought it were a dead fish.

"Thanks," she said in a tone that indicated anything but. Kinnan scowled over his shoulder at the smaller man.

"What, you didn't get me anything?"

"Next thug we beat up, promise," Twitch said with a smile.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Day In The Life Of Writer Maureen Johnson

(Thanks to a suggestion by my friend Joanna.)

It's quiet in the New York apartment, too quiet. Once upon a time, this was a charming little walk up, three rooms that might make good closets in more sensible cities, but are considered stunningly spacious by the standards of the Big Apple - with a price to match. Nowadays, though, it's a churning jungle - so many plants packed so closely together that the walls and even the ceiling can barely be seen through their leafy fronds. It's sweltering in here, the heavy oppressive weight of thousands of living things crammed into so tight a space, helped along by pots of water kept ever boiling on little hot plates in the corners; what the landlord might say of this tropical paradise will never be known, for he vanished into the green the last time he did an apartment inspection, never to be seen again. This is the domain of the Maurcat, a fierce and solitary jungle predator. As footsteps echo through the foliage, the heavy plodding tread of one full of foreboding, the solitary inhabitant of the jungle stirs, slits open her eyes. Prey approaches; in response to the sound, her stomach growls softly, echoed by a low rumbling purr deep in her throat. Like Pavlov's dog, she begins to drool, letting her jaw unhinge and fall open, spilling ropy strands out onto the thick loam that covers the remains of the shag carpet. She slides out from under the giant, prehistoric fern that shields her from the morning light streaming through the high, slightly fogged windows that look out on a busy New York street, ignoring the glare that threatens to penetrate her skull with stabbing spears of radiance. There's no time to flinch from the sun when there's food in the offering. She low crawls through the undergrowth, moving in time with the plodding footsteps that bring her meal ever closer to her, silent as the grave. The steps grow louder as they draw nearer, but slower; their owner dreading the ordeal he knows is coming. She continues to slink along the undergrowth, peering through the tangles of wild hair that hide her face; at long last, she sits in front of the door, ears perked, jaw still hanging loose in blissful anticipation. She knows he stands on the other side of the thick door, hand raised to knock, frozen in terror; she knows she can outwait him, even though her stomach is twisted in knots and the hunger courses through her veins like a living thing, urging her to pounce, urging her to spring.

At long last, after a lifetime of waiting, comes the soft, hesitant tap at the door. She lunges, whipping free the chain and the locks in a single, practiced motion, flinging open the heavy door. Despite knowing it's coming and anticipating, the delivery man still flinches as the wild eyed monster tears the bag from his hands, snarling and snapping. The door slams shut again before he can step back, leaving his hands empty and trembling. The call to this apartment comes perhaps once a week; it's always paid in advance by credit card, usually with a healthy tip. The corporate account of some publishing company across town; the boss didn't ask questions. He was starting to wonder if the tip was really worth going through this ordeal once a week. Sooner or later, someone was going to forget an egg roll or the dumplings were going to be cold, and then he could kiss his life goodbye.

A terrible growl came from behind the door, and he almost fell over himself scrambling backwards and away. Busy stuffing her mouth with vegetables and tofu chunks, styrofoam containers and all, Maureen Johnson - infamous young adult author - smiles as she hears the footsteps pounding away down the hall, much faster than they had arrived.

Fast food and terror. Breakfast of champions.

Hunger momentarily sated, she pushes aside a clump of poisonous brambles to expose the low, hulking form of a computer - if it were developed by Nikola Tesla on one of his notorious beer and opium binges. The case is made of brass and copper, green with verdigris in the humid air of the apartment, the monitor case is wood - decorated with various colorful fungi - while the screen is an uncut crystal that buzzes with the hum of ten thousand killer bees. The computer only has two purposes; to assist her in producing the novels that are an almost unwilling side effect of her demented genius, and trolling Twitter. She types as her eyes scan the screen, back and forth, as fast as a dreamer rapt in sleep; taking in everything, feeding as surely from the words on the screen as she had from the delivered food, sating deeper and darker hungers in the wellsprings of information. Her fingers dance across the keyboard, deftly stroking the carved knucklebones; they wail softly as she taps them, as though pained by her touch, and each tweet enters the world with a sob like a newborn ripped from its warm, comforting womb. Soon, she will turn from the nest of social media and begin stalking another story, her mind already feeling its way through the labyrinthine patterns, testing its twisted, intricate skeins. First, though... her ears twitch lightly as she recognizes the sound of something rustling through the underbrush, the skittery, chitinous sound so sweetly familiar... she leaps from her computer as Four Questions burst out of the foliage, their claws clip-clapping menacingly. They thought they had her at bay; more fools, they. She lands full on the back of the first one, crushing it under her despite its heavy, gnarled shell. "What crayon would you be, if you were trapped in a box of Crayolas?" it moans as it expires. "Cerulean orange, with polka dot stripes." She replies absently, ducking under the slashing talons of the next. Rather than the lobster claws of the first, this one has twin blades like an oversized praying mantis, mounted on the legs of a spider. She does a backflip, kicking its mandibles off, and following it up with a crushing axe kick that smashes its abdomen. The mandibles chitter, "where do my socks keep disappearing off to?" as they fly into the underbrush.

"The sock gnomes emerge from their hiding places beneath the cupboards and eat them, a cannibalistic sacrifice to Bhaal-Ahriman," she spits. The third wraps its centipede body around her, trying to crush her like an anaconda would; she flexes her arms, and it tears into gossamer shreds, shrieking "Do you know where your towel is?" Maureen stands on its tattered carcass and raises her arms triumphantly to the sky.

"It sent me a postcard after it conquered Gaul, but I haven't heard from it since."

The last Question rolls itself up into a tight ball, as if hoping to hide from her - or, worst to worst, keep her at bay with its armored carapace. She leaped forward and punted it, reliving her glory days as the lead kicker for the Denver Broncos, before Tim Tebow broke the gem of worlds and rewrote reality. She liked things better this day, but sometimes she missed the smell of the locker rooms. The Question smashes into one of the apartment walls, and slowly slides to the ground, now mostly flat. It whispers, "Was it always like this?" before it expires.

"Only on Tuesdays," Maureen says, and sits down at her computer to spend the rest of the day writing.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A white blank page...

And a swelling ra~ge

Or, to be more accurate, discomfort. I hate empty pages; they mock me, they taunt me, they toy with me. "Nothing you can ever write," they say, "will be good enough for our limitless potential." This is why I end up with so many empty notebooks, or worse, notebook with but one page filled.

I've been pretty good about keeping up my daily 1K; it's surely premature to go patting myself on the back for it just yet, seeing how we're not even a full month into 2012, but I can't remember the last time (other than NaNoWriMo) that I've managed to keep up that kind of word output. Previous attempts to institute a daily writing regimen have failed, somewhat miserably; thus far, I've managed to average a grand a day. "Average" wasn't the intention, lo those twenty three days ago; it was supposed to be one thousand, no exceptions, with anything over that goal point surplus and discarded in the great scheme of things. But life does what life does, and given the days I've felt like crap from long work hours or fighting a cold that keeps migrating back and forth between chest and sinuses, there have been times that I've only been able to manage 800, or thereabouts. But usually, if I can scramble out that many, I can manage the full thousand. There are a couple of completed stories under the belt, more blog posts than I'd originally conceived, even a long e-mail to my wife one day when I was caught up playing Morrowind and rolled my daily communication and daily writing project into one, while we were out to sea this past week.

I'm not entirely sure why today is so lacking in inspiration; work wasn't particularly stressful, with the day spent cleaning up my shop or doing SAMMS (Safety Afloat Management System... or something along those lines) checks on various firefighting appliances around the ship, most notably the fire dampers on the deep fryers. Nothing particularly stressful. I've been re-reading David Weber and John Ringo's "Prince Roger" series, and I'm about halfway through the last novel, "We Few" (and quietly mourning the fact that the series has been declared done by its creators, with no more to be had). There's a subgenre of military sci-fi that involves the heroes, working from a base of higher technological/strategic knowledge than their foe, proceeding to mop the floor with a numerically superior enemy; the Prince Roger novels, Eric Flint's "Belisarius" series, David Weber and S.M. Stirling's "Conqueror" series, and so on. I'm unsure whether it's the military adventurism aspect that appeals to me, or the element of building, improvisation, and creation necessary; perhaps, as with so many things, it's all of the above. My wife, bless her, purchased new undergarments for me, as all of mine seem to be mysteriously vanishing down the rabbit hole somewhere in the depths of the house. She then proceeded to cook an amazing dinner of slow cooked pork tenderloin and roasted new potatoes, both of them wonderfully seasoned; even the Squeakermonster ate her entire meal, although she did have to be coaxed along at one point when she thought she could skip straight to dessert. Five year olds, gods love 'em.

Lord knows, I have plenty of writing projects to take my attention. I'm a goodly ways stuck into my first entry for the Spire shared world project, and I'm finding trouble fitting the next scene together. Because it's so exposition-riffic - a necessary flaw or feature, depending on your view, when you're the lead creator on the team - I'm tempted to go ahead and slap it up for group review unfinished, but that violates one of the few group rules - namely, that we're not posting serial fiction here. Completed works only, please. Which, of course, means I should really be focusing on that, rather than this. Similarly, I've gotten very little progress written on my, um, "special" project - I haven't gotten any further reader/reviewer offers on it, so it's not like I'm keeping an audience waiting, but it's still an ambitious enough project that, if I'm going to do it, I should really get moving on it in order to accomplish, well, anything.

And, not at all least, my friend Joanna has suggested that I write an adventure story about a day in the life of possibly/probably insane young adult author and prolific tweeter Maureen Johnson - a deliciously madcap idea, but one that unfortunately didn't come until after I'd shut down Twitter and started working on this (and that I only noticed at all because my phone chimed at me when I got the tweet, and I'm willing to accept just about any distraction if it'll keep me from working).

Speaking of distractions, I just raided the pork loin again. SO. TASTY. It's so good, in fact, that I'm going to ignore all the dirty connotations of "pork loin" and take the high road of OMNOMNOM.

I kind of want to work OMNOMNOM into a fantasy or sci fi story somewhere, maybe as a monastery or something similar. I think it would be amusing... but perhaps a touch too obvious. Internet memes are everywhere, and even people who've never even heard of Zero Wing can recognize phrases like "All your base".

And on that note, I think I'm off to give someone an arrow to the knee.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Oh, oh Switzerland...

I never thought I'd have you as a friend
I'm praying it was not at all pretend
I need you now
To help pick me up from off the ground...

So, lo I have returned again, in accordance with the prophecies. If you didn't miss me - or even note my absence - don't feel too bad; it was just a quick jaunt out to sea, less than a full calendar week in length, down off the coast of La Florida for fun and games with the Navy. We did very little, for all our time out to sea; not many customers, and not much fuel given to those we did see. It was, in summary, pretty ridiculous.

But ridiculous is what they pay us for, so off we went, and did what we must do. There are a number of things I hate about going out to sea, especially for such a short time and for such little reason; leaving my wife and daughter, sleeping on the narrow, uncomfortable Navy bunks (even if we do have better mattresses on them - and I use the term "better" with slightly cavalierly), my snoring roommate. My wife occasionally snores. I occasionally snore, and receive my wife's elbow of death for it. My brother and my dad both had issues with snoring, and both have submitted to sleep studies and been equipped with CPAP machines. My cubemate, herein dubbed The Bear in any further blog posts, puts all of the above to shame - and then some. And for any of my family members reading this, YES. He is actually louder and more obnoxious than DAD. The noises the man makes when he sleeps are almost terrifying - I've given him the nickname "Bear" because that's what he sounds like, an angry bear.

Going to sea is a matter of giving up the little things, the things one takes for granted. For example, without fail, the moment the ship gets underway I want a drink. I drink very seldomly when I'm home, which is pretty amusing for a home brewer; I give away more of my product than I consume myself, and even then the stuff that I keep for myself often ends up going to waste, simply because it goes off before I get around to drinking it. One of the reasons I switched from brewing beer to making wine and mead; they last longer, sitting in their bottles waiting for me to get into the mood to drink them. Likewise, I have more than a few bottles of harder beverages sitting on top of my fridge, and filling one of the upstairs closets; I simply don't drink very often, and when I do, it's seldom more than a couple fingers of whisk(e)y. And yet, the moment the ship gets underway, I find myself longing for a tall and frothy mug. Is it the increased stress of being out to sea, or just because I want what I can't have? I may never know. I've been home a little over an hour as I type this, and I have yet to have anything stronger than a Vernor's ginger ale and a mug of tea. I'm still working on the tea. Hole Mole, if you're interested. Mmm, chocolate and spices.

One of those little things is Skyrim. I play on PS3; sure, I could drag it back and forth to the ship with me, but I don't have a TV really worth playing it on (the one in my Fire Marshal shop is incredibly small, and so far from HD you can't see it from there), and running off with it would deprive my wife of half of her Blu-Ray capabilities. Most of them, really, since we haven't gotten around to hooking the Blu-Ray player back up since we got the PS3, but that could be arranged. It would be a temporary joy, anyway, as I can't bring it on deployment with me; I'm planning on leaving the ship mid deployment, and flying it home would be... problematic. Ship it? Risk the baggage handlers smashing as they carelessly fling luggage about? Risk it getting stolen? All of this assumes, of course, that She Who Must Be Obeyed would allow it to wander off on high seas adventures with me; she doesn't have many PS3 games, but she does have a couple and, sooner or later, will want to play them. Getting it for PC would involve getting a much more powerful laptop than my little Eee; expensive, heavy, and other than Skyrim, I can't think of too many PC games out there that I would be interested in. Besides, it would involve starting all over again, and at level 60 (or damn near), that's not something I'm looking forward to.

So, I endure. It occurred to me, just before this last trip, that I could maybe replace the urge to play Skyrim with something else, something similar. And it occurred to me, that my Eee has specs actually slightly superior - in some ways - than my first laptop, the one that I used to play Morrowind for hours on. So... one thing led to another, and I found myself once again firing up The Elder Scrolls III, and wandering about the island of Vvardenfell. It's not a perfect experience - I have to keep the view distance and several other graphics options dialed down, for starters, and I'm not sure if I can take a Solstheim snowstorm yet, although rain and duststorms seem to process just fine - but it's enough to scratch the itch, just a little.

It did lead to a list of various things that Skyrim lacks that Morrowind has, and vice versa. Most of these involve around various methods of fast travel; playing Morrowind is not unlike watching the extended cuts of The Lord of the Rings, it's about a hundred hours of walking. Vvardenfell may be a small island, but without horses, or the ability to return directly to a location once you've visited it, it takes forever to get around on. Worse, when you find yourself lost in the middle of the wilderness, there's very little alternative other than continuing to walk. One thing it does have, though, are the Mark/Recall spells that allow you to return to one predetermined location, and the Almsivi/Divine Intervention spells that allow you to teleport to the nearest temple of whatever flavor; Tribunal or Imperial. These are godsends for overburdened adventurers who want to haul back as much loot as (in)humanly possible. On the flip side, I prefer Skyrim's overburdening system; sure, you can't fast travel, run, or jump when you're overburdened, but at least you can move. And in Skyrim, there are no Burden spells - so you don't have to worry about an opponent dumping a bajillion pounds on you and freezing you in place.

I've run slightly over wordcount for this entry, and the wife is looking to fire up Sherlock season 2, so I'll condense the rest of these down into a quick and dirty list, and maybe elucidate on them at a later time.

*Weaponry: Crossbows, spears, daikatana, throwing items, sabres
*Medium armour
*ability to fight underwater ('cause, seriously, screw slaughterfish.)
*breath monitor (how long do I have until I start taking damage? Guess I'll find out when I DIE!)
*Open spells ('cause locks you can't open suck. On the other hand, I prefer Skyrim's lock minigame).
*Shops open at all hours: This is more of a stylistic thing, I just hate constantly having to wait around for the shop owner to appear and open the doors so I can sell off my tons of loot. On the other hand, as a thief, I kinda like them going home for the night and leaving all their valuables around for me to plunder...
*Levitate spells
*Guild halls in different cities: Skyrim moots this, a little, with the ability to buy houses in every city, but I kinda miss being able to pick up different quests and sleep in a faction bed in different cities. It also added a bit of verisimilitude to the world, I felt. On the other hand, since the Fighters Guild has been replaced with the Companions, and the Mages Guild with the College at Winterhold... again, a stylistic thing, I suppose.
*Unlimited training per level: If I have a million gold pieces, I should be able to go up a million gold in levels. For one thing, maybe I'd have a decent spellcaster...

*HUD for destinations/places of interest
*dual wielding/spellcasting
*sneak attacks! Sneaking, period, is so much better handled in Skyrim that there's almost no comparison.
*Simpler armour (Not having to wear a million different pieces.)
*Simpler alchemy
*Arrows are weightless
*NO CLIFF RACERS ('cause seriously, FUCK cliff racers).

Monday, January 09, 2012

[Cooperative Writing Project][Spire]Notes & Rules (Three Years Too Late)

This is a continuation from this note, lo those many moons agone. If you're wondering why I've tagged you, it's because you either expressed interest in it before, or you're someone I've shared cooperative writing projects (RP) with before and I thought you might be interested.

Well, first of all, I should probably apologize to everyone for the length of time it's taken me to produce this. For one thing, I have no experience in this kind of grand project; I'm sloppy, disorganized, and more absent-minded than the Nutty Professor, with Alzheimer's, chowing down on a panfull of hash brownies. Still, delaying a post like this for the better part of three years is a little much, even for me.

I'm going to tacitly ignore the sound of people still waiting for updates on previous writing projects (West End Blues, Twilight Exile), even though I can feel their burny gazes of hate stabbing through my soul even as I type. Ow. Ow. Ow.

The way I picture this working (and I am very open to suggestions, by the by) is thusly; all stories take place in Spire, at least in part. Perhaps the protagonists will go adventuring in other parts of the Empire, perhaps the story takes place on the outskirts of the city, or the farmlands around, or even in one of the little villages that cling to the big city's skirts, but the Spire should be a focal point, the common weft that binds our writerly world together.

There is no limit on how long or short a story should be, only that it must contain a clearly delineated beginning, middle, and end. If you can tell a complete story in six words, as Ernest Hemingway once did, it counts. The catch here is that it sharply precludes "serial" fiction; you're writing complete short stories, rather than the little snippets of story that usually dominate online shared writer worlds (likeRDI).

At a predetermined, agreed upon time (perhaps every month, or every six weeks), a new event or theme will rock the city, and stories can/should revolve around those. Events might include: the death of a noble, a citywide festival, a serial killer stalks the streets, a great storm hits the town. We could include different genre styles in with the themes, so that they might include: write a romance story, a detective story, a horror tale. One month's determination might be "arc words" - at some point in your story, you should include a phrase of significance that would pop up throughout the story. "Who is John Galt?" from Atlas Shrugged, or "Give me back my Hat!" from The Midnight Mayor both come to mind (or "Bad Wolf" from Dr. Who). There are quite a number of Urban Fantasy anthologies running around that seem to run on this principal, and they make for good reading (as well as common ground between otherwise quite different authors).

Characters: You're not required to use the same character for every story, but neither are you discouraged from doing so. One of joys of a shared world is the verisimilitude that comes from seeing familiar faces in new ground; thusly, we should be open to sharing our characters with others. If @Chris wants to use my hero Cromley the Fool in a tavern scene, this would be encouraged. On the other hand, nobody likes it when control of their character is taken from them, or when their character is shown acting "out of character," so where possible communication between authors is to be encouraged, and no permanent harm or effects should be done to another author's character (unless they expressly authorize it, of course).

Story submissions; I think we'll need a forum, or perhaps a blog. I'd like both; a blog to post the stories on, and a forum in which we can discuss story arcs, event ideas, and share information on the world and on our characters. This will take some discussion and work. In the mean time, though, we can probably get started using Facebook, e-mail, and instant messengers.

As stated above, stories have no minimum or maximum length; they are required only to start and stop in a reasonable manner. Also as stated above, the events and themes for that month should probably be considered guidelines; if you've got an idea for a story that doesn't take place during that month's "theme," then roll it out anyway - there's no reason to hide it away until it's appropriate. We should agree on some sort of calendar for the world, though, so that we can synchronize our stories. If Writer A is writing tales set in the "now", and Writer B wants to set stories a hundred years prior, then that's okay - as long as both writers and readers are aware of the dichotomy.

Likewise, I've deliberately left all but the barest strokes of the setting open because I want to encourage people to come up with their own creations, rather than trying to impose limits on the project newly formed. I picture Spire as being set on something like the Cornish coast, if England were still attached to continental Europe. It's an independent city that survives mostly by being too valuable to its neighbors to quash, without being quite valuable enough to subsume - the goose that lays golden eggs, but only if it's left free.

I see the world of Spire as being a very Dungeons & Dragons inspired world, as many fantasy settings seem to be these days. There are many races living together, sometimes in harmony, sometimes not so much. Magic exists, and even flourishes - some folk have more of an aptitude for it than others, of course. Technology would probably be close to the late Middle Ages, or the early Renaissance. There are sophisticated trade networks, so we're likely to see a vast variety of products that, in our own world, might seem slightly anachronistic - likewise, occupations and professions.

I think the first theme should be "Introductions." I hope to have my entry up in a few days, hopefully hashing some more of this out. :)

So... that's what I've got, guys. Your thoughts?