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?

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Dovahkiin, Dovahkiin...

Skyrim is fucking depressing. (There are spoilers ahead, so those of you who haven't played but intend to - or those who aren't too far into the game - or those who just hate the thought of things being, even mildly, revealed before their time may not want to stick around for this. Just a head's up.)

Don't misunderstand me; I am so in love with this game that I occasionally have to deliberately ignore it, take breaks, lest my gaming widow wife grow irate enough to light my PS3 on fire. I'm helped along, a bit, by the fact that she's recently discovered (rediscovered?) her own avid gamer side; it's a lot easier to justify spending hours wandering through Tamriel when she's spending her own hours playing Disney Universe and Skylanders. Helps to have the upstairs TV working again, too, so that we can each do our own thing without interfering with the other.

Skyrim is a beautiful, engaging, fun game to play - despite its bugs (there's nothing quite like getting stuck in a crack in the ground hours from the last time you saved to make you want to scream and break things), and despite the occasional repetitiveness of the quests and the random chatter (just how many guards out there have taken arrows to the knee? How are the still able to move so damn fast when they spot me botching a pickpocket attempt?) It's also, quite frankly, saddening and occasionally even discouraging to play.

Tamriel is a Crapsack World. I haven't been playing The Elder Scrolls very long, as these things go - I started when Morrowind got big, played Oblivion but was horrendously disappointed, and after hearing the great reviews of Skyrim knew I would have to jump into this one, too. Well, let's be honest - I was standing in a Gamestop, heard the choral version of the Elder Scrolls theme, and immediately knew I was going to be playing this one, too. Obsessively, more than likely, which is not far from the truth. The whole point of Morrowind was that, as the reincarnation of Saint Nerevar, the prophecied Nerevarine, you were to save the island of Vvardenfell and the province of Morrowind from the release of the ancient foe, Dagoth Ur, who lived beneath the volcanic Red Mountain. You succeed, and yay! The mountain doesn't erupt, and the province isn't destroyed!

Only, we learn in Skyrim, it does. Destroys most of the island, makes the Dunmer people into refugees in the lands of their ancient enemies. Right about the time you were winning the last game, apparently.

Speaking of Oblivion, you spend the whole game there fighting to protect the last emperor of the line, keep the Daedric hordes bottled up in their bleak hell pit dimension of blood fountains, lava rivers, and miscellaneous spiky hooked decorations, and keep the Empire together. At the end of the game, Martin sacrifices himself, but hurray, the Empire is saved. Except, wait, Skyrim tells us that 200 years later, the Empire has gotten its arse whupped soundly by a bunch of pointy-eared freaks, has given up its religion, and is now embroiled in civil wars that threaten to tear what fragile shell remains asunder. Also that said pointy-eared freaks are plotting to grind humanity under their pointy-toed boots. (You want to know what the elven future looks like? Picture a pointy-toed, jingle belled boot stamping on a human face... forever.)

Hey, I get it - these conflicts are what drive the game, they're part of what provides the drama that keeps things flowing. Without conflict, after all, it's just you walking the neat, clean streets of a tidy Imperial province. Considering how boring Oblivion was after you finished the main quest and closed all the gates, well, we can all figure how well that game pitch would have gone over. But still, having the point of the first two games invalidated like that - especially Vvardenfell blowing up, as you have to play for a goodly while before you get that particular revelation - was a bit of a kick in the teeth. I feel like a veteran of the "War to end all wars," returning home in triumph pleased to have bought, with blood and sweat, a peace for all time... only to watch World War II break out a scant two decades later. And after that one was settled with a few million lives, the Cold War and its threat of nuclear armageddon.

(Yes, I recognize I'm being hyperbolic here. That's half the point of a blog.)

Chris reminds me of a bit from the Incredibles, where Mr. Incredible is being interviewed. "No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know, for a little bit? I feel like the maid; I just cleaned up this mess! Can we keep it clean for... for ten minutes!"

But that's not why Skyrim is depressing.

What's depressing, is you never seem to be able to save anyone. About all you can do is avenge their death, or inform their loved ones that, yes, they've died. Bear witness to a thousand horrors. I'm on the main quest right now, having finally grown tired enough of watching dragons fly away merrily when I'm gaining the upper hand in a fight (but before that magic moment when they crashland because I've damaged them enough) to make some serious efforts towards getting the Dragonrend shout (and, may I say, it's nice to actually see an Elder Scroll in one of The Elder Scroll games. Not that I've gotten that far, but again, digression). To get to Blackreach, I have to go through Alftland, another Dwemer ruin, this one half swallowed up by a glacier. All well and good. Only, as I enter, I find the remains of a research camp that had been trapped inside by a storm. As I go along, I find notes from the team - Falmer had been picking them off one by one, and eventually took the whole party for their larder. On one dead man, tucked away in a hidden corner, I found a note talking about how he and a companion had been trapped by a broken ramp during their escape - his companion, without hesitation, had thrown him up the incline onto the next platform before turning back to fight for her life. He had fled, and eventually, died here in this forgotten little corner. Going along, I find the broken ramp - and the dead orc who had sacrificed her own chance of escape to save her companion. She resembled Boromir from the end of Fellowship, a pincushion of goblin arrows. Continuing, I find the Falmer camp - complete with the remains of their "meals". The rest of the research team, all but the leader and his bodyguard.

No, the leader had fled in a different direction upon release, deeper into the complex, seeking "what he had come for". I find him just before the entrance to Blackreach, where he (and his bodyguard) immediately attack me as a thief, come to steal the fruits of his labors. Ah, megalomaniacal insanity.

But Yag - the orc, killed after throwing her companion to all too temporary safety - got me thinking about how many situations like this there were in the game. Ranmir's wife, in Winterhold - turned to thieving to help support the two of them, killed in a Nord tomb on her first outing, the note she'd meant to leave behind to ease his mind never delivered. He thinks she's left him, and turns to drink. Narfi the beggar, living in the ruins - literally - of his family's farmhouse, pining for his missing sister. You can go look for her - she's in the river, near the bridge. Lie to the man and tell her she'll be back one day, or give him her ring and your sympathies, both endings leave a taste in the mouth worse than one of Namira's feasts. A farmer held prisoner in Mistwatch begs you to save his wife - turns out she's the bandit leader. Oops.

Occasionally, you get to save people. There was a prisoner in the Thalmor Embassy when I snuck in there; I got him out alive, and he now hangs around the Thieves Guild. Where he spits every time I approach and accuses me of causing "enough trouble." There's Malborn, the elf who helped me and whom I, in return, rescued in that same quest... he's hiding out in Windhelm, getting ready to run for Morrowind if I can ever find the assassin he's terrified of. Oh, yes, he's stalked by assassins now.

Every victory is its own punishment, apparently.

But I'll keep on fighting, despite all of these little victories that cut like knife wounds, for much the same reason that investigators keep investigating in Call of Cthulhu - because, for all that the world is doomed to be an Elder God's snack cake, here and now we're alive and what we do matters.

Also, because it's so much fun to sneak up on a dragon and smack it between the eyes with a Legendary Blades katana. FORS RO DAH!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

A Fairytale

Once upon a time in a kingdom by the sea there lived a young woman as fair as the moon and as warm as the sun. The people of her village were poor but honest folk, in that quaint poor but honest way that only fisherfolk and herderfolk can ever seem to manage; entirely different from the poverty or the honesty of city dwellers, and as different as the day from the night as the deception and wealth of the merchants who followed the caravan routes and sailed the salt seas. The woman was called Rose by all who knew her, not because this was her name, but because she had blossomed - as if overnight - into a creature of delicate beauty, quite unlike the fishwives and salt stained girls that lived in her village. She worked just as hard as any of the women and harder than some of the men, preparing her father's catch for market, repairing the fish nets, helping her mother keep the house and manage her many brothers, and helping keep her father's boat in order so that he could go out onto the salt sea and catch the fish; despite this, she grew only more beautiful day by day, and all the boys in the village loved her and feared her for her beauty. It was a cold, lonely existence for a young woman, for no matter how hard she worked and how much she tried, she could not fit in with those poor but honest folk; and because they /were/ honest folk, they could not hide their awe and apprehension from her, and she grew up, not hated, but shunned nonetheless.

Her brothers could see that she was hurting, and though they loved her just as much as any other in the village, they too felt awkward and clumsy next to her grace and beauty; and so it was decided that though it killed them to live without her, she did not belong in such a little fishing village, but should instead live in a palace, surrounded by servants and jewels and riches to rival her beauty. It was decided, under council of night when all the house was sleeping, as such conspiracies so often are, that she must be given to a prince; but what prince could do? The kingdom by the sea had no princes, and only one princess; and while stories of her grace and beauty were also told, far and wide, it was well regarded in that little village that their Rose would easily put her to shame, should the two ever met, and since it was not good to bring shame to royalty unless you happen to have a larger army on your side, it would be best for all involved if they did not bring Rose to the capital city, where she might act as a rival to the princess. After all, as their father had often warned them, beauty saw like beauty as competition, and there could only be one queen in the hive.

So the brothers decided amongst themselves that they would have to seek a worthy husband for their sister in the wide world around them. One of them would have to stay with their father, mother, and sister; one of them was too young to venture out into the world alone, for it was a dangerous place in those days (as in many ways it still is), and so he would have to stay home and tend the nets with the women, as much as this displeased him (and his brothers had to gag him to keep him from voicing his displeasure loudly and long, and possibly waking the rest of the household with the strength of his ire). This left five of them to venture out into the world, one to go north and one to go south, one to go east and one to go west, and the last brother to seek what worthiness he could find in the world beyond the veil, across the borders between shadow and light where the wild things play.

The brother who went to the north found only cold and frost at first, for the northern lands are frozen much of the year and snow covers the ground even at high summer. But if the land is cold, the people are not; when he would have frozen, they took him in and kept him warm, and when he told them of his quest and of his sister's beauty, they took him to where their prince lived in an icy palace. The prince was a man of frost and ice, whose skin was as pale as the newfallen snow and whose eyes were as blue as frozen rivers; when he heard of the Rose's beauty, though, he thawed just a touch, and warmth and kindness showed in his eyes. He agreed to come with the brother back to the kingdom by the sea, there to meet the Rose.

The brother who went to the south had to take a caravan across the endless sands of the southern desert, far beyond the borders of the kingdom by the sea. He had many adventures with the caravaneers, and even fell in love himself, but the caravan was attacked by bandits and all were slain - save the brother, who was left for dead in the burning sands. He was rescued by servants of the djinn of that place, who took him to their prince; a man of flame and heat, whose eyes flashed with quick anger and lips smiled with quick humor, a prince who was as restless as flame and just as powerful. When the brother, restored to health, told this prince of the Rose, his quick anger soothed, and his fickle attention stilled. He, too, agreed to come with the brother back to the kingdom by the sea, there to meet the Rose.

The third brother went to the east, and he too had to take a caravan to get there; through mountains and forests, along the great Spice Road that wended halfway around the world, to the kingdoms of jade and diamond. Here the people dressed in long flowing robes of strange colors, and the food was flavored with strange spices, and they spoke in music and made art of battle. They were a strange people, and their leader was as strange; he was golden as a statue, and seemed as cold and lifeless as he sat on his jade throne and looked down at the brother who had come to plead for the Rose. But when he heard the third brother's tale, his mask crumbled and he agreed to come to the kingdom by the sea, there to meet the Rose.

The fourth brother took ship to the west, and the seas were terrible with storms and pirates and great serpents that came up from the deep and tried to drink the ship down to the deeps. But somehow they managed to survive all of these perils, until the ship came at last to an island far across the sea, where mermaids sang on the rocky shore to entice the sailors to their doom. The ship was lost against the reefs, and many were the souls that drowned, but the brother was washed up safe upon the beach and taken to the palace of the prince, a man of coral and pearl, whose eyes shown sea green and whose hair was the color of kelp. This prince, like the others, was interested in the tale of the Rose, and agreed to take the brother back to the kingdom by the sea, there to meet the girl who had won his heart - without ever having seen her.

As for the fifth brother, he went to the quiet place in the woods in the hills in a cave where the setting sun never touched, and there he sat in the dark and the quiet and focused on the barrier between the worlds. While his elder brothers sailed and caravanned, and had many adventures, he sat in the cave and focused, slowly growing gaunter and more withered as he stared through the veil between the worlds, reaching out for something that was never quite there. And then one day, as his brothers reached their princes of the north and south and east and west, he found that shining thing he had searched for; and from between the veil of worlds stepped a prince of midnight and sable, whose skin was the blue black of a moonless night and whose eyes were the silver of the shining stars, whose hair was the shimmering radiance of the galaxy colors, burning bright in a cold winter night. He had sensed the brother searching for him, and curious had looked closer; and fallen in love with the vision of the Rose, a princess without a kingdom, the flower growing amongst the weeds.

And so the brothers returned home, carried by djinn and winged horse, by dragon and gryphon, and walking down the mountainside with shadow trailing behind. Their family was overjoyed to see them again, for years had passed in their absence, and their father was ill and their youngest brother was of an age now where he, too, could have joined their quest - if only they had left a direction for him to search. Their eldest brother had started a family of his own, but still watched over their delicate Rose, who had - if it were possible - grown only more beautiful in their absence, and now shone like the sun and and burned like the stars, and none of the villagers could look upon her without weeping, and who was so desperately lonesome in return that she felt like weeping herself.

And all of the princes looked upon her, and loved her, and promised her their kingdoms - if only she would be theirs. The prince of the north offered her diamonds, and the prince of the south rubies; the prince of the east offered gold and jade, sacks of tea and pouches of precious saffron and coriander. The prince of the west offered sapphires and coral, pearls and amber; he had the treasure of all the world to offer, for every nation of every land sailed ships, and all those ships were his, if he so willed it, and all the precious cargoes that grew therein.

And the prince who came from the worlds between merely smiled, and told her that he offered but himself - and all eternity. For if she came with him through the veil, she could never return to this world - but all the others, across the ten billion billion billion dimensions, and beyond, would all lie at her feet, for her to choose from.

And that is the prince she chose; and if she lived happily ever after, we may only hope, for in a heartbeat they had stepped from our world, and they were gone beyond the curtain between the worlds, past where mortal men can see, and into infinity. And the four princes, spurned, wept bitter tears and went back to their kingdoms, where they ruled long and well but never happily, for the memory of the woman called Rose was always with them, and they longed for her.

And her family could only hope that she was happy, and settled down into their lives, and lived them as long and well as they could; and if the sixth brother was satisfied with the prince he had brought home, he never said, but went and sat in that cave in the mountains, and hoped to see his sister one day again.

And that was the tale of the Rose who bloomed in the night.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

365/1K (And Other Strangeness)

So, I've never been a big fan of New Year's Resolutions. To be honest, I've found them kinda tacky; a list of things you probably should have been doing well before New Year's, and you're throwing it out there with the intention of doing them this year, instead. Most people fail to follow them; they're kind of the epitome of failure.

It's probably a little hypocritical to start out a note on my New Year's Resolutions this year by bashing the entire concept of New Years Resolutions, but let's be honest; consistency has never been my strong suit.

Which is probably the best reason I can give for putting forth a list of "New Year's Resolutions" (at least one of which is an ongoing thing continuing from November/December of last year, anyway).

First of all, I resolve to weigh 250 pounds, or as close to it as I can come, by this date, 2013. I've been well embroiled in the process of losing weight since my early birthday party, when my parents were kind enough to give me a Utilikilt that, sadly, was just a size or so too small - at the biggest size they offer. Turns out a kilt size 44 is a pants size 42, who knew? I have an odd relationship with size 42 pants; some of them fit me fine, if a little tightly, and others haven't a chance in hell of fitting my fat arse (two pairs of 5.11 tactical jeans sit on the top shelf of my closet, as a matter of fact, hoping and wishing for the day when I can squeeze into them. I'm such a girl.) My utilikilt, sadly, is in this latter category.

And let's face it, I am fat. I may not be the waddling mountain of blubber we can all point a finger at, but I've got a beer belly, my arms and legs are getting beyond their fair share of flabby, and I'm well overweight for my height and build, even as lush as they are. I'm fat, and I bitch about it - maybe not constantly, but certainly often enough. I need to change, and this was just the right impetus for it. I hope.

It's not the first time I've made this promise, but I'm off to a good start (*knock on wood*) and with any luck, putting this out where everyone can razz me if I fail, encourage me as I succeed, and otherwise help to keep me motivated, is my way of keeping myself in the game.

Resolution numero dos, I resolve to write one thousand words - 1,000, 1K, a grand, ten centuries, however you'd like it - each and every day for the next year, from now until December 31, 2012. This is where our title comes from, "365/1K" - although we must not forget that this is a leap year, and therefore it's actually a 366/1K. I'm hoping that, by sheer volume of output, I can force myself to finish the stories I've begun, continue to tell stories I imagine, and generally work on getting myself into some sort of competent writerhood stage. A writer, afterall, is one who writes. And with very rare exceptions (like the first two weeks of November), I don't often do that. That needs to change.

My safety switch for this is that it can be any sort of writing, so long as it's done in my voice, not even necessarily hitting the protocols for "creative writing". Story? Oh hell yeah. Blog entry? Sure, why not? Notes for a story? You betcha. Copying a recipe in a cookbook, data entry for work, writing down "ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JEREMY WANNNA MURDER A BITCH" one thousand times? Nope, doesn't hit the criteria.

(What you're reading right now, by the way, is 642 words - and counting - of today's quota. Happy New Year.)

On this front, I'd like to make the announcement that I'm starting a new series, one I'm hoping to actually send out into the wild for public dissemination, and I need pre-readers, editors, and reviewers. The catch is that it's being done in a couple of genres that I don't have very much experience with, which could very well be offensive to quite a few of you. What is it? Well, to quote Orgazmo, "It's an action-adventure... porno." Or, as I'm calling it, "Fantasy Horror Erotica". As originally envisioned, it was going to be porn - there's no point in sugarcoating this - but it's turned into something about as steamy as your average romance bodice ripper or Laurell K. Hamilton novel. (In other words, porn... with plot.) So, if you enjoy my writing and you don't mind graphic depictions of things that should really be best left in the bedroom (or, in our case, the dungeon, the ruined castle, the catacombs, etc. etc.), drop me a line.

I expect all of my immediate family members have probably fled the blog post screaming, about three lines ago.

Resolution three, I swear, has nothing to do with porn. I resolve to take four camping trips this year; I'd love for it to be one a season, but sadly that's not going to happen with the ship's deployment schedule. I don't plan on being overseas for three quarters of 2012 (like the ship), but I'll be riding it through pretty much all of spring, so that leaves that month out. I may have to get over my distaste of heat, bugs, and summer crowds and go camping in the hot months, or maybe I can cram it all into weekends in the fall, but one way or another, I'm getting my arse out in the woods with a tent and a pack at least four times this year. You're welcome to come along, but I'll go alone if I have to. (Speaking of, I'm also taking steps to begin backpacking in seriousness. I've got a long ways to go; my first sojourn, a three hour hike to my mother-in-law's house with a half weight pack, has my legs aching like I'd run up and down a mountain rather than walked a couple of miles of easy, paved ground at a reasonable pace. It's kind of pathetic.)

Resolution four is an add-on, almost a throwaway; I resolve to read one nonfiction book a month. I'm leaving the definition of "book" open, save that it must be obviously more than a pamphlet. I read a crap load of fiction, I don't read quite as much non; this isn't necessarily a bad thing, per se, but I could do with expanding my horizons. It's almost ironic that I make this vow here at the beginning of 2012, because December 2011 actually saw me read a number of nonfiction; but this was an exception to my usual diet of scifi, fantasy, and horror, and so I'm making the promise. I've got a couple of books lined up, including a pair of Carl Sagan titles my wife got me a couple Christmases ago, so I'm rather looking forward to it.

So, there you have it. Four resolutions from a guy who hates resolutions, four promises to change my life in some way that, hopefully, I'll follow through on. Hope you'll join me. Happy New Year; however good your 2011 may have been, may 2012 be better still.