Saturday, December 8, 2012

NaNoWriMo in a Blink

NaNoWriMo 2012 is over. Somehow, unlike past years, this blog was silent throughout the entire month. I was dreadfully irresponsible regarding my blogging. Yes, that does usually happen during the school year, but it's no excuse, and certainly not during NaNo. So this is to recap the month, which was full of firsts and frustrations, tied with a bow of success!

 I am not teaching a writing class this year, so had no students to 'force' through the YWP. I also did not lead it as an after school program, for various reasons. I did put up a poster to chart my own progress, and I spread the information out to some other interested teachers, but as far as I know, I was the only one in the school writing. (I did get a surprising bit of interest in my progress, so will probably repeat that next year, and may again be the staunch supporter of the school's YWP.)

However, this year, I decided to shoot for the full 50k. Then, I had an extra surprise: my wife decided to write! It was a very different experience, pursuing our goals together. Then, we decided to get more social than I have in the past. We attended the regional kick-off party, the "Evening of Scribbling Recklessly" (all-night write-in for our region), and even the TGIO party on Dec 1. We made some friends, got well acquainted with our fantastic MLs, and both succeeded in writing over 50,000 words!

My wife wrote an Elven Fire campaign, similar to The Beginner GM, which was my project from last year. I wrote The Mayan Millennium, and was surprised at how much my characters took over and guided the work this time around. Pleasantly surprised, I should add. I think they made it a much better story than I had planned! I'm glad that I didn't abandon it at the beginning of NaNo and switch to something else. I stayed faithful to the work, and it rewarded me well. I finished Mayan at 50,090 words.

Another new thing? I used the writing program Scrivener this year and LOVED it. It's a fantastic program that any writer would benefit from trying, in my opinion. Winning NaNoWriMo allowed me to buy it at 50% off it's usual price. Great deal, and now I own it.

What's next? Well, I'm planning to submit a story called Slave Princess to the quarterly Writers of the Future contest. Slave Princess is a novella that was never posted to my website or otherwise much advertised, mostly written for a friend during a failed NaNoWriMo attempt in the past. However, I've dug it back out of the dust and am now editing and revising to send it in to WotF. After that, I have two novels to edit! Mayan Millennium and On Common Ground. One of them will be going to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest, and the other will get agent-shopped and then self-published (if it isn't picked up first) this summer! The question is, which one gets what?? Yet to be determined. I'm horrible at choosing between great options!

Also, my amazing wife has taken up a hobby of cover artwork! She did several NaNo covers through the forums, and modified / finished a cover concept that someone else offered for On Common Ground! I love the new look, front to back.

Oh, there's one more thing that will be new, but started in November: the website! is getting a redesign, courtesy of Stephanie from I am super-excited about this, and will try to keep updates posted here as it happens. (If you have any thoughts about features or pages you'd like to see on the site, PLEASE comment and let me know so I can get them included in the big redesign!)

Happy Holidays, everyone.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Hero Games Introductions: Calvin

I'd like to introduce you to the Beta Testing team for Modson Technologies's newest game in development: Hero Games! Modson is using their proprietary, experimental Neural Interceptor technology in a full immersion virtual setting for this new game. If the Beta trials are successful, they expect this technology to radically change the gaming industry, along with many other applications. Modson has been kind enough to allow us access to this technology to interview their Beta testers. Each one we interview will actually be comfortably at home, hooked into their Modson gaming system. Since this system interacts directly with their minds, we'll be able to get much more complete answers than subjects may otherwise give. It'll be almost like they are having a dream.

In addition, the Beta tester that gets the most attention from their interview (comments, Likes, +1's, etc) will get a special in-game reward AND one of their lucky commenters/Likers/+1-ers will get a cameo appearance in Hero Games!

This week, we'll talk to Calvin Moon! The young, Asian man that steps through the curtain is a shade over six feet. His slender build makes him look taller. Almond eyes peer through the small, round frames that ride high on his nose under the straight, dark bangs. The Hero Games tee shirt clashes styles with the simple slacks, and hangs on his shoulders like a wire hanger.

JACE: Hello, Calvin. Thank you for meeting with us.

CALVIN: Sure, no problem. 

JACE: Let's start with you, Calvin. Would you tell us a little about yourself and then maybe your heroic alter ego?

CALVIN: The alter ego is probably more fun to talk about. He laughs self-consciously. Well, I'm 19. I'm a  sophomore in architectural engineering at Drexel University. I don't do a lot of sports, well, any sports, and I study a lot. The most exciting thing I do is sometimes I play an RPG game called Elven Fire with a group at school who's into that. I'm kind of a nerd.

JACE: Nerds are important, too, Calvin. What about your hero?

CALVIN: His face brightens up a little. That's where things get more exciting. He's a super hero, obviously. I made him with blond, surfer hair. He's pretty athletic. He has a castle-hemmed cape, and a dragon on his chest. The dragon is for my school. I picked a pair of powers to start with: Statue and Lead Feet. Statue is a single-target freeze, and Lead Feet is an AOE slow. Of course, each one costs energy, so there's some strategy in using them. It's fun.

JACE: And AOE is short for?

CALVIN: Area-Of-Effect. It means it hits several enemies at the same time.

JACE: I see. That does sound like a good combination. Let's talk about powers a little bit. Can you tell us how these powers work, and how you learned them? Press A to shoot, B to jump? Certain hand motions for certain tricks? Is there a tutorial, or do you figure it out in game?

CALVIN: He laughs comfortably. No, this game isn't like that. There aren't controllers; you're completely inside the game. Whatever you do, you're really doing in the game. A lot of players, when using classic controllers, jerk the controller up when they press the jump button. The game doesn't care if you lift your controller or not. In some more advanced games, lifting your controller will make your character jump. In Hero Games, if you jerk your arms up, your character just jerks his arms up. If you want your character to jump, you'd better jump yourself. You and the character are really the same person.

JACE: Okay, so I know how to jump, and walk, but where did the real you learn how to cast "Statue" or "Lead Feet"?

CALVIN: Oh, that happens in the Training Room, with TrainerBot and his TAs.

JACE: That sounds interesting. Can you tell us a little about that?

CALVIN: After you make your character, you go down a mirrored hallway to the Training Room. It has a very high, arched ceiling and is mostly steel walls. You go back to the Training Room any time you learn a new power, to learn how to use it. TrainerBot is a floating robot. He's metallic humanoid on top, but the bottom half of him is a round floating set of equipment. He guides you on using the powers, and the TAs, Training Assistants, are basically the practice dummies. They look like gym class rejects until they start coming at you.

JACE: The TAs attack you?

CALVIN: I think it depends on the kind of power you have. Mine is actively offensive/defensive, so yeah, they attacked me so I could use my powers on them. Using the powers is mostly a matter of concentration and focus. Since the entire game is wired into our heads, it makes sense that using the powers would just be in our heads, too.

Other Hero Games Introductions:
Nick "Virgil Ante"
Paul "The Peace Keeper"
Erin "Vanessa Pyre" 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Hero Games Introductions: Erin

I'd like to introduce you to the Beta Testing team for Modson Technologies's newest game in development: Hero Games! Modson is using their proprietary, experimental Neural Interceptor technology in a full immersion virtual setting for this new game. If the Beta trials are successful, they expect this technology to radically change the gaming industry, along with many other applications. Modson has been kind enough to allow us access to this technology to interview their Beta testers. Each one we interview will actually be comfortably at home, hooked into their Modson gaming system. Since this system interacts directly with their minds, we'll be able to get much more complete answers than subjects may otherwise give. It'll be almost like they are having a dream.

In addition, the Beta tester that gets the most attention from their interview (comments, Likes, +1's, etc) will get a special in-game reward AND one of their lucky commenters/Likers/+1-ers will get a cameo appearance in Hero Games!

This week, we'll talk to Erin Moore. The girl that steps through the curtain has intelligent, watery blue eyes and red streaks in her shoulder-length black hair. Black combat-style boots with large buckles on the side peek out from under faded blue jeans. The leather jacket hangs loosely off her shoulders, and a simple black t shirt peeks out between the zippers. A thin black choker circles her neck, and her eyeshadow is dark, creating pockets of shadow around her eyes. She lounges in the guest chair looking very comfortable. She offers a pretty smile and waits for me to begin.

JACE: Hello, Erin. Thank you for taking the time to join us today.

ERIN: She shrugs. It's no problem. They said you were interviewing all the Beta testers.

JACE: Yes, we are. Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself to get us started?

ERIN: Okay. I'm seveteen. My birthday is October 8th if you want to send me a present. I read a lot. I do okay in school. I've never been arrested, but I beat up the last guy that said I was emo. When I was a kid, we had a lizard in our backyard, a gecko, and I got friendly enough with him that he would let me feed him. I like your goatee, and I think I've run out of things to say.

JACE: I'm caught a little off guard by her reference to myself. We were supposed to be talking about her! Ah, thank you, Erin. What about Hero Games? Are you enjoying being a Beta tester?

ERIN: Yeah, it's fun. When I read, I kind of fall into the story, you know? This game is even better than that; I'm really in the world and action.

JACE:  Can you tell us a little about your character?

ERIN: Sure. Her name is Vanessa Pyre. She's kind of a vampire. She wears a gothic corset and dress, and she can do some of the traditional vampire stuff, like turn into mist and bite people. Her bite just puts them to sleep right now, though.

JACE: Traditionally, fire is one of the ways to kill a vampire. Was the irony in your character's name intentional? A pyre is a burning structure.

ERIN: She flashes that pretty smile again, perhaps even slightly longer and larger. I think you're the first person to get that. I didn't start with that in mind, but I liked the idea, so I went with it.

JACE: So, Vanessa is a vampire. Is that one of the options when you make your character? I don't think we've heard much about that.

ERIN: No, the Character Creation isn't like that. There are tons of options, and none of them are stereotypes. Obviously , you can stereotype if you want to, but it isn't setup by default. There aren't even player classes like in most games.

JACE: Could you explain more about that for our readers who might be less game-proficient than others?

ERIN: Well, most games like this, you choose a 'class' of character, like an tank, or a blaster, or a mage.

JACE: I think you lost me there, Erin.

ERIN: A tank is the term for someone who can take a lot of damage. They run in and keep the bad guy's attention, doing a little bit of damage, but taking all the hits while the other guys attack the same bad guy. A blaster is someone who attacks from a distance, like an archer or gunman. And a mage is someone that uses magic. There are other types, but that gives you the idea. When you choose one of those characters, you choose powers or abilities or weapons that work for that type of fighter. In Hero Games, you don't pick a class, and all the abilities are open for anyone to choose. You can make your own class, or spread it around and be a little of everything. It changes the strategy a little bit that way, and that's cool.

JACE: What about the social aspects of the game? Are you making lots of new friends?

ERIN: A slightly disgusted look crosses her face. I don't make friends. Yes, you can group, and there are options for that in the game, but you'll have to ask someone else about that; I work alone. Everything's going social these days. People act like you can't do anything on your own, like it's a bad thing to be by yourself.

Image created by
JACE: So you don't talk to or interact with anyone else in the game?

ERIN: Well, there's this one guy that's helped me out a couple of times. He's kind of sweet, really, but that's the sad part, cause he's just going to get hurt in the end. Nice guy, though.

JACE: Well, if you don't go in for the social aspect, what is your favorite part of the game.

ERIN:  She clearly ponders this for a moment, her watery blue eyes looking off into the distance. I like the pure freedom of it. I get to experience things without worrying about getting trapped, or getting hurt. I've jumped off a building and faded into mist half way down, drifting gently to the street. I can talk tough to the bad guys, cause their just computer pixels. Yeah, I like the freedom to feel anything.

Other Hero Games Introductions:
Nick "Virgil Ante"
Paul "The Peace Keeper" Granados

Monday, July 30, 2012

Hero Games Introductions: Paul

I'd like to introduce you to the Beta Testing team for Modson Technologies's newest game in development: Hero Games! Modson is using their proprietary, experimental Neural Interceptor technology in a full immersion virtual setting for this new game. If the Beta trials are successful, they expect this technology to radically change the gaming industry, along with many other applications. Modson has been kind enough to allow us access to this technology to interview their Beta testers. Each one we interview will actually be comfortably at home, hooked into their Modson gaming system. Since this system interacts directly with their minds, we'll be able to get much more complete answers than subjects may otherwise give. It'll be almost like they are having a dream.

This week, we'll talk to... Paul! A stocky, broad shouldered Hispanic guy comes in, smiling and waving to a non-existent studio audience. He pretends to shield his eyes from bright studio lights (though his lime green sport glasses are bright enough), scan the 'crowd,' recognize someone with a big smile, and point them out before finally joining us in the overstuffed interview chairs. The Hero Games tee shirt from the company is put on over top of the collared golf shirt he wears underneath.

JACE: Good morning, Paul. You seem to be in good spirits today.

PAUL: Every chance I get! He shrugs. I try to focus on the happy side of life. So, what did you want to talk about?

JACE: Laughs. Well, I thought we could talk about your role as a Beta tester, and your experience in the game, and maybe a little bit about you. Tell us about Hero Games.

PAUL: Okay. Well, you have this tower thing, with a helmet-gizmo attached to it. I think they call it a Neural Inter-something. Anyways, you put on the headset, and your whole body starts feeling numb. Oh, and everything is dark. Then all of a sudden you're floating kind of in space, and there's a start button that you can reach out and click, then you're in the game. You start by making a hero character, and then you become the hero and go out and fight crime.

JACE: That sounds intriguing. So, what sort of hero did you make?

PAUL: Oh, mine is named The Peace Keeper. He's got all this body armor, and he uses a quarterstaff that shrinks down when I'm not using it. When I level up some more, I plan to get a Bolo Gun.

JACE: I couldn't help but notice that you switched pronouns, there, Paul. You went from talking about 'him' to yourself. 

PAUL: He grins sheepishly. Yeah, well, that's kind of the way it happens in the game, you really do become the hero. It feels so real. Once I finished creating the character and got into the armor myself, it was me out there fighting crime. It isn't like you're just pushing buttons and watching a screen; you're really out there- or, in there, or whatever, I am the Peace Keeper. It's great.

JACE: So, Paul, there may be some of our audience that don't know what a Beta tester is. Could you explain that for us?

PAUL: Sure. When a company is making a video game, they have to write all the programming, and then part of the programmers' job is to test it. Only they can't see all the problems, cause they're too close, so they do a Beta Trial. They invite a small group of people to play the game and see if they can find mistakes, or problems. We can make suggestions, and we can even try to break the game. I know one guy that always tries to find the highest part of the game he can and jump off, just to see how the game handles it.

JACE: I see. Have you tried that in Hero Games?

PAUL: He shakes his head vigorously. Not me; not in Hero Games. It's too real. I'd feel like I was really jumping off a building. Some of the heroes can fly, though, so maybe they've tried it. But you do some exploring, you try to go into places of the game environment that the designers don't expect you to go. I'll be honest, I've mostly been having fun just playing the game. The world's pretty complete, though. My buddy Blue Bow has been following the NPCs trying to figure out the patterns. He says they're more complicated than any game he's seen yet.

Images thanks to

PAUL: Oh, sorry. NPCs are Non-Player Characters. They're just fake people run by the game to help fill up the world the game is in. 

JACE: Well, Paul, you've told us a fair bit about the game, but what about you? Who is the 'man behind the Peace Keeper'?

PAUL:  His grin expands to cover half his face. Aw, there's nothing interesting about me. I'm just a guy.

JACE: I don't believe that for a moment. What's your family like? What do you do for fun?

PAUL: Not much family, really. Just my mom and me. Mom doesn't want me to work so I can concentrate on school. She wants me to get into a good college. She says she's supporting me now so I can support her later. He laughs. She says when I turn 27 she's going to retire, so I'd better be ready to take care of her. For fun, right now, I mostly just play Hero Games. It gets pretty addicting. I'm in there most of the time.

JACE: Offers Paul his hand to shake. Well, Paul, it's been a pleasure having you stop by. I wish you great success in the future. Before you go, though, I have a special announcement to our audience:

The Beta tester that gets the most attention for his interview will receive a special in-game reward! So, tell all of your friends to come check out your interview, and comment, Like, +1, etc so you can get that special in-game prize. Also, the lucky Beta tester will choose one of their supporters at random for a cameo appearance in Hero Games!

PAUL: You got it! He gets up and again waves to the imaginary crowd, his grin as big as his heart. 

Hero Games Introductions:
Nick "Virgil Ante"
Erin "Vanessa Pyre" Moore

Monday, July 23, 2012

Hero Games Introductions: Nick

I'd like to introduce you to the Beta Testing team for Modson Technologies's newest game in development: Hero Games! Modson is using their proprietary, experimental Neural Interceptor technology in a full immersion virtual setting for this new game. If the Beta trials are successful, they expect this technology to radically change the gaming industry, along with many other applications. Modson has been kind enough to allow us access to this technology to interview their Beta testers. Each one we interview will actually be comfortably at home, hooked into their Modson gaming system. Since this system interacts directly with their minds, we'll be able to get much more complete answers than subjects may otherwise give. It'll be almost like they are having a dream.

We'll start with Nick. Nick is one of the younger Beta testers of the group. A skinny teenager with long, stringy black hair enters the room and takes a seat beside the desk. He's wearing a trademark Hero Games tee shirt (provided by the company) and ripped jeans.

JACE: Hello, Nick. Thank you for agreeing to talk with us today.

NICK: Sure. I got a free tee shirt for it! (He leans back and pokes out his chest to show off the tee shirt.)

JACE: Why don't you start by telling us a little bit about yourself, Nick?

NICK: Well, I'm 14. I go to Bridgeton High School. I like to swim; I like to game. That's pretty much it.

JACE: You like to swim? Are you on a swim team? I mean, do you compete?

NICK: I used to be. I'm not any more. We can't afford it now. I still do laps in the school pool when I can, though.

JACE: Alright, we'll talk more about that later. Have you had a chance to try the game out, yet?

NICK: (He gets a little more excited and slides forward to the edge of his chair.) Oh, yeah. It's completely wicked. You're totally inside the game. It's so real-feeling. When you make your character, it's like you're standing in this room, and there's a pool of goo that turns into the person as you're making him, and then he kind of comes to life, but he isn't really alive cause you aren't in him, yet. He's just showing off a little personality, you know?

JACE: No, I don't quite know yet, but it sounds very interesting. What kind of character did you make?

NICK: Ha! I made this wicked eight foot blue giant with red eyes. He's got a leather jacket and these crazy techno gloves that shoot lightning. (Nick starts gesturing and acting out his description.) He's wicked strong and he can jump out of a high window or something and land on the sidewalk, making all these little cracks in the cement... it's completely wicked. (He brushes his hair out of his eyes with one hand as he finishes the description.)  I called him Virgil Ante. Like, vigilante, you know, a hero kind-of guy?

JACE: He sounds quite intimidating. So, Virgil Ante is a hero?

NICK: Oh yeah, they're all heroes. The game has it setup like that. If you do non-hero stuff, you lose experience and can't level up.I think if you do too much of it, they kick you out or something. It's still a pretty cool game, though. It needs a soundtrack, but I think that might be an unlock you can get later.

JACE: Excellent. Well, I'd hate to spoil the game while it is still in Beta, let's talk more about you.

NICK: If you want, I guess, I don't have much interesting to talk about.

JACE: Well, how about your family? What do they think of you being selected for the Beta test?

NICK: Uhm, well, my mom I don't think really knows. She's working a lot these days, so I don't see her very much. My little brother knows, but he's just kind of a pest, and I don't allow him in my room. Bad things happen when he goes in my room. (Nick pauses thoughtfully, as though surprised at his own words.) Yeah, uhm, so anyways, he knows, and that's kind of the house, cause our dad died a few years ago.

JACE: I'm sorry to hear that. What happened?

NICK: Well, when I was nine, I found this gun on the way home from school. It was just laying beside the fence in a paper bag, right? And I saw it, and I thought "Wicked. It's a real gun." I figured it'd be fun for me and Joker, that's my best friend, his real name's James, anyways, fun for me and Joker to shoot tin cans or something sometime. Plus, it's not safe to leave something like that just sitting out where anybody can get it, you know? (He paused with the same look of self-confusion.) Anyways, I took it home and I was checking it out in my room when I heard my dad come home. I knew he'd probably flip and want to turn the gun in, which was fine and all, but I hadn't even had a chance to shoot it yet. I mean, a couple of days difference won't matter.

So I stuffed the gun under my bed and went out to talk with dad and throw the suspicion off. He started talking about this big swim meet that was coming up, and maybe how we could celebrate if I placed well enough. (His shoulders slump slightly, and his voice grows softer.) Then I see my kid brother coming out of the hallway holding the gun. He loved playing in my room, and it always made me so mad, cause he'd break stuff. This time was the worst, though. He'd found the gun, and he was only three, so he didn't even really know what it was. He totally didn't know it was real. He pointed it at us, and said "bang, bang!" We used to play that game. He'd point his finger at me and say "bang bang" and I'd all die goofy like. He thought it was funny. Only this time the gun was real, and it was loaded. I don't think dad even really ever knew what happened. His eyes got all wide, and he tried to talk, but he couldn't, and he fell on the ground.

(Nick pushes the tissue box away and wipes his nose and eyes on his sleeve instead.) I know I shouldn't have had the gun in the first place, but if he hadn't gone in my room; if he'd just leave my stuff alone...

JACE: That must have been terrible for both of you. Is your brother okay?

NICK: (shrugs.)  I don't think he even really remembers it. He was pretty young. He probably didn't even understand that I'd cost us both our father. I mostly take care of him, cause mom's working all the time to make ends meet, and dad's gone, so it's just us at home.

JACE: Sounds like you're trying to be his hero.
Images thanks to
NICK: Nah, I just make sure he doesn't starve or anything, you know? I mean, it's the least I can do, after... everything.

JACE: Well, we're almost out of time, so let's try to end on a high note. What's the coolest thing about the game that you've found so far?

NICK: Hero Games? Aw, man, there's so much wicked stuff in there. (He thinks about it a moment.)  Probably the feeling of being somebody completely different. In there, I'm not just looking at the back of Virgil's head; I am Virgil Ante. I'm eight feet tall, with blue skin and muscles, and I can shoot electricity. It's all so wicked-real.

JACE: Again, Nick, thank you for joining us, and we look forward to reading all about your adventures in Hero Games.

Tune in next time, and we'll talk to another of our Beta testers for Hero Games, from Modson Technologies.

Hero Games Introductions:
 Paul "The Peace Keeper" Granados
Erin "Vanessa Pyre" Moore

Monday, July 16, 2012

Children Make Great Villians

I often wonder at the mindset and expectations of criminals. How they can possibly dream up some of the things they do? How can they feel good about doing it? I never feel like I understand the "darker psyche". However, tonight I have come to realize that the greatest source of inspiration for villainy is children. My wife had a blog for a time called "Step-Eclecticity" and used little code names for the kids, so I'm going to borrow those monikers for this.

Tonight, I awoke from bed to yelling (possibly, I was still asleep there) and then the definite sounds of loud crying. I got out of bed and made my way to the children's side of the house. When I hit the hallway, I paused to determine which direction the crying was coming from. Both directions?? (We currently have two kids in the house, as their older brother, 'Scooby', is out of state for the balance of the summer.) After a moment of listening, I decide the louder crying seems to be coming from the left, so I start in that direction. There I find 'Bliss,' our 11 yr old rock-climbing daughter, lying on the bed, holding one side of her head and in terrible tears.

"My face is broken," she sobs out. I'm slightly in shock, and resisting the instant urge to go destroy the vile miscreant who has chosen to bring my daughter to such painful tears and heart-wrenching beliefs. "He pressed my face down with all his weight, and I heard it crack!" She fully believes that her twin brother has literally broken her face, cracked her skull. After a few more minutes of gentle holding and reassurances that her face appears to be just as pretty as always, other than tear-tracks and puffy eyes, I get a grip on my temper and head for the other end of the hallway.

On that end of the world, I discover Digi, our 11-yr old baseball fanatic and potential genius, curled into the fetal position on the giant beanbag under his Texas Rangers comforter. He, too, is sobbing his heart into the night. I ask, calmly, what happened. "She turned off the light, and pushed me off the ladder, and made me feel like I wasn't even a person!"

I tennis-matched back and forth for an hour, comforting, interrogating, chastising, and reassuring the pair of them, and in the end, after much begging to see each other on both their parts, I let Digi in to see Bliss, and he tearfully said he was sorry and begged her forgiveness, as she apologized to him and told him it was alright. There were hugs and 'I love you's as I watched from the door. There will certainly be more talking in the morning, but as it was after midnight, I put them both to bed with kisses and instructions to get some sleep. Oh, what was the fight over? The top bunk. When there are four kid beds to choose from in that end of the house.

So, I'm reasonably certain that her face isn't broken, and I'm pretty sure he is a person, but I was completely floored at the actions they were willing to take against someone they each profess to care deeply about, and for so little an incentive. Truly, childhood is the stuff of villainy. Earlier this week, one of them slipped around the table while I was chatting with their cousin, and then whispered behind my back (I can still hear pretty well in my doting old age) to that cousin, who promptly stepped back to my attention and asked about playing on the Wii with the child that was so conveniently positioned behind me. I asked why my child wasn't the one asking, and promptly came the defense that the cousin had just been asking to play. Yeah, right. Manipulative little... villain.

Their older brother Scooby isn't innocent on this, either, by no means. Every time he travels between houses, he smuggles a shipment of toys back east. There was even an entire post on my wife's old blog a couple of years ago about a certain candy thief that was caught chocolate-handed.

I am probably far too tired to try to assess what this observation might mean from a psychological point of view, but I am quick to spot the writing advantage! What is a villain willing to do to get what he wants? Look to the children. Lie ("I didn't put that there!"), Cheat ("Oops, I moved my piece too far. And that was a practice roll."), Manipulate, Steal, and, apparently, break a little girl's face, or turn their own brother into a "non-person."  Frankly, I'd call that a pretty impressive list for a villain. 

I was about to say that the crazy thing is, if we base villains on children, they don't even need all that convincing a reason for their evil deeds. I mean really: he wanted the top bunk. Then again, was all that really about who got the top bunk? Or maybe about how one made the other one feel? Don't get me wrong, I don't care how someone makes you feel, reciprocal violence is not an acceptable response. Yet we must take something like that into account when writing villains: they have reasons for what they do. They also must have a certain viewpoint about it. Either they feel it is justified, or they have to be in some way conflicted about it. Or perhaps numbed to it, as they have lived that way so long.

My problem with villains, or writing any character that isn't just stock criminal, is that I have trouble making them be truly evil. They don't lie, they kind of sort of tell half-truths... When just watching my children should make me realize that, angels they may be, but they'll lie to you. Straight up, stare you in the face, I-didn't-do-it-and-you-can't-prove-it lie. Not to mention the other things they are willing to do, especially in the heat of the moment, even if they feel bad about it later. Maybe my next villain will cry himself to sleep at night, trying to justify his actions, or push blame onto the victims of her crimes. Or maybe we'll see their dad, lying in bed, trying to figure out where he went wrong to raise someone so... human.

Monday, July 9, 2012


We'll talk about where I've been later. First, I want to celebrate! I now officially have a published work. Elven Fire for the Beginner GM  is finished and published, through the wonderful folks at It took several re-uploads for small corrections, but it's done and available on CreateSpace and Amazon.

Last summer, George F. Rice published the  Elven Fire manual, introducing his family's 20-year project to the world.
Elven Fire is a new RPG tabletop game, like many others available on the market, but with some very unique aspects such as the Damage Class table that allows a player to use any kind of die in existence (or that can be conceived) to play the game. In addition, it is more "family friendly" than many in the genre, while still maintaining the classic, high fantasy style that has made these types of games famous.

Elven Fire for the Beginner GM is not an alternate manual. Instead, it is a guide for inexperienced GMs of Elven Fire (or if you've never even heard of RPG games before!). 'The Beginner GM' includes an introduction to the special challenges of being a GM (in addition to being a player) and then walks the reader through three 'arcs' (storylines) of labyrinths. Each labyrinth is five rooms, which is a several-hours night of gameplay. Each labyrinth includes step-by-step instructions for the GM, specific battle statistics for every creature or opponent, and occasional tips and tricks for the GM.

You'll still need the manual to make your characters, and you'll want the manual for all of the other great information there. This is by no means a replacement for the manual. However, playing a starting group through all three arcs of The Beginner GM will bring that starter, no-nothing group of rag-tag adventurers all the way to the threshold of the Intermediate level.

The most exciting part, however, is that my name's on the cover!! My author's copies will arrive this week, so I still have some exciting celebrating to do, but I wanted to go ahead and write up the blog post to announce it. I would also like to mention that I wrote this work during last November, while leading several middle schoolers through NaNoWriMo's Young Writers' Program and I would certainly like to thank the Office of Letters and Light for all the hard work they do to make that program happen. (Not to mention the Winner's Codes they give out for those who make it!)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gods of Justice Review: Blunt Force Trauma

I won Gods of Justice from Lisa Gail Green. It's an anthology of superhero short stories. Lisa asked if I would write a review of the anthology, but since I like to give more than asked, I decided to do a review of each story, one at a time. In case you didn't know, I really like superheroes, so this was a great prize for me. I'll be reviewing them one story at a time in this "Gods of Justice Review series."

Blunt Force Trauma by Kevin Hosey truly does play some head games with you. There isn't a lot of "superhero action" in this one, but the one hero/power that you do get to experience is pretty cool. It starts right at the beginning, giving the reader the advance warning of Psykore's precognitive superpower. It's done almost as a second voice inside his head, giving him a heads up on what's about to happen with a couple of well chosen words. This gives him the advantage on his opponent. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to work on inanimate objects, like a bomb, which quickly ends his career and causes his power to go defunct at the beginning of the story.

We pick up the story many years later, with Psykore making ends meet, permanently wounded and defeated by the bomb, living alone. He gets a call from his mentor/partner from even before we met Psykore, to tell him about the death of his partner's daughter. His partner quickly changes gears, however, and tells him not to come. Apparently, they had some sort of major falling out back in the day, which is hinted at and slowly unveiled as the story moves along.

This story specializes not on cool super heroics or flashy powers, but on relationships and plot twists. I saw the love interest coming, and I suspected the baby's origin maybe halfway in, but I was taken completely by surprise with the identity of the mastermind behind it all. Caught by surprise, and left gasping for breath, with my mind spinning to grasp the ramifications of it all.

Many stories make the mistake of throwing in a random culprit or piece of information at the very end, in order to effect a plot twist of this magnitude. It's called Deus ex Machina, which is Latin and means God of the Machine. However, stories like this, in today's modern world of storytelling, feel contrived, unplanned, or the reader feels cheated. Not so with Blunt Force Trauma. The clues were all there, nothing was truly hidden, it just didn't come together until the end.

It was a little on the slow-paced side, as so much of it was angst and relationship-building material, leaking out tips and hints of what had happened in their past, but in the end, my overwhelming feel is that this story hurt to read. Not that it was bad writing, but that the actual story hurt. I didn't want it to be that way. I hurt for Psykore; I hurt for the kid. I just wanted to raise my hands into the air and scream "It's not fair!" Life isn't fair, and good literature reflects life.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Revising Violently

This Saturday I printed out the first arc of The Beginner GM and curled up on the couch to make my first editing pass. It was a massacre. I shed so much red ink that I'm not sure the ME would be able to identify the body. I slashed paragraphs and carved similes into imagery. I ripped the metaphorical throat out of some of those passages, and then I put it back in backwards. In my defense, those pages deserved it. I'm not sorry I did it, and first chance I get, I'm going to do it again!

I've never liked to revise, or even proofread, for most of my life. I'm not sure why. When I clean and think I am done, I take a last look to catch anything I missed. If I'm eating a good meal, you'd better be sure I check the pot before giving up my plate. Revising, however, I hated. I don't know why. Perhaps it was admitting I had been wrong, or that I could have done it better, though you'd think I was used to that. Maybe it just felt like too much work. It could be that I was scared to see how bad it was. Whatever the reason, When I threw down my pen and pages, I was done, for better or worse. I promise you, it was worse.

Revision, as detestable as it might be to some, is critical to good writing. I don't know why it's impossible to do it right the first time, but it is. I've never ever heard of a successful writer that didn't revise. Moreover, every time I recall an author talking about revision, they talked about how MUCH they revise! Many authors are still mentally revising their work after it's been published.

So, I can't tell you why we need to do it, but I can tell you how it helps. The most obvious is basic proofreading. People make mistakes, all the time. Proofing lets you spot and fix those mistakes before someone else does. Revision allows you to see the places in your story that need tightening, or loosening, or more explanation, or less exposition. It lets you follow the voice of your characters, and better recognize when they shift, than when you were writing mad about the wet newspaper and it soaked into your characters.

I think Writing and Reading are two different parts of the brain, perhaps editing is as well. When you take a second look at what you've written, after letting it cool for a time, you see it as a reader instead of the person writing it, and that makes all the difference. Writers have no clue when they have screwed up. Readers can always smell it. Fortunately, the best writers are both.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Switching Gears

Despite what I said in my last blog post, I'm switching gears. I had planned to finish editing and revising The Beginner GM and then return to work on Hero Games, which I had practically abandoned last summer. However, Fantasy Faction has thrown a metaphorical wrench into my plans.
The wrench they threw into my machine is their new Anthology and the contest for the valued slots for unpublished authors.

Their submission requirements are pretty strict: anything fantasy. I can do that. Targeting about 8,000 words.

So, over the holidays, I had an idea for a story based on the Mayan calendar's end of time. I theorized that maybe the 2012 deadline wasn't predicting the end of the world, but a major change in the world as we know it. (A little quick research lent substantial credibility to such a theory.) So I figure, if the world is going to completely change, why not play with physics? The story I have planned will take the world from science to magic, much like it did ages ago when the pendulum swung the other way. One will slowly fade, and the other will grow in power and awareness.

So, for those who care, that's my new agenda and why. Sometimes, a wrench in the gears just means your machine does something new.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Pretend This is a Creative Blog Post Title

It is a new year, and with new years come... calories, if we're going to be honest about it.

Over the holidays (and just after), I finished Elven Fire for the Beginner GM, which was my NaNoWriMo project this year. (I did hit my goal, but had some finishing pieces I wanted to add.) Now it's time for that to go into revisions so it can be published this spring. The actual game manual went out last summer. That has been a fun experience, and a new type of project for me.

Once that's done, I'll be going back to work on Hero Games, which I abandoned in the middle. I've decided to try an unusual (for me) approach, though, and writing each character's storyline independently, then weaving them all together. With the plot well mapped, it should be doable, and may help to maintain the continuity of their voice.

One night over the holidays, I had to get up in the middle of the night to write down a couple of story concepts so that I could sleep, and hopefully not lose the ideas. When I shared the ideas with my wife later, she praised the concepts, but commented that she thinks I have enough projects on my plate.

Even ignoring the "real life" commitments of teaching and family, she's right. I have just finished writing one project that requires editing before a deadline for publications; I am still in the midst of a challenging novel with a dozen main characters, each with their own subplot. I have at least three other novels-in-progress awaiting their turn in line. I have a Santa's List of story ideas waiting to become works-in-progress. I have blogging that I try to do weekly, Tweeting that I do whenever I can, which isn't often enough. On Common Ground is gathering dust waiting to be edited. On top of all that, I really should be trying to build my portfolio by entering contests, submitting short stories to magazines, networking within the blogosphere. Oh, I'd completely forgotten that Derek Daniels, my poor Nanite Chaser, is desperately in need of another episode or five.

How does a writer do it? Do we throw some of these wonderful ideas away? Should I start a Writer's Idea Bank and store them there in the hopes that some other author may be able to use one? It makes me wonder, of those amazing authors that are out there, the prolific, and the departed, how many of their stories went unwritten? How many amazing tales have passed unpenned? I hope there's a library in heaven, and I hope Satan's not in charge of the publishing house.