Christmas Kindness

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I debated writing about this, but what the hell. Here goes.

We don’t have very much money. This isn’t a lament or an accusation, just a fact. My family lives without a lot of the things that other people have (car, home, cell phones, cable TV, etc) and that’s largely a conscious choice. We homeschool. We write and paint. We are at home a lot and together, eating meals at the table and spending time together, not eating in our car as we drive from one thing to another.

Still, even though these are the choices we’ve made, sometimes they’re still tough. Very tough. Case in point: grocery shopping. For the last six or seven years, we have pulled a child’s red wagon the eight blocks or so from our apartment to the supermarket, locked it to a bike rack, shopped, then put the bags in the wagon and pulled it home.

It’s not an activity that ever made me feel like an up-and-comer, let me tell you. Worse was when the cheap plastic tread on the wheels split and fell apart, leaving the wagon to rattle on its white “rims”.

So when my wife announced that she was going to take over the shopping, I was glad and embarrassed. If I were more successful, we’d have more fun money for a car or something.[1]

And I started to learn about the staff at the supermarket. I’m not really one for talking to strangers, but she’s an extrovert and will talk to just about anyone willing chat back. So I heard about the staff and what they’re doing, and I had a few conversations with them when I’d stop in for something quick. “Where’s your wife? Tell her this tell her that tell her I said hello.” She even told them about my new book, something I would have never done.

What I’m saying is, she’s the nicest person I’ve ever known, and she’s very comfortable connecting with people.

To get to the point of this story, when she was shopping on Christmas Eve, the supermarket staff were unusually attentive, checking in with her and asking if she was ready to check out. When she went to check out, she was doing her usual thing, facing the register and chatting while she sorted the food.

Then she realized the whole staff had gathered around, and they invited her to turn around, and she realized they had all chipped in and bought her a gift.

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And assembled it, too.

It really meant a lot to her, that gesture of kindness from people who had no reason to offer it except that it was Christmas and they wanted to make her happy. And they did.

It’s been a subdued holiday season with a few big distractions[2] but this was a moment that really made things special.

[1] Yeah, I know about Uber, Flexcar, and the rest. I’m not looking for advice on how we could spend our money better.

[2] Which means I have a new book out.

Today is my son’s birthday

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My son was born on Boxing Day, and his mom and I have always made an effort to make this day special for him. Not just a little christmas, where he gets a few more gifts but everything is all colored lights and decorated tree. My wive and I used to strip all the Christmassy stuff off the table and replace it with a bright yellow table cloth, balloons, and birthday pie (never cake).

But he’s turning 13 today, so it’s unlikely we’ll be spending the day together like we used to. He got a new gaming keyboard and mouse yesterday, so I expect he’ll want to spend at least part of the day trying to get used to his new “rig.” (God, I can’t believe he calls it that.)

Still, we planned lunch at a local Japanese place that he likes, and we have gifts to give him: a couple of books and some Tshirts from Threadless.

And I have work to do. Some folks are having problems with the books I published, plus I’m trying to work out some publicity, plus I have end of the year payments and tax stuff to do. Will I be online, doing all that stuff, or will I be press-ganged into a co-op game or something?

Time will tell. In the meantime, if you received bookstore gift cards, you can pick up a copy of The Way Into Chaos. Order a paper copy now and, like the Kickstarter backers, you’ll get the version with the massive but invisible proofing error on the back cover. Seriously, readers send me typos all the time, but no one has caught this. (I certainly didn’t!)

Looking at numbers, part 2A

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As an addendum to yesterday’s post about not getting responses to my Kickstarter fulfillment emails, it seems that no matter how old I get, I can still be blindsided by the realization that Other People Do Things Differently.

If you offer me something I want, I take it, all other things being neutral. If I’m in a situation where it’s not convenient to take it, I might put it off a while, or maybe not. I did carry a quart bottle of OJ around on a date night with my wife because otherwise no OJ.

I’ve certainly put off dealing with emails that required a response, but to acquire a thing I wanted? It would never even occur to me. It’s the way I was brought up.

That’s why I assumed I could get good open/ignore stats on a Saturday night from an email sent on a Wed/Thu. However, I spent a large portion of yesterday reading tweets, Facebook comments, LiveJournal comments, and emails from folks who will get around to it, who will do it after they finish a book, who have to fight for computer time, who are doing holidays, who are traveling.

You get the picture. What seems, to me, to be a matter of habit and instinct isn’t really.

Sorry for reading so much into things, you guys.

At least I sold a bunch of copies of my short fiction collection.

A two-hour movie from a 32-page picture book???

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For the past several years I’ve been listening to people griping/mocking/whatever about the The Hobbit being turned into three movies. Frankly, I think it’s ridiculous.

Shrek is a 32-page picture book that was turned into a two-hour movie. See also Where the Wild Things Are and The Iron Man (which became The Iron Giant).

The next Captain America movie will adapt Marvel’s Civil War crossover story, but how are they going to fit everything from dozens of issues into one movie?

Did you know that the screenwriter of the KULL THE CONQUEROR movie took advantage of his contractual right to create a novel version of the movie, which was closer to his original script? I haven’t read it, but he says he never wrote the stupid stuff about Kull being terrible with a sword, and he included the reason for the “madness” that drove the king to murder his children, along with other complexities cut from the film?

In other words, yeah, people adapt things. They condense them. They expand them. They change them significantly. They put happy endings on the end of Romeo & Juliet. They turn Stephen King’s vampire into a wordless nosferatu. Works high and low are altered in the adaptation, and I’m tired of hearing the same old gripes about Jackson’s Hobbit films.

Yeah, there’s profit-seeking in it (says the guy about to release a fantasy trilogy of his own) and can I say that I’m shocked, shocked, to find gambling going on in this establishment. Of course, the only way to stop movie-makers from splitting adaptations into more than one film is to turn them into flops. Having just taken my son to see MOCKINGJAY PART ONE, I’m not holding my breath.

Me, I haven’t seen any of THE HOBBIT films yet. Maybe they suck. Maybe they’re fine and people are shit-mouthing them because they feel ripped off.

In any event, I have a ticket to see all three films, in a marathon, on an IMAX screen, this Monday afternoon. It’s going to be a nine-hour event, starting at 1pm (watching all three LOTR films on my birthday took 13 hours) and I’m going to be there for the duration. Unfortunately, my wife and son aren’t bit on movie marathons, the poor dears, so I’m having a Me-day.

(Seattle-area folks: is anyone else going? Drop me a note on Twitter at @byharryconnolly and maybe we can arrange to meet up)

Certainly, some parts will be dumb, some will be entertaining, some will be both. I last read the book a few years back, when my kid was young enough that we could subject him to family read-aloud time, so I won’t notice minor changes and won’t care about large ones. In other words, fuck Tom Bombadil. I expect that the worst thing about it will be eating meals out of the concession stand.

If I get a shit ton of work done this weekend, I’ll even be ready to sign and mail out the paperbacks when they arrive the next day.

Seriously, though: if you’re going and want to meet up, let me know.

Today marks 25 years in Seattle

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Leaving Philadelphia didn’t fix my life, but it sure gave me a new perspective on it. I also acquired a brand new opportunity to do things for myself. All my life I’d been told I was a lazy person who did the bare minimum to get by, and I believed it. Living in Seattle, I was waking up at 2am so I could write before leaving at 4:30am for my day job, but I still believed that story about being a slacker.

I haven’t made the friends here that I did back in Philly, but I did fall in love with and marry an amazing woman. It’s a good life, if a little quiet. It would be even better if we could move again, preferably someplace sunny.

Yesterday marks 25 years since I left Philadelphia

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I meant to post this on the actual day, but I was busy working on the Fate game supplements and fucking around on Twitter.

Yes, on November 13th, 1989, I hopped on the train and headed off to Seattle, where my friend Andrew had just moved. He promised to put me up in his living room, and I took off.

Was I excited to be going to Seattle? Not for itself, no. Andrew had moved here for a girl but I was just looking to get out of Philly. I had great friends there, but I was stuck in a rut, having graduated from college the year before and fallen into bad habits. In 1989, I was a wake-and-bake stoner, going nowhere, doing nothing, no money, no girlfriend, no prospects. I was still living at home, too. I knew I had to get out, but it just seemed impossible.

Looking back, I was probably dealing with some kind of mental health issues. Depression or anxiety or some mix of the two? Maybe? I don’t know. I’d suffered through a lot of self-loathing over the years, and getting high made it bearable. I’d also had lots of suicidal thoughts, but maybe they weren’t as commonplace as I’d believed. I’d never gone any further than laying a knife against my wrist, just to see how it would feel (answer: not sharp enough) but I figured everyone had those thoughts all the time so I brushed them off and never acted on them. Ignorance is bliss, I guess.

Anyway, Andrew had a going away party sometime near Labor Day, and I floated through it thinking “I should be doing this, too.” When I contacted him about coming out there a couple weeks after he left, he was enthusiastic about a friendly face.

So I left my friends, my family, and a McJob with a 90-minute commute each way. Plus side for the job, they were nice enough to let me bring my Brother WP 75 to the shipping dock, where they bagged it, stuck it in a box, and packed it with quick-drying spray foam. It arrived in Seattle in perfect working order.

Anyway, late in the day yesterday, 25 years ago, I boarded a train for the west coast to remake my life. I figure that’s probably a big deal.

I backed the third edition of CHILL (and so should you)

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When Pacesetter put out the first CHILL edition way back in the ’80’s, I snapped up a copy. For those of you who watched my Kickstarter video from last year (oh, shit, a year? must finish books) you might have noticed that box on the shelf behind me. It’s been 30 years since it came out, but while I have never played in a genuinely good Chill game, I still remember it fondly.

When Mayfair put out a second edition in the early nineties, I started snapping those books up. They were fun to read, for the most part[1], and suggested a great many story ideas, most of which I never got to use[2]. Someday, maybe. Someday.

Still, this was the ’90s, when The X-Files was all anyone talked about. It should have been the perfect moment for the game to break out. Unfortunately, the fear checks never really worked, and the horrors in CALL OF CTHULHU bigfooted all over the traditional monsters in Chill. People were more interested in Deep Ones than haunted houses, apparently. The game never sold as well as it should, and when Mayfair had a break-out hit in SETTLERS OF CATAN, they dumped rpgs in favor of board games and have never looked back.

There was an attempt some years back to put together a third edition; I was part of the crowd reading through the rules and discussing them. Sadly, people suck, and the nasty sarcasm I got when I dared admit that I sometimes ignored a die-roll to make the narrative work, convinced me it was more stress than it was worth. Much later they tried to raise $45k to print the rulebook, but it never happened.

Part of the reason I never quite had a successful game is my own weakness as a GM (excuse me… “CM”). Part was that the game required a certain willingness for players to face an enemy that was more powerful than they were[3] which had to be investigated before it could be fought. Part of it was that the players were unused to NPC interactions that didn’t mimic the might-uber-alles bullying that came with lawless murder hobo fantasy campaigns. Part was just an unwillingness to get in the spirit of things.

An example of that last:

Me: “The last thing you need to do for character creation is think up the first time you came into contact with the Unknown. It can be a haunting, a vampire attack, whatever.”

Player: “Uh, well, okay. I was walking down the street and I saw a werewolf driving a pizza-delivery truck.”

Me: “Dude.”

Player: “What?”

Sophisticated role-players, we were not. Suffice to say, I made several attempts over the years with different groups, but it never really came off.

However, I quite liked the way the rules handled creatures’ powers as though they were spells. I liked that you roll percentile dice for skill checks. I liked the idea of SAVE[4], the organization dedicated to fighting the supernatural[5]. I liked the genuinely scary creatures in the main rulebook. I even liked the weird psychic powers the PCs could access.

It was also nice to see that they broke the “rules” with regard to the creatures. I was raised to color inside the lines, and that attitude extended to pretty much everything, including the “rules” of monster movies: vampires can’t cross running water, ghosts have a task they needed to accomplish, werewolves could be killed with silver. There were boundaries! It was all laid out!

Then came Chill, which offered that sort of monster, along with other kinds. You could have werewolves that didn’t give a shit about silver or vampires that could walk in the sun. It didn’t matter, as long as it was interesting. For me, who had always broken rules on the sly because breaking rules meant trouble, the game was a bit of a paradigm shift, creatively.

Plus, for a guy who loves spooky horror but hated the sadistic pain movies and books of the 80’s (and who still hates modern grimy torture porn), Chill gave me some control. It let me imagine the stories I wanted.

That’s why, yesterday, I backed the third edition of their Kickstarter even though I can’t really afford it. The playtest materials are gorgeous; this is really the best art the game has ever had, and a quick glance at the rules is very promising.

It also looks like they’ve fixed the issue with fear checks.

Anyway, the materials they’ve already made available have me excited for the project. I hope they blow the doors off their goal and start funding a bunch of supplements or whatever.

Hell, I might dig out the adventures I was working on twenty years ago to see if there’s anything salvageable in them.

So, if traditional horror rpgs sound good to you, back them. You’ll at least have a chance to look at the playtest, with plenty of time to change your mind (you won’t change your mind).

[1] I was sorely disappointed by the “monster manual” for the game, called Things, but I’ve read enough horror game supplements to know how difficult it can be to make up a long list of horror creatures that are a) inventive, b) scary, and c) set the right tone.

[2] On Twitter, someone suggested that the playtest sampler for the 3e Kickstarter had a bit of Child of Fire in it, but in truth the influence goes the other way. The idea of a family (a whole community) that can’t remember one of its own comes straight out of the main rulebook for 2e. I read about that creature almost fifteen years before I started CoF. If you back the Kickstarter, you’ll get to see for yourself.

[3] In fact, I converted one of the creatures for 2e Chill (a mist mummy, which is a creature that spreads pestilence) directly into Champions so a five PC superhero team could fight it, and damn if it didn’t have blisteringly high points.

[4] aka Societas Argenti Viae Eternitata or The Eternal Society of the Silver Way, which was explicitly changed from “White Way” in the Pacesetter version because it sounded like an offshoot of the Klan. See also: The Dresden Files TV show changing the “White Council” into the “High Council”.

[5] In first edition, it was an actual functioning society that sent people out to investigate shit. The second, naturally, turned things all grim and dark, because 90’s. The new edition seems to have a rebuilding theme, which is welcome.

Playing Football and Erasing The Self

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing about his decision to stop watching football games because of his concern about head injuries.

Part of this is my own mix of spirituality and atheism. I generally think of the ghost not in the machine, but as the machine. My body is me, and while my brain is particularly important, when I dislocate an ankle I have injured part of myself. Anyone who is being honest about football knows that injuring people is part of the game.

One summer during my college years, a friend of mine broke my ankle during a particularly rough basketball game. Me, I thought it was just a bad sprain and didn’t seek treatment, After a week, I wrapped up the injury, went to my day job, and got back out onto the court. It was only months later, after numerous re-injuries, that I had it x-rayed.

My right ankle is still a problem to this day. It hurts when I walk too much, it aches in certain kinds of weather, it even hurts if I drink too much alcohol. I can’t imagine the effect of ignoring injuries to my brain.

Unlike Coates, I don’t really follow NFL news anymore, so I didn’t know that John Abraham, who is apparently one of the league’s best defensive players, retired for a year because of “severe memory loss,” but is now planning a return.

Maybe I’m being a bit of a writer about this, but to me, memory is self. It’s one thing to destroy the parts of the body that let you walk, or wipe your ass, or sit upright. It’s something else to destroy all the memories that make up your life. Whatever it is that drives players to wreck themselves for the sake of a win seems, in Abraham, to be the pursuit of a living suicide.

If that were the story of a movie or a novel, it would be LEAVING LAS VEGAS. A tragedy. Since it’s real life, it’s something people will make people jump out of their seats and cheer.

Abraham can do what he likes, provided no one convinces a court that his brain damage had made him unable to make his own decisions. Fans and casual viewers can do what they like. So can I, and what I like is to leave the TV off on Sunday morning and afternoons, so I don’t have to see men drive themselves into self-annihilation.

ADDED: Has anyone brought up the issue of brain damage and violent tendencies with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson?

Writing and physical pain

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Last night I was trading tweets with a writer who has been having serious pain for a long while, and we joked about how much it would help her to know my wife.

And it’s true. My wife does sports massage (as I’ve mentioned before) and she takes away pain for a lot of people. Folks fly from the east coast so she can work on them, because they just can’t find anyone as effective where they are. She’s worked on sports stars, rock stars, and movie stars, along with office workers who went from never doing any kind of exercise directly to Crossfit, and who can barely walk around.[1]

Anyway, I mentioned this to my wife and she immediately responded with “Where does she live?” because obviously her first idea was to work something out with this author. Sadly, the answer was “Not nearby.”

After that, her next recommendation was this book: Pain Free at Your PC by Pete Egoscue, although she said Pain Free for Women: The Revolutionary Program for Ending Chronic Pain is even better.

It’s been a few years since I glanced into these books and I can’t find them now, almost certainly because they were loaned out and never returned, but I remember them as being fairly free of woo-woo [2] but heavy on recuperative movement. And I don’t mean “My wrist hurts; I have to do wrist exercises.” It’s more focused on healing specific issues through changes in the entire body.

Also, anyone who is having chronic soft tissue pain right at this moment might find some relief doing a vasioflush, which is really just the alternating application of cold and heat, described in more detail in this post I wrote for Charlie Stross’s blog.

Obviously, these recommendations will only work for people with soft tissue pain: posture problems, overuse of certain muscles, muscle imbalance, muscles that are very weak and tight, that sort of thing.

You don’t have to live in this kind of pain.

[1] And, frankly, after twenty years of doing the same thing every day, she’s become a bit bored with it. She would write a book if her learning disabilities didn’t make that all but impossible. I’d help her if my work load weren’t so heavy. She would teach if she had any inclination to be a teacher (and if teaching in the massage world weren’t so filled with weird guru types). It’s a shame, because she’s extremely good at what she does, but it’s a physically demanding job and she doesn’t have anywhere to go next.

Of course, if The Great Way does really well, she won’t have to worry about that anymore, but no pressure on me.

[2] Woo-woo is defined here as “You must align your energies with the universe” -type talk. And while the two books I’m recommending here are fine, some of his later work is less helpful.