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.

Scrubbing a certain word from my blog

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I’ve always hated the words “pron” and “pr0n.” It always seemed like prudery. Nihil veritas erubescit, I say.

Well, no more. I still don’t blush at the word, but I won’t be spelling “pron” correctly on this blog any more, not even when I use it jokingly to refer to writer pron or whatever.

See, WordPress’s Jet Pack plugin allows me to see the search terms that Googlers use to find my blog, and many of them are searching for child pron. What fucking moron types “little girl pron” (spelled correctly, mind you) into a Google search box?

Unfortunately, I can’t do anything to report these people (I hope Google can) but I can at least change my site so that search engines will (eventually) stop sending them here, where I occasionally talk about my son. So I’ve spent the last hour searching my blog and deliberately misspelling That Word, even when it appears in fiction samples. The only place I haven’t changed it is in URLs inside links, but I may scrub those, too, eventually.

[Update: per advice from Twitter, the URL links are gone, too. I had to drop two old posts into the trash until (if) I can work out a way to reinstate them with permanent short link/redirects.)

Now you can listen to my son’s music

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My son put his music on Soundcloud, which is apparently a place where people can post their music for free, where you can listen for free. If you’re the sort of person who goes for electronic music in general or dubstep in particular, give it a listen. He recommends people start with the song “Cavernous” although I think that one, while it has a strong drop, isn’t as strong as some of the music he hasn’t uploaded. It certainly has an unpromising start, IMO, but it’s his music.

And lest we forget, he’s 12. so please don’t be rude about the work he’s doing.

Writers inspired by D&D, from the NYTimes

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Everyone’s linking to this NYTimes piece about a whole generation of writers who were influenced by playing D&D when they were young, and they offer a nice, broad cross-section of writers. It’s not just sf/f people, but literary writers and playwrights and plenty of others, too.

It’s a nice article, if a bit fluffy (which, what else would I expect, given the subject). I’ve said before that gaming had an influence over me, especially because it taught me that the characters I was so used to seeing in movies, books, and on TV did not seek advantage as ruthlessly as characters played by actual people who were invested in their success. The old standby is the spy escaping from a holding cell, knocking out a guard, and not taking anything from the guard’s body, not a weapon, communicator, key, nothing.

More interesting to me is that the authors seemed to have a much more theatrical/improvisational experience in their gaming. We spent So. Much. Time. going room to room killing things, with little more story than that. In fact, we’d play so much that it was impossible to make up an actual story, and when I tried I often found the players utterly uninterested in exploring any of it.

By the way, we played “The Fantasy Trip”, not D&D, because we though the armor class rules were incredibly stupid.

Anyway, I continue to believe that, with the right players and genre, an rpg session could be worthwhile art. Not just “I bash the orcs” sort of thing, but an actual exploration of character in a partly improvised narrative, with added random outcomes due to die rolls and an earned ending. They could even do the closeup camera thing for the die rolls, the way poker shows show the players’ hands. The two-part Tabletop episode was a good proof of concept, even if they didn’t take the narrative beyond “I swing my mace at the skeleton.”

If you watch that video (I thought it was interesting) you’ll see that the story is compelling when the players have their characters talk like themselves. When they try to talk pseudo-medieval fake fantasy stuff everything becomes stilted and awkward.

Anyway, I’m a little envious of the writers in that article, because the games I played as a kid never managed to pull together any kind of story. In college and afterwards, things were better, but not in those early formative years.