Yesterday’s birthday celebration

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How many places around the U.S. (around the world, even) would be amused that yesterday’s high temps set a new record for July 1st: 94F, over a previous record high of 89F? In many places those numbers capture temps in the early morning, not the high for the day, but those places also have central air or even just air conditioners. My apartment in Seattle has no insulation and it doesn’t circulate air well, unless it’s a very windy day.

Anyway, we broke out the fan for the first time, but I still had an outbreak of heat-induced urticaria. (I keep meaning to blog about my health issues but never seem to find the time.)

My main birthday gift was a day when I didn’t have to do any work at all. The trash had been taken out, the floor cleaned, the toilet scrubbed, the carpet vacuumed (all by me the day before) so I had literally nothing to do around the apartment. I took a day off from my writing responsibilities, too. All I wanted to do was sack out on the couch and watch the extended LOTR movies.

You guys, I was really surprised by how much I was looking forward to this. Yeah, I do things that are fun or that count as goofing off, but they always come with a portion of guilt.

Yesterday was a day off from guilt.

Also, when I watch most movies I’m tempted to look at Twitter or have a comic book open next to me, but LOTR had my attention from the start. I managed to sit down close to my start time (which was 7am) and aside from looking at Twitter messages during DVD changes or checking the World Cup score for the Belgium match, I was offline most of the day. The movies themselves were engaging enough, even after multiple viewings, that I had no urge to turn away or fill dull time. What’s more, my wife–who generally has zero interest in Tolkien or other kinds of fantasy–was nearly late for work because the movie was so absorbing. I started the movies just after 7am and finished 8:30pm, and now I want to reread the books and replay the Lego game.

Weird thing: my kid is going through one of his bouts of late night wakefulness, where he sleeps all day and stays up all hours of the night. In fact, when I woke this morning, I found a plate of bacon, eggs, and toast waiting for me. My wife explained that she woke at 4am and found the boy wide awake in the kitchen cooking. He wanted to make a prepare breakfast for me, despite not being a kitchen person.

So, he dug up some YouTube videos for making scrambled eggs with bacon (and the video suggested boiling the bacon until the water steamed off and it could be browned in the skillet). Yes, by 6:45am, everything was stone cold, but while the bacon was a little bland, it was pretty good. Well, it was better than you could expect from twelve-year-old who never cooks and could barely sleep.

Dinner was delivery from a favorite pizza place. Lunch was a meatball sandwich on a fancy baguette, followed by the birthday cake cantalope-free fruit salad. See:

Inside the bag was a bottle of fancy rye whiskey. It was a good day, you guys, even if I did squeeze in a little writing work at the very end of the day.

I am 49.

I’m looking forward to Tuesday

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I’m looking forward to Tuesday, but not for any of the reasons you might think. Nothing will be completed or released. I’m not going anywhere. No one is coming over.

In fact, it’s my birthday.

Well, not my real birthday. That’s already passed. July 1st is the day I celebrate my birthday (I moved it because my wife and I were born on the same day, and it sucks to share something like that).

This year, the plan is simple: Up early, to the couch, the full Lord of the Rings extended trilogy, which I got for Giftmas a few years back. That’s it. Nothing else.

Well, except for a big fruit salad (I don’t like cake) and delivery pizza. And my son’s headset mic muted so he can’t bicker with his pals in co-op games. But it’s 13 hours of movie or something, and I’m going to do nothing all day but watch.

It’s been a long time since I could really take a day to myself. Usually I have work to do (or work I ought to be doing, guilt guilt). If it’s a family day, we’re going somewhere my wife wants to go, to a park or something. And when I do goof off, I’m always kicking myself it.

That’s why I’m really, really looking forward to a full day of doing nothing. I sorta can’t wait.

Five Things Make A Post

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First, my Father’s Day was pretty great. I asked to get no gifts and didn’t receive any but the cards were wonderful. We also went out to brunch. My wife is pretty cool on the idea of going to a restaurant for breakfast–and my son actively hates it–so this is something I sorta love but get to do only once a year. And yeah, I ate more than I should have.

We went some distance to a little place called Mulleady’s, mainly on the rule that we could get things we never make at home, like blood pudding, boxty, scotch eggs, and other things we didn’t order. Sadly, marrow wasn’t on the bfast menu, but maybe another time. One downside of going there is that it really doesn’t many people before it becomes uncomfortably loud.

Second, you may have seen news articles everywhere recently claiming that bike share programs increase head injuries. They’re wrong. Head injuries fell after bike share programs were introduced, but they didn’t fall as fast as other kinds of injuries. Therefore, according to the media, head injuries rose because, among those injured, a greater percentage of them had head injuries.

It’s statistical fuckery. To quote the linked article: “A more critical view would be that the researchers went looking for evidence that bikeshare programs are dangerous, and upon failing to find any, cherry-picked a relatively unimportant sub-trend and trumpeted it as decisive finding.”

My wife rides almost every day and she always wears her helmet. When I rode (back in my office job days) I wore a helmet all the time, too. We also have lights, reflective vests, and all the safety gear that people make fun of. But it’s important to remember that nothing makes the streets safer for cyclists than having a whole lot of cyclists on the streets.

Third, I’ve sent out copies of The Great Way in hopes of getting blurbs for them, and the first two have come back. Both are wonderful and make me feel like dancing around my apartment singing “I Feel Pretty.”

Fourth, I’m currently at work revising my pacifist urban fantasy, and never in my life have I had so much trouble making headway. My revisions are creeping along at a pace barely better than my first draft days. Stuff is difficult, you guys.

Fifth, I bought the first edition of CHILL (by Pacesetter) way back when it first came out. I bought the second edition enthusiastically, and when I made that six-figure deal for Child of Fire, I rewarded myself by buying up all the Chill books I didn’t already own.

Even though the game is pretty much unplayable.

Pacesetter’s first ed. was fun and had simple game mechanics. Mayfair’s second edition improved on things, but still couldn’t deal with Fear checks. You could prep a haunted house, prep the monster that would be there, arrange the clues the players needed to find or the person they needed to save, but what you couldn’t do was predict who would pass a Fear check. If all the players made it, the monster would not be able to stand against them. If only one made it, that player would have to face a villain designed to challenge a party while his compatriots ran screaming into the streets.

It was impossible to create a balanced confrontation, because you could never tell how many players would make that Fear check (the first thing to happen in every encounter), so you didn’t know which would stay in the scene.

And let’s be honest, any time a GM takes control of a player it sort of sucks, especially if you make the run in terror.

So, none of the games I tried to get off the ground ever went anywhere. My friends had no interest in horror games, since they’re pretty much the opposite of jokey power fantasies, and the only truly successful Chill game I ever ran was with my six-year-old son, and it was one session.

Still, it was great fun to read, and now I’m foolishly excited to see that, after a couple of false starts, there’s a third edition on the way. The previous attempt at a third edition got as far as informal play tests, which I took part in until assholes drove me away, but I’m hopeful for this. I don’t even know anything about the game, but I’m foolishly hopeful.

Get Together for Seattle-Area Folk, 6/14, 3pm

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Hey, if you’re in Seattle, why not join me at the UW Bookstore on Saturday, 6/14, for a 3pm reading by Greg Van Eekhout. Greg’s new book is called California Bones. Here’s the description:

When Daniel Blackland was six, he ingested his first bone fragment, a bit of kraken spine plucked out of the sand during a visit with his demanding, brilliant, and powerful magician father, Sebastian. When Daniel was twelve, he watched Sebastian die at the hands of the Hierarch of Southern California, devoured for the heightened magic layered deep within his bones.

Now, years later, Daniel is a petty thief with a forged identity. Hiding amid the crowds in Los Angeles—the capital of the Kingdom of Southern California—Daniel is trying to go straight. But his crime-boss uncle has a heist he wants Daniel to perform: break into the Hierarch’s storehouse of magical artifacts and retrieve Sebastian’s sword, an object of untold power.

For this dangerous mission, Daniel will need a team he can rely on, so he brings in his closest friends from his years in the criminal world. There’s Moth, who can take a bullet and heal in mere minutes. Jo Alverado, illusionist. The multitalented Cassandra, Daniel’s ex. And, new to them all, the enigmatic, knowledgeable Emma, with her British accent and her own grudge against the powers-that-be. The stakes are high, and the stage is set for a showdown that might just break the magic that protects a long-corrupt regime.

You can read an excerpt, too.

Anyway, it sounds great. I’m going to be there. I plan to be at the Big Time Brewery at 1pm, resolutely not getting drunk. Depending on how well Greg’s travel arrangements go, he might be there, too. Maybe I’ll bring some galley copies of the paper edition of Twenty Palaces to give away. Or something.

With luck, traffic arriving for the UW Commencement ceremony will end before 1pm and Greg’s event will end before the outflow traffic resumes.

Upcoming anthology appearances, with an awkward note

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Let’s start with the good news. I’m going to be in two anthologies coming out this summer, both of them funded via Kickstarter: Help Fund My Robot Army & Other Improbably Kickstarters, and the shared world Walk The Fire, Vol 2. Don’t worry, no one is asking you to back a campaign, I promise. These projects were closed months ago.

Again, the books will be available some time this summer, and believe me I’ll post links to buy them when they’re out.

The complicated part is this: I’m glad both books are coming out and I’m pleased with the stories I sold them, even though both rejected my initial submissions.

The WALK THE FIRE antho is a shared-world deal, centering on a future where people can travel via special fires. That’s right, fire. You step into the flames in one place and emerge in another. It’s teleportation with a few complications added in.

Anyway, the first story I wrote, “A No Without A Thank You”, was basically a slam on Doctor Who, because I thought the fires allowed people to travel through time and space. The anthology bible even said “time and space” in one spot. Feedback from the editor insisted that I hadn’t followed the guidelines correctly, and I had to read the bible several times before I worked out that it was supposed to be “time and space” only. The guidelines as a whole only made sense if they were space-only. Oops.

At that point, with a rejected story, I could have withdrawn; I do have a shitload of work to do to fulfill my own Kickstarter. But! I’d also promoted the campaign to my readers and thought it would be unfair to them if I back out of the project now. So I set everything aside and wrote a second story, called “Sterile Oceans”, which was accepted. And I’m proud of that story. Plus, “A No Without…” is ready to go into the short fiction collection I listed as a stretch goal for my Kickstarter backers. So that’s all good.

HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY… brought up a similar situation, although the reasons behind it were different. That anthology is a collection of stories told in the format of a Kickstarter campaign–with a sales pitch, stretch goals, comments, the whole deal–and my original submission was a parody of the “Above the Game” campaign, (which I won’t link) that PUA manual that supposedly advocated sexual assault. My story was about a PUA who planned to sell (short-acting) love potions, and who insisted they were completely different from roofies.

It was dark, yeah, but the editor decided it was too dark and bounced it. Once again, I had a choice of disappointing backers or writing a second attempt. The followup story was accepted, and it’s fun (but deliberately slight) and technically, this also frees up the PUA/love potion story for my own story collection.

Except, now that this loser in UCSB (I’m not posting his name online) has had his rampage, I’m tempted to yank it all together. The original story was supposed to be darkly funny, but I’m not feeling it anymore.

Anyway, two new anthologies mean four new stories from me this summer (or maybe just three, who knows.) I’m also thinking I need to take a break from Kickstarter anthologies.

Vacation (with pics)

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Last week, we hopped a train down to San Jose to visit my wife’s uncle and visit him and his home city, Santa Cruz. It wasn’t long enough, and sleeping in coach on a train may be better than sleeping on a plane, but still: sleeping in a chair. (The train ride from Seattle to SJC was 24 hours, 20 minutes.)

So, it was not long enough. Few vacations ever are. However, my uncle has a beautiful little house with a pretty little garden (filled with drought-resistant plants, because California) and the beach was only literally a ten-minute walk away.

Pics behind the cut: Continue reading

AUDIOBOOKS!

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Hey, guys. Child of Fire is listed as Audible’s “Hidden Gem of the Week” and is available for only $4 right now. If you’re an audiobook fan (or know one) this is your chance to pick up a copy.

Also, there’s an audio copy of King Khan available. I’m listening to the free sample right now, and I’m flummoxed that more people haven’t tried this book.

Anyway, normal internetting will resume, now that I’m back from VACATION! Pics to come.

Cutting back on internet

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I have a whole bunch of work ahead of me and last night my roommate got mad at me when I referred to her as “my roommate” instead of “my wife.” Anyway, it seems that this would be a good time to cut back on my internetting. It’s not going to be a full fast, as I sometimes do, but I will be cutting way back. As usual, I’ll be checking my email at least once a day.

Wish my luck for my book productivity, and if anyone remembers my roommate’s name, please drop me a line.

More on Veronica Mars

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I watched the movie again, mainly because I really like mysteries. Last night, the family finished watching season 2 (It’s slow going getting individual discs from Netflix on a one-at-a-time plan) and I have to say S2 was better than I remember it. Obviously, Lilly Kane was the heart and driving force behind season 1; Amanda Seyfried’s performance was so incredibly charismatic that the school bus explosion–with its numerous but mostly faceless victims, plus Meg–couldn’t touch. Every ep of S1 showed Lilly in some kind of flashback or dream sequence, if I remember correctly; how could sweet, honest Meg lying in a coma compete with that?

Still, watching both seasons all in a rush was very interesting. In season 1, knowing that some viewers would miss episodes, several of the clues and story beats were hit in several different episodes. How many times did they “reveal” that Weevil was having a secret relationship with Lilly, and that he loved her more than she loved him?

In season 2, they talked about the clues they’d discovered previously, but didn’t play them like story beats. What’s weird is that S2 almost completely drops the bus story line for several episodes in a row. The season gets caught up in a bunch of mini-mysteries that are either tangential to the bomb story (At no point did I believe Terence Cook was a serious suspect) or completely separate from it, like the murder of Felix Tooms. Then there’s the whole plot line that takes Wallace to Chicago, or the Casablancas family business troubles…

In fact, there’s a lot going on but much of it doesn’t seem to have much to do with the supposed Big Mystery of the Season. It feels fractured, leaving Veronica to act without the same wrenching need to Solve Everything she had in S1. The driving forces that should have been there–her guilt over surviving and over Meg’s condition, plus her name being written on Curly’s hand making her think the bomb was meant for her–just don’t feel immediate enough.

Another choice that felt weaker was the decision to lose the family lives of Duncan and Logan and replace those characters with Kendall Casablancas and the “Fighting Fitzpatricks”. Yeah, it’s a fine thing to widen the scope so we see more of Neptune, but Irish gangsters aren’t anywhere near as compelling as a fucked up family. Papa Casablancas is only in the first few episodes, Wallace’s mom goes up in a puff of smoke when she breaks up with Keith, and Aaron Echolls mostly turns up in his jail cell. Keith and Terrence Cook are pretty much the only parents on the show, and the Cooks are not nearly as fucked up as they should be for a long form mystery.

Still, the episodic mysteries were as strong as every, and Bell is still amazing as Veronica. I like Logan as a character but I’ve always had zero interest in their supposedly epic love. Seriously. If S1 didn’t exist, S2 would have been one of the best shows ever.

S3 is up next, and I remember it being more soap opera/relationship-focused than previous seasons. I was also Team Piz back in the day and I was even more firmly Team Piz after the movie. Still.

Anyway, the movie: I was sure the show would not work once the characters were adults. There was something incredibly effective about addressing class issues through teenage characters. They’re screwed up by the system but not really to blame for it, either. Plus, school forces everyone to be in everyone else’s spaces; you can’t avoid your enemies if you’re stuck going to school.

It worked anyway, which gives me hope for a sequel. Supposedly Warner has a dollar figure they want to see from the movie before they sign off on a sequel and no, I wouldn’t back another Kickstarter. Whatever annoyance I felt at the Flixster thing has been washed away by the movie itself. Still, Veronica with a cleaned-up Logan, back to work at her father’s PI office? I’d love to see a resurgence of PI stories.

Anyway, the show and the movie are buzzing away in my head, making work on my own stuff seem dreary and unpleasant. Must break through and get back to good things.

I am writing rpg gaming stuff now and it is hard

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I’m supposed to be working right now but I’m not, and the reason is simple. Work is hard.

While The Great Way is getting an editorial working over, I’m putting together the game supplement for it. (For those who don’t know, I promised Kickstarter backers a Fate game supplement for the setting of those books.) Currently, it’s almost 10,000 words long, and not even half way done. Turns out that explaining your world-building takes time.

What’s more, writing game stuff is giving me major decision fatigue. With fiction, putting the sentences together is comparatively easy: There are characters who want things, places for them to pursue their desires, obstacles to overcome. That talk. They look at stuff. Maybe there’s a smell. It’s pretty straightforward.

In contrast, game material is all summarizing and making careful decisions on how stuff should work. What invokable aspects suit the capital city of this empire? How best to describe this sort of magic? What’s the best way to portray non-human intelligences without doing the xenophobe thing of giving them all a single personality? What if a player wants to play one of those non-humans?

Everything is as spare as possible, while trying to be as interesting as possible, while being as balanced as possible, while not contradicting anything I put in the trilogy, much of which I made up on the fly because shit sounded cool.

What the hell was I thinking?