Now that season one of Veronica Mars is over, the family finally had a chance to play RACE TO ADVENTURE, which I backed as a Kickstarter.
Here’s the layout near the start of the game. Of course I played Prof. Khan.
You can see I’ve collected the passports for the USA and Switzerland, while to the right my son has collected USA and GB. However! I am about to collect Nepal in that very turn, while my son was hoarding clues at the Library of Congress.
Yeah, that’s my kid giving the thumbs up.
My wife… I’m not sure what she was doing. Let’s just say she had a busy day and wasn’t concentrating too well.
Here we are at the end of the game, when I had returned to the Century Club, said (house rule: no shouting) “I have returned!” and won the game.
The others also collected all of their passports (and rescued the prisoner from Atlantis) but, having saved Egypt for last, they were still cursed. They were also way behind. Mwah-ah-ah-ah!
As for the game, it was terrific. I think I’d like to play it once or twice more on the tan side of the tiles before flipping them to the more advanced “shadow” game. We stumbled a little bit with the rules at first, like we do with every game, but by the end the turns were flying by. This might be the first game ever that says it takes 30 minutes to play and really means it.
The nice thing is that there’s no luck involved (no blowing your plans because of a lousy roll of the die) and the strategy elements were light but still effective. It’ll be a good fast game when we just want to play something fun without a ton of calculation.
On a day when the news was filled with blood, horror, and people coming together to help each other in dire need, it was good to sit with my family and play a game.
making books personal The outside world: internet publishing the boy TV
by Harry Connolly
1) I am not and have never been a Night Shade author, but it’s been widely known for quite a while that the publisher has been in trouble and has been working with SFWA to do right by their authors. Word about the new deal they’re offering authors has finally gone public in a public post (now deleted) on Jeff VanderMeer’s Facebook. For the click-phobic, NS intends to sell their contracts to another, more stable publisher, and not all of the contract terms are 100% wonderful.
What little I know about it is all second-hand, but a number of authors, VanderMeer included, want NS to revert the rights to their books before declaring bankruptcy. Unfortunately, that won’t work. The right to publish books is the only asset a publisher has and bankruptcy courts don’t play along when an entity sheds its assets right before telling their creditors they’re going belly up. In fact, it’s fairly common for publishing contracts to have a clause in them that would revert all rights to the author in the event of a publisher bankruptcy, but those clauses are typically overruled in bankruptcy court.
As far as getting rights back from a publisher swirling the drain, that last link is worth reading through to the end. I am not a lawyer, but it seems like a good place to start before getting actual legal counsel.
If there’s one thing I know about a terrible, messy situation like this, it’s that the proposed deal will be a benefit for some and a misery for others, depending on whether books have been turned in, how much money is owed, etc. Night Shade authors are getting together in a closed forum to discuss the issues and I wish them all the luck in the world. None of this is easy.
2) Writing has been at a near standstill while my kid is sick. He had two straight days of vomiting and was finally able to keep down a fair quantity of fluid last night. Today he’s still sketchy but basically okay. I’m glad the Cartoon Network has added so many of their shows to Netflix. We’ve also been watching the Naked Gun movies and, when his belly hurts too much to laugh, the most recent NIKITA tv series.
Of course, the real crime here is that he has no interest in superhero shows, so I still don’t get to watch Justice League, Batman Beyond, or Brave and the Bold. Man, the sacrifices we make for our kids.
3) Speaking of a sick kid, I spent an hour this morning at the grocery store hunting up bad tummy foods like oyster crackers and ginger ale, but one thing I couldn’t find was syrup of coke. All the stupid crap my grocery carries, but I can’t find the one thing that really settles an upset stomach? I left the supermarket confident that I could find a recipe online, and I did. Too bad I don’t keep lavender, star anise, citric acid, etc, etc around the place.
4) This post about humanities PhDs taking a third grade reading comprehension test is right on. When my kid was in kindergarten, they had those silly letter ratings on books. Most of the kids were reading books from A – D mine was reading books rated S. Sounds pretty advanced, huh? Except not, because he was only five and his reading comprehension wasn’t strong enough. Yes to the words. No to the sentences and paragraphs.
The worst thing was reading the teacher who thought kids ought to stay within the stupid letter rating, never going forward or going back. My own kid loves both Ready Player One and Ursula Vernon’s Dragonbreath books. He reaches for more adult fare when he wants to stretch himself (he just bounced off The Road which I knew would be tough sledding). And the idea that kids shouldn’t reread a book they love is poison.
personal The outside world: internet mac hate the boy
by Harry Connolly
Over the weekend I had a bit of a nasty surprise: I couldn’t download the most recent version of Turbo Tax because it requires OS X 10.6 or later. I still run 10.5.
If you’ll forgive me for saying so, this is bullshit. My computer is only five years old. There’s no reason for it to be considered obsolete and I shouldn’t have to order and install a new operating system just to do my taxes. (Note: please don’t suggest alternate programs I could use.) And yet, that’s exactly what’s happening.
Some time ago, my wife told me that she was incredibly proud that my books were going to be in the Library of Congress, because that meant they would last a long long time. In response, I said something to the effect of they’re on the internet, too, I think, and that should last even longer. Unfortunately, I no longer believe that to be true.
How many old filetypes are impossible to read now? How many types of physical media are worthless because no one has the disk drives to read them? Much of my early writing was done on a Brother WP75 and saved on 3.5 inch diskettes. Here’s a pic:
I dug it out because I came this close to donating it to charity. That machine was the bridge between a typewriter and an actual computer (my first real computer came from Gateway in 1994 and I had it so long that there was literally duck tape over parts of the case).
See the diskettes on there? Once the Brother stops working or I give it away, they become unreadable to me. Maybe I could find someone to take the files off and convert them, but that would be an iffy thing, and probably not cheap. (Luckily, it’s just early work and not important.) In all seriousness, the best kind of archive I could have of these would be in paper.
Note also John Scalzi’s recent post about his newest computer acquisition: no DVD drive. He doesn’t miss it because he doesn’t use DVDs, but I still do. I use them all the time, to watch movies, to play games, and to share large files
Speaking of large files, I copied hours and hours of home movies from a box full of mini-DV tapes onto a hard drive, and now that hard drive is being backed up to an online service. There’s so much data to save that I started the backup on January 3rd and, as of today, it’s only about 55% done. This shit is going to be going on until summer time, I kid you not.
And yet, when I’m an old man, will I be able to watch these videos? Will I be able to find a program that recognizes and mp4 or .dv? Worse, will I be able to buy a special adapter that will allow the external hard drive (with its ancient USB connector) to connect to whatever system is in vogue at the moment?
Will my son? I don’t doubt that he’ll have the storage space to keep them–in all likelihood, he’ll have a ring on his finger that he can download all 600+GB of data with room to spare. But will he be able to actually look at them, or show them to his own kids so they can see what we were like? Will he be able to read my old manuscripts?
It pisses me off. There’s such a rush to always have the New! and the Shiny! that things become obsolete even while they continue to function. Yes, I know it’s a way to sell things. Yes, I know companies are hunting for every bit of loose change rattling around in tech-happy early adopters’ back account. But they aren’t the only customers out there.
I’m a customer, too. I don’t want new and shiny. I want practical and long-lasting. I want this shit to make sense. Don’t phase out old media just because there’s a new supposedly-but-maybe-not-better way to do it (don’t even talk to me about “the cloud”). Don’t change operating systems so often that perfectly good computers can’t even run basic software (or watch embedded YouTube videos, or play silly games, or whatever).
Backwards compatibility, people. I want it, and I’m not the only one.
making books personal: King Khan progress publishing the boy
by Harry Connolly
This past weekend was pretty rough. The one bright spot was lunch on Saturday to catch up with an old friend, but the rest was a litany of minor difficulties: tiny black ants came through the wall that divides my bathroom from a neighboring unit, the section of book I’m writing “feels” wrong while I push through anyway, I’m getting phantom food reactions, and my son had one of his irregular bouts of insomnia which meant he was up in the ass-hours of the morning and punchy through most of the day.
It gets to the point where a guy can’t even steal time to post on his blog.
I have a post brewing about peoples’ tendency to see fantasy as a conservative genre and another about the interesting Amanda Palmer TEDTalk that’s been going around, but both have fallen victim to the demands of making wordcount for THE WAY INTO MAGIC.
But I do want to announce the release of this:
Yes, the Spirit of the Century tie-in novel I wrote for Evil Hat has been released as an ebook, but only to the people who backed the Kickstarter. If you’re one of those people, you can download the book from here. If you didn’t back the project when it first went live, you’ll have to wait a bit for it to hit the stores.
Now, I know there are lots of folks out there who could find a way to torrent a copy or whatever so they have a chance to read it right away. If you do, please consider buying it anyway when it hits the stores, maybe as a gift or something.
Remember last week when I mentioned that I had taken my family to an EMP event to see a specific panel and the room was so packed we missed it? No? Well, you better click on that link then.
I never did get an email back, but I did get a phone call. The dude was quite apologetic and very nice. Unfortunately, there was no recording of the event; apparently the companies many of the presenters work for had a bug up their butt about what could be recorded and what art they were going to show. Understandable, really, except that the panel we wanted was two local educators, so I suspect they would have been cool with a camcorder or two, but never mind. It’s done.
On the plus side, EMP intends to refund the cost of the tickets.
That’s very nice of them. While they might have made an error in planning their event, their customer service was pretty great.
On Twitter, @JoshDaws asked me to explain my reasons for not buying my son an Xbox and I figured it was too involved to do it in a few 140-character messages, so I’m putting it here.
Everyone is a consumer. Everyone consumes culture of some kind, whether it’s radio, TV, games, books, movies, theater, whatever. For some people, it’s Honey Boo Boo. For others, it’s sitting on an overturned bucket in a warehouse while they watch a play about women in Afghanistan. For others, it’s that one Merle Haggard album they just can’t get enough of. And for still others, it’s a whole weekend shooting zombies on the Xbox.
Now, I don’t have a problem with any of this, right? God forbid, considering some of the movies I’ve wasted portions of my life on. Consume what you want. Enjoy it. With my son, he’s latched onto things that I thought were dumb enough to kill brain cells (like Garfield books) and other things that were mostly a waste of time. But he enjoys them and I don’t want to make a big deal out of it.
However! When he came to me to say he wanted to buy an Xbox–with his own money–I told him he couldn’t. (FYI: he’s 11.) He was pretty upset (and is still trying to wear us down) but I was adamant. It’s not that I dislike video games. He has some right now and has played them ever since he was small; Minecraft is his current obsession. Yes, it can be difficult for him to stop when we ask him to, but that’s true of any kid doing any activity that they love. We also have a Wii (which was supposed to be used for the Wii Fit, but nevermind) although he doesn’t much like the games we have.
It’s not that the games are violent. There are plenty of sweet, non-violent puzzle/platform/whatever games. Besides, we’ve watched every episode of Burn Notice and he’s played Call of Duty (and #2) on the iMac.
The question is: how much of his life is spent consuming, and how much is spent creating?
See, when he was small, he would spend hours making things. As a toddler he would make endless lines of tiny blocks all through the apartment. As he got older, he made comic books, then baked goods, then finally short animated Lego movies.
And they were all terrible. The comics, actually, had some effective layout and design, but the food he made was a random mix of whatever he could grab and it tasted like poison. “For you, Mom!” (and she would always taste it.)
The Lego shorts were always busy but there was never a plot that made sense, half the snaps would be out of focus.
They were good for his age–actually, they were excellent for his age. Look at the “novel” of his I published last year on the blog; I couldn’t write with that much verve at his age.
But he lost all that when he went to school. The biggest lesson he took from public school is that “fun”, “projects”, and “learning” are all separate categories. He still likes to make things, but only in Minecraft and it’s been a long time since he set aside several hours to create something. At best, he’s been putting in an hour or two a couple times a week with Garageband to make electronic music.
I don’t much care what he wants to do with his time, as long as he spends a good portion of it making things. Any asshole can spend every weekend of his life shooting baddies in a video game (and I’ve been that asshole, sometimes). I want him to have more than that. It’s not enough just to consume products made by some corporation, even if they’re cool products. He has to turn that around, too.
To that end, we’ve suspended regular homeschooling so he can work with me on a “book trailer” for THE WAY INTO CHAOS. We’re shooting it in our living room with Lego figures. It’s completely inappropriate for the tone of the novel, if you know what I mean, and would be terrible marketing if I were remotely impressed by the marketability of trailers anyway.
Still, it’s a project. He’s throwing himself into it with his old enthusiasm, and I love him for it. I just wish we could return to the days when this was a habit.
Anyway, that’s why I won’t let him buy an Xbox. He has games already, and Netflix, and DVDs from the library, and books, too. That’s a lot of opportunities to consume. I don’t think he needs enough to fill his whole life.
Last night I took my wife and son to the Experience Music Project for the opening night of their “Game Nite” exhibit, which is their new video game project, I guess. Let’s start by saying it didn’t go well.
My wife has zero interest in video games at all, and I really enjoy them but try to keep my distance. I can be a little obsessive about things, and video games sometimes take over my whole life. However, my son loves them and has been making noises about creating some. Unsurprisingly, we want to support that.
The main feature of opening night was a series of talks given by game professionals and educators who teach game-making. That page is gone from EMP’s website but you can see the Google cache while it lasts. We were especially interested in this one:
So You Want to Make a Video Game?
Raymond Yan, Senior Executive at DigiPen Institute of Technology
Jason Pace, Executive Director at University of Washington Center for Serious Play
Now, I know there are resources online for creating games. I’ve looked. We were especially interested here because it was two guys who were local to us and because they would have a chance to bounce ideas off each other. I wanted to see a contrast between them. I also wanted to ask questions.
To that end, we skipped the tour of the actual games and got in line early for the keynote speech. We even got ourselves some good seats. The keynote was fine if not life-changing.
Unfortunately, because there was a line of people waiting to get in to the theater, they make the audience exit the room and get back at the end of the line. Because we had good seats we were one of the last out. The line went around two corners and up a flight of stairs.
We did not get into the one panel we most wanted to see.
Much of our time was spent standing beside game stations waiting to play one of the DigiPen games on offer. All the games were made as student projects and they are all hand-coded–no engines at all. You can play any of the games in their gallery for free. Most of the kids were playing a driving game I didn’t learn the name of, but “Solace” and “Nous” were other good ones.
My son did get to play some and so did I. My wife was interested in eavesdropping on some of the sound designs but nothing more beyond that. However, the largest portion of our time was spent playing a board game in the lounge. Pandemic. Damn, that’s a great game.
Anyway, I sent an email to EMP pointing out how frustrating it is to drop $35 on an event and then be barred from the think you most wanted to do. With luck they’ll post video of the event and someone will have asked the questions I wanted to ask.
making books personal: a blessing of monsters internet moi? progress the auntie mame files the boy the wife
by Harry Connolly
I’m going to keep this short.
The most popular entry on this blog is the one where I dissect the reasons why my series was cancelled. I’m not what you’d call excited about that, but the fact remains. With luck, I’ll have a post in the new year that will finally draw more attention.
The year itself has been tough. I’d hoped to sell A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark but my agent was reluctant to send it out and I took her advice. Thank god. Last fall I took another look at the manuscript and realized I’d blown it. The novel needs major revisions and christ but the moment for it has pretty much passed. I’ll still finish it, eventually, but that leaves a big hole in my schedule. I put out no new work in 2012.
As for 2013, the only novel I expect to put out is King Khan, the tie-in novel for Spirit of the Century. If Epic Fantasy With No Dull Parts sells, it’ll probably be scheduled for 2014. In any event, life is short. I am working constantly. I don’t have a lot to show for it right now.
On a personal level, my family life has only been getting better. I am a very, very lucky ugly fat man.
And that’s it. I don’t do New Years’ resolutions, because they carry the cultural baggage that no one keeps them, and I never wait until Jan first to make the changes in my life I think I need. But I’m going back to work now, and I’m going to keep working on a sequel to a book that hasn’t even sold yet and which probably won’t come out until 2015.
I don’t even know what to say about this except that I can muddle through it.
Let’s start by saying this was a Card Kingdom Giftmas. Between the three of us, we must have dropped almost $600 there for card and board games, plus the never-ending Pokemon purchases. Curious what we got? Here’s a pic.
Except that’s not everything. We forgot to include HIVE, which is a two-player game best described as “nature chess” except with fewer pieces and no board. The other game we forgot is FRIDAY, a solo deck-building game about a Pacific Islander who finds himself saddled with a hapless European shipwrecked on the island. You have to teach him how to survive and defeat pirates (by building the deck) in order to rid yourself of him. 
Also, the pic does not include the Pokemon stuff we go, including an entire booster box which went over… well, see footnote 1.
We haven’t played all the games yet, but there isn’t a dud among them. Some of the new Dominion cards are brutal, Munchkin Apocalypse is just as funny as the base game, and Guillotine is a surprise favorite.
Dixit is great but will play better with four players. 7 Wonders promises to be great fun but we shouldn’t have tried to play it when we were so exhausted. And even though Gloom promises to be great fun, I would have never bought it if I’d known the cards smelled like perfume. It’s a sunny day today, maybe I’ll air them out outside.
We finally replaced our ailing 19″ CRT television with a 32″ flatscreen; that’s not as large as most families have, but to us it’s a huge treat. Naturally, the first thing we watched on the big screen was the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (I received the extended editions last year)
After that, we hooked up the Wii. My son got DJ Hero 2 and I got Lego LOTR. Yes, we’re hardcore gamers over here.
The two best-received gifts were (first) the Sensu iPad paint brush we bought for my wife. Theoretically, the art programs on her tablet should let her make art anywhere and anytime, but she hated using her finger because she couldn’t see the mark she was making. With the brush, that’s all changed. It will be a challenge for her to work on such a small surface, but that’s a challenge she’s willing to face.
The second gift was the laptop my son received for his birthday. He was born on Boxing Day, and we do our best to carefully separate the two celebrations. Anyway, his new computer is better than either of mine and he’s already pushing for Call of Duty or Skyrim for it. In it’s way, this is also a gift for me, since he won’t have to do his schoolwork on my desktop all damn day.
So that’s why this blog has been dormant lately: holidays and birthday. Plus I’ve been working hard on EPIC SEQUEL WITH NO DULL PARTS. Sorry if I’m not around as much as I normally am but there’s work to do and fun to be had.
 Or is there an end? The boy is taking a break from Pokemon; he’s bored with his deck and bored with the game. As much as he likes the kids he plays against, it’s just not doing it for him the way it used to. We’ll see if he’s permanently moved on or if he just needs some time off.
 I’m convinced there’s another game that we left out, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it would be.
 I’ve decided I prefer the extended editions. There’s more room for nuance in them. Boromir is not just this desperate, untrustworthy character, he’s also the hero who offers words of kindness to Frodo when their needed. And he has scenes with Aragorn, a ridiculous omission from the theatrical releases. However, I could have done without the avalanche of skulls bit and the orcs who use grapple attacks in the middle of a battle.
 As if his mom would let an 11yo sit in his room playing first person shooters. As if.
personal The outside world: moi? the boy the wife
by Harry Connolly
1) My wife is okay. Her bicycle accident (mentioned in the last post) is going to cost north of 200 bucks to fix, but she’s recovering nicely. In fact, she was planning to loiter around the bike shop while they worked on it so she could ride home. She really, really loves to ride her bike.
2) My son is okay, too. He slept all morning yesterday and woke with a smile. At first, he credited me with magical healing powers, then he immediately started being annoying. He’s still not 100%, but he’s getting better.
3) Will he be well enough by tomorrow evening to try my newest recipe, the reuben salad? Time will tell.
4) I have a tumblr now, but there’s nothing on it. Yet. It’s here.
5) I’m just going to go ahead and say it: this has been a stressful week. I may take tomorrow off from writing.
6) My wife asked for this, so it’s not exactly going to be a surprise, but she’s getting it for Giftmas.
personal: a blessing of monsters moi? the boy the wife
by Harry Connolly
I’m typing this on my wife’s iPad, so forgive any weird autocorrect or capitalization issues.
Yesterday, about 20 minutes after sending my wife off to work her evening shift, I got the call I’ve been dreading for 19 years: she’d had an accident on her bicycle.
Luckily it happened on the bike trail (all hail civilized cities and their off-road trails) so there were no cars involved, but she was still banged up pretty badly. The accident happened because the bolt holding her seat to her seat stem sheared off and she fell backwards onto the rack. One of her pedals gouged her knee pretty badly and she struck her cheekbone on her handlebar. There will be other lingering aches and pains, but those were the worst.
So, no head injuries, no broken bones, no hospital visits. We’re very fortunate.
I convinced her to skip work to stay home and ice, elevate her leg and go to bed early. She was already nursing a cold, so there’s no reason for her to exhaust herself.
Then, after dinner, my son began to complain of stomach pain. We figured it was just gas but at around 10pm the vomiting began.
There’s always that hopeful moment after the first barfing that makes you hope everything’s all cleared up. Nope. He was sick on and off throughout the night.
My wife, who had gone to bed around 8:30, woke naturally around midnight. She took over for me a little before one then woke me around 5:30. The poor guy had been waking every half hour with pain and vomiting and couldn’t even keep water down.
Finally just before 7 I told him that h was still in the worst of it, that he needed to sleep so he could recover enough to hydrate himself.
He crashed out as though he was implementing a plan and has been sleeping for nearly 2.5 hours, with only minimal moaning and stirring.
Have I ever mentioned that he found me passed out on the bathroom floor once due to flu-related dehydration? He couldn’t have been older than four.
Have I also mentioned that, when my wife and I were first together in the nineties, I used to get up a 4am every day for my crapy job, but would be unable to sleep at night because I would be worrying about her nighttime bike commute? I used to lie in bed, staring at the ceiling while I imagined terrible accidents. Then I would hear the distinctive sound of her brakes out front and I’d drop right off.
So, yeah. A couple of mildly stressful days, especially since I’ve started falling behind on EPIC SEQUEL WITH NO DULL PARTS.
Anyway, I’m going to sneak out of his room and make myself more coffee. I hope autocorrect hasn’t done anything embarrassing to this post.
But we celebrated yesterday. While my son was at a friend’s birthday party, my wife and I did some pre-Giftmas gadget-scouting, then had great Thai food at Jai Thai in Fremont. We didn’t spend the whole time talking about our son, only 75%, which is a good percentage for us. And we told jokes, planned our future, and indulged in actual adult conversation.
Did you know that the appropriate gift for the 11th anniversary is steel? That worked out pretty well for us; I bought my wife two screwdriver sets that had very organized ways to store the switchable heads. She liked them so much she cried a little, for serious.
Anyway, adult time officially ended when I pulled up a chair in Card Kingdom for yet another Pokemon tournament for my son. I’ll be stuck here all day, trying to write today’s goal (about 1300 words) and goofing around on Twitter.
I hope your Sunday is a good one.
making books personal: beautiful epic sequel with no dull parts people the boy
by Harry Connolly
1) I still like riding on the train, despite some of the later points here.
2) During the trip, I went back to every bad food habit I have. I ate without planning. I ate because of stress. I ate when I wasn’t hungry to be social. I ate my son’s leftovers because I didn’t want to waste them. Yowch. Bad habits might go but they never go far.
3) This trip was wall-to-wall Pokemon. On Thursday during the train trip he found another player and stayed up until midnight playing in the observation lounge. On Friday he met some other kids in the hotel lobby and he played until after dinner. After the tournament on Saturday he played all evening until midnight again. On Sunday, even though he didn’t make the playoffs, he went right back to the event to hang with is friends and play pick up matches. Then we caught the train on Sunday night and he kept playing late into the night and all the next morning until the other kid’s stop arrived. Who knew there was so much Pokemon to be done?
4) One downside of riding the train is that there is usually one person who’s had too many. It doesn’t normally get too ugly, but sometimes people can be loud and obnoxious. On the way down, for example, I was sitting across the boys while they played a match, and a man walking the aisle fell flat on his face. He was in his 50′s, kinda tattered, and I had the powerful urge to Not Engage.
Someone else in the room asked, reluctantly: “Are you okay?” As the guy tried to get up, he answered “Of course I am. I’m tough.”
Since then, that line has become something of a joke around here, along with (no context) “Trees are made of cells. Your argument is invalid.”
5) The long, long train trip left me with a screwed up back. I’m moving like an old man, stretching my legs and back as much possible, slathering on the Topricin, and gulping acetaminophen. At the moment, it’s mostly better which is good. The bad thing is that I’ve completely lost the thread of the Twenty Palaces short story I was going to write. The POV was supposed to be from a predator instead of Ray Lilly, but with the way I feel I just can’t find the voice.
So it’s shelved for now. EPIC SEQUEL WITH NO DULL PARTS opens with a scene where someone recovers from terrible injuries, and that’s coming along just fine. I just wish I had more places outside my home where I could write while standing.
6) The Coast Starlight offers really beautiful views. Not Oakland, but northern California and southern Oregon were gorgeous: mists blowing through evergreen valleys, stands of dogwood with golden leaves, broad rivers and lakes with pelicans, herons, ducks and even an eagle. Even a rainbow. It’s a lovely country, if you get the chance to see it.
As the fourth round of the Pokemon Fall Regional Championship was about to start, I was standing at the edge of the play area. Spectators–especially nervous parents like me–are supposed to keep well back to minimize the urge to interfere, but as I scanned the crowd, I could not see my son anywhere.
There were 90 kids playing in his age division, packed together at long tables, and he was not the largest of them by far. Still, I know my own child, right? But I couldn’t spot him. And why was some kid’s mom sitting at the end seat, waving at the judges?
Then she turned around and I realized she was not a mom at all; she was one of the players, and I couldn’t see my son because he was sitting opposite her. I hurried over and took a picture of them setting up for their match. No, she wasn’t an adult, but she did look more like my son’s Teaching Assistant than a kid in his age division.
Monday night my son and I returned (via 24-hour (plus!) train ride each way) from San Jose, where the Pokemon Fall Regional Championships took place. The event covers both video game (played on the DS) and the TCG (which stands for “Trading Card Game”). In the 21st century you might think the video game would dominate everyone’s time and attention, but in fact there were about 150 VG players and nearly 500 TCG players.
My own son is firmly on the card-game side.
This wasn’t my son’s first regionals. Last spring I took him up to Surrey, BC for the spring regionals there. He placed sixth out of forty-four kids, which is pretty good–at least, the border official who interviewed us on the way back into the country seemed impressed. I was pretty happy with his performance, too.
However, Worlds took place last July (August? I know it was summertime), which means the end of one season and the start of another. With the start of the new season, you get the annual change in age divisions: They sort players into three age divisions, and if my kid had been born only six days later, he would be the oldest of the Juniors this season (and kicking ass) instead of the youngest of the Seniors.
Oh my god, I am not kidding when I say he looks so small next to some of these kids.
But that’s the nature of these things: he’s a ten-year-old boy battling 14- and 15-year-old boys and girls, and sometimes the disparity is jarring.
For instance: in his first round he was matched against a kid he knew (and respected) online; in person, he looked like a high school shooting forward. I suspect this kid shaves more often than I do, and to pass along some info that may not seem terribly surprising, he won the that very important first match against my son.
A quick explanation: TCG tournaments are typically in “Swiss rounds” with the number of rounds determined by the number of kids. Ninety kids = seven rounds. In the second round, they match 1-0 players against other 1-0 players and 0-1 against 0-1. In the fourth round, it’s 4-0 vs 4-0, 1-3 vs 1-3, etc.
Here’s why that’s important: With 90 kids and seven rounds, you might end up with one undefeated, 5 with a 6-1 record, and 15 kids who went 5-2. How can you decide which 5-2 players deserve to round out the 16 kids who make “Top Cut” (the TCG version of playoffs)?
The answer is that in Swiss rounds you compare the winning percentages of their opponents. If one 5-2 player faced stronger players than another, they rank higher. And if two players tie in their record and they have a tie for opponents’ win percentage, the next step is to compare the opponents’ opponents’ win percentage. More on that later.
So the important thing, clearly, is not only to win, but to win early so you’re more likely to face winning players. Losing in the first round means you start off facing 0-1 players less likely to give you that vital opponents’ percentage, assuming you can make a comeback. If you want to do really well, you need to beat kids who never lose to anyone but you.
That’s what my son wanted, and that’s what he’s done in the past–not only as a Junior but as a Senior, too. He had hopes to place very high in this tournament and a first round loss was a tough setback.
In the second round he faced another 0-1 kid who was closer to his age and who had brought a deck that should have been a big challenge for my kid. Still, my son beat him. In the third round he faced a kid with a deck that was once pretty popular. My son beat him, too.
At 2-1 after three rounds, he was doing okay. Better to have gotten that loss on round 3 than round one, (his first round opponent was 1-2 at this point. His second round opponent was 0-3). Still, if he kept racking up wins had a chance at Top Cut.
Then: round four against the girl I thought was an adult. She told him before the match that she had come for the VG tournament but brought along a “joke deck” to play in the TCG event.
And she won. Worse, not only did she win, but she beat him with an incredibly frustrating strategy that left his active Pokemon paralyzed. His deck was completely set up to do all his attacks, but he couldn’t. She won the match because he ran out of cards to draw before she did, and not a single Pokemon had been knocked out.
He came over to me with tears in his eyes.
Now, I’ve seen many, many kids cry after they lose a match, and I don’t just mean the littlest kids, either. They’re competitive players with high expectations who work really freaking hard at this game, studying deck lists and strategies endlessly.
But all that work goes up in a puff when you lose.
At this point in the tournament, I had a secret plan. After the first round loss, I worried that he was not going to do well and decided I should have a nice surprise for him. You know, just in case.
So while he was playing a match, I went to the vendor at the side of the room (because if there’s Pokemon going on there’s an opportunity to swipe your credit card down to a plastic wafer three molecules thick) and looked for a plushie Ampharos. (That’s an electrical sheep sort of thing, and for some reason it’s the boy’s favorite.)
My next question: “Do you have a Lanturn Prime?”
Vendor: “Er, Lanturn Prime is a card; the Pokemon is just ‘Lanturn.’ And no, we don’t have it.”
At this point I was tapped out, because those were the only two I was sure he liked. Then the vendor said: “This is a very popular Pokemon with the kids, though, and it’s the only one we have. It’s a Hydreigon.”
It wasn’t very big, just about the size of my hand, and it looks like a mix of a dragon and purplish daisy. I thought He’s playing a Hydreigon deck… why not? “What’s it cost?”
He looked at the label: “Twenty dollars.” At least he had the decency to sound embarrassed.
I bought it anyway and stuffed it into the bottom of my bag for later than night.
But what’s the first thing my teary-eyed son said when he came over after his loss? “I knew I shouldn’t have brought my Hydreigon deck! I knew it!”
My stomach turned sour. I’d just spend twenty bucks on a memento to frustration and loss.
He talked a bit about why he lost and how the game played out, wiping his eyes as he talked. Then he talked about how badly he wanted to make Top Cut, and I tried to tell him all the platitudes parents tell kids when they compete: You did your best. It’s a tough competition. You gotta keep pushing and playing your hardest.
And then he broke my heart by apologizing to me. “I’m sorry, Dad,” he said, “for making you come all this way.”
As though I was disappointed in him. As though he owed me something.
Personally, I don’t think there’s anything better for a kid than a safe space where they can strive and fail, then strive again. Personal development, right? It’s necessary to make him into a happy adult.
But when I’m sitting beside him and he’s wiping tears away, I want to say fuck all that development bullshit. This kid is still too small and fragile for this. I want to step in and fix things for him, somehow. Not that I really could, and not that he’d let me.
Anyway, what I said next is sort of a blur, but I’m pretty sure I insisted that he never apologize to me for this sort of thing again. I told him how proud I was and reminded him that for the first time he was facing much older players in a heavily competitive environment. He also needed to be reminded, apparently, that he was here to make friends with many of these other kids–some of whom had been nothing more than usernames on a message board until then–and he was doing that.
Finally, I’m sure I told him I knew he was going to stick it out for the rest of the tournament and play his best in every round.
Anyway, he went right out and won his fifth round, then his sixth. He knew he might still make Top Cut if he won his last match of the day–some of the kids who make 5-2 would get in. However, the final match was against another kid from Seattle who is at least two years older and a really good player. But my son beat him.
In the end, at 5-2, he “bubbled” which means he was close to making the final 16 but fell short. He took 18th place out of 90 players, and the difference between that and the kid who took 16th came down to a 2.5% difference in their opponents’ win percentage. In fact, he tied opponents’ win percentage with the kid in 17th place, falling behind him because of the opponents’ opponents’ percentage.
But he was happy. He had turned things around and came out with a decent score. It wasn’t what he was hoping for, but he met a lot of great kids, played a shitload of Pokemon, and dragged me to McDonalds three times. He also loved the stuffed Hydreigon, laughed when I told him the story of buying it, and hugged me when I gave it to him. He says Hydreigon is his third favorite Pokemon.
Me, I got no damn writing done at all. I was just too stressed out.
The view from my hotel room:
Hmm. I don’t quite think I’ve managed it here.
Anyway, have arrived in San Jose for child’s event. My trip will be all kid all the time, with no other socializing planned.
Pray for me.
making books personal: internet moi? publishing the boy words
by Harry Connolly
It’s pretty clear what the new Amazon Author Rank system is supposed to do. (For those who haven’t heard of it: they now show sales rank numbers for authors as well as their books.) It’s supposed to be a way for authors to promote themselves.
The author becomes a “top ten” author on Amazon (for an hour) and starts using that in their publicity, as though it’s some sort of bestseller list. Not only does this get Amazon’s name out in front of people but it will inevitably push some authors to work like crazy to bump their sales. Writers, while pursuing that supposedly-valuable label, put money in Amazon’s bank accounts.
Me, I don’t much care. I stopped following Amazon’s sales rankings for my books right around the time Random House started giving me accurate sales figures, updated weekly. Do I want to look at “rankings” which only compare me to other authors without giving me actual sales data, and which are calculated in secret, or do I want to look at the number of books sold? No contest for me at all.
In other news, tomorrow I take a long, long weekend away from home. My son and I are catching a train for northern California so he can compete in the Pokemon regionals. I have no idea what sort of internet connectivity I’ll have (certainly none on the train) so don’t expect to see me around much. I’ll do my best to visit at least one Starbucks a day to check email, but I’m not sure I can promise even that much.
Finally, Black Gate has begun to feature fiction on their website, and their latest offering in the first short story I ever sold. To be honest, it’s been available for free since it was published, but they’re featuring it again. Check it out. Special thanks to author Martha Wells for pointing it out. Good thing I read her LiveJournal, eh?
All right. There are errands and packing to do. Signing off for a while.
Something happened over the weekend that I found a little unnerving. As I mentioned on Twitter, I took my son and his buddy to Brickcon last Sunday and it was cool and all (until my camera battery died) but afterwards we stopped for a couple of slices.
On the way to the pizza place, we passed a used book store. “Ooo, books,” buddy said, and I suggested we stop off there after lunch.
We did, and my son was a complete pain about it.
The first thing I did, as always was look for a copy of my own book. Once I found it, I checked the title page; it had been inscribed to “Patty” and overall looked very lightly handled. We joked about apologizing to her and then my son was ready to go.
His buddy and I were interested in browsing the shelves, snapping up stuff by authors we had heard about, looking for books in series we hadn’t finished, all the usual stuff. But my son just wanted to joke about making messes in the valuable book section and complain about going home to play Minecraft.
It was a little disheartening.
My kid does read. Currently he’s on a tear through YA post-apocalyptic thrillers and obviously he reads for school. But his mom and I delight in books, while he doesn’t seem to care at all.
Maybe it’s a phase. Maybe he’s the cobbler’s barefoot son. Maybe it’s that I’ve been bringing him new library books every Saturday for years and he’s become blase.
But it’s pretty annoying.
Check it out:
For folks who don’t know, this is a superhero-themed cooperative fixed-deck card game. It can be a little fussy, what with keeping track of all the plusses and hit points, but the enhanced edition makes that easy. What’s more, it’s fun.
The boy and I both wanted to play tonight, but I’m just too wiped for it. This weekend we are going to be doing two Pokemon tournaments, so I’m not sure when we’ll have a chance to take on some of these new villains, but the boy and I are pretty psyched to give it a try.
Great game. Seriously.
So, my 10yo wanted to play some fantasy rpg, and after looking around a bit, I found this video
Looks pretty terrific, if you asked me. Best of all, it has an introductory adventure using simplified rules and pre-generated characters to teach you the game. This is a good thing, because we can not be coming to this cold. My wife has zero interest in rpgs and will only play as a family activity. My son is still learning the rules, and I just don’t have time to read through a huge game rulebook. I wanted something quick and fun.
So we open the box, the materials are beautiful, we pass out character sheets, and we start the introductory campaign.
And it’s a fucking dungeon crawl.
Okay, it’s a cave crawl, where you go from one chamber to the next, fight goblins here, defuse a trap there, fight this fight that. Sure, each room has something a little different: the spider shows how to do poisons and saving throws. The “goblin king” and the cliff you’re supposed to climb do skill rolls.
But there’s no story. No hook. Four generic characters on a generic crawl. You start by reading the situation aloud from the book (as is traditional) and then they drop you right at the entrance to the cavern.
Now, look, if this was 1981, that shit would be fine. No one expected better. But at this point, when you’re trying to reach new players, you need to pique their interest. You need a little narrative.
Why not start the adventure in the town? Role-play a neighbor complaining about some lost sheep, and a crowd bullying the mayor into arranging a tournament. Use a bit of the contest to teach the game. Maybe the PCs win, or maybe someone else wins and they go off in the wrong direction looking for the Big Bad.
How about establishing the stakes? What if the fighter (described on his sheet as having a liking for pretty women) is trying to impress a farmer’s daughter, the most beautiful milk maid in the valley? What if the cleric is frustrated that none of the locals come to his teacher’s temple, and decides to make a big show to draw in worshippers? What if the rogue needs to get some information from the local goblin bandits but they just drive her away? Give each character something to do besides kick down doors and fight random crap.
What if the local crowds blame a disreputable family at the lower end of the valley, and the heroes are sent there first. Yeah, they’re all bad guys, but their innocent of this particular crime. If the PCs drive them out, they end up killed in the dragon’s cave. If they spare them, they anger the locals who sent them there.
What if the quest is not to find the monster, but to find the sword that will destroy the monster? Then, mid-way through the adventure, something goes wrong and they discover they’ve been in the dragon’s lair the whole time.
What if? It’s the most important part of the game. Do you want to hook new players? Give them actual dilemmas to deal with, not just monsters to stab.
Look, it’s not as though I need yet another creative endeavor to fill up my days. DM-ing for my wife and son would be exhausting, and might even slow down my new book. But this was armor classes, dragons, magic missiles, the whole deal! It could have been fun as hell.
Instead, it’s just going to be another box on the shelf. Disappointing.