Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Out of Retirement

There's a saying that heroes never die; they just fade away. That's blatantly true, of course, at least the last part. Heroes can't fade away any more than the stories the inhabit do. They're remembered, discussed, remade, re-imagined, and honored long after “the end.” Oh, they're forgotten sometimes, but inevitably they're returned to, either from fresh eyes and mind or when an old fan longs for the tales of their past.

But if heroes never fade away, what do they do when their stories aren't being told. Well, like the people who listen, observer, or participate in the stories, they remember their past and reminisce. So it goes at places like the Onion Knight Home for Semi-Retired Heroes. Well, semi-retired heroes and villains, technically, but they don't put that part in the sign. Not that the heroes particularly care. The battles were fought once and they will be fought again, but in between, there's no point in holding a grudge. Besides, worthy arch-nemeses are one in a million; the other “villains” exist to do little more than get in the hero's way for a few minutes.

“Minutes?” laughed Cyclonic Antipathy, who managed to save the world some 237 times by his last count, but now was content to rest on a park bench in the in the home's park. “Try seconds. Not even that long, if my Ultra-Slay power was active.”

Goblin # 1,620, who once felt the sting of death as often as most people breathed, harrumphed in his chair next to his best friend/regular murderer. “Not all the time,” he pointed out. “We had our moments. Not many, of course. But that time you were returning home from a dungeon, barely alive, and we got the chance to hit first. Oh, I lived for those days. Died for them, too.”

“That didn't count,” Cyclonic grumbled. “We had 90 healing potions to spare, but NOOOO, our storyteller was in such a hurry. I swear that even across the rift between our reality and his, I could hear him uttering the most unpleasant oaths. Considering our adventure was rated everyone 10 and older, so it was highly inappropriate.”

Goblin # 1,620 laughed and added, “Oh, speaking of bad words, remember that time when the storyteller's friend borrowed our story ...”

“Don't you dare,” Cyclonic growled, but the goblin ignored him.

“And when they entered your name, they called you ASSBUTT?” the goblin burst out laughing. “Thirty hours of a destined hero named ASSBUTT saving the world from pure evil. Hell, I bet you won a lot of fights just because we couldn't keep a straight face when fighting you.”

Cyclonic complained, “Storytellers have no respect nowadays. And did they have to put it in all caps? Our story has the lower-case letters for a reason. Anyway, you seem pretty smug for somebody who lost so often.”

Goblin # 1,620 waved a finger at Cyclonic. “Oh, I wouldn't say that. We did the math on that once. Sure, you thwarted our dark lord a bunch of times. But if you compare it to the times you died on the way, we still have a 20:1 win rate over the forces of good.”

“That stupid lava dragon,” Cyclonic muttered.

“Yeah, that was a ridiculously overpowered part of the story,” the goblin agreed. “But enough about that. You up for a game of checkers?”

But it would not be a day for checkers. Somewhere in the reality of the storytellers, perhaps while cleaning the home or just while bored, idle hands find a game, and childhood memories of their adventures with Cyclonic (and decidedly not ASSBUTT,) flooded back. A game system is dusted off, and an afternoon spent telling the story once again. And Goblin # 1,620 didn't even mind when Cyclonic sliced him in half and moved on without a second glance. With enough time, any memories become fond memories.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Every day

Do you like spoons? Yes, we all have them piled in the kitchen drawer, or maybe even piled in the sink, waiting to get cleaned of the chocolate frosting we dig into on the rare occasion. Or Spoon! the call to action by the greatest super-hero of last generation: The Tick.

What does any of this have to do with writing? Hang on there floppy pants, I want to introduce you to an artist I follow on Instagram: STIAN KORNTVED RUUD 
As of this writing he is on day 168 of his goal of carving a new spoon every day for a year.  As he finishes each spoon, he posts pics of his work. 

The process has yielded some some amazing results, along with designs that are flawed and awkward. But guess what? That's supposed to happen. You are supposed to make rubbish. A lot of it. Every day dig in and spend some quality time and knock out 500, 750, or 1000 words. Every day write about something that is wonderful, or trivial, or awkward, or bad. Get comfortable with the notion that what you are writing is an important part of the process, not the final product. It is the potter removing the clay from the bowl, the sculptor removing the marble from the figure, the carver removing the shavings from the spoon. You don't write every day because people will love your work. You write every day so that when you re-write the muscles are strong and your vision is clear. And your readers will thank you.

To help keep me on track for writing every day, I use This is a screen shot of September so far:
Yes, I have missed some days. But to be fair, my Nugget arrived ahead of schedule on September 1st. Sometimes writing has to take the backseat.

Monday, September 1, 2014

We made Bad Decisions - and we're proud of it!

What do you get when you combine a role-playing game GM and a poet with storytelling pretensions? In this case, a new, story-flavored party game from startup game maker Diamond Dust Dreams Inc. With substantial capital already tied up in printing its first game, Kitsune: of Foxes and Fools, the company has turned to Kickstarter to get News Flash: Bad Decisions off the ground.

The prototype of the new game is already receiving rave reviews from everyone who has played it; comments like, "Bad Decisions is brilliant (and I'm not a big game person). We are definitely joining the kickstarter funding." The prototype has already been played at scifi and game conventions in Illinois (CoDCon), Indiana (GenCon), Wisconsin (GeekKon) and Minnesota (CONvergence). People see the name and say, "I make bad decisions all the time. What is this game? I want to play it!"

After all, who doesn't enjoy complaining about Fools responding to Crises with Bad Decisions? News Flash: Bad Decisions encourages you to enjoy doing that. You play by combining news-lead or headline sentence “teleprompt” cards with cards listing generic categories of famous (or infamous) people as the fools, crises ranging from mundane to outrageous, and flagrantly Bad Decisions for you to combine into amusing mini-stories.

News Flash: Bad Decisions plays like a cross between Apples to Apples® and Mad Libs®, with each prompt card playing differently every time because the News Anchor (judge) gets to set up every story. The finished game will have 200 cards each in the Fool, Crisis and Bad Decision decks - and 60 teleprompter cards. With a PG13 approach for selecting crises and bad decisions (from actual news stories), Diamond Dust Dreams expects its newest game will give the much racier Cards Against Humanity strong competition as the next must-have party game.

By contributing as little as $10 to the Kickstarter project, you’ll qualify to suggest topics for future Bad Decisions games, such as: horror movies (“went into the woods alone - at night”), thriller/scifi (“pressed the red button”), modern European history (“invaded Russia in winter”), and biotech (“cloned what?”). Higher reward levels give supporters direct input into the creation of additional Fool, Crisis, Bad Decision and Teleprompter cards. Because the game's designers want to share the fun of finding and sharing ridiculous situations and choices with all of you.

The Kickstarter goal is $20,000, enough to cover the down-payment on a full production print run, so News Flash: Bad Decisions can go on press as soon as the team finishes proofing the final prompt and play decks, including new cards suggested by Kickstarter supporters. Game stores are already expressing interest in News Flash: Bad Decisions, although even with the Kickstarter, the company cannot guarantee the game being delivered by Christmas 2014. That said, it could be printed in time to become the hot new Valentine’s Day gift in 2015.

Join the supporters of the Bad Decisions card game family and learn more by checking out the Bad Decisions Kickstarter page This Kickstarter ends September 21, 2014 so please click now. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Writing is re-writing

Just a brief topic today on writing every day. 

Yes, you are supposed to.  Seriously. 

That's just crazy, I can hear you say. Stop complaining. You're the one going around to all your friends tell them you are a writer. So write, damn it.

But what's the best way? What do I write about? What if it's bad?

Let's take this in reverse order:

It will be bad. Trust me. Anything your write down as a first draft will be crap. I didn't say that. Hemingway did. If you don't like that, go complain to him. I don't want to hear it.

What do you write about? I don't care. I'm not going to be subjected to the painful verses you slap down on paper. Write about your cat, your girlfriend, your wife, or your wife finding out about your girlfriend. Just write.

What's the best way? I have no idea. However, I do have a way that works for me that I am happy to share with you. Ready?

Every evening, before bed, I write between 2 and 3 pages in small notebook. Horribly jotted down sentences of trite conversations, ideas, plots, characters. The handwriting is so bad I can't read half of it the next day.  But you know what? That's OK!  What happens is that I sleep on what I wrote and the next day at lunch I log into my, notebook at the ready, and start typing.

Again, most of the stuff I write with a pen I can't even read, but I have an idea and most of the time I can re-write something better, more fluid or present.

What does this give me? 750 words a day. 

I wager that is about 800 words a day more than what you have.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Here Lies Me

Gregor knelt at the grave. He didn't quite know what to expect. He thought returning here would give him closure, a meaning for all he'd gone through, maybe even the chance to escape it and move on to the next state. But instead, he just felt odd. Odd and slightly nauseous.

“Here lies Gregor Branson. 1971-2008. RIP,” he read, and sighed. “Really, mom and dad? That's the best you could come up with?” But he was more fixated at what was under the grave. Six feet down (unless they half-assed the grave, too,) was his own body, rotting away. Though after the bus hit him, he doubted it looked all the great anyway.

So much for this trip, and possibly his whole day off. Gregor shrugged and rose to his feet. At least the perpetual drizzle set the mood. He was hoping to see the sun again, though, just once. Before he had to go back.

He found Reastrom exactly where he left her, hanging out just in front of the front gates. Ah, Reastrom. His jailer, his tormentor, his greatest enemy. And, sadly enough, his only friend. Of course, she normally had the wings, horns, and talons to match her personality. Up here, she looked like just some goth girl hanging out by a cemetery.

“Are you done already?” she asked him. “Ready to go back?”

He knew she expected his eyes to widen, to tremble and beg not to go back, but he'd long since accepted it. Sure, he wasn't pleased when he died and found himself in Hell. Not many people would be. But it wasn't quite the way he expected. He assumed he would be tossed into a lake of fire, and maggots would eat his eyeballs. Something like that. But while they had a lake of fire and the eyeball maggots, they saved those for the truly evil people. Gregor wasn't evil. He was just kind of an asshole.

When the demons read the list, Gregor thought it sounded bad, but not eternal damnation bad. He cheated on his girlfriend. Well, on several girlfriends. And maybe he embezzled some money from his bosses. Big deal, like those millionaires would have even missed it. If anyone deserved to be down there, it was them. Frankly, he felt more sorry when he made fun of the fat girl in back in grade school than any of the other stuff. So he was more indignant about his fate than despairing. At least until Reastrom got to work on him. She wasn't the lashes and venom type. No she preferred the more ironic punishments. Feeling what his victims felt, escape attempts that failed due to one trivial thing. In time, he grew to accept it all. Maybe the gods or fates or whatever had a point, and he deserved what happened to him. For now.

But that was a concern for another day (and week, and month, and possibly every year until the end of time.) What the brochures about hell didn't mention was that every so often, the damned can get time off for good behavior. It's rare because well … not much good behavior down there. And even then, you only get a chance on an anniversary, like the tenth year after your death, and at the most, you get a day. Reastrom sounded as surprised as anyone when she gave him the news. And he was as surprised that he was already down there a decade as he was about getting to leave, however briefly.

“How much time do I have left?” he asked her.

Reastrom checked her watch. “About an hour. Not much time to do anything fun.”

Gregor shrugged. “I didn't expect much else. How about we just grab a burger or something before going … going back?” he asked. He almost caught himself saying “home,” and refused to think on the implication.

“Fine. Don't worry, I'm buying,” Reastrom offered. “Least I could do for the audit-torment. Some things are too low even for us. I'm just glad to get away from this awful place.”

“I was wondering about that,” Gregor said. “Why didn't you go in with me? Consecrated ground?”

She snorted. “As if. Graveyards just creep me out. I get depressed how many names I recognize from back at the office, and I hate thinking about work on these trips.”

Some time later, the two were at a booth in the closest diner they could find, munching on greasy fries and burned hamburgers dripping semi-congealed mayo. It was the best meal Gregor's ever tasted.

“So I have to ask,” Reastrom asked, her voice muffled by fry blockage, “Of all the places to go on your day off, why your own grave? Why not, I don't know, visit your parents or something? I told you they were still alive.”

“What would I have to say to them?” he said. “They're alive, they moved on, they have other children who are better than me, or at least less dead. Would I just walk up to them, offer a weak handshake, and tell them, 'so hey, about death, I have good news and bad news?'”

“So why not Vegas, a beach, a brothel, anything?”

“Yes, that's exactly what I need; the chance to add more sins to my list,” he muttered. He didn't know how that worked, but he wasn't about to risk it. “Look, we may not have always seen eye to eye about … tortures and such, but you've been more than fair to me. Even so, any chance at a normal life again was enough. I didn't need special, just this.”

“Okay, but you still didn't answer my question. Why a freaking grave?”

“I was hoping to find an answer, or some mystical whatsit. You know, the answer to life or something. Maybe learn if there were … other options, visitors from other places, I don't know. It doesn't matter. Nothing happened.”

“I could have told you all that,” she said between sips of liquified sugar. She checked her watch again. “Well, if there's anything else you want, you better do it soon. Get some pie? Use the bathroom? I should warn you, waiting to get back to piss on the fires won't help at all.”

“There's just one thing I want from you,” Gregor told her. “You never answered my question.”

Reastrom just glared at him. He didn't expect more than that. She never answered it before, either yes or no. Just gave an annoyed grunt and then upped the torment for a few days. She couldn't do that here, though of course she would remember it when back ho … in hell. But Gregor didn't care. That was the one answer he needed, the one thing that would satisfy him for any length of torture. Well, any length but one.

“Is there a point to it?” he asked her for the hundredth time. “Is it all just punishment, or is it something more? If you learn the lessons, are truly sorry, will without a doubt try to be a better person, can you … move on?” Punishment was one thing, after all. But infinite punishment? An eternity of it? Unlimited suffering in exchange for the limited list of crimes even the most evil person could do? That he couldn't bare.

So she glared. And he waited. They had, at most, five minutes left. He figured she would just run out the clock, and maybe give him the lake of fire treatment this time. Instead, she whispered something, so soft that he couldn't understand it.

“What did you say?”



“I said 'maybe,' okay? And that's all you're getting, so shut up and get a damn pie or something.”

“Then why keep it a secret. Why not tell people that there's a chance, however slight, they might get out?”

“Because that ruins it,” she snarled at him. “It's not about being a better person so they might get out. It's about being a better person to not being a worse one. Otherwise, how will we know when people are ready, really ready to leave, and not just faking it? Gregor, the last thing I want is repeat customers.”

Gregor took all that in, wondering if by insisting on the truth, he just damned himself. Either way, as they left (they had leftovers, but Reastrom insisted they wouldn't need a doggie bag,) he insisted on giving the waiter a really generous tip.

Reastrom knelt at the grave. Gregor never did get another day off. Reastrom figured the bosses learned that she slipped up, let a moment of sympathy get to her. She had the same worry he did, that by learned the truth, she condemned him to be down there forever. But today, she revealed just one talon and carved a little something into his still-boring grave. It would be days before anyone even noticed, and even then, they had no idea what it meant. They just assumed some vandal was having a bit of fun, though they couldn't explain why the new words looked they were made from an animal's claw. Or why they glowed bright red. Whatever the reason, they figured that the grave's new epitaph, “Here lies Gregor Branson. 1971-2008. RIP - 2008-2079” meant something to somebody.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Dreamleaks 4: The DEMI Fires

This day had not been going well for old Toby. For starters, he planned on biking at least part of the way to work, but halfway there, he remembered he brought his laptop home to do some work on the weekend, and he wasn't about to risk that on a bike ride. Then he got to work and had almost his entire day wasted on meetings, busywork, and insipid office banter. Even right now, he had a half-dozen co-workers in his office, huddled together around a computer screen watching some stupid video while he was trying to get something finished. It had already gotten dark, and he just wanted to go home.

Of course, all of this seemed pretty trivial when the fires started.

Because he wasn't the only one staring at cats being morons, he noticed it before anyone else. The office complex just next to their own glowed from within, an intense light that shattered any remnants of a normal work day. For just a moment, as he saw the panicked figures screaming through the building's glass entrance way and even hotter blue flame build among the more “normal” red flames, Tobias could only stare in horror. And then he burst out of office, moments ahead of their own evacuation, while babbling “no, no, no, no, no!” to himself. Not fire, anything but fire. Not with what he knew about Data Efficiency Management, Inc., his employer, and the secrets he knew about his co-workers.

Both DEMI and the other office complex were some distance from the rest of the city, down the hill in a little side road all their own. Even so, as Toby and the rest of his office made their way outside, he could hear the wail of the incoming fire trucks, assuring Toby that no act of insane heroism on his part would be needed, that the actual professionals would take it from here. Even so, Toby could barely fathom the horrors he witnessed around him, too stark for even the endless blaring lights and sirens around him to drown out. He saw one EMT crew frantically try to save a man with a gaping hole blasted in his chest even going so far as to massage the poor victim's heart from the inside! And as the fire went out and the smoke cleared, he saw people sprawled out on the ground and stairwells, looking no different than if they were sleeping. Which, Toby tried to rationalized, they could be. It's not like the firefighters and ambulance crews would just leave people, not after the fires had stopped. Right?

Before he could think bout it more, he learned that his boss Irene had called a department-wide meeting to discuss the fire and what it meant. Toby, under the excuse of needing some fresh air, stayed behind as long as he could. The last thing he needed after all this was dealing with Irene. Irene was a hard-ass on her best days, and something like this would make her into a tyrant. Even worse, she wasn't in the loop about the important stuff. Toby was, and if Irene wanted answers, Toby might not be able to bluff his way out of it.

See, DEMI isn't just a mediocre network solutions company. They're secretly a safe harbor for refugees, refugees that most people wouldn't even believe existed. People with powers beyond what science can explain, perhaps, or with a heritage including some creature that shouldn't exist. He knows for a fact that the receptionist is, in fact, some kind of mer-creature. And his office friend Tessa, the one with the burn scars on her arms? That wasn't just the result of some childhood accident, it turned out. Tessa is a pyrokinetic who came about her powers at a really bad time. But Toby knows Tessa. She's harmless. There's no way she could be responsible for something like this. Could she?

As he pondered this, however, he saw flames billow up in the other building again. And this time, they flowed through the power and gas lines to his office as well. Since everyone was still returning after the last fire, they made it out safely this time. But two fires separated by mere hours? This couldn't be an accident.

The firefighters arrived even sooner this time. Hell, they probably didn't even all make it back to the station yet. But while this second fire was put out almost immediately and without any casualties as horrific as the first, it was clear that the firefighters had the same suspicions that Toby had, if not exactly the same theories about the cause. It was clear that the police would be here soon, and this time, Irene didn't even wait for people to get back into the office before she ordered her entire department into another meeting some distance from the building.

But Toby couldn't have imagined what she did next. As soon as they were out of sight, she pulled out a gun and yelled, “Everyone, on your knees! NOW!” Once they got over their shock, Toby and his coworkers complied, Tessa included. Toby couldn't say what would happen next, but he had two guesses. First, Irene was in fact responsible for the fires herself and she wanted to get everyone's silence before the police came asking, one way or another. But not even Irene could be so homicidal, Toby thought. Theory two is that she also believes these fires were started by someone, and so of course her first instinct was to blame it on her underlings. That's so Irene. Of course, Toby also knew she could be exactly right. So what would he do? What even counted as the right thing to do? Would he keep his friend's confidence, knowing that to expose her or her powers would likely be a death sentence or worse? Or keep quiet, risk his own life, and possibly let an arsonist go free do cause more death and destruction?

Toby had no idea what to do. But he knew that whatevre happened, it was going to get messy.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Cutting, part 2

Last time we met I expended some calories on the usefulness of cutting what you have written.  Today I thought I would provide some details on what I mean.

Here is a an opening to a short fiction (approx. 700 words) I've been working on as practice to keep as concise as possible.  It opens:

    It is easy to take a person; they won’t be missed right away. The key is to not break their timing. If they are out for a walk, they may be missed within an hour. Take them when they are going to the store, maybe two hours. A movie or church, three hours, (but really, who goes alone?). My personal favorite is shopping. No one know how long they will be gone, so that if you can take them when they first depart you can have upwards of six hours before someone starts to worry.

Originally the opening was much simpler: "It is easy to take a person."  In the early drafts this was important to me, and later I expounded on "why". In the cutting exercise I removed the why until it was time to reveal that part of the character and in its place set the "how".

Notice I have not written "How", as in "How" to actually take a person. In truth that is the "easy part" from the opening sentence. What I need is an emotional commitment from the reader, and I do this by providing common situations the reader may find themselves in. Everyone, at one time or another, goes to the store alone. When I plant that seed of belief in the mind of the reader, I then spring the trap, forcing the reader to see themselves in the situation.

Nobody sees a white minivan. Nobody.


the door slides open, a swift push of the cattle prod and they fall right in, rolled in plastic and taped shut. I drive off and no one ever sees them again.

Revealing the psychotic behavior in the voice I use, I rely on the reader to envision themselves in the position of the victim, and finding themselves in greater peril as I remove the rules of normal social behavior. This is someone among us, driving a plain white mini-van, watching for an opportunity. I have removed all the pretense and backstory of why. It doesn't need to be there, at least not yet.

From here I build a bit of backstory with only hints of "Why". The reason is two-fold:
  • It cements the psychosis of the voice, allowing the reader an edge of comfort in their belief. (This is then immediately rewarded.)
  • Set the stage for the final reveal.

The reward I mentioned comes in the next part of the story:

     The walls are gray and smell like disinfectant. The people wear white, some with many keys. I smile at all of them, but they don’t like me.

In a perfect world evil is locked away tight. I do not have to use the phrase mental hospital. I also do not have to explain how or why the voice was caught. It doesn't matter. The reader finds a moment of comfort that the evil is now locked away.

So now the voice of the story has shown that he is evil and that he is locked away. I am not expecting the reader to feel at all sorry for him, but I need to give a hint of insight before the end.

     Criminally insane. That’s the phrase I couldn’t remember. So much is a fog now, I shuffle across hard linoleum from one room to the next, my robe hanging open. Most times I don’t care. I like the colors on the quiet TV. I like the little candy pills in the paper cup. The water tastes funny and isn’t that cold. I can smell something decaying, but it is fleeting; vaporous.

I'm about 600 words into the story and thus far the voice has taken people and buried them away:

      I sit at the steel mesh window and watch the trees and sky. So clear and clean. The woods far off remind me of my other life, the cabin and my van, the people and all the holes I dug. So many holes. So many bones. The shovels were well worn.

And here I could end, evil tucked away from society and good prevails. But where is the fun in that? And are you sure you know the difference between good and evil?

I have about 100 words left to change your mind.

Other blog posts by Eric Michalsen
Follow Eric on Twitter @michalsen or catch up on his rantings at his blog.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Tele-Reality Conference Call

I figured I wrote enough stories from dreams lately, so it would make sense to mix things up and write a story about dreams this time.

Tele-Reality Conference Call

Melinda was not having the best day. It was the end of the quarter, profits were down, and the future of her business rode on the success of a single business venture. And Todd, the hypothetical brains behind the entire venture, was on the other side of the world, which rather inconveniently still lingered around 2 am while she and the rest of her department was ready for their afternoon business meeting.

Melinda looked around her office and sighed. Todd promised he would attend the meeting via remote access, but it's been almost twenty minutes since the meeting started and still no sign of him. She already called him twice and got no response. The fool must have fallen asleep, she figured. She looked over the table full of eager yet terrified underlines and said, “Sorry, people. I know we're days before deadline, but there's not much point in even having this discussion without Todd present. I'll just have to postpone the meeting and hope that...”

“No, wait! I'm here, I'm here!” Todd, or rather the monitor that Todd should be connected to, burst into life. Todd was visibly on the other end, but something looked … off about him. “Sorry I'm late, Melinda. I'm using a new networking tool and it took a while for me to figure it out.”

“Better late than never,” Melinda warned, “but not by much. I worried you fell asleep.”

“Oh, I did!” Todd said. “Still am, actually. But it's fine. I got the Dreamchat all set up last night, just in case that happened.”

The rest of the table turned into a cacophony of whispers and questions. Melinda did her best to ignore them. “I'm sorry, are you seriously trying to speak to us through your dreams?”

“Not through, exactly,” Todd insisted. “More like I happened to be in a dream, while talking to you. I assure you, my mind is as active and focused as always. The Dreamchat auto-initiates lucid dreaming. Just treat this as any other business chat, except I'm talking to you on the back of a flying purple walrus.”

Now that she thought about it, she did hear about this Dreamchat system. But she thought it was still in the prototype phase, waiting for enough idiots dumb enough to expose their inner minds to the world at large. And speaking of expose, she just realized what looked off about Todd.

“Todd, are you NAKED?”

He looked down and blushed. “Oh, crap,” he said. “I'm sorry. You know those dreams where you're back at school and suddenly have to take a test you didn't prepare for, and also you're naked? My subconsciousness must have thought this was one of those dreams.”

“Well, dream yourself some clothes,” Melinda demanded. “I don't care if you're in the office or on the back of a fantasy mammal, you will honor our dress code.” As she ordered her subordinate, however, Melinda noticed a dark figure looming over him. “Todd, look out!”

Todd whirled around, gasped, and fled away from the … camera. Melinda suddenly wondered how the camera could possibly work in this scenario, but they had bigger problems. The evil presence chased Todd to the edge of the walrus and drew ever closer, giggling in a sinister but scratchy voice.

“Todd, what the hell is that?”

“It's my childhood fear,” Todd explained. “Dirk Tinglestar, the evil cowboy clown.”

“That's right, little Toddy,” Dirk laughed. “Now reach for the sky! It's time for you to face me, or it's for you to die!”

Melinda tried to take this seriously, but she couldn't suppress the giggle. “Dirk Tinglestar? Really?”

“Yeah, you know, black hat, white face,” Todd nervously explained. “I've had nightmares about him ever since I was six, when I thought I saw him looming outside my bedroom one night. It turned out to just be a jacket hanging in the hallway, but try telling my subconscious that!”

Dirk, meanwhile, finally noticed Melinda and the rest of the increasingly confused businesspeople on the other side of reality, and left Todd alone to creep towards them. “Oh, we have guests for tonight's show! Just for them, I'll make sure you die extra slow.” As Dirk got closer to the camera though, he frowned. “What's all this?” he snarled.

“Sir, if you would please stop tormenting my director of new business!,” Melinda said, using her best executive tone of voice. “He is a grown man, not a child for you to bully, and we do not have the time for this. If we can't get this deal finished, then we'll be in the red, which will greatly displease me. And then you AND Todd will have a much bigger nightmare to deal with, capiche?”

Dirk drew even closer, until a single hideous eye dominated the screen. “Oh, no, this won't do at all,” Dirk said. “Little Toddy didn't account for growth in the public sector. If you ignore that, your profits will soon fall.”

“He didn't what?” Melinda turned back tot he table, where all the materials Todd should have needed for the presentation were scattered across the table. She gave them a cursory glance and realized the evil dream cowboy clown was right. “Oh, that's an excellent point,” she said. “What's your opinion on market change in the next fiscal year?”

Before Dirk could respond, though, he vanished, replaced again by Todd. “Sorry about that,” Todd shouted. “It's okay, I got away. Dirk shouldn't bother us again tonight.”

Melinda did her best to hide her disappointment. Besides, it sounded like Todd had another problem she would have to deal with. “Todd, I can barely hear you. What is all that whistling in the background?”

Todd looked around and shrugged. “Oh, I seem to be falling to my death,” he explained. “Not a problem. Judging by the distance to the ground, I should have a good five or ten minutes before I reach the ground. And everyone knows that you never actually die in a falling dream.”

“Well, when you wake up, would you care to join us on the call in the real world?” she asked.

“Oh, you don't want that,” Todd assured her. “I'm useless right after I wake up. Give me some time to get a few cups of coffee, and I'll call you back then.”

Melinda held her hand to her forehead. Twenty minutes late, ten minutes of this nonsense, and she knows that Todd would be at least half an hour before he can drag himself to a physical computer. “Never mind, Todd,” she told him. “Just go back to bed.”

“Oh, okay?” Todd said, confused. “But I thought this meeting was mandatory.”

“Oh, it is,” she told him. “So get your ass back here as soon as you start dreaming again. And could you do us a favor and dream of Dirk again? He sounded like he had some insights we could use.”

“Are you serious?” Todd yelled. “Ma'am, Dirk is a nightmarish apparition, the total of my darkest instincts and fears.”

“I'm an equal opportunity employer, Todd. I don't care about whether you technically exist or not. I just care if you can get results.”

Friday, May 16, 2014

Cut it out

Writing is re-writing, and re-writing is cutting.

As a young man once said to me, "Get aggressive with it." At the time it was an incredibly stupid thing to say, given the situation. But that was then, and this is now. So, dig out the scissors and X-acto blades, ruler and tape from the back of that junk drawer because it's hacking time.

Was it Germanicus that once said "Fortune favors the bold?" Doubtful, but we'll pretend he did. Have no fear and remove that lovely prose you are so proud of. Destroy every adverb. Insist on being succinct. Be gruntled in your gratuitous expenditure of destruction.

That all sounds like fun, but why? You have spent time believing what you wrote is worthy for others to read, right? Think of this as mining. You have a lovely pile of coal, which in itself is quite wonderful. Getting it out of the mountain is a huge accomplishment. And yes, coal is a valuable commodity; someone will buy it. But that's not why you are here. Simply providing something for the masses will only yield "something". No, you want the diamonds that are hidden in that dark heap of words. You want the real value of what you have. So be bold young man. Get aggressive with it.

Just make sure you have a great backup!

Other blog posts by Eric Michalsen
Follow Eric on Twitter @michalsen or catch up on his rantings at his blog.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Dreamleaks 3: The Lady of Derrenth

I never had a home as a child. Not one that lasted long enough for us to call it a home, at least. See, my parents traveled all the time, and that meant that my sister (Diana) and I (Stuart) had to go with them. If they were acrobats or rock stars or something, the cool factor would have made up for all the other ways this stunk a bit. But they weren't. They were financial consultants or something. I never understood the details as a kid. And now, I just preferred not to find out.

But there was a time when we found a home, however briefly. Not on purpose, though. It was a summer twenty years ago, when I was twelve and my sister ten. For three glorious weeks, we got to stay put in the tiny seaport of Deacon's Wharf. My aunt and uncle had a house there with a couple spare rooms, and financial consultants or something are not the type to turn down free stuff, so there we stayed. Its probably the lost childhood talking, but I remember Deacon's Wharf as some idyllic small town, like something out of a history book. Our cottage was barely a block from the beach of an enormous bay that the entire town had been built around. As the land rose up near the bay into a series of cliffs, the town followed. I could still remember the bustling main street far above the water, and the trains that made their way to town, their plumes steams visible from miles away.

We had our fun in Deacon's Wharf and the beaches. No to mention staying a real house for a while, playing with the toys that my cousins had long outgrown. But we knew it wouldn't really be a home. Not for us. My parents warned us that as soon as their business in town had finished, we would take the next train out, no questions asked. That fact haunted us the entire time, an ambiguous deadline that we could never forget. Never, that is, except when we went into the woods.

If the town came from ancient history, that forest came from a storybook. I've been in a lot of forests after that summer, both as a kid and after I grew up, and none of them felt like how a woods should be. Too many bugs and thorns, too many boring fields and brambles. Being in the Derrenth Woods, the one next to Deacon's Wharf, felt like being in another world. One that never would let you forget that you were an alien, that you were not meant to be here. But, if you meant it no harm, the Derrenth Woods would welcome you as a guest into its home. Or should I say her home.

The first time we saw her must have been at least a week after we arrived. By then, any moment we could get away from our parents, we went to the woods. Sometimes we ate lunch there, but mostly we just explored, climbing trees, and discovering the wood's mysteries. This time, its mysteries discovered us. The Lady of Derrenth (that was all the name she ever gave us,) had bright green hair with streaks of red. But it never looked dyed or artificial; nothing about her ever looked that way. I wondered sometimes how it would have looked if we met her some other season. Would it have turned more orange and golden in the fall? Or would she go bald in winter? Kind of glad I didn't get an answer on that one.

Not that her hair was her only unusual trait. She always wore a shimmery blue-green dress, one that flowed like nothing I had ever seen before or since. It was like water made into fabric. The only other glowing she wore were shoes, if you could all them that. More like hardened mud semi-encased in a shell of wood.

The Lady of Derrenth was sort of like that herself. She had a hard or stern look about her, but she never treated us as anything less than kindly. Especially Diana, though that hadn't been any surprise. When we first saw her, leaning on a tree and staring into a pond like her life depended on it, I just watched her, shocked and entranced. My sister, however, skipped right up to her and shook the Lady's hand. “Hi, I'm Diana!” she chirped. “What's your name?”

The Lady looked as surprised to see us as we were at seeing her, but she managed just the faintest of smiles. “It's strange to receive visitors,” she said, notably not answering my sister's question. “Most of your people have learned to avoid the woods.”

My sister gave the Lady a funny look. “Oh, we just visiting some relatives while my stupid parents have to work,” said. “Why wouldn't people want to visit here? This place is awesome!”

The Lady's smile grew wider for just an instant, and then vanished entirely. “Not all that inspires awe also brings joy,” was all she said. “But you are kind. I thought we had visitors in these recent days, and it is good to meet you. But I fear I can't be the best host. The fall comes soon, and with it the harvest. I have much work to do before then.”

“Can I help?” Diana asked. By this time, fear had started to override surprise. Yes, this had been a nice woods to explore, but if the townsfolk didn't come out here, maybe they did for a reason. My child side assumed that this woman was something fantastic, a creature of the woods. But at that age, my child voice had already started to fade, and my rational side worried that this was some crazy hermit. I considered grabbing Diana's hand and dragging her home, then telling our parents and possibly even the police who we saw. But I didn't. My child's voice hadn't been silenced completely, and so a part of me still wanted to believe.

But I resolved that as long as Diana was in the woods, I would never let her out of my sight again, at least not while the Lady was around. For the first couple of days, their activities seemed pretty innocuous. We watched the animals, sometimes staying behind while the Lady went out to greet them, or carved patterns into the ground. Or Diana would tie a string around a tree, one laden with decorations and even some of the Lady's hair. I had no idea what it meant, and the Lady never explained herself. Until that one day when we stayed in the woods until it had gotten dark. Not something we normally did, but then, it never got dark at two pm before.

This time, the Lady grabbed us and warned, “We have to leave, right now. The harvest has come.”

“What?” I protested. I barely ever spoke to the Lady before this, and I certainly never argued with her, but I could feel something off, like my worst fears were about to be confirmed. “It's barely August. Who harvests so early? And more importantly, who harvests a woods?”

“Only one being,” she assured me. “The Harvester.” She wouldn't explain further, just pulled us a long with a strength nobody could imagine such a frail woman could possess. Instead of taking us out of the woods, however, she pulled us farther in, well past where we had ever gone before, and then down – down into caves I didn't know this forest even had. We found ourselves in an underground cavern, one containing a tiny village and an enormous lake. An enormous lake, I should add, that floated above us.

“What's going on?” I asked, but the Lady didn't really have to explain. Besides the massive violation of physics going on above our heads, the village soon exploded with activity, as its people emerged from the houses to greet our host. Each proved my child-side right. I saw all manner of faerie creatures: tiny people with wings, people with bark for skin and leaves for hair, animals with the light of intelligence behind their eyes, floating beings of substances I had never seen before.

My question ceased to matter and I contented myself with stammering like an idiot. Diana just rolled her eyes and said, “What did you think this was about, dork?”


The Lady held up her hand before the worst-timed sibling argument could begin. “Please, not here. We have enough discord in the Derrenth now anyways.”

“Do you mean the Harvester?” I asked. “What is he?”

The Lady shook her head. “I do not know, exactly. At first I believed it to be a spirit of your cities, one who sought the dominance of the artificial over the world of old. But now that I felt his nature, I felt a bit of our own within it. Perhaps it had once been of the forest, but the desire for power drew him to monstrous sources. Whatever the form of his power, he found it. When he first came to Derrenth, I gathered forces to drive him off. I was, I feared, to reckless and arrogant. I thought too little of his threat. You see, I had an army at my side. The Harvester only brought one.”

“What happened?” Diana asked.

“One,” she mourned, “had been enough. The Harvester's champion had skin as hard as metal, and no force could even hinder it. Worse, as it swept through our forces, it attacked the very spirit of its enemies, the thing that kept them alive. Without even being touched, my people – destroyed themselves. They plunged against each other, dove off cliffs, or simply dissolved into nothingness. I did the only thing I could and ordered a retreat. For all of that autumn and winter, the Harvester held dominance in our land. When spring came, he simply vanished, but I always knew he would return. And this time, he would not just claim this land as his. He would twist it into something new, something my people and I could not survive.”

I felt a shudder and saw the lake above us ripple. The Lady drew a breath. “It appears that he has left, for now at least. I should see you home. It would be wise if you did not return to the Woods again. Especially not tomorrow.”

“Why, what's tomorrow?” I asked.

“Tomorrow,” she said, “The battle we had been preparing for will begin. I can't say we will win, only that we have no other choice. Regardless of what happened, I won't have you see the result.”

She led us out of the woods, which had again returned to light as if nothing had happened. But we felt an unease around us, one brought silence to the animals and left the entire woods as quiet as a tomb. When we got home, we promised each other that whatever the Lady warned us, we would return to the forest tomorrow, to see what happened and how we could help the Lady.

The next morning, the train came. I could hear the roar of the engine long before it arrived at the station. We had barely woken up when our parents ordered us to start packing. If they had their way, we would be gone in an hour.

I couldn't let that happen. Before we even left our room, I told my sister, “Go. Get to the woods.”

“What?” she said. “What about you?”

“I'll do the only thing I can,” I told her. “Stall.”

And so, while she snuck out the window, I groaned and whined like the teenager I soon would be. I pretended to be asleep, I took a shower that was so long I think my bones wrinkled, and I insisted on one last breakfast, one last swim, one last everything before we left.

And … that's the story. If I was the hero, I would tell you how it ended. But I wasn't. I didn't greet the Lady, I didn't believe in her right away, I didn't offer to help. Diana was gone for the entire morning. When she returned, her clothes was shredded and she had a number of nasty cuts and bruises, but she didn't have any physical harm to show for it. Any anger our parents had built up faded when they realized she was missing and turned to relief when she came back okay. But I saw the look in her eyes on her return. Something had changed.

She refused to tell me what, or give me any details. When we finally had a moment along, all she would whisper is “We won.” That's all. We never returned to Deacon's Wharf as children again. And the few times I visited, I barely could look at the woods, let alone go inside. Diana, on the other hand – I think a part of her never really left the woods. When my aunt and uncle passed away, she bought their old home and started a new life there. But from what I heard, she barely even used it. No, she spent all of her time elsewhere. In Derrenth.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The StoryMaker (Part 2: Result)

All noise in the tavern stilled as the stranger walked in. They know she meant trouble just by looking at her. The way she walked, her every step a cautious one. The swords she intentionally failed to hide beneath her cloak. But most importantly, the scares that marred her otherwise adorable raccoon face. People just don't get scars. At least, they didn't.

“Gimme something strong,” she muttered to the barkeep, a jittery, anthropomorphic ale keg the locals called Tappy.

Tappy rolled back and forth nervously. “Ma'am, it might be best if you just moved on. This is a quiet town, and we don't want any trouble.”

“Nobody wants trouble,” the raccoon replied. “Or if they do, they go looking for it. That's not why I'm here. I'm here because trouble is looking for you.”

“Ridges?” a mantis in the corner asked. His mother (they recently had another child, so the father is back home regrowing his head,) tried to shush him. They didn't talk about Ridges here. But of course, by then, it was too late.

Somehow, the bar managed to get even quieter. Only the sound of a chirping cricket could be heard, at least until slapped Christopher Cricket and told him to knock it off. “That's right,” the raccoon said. “A pack of 'em was spotted a few miles yonder. So the way I figure it, you folks have three options. Run, get rubbed out, or fight back.”

She sighed at the shudder that ran through the crowd. A mouse fainted. In the land of Toontasia, people knew about conflict. They knew about rampaging goblins, vile wizard conquerors, and the occasional dragon. But they didn't know about death. They didn't even have a word for it, not until the “Ridges” arrived. Supposedly invaders from another dimension, even the sight of one could drive a Toontasian mad. They didn't look that unusual; just monkeys without tails and fur. But that familiar made them even stranger. Their bodies bulged in odd directions, and Toontasian scholars believed that they existed in a dimension beyond their comprehension, a mysterious “third” one they dubbed Dimension Z. Even more horrifying were their bodies. They were covered in bumps, marred with random hairs, wrinkles, and unnatural textures, earning them their name.

Even worse, they brought death. Ever since their arrival at Uncanny Valley, they expanded without hesitation, forming strange cities and bringing devastating weapons upon anything that tried to stop them. And they cared nothing about the suffering of those in their way. In fact, they found it amusing. Every time their weapons caused a Toontasian to shatter into a thousand pieces or reduced one to a pile of ash with two sad eyes, the Ridges only laughed. Especially their children.

Rubellia the Raccoon Ranger knew how this would go. The crowd had been numbed into shock for now, but she had only seconds before it would turn to panic. Steam would shoot out of people's ears, eyes would bug out of their sockets, a few people would just run around in circles shouting “Woo woo woo woo woo!”

“I know what you're thinking,” she started. “But this doesn't have to be another Ratburg or Animate Furniture Junction. We all heard the tales about Happy Bunny Lane. We all learned a harsh lesson at Happy Bunny Lane. But we are ready now. The Ridges are powerful, but they are not invincible.”

“But what can we do?” Tappy asked as he poured Rubellia another drink from his head.

“We have abilities the Ridges can't fathom, can't prepare for. They barely understand what an anvil is, let alone are prepared to be bombarded with them using catapults. To a Ridge, armed is armed. Wait for them to let their guard down, and you can just pull a mallet out of the nowherespace and give them a good whack. And their knowledge of explosives is sorely lacking. One enormous pile of TNT or a few black bombs with sizzling wicks will throw them into a panic.”

“But can't they destroy us with their weapons before we even get in range?” the mantis mother asked.

“Not anymore,” Rubellia assured them. “Because I learned a technique to sneak up on any Ridge, at any time. Best of all, anyone can do it, from the smallest ant to elephant wearing pot and pan armor.” To demonstrate, Rubellia just turned to her side.

“I don't get it,” Tappy commented.

“Neither did I, at first,” Rubellia said. “It's a flaw in their eyes. Just by walking at them sideways, we become practically invisible. Not completely, mind you, but more than enough for our purposes. To them, we look like nothing but thin black lines, and nobody's going to see that coming.”

Testing the StoryMaker (Part 1)

Let me give an example of how I use the StoryMaker from my last post. I will run through a standard set of results, and then create a short story out of the results. I'll use the answers I generate exactly – unless they end up being completely generic (like, say, a fantasy-setting adventure story,) in which case I'll add another setting or theme to get an interesting twist.

The first roll is for the setting. I roll a 20 sided dice and get 13, so standard setting. A second roll of 3 gets me Fantasy/Medieval, and the modifier roll is 19, so I get to add a modifier. That roll is a 4, making the setting Cartoon-based. So this will be a fantasy setting, but cartoon rules will apply. That means a gleeful rejection of the laws of physics whenever humor demands otherwise, literally anything being a potential character, and in most cases, the nonexistence of the concept of death itself.

Next, I get the theme. I roll a 9, resulting in the – horror theme. Could be interesting with cartoon elements. The specific theme that I get is “us as monster.” This refers to any story where humanity is beseiged not by any otherworldly or alien threat, but by the nature of humanity itself. The heroes have to battle humanity's prejudices, paranoia, or greed to survive.

That's a pretty unusual result, so I'll go with that. Now to make a story based on it. I should have the followup post about half an hour or so after this one.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Kickstarter :: How it is being used by writers

On my other blog I posted 7 questions to 3 writers on their crowd funded projects.

They are:
Susan Price, (writer/editor/wrangler of ferrets and fellow member of Missing Dwarven Phaser writers group)
Susan's writing was in game development for her son's strategy card game, which achieved 126% of their goal ($5000).
Greg Stolze, (writer, game designer and fellow en-wiggee)
Greg holds a prestigious record with Kickstarter, 29 campaigns with only 3 did not make their goal!
Alan Bollinger, (writer, game designer and fellow g+'er)
Designed the card game Cavern Crawl that funded to 80%.

1: What are you selling on Kickstarter? Is it in campaign, or has it finished? Was it successful?
Susan:  We were selling a strategy card game [tabletop game]. Campaign ran Aug 12-Sept 11, 2013 and we got 126% of goal [goal $5000, raised $6251].
Greg:  I've run a total of 29 Kickstarter projects. 26 have succeeded, 3 failed. Of those, the three failures were for one short story, a drive to raise funds and print a novel, and for the continuance of an online novel. Of the successes, I've released 18 short stories (or really, stories and bundles, as many of the projects have more than one story involved), one novel, five games or supplements for games, one audiobook and one print collection of short stories.
Alan: I did a card game last year, Cavern Crawl.  Did not fund - 80% only.

2:  Do you grow your network in Kickstarter, or monetize your existing network?
Susan:  A little of both, but mostly, we were building a new network. Of our 84 supporters, only a dozen or so were existing friends/contacts.
Greg:  It was definitely a matter of monetizing the existing contacts, especially in the beginning. I may have picked up a few new fans on KS, but mostly it's been word of mouth from people who were exposed to my work in traditional avenues. On the other hand, the practice of releasing stuff free and hosting it online forever has some definite upsides. I don't have to tell people, "I've written this story and I'm very, very good, trust me!" Instead, I can say, "I've written all these stories you can read for free right now. If you like those, you'll probably like the next one."
Alan:  Both.  The only way to even get it to work at all is to really work the forums and social networks. Don't expect to post it and just get funded.

3: Do you find donors to be more engaged in your network once there is a KS campaign? Before or after donating?
Susan: We located most of our donors by play testing/demo-ing our game at scifi and anime conventions, and GenCon. The online networking serves as a way of staying in touch with donors and others, most of whom got on board because of playing our game and meeting us in person. A handful, maybe 6 of the 84, donated to the KS solely on the basis of what they saw online.
Greg: Once the campaign is up, definitely, and after donating. Then they're with you in that breathless, "Will it or won't it work?" phase. Then, of course, when it completes, they're with you for the "Where's the stuff you promised me?" phase. Because I've relied heavily on intangibles, "Yeah, you only get a story on the internet, but you don't have to pay much for it," I've avoided many of the fulfillment issues that plague successes.
Alan: No. Maybe because it was a smaller project, but I only had a few backers even reach out to me at all.

You can see the rest of the questions at

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The StoryMaker: Simple Version

I'm in the middle of revising/writing a Query Letter for my book, so I'm not in the best place to create a new story. Instead, I'll share one of my tricks for when I need inspiration for a story: The StoryMaker! Or, more specifically, the Setting and Theme maker! This is the simpler version. The more complex version includes the intended/hypothetical medium for the story. You can also make it more complex by rolling multiple times in Setting or Theme, then merging them. I will post the complex version if I get enough interest. Also, let me know if any description is too vague. The StoryMaker uses a random number generator that goes from 1-20. So a 20-sided dice, or any of the billion or so random number generators online or in any spreadsheet program.

The Story Generator (Simple Version)

Step 1: Setting

Roll A Base Setting
Roll Result
1-16 Standard Setting; Go to Roll B
17-20 Nonstandard Setting; Go to Roll C

Roll B Standard Setting
Roll Result
1-6 Fantasy/Medeival; Go to Roll D
7-12 Modern; Go to Roll D
13-18 Future; Go to Roll D
19-20 Switch to Nonstandard Setting; Go to Roll C

Roll C Nonstandard Setting
Roll Result
1-2 Primitive/Savage; Go to Roll D
3-5 Steampunk; Go to Roll D
6-8 Cyberpunk; Go to Roll D
9-10 Paradise (Heaven); Go to Roll D
11-12 Punishment (Hell); Go to Roll D
13-15 Frontier/Western; Go to Roll D
16-18 Post-Apocalyptic/Wasteland; Go to Roll D
19-20 Blended Tech (Mix of primitive and futuristic); Go to Roll D

Roll D Chance of Modifier
Roll Result
1-12 No Modifier; Go to Step 2
13-20 Modifier; Go to Roll E

Roll E Chance of Modifier
Roll Result
1 Aquatic; Go to Step 2
2 Aerial; Go to Step 2
3-5 Cartoon; Go to Step 2
6 Voidwrapped (setting surrounded by nothing); Go to Step 2
7-8 Vessel; Go to Step 2
9-10 Gothic; Go to Step 2
11-12 Blending Reality/Historical Eras; Go to Step 2
13 Artificial; Go to Step 2
14 Organic; Go to Step 2
15 Crystal; Go to Step 2
16 Near Human; Go to Step 2
17 Incomprehensible; Go to Step 2
18-20 Alt-Cultural; Go to Step 2

Step 2: Theme
Roll F Base Theme
Roll Result
1-5 Comedy; Go to Roll G
6-10 Horror; Go to Roll H
11-15 Drama; Go to Roll I
16-20 Action; Go to Roll J

Roll G Comedy Theme
Roll Result
1-3 Slapstick
4-6 Surreal World/Puns
7-9 Dialogue and Wordplay
10-12 Relationship Humor
13-15 Satirical
16-17 Body/Scatological Humor
18-20 Random/Meta-Humor

Roll H Drama Theme
Roll Result
1-2 Personal
3-4 Noir
5-7 Professional/Office
8-9 Mystery
10-12 Competitive
13-14 Psychological
15-16 Politics/Intrigue
17-18 Social
19-20 Romance

Roll I Horror Theme
Roll Result
1-2 Gore/Slasher
3-5 The Unknown/Eldritch Horror
6-8 Hunted
9-11 The Conspiracy
12-13 Against the Horde
14-16 Us as Monster
17-18 Archetypical Evil (Satan, etc.)
19-20 Ghost Story

Roll J Action Theme
Roll Result
1-4 Adventure/Hero's Journey
5-6 War Story
7-8 Martial Arts/Brawl
9-10 Shooting/Gunplay
11-12 Stylistic Violence
13-14 Crime/Heist
15-16 Thriller/Suspense
17-20 Exploration/Travel the World

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Twitter Tools for Writers :: updated

Below I have listed some Twitter tools I have used in the past. Because these tools are all pulling from the same data source, the Twitter API, many of their features are the same. Where differences come into play is how the information is presented and inferred.

Better Understand Your Profile
Tapping into the Twitter API, this tool provides metrics on your account. In my case I can see that my percentage of mentions is low, and I need to engage more. Sign up as version 2 is coming out later this year which will track new followers and pre-run reports for you.

Brand Sentiments
Would you like to see how different brands are perceived online?

Tweet Psychology
TweetPsych attempts to create a profile of any public Twitter account. Here is a part of mine:

15 day free trial lets up run multiple reports against your Twitter account to find various nuggets of good stuff. This is a large application and there is a lot here:

Best time to Tweet graph:
Engagement Analytics:

The one I found most useful for me is due to it's simple and straightforward UI. That doesn't mean I don't use the others. The trick with all of this is to find the tools that work with you best, and use them.

What Twitter tools do you use?

In pushing this post out to the medias, Liz Covart introduced me to Buffer and I found it very cool. It is a multi-account scheduling and analytics social media tool. I have brought in my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts this morning and started playing with the app. Thank you Liz!

Previous Posts

Friday, March 7, 2014

Dreamleaks 2: Stuck In Transit

Dreamleaks 2: Stuck In Transit

I used to be the hero.

There was that thought again. Captain Marcus Corona shook it out of his head like he always did. Why did he worry about being the hero? He already was A hero, protector of the lives of hundreds of good, decent, caring people. Never mind that none of them are real.

No, he can't think like that. They're as real as he is, after all. Transit worked like any other city; it just happened to exist entirely inside a computer simulation. And also the laws of physics work, at best, about half the time. And people can take off their own heads with only minor consequences. And just the other day, that Jerry kid fell in love with a animate hammer. But BESIDES all that, it was just like normal. And besides, none of them knew any better. The truth was allowed only to those who could be trusted with it, like Marcus. That's why she made him a captain. And now …

I lived in a ship, one of three alone in the ocean. We played and had adventures and imagined the world around us, what could exist beyond the horizon. We never knew any other life, never even guessed that not only was the world beyond the horizon a lie, so was the horizon itself. So was everything more than a hundred feet from the ships.

Marcus shook his head. Stupid dreams. Why did computer programs even need dreams? He asked EMMA about that once, but as always, she dodged the question. No where was he? Right, now he had a job to do. Most Transitians never even imagined a world beyond their city, but he didn't have that luxury. EMMA just warned of motion outside of the city, in the “real” world. It might not be a threat, but he couldn't afford to take that chance. Besides, nothing should be moving out there anymore, threat or otherwise.

On the way to the city's “borders,” Marcus met Alice Falchione. Great, another complication. “What are you doing here?” Marcus demanded.

Alice just shrugged. “What else? Nothing better to do. Like you couldn't use the backup out there.”

Marcus wanted to argue, but he just snarled and moved on. He couldn't do anything to Alice, and he knew it. He didn't even know what she was. She just popped in and out of Transit on a whim. She could be gone for months, only to return with an army, or a cure for some virus running rampant in Transit. Or a Mariachi band. That was an odd day. EMMA must trust her, since she never asked Marcus to stop her. But Marcus didn't, and he didn't see why anyone else would. Reckless people like her just get people hurt, or worse.

I didn't mean to do anything wrong, really! I just wanted to explore, have a little fun, maybe solve a mystery or two. People said that nobody every returned from the hull of the Third Ship, but I never knew anyone who went there in the first place, so what did that mean? And sure, the place was crawling with monsters, but they weren't THAT bad. I fought worse. Well, I didn't, but I fought things almost as bad. So it seemed natural that this would be the next place to go.

“Just don't get in my way,” Marcus warned, but his words had no weight to them, and he knew it. Alice just smirked and followed him to the borders. As he left the simulation, Marcus felt an electric sensation, as he knew his body changed from one of pure data to one of substance, albeit that of pure energy. EMMA described it as a hard-light hologram, but Marcus didn't really understand what that meant or cared. Alice, as far as Marcus knew, didn't change at all, save for a force barrier forming around her.

The reality outside of Transit was supposed to be the real world, but to Marcus' eyes, this one looked like a poor simulation. Everyone looked so … blocky out here, the vibrant colors of his home replaced with simple shapes. Maybe that was a limit to Marcus' digital eyes; he had no way of knowing. Either way, the shapes that caught their attention moved with a purpose, and they were shaped like humans. As Marcus and Alice floated towards them, they scattered with incredible speed, jumping from one place to another in an instant. And while they seemed to be just observing the machinery that made up Transit and the city around it, Marcus and Alice's unwelcome intrusion made them aggressive. Bursts of color bounced off his virtual skin and Alice's barrier. They retaliated with energy blasts of their own, but nothing came close to hitting the invaders. “I expected better than this,” one of their attackers enigmatically taunted as they vanished.

“EMMA, update!” Marcus begged his creator.

“No further activity detected,” EMMA replied. “At least within the city. But I am still sensing their presence nearby. If I may take an estimate, they are biding their time.”

Marcus frowned. As fast as they are, the attackers must not be that powerful if they fled so quickly. But his holographic body couldn't travel outside of the boundaries of the city, and no point in asking Alice to seek them out. “Then what can we do?” he asked.

“I have a potential solution,” EMMA offered. “They seem interested in exploiting our resources, but are unwilling to engage us in a direct conflict. I propose creating a simple crisis within Transit; nothing serious, but enough to make it appear that our defenses are compromised. When the scavengers investigate, we can ambush them, taking them unaware. If they are simply curious, we can get answers. If hostile, we can eliminate them.”

“I don't like it,” Marcus admitted. “What if things go wrong?”

“I assure you, the crisis I envision is nothing that the citizens of Transit can't handle,” EMMA said. “Provided, of course, that the usual residents are up to the task.”

“You mean, if HE's up to it.” Marcus scowled. For all his powers, all his loyalty, Marcus never seemed to be the one to save the day. No, that fell on Jerry's shoulders. A mere child, an irresponsible one at that. For some reason, he always seemed to be around when trouble started (often because he caused it,) and yet for all of Marcus' efforts, Jerry and his friends would be the ones to bumble into the solution, and he got all accolades. He got to be their champion, their hero...

Marcus stopped himself. He didn't like where this train of thought was going. Alice, however, just chuckled. “You know, EMMA, you're exactly the sort of computer we used to be warned about. Glad you're on our side.” Seeing Marcus' sour mood, she floated over to him and whispered. “He's not even one of you, you know. Seriously, Jerry's a gerbil that EMMA threw into the simulation before he could starve. Let him enjoy his moment as hero. You already had your chance.”

“Enough of your contemptible words,” Marcus demanded as he shooed her away, and for once, Alice listened, her body vanishing into nothing. But the damage had been done. She just babbled nonsense, Marcus thought to himself. A gerbil? What was she even talking about? And yet, when she mentioned that Marcus had his chance, he couldn't help but feel his thoughts drift once more …

I didn't expect to find anyone down there. But instead, I found everyone. A crowd cheered me on as I slipped into the darkness of the hull. I was on the top of the world, but it didn't last. I suddenly saw my friends before me, and a voice asked me who would continue on living in this world, and who would … not. I wanted to refuse this demand, but I couldn't. I didn't even know how not to answer.

But I knew a trick when I heard one. I made my choice, picking only casual acquaintances to live on in this world, folks I wouldn't miss. My friends and I would move on, then. If we couldn't live in this world anymore, I bet there would be another, a better one maybe. And if not, who cares? Hell, we ran out of things to explore in the last one anyway.