Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Lessons from Craigslist

I have a script that searches Craigslist tools for sale, and sets them into a database so that I can search at my leisure for hidden gems.  And what gems I find. This is not about one of them.

We are writers, you and I. You are here because you are interested in writing, and reading about writing; whether you are procrastinating some actual writing or reading for knowledge and pleasure, well that's up to you. The fact is that you write. It could be poorly, or with beautiful prose, but we all have one thing in common: That voice inside telling us we are not good enough.

We do a pretty good job ignoring it, for the most part. But it does eat at us, and in time, if we don't write, it will win. Sure, we can say "I'll write tomorrow" or "I have an idea, but it needs...", and so you don't write it.

And days turn into weeks, weeks into months, and months years.

I have a script that searches Craigslist tools for sale, and sets them into a database so that I can search at my leisure for hidden gems.  Sometimes those gems are tears shed.

"...but I waited too long."

Think on that, knowing you can never go back and make up for lost time. What story do you want to tell, or will it be some notes found in a drawer of your desk? Some notebook or folder marked "Novel." 

Eric can be found on Twitter at elmwriting, and a part of the Typehammer Podcast.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Meeting Notes:: Dec 8

Attendance was light due to holiday shenanigans, and one member down with an injury, but we did have a new person show up and and we knocked about some great ideas.

Don't use that word!
We discussed words to search throughout your work to find weeks spots. Chuck Palaniuk has great write ups on this HERE and HERE, but basically remove words like had, suddenly, then, very, thought, think, knew, is, and was...to name a few.

For a writing exercise I decided to use a few of those words, to see if I could break the rules to good effect. I think it turned out pretty well. I'll post it later.

And, it's later.
The writing prompt was "Instead of murdering her, I..." for the 4 minute exercise. What follows is an attempt to break some rules:
Instead of murdering her, I see how painless suicide really is. The .45 is in the drawer of my desk, the chair comforting, holding the weight of my life in this world. I could murder her, but I would find better satisfaction knowing she would see that it was her that murdered me.
Is, knowing, really, was....Even with those "bad" words I don't think it turned out too bad. Thoughts?

Also discussed story, theme and some editors ideas on what to avoid, such as flowery prose, milquetoast characters, and some other crazy items where we had no idea what they meant. Maybe someone else was taking better notes than I.

The idea of the Foil was presented, with examples such a the two characters from MoonLighting (remember that show?) or the four friends from Stranger Things. For this I received blank stares across the room. Seriously? No one watched Stranger Things? Seriously??

We touched on the voice and tone and how POV plays into this, with The Martian as an example on how it starts as first person, switches to third, then back again....and then bounces around, even touching on some 2nd person omniscient. I don't think we actually got into that, as I was dumbfounded that I again I got blank stares. Seriously people?

It is then someone said we don't have time to read, because we write so much. Evidently this is a quote from Royko. Well, we aren't Royko, so pick up a book people.

Want to see evidence where in a world people don't read? Here's a hint: Who just got elected?

Drops mic.

Monday, December 5, 2016

#PitMad by the numbers

Another #PitMad has come and gone, and like many of you, I watched the pitches stream by wondering if ours would get picked. A goose egg for me still, but that is quite alright. Was having some geek fun along the way.

Using Zapier I setup a small service that saves tweets with the #PitMad hashtag into a free database at freemysqlhosting.net. As I was set up with a free service I was not afforded all the tweets, but over the course of 24 hours I was able to capture 4k pitches. Using this as my sample data, here some some counts by hashtag.

Hashtag Description Count
#PBPicture Book230
#MGMiddle Grade175
#YAYoung Adult616
#NANew Adult88

I did not remove duplicates, such as tweets there were RT'd.

What really throws me is the difference between young adult and mystery. Is this really where the market is at, or does everyone just see themselves as the big kids writer, while ignoring one of the hotter markets all together?

Eric can be found on Twitter at @elmwriting and at the TypeHammer podcast

Friday, October 14, 2016

Oct 13 meeting notes

Meeting notes and references from last nights meeting:

All things pens, pencils, paper, and ink: Pen Addict

Top 5 list:   Top 5 Pens

Why Eminem is one of the most impressive lyricists:

Rapper Vocabulary: See how well the Wu-Tang Clan does

Reaction to Dylan's Nobel prize...in tweets

And, to finish off...the story of Iron Man

Has he lost his mind?
Can he see or is he blind?
Can he walk at all,
Or if he moves will he fall?
Is he alive or dead?
Has he thoughts within his head?
We'll just pass him there
why should we even care?

He was turned to steel
in the great magnetic field
When he travelled time
for the future of mankind

Nobody wants him
He just stares at the world
Planning his vengeance
that he will soon unfurl

Now the time is here
for Iron Man to spread fear
Vengeance from the grave
Kills the people he once saved

Nobody wants him
They just turn their heads
Nobody helps him
Now he has his revenge

Heavy boots of lead
fills his victims full of dread
Running as fast as they can
Iron Man lives again!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Everyone's A Critic

In the last writers group meeting it was discussed critiquing more work, which quickly devolved into a discussion on the technology required for such action. Let us review:

  • Print out and bring to the writers group.
    • You have to guess how many people are going to show up, chop down that many trees and burn that much ink, and forge so many steel staples, all so that people can dig out their red pens of justice and start marking. And then, when you go home, you have to re-read all the different scribbles and notes and x's trying to makes sense of their meaning. Oh, and you can only bring as much writing as the group can handle that evening. Sure, they can take it home...but will you ever see it again? Good luck.
  • Post your work to Google Docs
    • Save the trees, ink, and steel. Just post to the GD and share that link. This way everyone reads your work in their own time, makes neat comments throughout and Bob's your uncle.
OK, so far we look to have a winner. However, we must be thorough, for science and all. So let us look at some complicated, and cooler technologies that step beyond the GD. Who knows what magic lays beyond? Or, as some say, There be dragons!

Wait, before moving on, we need a history lesson. I have a post called Git and the Writer. Go read it, if you don't know what Git is. Enjoy the video, then swing on back and let's finish this thing.

OK, I like this product. It is simple to use for most and provides an interesting revision feature. For demo purposes I have a first draft of a historical novel I put up and made changes. Here's a screen shot comparing the current version with an earlier:

Here I created a fake user, named Eric (yes, very imaginative) and made several edits and left a comment:

To the left is my master, in the middle the individual changes I can accept, or decline, alone with a note from this mystery critiquer to make it better. Not very helpful sir! In any case I accepted the first change, and ignored the second.

What do I think of Draftin? I like it, but the UI needs a spot of work. It's free, easy, and fairly simple. All plus marks when asking people to critique your work.

Next I reached out to the Typehammer crew on our #slack channel to get multiple edits.

Here you can see John called me out on the spelling for friar:

Here I can see his change, and accept it or ignore:

I can also choose to accept all the changes from John in one click, which I usually do as I trust him to catch things I miss, but not before reviewing.

Here is a remark by another reader:

As you can see people can freely leave comments, make changes and I can choose to ignore, or accept with ease. And because it is using a revision tool I can always go back to earlier drafts with ease. Nothing gets lost forever.

Here is another tool using revisioning and workflow. I have several chapters of one of my novels in progress and John had started making suggestions and comments:

Here you can see his changes, deletions and additions, his comments and the ability for me to accept or reject his changes.

If you would like to try out your editing skills with either of these tools, I have early drafts of work that you can go into and play with

There are many more tools available to writers looking to share their work with critique groups; this is only scratching the surface. Find the tool that works best for your group and use it. Just don't let it distract your from the real reason you are doing all of this: To write.

There is one more method I would like to share, that may be a great compliment to your writing group. Scribophile.com

This is an online, social site for writers to critique, and get critiqued. As the administrator to your writing group you can create a likewise group in Scribophile and as your members join the site, they join your group as well. This way, when each other post work, you can give preference to your group, and use it as an internal critiquing tool.

Here are three different screen shots from critiques of an earlier version for Prince of Pigeon Hill.  As you can see there are both inline comments, edits, as well as comments.

Using something like Scribophile may be a great way to augment your writers group by bringing in more critiquers from the world, and more readers to your writers work.

If you would like to join the @Typehammer #slack channel, reach out to via Twitter and I can get you in.

Other blog posts by Eric Michalsen
More of Eric can be found:

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Normally (normally) I run all content to be posted online past my editor at ADMedits. No matter how well I think I have written, there are always screw ups. Take this blog for example. Wait, don't. This is one of the places I do not put in that workflow. It's not that I don't think it needs it, but rather this is more an informal communication between me and you. Speaking extemporaneously my speech would be filled with um's and ah's, but you would forgive me (hopefully) as what I would be conveying would be, well, honest.

So this workflow is just me; typing, erasing, pondering, saving, coming back to, cursing, debating...and publishing. And hopefully, you enjoy it.

And the beauty of this blog is that after publishing if I find a mistake, editing is easy.

Let me tell you another story. This one is full of woe and sorrow. And bad grammar.

For the TypeHammer podcast, I decided to review Revue, a newsletter app.  I created an account and pushed out several newsletters over the course of one a week.

OK, it was only to be an experiment, a trial for the app. A couple of issues out to people I know and I'm done.

And nope.

I now have complete strangers signing up for my newsletter, and the readers seem to enjoy it.

Enough of the rambling old man! Get to the woe!

I do not run the newsletter content past my editor before publishing. I did not think it was important, as so few people read it. It was to be a trial, after all. A test, a review, something I can toss aside when done.

It turns out, when I publish a newsletter, there is no editing afterwards. Yes, that makes total sense, but that doesn't mean I thought of that. In short: I'm an idiot.

Now to be fair the grammar isn't "that" bad. Just bad enough for me to cringe, and apologize on the Twitter to my readers. A fellow writer Antonin was kind enough to tweet back

Moving Forward

I have a plan in place:

  • On my Chrome browser, I have added the Grammarly and ProWritingAid plugins. 
  • I plan on telling my wife (ADMEdits) about the newsletter and bring her into the workflow
  • You need to sign up for the newsletter 
These are all simple tasks. Let's see if I can follow through.

Monday, May 16, 2016

This Is Uncomfortable

We need to talk.

Do those four words conjure a deeply seated reaction? A fight or flight response? How can anything good come from those words?

We need to talk.

And yet, here I am, spitting them out with carefree abandon, happy to know it may be a trigger phrase. Well, button up that rain coat and let's get down to why we are here: It's your writing. We need to talk about your writing.

Oh, did I strike a chord there? A sore spot? A tender nerve ending, like finger nails on a chalk board?

Before you get too defensive, let me ask why you are getting defensive at all? The answer, on the surface, is easy: It is an art that you have emotionally invested in. Any critique of the art is a critique on you as a person. At least that is how it feels. How do I know? Because I feel the same way. Let me explain.

I tend to write about dark, troubled characters; flawed and seeking redemption from their sins. It is easy for me to write this way, as these characters are, in many ways, me. If you critique my writing, you are critiquing my personal journey towards forgiveness. Does this mean I do not seek critiques? That would be foolish. Writing groups, beta readers, critique groups, my editor...all these things transform my personal story into a story for the masses. The end product so much different that what I set out with, but all the better. It is the journey that is cathartic.

So where does it leave us, in terms with your writing? Remember, we need to talk about it.

What is your comfort level when others are reading your work? Do you start with the F/F (friends and family) or do you go straight to your peers, like critique groups?  Do you feel you must preface you work before handing it over? Do you have a twinge, or even a shock of shame knowing your reader will find issues, no matter how small?

These are common feelings that manifest into procrastination, stalling, rewriting and excuse finding. Are you guilty of this? I know I am.

In my adventure on solving this issue I have found an even greater level of discomfort. Yes, it can get worse. I have started writing in a genre I neither read nor write. Characters in situations I have little knowledge of in a book that, if I saw it on a shelf, I would not pick and read. How's that for a sales pitch?

First, why would I do this? And second, why would I admit this publicly?

I am doing this for two reasons:

  1. An experiment in story telling. Taking characters and events in situations I have no knowledge of and applying the craft to see what I can learn.
  2. I have no choice. The story is dumping out of me...I have no idea where it came from.

This all leads to a particular set of problems: What the hell am I writing, and who would want to read it? How to I coach the reader as I hand it over to them? "I don't normally write like this, so if it's bad, don't blame me." Why would the reader need coaching, anyway?

Here's the secret I've learned. They don't.  They are just readers, looking for a story that moves them. It doesn't matter if it is about cowboys, or aliens, or old women in a nursing home dreaming of Elvis. If the characters are strong, the conflict real, and the voice unique, your reader will only want your story.

There's the rub, isn't it? In order to overcome your fear of the reader, you need to overcome your fear of your writing. 

As for me and my crazy adventure, every day the story falls out of me, and unfolds in directions I had no idea it would take. Is it good? I have no idea. Will I let someone read it? Sure, but only after hours of coaching and excuse making. 

Eric is one of the Podcasters at @typehammer and you can follow his writing adventure on twitter @elmwriting

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Lean Startup Principle For Your Writing

One of the biggest obstacles to your writing is your own voice telling you what you are doing is wrong. It is loud, unrelenting, and until you learn to either silence or ignore the bastard, you'll just fight on. 

Here's the rub: You'll never silence it. You may get better at mitigating its affect, but it will always be there, constantly evolving to find that weakness in you that will make you stop writing. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. I have an idea that may help, but to help understand it, let's take a lesson from Lean Startup principles. Specifically the MVP, Minimum Viable Product. From theleanstartup.com

A core component of Lean Startup methodology is the build-measure-learn feedback loop
In terms of writing an MVP sounds like a shoddy work, and it may be, but I would like to see about applying the MVP methodology to an earlier process; specifically the 1st and 2nd draft, to build out that feedback loop. What if, as a writer, you had a host of anonymous readers you could share your first chapters with. Not for an editorial or critique read, but rather: "Here is an idea of story. Does this capture you as a reader?" And with it a rating, like 0 stars for "that was painful" to 5 stars "oh hell yeah! Me want more!" If you get a 4 or 5 you should be able to quiet that voice, at least for a while, and write that damn book. If you get a 0 or 1, time to re-evaluate. Maybe there could a be a critique section for the readers to explain why such a low score. Of course if you do get a 0 or 1 that voice will only get louder. I don't have an answer for that other than write better. I realize now this is a stupid idea as I'll just be getting 0's and 1's. There's that voice again...

Eric is one of the Podcasters at @typehammer and you can follow his writing adventure on twitter @elmwriting

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Lord Sorrowstorm Questions His Life Choices

The problem with scars is, if you go that route for your evil look, you're stuck with them for life. It's one thing to get them naturally, but there's no guarantee you'll get ones that look cool, as opposed to merely unpleasant. So if you want a classic like the “down one eye,” the “half-face burn,” and the always popular “claw marks,” you have to either get them inflicted yourself, or spend a good hour every morning getting the makeup done.

Lord Sorrowstorm chose that last option, which would be one of his many regrets. He was just about to put the finishing touches on the eye scar (including the milky white contact lens) when he just couldn't be bothered. He sighed. He used to love Scar Time. The skin-dying to give him his trademark blue pallor was automatic, and the purple and white hair just needed to be touched up every week or so. The scars were where he could be an artist. A touch of blood there? Would bringing it up to his forehead make him more or less fearsome? He would even practice the supervillain cackle, or the smirk he used when taunting the world's leaders. Maybe even practice the speech he would give captured heroes. It was a fantastic way to boost the confidence before bursting out of his master-chamber, greeting his minions, and enacting his latest scheme against the world. Oh yes, he used to think, he'd show them. He'd show them all.

These days, he can't even get started on a doomsday device without at least three cups of coffee. And even his lair had gotten stale. Same fanatics willing to kill and die in his name, same walls of a semi-dormant volcano, same giants robots. And the heroes? Same things EVERY time! It was Captain Jet and Redfern the Mystical over and over again. It didn't seem fair. Heroes get massive rogue's galleries. Why couldn't the rogues get hero’s galleries?

He looked back at how it all started, almost twelve years ago now, back when he was Lazarus Soros, brilliant but unpopular high school nerd. Ah, that Career Day. No, Career Day didn't feature supervillain as an option, that would be stupid. It was, however, the last day he at least considered an honest job. He had his plan ready to go, his very first doomship set to vaporize the gym at the press of a button. But he hadn't quite worked up the nerve. And so he wandered the booths, ignoring the usual taunts from his so-called “peers,” trying to talk himself into every job they offered. Surely a job as a non-mad scientist wouldn't be so bad? He would only have to go through four years of college (which he thought would basically be just like high school with more drinking,) then probably a Masters and a PHD, when work as a lab assistant for who knows how long, and then … nope. He couldn't even get through the fantasy without wanting to blow something up. Probably a lot of somethings. Maybe an engineer? Using to his incredible mind and skills to … update music players. Or create a new operating system that would be obsolete in six months. Just another cog in a mundane machine.

And so, on that fateful day, Lazarus Soros died (ironically,) and Dr. Sorrowstorm had been born. A quarterlifetime of desperation and loneliness fueled a spree of chaos like the world had never seen. From light gags like pouring Jello into the rivers of Venice to the more sinister plan to turn Disney world’s animatronic presidents on their masters, he had done it all. The world trembled before him. Everyone he know in his past life cursed his name. Especially that jock Vinny Esperanto. Though to be fair, Sorrowstorm did inject him with chicken DNA, so he had more reason than most to do so.

That was the problem, Sorrowstorm reasoned. He was a victim of his own success. There was nowhere else to go. Well, he could make a serious attempt to conquer the world, but honestly, he didn't need that kind of headache. But now he was respected. They may hate or fear him, but nobody looked down on Sorrowstorm. And he was, in an evil kind of way, popular. The rest of the Axiom Nefarious cheered his schemes on. His minions saw him as a lesser god. And then, of course, there was Viceroy Vixen.

On paper, VV was just Sorrowstorm's chief officer, his number 2, the dragon to his final boss. And that's all she had been to him at first, just another lost soul who refused to let the status quo exist. Sorrowstorm gave her the chance to shine, and shine she did. Sorrowstorm made the plans, but VV was all about the action. Whether she was firing experimental rays at the accursed dogooders or laughing maniacally as she bounded across a city seeding mind-control spores, her enthusiasm was infectious. Just like the mind-control spores. She brought out the best of his worst, and he always worked harder to surprise her. Sorrowstorm may have the core of pain needed to fuel a life of supervillainy, but VV showed that there could be joy in hatred, and that love was just evil spelled backwards. And with one letter changed, fine.

Of course, the leather outfit didn't hurt either. Even if he knew she was lying when she claimed it was made of puppies. He knew it was at least 85% weasel.

Hell, one of his favorite recent days had been when he had to cancel his plans when a pinkeye epidemic hit the minions. The two of them spent most of the day on the couch, catching up on Netflix. And just talking whenever the screen went dark. He learned more about her in one day than he did in the last decade (he never even knew her real name was Judy Vixon.)

Frankly, he would be happy retiring, but he knew he wouldn't dare making the attempt. Oh, it would be easy enough to be Lazarus Soros again. A few erased records, some bribes, maybe make up a “true villain” that he could team up with the heroes to fight in exchange for a pardon. But what would his friends think? Would all of his evil buddies turn their backs on him, rejecting him as a sell-out? Or worse, would they turn on him, picking on him the same way the bullies in high school did? And what of his minions? They don't have any appreciable job skills! They would just cling to some other crazy death cult, or worse, Scientology.

But he could live without them, he admitted. It was Judy … err, Viceroy Vixen that he couldn't stand to lose. Could she learn to love Lazarus as he was, without the plans and terror? Maybe. But if she couldn't, she'd just drop him to fixate on some other villain. She already looks a bit too fondly at Dapper Dirk, Gentlemen Thief and Sky Pirate. He couldn't risk her hooking up with that steam-punk poser.

No, Sorrowstorm sighed. Better to keep things as they are. More Scar Time. More standoffs with the UN, more ranting about the hated Jet Squad. Wasn't that always how life was, anyway? Putting on the role that others expect of you to live the life you think you want? At least this route didn't require student loans.


Judy Vixon grunted in her Abode of Vice, also known as her bedroom. The leather outfit seemed harder to put on every morning. Well, you get what you pay for. Weasel just doesn't hold up to regular use.

As she stumbled out for another day of evil, she cast a glance at Sorrowstorm's door. He was taking forever this morning, too. What if this was finally the day, she hoped? The day he FINALLY took all the hints and announced he was quitting the evil business, or at minimum going on a long vacation? But she knew it wouldn't happen. Sorrowstorm was a consummate pro, the villain's villain. He wouldn't ever give up on his quest to conquer the world; it was just who he was. Still, she would keep on trying. Unleashing pinkeye on the minions didn't do it. But maybe a plague of dysentery would keep him home and within her grasp.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Spend Money to Make Money

How much money have you spent on your writing career? What to spend some more? Have I got the deal for you! $500 will get you distraction free anywhere writing with FreeWriter.

Now, I'm not going to say anything bad about this piece of equipment. I have never used one, nor have I heard good or bad. Truthfully, I would like to try one out, but I doubt I will spend the cash. Too many other things of import cost $500.

But why? I hear you ask. Why would someone buy this? I have the answer, and you probably aren't going to like it: It's that phone that is sitting in your pocket, or in your hand, as you read this. You think the world has so many important things to say you neglect what you are trying to put down yourselves. You are easily distracted. You think you can multitask. You think you are a product of modernity and can just as easily check your Facebook as compose beautiful prose.

And when you can't you realize because you are too distracted, and seek answers.

Have you read my early blog posts on this subject? It doesn't take money to hide from your friends online. It takes discipline.

Here is a quick start to distraction free writing:

  • Turn off the phone.
  • Get yourself a Moleskin and a good pen. 
  • Tell everyone around you to shut up, or find a quiet place...
  • and write.
If you are having trouble with this, take up fishing. The answer lies in a wet line.

P.S. If you get one of these, let me know. I'd love to check it out and talk about it on the @TypeHammer Podcast

Thursday, January 21, 2016

DreamLeaks 6: Midnight Mystery Massacre

Good News! I'm not dead! Just recovering from a significant writer's block. But I'm ready to get back to creating, and another dream-based short story seems like a good starting point to go on. This one is based on an unusually vivid one I had just a few days ago, and it's been demanding I put it down.

Midnight Mystery Massacre

“I should have worn a costume,” Blane thought to himself. A costume wouldn't have necessarily prevented the apparent apocalypse and his inevitable demise. But it couldn't have hurt.

In fact, in what he expected to be his final moments, Blane had a lot of regrets. Getting to the company Halloween party late. Going at all, really. And perhaps not voicing his input when the movie was selected.

Things started out well enough. Okay, not well. Like every year, Blane's office had planned an “exciting” party for the holiday. The office would be open late, costumes were encouraged, and everyone would gather for the traditional spooky movie. This is what happens when office functions don't allow alcohol. Blane didn't care, and he didn't even want to show up. But unlike everyone else, he had actual work to do that day.

Despite that, he expressed his irritation with the whole affair as blatantly as he could without getting a reprimand. He sauntered into work half an hour late (blaming it on the long lines at Starbucks, if anyone asked, and nobody did,) and immediately noticed that he was the only one there without at least a token costume. He shrugged, ignored the unspoken scorn at his lack of participation, and tried to get to work. But that wouldn't be an option either. People were so excited about the movie that all the desks in the office were shoved into the corners so people could find a place to sit. Blane did his best to wedge into the tragic remains of his workspace and did his best to be productive for an hour or so, turning a blind eye to the schlock that stole everyone else's brains.

But he had to give up eventually. If the movie wasn't distracting enough, the gasps and laughs from his ostensibly adult co-workers was enough to finish the job. What could possibly be that interesting? Some movie everyone saw thirty times? He shoved aside what was left of his work and took a seat at far end of the room.

Well, one thing was for sure, at least this movie was unfamiliar. Though it probably had a good reason for that. It was filmed in black and white and had a budget less than his work computer cost. Blane glanced at the movie's case: something called Midnight Mystery Massacre. Even if the movie had been better, he couldn't figure out the plot after missing the first half. He figured that spoilers be damned, he could just look it up online and catch up on the plot that way. Except a search turned up exactly zero results. Wow, this one must be obscure. Without any other options, he settled in his seat and tried to figure out the plot on his own. And then he got caught up in the movie. Literally.

The next moment, he was struggling to breathe in the sunken remains of outer New York, which was just being conquered by … something at that point in the movie. Despite being moments away from drowning, he felt at peace. The water carried no sound, had no urgency. He was momentary content to rest here, basking in the shadow of whatever unearthly light up above illuminated him and the surrounding debris. That is, until he realized the debris was the bodies of other people.

Never a strong swimmer, Blane broke into a panicked, splashy paddle until he managed to surface and drag himself to shore. But the streets of the city were no more comforting. They were, in fact, completely silent, save for the occasional skitter of unrecognizable feet far of in the distance. He considered hiding into a building, but the way that every one of them had every glass window blasted open from inside made him worried. He ran as fast as his legs allowed until he found something not completely desolate.

Blane lost track of time and distance as he ran, never even noticing that he never seemed to get tired. Eventually, he managed to get out of downtown and into one of the wealthier subdivision, where the rich carved a mini-suburb into the middle of the urban sprawl. This area seemed to be just as uninhabited, but at least the buildings looked like their inhabitants fought back. Windows and doors were boarded up, with furniture forming makeshift cover and barricades. He continued down a road at random, looking for signs of life, when he heard voices coming from within one of the buildings. Strange voices, like that of a child, but it was the best bet he had so far, so he tentatively stepped over the table blocking the front door and made his way inside.

The voices were coming from the basement, because of course they were, but Blane felt himself drawn that way despite his better judgment. But he found it bereft of life, though judging by the stench, that had been a recent development. And then he heard the laughing, the happy little chuckles coming from every direction. Where the basement had once been empty, now it had little figures emerging from behind boxes, around doorways, from the tops of shelves piled with unused clothes and broken appliance. To his regret, he recognized the ventriloquist dummies from the movie. And even more regretfully, they recognized him.

“We wipe out every reprobate and snuff out every sinner!” they sang as they converged on him. “If you fight a dummy, a dummy is the winner!” Blane was in no position to appreciate the wordplay insult in the song, as he found himself swarmed by the creatures and staggered by the pain they inflicted with their tiny little knives. That last thing he thought about as things went black was the stupid costume he should have worn.

At least, that's how the story felt like would end. He heard the sounds of gunshots, so close that it should have deafened him, but all he experienced was the relief of a stab-free moment. As his vision cleared, he found a woman standing over him, apparently looting the broken bodies of defeated dummies. Unlike him, she seemed built for this place, with some sort of body armor and a gas mask covering her face. She holstered her sawed-off shotgun and glared at Blane. “Hmm. I didn't expect to find any NPCs here. You better not be some helpless escort side-quest.”

“Excuse me?” Blane said as he stumbled to his feet, causing her to pause.

“Now, that's even weirder. I never heard that one before.” She waved a hand in front of Blane's eyes and watched his eyes follow it. “Huh. Say something original. Something unexpectedly human.”

Blane was reasonably happy to comply with the woman who saved his life. “If I survive this, I'm never going to a damn office Halloween party again.”

“Good enough for me.” The woman held out her hand. “I'm ZombieMauler657.”

“Blane,” he replied. “What kind of name is that?”

ZombieMauler657 shrugged. “Apparently, the kind of name you get when 656 other people call themselves ZombieMauler before you do. But this should be offline mode. How are you even here?”

Blane explained the entire situation, from his office party to his near-drowning and up to the dummy attack. But the more he explained, the more nervous ZM got. “Wait, you think this is a movie? But I never even heard of it. Hell, I never heard of the Midnight Mystery Massacre video game until I found a cheap copy online. I expected shovelware, but this has been pretty good so far. But it's not THIS clever.”

Both of them looked around warily. Was this part of the movie/game? Or another trap? “The way I see it,” Blane said, “We have three possibilities. Either I fell asleep dreaming and you're just part of my dream...”

“Or I fell asleep gaming and YOU'RE part of MY DREAM,” ZM added.

“Fine, FOUR possibilities,” Blane conceded. “Or we're both dreaming and in some sort of weird shared subconscious reality. Or lastly...”

He didn't need to even say the last one. Lastly, this movie/game/experience was real and drew them both into it. Which mean that if they fell to wayward dummies or worse, it would really mean the end for them.

“Let's work on the hypothetical that our real lives are in real danger,” ZM suggested. She handed him the shotgun. “Any chance you know how to use one of these?”

“No, but I'm a faster learner.” Blane took the weapon. “Are you sure you'll be okay without a weapon?”

ZM chuckled. “Are you kidding? This game's full of weird weapons. I half a dozen exploding teddy bears I've been itching to try out.” So saying, she scooped up the remains of a pile of coins that inexplicably fell out of the dummies, pulled out some weird sci-fi raygun appropriate for the setting, and took point on the way out of the mansion.

The front doorway had since collapsed, so she led him out the back. Which somehow directly led to a graveyard, one far more active than it had any right to be. ZM whipped out her gun. “Watch for the red objects,” she cautioned him. “Those are enemies or about to turn into them.”

Blane took in the whole area with a confused look. “What red objects? What red anything?” he asked. “Everything still looks black and white to me.” But he didn't need prompting for long. Several of the gravestones and statuaries came to life and charged them, and a bolt of energy streaked from the unearthly light up above, causing a tear in space to form. SomeTHING lurked within, eager to get out, but one exploding teddy bear ruined its ambitions quickly.

But Blane wasn't as quick a learner as he hoped, and he was running out of ammo fast. While ZM mopped up the remaining enemies, he concentrated on where to go from here. Fleeing mindlessly probably wouldn't help at this point, but off in the distance, he saw a man with a lab-coat and a tuft of white (as far as he could tell) hair, waltzing through the ruins without a care in the world. He looked familiar, and Blane remembered that he had been a mad scientist from the movie, one who was supposed to help humanity before betraying them to serve the invading aliens/demons/whatever.

“Quick, after that psychopath!” Blane yelled, and he and ZM sprinted after the mad scientist, who bolted away just as quickly. Behind them, several wagons full of dummies came to life and rolled behind, their wares breaking once again into song as they rolled.