Seen for Halloween

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Hey, it’s Halloween time, which means I’m watching Halloweenish shows and movies. And I have opinions. (Spoilers for everything)

The Shining (1980): Supposedly one of the greatest horror movies of all time, this really hasn’t held up. Kubricks’ direction is terrific. The long, slow steadicam glide is unsettling here in a way it just isn’t in other films (and I don’t understand film well enough to know why. Soundtrack, maybe?). The performances are solid… except for Jack Nicholson.

When I was younger, people loved Jack Nicholson because he was doing that Jack Nicholson thing, with the raised eyebrows and the snide way of talking. Late in the movie, when he’s slipping into full-blown family killer mode, it works. Earlier scenes not so much. Kubrick let him mug his way through scene after scene, and instead of enjoying a movie I hadn’t revisited in a while, I sat there wondering how this dude managed to remain a movie star, and how he kept pulling in so many Oscar nominations.

Give me the Nicholson of Chinatown, not this. 

Insidious: I was surprised to see this was made for only one and a half million dollars. Watching it a second time, I was disappointed in how it looked–even Stranger Things put more effort into their otherworldly environment. But on a million and a half dollar budget? Hat’s off. 

It was also full of terrific performances, and the scares were clever, esp compared to the torture porn films this picture made unfashionable. And that scene with the mask? Thumbs up: solid scares.

Muppets Haunted Mansion: Here’s the deal: you watch this, you get great puppets, dad jokes, cute songs, and fantastic design. It’s the same thing the Muppets have been doing on screen for decades, and if you liked it in the past, you’ll like it even more now that the money they’re spending goes so much further. Plus celebrity guest stars having a blast playing broad comedy.

My only gripe: they mixed the music too loud, so it could be really difficult to make out the lyrics of the songs. I can’t tell if that’s a currently fashionable production choice (since it seems to come up in lots of different shows) or if it’s a problem with my aging hearing (since it seems to come up in lots of different shows).

Midnight Mass: I know reaction has been mixed on this, but I thought this was brilliant. Lot of folks thought it was talky, but sometimes I want to hear quality dialog, even in the horror genre. Reveal the characters with it. Create verisimilitude with it. Give the actors something really juicy to do. That’s why Child of Fire was so full of people telling their own stories, after all. I love books and shows where the characters tell stories that reveals who they are. 

Another thing it had going for it was that it was gorgeous. Too much horror ignores visual appeal–or goes in the other direction to show only things that are repellant–but Mike Flanagan wisely seized on the opportunity to show truly gorgeous skies over Crockett Island, and that’s important. It establishes a world is worth fighting for, or at least living in, and it provides the contrast that makes the gross and/or repellant stuff stand out.

More beauty with terror, please. Make the forests look deep and green. Make the castles gothic and beautifully ruined. Pay attention to the environment. Too many horror movies cast good looking actors, then make everything else ugly or gross. 

The Changeling (1980):

In a previous blog post, I’ve complained about ghost-oriented murder mysteries, because having a detective who depends on clues fed to them by a vengeful spirit makes your detective seem like they don’t detect very well. (I was writing specifically about the new Nancy Drew show, which I have since revisited and will talk about in another post).

However! When the lead character is not a detective, but is still driven by a haunting to look into a terrible crime, well, that’s a genre I really like.

In The Changeling, George C. Scott is a famous NYC composer who suffered a terrible tragedy and retreats to Seattle, to teach at the UW and compose in an overlarge house maintained by the Historical Society which turns out to be haunted by the spirit of a murdered child. 

The haunting stuff is all the ordinary things you’re used to seeing in a ghost house movie–opening doors, secret rooms, the works. It’s the murder mystery where this movie stands out. 

I should say that I like George C. Scott, but he never seems all that affected by the moving objects or thumps in the night. If Shelley Duvall’s Wendy Torrence lands on one end of the “frightened by all this spooky shit” bell curve, with her goggling eyes and wavering, one-second-from-fainting body language, Scott’s John Russell lands at the other end. He might be the most self-possessed hauntee in the history of non-comedic films.

Malignant: I really enjoyed this movie, but not as much as I should have. The buzz about it was that it had this gonzo twist that split audiences between those who noped out and those who thought it was new and weird and a goddam delight.

We fell into the second category. Unfortunately, it also felt a little flat. My wife kept saying “This is very TV” throughout, and not just because we kept recognizing the cast from Canadian SF shows. 

One of the downsides of enjoying scary movies is that you end up seeing a lot of the same things over and over. The figure in the mirror. The door that creaks open on its own. The frightened co-ed sprinting through the woods. I’ve talked often about having to forgive books, movies, or TV shows in order to enjoy them, and these old tropes are high on that list. Malignant managed to put shit on screen that I hadn’t seen in a horror movie before.

Then you have a climactic fight that feels small and same-y. When most of the participants are also character I don’t know and am not invested in, it takes the energy out of me. 

So, loved the movie but not as much as I wanted to. 

The Old Dark House: Before James Whale did Bride of Frankenstein, he made this little gem, about unlucky travelers forced to seek shelter from a (vividly portrayed) thunderstorm in a house filled with dangerous weirdos. 

It’s beautiful and a lot of fun. The camera work is inventive (for 1932) and we loved the characters, even the aggravated married couple. Great cast with terrific dialog (when they were given some, sorry Boris) and even though it’s not a horror film exactly, it was a perfect fit for the season. 

Living in the Future

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Sometimes I like to imagine that I could time-travel back to the 1950s and write a science fiction novel about my life here in twenty-first century America.

The more I think about it, the more certain I am that my book would be received as a dystopia. For ex:
• Punishing heat waves and flooding thanks to climate change.
• Massive disinformation campaigns orchestrated by the Russians, by one of our two major political parties, and by individual bad actors
• Pervasive social media that encourages and monetizes outrage and fury
• Several massive “islands” of discarded plastic swirling in oceans all over the world
• Billionaires riding rockets to the edge of the atmosphere as a vanity project while police toss the property of homeless people into Dumpsters
• Wildly addictive opioids

Even the changes that I think are positive social advances would have seemed like dystopia to them. When the Supreme Court decided Loving v Virginia in 1967, 98% 80% of the country was against interracial marriage. I’m not sure most ever imagined gay marriage, except as outlandish satire. The fact that we have Black Lives Matter protests–and that we still need them in 2021–would have been dystopic all in itself.

Me, I’m glad we’ve made those steps. It’s a slightly better world now that we have kids tv with same sex couples in them, for example. Readers in the 50’s though? Eh.

Sure, there’s stuff they’d be glad to see, like Wikipedia, or Shakshuka recipes on YouTube. Maybe artificial hearts. Maybe smart houses that let you switch off the lights with a voice command (never mind that the same smart house will record everything you do and say, Big Brother-style, for the corporations at the other end. Including your noisy sex).

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned before, we have moved recently, but only a few blocks from our old apartment. We’re higher on the hill now, and have fewer plants outside to muffle the noises of the neighborhood. New place is newer, with burners and light switches and bathroom vents and door latches that actually work, but I still would have preferred to stay in our old place.

It’s helpful that cafes and libraries are re-opening, because it means I have been getting out of the apartment and really getting work done. Progress on The Flood Circle has kicked into high gear, and let me tell you, that feels really fucking good, even if I have to wear a mask the entire time.

It’s nice to have that, at least.

Take care of yourselves.

So, we moved recently

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So, we moved recently.

It always sucks to move but this was particularly terrible, because it happened during that massive PNW heatwave from four weeks ago. Here’s a short version of the story.

At the beginning of June, we chose Monday, 6/28 as our move date so we could be into our new place (and out of our old) by July 1. Our old landlord was nice enough to hire a moving company to help us out.

The Thursday before, we started hearing about the heatwave that was coming. We were supposed to be getting temps in the upper 90s on Sunday, then hit a high of 108F on Monday. I contacted the landlord to suggest we reschedule to a day where the movers were less likely to fall over dead as they carried our sofa up the back stairs, but he said they still wanted to do it on that day.

Boss wouldn’t give up an earning day, I guess.

By Saturday, I got an email saying the movers would start an hour early and knock off before temperatures got too hot, like noon or one. I don’t remember how things work in other cities, but in Seattle, the hottest times of the day come in late afternoon, around 5ish. That still seemed ridiculous, but whatever.

That weekend was a nightmare of packing up the last of our things in 98F temperatures, guzzling water, sweltering. We’d do one thing, sit down, then get up and do one more thing, then sit down again. Also, the heat was getting on top of me, making me woozy and a little nauseated.

Then moving day came, and mere moments before the movers were supposed to arrive, they cancelled.

I immediately got online to find us an air-conditioned hotel room for the night, but everything was all booked up. We sat in our apartment and sweltered.

One piece of advice they give you during a heatwave is that you’re supposed to leave your windows open all night, letting the cool air in. Once the run rises, you close everything up and pull the blinds to trap the cool air in place and keep the heat out.

Except our Seattle apartment had little cross ventilation. The windows were tiny and the air flow was minimal. What cooling we did get–which was not a lot because night time temps didn’t drop that much, another deadly aspect of dangerous heatwaves–was quickly overwhelmed by body heat and carbon dioxide.

Having prepped a bunch of ice cubes, we put steel bowls full of them in front of our box fan. We sat and we did nothing. We hid in the dark.

I didn’t do that well. I felt sick most of the day. My hands swelled up a bit, and my feet swelled up a lot. Like, a scary amount. I had a hard time keeping awake (not that I really wanted to) and I found myself in a kind of thoughtless daze through much of the day.

The best remedies I had for the temperature was to wear a soaking wet T-shirt (and not in a sexy way) and to put my head under the shower with the water set at its coldest.

The latter was a revelation. It was the best possible kind of pain, making my skin tingle down my back, and I could actually feel the cold water drawing heat from the inside of my skull, along with lethargy, confusion, and exhaustion. It was a really strange sensation.

The movers didn’t finish completely until Saturday. They managed the boxes on Tuesday, but were short-handed and couldn’t bring over the furniture. The landlord, knowing this wasn’t going well, helped us by driving over the mattresses in his jeep (we don’t have a car). At least we had something to sleep on.

That’s the short version. Things sucked for about a week and a half, and over on my 20 Palaces Kickstarter, I had mentioned that I thought our move would interrupt my writing for a few days before and after the move, but that turned out to be a terrible guess. Laughably terrible. The disruption was much longer and more profound. Luckily, I’m back to my old, pre-pandemic pace. More on that in an upcoming post.

As for the new place, it’s newer and brighter than the old, with larger windows that allow for actual air circulation. It’s also slightly smaller than our old apartment, especially the fridge, which drives my wife to distraction.

Also, although we’re farther from the train yard than the old apartment, that place had a smaller front slope with lots of greenery, so we had foliage and buildings across the street to block the noise. The new apartment sits on a bare hill and has a nice terrestrial view, and it’s the loudest place I’ve ever lived.

Anyway, I’m still settling in. My wife is trying to, but she hates to settle for anything. As for my son, well, this is officially the second place he’s ever lived in his life, and he’s about the right age for this move, so he’s doing pretty well. Except for the ants. Did I mention that the new place has ants? Bugs give him the willies, so we’re dousing the outside wall with vinegar and…

Well, this blog post could go on and on, but I’m going to stop typing about it so I can write today’s pages. As I mentioned above, I’ll post about my improved productivity and the pandemic soonish.

Thanks for reading.

Stress, TTRPGs, and Me Getting Evicted

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I’m one of those people who doesn’t recognize his own stress until it erupts at the wrong moment. I feel fine (I’m fine! Really!) for a whole day or week or whatever, no really, I’m okay. Then suddenly a stressful moment hits and I realize I have no reserves left and something inappropriate escapes me.

For example, this past weekend I was playing in my usual every-other-week tabletop role playing game, and one of the other players–who’s been a friend of mine for more than 35 years–made a role-playing choice that was super super annoying.

Normally, we’d handle this in-game, where the characters play out the scene, or I’d meta-game it for a moment first to let the other player know where this was going, to make sure they wanted to play this out. (In fact, if he’d continued to play out the scene that way, it would have meant the end of the party, in a “they go or I do” situation.)

But I didn’t do either of those things. Thoughts swirled around in my head and I had no way to put them into a coherent structure. I looked at my friend’s face in the Zoom window and could not imagine what I should do next. Does it make sense to say I’d gone blank when I had dozens of half-thoughts appearing and vanishing in my head before I could even examine them? I hope so, because that’s what happened.

So, I said I needed to take a break (not in a particularly calm way), hung up my headset and walked away from my computer. It was sort of close to our usual break time anyway, and I refilled my water bottle, had a slice of bread with a fancy Lebanese red pepper spread, and washed my face. And I thought it might be a good idea to step away from the game for a few weeks, when this feeling would (should) have passed.

When I returned to the Zoom meeting, I was embarrassed. I was supposed to be role-playing and I’d fucked up.

The other players understood, because I’d already told them at the start of the session that I was being evicted.

You can tell I never went to Journalism school by the way I bury the lede. Maybe I’ll drop this part in the subject header, so no one misses it.

I moved into my current apartment with my then-girlfriend in Oct 1994. We’ve had our whole relationship here, and in 2019, I bought her a silver necklace to celebrate the 25th anniversary of living together. We raised our son in these rooms, cooked every meal, celebrated every holiday. It’s not, you know, a great apartment by any standard, but it’s where our memories were made.

But I don’t own this space, so when my new (as of the fall of 2019) landlord dropped me a note saying they were going to remodel this whole building–and everyone needed to vacate–it did not come as a shock. It was more of a “Winter is coming” moment. We knew it was possible–maybe even inevitable–and when it finally happened it was like death. I had hoped for more time.

For the record, our landlord has given us a lot of time to find a new place and has offered to pay for a moving company, which is very generous of him.

Me, I’d like a new place in this same neighborhood. I’m about to leave to look at an apartment one block over from my current place, and I’m still put out that the place three doors down from us, which was laid out in the same format as the place we have–our furniture could have gone into the same layout there as here–was snapped up a day before I got that email.

Just got back from the place up the street. This was our third apartment tour, and the first we actually liked. There’s no basement storage, but it’s bright and clean, at least. Also, this was the first landlord/realtor who bothered to wear a face mask. (All we had to hear to cross off one place we looked at was “I think they do more harm that good”.)

To get back to the point: All of my novels have been written, in part, at my local library branch and at the Starbucks down the street from it. I’d hate to spend a whole pandemic year working in an inadequate space at home, checking every other day for news of when the libraries will reopen, only to be forced to work someplace new.

And yeah, it’s stressful. And I’m carrying that stress just under the surface of my day to day, having pleasant conversations with my wife about what we should have for dinner, or what books/clothes we’re going to donate instead of pack, or what we’re going to do with the board games we played when our son was ten but haven’t touched in years.

Until something is suddenly Too Much, and I’m welling up with tears because the Shang-Chi trailer looks so fucking good. Or maybe it’s Harold Finch, injured and stumbling into his library, to ask the machine if it knew his only friend in the world was about to be murdered, but already knowing the answer and also knowing everything is his own fault.

In fact, during the same gaming session, we were chatting about Person of Interest, and I was trying to explain to two of the players why I loved it, and that it started off as a very good show in a specific genre that becomes a great sci fi show as it goes forward, and they kept asking me when it became “good” so they could skip the early stuff. Normally, I would have pushed against that sort of framing, but my thoughts were swirling around and I couldn’t respond. Not the way I wanted to.

Now, a mental state like this might sound like it would mess with my writing and writing progress, but writing is a kind of safe space for me. I’m still making progress. I have less time than I used to, but I’m still hitting my goals.

And this, too, shall pass.

Last thing: When I first received that email, I tweeted about it, then deleted the tweet because I thought people might assume I was asking for financial help. I’m not. This isn’t a financial emergency for us. It’s just going to eat up time that could be better spent and it’s going to add a bunch of bullshit stress. Which is not to say that folks should drop out of my Patreon or whatever. I’m grateful for your support and it definitely helps, but I don’t want folks to think this is a call to action. My family and I are okay for now.

Until someone posts a cute kitten video on Twitter and I just lose it.

Take care of yourselves, get vaccinated when you can, and stay safe.

Terrific Fantasy Novels, Cheap

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A few years back, I entered The Way into Chaos into SPFBO, the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off, a reviewer-based competition for self-published novels only. My book made it into the finals but didn’t win, due mainly to readers liking the other entries more. Still, I was hoping that a respectable finish would provide a short-term boost in sales and bring in new readers long term.

It didn’t.

I think that last link is pretty interesting, if I do say so myself, and I recommend you check it out if you’re at all interested in book sales and promo.

Still, I don’t regret entering the contest. As I mentioned in the “It didn’t” linked post, some authors got real value from it, mainly by the social groups they formed.

And, there’s an opportunity for cross promotion, like this:

SPFBO graphic

Only some of the books in the sale

Maybe I’m burying the lede here, but what the hell. All the 30+ books in this list are either winners for finalists for SPFBO, and all are only $0.99 for one week. They’re all fantasy, but subgenres include:

humor
military
dark
epic
YA
urban
historical
apocalyptic epic

And so many more. (Guess who that last one belongs to.)

We’ve got a pandemic. We’ve got civil unrest in the US. We’ve got economic turmoil and widespread unemployment. Isn’t now the time to find some fun, affordable fantasy novels for yourself. Even better, wouldn’t they make great gifts for your friends and loved ones? The answer is clearly YES.

Click through and check them out. You’re sure to find a few things you like.

Somebody Has to be the Outsider: Spoilerish thoughts on WW84 and WONDER WOMAN

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“I have thoughts about the new Wonder Woman movie. I should blog about them!”

::one week later::

Let me try to get this all down:

First thing: Patty Jenkins keeps making superhero movies with plots that can’t be resolved with punching and that’s sort of a problem.

In the first movie, Diana (since the words “Wonder Woman” are never spoken in either movie, it feels weird to call her that) is determined to fight and kill Ares, because she believes that will end all war. Obviously, this is nuts but, for his own purposes, Steve Trevor (and his pals) basically go along with her.

Steve spends much of the movie trying to convince Diana that she doesn’t understand the new world she’s entered. Diana, meanwhile, believes that she sees it very clearly, and that she has the moral agency to change it. Diana changes the world just by being in it. It’s true that she can’t stop all wars and remake the world of men into a paradise through the act of killing her half-brother, but her insistence that she can drives the movie and keeps in in-genre.

And I have more to say about that, but it doesn’t fit here.

In the second film, it’s Steve who becomes the outsider, learning about the new and wondrous world of 1984. Except there’s no dramatic tension there. When Diana enters WWI-era London, she’s expecting to see another paradise and to meet warrior generals like the ones she left behind in Themyscira. She very much doesn’t. When Steve jumps 70 years into the future, he’s simply wide-eyed and delighted. There’s no dramatic conflict between his expectations and his environment.

Personally, I really liked the joy in those scenes. My wife was bored as hell.

Steve also gets a complimentary outfit montage that Diana got in the first movie, but again, the scene doesn’t really convey anything about the relationship between his character and the world he’s found himself in. It’s just played for laughs.

The first movie spent a lot of time talking about what people deserved. Did the world of men deserve an army of Amazons riding out to save them? Did it deserve Diana herself? Do people deserve to be saved? Does “Dr. Poison”? And let’s not forget “May we get what we want. May we get what we need. May we never get what we deserve.”

Diana herself starts off the film believing that people would be good if Ares were killed, and finds herself reluctantly allied with thieves, smugglers, liars, etc. They’re good people doing bad things for good ends, and she’s convinced that she can save them.

The second movie centers itself on capital tee Truth, and I’ve seen a lot of viewers confused about why having a wish come true is equivalent to a lie. I want to try to break down the argument the film is making:

* Want: Baby Diana wants to win the race
* Truth: Baby Diana misses one of the markers by taking a short cut
* Outcome: Baby Diana is not allowed to win because, in truth, she did not run the full race.

* Want: Barbara wants to be confident and popular
* Truth: Barbara is not those things.
* Outcome: Barbara becomes confident and popular without doing the honest work of changing herself

* Want: Adult Diana wants Steve back
* Truth: Steve is dead
* Outcome: Bringing Steve back via wish is a denial of the truth that he is gone.

Which, according to the logic of the movie (as I understand it) a wish makes untrue things true. Which is dishonest. And being dishonest means you told a lie.

Although if you want something you don’t have and work hard to get it, that’s a truthful way to make an untrue thing true, I guess?

Note: I’m explaining the reasoning here, not justifying it. It’s a weak driver for the story–so weak, in fact, that they had to add in the Monkey’s Paw aspect, which wasn’t even established as part of the wish-making until way too late in the story. When Max Lord was granting wishes and telling people what he’d take in return, I was playing catch up, wondering what the hell he was talking about.

Poor “Wish I had a coffee” guy. The stone took his most valued possession in exchange for a cup of joe.

Anyway, I wouldn’t be nit-picking all of this if WW84 were a better movie, and I suspect it would be a better movie if all this was simplified and integrated better. I would say I wish it had been, but there’s literally nothing of value I would sacrifice for that wish to be true.

Plus, there’s that awful shit about Steve taking over someone else’s body, fucking someone with it, and putting it in mortal danger. Did Hallmark Movie Guy consent to all that? I’m sure he didn’t.

Not to mention the ending, which gives Diana someone to punch (poor Barbara) for the penultimate conflict, but used empathetic pleading to win the final conflict.

And honestly, it’s more believable that the daughter of Zeus could show up with a magic lasso than that every human being could see nuclear missiles rocketing skyward and not one of them would choose to let the world burn. Have these people never opened Facebook?

Part of me was convinced that the plot would be resolved when Diana killed Max (like in the comics) but the Patty Jenkins version isn’t like that. Her Max is another mislead mortal who needs to be loved, and to put his love for his son above everything else.

The movie would have been better served by a plot problem she could punch. Even if she ended up battling Max, because he’s the dreamstone now and has to be destroyed, and Max is wildly empowered with the strength and life force of half the world. And they’re smashing around the room before finally coming into contact with the golden particle tube. Then Max sees his son and wants to save him with a wish, or with the power he has stolen. But Diana, who is losing this fight, holds him in place. The whole world is going to die, and it’s Max’s fault.

Which is when Max renounces his wish, effectively destroying the dreamstone and saving the world.

I’m sure someone working on the film thought of that ending but discarded it. I’m also pretty positive they ditched it because they wanted the emotional uplift of an ending where everyone in the world is moved by Diana’s words and comes together for the greater good. Sadly, they sent a movie about that world into the one I live in, where large percentages of the population are narcissists and psychopaths.

I can look past unrealistic fantasy worldbuilding for the sake of a fun story (see: Lucifer) but WW84 hadn’t won me over and couldn’t reach me with this ending.

Before I wrote and posted this, I wanted to watch it with my wife. I’m pretty sure she’s never read a Wonder Woman comic and I’m definitely sure she didn’t know who Cheetah was, let alone Max Lord.

Her take: It was awful. Too long. Not visually interesting enough. No exciting fight scenes. Too much Max Lord and not enough Barbara Minerva.

I liked it more than she did, in part because it wasn’t nihilistic like the early DCEU films, in part because I enjoyed the joyful parts of the performances, in part because I just like superhero movies.

Anyway, I’m glad Jenkins is making a third WW movie, even if the sophmore slump was painful. Sorry to say I can’t see myself watching this one again.

Five Things Make a Pre-Giftmas Post

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I’ve tried to cut back on my Twitter time so I have an actual life, but I’ve also been neglecting my own spaces. So here goes. As you can guess from what’s below, these have been building up for a while now.

  1. Long ago in the misty dawn of time, my friends would get together on the day before Thanksgiving for the Turkey Bowl, which was a game of “touch” football, (with sarcastic quotes around the word touch, obviously). Then I moved to Seattle and slowly fell out of contact with most of my circle of high school friends. 

Well, last month, on the day before Thanksgiving, I got a call from the high school/college buddy that I still game with. He invited me to a Turkey Bowl zoom call, where I got to say hello to some people I hadn’t seen in many years.

Honestly, it was great. I got to see their grownup homes in the background, and they got to see our dinky apartment with the oil painting of a naked man’s back and backside on the wall behind me. We’ve led different lives, but it felt incredibly comfortable to hang out again. Hope to do it again before  another 10-15 years passes.

Oh, and I was the fattest of the group, but we all knew it would be that way.

2. One of my friends on that zoom call admitted that, until the previous day or two, he’d been planning to travel to his parents’ house to have a big Thanksgiving meal with the whole family.

Online, I’ve seen people like him portrayed as braying, deluded conspiracy theorists, openly mocking scientific conclusions and common sense. But it wasn’t like that for my friend. He had people he loved pleading with him to visit, and he felt himself being pressured to take a risk in the hopes that everything would turn out okay.

Luckily, one of his sons talked him out of it, but it took someone else who loved him to break that spell. Just something to think about when we see people behaving recklessly during the pandemic.

3. As I mentioned in the first note, I’m still in touch with one of my friends from high school–through ttrpgs–and this past weekend we finished up an eight month Liminal campaign.

First, it’s a terrific game. The system is simple and quite effective. Not as open as a PbtA system, which we play a lot of, but still terrific. Even better is the setting, which is contemporary fantasy in London (with the option to move the action elsewhere, if you have to.) There’s lots of interesting factions and NPCs, plenty of plot hooks, the whole deal.

The game book also physically beautiful. Seriously.

One problem we had was that the game is designed to be episodic. The characters form a crew, they get “cases” and they take on small dangers. If there’s a longer plot line, it’s meant to surface as a subplot each case, building to a climax, like Person of Interest or Veronica Mars.

Our group doesn’t play that way. Our campaigns are like movies, with constantly escalating stakes and a big conflict at the end.

That meant we couldn’t access one of the ways to gain experience, which was to solve a case, and we had a hard time healing up, because starting a new case erases the damage you’ve suffered. Without that latter rule, it was hard to recover from fights.

(We can argue about whether or not that’s realism and also whether it’s the sort of realism that’s welcome in a ttrpg–actually, you can have that argument if you like, because this isn’t the sort of realism that interests me. In this context, anyway.)

But the game was a lot of fun and the system let us make characters that we could really dig into. I wanted to add a romance subplot but it didn’t really work, mainly because I didn’t work hard enough to integrate it.

Anyway, fun game. Check it out.

4.

Arrogant Bastard Ale again

For The Iron Gate

5. The Iron Gate is almost complete. I have to do another polish before I arrange to have it copy edited, and I’m letting it rest right now while I brainstorm The Flood Circle.

It’s weird. I have a little tickle at the back of my brain telling me there’s something about TIG that doesn’t match the overall 20P mythology. What’s wrong there? What is that tickle trying to tell me? 

No clue. That’s why I let my work rest for a bit. 

The Twenty Palaces novels have always been the most difficult of my projects, although I’m not sure why. One Man was more complex. Key/Egg had a voice and a tone that was challenging for me. But writing anything 20P just eats up time, as I work through character moments and plot twists, jumping around in the story because I realized I missed something here. And there. And also there.

Plus, I gotta say this is a weird book, and I’m not sure how well it’s going to go over with… anyone, really. Sorta nervous about it, actually, in a way I haven’t been nervous in many years. Not that these worries will stop me.

Okay. I need to do a bit of Christmas food prep, and figure out how to create a new evil rich person for The Flood Circle.

Enjoy your holidays, stay safe, and find joy where you can.