Randomness for 3/28

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1) The weird physiological trait that suggests a young person is prone to violence.

2) The influential and well-established psychological theory of Ego Depletion may be bunk, and scientists should be worried.

3) Volleyball or fire extinguisher?

4) An oral history of the Justice League.

5) Classical art, now available gluten-free.

6) How Alfred Hitchcock blocks a scene. Video. I’m really loving this genre of short documentaries about filmmaking techniques.

7) “The Worst Game I’ve Every Played.” Video. Bought off of Steam, this game is amazingly shoddy work.

State of the Self, 2016 (aka, the “We’ll see” post)

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On Tuesday, I hit 100K words on the work in progress, currently titled ONE MAN, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to assess where things stand in a general way. No encouragement or advice, please, especially about the medical stuff.

Me, personally

I turned 50 last year, which I guess is supposed to be a big thing but it didn’t feel like it. Mostly, it felt (and continues to feel) like a timer ticking down. As more and more of “my” pop culture figures pass away (and more and more of them are closer to my own age) I’ve become increasingly aware that my own time is growing short. Right now, somewhere inside me, I probably have a cancerous tumor that’s lying quiet, small for the moment, but ready to expand aggressively under the right circumstances. If I’m very very lucky, I’ll live long enough to see my son married and living a stable life, to have earned a sense of accomplishment with my work, and to feel as though I’ve lived enough.

I can’t really imagine that, but that’s my hope.

The petty medical issues that have plagued me since 2012 haven’t gone away, but I’ve decided to work through them to focus on my weight. I’m down 10lbs in the last two weeks and plan to continue. The first few are always the easiest, of course. We’ll see.

Finally, for a long time I’ve pretty much avoided social situations. I talk to my wife. I talk to my son. I order coffee at the cafe. Beyond that, it’s extremely rare for me to speak to anyone aloud; all my interactions have been online. I guess the only exceptions have been the two-hour SF2W meetups that Django Wexler arranges, and I’ve been to, I think, two in the past year. Once in a rare while a reader drops me a note and we’ll meet face to face. Very rare.

Aside from that, I’ve been actively avoiding social events. I don’t go to conventions. I haven’t contacted the roommates I had 20 years ago to suggest we grab lunch. It’s been a very quiet life, and I like it.

But a week ago I cashed in the Christmas gift that my niece gave me: a tour of some of her favorite brewpubs in Ballard. It was extremely mellow, and we got the chance to just hang out and talk, which I don’t do much.

The following Friday, I had the event at the UW Bookstore, where a number of authors in the anthology Unbound signed books for readers. I suspect most of them were there to see Terry Brooks, but people were nice and it was good to talk to them. It had no noticeable effect on my book sales, but I enjoyed myself, and I enjoyed hanging out with the other authors afterwards. (What I could hear of it, anyway. People in bars are noisy.)

So I’m thinking I should put more energy into that sort of thing. Talking to people. I dunno. Maybe.

Family

My wife is doing pretty well, especially now that she has an APAP machine to help her sleep through the night, which she can do now, sometimes. She’s also spending more of her time painting. Making art was hard for her after her father died. She and her siblings inherited his canvases, which no one outside the family wanted and no one inside could bear to dispose of.

She began to feel the same way about her own work. Our apartment is already crowded, and she didn’t see a point to creating more stuff that her kid will have to deal with when we die. Slowly, she’s moved past that and is doing the work for its own sake, which is fantastic and makes me very happy. She’s also gotten into a couple of shows. Did I say it makes me happy? It really really does. Now I just need to write a hit book so we can afford a place with a studio. North-facing, naturally.

My son turned 14 a few months ago and starts high school in the fall. Homeschool is coming to an end, and I’m hoping that a) he’ll make more real life friends and b) I’ll have more writing time. It’s going to be a rough transition, but he’s ready for it. His sleep schedule might not be, but he is.

Games

I’m still playing Sentinels of the Multiverse on Steam. In fact, I’m playing it too much. I should probably download a program that will block Steam for most of the day. I’d get more done, and do less obsessive clicking.

BUT! I should say that, when I’m playing SotM, I don’t feel hungry, or itchy, or sad. I’m almost completely absorbed, even moreso than when I’m writing. It’s worth keeping around just for that. I just wish it was less irresistible.

Reading

After several years of feeling burned out on reading inside the fantasy genre, I’m finally feeling burned out on crime and mystery. It doesn’t help that I tried to shift from old classics to books that are popular and current, and really really did not enjoy them.

Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names, which I picked up solely out of a sense of gratitude for the social events mentioned above, is a flintlock fantasy that I enjoyed way more than expected. Recommended. At the moment, I’m reading Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon because everyone on reddit loves those books passionately. I’m 80 pages in and mostly enjoying it, despite the fact that I’m not usually fond of high magic settings.

Watching

I took the family to DEADPOOL, which is an objectively bad movie, but hugely enjoyable anyway. It’s been a while since I saw a modern Hollywood film (that wasn’t SPY) that made me laugh really hard. Now I hear that the people behind Batman v Superman are planning an R-rated version, because… I don’t know, they think it was the rating that made DEADPOOL a hit and not the humor? Don’t know. Don’t care all that much.

I’ve also dropped a number of TV shows that I was watching through sheer momentum, not because I enjoyed them. Most of what I found compelling in season one of ARROW is long gone, and I just don’t have space for it anymore. After trying both LUCIFER and LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, I’ve decided that they aren’t going to do that Star Trek thing where it takes them a little while to find their rhythm and they become awesome. Both are dropped. At this point, I’m only watching ELEMENTARY, FLASH (which has been way less fun this season) and AGENTS OF SHIELD (which has been improbably improving).
I’m looking forward to season 2 of DAREDEVIL, even though it will probably be a disappointment. We’ll see.

No one in my family is remotely interested in the upcoming DC adaptations. We’ll see, redux.

Writing

As I mentioned above, last week I crossed the 100,000 word mark of ONE MAN. What I didn’t mention is that last August 26th, I was at 31,000 words.

I know this because of this horrible new record-keeping that other authors suggested I do. All it does is tell me things that make me unhappy.
For example, last fall I took a month-long trip to Portugal, and my plan to squeeze out a few pages during quiet moments never worked. I got zero new words done that month.

After Thanksgiving, I stopped writing the first draft and went back to revise what I had. Revise it extensively, which took a month and a half.

When that was finished, I realized the game supplement I promised my Kickstarter backers was way overdue, and I spent three weeks revising that.
When I returned to ONE MAN, I re-outlined the rest of the book (using the virtual whiteboard app Scapple, which I like) and now things are tearing right along.

It’ll take another long revision process, and it’s going to be a long-ass book: at 100K words, I’m still looking ahead to the beginning of the climax. Still, I feel like this is good work. I just hope the market agrees.

I haven’t decided what I’m going to work on after that. The next book in the series is TWO DRAGONS, but I have a short story due for an anthology (soon) and I might want to write something else in between. Plus there’s that game supplement.

I wish I could be more prolific.

And that’s where things stand.

Divers Matters (aka N things make a post)

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With all the terrible news in the world right now (along with the deeply awful responses) I’m going to write about some personal stuff.

1. One of the regular features of this blog is the recurring Story Seeds posts: when I get a story idea that starts taking over too much of my thinking, I give it away here on my blog for anyone to use. Well, as I mentioned before, a writer ran with one of those ideas and sold his story. And now the anthology is out: Caped: An Anthology of Superhero Tales. His name is Stephen Kotowych. Check it out.

2. Everyone’s buzzing about the latest new awesome video game, so let me mention one I played right before my Portugal trip: it’s called PORTAL. Very fun and funny! I played Portal 2 immediately after, which was also fun and funny, although not as much. The cake is a lie! Right?

My kid has other ideas, and convinced me to preorder Fallout 4 for him. With our terrible internet, it took 2 days to download, but he’s been playing it regularly ever since and he loves it. Do you love post apocalyptic settings? You might like it, too, but if you wait ten years you can probably pick it up cheap and play it on an old computer.

3. For the first time ever, I figured I’d try NaNoWriMo, because I was having trouble getting momentum on the book after a month away. I’m supposed to write 50,000 words during November, and today is the 15th. The halfway mark. How many words have I gotten done? 8,000.

That would be fine if they were all excellent words in great scenes, but there’s at least one pivotal scene that I know I screwed up in a big way.

4. I mentioned this on social media, but I’m almost psyched to watch Jessica Jones on Netflix. I say “almost” because I don’t really have strong expectations, and might be deeply disappointed, but I still plan to start watching at midnight when it airs, just as I did for Daredevil.

This is the way I enjoy big corporate entertainments: I see them as quickly as I can, with little to no enthusiasm. This lack of excitement is why I usually find myself deep in online discussions of movies or shows without feeling even remotely like a “fan.” I think it’s also why online disagreements about a show, which usually feel clinical to me, can be so upsetting to other people, especially now that everyone has decided that casual conversations are “attacks from fans”.

5. The other video game that is taking over my life is Sentinels of the Multiverse, which started as a cooperative card game but was turned into a virtual card game last year. It’s a complex game, and frankly I found all the conditions impossible to keep track of when I had to jot them on pieces of paper. I much prefer to have the software keep track of all that for me, not to mention how much easier it is to read the cards on my screen.

Steam assures me that I’ve played this game for 83 hours this year, which doesn’t cover the many hours I played the version on my wife’s iPad. And while the graphics are colorful and the knock off superhero characters (pseudo-Flash, pseudo-Iron Man, etc) are cute, the different decks interact in interesting ways. Winning games becomes a matter of working out each deck’s strengths.

Anyway, Handelabra has created a free version of the game that you can download. You can play the free version with a tutorial that teaches you the game or you can turn that off. And while the paid version of the game comes with four villains, four environment decks, and ten hero decks, the free one has only a single villain and environment deck, with four heroes to oppose him.

So if you want to see not-Superman, not-Flash, not-Batwoman, and not-Iron Man take on not-Lex Luthor on Dinosaur Island, try out that game for free. There’s no time limit on it and you can play it as many times as you like.

Portugal posts on hold, plus gaming and other stuff

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My kid is downloading Fallout 4, and we’re already into day 2 and it’s only half done. Our internet is bullshit, but I hate the idea of upgrading to a cable company for better. So while that’s using up our internet, no uploading pictures, so no posts for a short while.

My gaming group is about to start up a new game with a new system: BREACHWORLD. It’s been a while since we started a game with practically helpless level one characters. I’m concerned. My PC has zero fighting skills and the magical healing skill that’s his whole justification has a 16% chance of success.

I’m currently reading The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman. There’s all kinds of woo woo bullshit around being lucky, but (as I’ve mentioned before) a lot of luck seems to boil down to specific psychological traits and behaviors, like being open to meeting other people and so forth.

I’d like to be lucky. I’m giving it a try.

My NaNoWriMo is still bullshit. What I need to do is ruthlessly cut out everything from my life for a week or so just to get back into it. It doesn’t help that I have all kinds of distracting crap going on–not all of it bad, but still distracting. For example, our dishwasher broke and the landlord replaced it. The guy who put it in tore the front off our cabinet (and I didn’t even notice at first). Plus, I keep thinking I need to put together a Bookbub proposal and whip up reddit ads for my trilogy.

Stuff! There’s so much stuff all the time, and I just want to write my book.

Don’t Turn Your Back arrives in the mail

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Look at what the friendly delivery-person-from-some-company-not-sure-which dropped off yesterday:

Don't Turn Your Back

It’s the board game version of the rpg Don’t Rest Your Head, a horror game about people trapped in a nightmarish dream world. Readers might remember that I (and a bunch of other terrific authors) contributed to an anthology based on the game, edited by Chuck Wendig, which you can buy directly from the publisher. In my story, I created a type of enemy that has been translated into the board game. You can see the card here.

As soon as I work up the heart to cut the wrapper off the game and open it up, I’ll get to see it in person. If you’re a fan of board games, check it out.

And check out this review for a discussion of game play and the game components themselves.

Randomness for 9/13

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1) Why Salad Is Overrated.

2) Actually, salad is good.

3) Ice-T will has some startling information for you in these (fake) SVU screencaps.

4) Most Heinous Stories of Role-Playing Games Gone Wrong.

5) Picture Yourself as a Stereotypical Man. “Stereotype threat” and academic achievement, or how to erase any statistical difference between whites and blacks / men and women.

6) I love this book design.

7) Classic book covers turned into gifs.

Randomness for 8/26

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1) Wheel of Misfortune. Love this comic. Love. It.

2) Every JRPG ever: Video. Reader, I laughed at them.

3) Exotic polyhedra dice, made of marble, gator jawbones, carbon fiber, and more.

4) Hole Quest: Ryan North live-tweeted the thrilling 40 minutes he was stuck in an empty pool with his dog.

5) 15 Delicious Regional Sandwiches. A chow mein sandwich? I don’t think so.

6) Texts from HP Lovecraft. This made me laugh.

7) Ten tabletop games that you can play as couples. Video.

Deleting Games

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I don’t play a lot of video games for one reason: it’s bad for me when I find a good one.

Frankly, that’s rare. With most games, it’s pretty at first, with some fun puzzles and an interesting setup. Maybe there will be a couple of easy fights (I don’t have a lot of patience with frantic, complicated fights) and the suggestion of a fun story.

Then shit starts to turn into a grind and I lose interest.

An exception was FREEDOM FORCE, and old squad-level superhero game, which had a sense of humor about it and let you pause the action to give the characters instructions. You fought giant ants, dinosaurs, alien invaders, minotaurs, the whole deal. I really enjoyed that game, and my poor wife saw nothing but the back of my head for two weeks. Not much writing got done, either. I finally had to delete the thing and put it away for good.

But I still own games and occasionally buy new ones. I keep hoping I’ll find a big name game that will really hook me, even though they all seem to grind.

Anyway, as a reward for finishing The Great Way, I bought myself the video game version of Sentinels of the Multiverse. We own the card game but never play it because a) it’s hard to read the text on those cards and b) the game has a simple structure but can become really complex. The video game version solved all that, because the cards were huge on the screen and the program kept track of all the little bullshit: how many plusses to damage, now many negatives, how many cards to play, etc.

When I say the structure is simple, I mean it. It’s a cooperative superhero-themed game, and each hero, villain, and environment has its own deck. The villain goes first, then each hero in turn, then the environment, then back to the villain again.

When playing a hero, you play a card from your hand, then use that hero’s power, then draw a new card. The villain and environment, in their turn, just play a card. That’s it. That’s how complicated it is.

However, some cards have an effect and go away, some stay around. Some take damage. Some let you play more cards, or draw more, or use extra powers.

In that sense, like M:TG, the cards are about breaking the games rules.

And I really, really liked playing it. It was absorbing as hell, with a lot of interesting complexity. The video game version turned a cooperative game into a solo one, but whatever, my wife and son didn’t like the game anyway.

When I played, I wasn’t hungry. I wasn’t in pain. I just had flow. It was so great that I bought a year-long season pass to get all the new heroes, villains, and environments.

On Tuesday, I played one more game against Lex Luthor Baron Blade, and took him out with The Flash Tachyon, then deleted the game from my wife’s iPad. I lose all the characters and all the variants I’d unlocked, but the truth is I was becoming obsessive about it. I was falling behind on things (not writing this time, but other stuff) and even though each game was not very long–mainly because I know the cards so well I don’t have to think about strategy too much–I kept returning to them again and again. Yeah, it made me forget my numerous discomforts for a short while, but it was also drawing me in in a way I could no longer allow.

So, it’s gone. For now. When the next update is released, I’ll probably download it again to try out the new characters and face the villains, but until then it’ll feel good to recapture some of that time. The older I get, the more precious it is.

It’s a great game, though. If Steam would toss it into the Summer Sale, I’d recommend it to everyone.

Randomness for 6/16

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1) One-bedroom home for sale in Minneapolis: $150K. Every picture is weirder than the one before it.

2) Eight of the best D&D modules of all time. Warning: gallery.

3) I have 227 browser tabs open, and my computer runs fine. Here’s my secret.

4) Things to never order at a fast food restaurant.

5) Beautiful hand-carved skateboards from Mumbai.

6) Like movies and reading screenplays? Simon Barrett’s shooting scripts for the films THE GUEST and YOU’RE NEXT are online.

7) The worst fucking shoes on the planet: Cowboy sandal boots.