Month: June 2002 Page 1 of 5

Snippet: Games

Don’t you hate it when the end of the story is, “And then he woke up”? Or “it was all just a game”?

“Everything Trellafan thought of as reality was just a game. Yes, he was just a damn tenth-level half-elf, living on the edge, in some stupid computer game designed by post-pubescent males and played by a dorky little twelve-year-old in Missouri.

“Trellafan was mad. No. He was…pixellated.

But what about the reverse? Isn’t the reverse the reality? You think it’s all been a game, until you discover otherwise. (Imagine going through a video game like that. One elf, tall, pointy ears, named Trellafan. Wanted for the virtual murder of just about everybody in the damn virtual universe.) Life isn’t real most of the time.

Is it?

My dad called me yesterday to tell me that my uncle Derek was dead and the funeral was on Wednesday in De Smet. South Dakota, you know, Little House on the Prairie.

I didn’t say anything.

Dad kept talking about the details.

Eventually I hung up. I didn’t say goodbye.

I made my excuses at work, left a message for my friends so they wouldn’t be expecting me for the Tuesday night game, and started driving. A lot of it was in the dark across three states that either gave the impression of a lack of reality or too much of it.

Tuesday night was the rosary (same thing as a wake, but less booze and more middle-aged women chatting about their kids in the church basement, serving ham sandwhiches with margarine, macaroni salad (you can’t beat a church-lady macaroni salad), and coffee, coffee, coffee. He was in the funeral home, laid out in the casket, still looking like the guy that inspired me to — I don’t know, slack off and enjoy the easier side of life. He was the first guy I knew that had a computer. He used to program his own games on them.

OK, they were stupid games.

Still I felt nothing.

People offered their sympathy. By Wednesday morning, it started to get to me.

“What are you so goddamned sorry about? What? Did you kill him? Did you strike him down in the prime of his life? Was it you that handed him one too many burgers? You used to cook him bacon and eggs for breakfast every goddamned morning, didn’t you?”

Some poor church lady. Didn’t take it well.

Somebody took me outside and let me yell at the parking lot for a while. Dad just stared at me like it was weird to watch his own son…have emotions. And Mom just wept over me, like it was some kind of great distraction. Then it was time for the funeral.

The casket was open. His kids had left little stuff in there with him. To get buried. Remote control. Couple of action hero figurines. Arcade tokens. Time to walk into the church, sit with the rest of the family in the front pews. Walking by him, he blinked. I could see his eyes, blue blue blue eyes just like my father’s, full and round, sparkling with tears: full of life.

And then I woke up.

The Friday Nite Game

Lee bragged up my write-up of the game over the Starwars Mush (Unsung Heroes), so I guess I better finish it soon, just in case someone’s reading.

Yes, there are little changes. I have memory lapses, lapses when the bebe was dragging me around the house, and the demands of fiction to placate as well as players. Writers are liars, you know. Luckily, I’m not getting any eeps for this, so I’m not bound to absolute purity…

The Story Continues:

After his explosive expulsion from the sewer tunnel, Black Iron rose out of the…muck, looking more like the Swamp Thing than the buffed and polished demigod of superheroism that he was, dammit.

Somebody chortled, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just the GM.

Nice Guy and his Nice Friends (“We are NOT your nice friends!”) pulled Black Iron out of the…muck…and helped him scrape himself off.

Bravely (or at least, not quite as naively this time), they headed back into the sewer tunnel, to meet whatever it was that had caused Black Iron to fire a

semiballistic rocket into a methane-rich sewer tunnel.

“At least we won’t have to worry about setting off any more explosions,” said Black Iron.

Even Nice Guy had to grit his teeth over that one.

“And my magnetic flashlight still works!” Black Iron added. “Neat!”

As the team (getting slightly hungry now, as they’d had nothing to eat all day, not even donuts) moved cautiously into the tunnel again, they saw what it

was that Black Iron had fired upon.

Dragonflies. Lots and lots of dragonflies.

Not…organic dragonflies, either.

Everyone stepped over the inert corpses (if that’s the word) except the Corncob Avenger (“That’s Cornfield Commando. Oh, you’re laughing now, but jest you wait until the aliens take over”). He stopped, pulled one off the ground, and tugged what was left of the dull, bronzish, somewhat-toasted wings, looking as thoughtful as a man in patched armor and overalls can get.

“This reminds me of them aliens,” he said. “Oh, yes.”

Forward, forward into the darkness…

Screeeunk!

A terrible sound, followed by the appearance of a pair of terrible, glowing eyes. But it wasn’t as bad as the noise that followed it: Screeeeunk! The second noise was identical, the sound of metal being torn asunder, but it was made more terrible by the fact that it, too, was followed by the appearance of a second pair of the glowing eyes.

Giant–you guessed it–bugs! Giant centipedes!

“We could shoot ’em with a rocket,” said Black Iron. “The methane’s been burned off already–”

“No!” shouted everyone else.

And so they just attacked. I can hardly relate each blow of the mighty battle. The two mechanical centipedes had rotating knives and a gaseous acid spray. Our heroes had…well, let’s just say that if brains over brawn were one of the standard heroic stats, much like a hit percentage for a baseball player, they wouldn’t get their own rookie cards. However, the terrible centipedes were defeated, resulting in various injuries (Cornfield Commando was left with only 80% of his coveralls, and Nice Guy sustained a couple of fairly serious wounds), another methane explosion (Thank you, Ol’ Lady Johnson), and the revelation that the centipedes were partially…organic.

Hm.

Just as our heroes were scraping the ichor and sewage off their clothing, they heard a noise. A noise not to be ignored. A noise to be feared, especially by people illegally parked, or people who walked their dogs with a suspicious lack of poop-scooping equipment. Or People Who Just Looked Funny.

What did it sound like? It was a combination of things. First you noticed the low rumble of a voice answered by a childlike lisping, but underneath that was the sound of…icky things.

Yes, it was…Mr. Floofy. And Splorch.

Hopefully with donuts.

Woo Hoo!

Ok, so here’s what I’m going to do. First, I’m going to acquire a book. Then, I’m going to read it. Next, I’ll write down what I think about it. Finally, I’m going to be paid…ONE MILLION DOLLARS!

Hahahahaha!

Phew. Sorry about that lapse, there.

Actually, I’m not going to get paid. But I do get my ego stroked, and I get more experience writing for publication. Cailin at Banshee Studios asked me today to write a book review–on a book of my own choosing–for their August (I forget what the actual title is…I know it’s not Samhain. Lughnasa?) issue.

I slowly worked my way through the last issue, and read several items I thought were worthy of comment, so I commented. I didn’t get much of a response, but it felt like a good thing to do. So more letters to the writers, I think, but only complimentary ones.

Oh! I forgot. I also got a letter (karma, see?) complimenting me on my erotica story, Customer Service, at Hoot Island. So from both ends of the process, I can say that sending compliments to writers is a good thing.

Crap. I can’t remember who said it, but I’ll say it anyway: “Artists need attention like normal people need air.”

I think the reason I have such a problem remembering stuff like that is my creative brain, which takes all facts that it gets and disassembles them

into their component parts.

Hula dance volunteers?

Guess what I spent 45 minutes doing Thursday morning and getting paid for it? Writing (cough) poetry. Bad poetry. Doggerel. For the usual somewhat-humilitating, always-pointless, ubiquitous, the-big-boss-is-coming greeting skit. The management of our inestimable department, however, picked moi for the task of writing the stuff. Obviously they have more taste than your average corporate lower-level management.

It’s silly stuff, but that’s what I’m good at.

The performance went off Friday; alas, it was after I’d gone home for the day. The summer theme of the department (they do these things in order to keep our busy little minds off the internet) is “The Survivor Show.” So when the bigwigs showed up, our department was in their best business casual attire, dressed in grass skirts, holding up plastic tiki masks, and declaiming a poem, “Ode to Loan Reg.” By yours truly.

Ah, the power.

Mom Said No.

My folks are coming up for the fourth of July. Well, ok, not the fourth of July. They’re driving here from South Dakota–the far end of South Dakota–finding somewhere to camp in between here and there, driving some more, and arriving here on the second. Staying for the third. Then driving to my mom’s parents for the fourth.

It’s hard, but we’re too broke to stay in Rapid City over the fourth, and too broke even to try to get the weekend off. Economy sucks, you know?

They’re going to stop somewhere to go camping because my little sisters, ages fourteen and nearly-twelve, bought a tent. When my parents called, they’d set

up the tent in the basement. So they could practice camping, They wanted to use the backyard, but there was a tornado watch.

Mom Said No.

Raynews. Rachaelroni has a new thing. And it’s a goody.

When you open up the colors book, and turn to the orange page, there is, shall we say, a cat. Orange. Not the same color as our cat, who is grey.

Point to the cat. Say, “Kitty!”

She’ll smile, and try to pull the picture’s tail.

Oooh, something else: she can recognize “This little piggy went to market.” She starts giggling by the time you get to Roast Beef. She remembers how to play Little Piggies from day to day, ladies and gentlemen! Little Piggies has entered her memory, her mind, perhaps even her dreams.

Snippet: And Who Has Honey?

Since you’re not going to believe me anyway, I’m going to exaggerate. Once upon a time, there was a village and a castle.. The village was called Wildberry, after the luxurious berries that grew in brambles all along the valley (although the berries were too bitter to eat without honey, and who has honey?), and the castle was called The End, because it was the last habited place in the mountains that the sun struck before it set.

The village (with other nearby villages) was ruled by the castle; the castle was supported by the villages. But the lord of the castle doesn’t matter; none of the villagers ever saw him. Or her.

The person who mattered was the Mayor. The Mayor of Wildberry lived in a house just like every other house in Wildberry; the only difference was that her doors were guarded and her windows were barred with iron bars. Her husband and children were ghostlike figures that stared from the windows. They never came to church. The church, too, was a house like every other house in Wildberry; the only difference was that the walls were decorated with gold, so everyone could see that the village of Wildberry loved God above all things. But the Priest doesn’t matter; none of the villagers ever saw him. Or her. Without the heavy robes.

One day an edict came from the castle (or so said the Mayor herself) that the lord wished all the houses in Wildberry to be inspected. No home must be dirty; no home must be in disrepair; no home must contain any weapons; no home must contain large stores of food (because of the rats). And so the Mayor knocked on the doors of all the houses and announced, “One day, I will inspect your home. You’ll never know when I’m coming, and you’ll never know when I’ve been here. If your home isn’t up to standards…that may be grounds for…”

“For?” the residents would ask.

“Expulsion!” The Mayor said. “Explusion from every one of the villages controlled by the Castle Bourne. You’ll be turned out of your home quicker than…quicker than…”

“Quicker than that?” The head of the household would snap his or her fingers directly under the Mayor’s nose, because nobody liked the Mayor, even if her house was just like everyone else’s house.

Except for the locks.

And so the Mayor went around town, sometimes in the small hours of the morning, opening the doors of the residents and inspecting their possessions. No one was expelled, but everyone was threatened.

Everyone assumed that the Mayor herself conducted the inspection of her own house, which was just like everyone else’s.

You’re assuming that something’s going to happen here, aren’t you? That a small child is going to sneak past the guards and slip into the house while the mayor’s away, and discover that the husband and the children have been chained to their beds. Or they’re slaves. Or the Mayor is hiding something dangerous. Something forbidden. Perhaps the Mayor is stealing things from the other people’s houses, clothing, toys, knives. There will be a revolution! The villagers will lock the Mayor in her own house, they will lock the Priest up with her, they will free the husband and the children, they will charge up the hill to find the castle deserted, empty, unspeaking.

You’re wrong.

Things go on.

Reviews.The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars; From Hell.

These might not be to your taste, but they both kick ass.

The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars, by Stephen Brust: This is a good read, if you’re any type of artist or if you find them interesting. Sculpture, theatre, painting, pen&ink, writing (not the same thing), martial arts (of various types), motorcycles, and a little bit of love: the metaphor of “art” can be stretched to cover everything that humans experience, try to understand, and try to communicate to other people. On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for action, well, thbbt. The primary story (arbitrarily picked?) alternates with a Hungarian folk tale. The folk tale doesn’t match up with the primary story as well as I’d like, but it makes for a) a good folk tale and b) an interesting contrast. Just when you’re getting sick of the everyday whining of a bunch of normal people (and that statement, there, may explain more about “art” than many a treatise), the folk tale cuts in: suddenly, it’s all about the larger-than-life, without being lifeless.

From Hell, Alan Moore. As you may have guessed, I’ve been making a raid on the local library stacks for Alan Moore. I won’t blow this for you–even if you’ve seen the movie, this is an important point–so I’ll leave you with a couple of writerly notes and my definite thumbs up. The art is creepy and inviting. I love black-and-white art. The writing is at least as good as The Watchmen, not as tricky-dick clever, but gooo–ood. (He writes well from a woman’s point of view, in case you’re wondering.) That’s as a fan. As a writer, here’s what impressed me most: the plot is obvious. The mystery of Who-is-Jack-the-Ripper is revealed from the beginning of the book. Yet my interest has been held–the mystery here is “how did this all get cleaned up?” I also loved the appendices, which revealed a) how much research went into this thing and b) how all of this is supposed to relate to us, the readers.

Englightenment has nothing to do with being nice, chilluns. We knew that when we first saw Darth Vader. The darkside of the force is very, very dark.

Oh, yeah. I fogot: I’m muchly impressed, now, with the scriptwriter for the movie version of From Hell. No, it isn’t a faithful adaptation. Different medium. Now, the directors…

More Englishy goodness.

I’m working my way through a stack of murder mysteries set in Minneapolis, The Sun, The Moon, and the Stars by Stephen Brust, and another writing-of-English book. The mysteries I’ll only review if I think they’re good ones. The Sun, The Moon, and the Stars has just been completed, and I need to think about it for a bit.

But the writing-of-English book is an ongoing project, so I’ll start making comments….now!

It’s called: Acts of Teaching: How to Teach Writing: A Text, A Reader, A Narrative, by Joyce Armstrong Carroll and Edward E Wilson.

Whew.

This is about the shift between two different ways of teaching English to the K-12 set. The first method is called “product writing.” Loosely, this means that the focus of teaching is the end-product of writing. Teachers pass out assignments, students follow strict steps during which they are assessed on their progress according to preset goals, and the final project–each final project–is graded. The second method is called “process writing.” This means that the focus of teaching is the process of writing. “Process writing” doesn’t exclude the techniques of “product writing”; however, other techniques are also used, and the focus, like I said, is the process of writing. The authors are all in favor of process writing.

Process writing, so far, has been broken down into five aspects–these are not linear stages to be progressed through, one necessarily being completed before the next is begun, but aspects that happen in whatever manner they need to for each specific writer as necessary. The five aspects are prewriting, writing, rewriting, correcting, and contemplating. Prewriting is the process of coming up with ideas. Writing is the process of getting your ideas organized and on paper. Rewriting is the process of honing the work for your audience. Correcting is the process of clarifying the writer’s style & grammar. Contemplating is the process of stepping back from the work and looking at it critically.

Actually, I lied. Different teachers reported in here say the process is different. They all just focus on process. But that’s one of the processes, one that the authors keep coming back to.

I have a two-fold interest in this book, this type of book. First, I suspect (but I don’t know) that learning how teachers teach writing may help me write better myself, or at least give me a new way to think about the learning process involved in learning to write. Just seemed like a good idea. Second, one of the things I always have running in the back of my head (like trying to figure out a fourth spacial dimension…or hollandaise sause, so I can make myself some dang eggs benedict whenever I want…or the little connections you get between different Tom Waits albums…or the names of movie actors that Lee can never remember, like Ron Perlman and Gary Oldman..or bad puns…) is “What would I do in my ideal English class?”

My ideal English class is usually college-level. I’d rather be a professor than a teacher, for one reason only: professors get to hand out work. There’s none of this “do it in class” crap. No. Take home your assignments, and you may do them, or you may not!

Anyway. For a while the title of my class was “How not to write,” and we’d look at stuff we just couldn’t stand, and figure out why we couldn’t stand it. Part of the class would focus on things that I’d picked, and part of the class would focus on things that the students picked. I’d introduce critical theory by saying, “This is the —- theory (feminist, deconstructionist, etc), and this is why they’d hate this book (Moby Dick).”

But lately I’ve been thinking about the information in this book, and I’ve had to rethink my approach. Basically, I was just reversing everything I hated about my English classes. Protesting the things you hate is important, sure, but…it’s limited. It focuses you on the same continuum as the things you hate, you see: it doesn’t allow you the freedom to do your own damn thing. It doesn’t–Satanists take note–allow you truly to think for yourself.

Right now what I’m thinking about is a class where part of the class is focused on independent projects, and part of the class is focused on the mechanics of organizing what you’re going to write. If I had time for an upper-level class, I’d start in on topics like character, theme, etc. But this is the class I’d use to replace English 101.

–Everyone has a journal. On-line. That’s right, everybody blogs.

–The goal of the class isn’t to turn in projects on time. The goal of the class is to build a portfolio.

–The actual classes will cover various techniques to be used in fiction writing and writing in general: coming up with ideas, building an ongoing collection of ideas (I call mine the mulch pile), the process of turning ideas into writing, making writing more appealing to the reader, turning intermediate writing into a final draft, and publishing.

–Yep. People will submit. They’ll research the market and they’ll submit. Getting published is just candy.

One thing I don’t plan to do (in this hypothetical situation I couldn’t pull off right now anyway) is workshop. The dang stuff is going to be posted on the net. Comments can go there. Workshopping sucks up class time to the point where nothing gets taught. If it’s really necessary, they can have an English Lab (like Bio Lab), where they can sit down and learn how to criticize each other’s stuff. Sure, workshopping has its uses, but it’s not the damn panacea everyone seemed to think it was while I was in college.

Did I mention I’d get paid a hundred grand a year to do this?

Hm…back to the book. What have I learned so far?

I’ve been thinking about my own writing process, and lately it’s been a little too focused on coming up with something readable. Something perfect. I’m not as bad about hatching Athena full-grown from my skull as I used to be, but I don’t do as much playing and thinking as I should. For instance, motivation. That’s something to think about: why am I writing whatever it is I’m writing? I used to be all about writing for a purpose. I had things to say, and I had to say them. Now I find myself, especially on an afternoon when I’m home alone with the bebe and I don’t have any novels laying around that I’m just dying to read, hungering to write something that’ll do for other people what those novels I like have done for me.

If I’m having an ambitious afternoon, I want to write something that’s a combination of both.

Ah…Ray was sleeping on my chest for a while, but now she’s up and lusting after the keyboard. Time to go. Discretion is the better part of rambling on and on and on and on and on…

The Friday Nite Game, Part the Third

The sewers beckoned our heroes just like…well, let’s say I have a simile in mind, but we’ll skip it, all right? Black Iron and Nice Guy ferry down the non-flying members of the party onto a stable area in front of the two main sewer lines that the “bugs” flew from.

“Should we go to the tunnel on the right, or the one on the left? There’s also a large tunnel right dead in the center….” While the party begins arguing, Ol’ Lady Johnson, recognizing a pointless arguement when she can barely hear it, starts walking down one of the tunnels. As she moves further and further into the shadows, risking death with every step (to be fair, death was risking her as well), the arguement fades until Cornfield Commando says, “Hey! Where did the old lady go?”

From one of the tunnels the sound of a monstrous panting emerges. There is a flicker of light…perhaps from a wagging tail. “That way!” Nice Guy exclaims, and the rest of the party follows Ol’ Lady Johnson (no relation to Mayor Johnson…that he knows of) down the lefthand tunnel.

Hm. Have you ever noticed that it’s dark down in the sewers?

Especially when you don’t have flashlights?

Nice Guy flies up to the gas station on the corner and buys a sufficiency of flashlights. When he returns, Ol’ Lady Johnson only has one word for him, and that word is “Batteries?”

“Oops,” he says.

Soon, the party is properly equipped for a jaunt in the sewers. Black Iron even has a magnet to attach his flashlight to his suit. In fact, being the most mega (Black Iron buffs a few flecks of dust off his armor), he takes the lead. Scouting ahead. For danger. And stuff.

Soon, Black Iron encounters that which he seeks. Specifically, he encounters eyes. Glowing ones.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party has been keeping pace with Ol’ Lady Johnson’s usual hobble. “I wonder what we’ll find down here,” Black Squirrel asks. “Aliens, probably,” Cornfield Commando replies. “Those critters seemed mighty familiar. Mighty familiar. Reminds me of the time I was abducted…” “But you don’t remember that,” Black Squirrel says. “I do now,” Cornfield says. “It’s all startin’ to come back to me.”

The party walks on, mulling over their separate thoughts.

Click–click–snap! Rrrrrrrrrssshhh!

Ol’ Lady Johnson turns about face and begins scuttling, dragging Gilbert by his collar. The rest of the party considers the noise for a moment and relizes that it can mean only one thing: Black Iron has just fired his rocket launcher at a possibly deadly foe. In a sewer. Filled with explosive, uh, sewer gas.

Nice Guy stops to snatch Ol’ Lady Johnson and Gilbert from the path of the approaching fireball; the entire party makes it out.

Including Black Iron, who rides the fireball like a cowboy rides a bull. Like a sailor rides the hurricane. Like a glider rides the storm. Like an unconscious superhero rides the flaming ball of methane and lands in the…muck.

The muck closes over Black Iron’s head…

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