Sunday, November 29, 2020

I can't believe I didn't dust off this old blog last year when The Mandalorian premiered! That show is like everything I ever wanted in Star Wars. I did take the above photo for my Instagram about this time last year. It definitely seemed like Filoni and Favreau's philosophy was to make a show as if they were playing with their old Star Wars figures. This week's episode was amazing- maybe the best? I dunno, I have like a top ten already and there have only been 13 or 14 episodes. But I don't want to talk too much about them- people on Facebook on Twitter just can't help themselves it seems, they gotta spoil shit. Well, not me. 

Can't wait for next week! 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

I love learning about subspecies of bears. You'd think I would have heard of all of them by now but I still run into new ones. Quick shameless plug, but relevant - my story "The Winged Whale" in Volume 1 of The Ursus Verses is about one such subspecies, despite what the title might lead you to believe.

Pictured above, though, is a photo of an ad. I had to make it at least a little artsy to try to avoid copyright infringement and what not. I mean who takes pictures of ads right? But Canon's "Wildlife As Canon Sees It" is a legendary ad campaign that has run in every issue of National Geographic since 1982. This particular edition was in the April 1992 issue. (I'm still reading all the back issues I can, when I have time.) Back in 1992 they weren't even sure if the Gobi Bear was an actual subspecies or not. I see now on Wikipedia that it is recognized as such- Ursus arctos gobiensis.

I always find it useful to google the species Canon highlights in their ads, especially as I read back issues from a couple of decades ago. Where are they now, kind of. How many are left, to be blunt. It's not as depressing as you might guess, though it's rarely encouraging, either. So in 1992, the best estimate was about 40-60 surviving individuals. The wikipedia article cited a number of 30 from a study in 2007. And this site- which is awesome by the way, just discovered it now- guesses a population of about 40 right now. Which isn't awesome. Inbreeding alone is probably going to doom this subspecies.

Friday, November 20, 2020

 Ahsoka is here! Busy day, very tiring, but very awesome. Here's some pics, hopefully I can get some sleep tonight- the only thing she hasn't really taken to is crate training. She batted 1.000 for potty training though!

Thursday, November 19, 2020

A current picture of my nightstand. I thought not working would give me some time to catch up on my reading but the pile just keeps getting bigger. The stars have aligned somewhat this past week, however, and I have finished reading a bunch of books in rapid succession. At least for me. You know how on Overdrive if you're reading a book and it expires it just goes away? Finally got a bunch of those books back that I was already mostly finished. Anyways. What follows is a list of the books I've read this month, but before I forget I made The Ursus Verses available for Overdrive collections, so if you have an Overdrive account through your local library could you take a few minutes to recommend it to them? That would mean a lot to me, thank you.
Ok. The books.

First up, The Genius of Birds, by Jennifer Ackerman. Birds are dinosaurs, right? Old news though. They are also geniuses. This book explains how. I have a newfound respect for Chickadees but also a newfound disrespect for sparrows. Go away sparrows! 

1990 was one of the best years ever, as far as I'm concerned. Many of my favourite albums of all time came out that year. Happens to all of us when we are 15 or 16, yeah? But in my beloved genre of heavy metal it is widely acknowledged that many of the genre's best offerings came out that year. Persistence of Time. Seasons in the Abyss. And Rust In Peace. Absolute masterpiece. Masterpeace. Anyways Dave Mustaine put out a book about the making of this seminal Megadeth album. Every metalhead knows Mustaine was kicked out of Metallica for being a junkie but I had no idea he only just got clean right when they went to record RIP. He was such a mess it's kind of amazing Rust is even coherent let alone the absolute monster it is. But him and Dave Ellefson did manage to get cleaned up and the rest is history. If you're not a metalhead this won't be of any interest to you whatsoever. 

I really like N.K. Jemisin. Her book The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was excellent, so I was glad to read the sequel, The Broken Kingdoms. Quite a different book than the first one, but still really engaging. I think there's yet a third book, and of course then I can tackle her other series. I also read her book about New York City earlier this year. She's the best.

Another series I enjoy has been Theodora Goss' Athena Club uh, I always forget the actual series name. Started off with The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter and the third one, that I just read, is The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl. The series is about the daughters of all the famous Victorian-era monsters. Mr. Hyde, Dracula, Frankenstein and so forth. Sherlock Holmes is in it- though he is not the star. Good books! I first discovered Goss in an anthology- a short story that I enjoyed so much that I immediately looked her up on Twitter and discovered her first book was coming out. I wish I could now remember what the short story was! I'd love to reread it.

One day earlier this year a package arrived in the mail, unlooked for- always the best kind! My brother-in-law's family, so Pallas and Naia's cousins, had sent us a book they really enjoyed. We had just outgrown our habit of reading aloud to the kids every night- we now read together but each their own book. I think my brother and sister-in-law read it to their kids that way. It's called The Green Ember. It's about rabbits, and is slightly easier to read than Watership Down, a book I read as an adult and had a hard time with. It was really dark, as I recall. The Green Ember is not as dark, though certainly has that fairy tale non aversion to violence, if that's fair to say.

Alright gotta go get some reading in. Ahsoka arrives tomorrow! 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

 I haven't gone anywhere in forever but it's been an eventful few days. I mean, sort of. It's about to be, that's for sure.

First, online stuff. I signed up for a MOOC today out of my Alma Mater, the good old University of Alberta. It's called Indigenous Canada. Maybe you've seen Dan Levy tweet about it. It's really good so far. Some years ago I took what we wound up affectionately calling the #superMOOC which was about gender and sexuality in comic books, and that was really valuable and interesting. Indigenous representation, respect and reconciliation is something I'm very interested in and have been for a while, so this seems like kind of the bare minimum of something I should do before I go much further in writing Indigenous characters while not appropriating or being otherwise inappropriate.

Another very cool thing that came along at just the right time for me was a quote I got from one of the most recent episodes of Brené Brown's podcast, Unlocking Us- the one with wrier Gabby Rivera. I could just write the quote out but I think you should listen for yourself. It will jump out at you if you are a writer. And if you aren't or don't have the time or whatever multitude  of other reasons, leave a comment and I will tell you in the comments. It gave me life today.

What else. I got a professional logo made for The Ursus Verses, which is something I was waiting on before going ahead with the print edition. The logo I made in Word was alright just to get something out there but for a print version I knew I needed something professional. I'm quite pleased with it and stay tuned I am sure I will show it to you soon. Also leave a comment if you want to preorder the print version of volume 1 of The Ursus Verses, available already in ebook format on Amazon and Kobo. 

And I've said it on social media all over the place so this probably isn't news but I just realized I never said anything on the blog- on Friday we are getting a bear cub! Well, a puppy that looks just like a bear cub. Her name is Ahsoka and here is a picture because omg she is the cutest thing ever. I love her! Can't wait until Friday.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

"If your story is about what your story is about, you're in trouble."
 -Robert McKee, paraphrased

I'm writing a story that's pure fun. Getting back to the joy of writing, for me. It's essentially a kaiju story, but hopefully one that's never been done before. It's also a love letter to heavy metal and is all about kick-ass women kicking ass. Among other things.  But at its heart, it is about fighting a monster. 
And that's really it. I realized the main characters don't really grow or change, or have any conflict amongst themselves.... they just start out kicking ass and end up kicking asser. 
The only real challenge for me as a writer has been figuring out how to manifest a giant robot using nothing but the awesome power of heavy metal! I tried googling that but it wasn't as informative as I would have liked. 
So as I write I'm also editing and adding stuff in, that's what we do, right? Write! Right! I think if I add just a touch of a character flaw that can be worked through, and maybe a minor interpersonal conflict, it will be a stronger story. I hope so! I freely admit that characterization has never been my strongest suit as a writer, though of course I'm working on it and hopefully getting better all the time.
The books in the photo have been helpful to me, though it's actually been quite a while since I read them, and I could benefit from a reread of a few of them. Bossk was flabbergasted about the Seven Basic Plots one- as far as he's concerned the only plot that matters is Bossk Gets Bounty.
Are you working on a story? Have any writing weaknesses you're working on?

Thursday, November 05, 2020

 4 1/2 Writing Lessons Learned from the Boardgame Design Realm

On Instagram I finally changed my bio away from coal-mining stuff. It now says "Boardgamer. Also a writer." Little bit of modesty maybe in putting writing second, but boardgames is a huge love of mine. I spend as much time as I can get away with playing games, and when I can't I'm still consuming bg-related media, especially podcasts. I dipped a toe in the boardgame designer space though only as, at best, a tertiary hobby. Writing is the thing I am best at so I am choosing to focus on that. But, here are some lessons I've gleaned from over there that I think translates pretty well to the writing life, since both are, after all, about creativity.

1. Rapid Iteration: the doctrine in bg-design is to prototype rapidly. Have an idea? Cobble something together out of lint and whatever other odds and ends you have laying around and get something to the table, just to see if the idea is any fun and worth pursuing. Doesn't have to be pretty- in fact, making it pretty is a waste of time at this point in the process. I have a story in 40 Below Volume 2 that I wrote in one sitting and that didn't require any revision. I know, right? Why can't it always be so easy? I want it to be, but waiting for that to happen is actually hindrance, and I've started just writing a fast first draft by hand in a notebook, not worrying about making it polished at all. This tells you right away if you have a story worth working on. And it counts as writing, I think. Maybe even the most important kind of writing. 

2. Playtesting. There's this one podcast I listen to, the Board Game Design Lab, where if you made a drinking game out of every time they say "playtesting"you would die of alcohol poisoning in like five minutes. Playtesting means getting as many people as possible to play your (now much more polished) prototype so they can give you feedback, including feedback such as 'This game really sucks!'. Once you have a working draft get as many beta-readers and proofreaders as possible before sending it away. This is kind of tricky though, since reading someone's unfinal work isn't a huge priority for a lot of people. In playtesting it's the same problem so the advice is be a generous playtester so that you aren't always saying "hey try my game I gotta go bye!" Offer to read other writers' work. But offer good feedback too, which is a whole skill all on its own, for sure.

3. Play a Lot of Games: this is the best homework ever. Heck yeah I'll play a lot of games to learn about how to make them! The parallel is obvious- read widely. Read lots. Just read. It will make you a better writer. When I was a kid and read The Lord of the Rings for the first time, I immediately wrote my first stab at a fantasy story- it was about these creatures (that looked just like the mystics from The Dark Crystal which I also loved) who had.... ten rings.... and they had to . . . you know. . . probably destroy the rings so the dark lord . . . of course it was crap. Read read read and not just the same type of thing you love already, branch out and read stuff you wouldn't otherwise be interested in. It all goes into your mental cauldron and the soup that comes out is yum and unique to you.

4. Steal, copy, pillage and plunder. In boardgames, there are only so many gameplay mechanics, and though innovation does happen, it is completely acceptable to design a worker placement game about vikings even though there are already a ton of worker placement games about vikings. Maybe replace Vikings with zombies. But you take from here and you take from there and remix it and now it's new. This is ok in the bg industry. 


4 1/2 Make sure the best part of your game isn't something you stole from another game: Don't just reskin a game and sell it. Plagiarism is bad. As in my example with the ten-ring mystic creatures, simple regurgitation isn't cool. Add something new, something unique to bring to your story. You have a unique voice, and I want to hear it! This advice I can attribute directly to JB Howell, whose game Reavers of Midgard (a worker placement game about vikings!) is pictured below.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

 Just went live on Kobo as well. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

 My plan, when I was laid off, was to write more, and submit more. I've had some success getting published, so I thought I would try to build up a solid writerly resume that way, piece by piece. And indeed I do still submit stuff, but back in September I learned about chapbooks and realized they were kind of the perfect medium for what I do. I'm not a novelist, after all. Maybe one day but not now. But I have a nice big catalogue of work that stretches back the entire life of this blog, 18 years, and then some. Which is a long-winded way of introducing my first chapbook, available right now on Amazon!  With plans to diversify into the other ebook markets and also do a print run. And I know I can do at least three more of these just with material that already exists, and hopefully even six volumes eventually. The writerly resume I want! Much of the writing was first published here, though not all of it. Anyways check it out!

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

This Halloween

I love my local library, Edmonton Public. Since the pandemic started I haven't been to a branch in person but thanks to Twitter and their email newsletter I've been able to keep up a little with what they're doing. Can't wait to visit the newly reopened and renovated Stanley A. Milner main branch when I get a chance. I signed up for this Zoom meeting that was all about Twine, which I didn't know anything about but I've found signing up for these sorts of things is almost always valuable. Twine is pretty cool, at its simplest it is a way to make choose your own adventure stories fairly easily. Not understanding this, I got to work making a branching poem on multiple sheets of paper before I even investigated how to use Twine. Turns out if I had just gone to Twinery in the first place I could have saved a few trees. Now my next trick is to figure out how to embed it here, and maybe I figured it out. Hopefully. Well, you won't see this if I manage it, but as I type this I am on my third attempt! I'm sure it will work this time: 
 Did it work?
 NO! *%$*&#@$^&(*&**%##^^&*&*(^$; (cartoon swearing because I never swear in real life) 
Ok fine, here is a link to the google page I made but I wanted to embed it right here in this post.
 The poem itself is not a masterpiece at all- it's terrible and I don't mind admitting it. I just wanted to have something to bring to the workshop, and to gain hands-on experience. But it will work as my Halloween story for this year!
I tried embedding it using the html iframe function. If you know how to do this please let me know. It seemed simple enough but yet. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

 Another significant milestone for me- and I almost didn't notice. I was telling a story to my family about staying in a men's shelter back on  my cross-Canada hitch-hiking trip, and Pallas asked me how old I was when I did it. 

"I was 23," I said. "And that was 23 years ago."

Kind of blew my mind. I realize it's not anything most people would care about but on this one little tiny corner of the internet I get to decide what gets talked about! Definitely one of the adventures in my life that has shaped who I am.

The story I told the kids was about staying in a men's shelter in I think Ajax, Ontario. Somewhere close to Toronto anyway. I was just there one night after a day of thumbing so I needed to find a place to stay and someone mentioned a "men's hostel" nearby. Sounded good to me so off I went. Turns out yeah it was a homeless shelter. They had room though so I registered to stay there for the night. I was fully prepared to pay for my berth but in fact I was informed otherwise.

"In the morning come here and we will give you your three dollars for staying here."

"Um, no, I don't need three dollars."

"We have to give it to you."

"No thanks, I don't need it. But that's very nice of you."

"Sir, it's the law. You have to take it."

That  made the girls laugh, and when I was a kid of 23 I thought it was pretty hilarious myself. With an additional 23 years of experience and wisdom I see now how this funny law of requiring each guest at a homeless shelter to receive $3 from the government would need to have a system of checks and balances and budgetary whathaveyou to protect unscrupulous people from taking advantage of it. And I'm not talking about the guests. 

Anyways I just gave my toonie and a loonie to one of the guys there that I met and befriended. I think he was able to use it along with his own allowance to buy a pack of smokes. Once it was mine I was free to do with it what I wanted, and once it was his, ditto!

Thursday, October 22, 2020

 Happy bloggiversary to me! Hard to believe this little blog is now old enough to drink, at least here in Alberta. I haven't been advertising the fact that I'm more or less active again, because the world has changed a lot in the past 18 years. There's not really a blogosphere anymore. Not in the same way. Social media kind of killed that off. The several year gap in this very blog is a symptom of that for sure.

Regardless, 18 years is pretty impressive. Makes you miss 2002, especially in this cursed year of 2020. This is a good time to announce, to not really anyone in particular, that I've been working on a series of chapbooks which encompass a lot of the creative writing I used to do as well some of the stuff I've since done elsewhere. First volume is coming along nicely. I'll just publish them myself and get them out there. Be a good writing resume and something I can point to and say, I made that. Took 18 years goddammit but I did it.


Monday, October 19, 2020

 I discovered that helicarriers were real! More or less. First a quick history in pictures as to what a helicarrier really looks like- the MCU version was super cool but the comic version was more heli less carrier. Here it is in its first appearance as depicted by the King, Jack Kirby:

And how it looked when I was more familiar with it in the late 70s/early 80s:

Jack Kirby and Stan Lee were both WWII vets and would have been familiar with the pre-war rigid airships. I was reading a National Geographic today that had an article about the USS Macon, an American Navy airship. A lead zeppelin, sort of. The damnedest thing was, it carried a complement of five biplanes, little Spitfighters that were stored inside but were deployed by a hook. They had to latch onto the hook to "land" as well! Somehow I was unaware of this fact my whole life. Pretty neat. It only lasted two years and then it crashed into the ocean where it lays still. They've located the remains as well as a few of the Spitfires. Too deep and damaged to salvage, as far as I know. The article was from 1992 so maybe since then they've brought it up but I really doubt it. Click here to go to the wikipedia article, it's pretty cool. I always thought the helicarrier was one of the more outlandish flights of fancy Stan Lee and Jack Kirby took but maybe they really took a flight on an airship, or saw one.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Pilars of the Earth

A friend of mine lent me the game Pillars of the Earth. I've never read the book, but Michelle has, and I was always interested in the board game based on it. Even the fact that they made a game based on this thick tome of historical fiction about (presumably) building a cathedral is pretty fascinating don't you think?

I played it once solo to learn the rules, then played it once with Pallas and once today with Michelle. Both of them liked it, and I really like it too. It's got a beautiful board with some beautiful components, and it's a worker placement game with some different takes on the whole worker mechanic, so it's pretty much exactly what I look for in a game.

It's pretty simple really. Six rounds, broken into two main phases. First phase you draft some cards- either you send a certain number of workers (you have a bunch) to one of three resource areas in exchange for a certain number of resource cubes, or you pay some gold to buy another craftsperson which you take into your hand. Maximum hand number of these crafters is five. They are what convert your resources into victory points later on.

The second phase is where it gets interesting- each player has a number of master workers in a bag, and each worker is drawn blind from the bag one by one. The first worker drawn has the option to either pay 7 gold (a lot) to place their worker on the board, or pass. Either way the next worker drawn from the bag, even if it's the same colour as the previously drawn one, has the same opportunity, only this time it only costs 6 gold. This goes all the way down and if everyone passes, then all workers still left can be placed for free in the order they were first drawn. This is quite unique to my experience and a lot of fun as it makes for some hard and interesting decisions.

The board has a bunch of places that offer differing benefits, as in all worker placements. The trick is to pick the one that gets you the most points, and of course your opponents are blocking you and forcing you to think fast to change tactics. After each round another piece of the cathedral is placed, and at the end of the game you have a cool little wooden cathedral in the middle of the board.

This game isn't super new, and I described it to Pallas as "it's like they heard about worker placement games and only had a vague idea of what those are and designed a cool game based on their conceptions." Which I totally dig. It does stuff I haven't seen in other wp games. It's fun! But if I'm honest I was a little disappointed that the big wooden cathedral, the biggest hook in the game, is really just a glorified round tracker. After each round you add a piece. That's it. And the thing is, there are three other round trackers built into the game already- the craftsperson cards, the favour cards and the event cards all double as ways to keep track of the rounds.

This has the unfortunate effect of turning the big wooden pieces into a gimmick. I really hate to say that, because this is a really fun game! I thought players would maybe work together to gather the necessary resources to build each piece, with maybe points for the player who contributes the most or penalties to those who don't, as in the constructed markets in Euphoria (the game I discussed in the previous post). I almost thought about designing my own variant where this is what you do, but that is a little ambitious and beyond my skills, so I didn't. I wonder if anyone has?

The other day on Twitter someone started a good discussion by calling out some prominent board game YouTubers who had taken it upon themselves to "fix" Elizabeth Hargrave's new game Mariposas. Which I have and have played twice now. I really like it. You play a bunch of Monarch butterflies who have to migrate from Michoacan up to Canada and back, picking up resources and card sets along the way. It's really hard- collecting sets to get points is not always possible while also meeting the other goals and requirements of the game. So RandomDude decided to make a rule where something something something. I dunno. He made it easier anyways.

So, on the one hand, if you buy a game, you have every right to house rule and do whatever you want with it. You bought it. Bonk each other on the head with the board and smash each other in the face with the box for all I care. 

On the other hand, doing this with your platform of thousands and implying you know better than the designer is a little ... I can see where this raises eyebrows. Especially when Elizabeth Hargrave, award-winning designer of the massively huge game Wingspan, has had to face all kinds of misogynistic passive aggressiveness and aggressive aggressiveness just for being a woman in the board game design world. 

And again, if RandomDude was just saying "this is too hard so I made it easier for me lol lol I'm terrible at games" I would be the first one to give a thumbsup emoji. You do you! Have fun! But this RandomDude (who is not just some random dude at all but one of the biggest BG personalities) has a history of blundering into these sorts of gendered "controversies" (for want of a better term, these are hardly scandals on the scale of separating children from their parents in ICE concentration camps) and claiming innocent ignorance.  "Oh I didn't realize I was being a dick! Teach me better I want to learn!!" I'm less inclined lately to pardon ignorance when your google bar is just right over there. 

But I do wish we were actively building the cathedral in Pillars of the Earth.