Archive for February, 2010

Works in Progress: Sometimes I Feel Like This Guy

Just an excerpt from the work-in-progress (the one about fairies) — I think it speaks for itself well enough without context that I don’t really need to provide and information about who these people are or why they’re talking about this.  So I’ll just say that sometimes I feel a little bit like this guy and let you read from there…

“Over-specialization, that’s the trouble,” the artificer explained with a gulp from his mug.  “Oh, I could make you a shield proof even against the fires of the great winged serpent Qhxtctlhx, and that would have been a feat worth noting, but that some little git over in Atchl — and isn’t that just conveniently-located! — set up shop doing nothing but fireproofing shields.  He’s got a whole new way to classify dragon’s breath and magma giants and all sorts of elemental effluvia, and he writes it all into a numerical scale named after himself, and he’s got a deal with the local shield-maker and now all of a sudden if you’re going after Qhxtctlhx it’s off to Atchl with you, because nothing else will do, and never mind all the talented Artificers looking for work!”  A fierce grimace contorted his face, and having finished his own drink, he swallowed most of Alex’s instead as he beckoned for another.  “It’s like that all over.  There’s no room for a generalist anymore — and of course, it’s all the same to Qhxtctlhx, who just waits for them to raise their shields in front of their faces so he can tangle their legs with his rainbow-scaled tail while they can’t see.  So the clever dick with the fireproofing concession stays in business, and Qhxtctlhx stays fed, and I took a job making teapots that sing instead of whistling and ovens for window-gardeners — they bake bread made with flowers,” he added, for Alex’s benefit, seeing her confused expression.  Another gusty sigh smelled less like cinnamon and more like beer.

Personal Pages: Revisiting RPGs

I think it’s the current deep investment in writing a book that is both adolescent and fantastical that made me think of tabletop roleplaying games again — that, or some of my old scourcebooks were in the pile I had to move hastily when the cat threw up my shoelace; either-or.  The point is, I did play nerdy RPG-type games in high school, which didn’t actually interfere much with having a normal social life; I got both laid and drunk on a regular basis (though usually not simultaneously).  And while the last thing I need in my life is another commitment that demands both time and creative energy, I gotta admit that there’s a certain whimsy to the whole thing that seems to fit well with twenty-somethings — we’re the post-ironic generation, it’s okay for us to sit around and drink beer and pretend to be psychic dinosaurs if that’s what we want to do with our evening.  We will listen to Deerhoof while we do it, and be very hip.

I can’t ever imagine myself going back to weekly games that run at the same time on the same day every week (sometimes we had three or four of those going on at once!), but I can totally see getting people together every once in a while and fixing them supper so we can nerd it up.  I even found some titles in amongst the old books that seem like they might go beyond mindless entertainment and be an actual enjoyable creative exercise — I’ve listed a few champs here, and saved my absolute favorite for last (so you can just scroll down if you really wanna know):

Dungeons and Dragons is of course the progenitor for all modern nerd games; I actually got an early start for my generation and was playing D&D a year or two before 3rd Edition, but I think for most of my peers those are the iconic roleplaying books.  I’ve got the 3.5 versions up here, just the three core books, and while I don’t see it as a system I’d want to get very into, I think there’s value in every once in a while getting back to your roots and playing it pulp for the sake of playing it pulp.  “You enter a 10 x 10 room.  There is an orc guarding a chest.  No one knows why…”

HackMaster is essentially a mechanical representation of exactly that tongue-in-cheek approach to the conventions D&D established; it is needlessly complex, absurdly focused on killing things and taking their stuff as the sole means of advancement in power and in society, and features a sprawling, eight-volume compendium of monsters with no possible ecological justification.  It also numerically represents and rewards swaggering, braggartly behavior and general badassitude of the sort that needs made-up macho words like “badassitude” to describe it, because it’s just that silly.  It will always be one of my old favorites, but I think that it’s too mechanically-complex to be worthwhile when you can achieve the same effect by approaching D&D with equal silliness and save yourself a lot of dice-rolling.  Still, it’s a fantastic example of parody-writing that uses structural elements as well as the written text in its mockery.

Vampire: the Requiem was the last roleplaying book I ever bought, along with the core rules for the new World of Darkness, way back when they were first released.  I never did much with it, outside of a couple one-nighters in undergrad, but it’s just as focused on storytelling and character-driven plots as all the old White Wolf games were — often to the point of pretentiousness — and is probably the best option if I want to be thinking hard about dramatic choices.  I fear that it’s also less fun — getting together to pretend to be very serious, emotionally-distraught sorts of people doesn’t seem like a good sell for the Deerhoof crowd, or anyone over the age of eighteen that I want to spend any amount of time with.  Still, the world and the people in it are pretty…

World of Warcraft offers the potential for hilarious campaigns if all the players are familiar with the online game, but isn’t very useful otherwise.  I don’t think I’d have any interest in running or playing in a World of Warcraft tabletop game that didn’t attempt to incorporate all of the shortcomings of the online world, but could see myself having a great time playing an orc or a troll or whatever that was truly dedicated to studying why the damn dragons “respawn” five minutes after you kill them!

The generic systems — GURPS or the Hero System 5th Edition — are obviously the most strenuous creative exercise, requiring everything to be built from scratch and then translated into the game mechanics.  They’re also the most complicated, and therefore likely to languish on my shelf for a while.

Children of the Sun was an impulse purchase that I’ve never regretted.  It’s a beautifully-illustrated book and a well-created world (and I say that as someone who generally doesn’t like well-created worlds, but was impressed this time around), and it carved out a niche that no one else had occupied and even made up a name for it, sort of, slapping a “dieselpunk” label on the setting, which can be safely read as “WWII with elves.”  The mechanics are a little unwieldy, but at least novel, and I’d like to visit this one in more depth some time — I never did much beside read the book.

And then there’s my absolute favorite candidate for getting back into this stuff — are you ready for it?

Rifts.  That’s right, Rifts — if you’ve heard of it, your opinion of me just lessened; if you’ve never heard of it, you’re missing a treat.  Taken seriously, I think it’s probably idiotic — in fact, I played in some pretty idiotic Rifts campaigns back in high school.  But no other system not only allows but encourages you to play a cybernetic wizard who rides into battle against a T-Rex on a flying motorcycle.  Or rides into battle against a flying motorcycle on a T-Rex.  Or whatever!  It’s the ultimate pastiche RPG; if there’s a trope you want to throw in, you probably can.  And the main villains are basically post-apocalyptic Nazis, and they use robotic skeletons and armor with skull motifs and such, so as the hero you get to cut your way through legions of zombie Nazis.  It doesn’t get much mookier than that!  (A “mook,” for the uninitiated, is a faceless underling that serves the single purpose of dying before the heroes’ blazing guns — think stormtroopers in Star Wars or the Foot Clan in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill Part I were a deliberate homage to all the mooks that ever mooked).  Rifts also features an incredibly simplified combat system (“roll over a 4 on a twenty-sided die to hit your target, or over 12 to hit them in a specific place” is a good summary), which is terrible for anyone with expectations of hard-hitting realism and therefore perfect for me.

So who knows.  If there’s folks in town who are interested, and I don’t have to work too hard at it, it may be time to revisit the old silliness, with tongue firmly in cheek.  As mentioned above, I’m not exactly hurting for creative outlets — but I might benefit from a low-stress creative outlet, or at least one that doesn’t punish me with anything worse than smart remarks from friends if my output isn’t very good.  As long as I can avoid becoming one of those writers who thinks “man, that Rifts game last night was awesome, and wouldn’t my character be totally sweet in a novel…?”

I’m pretty sure I can.

Writing Life: Addendum to the Previous Post

Tonight I almost had a character already described as “listing a little” (from drinking too much) order himself cocoa, but abandoned it as obscure and obnoxious even for me.

Writing Life: Things I Should Feel Guilty About (but don’t)

For our anniversary yesterday, my O Best Beloved (who we actually call O Stressed Beloved most days) gave me a book I had never heard of, which I have not read yet.  It is called The Interrogative Mood, subheaded “a novel?”, and consists entirely of questions.

That is what can safely be called a “gimmick,” in the same vein as stories which can be read and make logical sense starting at the first word and going forward or starting at the last word and reading backward, so it’s a well-chosen present; even when I’m disappointed by the lack of other content, I appreciate a good bit of linguistic gymnastics.  I’ve been known to inflict poetry with private jokes embedded in the punctuation on friends in the past, and of course Tom Stoppard’s immortal “questions” scene has been a favorite since my first encounter with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. And then there’s a fondness for metrical or rhythmic stresses with significance beyond aesthetic concern (these are hard to explain, even with examples, without getting very wordy — I’ve tried several times at this point).

Thinking back on previous writing, I’m remembering at least the following self-indulgent puns and mechanical twists from my own pen, which I should probably feel a bit guilty about but don’t:

- The line “Run away from home with Tom — — ” in a poem, where the double em-dashes were not simply a rhythmic signifier or stylistic flourish, but represented the missing, final four letters of a specific person’s name.

- The line “But oh!  The longing of my heart for poetry!” at the conclusion of a Shakespearean sonnet, where the “longing” literally lengthens the conclusion two syllables beyond the format.

- A deliberately-phallic combination of a colon and an em-dash at the end of a line of poetry.  Type it out and you’ll see what I mean; I prefer to think of this as an homage to artists like Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift (both of whom produced works where the shape of the type was part of the composition) rather than as the creeping influence of vulgar emoticons and ASCII (which association hadn’t occurred to me at the time of writing).

- The use of the phrase “the ideal sans detail” to describe a post-apocalyptic character’s understanding of the engraving on the front of the Art Institute of Chicago (during a recent rebranding campaign, a new font called “ideal sans” was created for use on museum signage).

- Misuse of the word “recursive” in a sentence with recursive imagery:  “The river jumped and sparkled like a silver fish, and the fish in it jumped and sparkled like a silver river as it wrote elegant, recursively-scripted nonsense across the page of the countryside.”

And those are actually just the ones that came to mind as I was sitting here saying “hm, what might be a fun thing to blog about?”  So I’m sure there’s more lurking in there somewhere, but why give all the good ones away up front?  Read my stuff.  Write me and tell me when you’ve found something that stands out; chances are I’ll have forgotten about it, and be tickled to see it again.  Maybe I’ll even get ambitious and update this post!

Blogging Basics: “About the Author” Updates

Updated the “About the Author” page a touch; some of the items under “Projects” had gotten pretty outdated, and a few things weren’t there at all.  I think my instinctive keeping everything close to the chest until it’s polished and complete, if still in need of criticism and editing, works against the whole display-yourself-for-potential-employers aspect of blogging — looking back over some posts and the “About the Author” page, I do seem to be a little cagey about what the actual content of some of these projects is like.

Mostly, that’s just coming from my automatic assumption that people are only interested in news of note.  I never have anything interesting to say when people ask about my other jobs, either; it always feels like “eh, they’re going.”  The writing’s going.  If it goes somewhere (like a publication), I’ll talk about it; ’til then, it seems like not the sort of thing to encourage people to come look at.  All of which defeats the purpose of an internet presence, which is supposed to be kind of thrusting yourself into the public eye…I’m just not part of the MySpace generation, clearly.

Really, I just need to get a couple of stories run, and then I can say “look, I wrote these things, but you’ll have to go to this publication’s website and give them money to read it”…makes sure only the people who really care wind up seeing it, and supports the folks that are running my stories beside!  So expect those links just as soon as the miracle happens.

Short post today, because I’ve already talked about this subject before, and because I’ve been on a roll with some other writing but pretty frustrated with the blog lately.  No specific problems, just general writers’ block every time I sit down to post something.  It doesn’t seem to have crept into other writing yet, so I’m counting my blessings and getting back to that for now!

Personal Pages: One Of Those Days

Every once in a while, you get one of those days where all you do is stare at blank pages, and maybe write a line or two down and then tear the whole thing off and crumple it up.  Today is one of those days.  I would riff on that subject for a while and go into thinking about the whole creative process and such, but, well, it’s one of those days.  We’ll just pretend I gave up blogging for Lent.

Only not really, because there’ll be another post Friday.

…this Friday, not the Good one.

Personal Pages: A Pony Story at Last

Last night, after we came home from The Princess and the Frog (we are poor, and so we go to movies at the months-later, three-dollar theater), my girlfriend suggested that I write “The Princess and the Frog Was a Good Movie, by Five Year Old Geoffrey” and come to bed.  I was all “murr, should work now,” and then I fell asleep, waking up just long enough to mumble something about getting up with her and writing it in the morning.  I should have taken her advice, is the moral of this story, because it’s now ten in the morning on Monday and the “Five Year Old Geoffrey” approach is still seeming like a good one.

In defense of my childish alter-ego, I am pretty good at short, entertaining things like pony stories, bathroom wall doggerel, and nursery rhymes for the people in my life:

Good-night booze, good-night shoes,

good-night flamingos at the zoo

and good-night to the Laura, who always chews.

The upshot of this is that going to bed with Laura doesn’t actually relieve the creative muscle much or lead to a huge amount of extra sleep, since she asks for pony stories and chews if she doesn’t get them, but it does make me feel a little comfortable about inflicting my blog with said improvisations.  It’s not quite the same thing written, of course — I’ve actually been meaning to explore the difference between making up stories on the spot for an audience versus writing them for a while, now, and haven’t ever gotten it to come out right — but whatever, people liked the “teddy bears and chick razors” story too.

For a long time (and still occasionally) I kept a much less formal online journal under the moniker of “spokenstory,” with the implication that I would save it for content that would be spoken if my readers and I were in the same geographic location, transcribed as accurately as possible for online reading, but I think I wound up breaking from that goal a fair amount — there’s definitely some poetry in there that had the benefit of a few re-writes, at the very least.  Some of them in class, which my professors hopefully mistook for notes, but probably didn’t (certainly the pretentious jerk from the college “publishing” group noticed; he always bugged me about submitting).

But I still try to at least pretend that I can rattle off a good story from the top of my head, even if my star performances remain more in the line of recitation, riffing on the general theme of Kipling stories I heard so many times in my childhood that I know them down to the punctuation marks, or campfire-appropriate poems like the immortal Cremation of Sam McGee.  Sometimes it doesn’t quite work out, especially late at night with just Laura and me for an audience, and I think that’s because I’m dumping so much more creative energy into writing instead, but I’m not quite ready to part with the “spokenstory” label and ideal just yet.

I think this turned out to be the long-promised pony stories post, didn’t it?  That could have worked out worse.

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