19 Jun

5 Questions for Choice of Games

Steam LogoIn case you didn’t know, Choice of Games is a company that’s been putting Interactive Fiction back on the map. Their apps are available through nearly every provider, and they represent a new era in the classic Choose Your Own Adventure style but with the added depth that working off of an electronic device can provide. Now, in very big news, two of their IF novels, Heroes Rise: The Prodigy and Heroes Rise: The Hero Project, are now available on Steam! They are also Steam’s very first text adventure games, an impressive milestone indeed.

Choice of Games logoIn the grand tradition of networking, I was introduced to friend-of-a-friend, Jason Stevan Hill of Choice of Games. You see, fellow author Andrew G. Schneider (author of Nothing Left to Wish For and Undercaffeinated and Overexposed) introduced me to Alana Joli Abbott (author of Choice of Games’s Showdown at Willow Creek and Choice of Kung Fu as well as Into the Reach and Departure) who introduced me to Jason. Jason, in turn, graciously provided me with plenty of information and advice about Interactive Fiction. He spared a few minutes for me to answer some questions about Choice of Games adding Steam to their distribution channels. Continue reading

31 Jan

Andrew G. Schneider, 5 Questions for the Author

Undercaffeinated and Overexposed

I had the pleasure of making Andrew G. Schneider’s acquaintance after two of our articles for Dungeons & Dragons Insider contained some overlapping material. (Both adventures were set in the Chaos Scar, but Andrew’s “Scarred for Life” connected nicely with my adventure “Reflections of Ruin” thanks to an exceptional ogre and the Deck of Many Things.) We continued to correspond and commiserate about the joys of freelance and have even managed to get a game or two in on occasion.

Recently, Andrew published not one but two novels so I took a few minutes to lob some questions his way, chat about YA fiction, and see what he has planned now that Nothing Left to Wish For and Undercaffeinated and Overexposed: The Tale of a Coffee Shop Princess are off his desk. Continue reading

12 Feb

Using Kanban to Write

Staying focused is a key piece of writing for me. My thoughts and ideas tend to be scattered, both physically and mentally, and it is easy to work on multiple things at once. Multitasking yields unsteady progress, though. I wanted to be able to maintain a clearer focus on what projects I was working on and know roughly how far they were from completion. More importantly, I wanted more of them to reach that completed stage faster. So I turned to my background in manufacturing for an answer: kanban.

How Not to Do Kanban
Just. No.

Kanban is a means of tracking workflow with a simple visual chart. The system can take a variety of forms: a whiteboard, Post-It notes, or a digital application. The goal is the same, though: present all work that needs to be done, that is currently being worked on, and is completed, in a single glance. Kanban might seem like an odd choice for a writer, but in a career that relies so heavily on self-motivation and self-assessment, kanban (combined another technique we’ll discuss later) is a great tool to keep you honest with yourself. Continue reading

8 Feb

Kickstart the Weekend: Success Stories

Kickstarter LogoI have stayed away from Kickstarter for a little while recently. The avoidance isn’t any kind of “protest against their business model” or a stand against the notion that everyone and their brother has a Kickstarter. No, it’s that I would get too excited about things that I shouldn’t be buying. This surge of ideas and funding in the gaming community (and beyond) make it difficult to hold onto my money. But, as I’ve said before, if I can’t financially support a good idea, I can at least spread that idea around for others to see.

Most recently, Fred Hicks and Evil Hat Productions took my money (and the money of quite a few others). Although, for what I got for my money, I feel like I robbed him in some fashion. You can expect to hear more about my thoughts on the Fate Core System in the future. In the meantime, we have the final novel in Alana Abbott’s fantasy trilogy, some remarkable 28mm miniatures for the Torn World from Center Stage Miniatures, and my thoughts on the developments with Tabletop Forge and Roll20. Continue reading

18 Dec

The Next Big Thing

Mayan's Next Big Thing
All this assumes that the Next Big Thing isn’t just the end of all the things.

Everyone prefaces these sorts of things with “I don’t do chain letters BUT . . .” So consider mine prefaced as well. Jeff LaSala was kind enough to tag me in this chain that I think was begun by Elaine Cunningham. (Chain letters always make me think of the telephone game that starts at one end of the classroom as “I’m finished with our big stone calendar” and ends on the other end as “The calendar has predicted the date humanity is finished!”)

The idea behind the Next Big Thing is to answer 10 questions about a work in progress, and then tag 5 more writers who do the same thing the following week. I like the idea of promoting some good people. And a little self-promotion never hurt anybody, I suppose. My lead project for 2013 is a novel. –gasp– I’m always working on multiple things, but this is receiving the lion’s share of my efforts. Continue reading

16 Nov

Kickstart the Weekend: Shoggoths and Gamebooks

I’ve been exceedingly remiss in tending my blog of late, and even worse about keeping up to date with some really great Kickstarter projects. Now that I’m caught up on some of the work that pays the bills, I can take a moment to point you towards two Kickstarters that caught my eye. One, Maelorum, gives me flashbacks to my youth, and the other, The Littlest Shoggoth, reminds me that I want the next generation of kids to grow up with a whole new set of “children’s stories.” Both are worthy of your attention. Continue reading

6 Oct

David Blaine’s Greatest Trick

David Blaine
David Blaine

David Blaine finally has the opportunity to impress me.

Andrew W.K. to Play One Million-Volt Keyboard Solo Through David Blaine’s Body

So I just opened a brand new pack of cards and drew one at random. If David Blaine is killed during this stunt, the following day I will go to my mailbox and find a package, postmarked the day before I was born. Inside the package: a shovel. And an invitation to dig his grave anywhere in the world. Continue reading

4 Aug

Saturday Morning Serial: Subdomain, Chapter 7

Subdomain

<< back to Chapter 6

VII.

I found a lady. I dropped credit. She found three more. Good times rolled, and a fresh set of bursts went out, “Coop’s here and he’s treating the world.” Partiers who just got home were turning around at their front doors to head back to Rubberneck. My four ladies turned into a crowd so big, I had to leave my own party and start a new one on a deck over the dance floor. But I brought my first lady. She ditched her friends and followed the credit balance. All those anarchist ideals fluttered away with someone else’s open and endless tab. She learned in one night what it took me years to develop: find the winning horse and get behind him, even if it means you’ll be shoveling some shit. Continue reading

28 Jul

Saturday Morning Serial: Subdomain, Chapter 6

Subdomain

<< back to Chapter 5

VI.

We cruised the streets further and further from the beltway, closer and closer to home, until I picked up an invitation-only burst from a substreet club I never quite managed to outgrow. It had been a while since I dropped into Rubberneck, so either the crowd started off thin, or the poli-punks had already started calling it a night. After being away so long, I imagined I was low on the guest list, low enough that I rarely even got the invites before the place was packed to the point where people started thinking of the fire marshal’s occupancy limit as more than just a suggestion.

The pylons that supported the network of overpasses above the sprawling warehouse made Rubberneck seem like a grand, sprawling temple. The first time I saw it, at twelve years old, the place might as well have been the Taj Mahal. But it was a Taj Mahal that was tossed off one of the bridges overhead, discarded out a car window, and nestled among half-crushed cans and plastic wrappers whipping in the wind. Back then, it didn’t matter to me that it was a gutted storage facility that probably hadn’t been swept out since the turn of the century. For a kid, it was easy access to cheap liquor, fringe music, and radical ideas.

As my teenage years drew to a close, though, I told my girlfriend at the time, “We all grow up, I guess.” And I left her and Rubberneck behind for a long time. Nearly everyone there eventually outgrows the place. Suddenly holding down a job becomes more important than a night out discussing the failure of government over too much house whiskey. A look around reveals that, instead of colluding with like-minded political souls, fueled by that same whiskey, you’re just sitting in a bar with different shit hung on the walls.

If you do you homework for real, and not just spout stilted facts from third-hand accounts, you realize that the same man who owns Rubberneck, owns seven other clubs between DC and Baltimore. Two of those clubs are tucked high up inside the Beltway. The men in those clubs know that their kids are down here, talking revolution, but they know those kids will realize the same thing I did. We all grow up. The difference is that those kids are bound for the clubs where their fathers smoke cigars and pretend they don’t know what house whiskey is. When I grew up, I was bound for a lot less.

But I realized a lot sooner than most. And I did my homework.

A few kids lingered at the fire door near the Crouch, a low concrete shelf jutting from one of the pillars that was a hook-up pad since I was their age, probably even before. The toughs smoked with a couple of dishwashers wearing dirty, white aprons. They wore retro suit jackets, vintage threads with their red ties unknotted, some sort of ironic statement, I supposed. One had drawn the classic anarchy A, but the red clashed with his necktie, and that symbol played itself out decades ago. Anarchy failed. He apparently missed the broadcast.

They all put on their best hard faces the moment I stepped out of the sedan that Walt had parked in the middle of the open lot. They sized up my suit, my age, tried to look harder. Walt swung his legs out of the car, stood up to his full height, and put the width of his frame on display. The kids went for broke, tried to stay hard. “The fuck are you?”

They hadn’t done their homework, not like I had when I was doing this same routine. My homework gave me names, names I dropped like precision munitions. “The guy Anders sent to tell you two For-Foods-in-waiting to get back to loading the dishwashers.”

“This guy for real?” Dishwasher One asked Two.

Two scowled, shook his head, but took a last drag like he was holding back spite. Sometimes, one name puts hard out of fashion. He ducked through the propped open door. “Whatever. I’m done anyhow.”

The three toughs stayed, but their feet shuffled. I remembered how hard it was to back down. But you have to know when enough is enough, and you want to learn that lesson without swallowing too many of your teeth. “Youth is bravery. Right, Walt?”

“S’what made me a monster.” I watched the nervous faces, but behind me I knew that the flecks were stirring across Walt’s skin.

I stepped through the middle of the group, through the doorway, and into a dark space filled with bass echoes. I glanced back. “We’re going to catch a different ride home, I think.”

Walt tossed the car remote at one of the punks. “It’s probably got ‘til daylight. Burn it down.”

The one face I could still see through the open door stared wide-eyed at the forged remote. Walt stiff armed him into the doorframe, on the boy with terrifying quickness, their faces separated by scant inches. “And stay outta the fuckin’ Services.”

He spun the kid out the door, kicking the doorstop out into the lot as part of the motion. The door slammed shut and, as my eyes adjusted, I picked up the gleam of the flecks in Walt’s eyes. “Really, man? Didn’t feel like doing the “stay in school” jingle for him, too?”

I heard Walt exhale lightly. “Sometimes bravery never learns.”

“Well, they’ll remember that, for sure. Think they’ll joyride it first or just head straight to a chop for the money?”

“I’m hoping it’s barely holding together when it rolls into a garage for stripping. Those punks earned a good time. Nobody pissed himself. Think I’m losing my edge, Mr. Cooper?”

“Your fleck batch is past it’s prime, sure. But that stopped being your edge a long time ago. Your edge is knowing that bravery never learns and still coming home to collect your due anyway, whether they’re intending to give it to you or not.”

“You softening me up for something?” As the darkness began dissolving into gray outlines I could see Walt looming over me, already scanning, probably seeing shades color in the darkness I’d never know.

“Yeah, you’re getting the night off so you don’t cramp my style with the ladies.”

“You find a lady here, and my ride home’ll probably be an ambulance.”

on to chapter 7 >>

14 Jul

Saturday Morning Serial: Subdomain, Chapter 5

Subdomain

<< back to Chapter 4

V.

The route from the private room to the parking garage was a parade of “Goodnight, Mr. Cooper.” The whiskey slowed me down just a little, and the hallway tipped in unexpected directions whenever I turned my head. The carpet felt like it had more give, or my footsteps were heavier now. A dip of the chin from the doorman and another “Goodnight, Mr. Cooper.” This time I imagined I’d reached a new level of status and prestige. I imagined the doorman could sense the change, as if my posture had further straightened or I had a telltale gleam of wealth in my eyes.

The second doorman held the door as I stepped onto the concrete of the parking garage. The first strike of my heel against the floor echoed in a way that made me smile. The doorman took it as if it was meant for him, smiled back. Once more, “Goodnight, Mr. Cooper.”

“Goodnight to you, young man.” He looked only a few years younger than me. But now I had the money of old men. My attention and my interest felt like gifts I could give away or withhold. I clumsily thumbed at my touchpad in my pocket and opened a quick-tip channel, when it vibrated once I confirmed a transaction using a digit I had never touched before. I swelled with the thrill of knowing I had never had so much money flow out of an account that was my own. It wasn’t money handled on someone else’s behalf, but money from a credit line that was remained untouched by such an excess. I probably tripled his wages for the year.

The doorman wouldn’t know the amount until he was out of sight and I was gone, but the vibration in his pocket told him there was a tip waiting. The stock goodnight I’d heard following every visit to the Other Coast was appended with “I hope we’ll see you again soon, sir.”

I felt giddy. No other word would suffice. Walt stood alongside the car, swept his eyes over the garage again as I covered the four steps to the sedan, and boxed me in as I opened the door. I tugged it shut and he was already turning to get in front, no doubt scanning again. We surged into motion quickly, and Walt had us merging into a swift traffic flow in less than two minutes. When he was confidant that no one was tailing us, his grip eased up on the steering wheel. Through the rearview mirror, I could see the headlights reflecting off the flecks in his eyes.

“Relax, Walt. It’s a done deal.” I searched the back of the sedan, wondering if I would suddenly discover a mini-bar that I’d missed earlier in the night.

“You don’t pay me to relax. I do that on my own time.” His tone was brusque and he continued to scan for threats, car by car and street by street. But the upward line of his lips belied a thin smile. Walt knew what the deal meant for us. Maybe later, “on his own time,” as he often put it, he would feel as overwhelmed as I did. Now, though, there was joy in duty. Joy and purpose.

The biggest misconception people have about soldiers is that they are machines. It might be what helps them distance themselves from the Deployed Service when the sad stories make it home. And, after all, a man who can’t experience joy also can’t feel homesick, can he?

But Walt was smiling, completely now.

“Obviously, you’ll be getting a raise Walt.” The swelling thrill returned as I imagined the credit at my disposal. “And I think we’re going to relocate. New clothes, too. I felt a little behind the scene after seeing the Senator. A good suit never goes out of style, but… we need a sharper look, I think.”

“You gonna dress me up like your own private Secret Service?”

“I’m thinking a cross between that goon in the dining room and a bouncer at flashy, inside the beltway rub and tug.” My eyes started to scan the side streets as well. But while Walt was tuned in to out of place cars, people, and debris, I scanned for a good spot for a celebratory drink.

“I don’t think they call them rub an’ tugs inside the beltway, Mr. Cooper.”

“I meant the Baltimore beltway, Walt. Get you something shiny an’ purple, put some high-end brand patches up and down the sleeves so people know who you’re representing for. Sound good?”

Walt gave a low chuckle, a rare privilege to hear. “Only if I get a big, gold savior to hang from my neck, too. Gotta complete the look.”

“For you, Walt, any saviors you feel you need. We’ll dip them in gold and hang them from a chain that you could pull a tank with.”

He chuckled once more, then the sound faded into silence. I listened to the wheels thump their way through potholes and the rush of air that accompanied the cars we passed. Bands of yellow light slashed the length of the car at intervals with each passing streetlamp, as if we were being scanned like a barcode. At nearly two o’clock in the morning, no one walked the sidewalks. A handful of businesses remained open at this hour, mostly fast food bunkers, but the harsh white light spilling from them as we sped past only highlighted how empty they were.

The thrill and giddiness slipped away in an instant. They were replaced by a cold vacancy and a formless dread. The next street we crossed seemed to stretch on impossibly far, disappearing into the glittering haze of the dome. It struck me that I didn’t know the name of the street, didn’t know what businesses were on it, or who claimed it as theirs. I didn’t know what substreets ran under it. And if I had been able to see it from the high road earlier that night, I couldn’t say. Down here the city sprawled away in every direction, immense. And suddenly I was unbearably small.

on to chapter 6 >>