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Never split the party.

In the world of DnD that is perhaps the Golden Rule of adventuring.

Bad things happen when you split your party.

I’m sure there have been times when my gaming group has split up our characters and things went just fine. We came, we saw, we conquered, and we got some really great XP and loot to divide between far fewer than the normal group number. Ding! We level up early! Yay!

Those times are hazy in my memory. What stands out are the moments it did not work out in our favor.

I had been gaming for about a year when I saw this Murphy’s Law play itself out. Adventuring in a giant city we were schmoozing one of the head honchos and hoping to get out of it all relatively unscathed. When things were going good our Bard decided to wander off down the hall. And then things turned sour. Negotiations didn’t work out and we found ourselves in initiative. Things were bad enough being down a man… and then the Bard came back with several more giants in tow.

Miraculously, we all got out alive.

My group seems to skew lucky in that way when in combat. Our DM once sent a trap that our tank fell into, finding himself face to face with a HUGE earth elemental. Any other player would have been dead, but the dwarf’s armor class was so high the elemental needed to roll a 19 or 20 to hit him. He downed that monster all by himself. We were all totally jealous.

But splitting the party doesn’t always happen in combat. It happens out of combat, in towns when everyone gets to hang loose. These are the moments my gaming group forgets the rule, and it’s when we have the worst luck.My Bard once thought nothing could be more satisfying than setting the Paladin up with a nice wench. He was wound awfully tight and needed to chill out. Little did I know that wench was a shape-shifting monster who attacked him the moment his armor was off. Another time my Barbarian was left alone in a bar when a shifty Rogue intent on joining the party sidled my way. This set in motion a chain of events no one could have seen coming. Party members fought party members and we opened a gateway to hell that popped out demons like candy from a machine. The world imploded. The game ended, and we sat in awe at the havoc we had reaped upon the world by splitting up.

Never split the party.

In my writing life I forgot this all important rule. I know it doesn’t apply to exciting story telling. After all, who wants things to go as methodical as possible? Boring. However, there it was in the back of my mind, the idea that the whole group was going to make it out of the dungeon they were delving. I had it all planned out. One of them is chicken shit and stays behind, the other two make it to the treasure and then they come back for him.

I neglected to consider how the dungeon works. There are magical transports that one cannot come back from. You need magic of your own to get back through. They were hoping to get a special magical item at the end of all things that would make that possible…but they aren’t getting it. It isn’t there anymore. I had forgotten that there would be no magical deus ex machina to solve all their problems.

As soon as the door closed on the party member who stayed behind one of my characters remembered what I had forgotten, and it floored me. I had known this was coming, and yet I hadn’t. I went to work considering other methods of character retrieval and then remembered the all important villains whose plans do not make rescuing possible. The attack will be brutal and the two remaining party members will be forced to flee.

They may not be able to come back.

I had split the party, and casualties are inevitable. Things are not going to go as easily as I had planned, and no matter the argument that as an author I can change the flow of events to create a reality in which it all works out I realize that I don’t want to. I don’t want their lives to be easy; I want them to be real. I want my characters to deal with adversity in ways they did not expect.

So, much like the Fellowship of the Ring loses Gandalf, my group is losing a member. He may come back as Gandalf the White, but he will not be present for the next leg of the journey.

That’s what happens when you split the party.

Boomerang

Posted: March 31, 2017 in Uncategorized
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I may have mentioned this before, but I’m a nail biter. 31 years old and I still can’t kick the habit. It’s not for lack of trying, either. In fact, there are times when my nails get so long I actually need to cut them; when everything goes according to plan and I hardly think about them.

Then life hits, stress levels adjust, and I’m right back to ripping, biting, and gnawing.

It’s a nervous habit. The older I get the more I realize it doesn’t have much to do with a desire to bite them, it’s more of a compulsion. It happens in the moments I’m not thinking about it. I’m sitting at my desk, fiddling with an edge of a nail and then suddenly there is a divot, a small indentation that my other nail fits perfectly into. I worry at it, and then it is gone, leaving a jagged, uneven mess in its place. Can’t leave it like that, so I continue to pick and bite until it has achieved a new level of sameness, one that is far shorter than it started.

Every time I do this I wonder why I didn’t just grab my nail clippers. I have them. They travel in my purse for times like that when an edge needs to be cut. Only clipping them doesn’t seem to satisfy the compulsion, the urge, the need to relieve some inner anxiety in a physical way.

No matter how hard I try, I never seem to form the habit of leaving my nails alone. There are moments of triumph and then agonizing defeat.

Likewise, the road to writing has been bumpy this month.

February went off without a hitch. I upped my word count for a total of 3,532 for the month.  I was looking forward to another increase for March.

It didn’t happen. While February was full of nothing but smooth growth, March saw things torn apart. Life was too much and the tenuous hold I’d made upon creating a new habit was destroyed. My writing this month looks much like my nails. Not much more than a nub.

April will be better.

2015 Retrospective

Posted: January 4, 2016 in Uncategorized

There’s something about starting a new year that makes a person want to look back on the old one. Perhaps it’s the idea of starting fresh. Maybe we are simply looking for proof that the year, which has already so swiftly passed us by, has not been wasted. Whatever the reason, when I look back I always find far more achievements and milestones than I expected.

And so, without further ado, here is 2015 as it flew past me: (more…)

At book club I don’t feel like a nerd.

When asked, I will readily admit to being a nerd in regards to a great many things. I like comic books, I play Dungeons and Dragons, and I read a lot of books. These are all things that lend themselves to various forms of nerd-dom. What’s odd, however, is that even when I have these commonalities amongst peers I rarely get the opportunity to “geek out” over some of my loves.

Reading tops the list of things I am nerdy about but don’t often get to geek out over. I have a several friends who are equally book wormy. Heck, one of them just started a blog about books they love. But no matter how much I may gush over how fantastic a book was, how funny, sad, or sentimental I never get to fully geek out.

It’s because I’m a Literature Nerd.

When I was still in school my favorite subject was often whatever literature class I was currently enrolled in. I love discussing the hidden meanings found in books, the themes that are laid out among the pages, all those things that a great many people loathed when they sat in English class I thrive on.

When I gush about fantastic reads to my friends I don’t get to talk about that sort of thing, though. I focus on the surface. The characters, the events, the story. Half the time I have to keep it cryptic because it’s a book recommendation rather than an actual discussion. No one wants to have a book spoiled before they even pick it up.

That’s what makes book club so great. Everyone has read the book already! No spoilers!

This month we read Michael J. Sullivan’s Hollow World, a sci-fi time-traveling romp into a future where a far less diverse humanity is thrown into chaos when they are visited by a 21st century man. As the time traveler navigates through a strange land he ends up learning a lot about himself and what life is all about.

Since the book was my pick I was given the task of leading the discussion. I was more excited about this prospect than I probably should have been. As I flipped through the pages of my e-book I made notations of questions I wanted to delve into, and highlighted passages that I found intriguing. This evening I then got to lay it out in all its geeky glory.

One member mentioned that I had really gone deep with the book, that by comparison their thoughts were far closer to the surface. I just smiled. It’s the kind of thing I haven’t had the opportunity to do in over 6 years: actually discuss a book and the questions it raises about life. Since Hollow World runs in a similar vein to the classic H.G. Wells classic The Time Machine there was plenty questions raised about humanity and what it means to live life as a human.

It certainly isn’t your standard book club book, but it was enjoyed by all and paved the way for some fantastic discussions. If you have a book club and are looking for something off the beaten path you should pick it up.

Crossing my fingers the pick for next month is just as delightful, because I’m really starting to enjoy book club.

What’s up with Hollywood lately?

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like they’ve become a bit remake-reboot-inspired-by happy. I’ll admit, I’m young, and with not even 30 years on this Earth I may have overlooked the obvious back when I was younger, but recently when I see movie news I feel like all the ideas I see have already been done. I don’t mean it in that “Oh, this is so old hat,” kind of way, I mean literally I have seen these movies before.

Let’s start the ball rolling with the book-to-movie trend. I love books. It’s exciting to see a story that I’ve enjoyed brought to the screen… but lately I feel like I could see almost the entirety of my reading habits that way. Seriously, as a person who enjoys fantasy and sci-fi movies I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that wasn’t based on a book or comic. Hunger Games, Avengers, Warm Bodies, Guardians of the Galaxy, the Hobbit… the list goes on and on. Should I broaden the spectrum? Ender’s Game, The Giver, Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars. Even How to Train Your Dragon is loosely based on a book series!

The last movie I saw that wasn’t based on a book was probably Jupiter Ascending. Wait, let me fact check that one. Oh, thank God. I thought for sure I was going to have to have a tantrum of some kind. Admittedly, the movie lacked something as it pitted world-building versus character building but hey, there were issues with the three Hobbit movies, too… like the fact that they didn’t need three of them. Anyways, like I said, that’s maybe the only fantasy movie I’ve seen in the past few years that wasn’t a book first. You just don’t find them. They’re like the mythical unicorn of fantasy films. You hear about them existing in the wilds… but you never see them, not when there’s all the advertising for the next book series turned movie!

Hollywood seems to have latched onto the idea that popular books make popular movies. With all the money they can make from it I don’t blame them. You have a built-in fanbase. The problem is that no matter how much I enjoy seeing my favorite books on the screen I can’t help but feel a little… bored. Already loving the book kind of sucks the excitement out of a movie. I know who’s dying, who’s getting together, and how it ends. Half the fun of seeing a movie is to get so engrossed you worry for the character’s safety, on the edge of your seat with anticipation of whether the girl gets the guy. To be quite honest, when I was gifted Horns for my birthday, both the book and the DVD, I watched the movie first. I had neither seen nor read it before it was given to me. I insisted on watching the movie first. Not because I thought the movie would pale in comparison to the book (most people enjoy the books far more than the movie adaptations) but because I wanted to watch a movie and be surprised, dammit!

Thinking of things I’ve already seen before can we spend a moment to talk about the influx of remakes and reboots? The big story lately has been all about Ghostbusters. They have an all female cast! Wouldn’t you know it then word gets out that there’s also plans for another Ghostbusters that features men. Let’s hop on that bandwagon right away, right? Don’t get me wrong, Ghostbusters was a fantastic movie, as was the second one (though Vigo the Carpathian still scares the crap out of me). They were made quite some time ago, longer than the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie (I’m not going to get into that remake/reboot…the lips upset me too much to even consider seeing. Or further complicate it by mentioning the gem of my childhood was a comic book first.). Do we need to reboot Ghostbusters? Can’t we let Ghostbusters be Ghostbusters and keep the awesome story alive by, you know, watching the original?

This morning I looked at my list of headlines and one of them was that Scarface was getting a remake. I nearly flipped my top, and felt myself compelled to click to find out what possibly shenanigans they were talking about. Sure enough, they’re taking the premise of the movie, putting it in a different time, a different place, but basically telling the same story and I’m assuming they’ll title it Scarface because why get the buzz surrounding it now if that wasn’t the plan? The script will be brought to us by the guy who also penned a remake of The Birds. Yes, HItchcock’s classic really needs an update. Just like Nightmare on Elm Street and Carrie did.

What, did people suddenly run out of new ideas? Are they too scared to take a risk on something new? Are we the people becoming complacent as we wallow in the same story in different packaging?

Hollywood isn’t the only show in town. There are tons of indie films that are doing fantastic things. I just wish the indie stuff could go a bit more mainstream, you know? As a person who typically can’t even tell you what’s in the regular theatres I’ll never be able to track down limited release stuff. The fault is in my own preferences for entertainment. I’m far more interested in books, in board games, in hanging out with friends to even be able to see trailers for the mainstream stuff. It’s a problem.

Perhaps I was blissfully ignorant as a child, but I just feel like the ideas running around Hollywood back then weren’t so…used. Like the movies that stand out in my mind were those that didn’t stand on the shoulders books. Of course, mine was the generation that saw such fantastic reboots as The Brady Bunch Movie, and Dukes of Hazard, so maybe Hollywood is exactly as its always been, I’ve just never managed to see the man behind the curtain before.

Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, John Henry… If you grew up in America no doubt you’ve heard these names before. They fell trees with a single chop of their ax and hammer steel spikes faster than steam-powered machines. They’re the tales America was built on, the larger than life heroes of old.

Intriguingly, none of these tales are told as though anything is out of the ordinary. Paul Bunyan was a mountain of a man, but he was never described as a giant, despite being much larger than his companions. His blue ox, Babe, was so colored because it had been so cold when the ox was born that it turned her blue. This seemed perfectly plausible when I first encountered the story because it was told with an air of authority. In fact, despite Paul Bunyan being larger than life in a laundry list of ways I never would have labeled it a fantasy story. He’s a stretch of the imagination, but nothing about the way its told ever goes beyond the kind of yarn spun around a fishing trip and the whopper that got away.

Paul Bunyan belongs to the elite group of folklore known as a tall tale, and it’s a form of storytelling I haven’t seen much use of in a modern world. Its also one that I hadn’t given much thought to until reading Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli.

As soon as I read the first chapter I knew what I was in for: a tall tale.

Maniac Magee is told by a first person narrator who has heard all of the stories, of the extraordinary Maniac, and is pleased as punch to tell it all to you complete with all the exaggerations. It’s a fun way to begin a book, leaving no question in my mind that I was going to hear some miraculous stories of Maniac’s prowess and though it may seem unbelievable the narrator assured me it was all 100% true. I could suspend my disbelief for that.

When I was finished I couldn’t help but browse the reviews at Goodreads. The ending lacked the punch I had been hoping for and I was wondering if others felt the same. Instead of reviews detailing a disappointing ending I instead was met with reviews that seemed disappointed at the genre.  Several reviewers stated that the story seemed far-fetched, or that they were upset that the book never told them it was a fantasy. These reviews made me do double-takes.

Maniac Magee isn’t a fantasy as we know them now. There is no magic, no monsters, just a boy who seems a little too wonderful to be believed. Yes, the story is far-fetched but that’s the nature of the whopper-of-a-beast. It seemed odd to me that the book hadn’t been identified for what it was: a tall tale.

Then I took a step back and realized how often I’ve experienced stories of this nature.

Well, there were the folktales such as Paul Bunyan to be sure, but those I hadn’t looked at since I was in elementary school. In the culture of today the closest thing I had experienced was the movie Big Fish, which is all about a guy’s dad who has been relating the amazing details of his life as tall tales which we see come to life on the screen. It still maintains the essence of a tall tale, however, because there is a narrator telling you its all true, no matter how unbelievable.

I started talking to my friends. Where have the tall tales gone?

Truthfully, I’m not sure. In a time when everything fits into neat categories and amazing tales happen all the time in a variety of media we have lost the narrations that give it all that flavor of a tall tale. My boyfriend and I went back and forth over superheroes and if they were our modern day version of the genre: “normal” people doing larger than life things.

Bruce Wayne as Batman was my ultimate example. The Batman transcends even himself. He has a mythology wrapped around him so thick he’s become more than he is. Then I was reminded that his persona is only larger than life within the confines of Gotham city. Here in the real world we know he’s a fictional character, so he’s out of the game.

We discussed the stories that a friend of ours tells of the exploits of his youth. The stories he tells are amazing, and at times are just a little too perfect to be 100% true. He steps into the realm of the tall tale when he exaggerates his reflexes at catching items while in a dead sleep, but he never fully crosses over to telling a tall tale, it’s just a bit stretched is all. It borders into being a tall tale, but as his stories are only legendary to himself and his close circle of friends it didn’t seem to fully satisfy the bill.

After hours of discussing with people I know I’m no closer to an answer than I was when I started, and so I open it up to the internet for debate. Do we live in a culture where there are no tall tales? Is it a byproduct of living in an era where stories are written and performed but almost never told face-to-face? Has the tall tale changed and evolved into the superheros we are so enamored with but know to be purely fiction?

Now’s the time to weigh in and solve the mystery that has been on my mind for months.

It’s Over 9,000!

Posted: January 7, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

I have a problem.

There are too many fantastic books out in the world.

I’ve known this for a while. Growing up my friends always had new suggestions of things to read. Working in a school I see kids running around with titles I have never heard about. Goodreads sends me e-mails with new titles and suggestions in their monthly e-mails. Not to mention the fact that one of my best friends is a book-a-holic book-seller who is constantly bringing books into his house and then piling them into my arms to take with me.

This is all well and good, wonderful even. Th world can never have enough stories. There’s always something more to tell and infinite ways to tell it.

The problem is that my list of “to-read” books is growing infinitely longer and I’m not making any progress.

The list I have on Goodreads is over 100 titles long, and I know I’ve got quite a few previews squirreled away on my Kindle to remind me which I want to buy the full version of. The problem is these lists do not overlap. A few of them have, but most of them I find on my Kindle and leave on there as a list, or I find them on Goodreads and put into that list.

Unlike my recyclables they do not co-mingle.

When I first realized this around New Year’s I thought it was fine. After all, I read a good deal of books in a year. Oh! Here’s my Goodreads Year in Review, that will surely prove that having such a long list is fine.

Only, despite how much I read there were not nearly as many books on my Goodreads review as I had imagined. Thirty. That’s how many were tallied online. I know I read more. I’m sure of it. But I wasn’t very good at keeping track and now all I have are memories telling me I devoured more than that in a year. The proof, however, is noticeably absent.

I also know that almost none of those books had been on my to-read list. A few, yes, but most books that I read last year were handed to me by a friend or been pulled out of my mental list (yes, I have a mental list, too. try not to judge me too harshly).

It’s ridiculous. What is the point of having lists of books if you don’t read them? It’s like hoarding book titles not to see the contents but to prove you have great expectations for them.

I’ve since decided that I need to start utilizing that list. So I went to the library during the winter break and I picked up four books, all of which were on my list. When I’m done with them my plan is to “rinse and repeat”. I know I’ll make exceptions for some books that haven’t been put down on a list but I want to read all the same. The goal, however, is to see how many I can get through, how many I can get off the list, how short the list is capable of becoming.

The only thing I have going against me is the fact that I will undoubtedly put more books on the list as the year progresses. I just can’t help myself.