Hey Everyone

So the Blog is live.  I still have some kinks to work out but, here it is.  I’m not overly certain what I’ll do with it, beyond obviously using it as an area to delve even deeper into analyzing my various hobbies that is.  I can’t imagine everyone who has ended up with a successful blog started out with a firm idea of what they intended to do with it, so I feel like I’m fine just posting about junk I like.  We’ll see where it goes from here.

I can certainly attest to one thing though.  Without Twitter, you likely wouldn’t be reading anything I’ve already placed on the blog (some of my older contributions to other sites) or what I may write in the future.  Twitter has been this crazy wonderful addition in my life.  Not the app itself mind you, but the awesome people it has introduced me to.  There are too many to even list here, and I know I would leave out some important ones so I won’t even try.  Suffice it to say, the people I’ve met over the last few years since joining Twitter have pried my eyes open to so much more in the hobbies I love with dynamite, and have even encouraged me to pursue things I’ve only considered in daydreams.  All of this is just making me all the angrier that my flipping Twitter Widget doesn’t seem to want to work though… so I’ll move on.

WIDGETS!!!

So settle in folks, and follow me if you wish.  I hope to bring new, interesting content your way.  Or maybe even a new take on a topic that’s being regurgitated all over the place.  Likely I’ll just spew the same stuff but with like jokes or something.

P.S. You can add a Post Script to a blog right?  I think that’s a thing… Anywho, the whole “Melvin Smif” thing.  It’s a nickname given to me by my best buds growing up who are all members of “The Krew”.  Maybe one day I’ll write up a post describing what exactly The Krew is, though that particular rabbit hole can be delved at a later date.

 

 

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Short Story – Fight Night

*Originally Posted to Sidetangent Magazine

Patrick slowly pulled his shorts up to his waist, the words “Tricky Pat” emblazoned in gold against the light green material behind him.  A part of him marveled at how quiet things were in the locker room this time, usually he could hear the crowd.  Mostly though, he methodically donned his gear and prepared for the coming battle.  He did note how odd the time of day was though.  Normally when he dreamed of fights they took place at the usual hours.  This was the first time he’d ever had such a dream where he mentally calculated the time at, what was it… roughly 3 am?  Not that it mattered.  Somehow he knew instinctively he was still fast asleep in his tiny apartment.  Maybe he’d wake up soon.

He casually wondered who he was fighting, usually it was someone recent or an odd character from a show he’d been watching.  One night he’d fought the Italian Stallion himself after watching the entire Rocky series being marathoned on T.V.  This dream seemed even more lucid than usual, he thought.

Patrick had been dreaming of fights for as long as he could recall after deciding to get serious with a career in Mixed Martial Arts.  Before that, he’d had lucid dreams about selling mattresses at his old job.  He’d always “dreamed big”, a phrase his mother had coined after hearing his many retellings of adventures in his dreams.  Of course when he was a kid his dreams had been interesting, not just about work.  His dreams about fighting felt like extra practice to Patrick though, so no complaints there.  Not everyone could recall their dreams as perfectly as him, and he chose to feel lucky about that.

Instinctually he knew the time had come to enter the arena so he walked through the doorway expecting to hear his bagpipe intoned entry music blare over a cheering crowd, what good was dreaming about a fight that didn’t involve all the perks eh?  When his music didn’t play he stepped out of the entryway and glanced about.  No one sat in the stands.  Well… it seems this might be an odd little nightmare, he chuckled to himself, I mean, with no adoring fans how could it be anything but?  He made his way to the ring though, it sat empty as well.

He climbed in and stood for a bit.  When nothing happened he sighed and commenced to doing some warm up jabs and stretches to pass the time.  It was an odd thing but perhaps this little jaunt into his nighttime world held nothing but time waster this evening.  He wished he could just will the time away though, this was boring.

Suddenly with a bright light and a crash of sound the recently empty auditorium was alive with activity.  Initially, he was utterly overwhelmed, and he reeled from the cascade of it all bombarding his senses.  When his mind finally slipped back into a place of reason he wondered if he had suddenly gone a bit mad.  In the stands was a crowd now, but this smattering of figures were almost completely alien to him.

Some were half human, half animal.  He saw a man walking upon hooves with horns growing from his head sitting down next to what he assumed was a women covered in feathers.  Others were lithe men and women, although gender was difficult to tell sometimes, dressed in all manner of plant life.  One man was even dressed head to toe in thorny brambles.  Still, the strangest of the attendants were dressed in shadows in the back of the auditorium.  Nearly formless they were, and Patrick felt a shiver slip down his back when he saw them staring directly into the ring, utterly attentive.

By now he had pinched himself a number of times. He mentally begged his mind to awaken so he could remove himself from this accursedly strange dream, but to no avail.  Seemed he was stuck here until the dream ended.  It wasn’t the first time the pinch trick didn’t work.  Instead he tried to ignore the activity around him and decided to focus back on his usual warm up routines.  He didn’t notice the small man who slipped into the arena with him.

“Hello there Patrick,” the man said cheerily, “well met and good fortunes to you sir!”

Patrick nearly jumped out of his skin but maintained his composure.  “Errr… hi there,” Patrick blurted out as he took the man’s proffered hand into a handshake.  Patrick suddenly tasted bright green as they both shook.  It made no sense but, there it was.  Maybe he was getting the hang of this particular brand of dream.

The man was small and thin, dressed as oddly as many in the audience but perhaps more formal, if that was the right word for it.  He had a top hat upon his head that looked hundreds of years old and he had donned a tattered suit that appeared directly out of a twenties gangster flick.  Patrick decided not to pay any mind to his feet though.  He’d simply decided he didn’t want to accept how real those goat hooves looked.

“So,” Patrick said, deciding to roll with the dream.  “Just what is going on here and how is it you know my name?”

“Why, you are preparing for a fight Patrick,” the smaller man stated.  “I would think all of this around you would be a telling sign!”

“Heh, I guess so.  Although this isn’t like any crowd I’ve ever seen, I have to admit that.”

“No… no, I suspect it isn’t.  Though I would say you are certainly tied to the community surrounding you than you might think!  Ah, where are my manners.  The name is Robin, and I suspect you shall soon know more than you ever truly wished to know!”

With that the strange man leapt from the arena and disappeared into the crowd to take a seat next to two very tall individuals dressed in flowing moss robes and what looked like antlers in the shapes of crowns.  He was beginning to feel very out of sorts about this whole thing.  No matter how vivid his dreams it had never been quite like this, but nothing this strange could be real.  That he knew for certain…right?

Soon trumpets blared and he saw someone approaching the ring from the opponent’s entrance.  He sighed inwardly and was glad to finally be moving toward something somewhat normal for a change.  The man approaching the ring was no one he had ever laid eyes one but he looked to be about the same age as Patrick.

There was something about him that seemed familiar, but struggle as he might he couldn’t place it.  The strangest thing about the man was the venomous look he shot Patrick as he leapt into the ring.  He said not a word but stood across from Patrick with a very severe look in his eyes.  The newcomer spared only one other glance, a hateful one, for that Robin fellow in the crowd.  God, this kept getting stranger.  Nothing to do but give back a hard stare himself he supposed.

Something had bothered Patrick since he had seen the approaching competitor.  There wasn’t a referee to speak of anywhere.  Was this even going to be an MMA fight he wondered?  What sorts of rules were to be followed in this dream world?  He was about to speak up when the tall figure seated next to Robin stood.  The entire auditorium was abruptly silenced.  Patrick had grown so use to the din of these strange chattering people that he was caught off guard by the silence.

The tall man spoke.  “Good members of the folk, you are brought before this place today to witness a sortie of no small interest to the two men before you and to our mischievous friend Robin Goodfellow here.”

The man in the ring stepped forward.  “That is correct Lord Oberon,” he said pointing at the small man next to the antlered lord, “I claim that Robin Goodfellow, or “Puck”, as he so often names himself has stolen my life using this bastard in front of me and I aim to defeat him to prove it so!”

Patrick could do little more than watch in fascination at the proceedings in front of him.

“That is enough of that,” shouted Oberon.  “We all know your claims Jiri.  You have spoken them to all who would lend an ear.  I’ll not waste a moment longer of this court’s time on the ranting you are so prone to lapse into!”

The man named Jiri immediately ceased his yelling but returned his terribly angry face to Patrick.  Again Patrick was struck by the familiarity in that face but he could not quite place where he had seen this man before.  He noticed out of the corner of his eye that the woman next to the Oberon fellow had whispered something into his ear.

“Ah,” Lord Oberon said with a knowing smile.  “My lovely partner and Queen has reminded me that young Patrick has yet to hear the charges brought against him by the mortal man Jiri.  I will endeavor to inform him without bringing any tedium to those who have heard this tale spun so many times already.”

Lord Oberon stared directly at Patrick now and a feeling of awe shuddered through him as the otherworldly man spoke up.  “Jiri is obviously a mortal man dear Patrick and you are to us obviously part fey,” Lord Oberon began.  “I see the confusion in your eyes young man but you will merely need to get past it as I do not wish to belabor the point.  When you were a new babe born of a mortal woman and Robin Goodfellow here, he took it upon himself to play a trick on the man and woman you’ve grown to know as your parents.  He stole away the mortal boy who has grown into the man you see before you and left you in his place.”

Patrick enjoyed fantasy to an extent and he recalled hearing something about a “Changeling Trick” in the few novels he had read but he had no clue as to why something he had barely ever read about would lodge itself in his head enough to show up in this elaborate dream.  It was very strange, but what hadn’t been here?

Suddenly though Patrick realized what was so familiar about this Jiri guy.  He looked almost exactly like his father only younger.  He supposed it went well with the narrative being spun out by his subconscious but damn if it wasn’t being extra precise tonight!

“To make this matter simple,” Lord Oberon droned on.  “Jiri has committed a crime in the realms of the fey recently, slaying one of our kind.  In his efforts to save himself he has endeavored to reverse the Changeling prank pulled by your true father and return to the mortal realms leaving you to be punished in his stead.  I must say it is a bit of wrangling with our laws that has even I impressed, perhaps a bit of our people does truly reside in him.”

Robin Goodfellow stood.  “So there it is Patrick,” he said as his eyes twinkled with a secret joke.  “Try and win this bout please.  I would hate to see you put to death for the crimes of Jiri here.”

“Do you have anything to say to this Patrick?” questioned Lord Oberon, clearly hoping to get on with things.

Thoughts and fears raced through Patrick’s mind as he contemplated all he had just heard.  What could he even say to all this?  The dream was beginning to feel far too real.  If things hadn’t been so odd he would swear this was not a dream at all.  Hell, what could he do about it anyway?  Real or no this was going to go down it seemed.  Nothing really left but to fight, at least he knew a thing or two about fighting.

“No…Lord Oberon,” Patrick stammered.  “I’m ready.”

“Excellent,” sighed Oberon.  “Let the match thus commence.”

Jiri launched himself at Patrick with little warning.  There was no bell, no indication that the match was to begin but Lord Oberon’s words.  The crowd exploded into cheering the moment Jiri leapt at Patrick.  It was due solely to Patrick’s instincts that he leapt out of the way and only caught a glancing blow to the side of the head.

Patrick staggered to the side and soon realized that Jiri was nowhere near done, he was coming at Patrick in a feverous blitz of jabs and punches.  It was frightening in its ferocity but the man’s attacks had no art to them, no style at all.  It was soon into Jiri’s onslaught that Patrick saw an opening and cracked Jiri across the face.  They stumbled apart.  Jiri wiped blood from his chin and looked up at Patrick.

“So you truly do know how to fight,” Jiri rasped.  “I was told you fought other mortals in this realm but wasn’t certain if such fights could prepare anyone against someone trained by the fey.”

Patrick was confused again, why was this man talking to him?  You don’t just hold conversations in an MMA fight.  He pondered it for a moment and then came to the conclusion that he just needed to accept that this was not going to be any kind of fight he was used to.  He steeled his resolve.

As they circled looking for another opening Jiri spoke once more.  “What was it like living a borrowed life?” he asked.  “Going about your day to day routines knowing you didn’t belong, knowing that you could never be like the people around you?”

Patrick didn’t answer, his life had never felt “borrowed”, but instead went for a few kicks that didn’t connect and they danced away from each other again.

“If it was anything like my life,” Jiri spat, “it was a living Hell!  Time and time again I was reminded I could never be like those around me, never as beautiful, never as strong, never as clever!”

He came at Patrick in another rush of haymaker punches.  Patrick knew if one of those connected solidly he would never survive it.  This man was certainly stronger than Patrick was.  He knew if he waited though an opening would present itself.  Nothing about Jiri’s style spoke to any kind of actual stylized training.  Just brute force displayed itself here.

They fought for what seemed like ages, Patrick would land a blow that Jiri seemed to shake off with pure rage and Jiri would never hit Patrick more than a glance.  It became readily apparent there would be no break at 5 minutes, that time had likely already come and gone.  No, Patrick felt certain there were no more than one round in this fight.

Suddenly one of Jiri’s jabs went longer than he had likely expected it to and Patrick was there to take the advantage.  He used the momentum of the wild jab to pull Jiri to the ground and was soon starting a grapple.  Finally, if he could get Jiri into one of the holds he was so well known for, a tap out could spell the win.  They didn’t call him ‘Tricky Pat’ for nothing after all.

Jiri seemed to get that the game was almost up and he struggled harder than any man Patrick had ever been up against to work himself free.  Time seemed to slow and Patrick caught the leering looks from the audience and was reminded how odd those peering into the fight were.  He registered on some level that he had the backing of the crowd, they wanted him to win.  It spurned further energy into his efforts.

Jiri panted as pressure was added to the locking hold Patrick had on him.  “Don’t you understand…,” Jiri gasped.  “I can’t lose…this fight…they will kil…l me.”

“If I understand it correctly,” Patrick grunted into Jiri’s ear, “I die in your place if I to lose pal!  That ain’t happening!”

Suddenly, Patrick felt this was all very much real and he doubled down his efforts.  Jiri screamed.  It’ll be over soon, Patrick thought, I have control and nothing short of…

*SNAP!* Patrick felt Jiri’s arm break and the surprise of it caused him to release the man.  Jiri scrambled away grimacing in pain.  Tears streaked out of the broken man’s eyes as he stood, his arm hanging uselessly at his side.

“I’LL KILL YOU CHANGELING!” Jiri screeched and he flung himself at the prone body of Patrick.

Patrick felt his nose crush when Jiri’s fist plunged into his face and stars lit up before eyes.  He didn’t know how he got away from the next few blows but he found himself inexplicably on his feet across from Jiri.  He was feeling dizzy but he knew he needed to stay aware an on his feet if he were to survive the berserker rage that would soon be headed his way.  He simply counted himself lucky that the punch had come from Jiri’s less dominant arm.

“You have no clue what it was like you bastard!” Jiri screamed.  “Mortals aren’t meant to live among these creatures,” Jiri swept his hand across the audience, “they don’t hold disdain for us mortals, they don’t hold love!  They are indifferent!  I am nothing to them!”

Patrick kept waiting for the attack but it seemed like Jiri simply wanted to talk more.  This was fine with him.  He needed to clear his rattling brain.

“You know what it took to get noticed,” Jiri continued, “I had to kill one of them!”  He rasped out laughter.  “That’s right, they sure took notice then!”

Patrick felt much stronger now so he took a few steps closer.  “You know what Jiri?” Patrick asked, panting.

“What!?” Jiri sneered.

“None of that is my fault, until tonight I had no knowledge of ANY of this!”  Patrick lunged forward and clubbed Jiri in his broken arm and the man howled.  “You can’t use me to solve your problems, I’VE NOT WRONGED YOU!” Patrick screamed as he brought another punch across the kneeling Jiri’s face and the man went down.

Patrick knelt and reached back to add another blow to his competitor’s face but his hand was brought short and he once again tasted bright green.  He looked up.

“He’s out cold son,” Puck said, “You’ve surely won the day”

Lord Oberon stood and eyed the ring.  “It seems Patrick has proven himself the victor over the mortal Jiri,” he said.  “Very well, take Jiri away for his execution as he has exhausted his last bastion of safety.”

“Wait!” screamed Puck. “You’ve forgotten something my lord.”

“What could I have possibly forgotten trickster?” though Oberon spoke will a cool voice Patrick felt a simmering rage beneath the words.

“It is the right of a victor in combat to choose his foe’s fate, dear Lord Oberon.  I believe that young Patrick here has all rights to choose Jiri’s punishment.”

Lord Oberon looked as if he were going to leap into the ring himself and show Puck just exactly what he thought of the smaller man’s babbling but Queen Tatiana laid a hand upon the Fey King’s arm and stated serenely “it is one of our oldest laws my dear Lord, and despite the dangerous game our trickiest cousin plays his words hold merit.  Young Patrick is part fey and he has all rights of our court for that reason”

“Lord Oberon noticeably cooled.  “My lady Queen speaks true, as such we leave this murderer’s fate to you Son of Puck.”  He turned to the audience.  “It is time to take our leave.  We no longer have business here.  Jiri’s fate will be decided, but we have no just cause to stay behind and hear it rendered.”

“Agreed,” the Queen said, “we leave this matter to Patrick and even his father Puck who spoke on Jiri’s behalf.”

With that the strange gathering dissipated as suddenly as it came and a great silence replaced the gathered masses.  The auditorium was empty.

Puck turned to Patrick.  “It seems things are up to you now young man, you’ll need to decide what to do with this troubled lout here.”

“I don’t really understand what to do Robin,” Patrick said.  “If they want me to kill him they’ll have to find a different butcher, he seems to have had a hard enough life as is despite killing someone, if that’s true of course.  I for one know nothing of the charges brought against him.”

“Oh he did commit the deed,” Puck sighed.  “I and many others were there to see it.”

“Well I’ve got nothing to go on but your word Robin, and the word of all those strange folk who called me one of their own.”

“Very true Patrick and I understand your hesitancy.  In fact, I have an idea for how to punish Jiri in a manner that may be helping him as well.”

“What might that be?”

“Well,” Puck said as he pulled a small bag from his belt.  “I have here a powder that can be administered to our sleeping friend that will make him forget his entire life with the fey.  He will awaken here in the center of this ring with amnesia and will likely be able to carry forward a normal life in the Mortal lands”

“So he would begin a new life at nearly 28 years old!?” Patrick stammered, “Gods that would be terrible, not knowing what you’ve forgotten, always wondering if you’ve left someone behind.”

Puck sighed.  “It is better than death my friend and it is the best I can do for him.  I have long regretted this particular trick played.”

Patrick regarded him with angry eyes.  He had a lot of questions for his supposed father. “Sprinkle the powder trickster,” Patrick said with no small amount of venom.  “This all came about because of you, do what you can to help him and then I have questions”

Puck knelt and sprinkled the powder on Jiri’s eyes.  “I’m certain you do have questions Patrick but alas my borrowed time in this realm appears to be over, and it seems you are waking up!  Hopefully we meet again soon my so…” He was gone.  The last Patrick saw was his twinkling eyes as he faded away.

“Come back here you!..” Suddenly Patrick was in his bed, with sunlight streaming into his eyes.  All a dream of course, he thought, but that was some damn dre… “OUCH!” he screamed as he felt his crushed nose.  He ran to the bathroom and sure enough his nose was as broken as it had been in the dream.  What the Hell? He thought.  Then he suddenly he raced downstairs and grabbed his keys and coat.  There was somewhere he needed to be.

He reached the arena in record time and used his key to get in.  No one seemed to be around, no big surprise, this is one of the few days almost everyone took off of training.  He rushed down the arena steps and right up to the ringside.  Sure enough the body of a man lay unmoving in its center.   He swallowed his fears and confusion and climbed into the ring.  Jiri stirred.

“Wher…where am I,” the battered Jiri whispered.  “Who are you?”

“I’m… I’m a friend,” Patrick said quietly.  “Let’s get you cleaned up shall we?”

Patrick watched as Jiri slipped into unconsciousness again and wondered what he could offer this man.  It didn’t matter though, Lord Oberon had stated that Jiri’s fate was his responsibility now and despite the fact this wasn’t likely what the Lord of the Fey had meant Patrick intended to help Jiri have a happier existence going forward.  Not to mention he intended to keep the fey out of it!

Short Story – End of the Adventure

*Originally posted to Sidetangent Magazine.

With one final swing of the sword Melvin lobbed the head from Ja’raq the Destroyer’s body.  The tyrant of the realms of Yinaril fell hard and lifeless to the ground.  Melvin watched from atop the battlements where he had faced the feared beast of a man, below him the remnants of Ja’raq’s army had been routed by the combined might of the goodly folk of Yinaril.  Dwarves had fought aside Elves, despite ancient grudges, after Melvin had somehow negotiated their truce.  Good men and women of all nations had fallen under his banner to rid the world of the dark sorcerer’s iron grip.  It was done.  It was finally done.

He made his way down the stone stairway that he had only so recently climbed two steps at a time chasing his foe.  Near the base of the stairs he nodded to his companions.  Elation played upon their faces, though it was tempered with sadness at the friends they had lost.  Melvin knew he would never forget these strange folk.  Nayoodle the gnomish princess, as brilliant a mind as he had ever met holstering her queer pistols and finally looking at ease enough to grieve over the loss of her brother.   Krint Meadswallow the dwarf, drinking that mug of dwarven ale he’d been saving ever since vowing to never imbue another pint until the dark lord had been toppled, seemed he wasn’t wasting any time.  Thignitch lie in the corner regrowing the arm he’d lost to the dark one’s Majicks, of all the friends Melvin had made in his adventure the turncoat Troll had to be the oddest.  Finally, Harrish the Mage who had been with him from the start, the reason Melvin was even in this world.

“We did it Harrish, Lord Ja’raq is finished!” Melvin said wearily to the young sorcerer.  As he looked into his friend’s face he recalled meeting him for the first time in the grove after Harrish had pulled him into their world.  He had used that forbidden bit of magic that had almost resulted in the mage’s execution at the hands of his own guild.  When Melvin thought back to that day in the grove he smiled a bit.  How could he have ever been that frightened boy? He recalled reeling with nausea from the sudden pull into Yinaril from his seat on the school bus headed home and chuckled.

Home… that’s right, he couldn’t wait to return to his true home.  Despite his love for these friends and the world of Yinraril it will be wonderful to finally see the familiar faces of friends and family from his true world.  He had had enough adventure to last a lifetime, he’d been poured into one of the many fantasies he’d often read and certainly learned a thing or two about getting what he wished for.  Melvin longed to sit on a couch and sip a coke or something.  Let the adventures play out on his television, and weekly games of Dungeons and Dragons for heaven’s sake!

He smiled broadly at Harrish, “You look pensive friend.  Trust me, I watched his head fall, Lord Ja’raq is truly done.”  Harrish looked up at Melvin with misty eyes, “yes I know Melvin my friend.  I’ve no doubt of that…I can feel it in the air.  Likely his forces note the change as well.  Beasts losing their borrowed intellect and turning against all near them as they haste to retreat to the darker forests once more.  The Trolls, withholding our friend Thignitch of course, have no doubt begun to flee as well.  They lost the fight the moment Dwarf and Elf set aside their bickering.  No, this is not what troubles me… but for now I think we could all use a retreat from worries and troubles, no?”  It troubled him to see Harrish worried still but Melvin laughed heartily and slapped the thin man’s back.  “Yes, let’s celebrate with the others.  You can return to brooding later Harrish, I know it’s your favorite pastime but take a break!”

The next few days were the happiest Melvin had known since arriving in Yinaril.  His life was not in danger, no friends were cut down before his eyes, and everyone was merry making instead of bickering.  Finally, after three long years Melvin could feel at ease.  There were formalities to attend to of course.  He nearly laughed aloud at the looks of relief on the faces of the leaders for the forces of man when they discovered Melvin held no interest in either succeeding Lord Ja’raq or taking their places.

Melvin wept bittersweet tears at the goodbyes he gave to his demihuman friends as they took their leave to the various places they were needed.  Nayoodle had a throne to return to and much to rebuild now that the goblins were thrown back beyond the gnomish kingdom.  The last of her royal line, she would have much work to do.  She placed a tiny kiss upon Melvin’s cheek as they both showed little restraint in their weeping.  They knew this parting was final.  Krint and Thignitch left together.  Theirs was the strangest friendship kindled through these journeys, as there has never been love between a troll and a dwarf in all the history of Yinaril.  Truly though, Thignitch was the only of his kind to ever side with the forces of good to anyone’s knowledge and Krint had much to do with the Troll’s change of heart.  Melvin doubted they would ever part ways.  Soon all that was left of the troupe of heroes Melvin had only so recently commanded into the darkest parts of Lord Ja’raq’s kingdom was Harrish and Himself, just like they had started out.

Weeks later they had arrived at the guild house for the Sorcerers of the Grove, Harrish’s home.  Melvin and Harrish had been greeted, if a bit icily, by the headmaster and given quarter.  Headmaster Klain, it seemed, had never truly forgiven Harrish for stealing the book of rituals that brought Melvin to Yinaril.  A decision by majority had been reached though and Klain must simply live with the fact that Harrish’s execution was voted down.  Never minding that the proof was in the pudding that Melvin was certainly a necessary asset to winning the war against the forces of darkness!  One would think an apology was in order but old sorcerers, it seemed, were anything but quick with admitting they were wrong.

A few days later Melvin had finally talked Harrish out of his study and into the grove for a walk.  He worried for his friend as the Hedge Wizard had been distant since the day of their victory, and even more so since their return to his guild.  The retreat into the grove had been a quiet one though.  Melvin could not seem to catch his friend’s attention for long.  Harrish looked… almost fearful.

Finally, Melvin stopped walking.  Harrish continued forward, not seeming to notice his fried was no longer at his side.  “It was here Harrish,” Melvin said quietly.  “Right here is where we first met.  Remember?”  Harrish stopped suddenly and turned, he looked terrified.  Melvin wrinkled his brow, “dammit Harrish, talk to me!  What is wrong man?”

Harrish peered at him sadly “I’m not certain I know how to approach my worries Melvin.  I… I have wronged you terribly…”  Melvin gave a nervous chuckle, “Harrish, you’ve been nothing but a friend to me since I arrived!  No matter what you’ve done, how could I feel like you’ve wronged me?”  Harrish spoke forcefully, “That’s just it though, I brought you here!  Here, to this world that caused you naught but pain and torment almost daily!  Certainly there was merit, my own guild’s council said as much when they spared me but… but how am I to live with what I have done!?”

Melvin rushed forward and embraced the man “Harrish is that all?  I regret nothing that has befallen me here in Yinaril!  You had to bring me, the prophecy demanded as much!  I don’t consider myself all that great a man but the events needed me.  Yinaril was saved due to your decision to bring me here, and when I finally go back home I’ll probably make a mint turning this into a movie or something ha ha!”

Melvin’s laugh died down when he saw Harrish’s face turn white.  Harrish voice was choked with grief, “so we’ve finally arrived at the point of no return it seems…”  Melvin grimaced, “what are you talking about Harrish?  What’s all this point of no return chatter?”  When Harrish’s grief stricken face turned to look into Melvin’s eyes, the boy knew instinctually what was coming, “you can’t go home Melvin… at least… not to the home you know.”

Melvin reeled.  What was his friend telling him!?  Distantly he heard Harrish gushing forth the information hidden so long from Melvin.  The spell wasn’t one way but time moved differently in Yinaril.  The three years spent here were transferred into three centuries back in his home world, everyone he had had ever known, his family, his friends had likely all died before he had even spent a year of life in Yinaril!  He felt sick.  This isn’t how it was supposed to be!  This isn’t how these things worked!  Sure, in fantasy adventures time moved differently in the “real world” but it was always the opposite.  Yinaril was supposed to be the place where time got the fast forward.  He was supposed to be sent back to his world at nearly the same time he left right!?  He was supposed to appear back on the bus in mid conversation with Jimmy Smith, like… like nothing had changed.

Harrish placed a comforting hand on Melvin’s shoulder but it was knocked away in a furious swipe.  “You damned monster!  How long have you known!” Melvin shrieked.  “I’m afraid… I’m afraid I’ve always known Melvin,” Harrish replied quietly, “why do you think I nearly lost my life in casting the spell…?  Such magic is forbidden for a reason.”

Melvin sunk into the soft grass of the grove, he had nearly unsheathed his sword but his fury had quickly subsided into pure sadness.  “I think… I think I would like to be alone for a while Harrish,” Melvin whispered.  “I understand,” said the man who had ruined his life.  Before exiting the grove Harrish turned, “I could still send you back Melvin, but… there is no telling what your world would hold for you.  It’s… actually my hope that you’d wish to remain here though.  Though you no doubt despise me at the moment… I still call you friend…”

Melvin said nothing as Harrish left him alone in the grove.  He thought of everything he’d lost, and he wept.

The True\False Film Festival or How I Came to Love the Doc

*Originally posted on the Monkey in the Cage Website on December 10, 2012

Earlier this year, many of us participated in, or were at least aware of, a Kickstarter event to help place the history of one of our favorite hobbies on film.  I was so excited by the prospect I ended up being the third person to put money to the project and certainly spent a fair amount of time and energy promoting it in my own small way.  The reason for my fervor had a lot to do with my love for documentary film, and that love of documentary film can be traced back to one solitary yearly event, the True\False Film Festival.

Held yearly around the first weekend of March, the True\False Film Festival focuses almost entirely on documentary films, typically with one or two “false” films to help it live up to its namesake.  The location for the festival is Columbia, Missouri – smack dab in the middle of the state and the perfect venue.  The founders, Paul Sturtz and David Wilson (also the founders of the Ragtag Cinema), still head up the event and strive to keep things feeling accessible to all lovers of film no matter how expansive the festival becomes, and growth is not in short supply.  When the proverbial doors opened in 2004, the attendance numbers were a bit north of 4,000 people with last year’s numbers close to 38,000, a staggering number for just nine years of existence.  This year marks the tenth anniversary and it is sure to be a packed one.  No matter how packed though, passes still start as low as $75.00 for ten guaranteed movies (and potentially more), staying true to the passion of making this festival open to any.  Those are some of the figures surrounding this exceptional event, but I want to impress upon you what makes it endearing to me and why I feel you should go if given the chance.

I still kick myself for not attending earlier, I had many chances.  I attended college at Mizzou, located in Columbia, Missouri, from 2005-2008.  I grew up in Warrenton, Missouri, a town only an hour away, and could have even easily made the opening year.  Of course I would have had to hear about it.  I can only be blamed for missing the years 2006-2009 because it was during those years that my best friend from high school, and fellow Mizzou alum, Kyle Puetz, was raving about the festival.  I just wasn’t all that interested in documentaries at the time, or at least I thought I wasn’t.

My exposure to documentaries had been mostly limited what I’d been shown in school and that wasn’t much of a selling point.  I didn’t have Netflix at the time, an instant queue brimming with well directed and interesting real world topics.  It was my assumption that a documentary had to be a boring “talking head” drag that might drop a nugget or two of useful information on me before it was done, assuming I’d not nodded off.  So basically “docs” were not my cup of tea.  It wasn’t until 2010 that Puetz convinced me to check T\F out.  By then he had gotten pretty involved by actually working for the festival, so I bought my Simple Pass and made my way to Columbia that year.  I was blown away.

How had I missed this event going on in the same town I’d gone to college in?  Thousands of people, all high on the shared experiences of engaging film, good music, and the unique chance to get up close and personal with the directors of these films.  To say that year changed my outlook on documentary film seems an understatement of grand proportions, but how else can I put it?  I saw some amazing films that year, namely Mads Brügger’s delightfully insane “The Red Chapeland Adam Curtis’ take on individualism and the American EmpireIt Felt Like a Kiss,” but it wasn’t just about the films.  True\False may be a film festival at heart, but it is so much more than sitting in theaters and watching documentaries.

Since 2010 I’ve gone back every year, making the upcoming tenth anniversary my fourth trip.  In just those three years I’ve not only seen over thirty films but have also been able to hear the wonderful music of Buskers as they perform to crowds awaiting their films to start, had lengthy conversations with directors and film crew about their filming process, attended late night parties, run in the “True Life Run” with a few of the subjects of the documentary “Bully”, and have had been able to introduce my wife and parents to the event as well.  If you want to talk accessibility of directors I can easily share a few stories.  The first year I attended I helped get a VCR for a VHS party held in the hotel room of Director Robert Greene (“Kati with an I” and one of my favorites “Fake it so Real”), and in my second year I and a few friends had an hour long conversation with Josh Fox, fresh from the Academy Awards where his film “Gasland” had been nominated, about how he was considering two possibilities for his next film, either “Gasland 2” or perhaps a film about banjos.  So both of these situations sound like name drops, well they are, but more so I wanted to emphasize that these types of scenarios are commonplace, everyone seems happy to be at T/F and it is one big shared party.

True\False puts people at ease too.  There is only one award to hand out, The True Vision Award, that is given annually to the filmmaker, or filmmakers, whose work most emphasizes a dedication to the creative advancement of the art of nonfiction film-making.  Because of this, many of the directors see the festival as a place to relax after Sundance or Toronto and just meet with people who have an earnest interest in their work.  There is even an event sponsored by HBO that I went to last year called “Campfire Stories” where a group of that year’s directors sit by a fire and regale the audience with stories from the field.  It truly seems like one of the festival’s goals is to bring people together in the name of film and story.  One of the unique ways T\F brings film to its audience is by having some of the films that may wish to actually premier at a later festival screen under a code name that begins “Secret Screening” and then is given a color (i.e. “Secret Screening Orange” etc.).

Today I’m a geek for documentary film, and try to watch as much as I can when I get the time all thanks to True\False (and in no small part to my buddy Kyle of course).  One of the benefits of True\False is getting to see films that may never be available elsewhere, not to mention it gives me a chance to watch films that I may not get the time for later, being a father and husband with a busy work schedule.  The festival is also very geek friendly, just last year I watched Morgan Spurlock’sComic-Con, Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope”, which even featured a Columbia, MO native, Skip Harvey, an artist trying to break into the industry.  So you can imagine that come the time that the crew behind the Dungeons and Dragons documentary want to hit the film fest circuit I’ll be suggesting True\False to them and of course seeing if I can put the film into the ears of anyone on that year’s film selection board.  Not that I have any kind of pull but Hell, I’ll give it a shot.

If you live in the Midwest, please try to make it to this festival this year it runs from Thursday February 28th through Sunday March 3rd, and as I mentioned it’s the tenth anniversary so this is a must-go year!  If you don’t live in the Midwest, I’d still recommend the trip out here and I wholeheartedly consider it worthwhile.  So why am I writing an article before the New Year even starts about a festival in March?  Because tickets are already on sale, and they make great Christmas gifts of course!  Not to mention there is always the chance the festival sells out.   If this year ends up not being your year, no worries I’ll write a follow up in early March so you know what went down.  If you decide to go, let me know.  I’d love to meet up with anyone while I’m there, plus I’d be happy to give you some tips on what to do at the festival, you won’t regret the decision, I promise!

CHAOS!… oh, and Alchemy

*Originally posted on the Monkey in the Cage Website on October, 4 2012

Every now and then you’ve got some time to kill with your buddies.  For me I like to have small, easily accessible, (and better yet quick!) games at the ready for such an occasion.  Not to mention that rare perfect moment when your plane gets delayed and you find yourself talking with a few gamers who recognized your RPG book and suddenly an opportunity to play something has arisen!  For me the game I often have at hand is Chaos and Alchemy.  If you haven’t heard of it don’t feel too bad because its new on the gaming scene, but after I give you the lowdown I encourage you to check this perfect time killer out and you’ll be turning lead into gold in no time!

 

Created by Michael Iachini, also known in the online community as Michael the Online DM, Chaos and Alchemy is a fast paced game for 2 to 5 players that combines two loves of mine, cards and dice.  The object of the game is for each player to take on the mantle of “Alchemist” and turn lead into gold for the King, and, by amassing 10 points, the Alchemist has earned power and prestige for their services to the kingdom and a winner will be decided.  To do this, each Alchemist will be conducting experiments and filling their laboratories with gear suited to the task.  All the while they will jealously guard what they’ve learned from the other players around the table and perhaps dabble in a bit of mischief by disrupting those others labs.

The cards in the game are broken down into only a handful of categories:

  • Innovation Cards – The most common cards and the means of earning points towards a win by hanging around in your laboratory.
  • Action and Action(Rival) Cards – One-use tools to provide you with a quick benefit from drawing more cards or stealing from another.
  • Reaction Cards – Cards to help protect your precious lab equipment from those other nasty Alchemists. (Honestly they should just play fair!)
  • Misfortune Cards – Cards that disrupt your rivals (well… I mean they are doing it too right?)

Essentially, you have a very simple core mechanic with this game. You roll a few dice, known as the “Experiment” dice, and match those to a die in the middle of the table, the “Fortune” die. Successes are determined by rolling either a tie or higher than the Fortune die’s target number, while failures are anything rolled lower.  Once you determine successes and failures you can play\draw cards with the successes and will need to discard anything left over with your failures.  After that core mechanic the chaos ensues.

The rules of the game change based on what cards come into play in your lab and what other cards end up affecting those cards and the various players around the table.  Once you get playing and start recognizing the capabilities of the various cards, players will notice that innumerable options are available for strategy in any given game.  In fact, my favorite aspect of this game’s mechanics revolve around the fact that there are so many ways to go about winning because there are no more than two copies of each card in the deck, so the chances of a similar hand game-to-game is slim.  Not to mention the constant changes to the Fortune die based on cards, or matching sets on the experiment dice (when matching sets occur the Online DM encourages screaming CHAOS!).

 I’ve given a brief, incomplete, rundown of the rules but I want to talk a little bit about the design of this game.  Considering its small print run and the fact that this is Michael’s first game, there was no holding him back from making a truly gorgeous product.  The box is sturdy and small enough for easy travel, and I should know as it has been a traveling companion on roughly 6 business trips now.

On the cover you’ll be given your first taste of my favorite part of this game, the artwork.  Michael really seems to have wanted his first game to shine, and shine it does.  The cover illustration, as seen above, was done by Chris Rallis, with Logo work by Bree Heiss, and I find myself being drawn into whatever it is that holds that Alchemist’s gaze.  The cards themselves are handled with expert care by Andres Canals, J. Embleton, Jane Falkenberg, Lana Gjovig, LochaBWS, J.J. Mason, and Beth Sobel.  Each card maintains that air of mystery set forth by Rallis’ cover art and the images really lend to the game’s atmosphere.  I’m not sure I can accurately state how much I love the art in this game.

Now, full disclosure. I was a play tester for Chaos and Alchemy, so it naturally holds a special place in my heart.  Take note though that being a play tester did not grant me any special perks when it came time to put my money where my mouth is (though I know Michael likely wishes he could have afforded to hand us all a game) and  I was the third person to pre-order this game because I loved it plenty and I paid full price.  I would obviously encourage everyone to buy the game but I understand that you may wish to check things out a little beyond just my word alone.  Well Michael has done something special for those who may wish to try a game or two before buying.  If you go to his website right now you can download both the Rules PDF and a PDF version of the cards.  Not to mention any number of other items to assist anyone who either owns the game or is interested in learning more, there is even a page dedicated to the artwork.  The only thing not provided are free dice, somehow I think our readers already have a few spare d6’s lying around though.

So there you have it, you really don’t have much of an excuse not to at least try the game.  If you like it, give an indie game designer some props with a positive rating on BoardGameGeek, or better yet put a little coin back in the man’s pocket and purchase it here. That way he can afford to bring us some more gaming gems in the future!

 

Certified Nerdified Rants with Melvin Smif – Today’s Topic: The Hunger Games

*Originally posted on the Monkey in the Cage Website on September 26, 2012

A segment where Kevin Smith goes on and on about a subject he seemingly takes way too seriously that no one else likely cares about or has given any consideration. Likely unnecessary but SPOILERS AHEAD!

Today’s Issue: The Hunger Games Trilogy

The Hunger Games is an odd trilogy to me.  When I read the first novel, The Hunger Games, I was impressed.  Sure the concept had been done before in many forms, but ultimately it was well written for a YA book, which is refreshing, and had all the right bits and pieces to form a cohesive plot.  Then I read Catching Fire which seemed to have a lot of the same enjoyable action from the first book but at the expense of introducing some way too convenient plot wrangling to do so.  Then came the final installment, Mockingjay.  Mockingjay did things that seemed so backward to how one would expect its protagonists to act at this point that I was just baffled.  Many would say that this represents growth, or a hardening of the characters but I disagree as I lay out below.

As usual, SPOILERS AHEAD dear reader!

 

 BOOK 1: The Hunger Games:

Loved the book, enjoyed the movie.  The biggest flaw one could really give this book is that its premise is not new.  The concept’s been done with Battle Royale, The Most Dangerous Game, The Running Man, etc.  I’m not really one of those people.  I’ve always been of the mindset that if an idea is good enough please revisit it as many times as you want.  It’s no skin off my back; I’ll ignore your stuff if I don’t like it!

In this book we are even introduced to Stephanie Collin’s rapid fire style of writing, which really works well for the entire series (even when her ideas and story direction didn’t do it for me).  By keeping the pace set on fast forward at all times we are rarely given a chance to feel safe setting the book down, I found I was often reading far beyond the time period I’d allotted myself, and did not lament the excess loss of hours.

So in essence, not much to rant about here but, just for the sake of meta conversation, here is my biggest complaint.  I feel that Katniss was protected by the way Collins shaped the story from ever having to actually take the life of an innocent.  Let’s look at the individuals she played a role in killing –

  • Glimmer and the girl from District 4 – No actual attack but instead as a result of dropping a beehive (or Tracker Jacker) nest on the girls
  • Marvel – Actually kills him with an arrow but only after he kills Rue safely painting him as a villain before Katniss must take action.
  • “Foxface” – The red haired girl who typically stayed out of the way, therefore not a villain.  She was only killed by a berry mishap, and mostly it was Peeta’s doing.
  • Cato – He gets chewed on by some “mutts” so when Katniss kills him she not only kills an outright villainous type, but also gets to play the pity executioner.

It’s my thought that if you intend to paint how horrible these games can be, and how horrible the things you are made to do are, you can’t then protect your protagonist from doing such things unless you wish them to allow their own death as a display of moral fortitude.  Granted this was going to happen with the choice made by Peeta and Katniss to both swallow the berries, in fact I think it would have been a better ending leaving this a one book story.

 BOOK 2: Catching Fire:

This was an odd book, and an example of utter Deus ex Machina.  The first parts of the book are frankly pretty boring, Collins introduces the tired “love triangle” concept en force now and we are subjected to Katniss’ inner pains over it.  Meanwhile she is desperate to fade into the background and out of the spotlight and let people stop their uprisings that were now occurring because of her.  This is typical of her character as she has always seemed to dislike the concept of others being hurt or dying for her sake, keep this idea in mind for later when my biggest issue with the trilogy arises. We all knew at the end of book one that things weren’t over for Katniss but I certainly didn’t see the Quarter Quell concept coming at all.  The book does end in an interesting way though, I had my ideas that the Quarter Quell would end in a different fashion but I was surprised by the reveal.

My biggest issue with the book is actually the laziness in which we see the concept of the Quarter Quell concept introduced purely for the chance to have yet another Katniss and Peeta involved Hunger Games.  Collins had an opportunity to do something truly unique here, she could have instead had Katniss and Peeta join Haymitch in the training and lobbying for a new Tribute.  We could have gotten a glimpse of Katniss trying to learn the political side of things in the Capital but instead we seen Book 1 round 2.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some neat aspects of getting to meet older tributes, but that could have been done in the way I described as well.  Perhaps Peeta and Haymitch enter the fray and Katniss has to assist from beyond the games, I love that idea.

The love triangle is of course a trying thing, it would have been better to have gone against our predispositions and have either Katniss lose interest in one of the boys or to have one of them lose interest in her altogether, I loath the “Team” concept.  Collins did surprise me a bit (until I remembered Katniss’ attitude regarding not wanting to ever cause pain to beloved others) in having Katniss inwardly choose that she would rather live alone, without having to choose Gale or Peeta.  It was an indicator of a thinking individual, if maybe a slightly masochistic one, that is rarely seen in a YA novel these days.

Still enjoyable though for all its faults, if I hadn’t liked it I would have never moved on to Mockingjay.

 BOOK 3: Mockingjay

By far the weakest in the series, slow in the beginning and the entire concept of Katniss as a figurehead for the rebellion just didn’t work for me.  Her character changed so much in this book I had whiplash.  She fought against everyone, often times for no discernable reason, and suddenly became selfish in a way that has never been displayed before.  Sure her demands to rescue Peeta and the other tributes had merit, but could she not see how that would put so many other loved ones in danger?  Peeta being brainwashed was kind of a tiring affair but it worked for the book, and had a smack of A Clockwork Orange to it me droogs, so I went with it.  Finally though we reach the last quarter of the novel where Katniss just becomes unrecognizable to me and loses any sense of redeemable qualities as far as I’m concerned.

I’m just going to jump right into it.  There comes a point in this book where Katniss and a group of her fellow Tributes are in the Capital with a group commander, namely as a token “hero” group.  They are in what is deemed a “Safe Zone” when things go wrong and the commander of the group is killed.  At this point Katniss makes the decision to pretend she received orders to take his mantle of command and through this she puts her many friends in the group in danger in order to satisfy her own selfish bloodlust of being the one to kill President Snow.

Many of her friends die because of this decision, and though she is obviously saddened by this it never seems to dawn on her that had she forgone her own selfish desires, they might still be alive.  There was no merit to her decision, she wasn’t making a tough choice to put her and her friends in danger for some noble cause, and it was for revenge pure and simple.  President Snow would have been killed; it was fairly obvious at that point that the rebels were winning the day.  It is here that I did a double take and tried to figure out when Katniss lost the one quality that had remained constant throughout the trilogy, her desire to protect her loved ones.  Needless to say I was baffled.

Lastly I found the ending rushed and very unsatisfying.  Katniss agrees to the Hunger Games penalty for the children of the most powerful people in the capital, being the deciding vote.  Presumably to make a show of playing along with President Coin, but I still found it distasteful.  Then she kills President Coin instead of President Snow because of the fact that she finally realized that President Coin ordered the bombing that claimed her sister’s life, not Snow.  That was a good moment for Katniss, I will admit.  Once that happens though we are treated to Katniss being jailed for a chapter while a trial is apparently held, an entirely interesting storyline I think would have been a great item to be included, and then a fast forward to Katniss choosing Peeta and then straight into an epilogue where we discover she is still damaged by the events though she has a family I guess.

Not the happiest of endings but that would have been fine if I had a reason anymore to care whether she was happy or not.  She is unrecognizable to me by this point, not from a slow change over the books but by a sudden, jolting change that occurs 3/4 of the way through the last book!  I get the impression that Collins was trying to say that War is Hell and it changes and damages us, but she just too heavy handed in my opinion.

Over all I enjoyed the series, despite the let down I felt by how it ended.  I know I skimmed over a lot here but I was mainly wanting to zone in on my trouble spots.  Unlike The Twilight Saga I would recommend The Hunger Games to others, though I’m fully up front that I didn’t care too much for the last book.  Suzanne Collins has a way of grabbing someone’s attention with her writing that I haven’t been exposed to a lot.  It can be simplistic at times but that’s the point of it, no-nonsense, little fluff, just straight to the meat of what’s going on.  So if you’ve for some reason read this spoiler laced review and not the books, give them a go.  You probably don’t analyze things as deeply as I do and will enjoy them even more than I did.

-Melvs

City of Heroes Final Free Update: The End?

*Originally posted on the Monkey in the Cage Website on September 13, 2012

*Sadly, City of Heroes did indeed shut down.  I miss it terribly.

City of Heroes_Page_1_Image_0001

In April of 2004 I was on the precipice of graduation from High School. I still lived at home, naturally, and I was once again mentally ranting about the fact that my country upbringing ensured that I had only dial up internet. The reason for my venom? I had just learned of the release of a Massive Multiplayer Online Game by the name of City of Heroes. Thinking back on it now I still wish I’d been able to jump on board at the launch of the game. I did eventually join my friends in this incredible game world, with the release of City of Villains in October of 2005, and have loved the game ever since. With the recent news of its pending shut down I wanted to pay a little homage to this game that played a huge role in my young adult life while in college.

 

That’s right my friends, apparently NC Soft has decided to shut down Paragon Studios, with the current date of November 30th, 2012, thus ending the nearly 9 year old MMO that I feel was truly unique and apart from the world of Everquest Clones. It really does sadden me. Though I’ve not played with nearly the fervor I use to lately, I can’t begin to count the hours I’ve put into the characters out there on the Virtue Server. It was always nice to know that I could log in again and run about pummeling baddies (and goodies) with some old friends. I developed lasting friendships with people I’ve never met in real life that I only interact with in game. I may not have spoken with some of them in a few years but I know if I logged on now and they were playing we would immediately fall into a cadence of inside jokes and fun, just like the old days.

When City of Heroes launched on April 27, 2004 it was really a unique entry into the MMO world at that point. This was not Sword and Sorcery, this was a comic book brought to life. They even had a cast of supers who were there to guide your young hero all the while having adventures themselves as online comics depicted. Instead of updates you paid for once every 2-3 years they had a free one roughly every 3-4 months (later the time between updates lengthened but the updates came with far more content). Every update came with new content, mostly focusing on increasing player options.

While the game’s characters fit the archetypes of any MMO, Striker, Defender, Tanker, Controller, etc, there were always a myriad of ways you could approach those styles of play based off of a Primary and Secondary choice of powers with 5-10 choices for each. At any time there are an incredible number of options one could choose for their character. As your characters continued to grow you’d vary from others even more as you chose separate paths within you’re already varied power sets. At level 15 you could even decide whether your character could fly, run at super speeds, or jump startlingly far distances to cross miles. The variations were seemingly so endless that starting a new character became commonplace and “starting a new dude” was a frequent call to action. In the hundreds to thousands of hours I played the game I never played the same power set twice, I didn’t need to, it was all balanced well and you were nearly always an asset to any group.

I recall my first level 50 character, a Super Strength\Invulnerability Brute named Ruined Prism, a villain. I had an extensive back-story regarding the “prism” of his soul being shattered blah blah blah, it was actually pretty bad but he was so much fun to play. During the time I finally got him to level fifty we were in the midst of update number 10 aptly named “Invasion” as the game world was under siege by the Rikti, an evil alien threat to all. I can still remember fighting off the random Rikti mini invasions that would affect a zone and teams would immediately form of various strangers grouping to fight off the waves. Later I would hit the Rikti War Zone where Heroes and Villains could team up to attack the mother ship or to join the “Strike Force” mission to cull the Rikti major villain, a really nifty plot twist if you paid attention to the game’s background story. In fact it was in that Strike Force when I finally hit 50. It was a big deal because unless you knew of a power leveling group, it takes quite a bit of in game play. After that I had 3 more level fifty characters and a plethora of characters still stuck in the 30’s and 40’s but I’ll always remember my first.

Part of what made character creation so great, beyond tons of power set options, was the sheer innumerable options available to someone in the look department. Your character was truly yours. I don’t think I have ever seen two characters that looked exactly the same unless it was meant to be that way. They never stopped adding options either, every update came with new suits, gear, and other options to change up that look. To this day I’ve not met a better character creation system when it comes to options and variability. In fact I would say that the most endearing aspect of the entire game is based around options and choices. You really can make your own Super Hero\Villain. One of my favorite things to do was to check out the various Costume Contests that happened at Atlas Park. A Super Group would be looking for new talent so they invite people to strut their creative stuff, awarding “cash” prizes for the victors (heck I won a few contests myself).

There are so many things I feel like I’m leaving out when I try and recall what I love about this game. Holiday events, not deleting inactive accounts, awards for paid time, the eventual switch to free play, Double XP Weekends!!!! etc. etc. etc. There really are so many things to love, I get that other MMO’s have many of these things but something about how City put it all together just clicked with me. The little time I spent on other MMO’s always left me shrugging my shoulders and wondering at the popularity, and I’m a Sword and Sorcery guy. I love Dungeons and Dragons and anything else out there fantasy based but I never got into them the way I did with CoH. One major reason for this was that everyone is just more pleasant in CoH. It really is a team focused game, and though PvP somewhat suffers for this it makes working together on missions very fun. I’ve never met the same kind of welcoming attitude in other MMO’s that I receive when I play CoH, even when I was brand new I never got the cold shoulder that some other MMO’s give their “Newbs”. Maybe I was unlucky in those games, but I’m not the first person I know who has commented this way.

Should I be furious at NC Soft right now for shutting down a game I paid hundreds of dollars to in order to play it over the years? From everything I’ve read, Hell I even read their Quarterly Earnings Report, the decision to close down City of Heroes stems from a “change in company direction” not because City had anything to do with their recent profit loss. That loss seems to have come from having to pay out a large amount of Severance pay to recently let go employees. I’m not sure, but for some reason I only feel saddened and let down. Sure when the gates close, everything I’ve spent time on will disappear. Countless hours of work, albeit enjoyable work, will essentially drop away like it was never there. That’s the constant threat of a digital game for you. You always have to know in the back of your mind that one day it could be all gone. You really don’t own anything you paid for, you’ve basically been renting your fun for all these years. I for one would do it all over again, even if I knew the inevitable outcome. It was a blast. I regret nothing about the time I spent forging friendships and super powered characters over hours of game play that I rented from NC Soft (well maybe the fact that it played a role in my slipping to a B average my junior year of college).

I’ll end with a plea to NC Soft that they reconsider, give us an early Christmas gift this November. Of course I think that Paragon Studios has already been let go, adding some more severance pay maybe, so the feasibility of this seems slim. There is always the chance they allow someone else to run the game on private servers, though I’m not familiar enough with how that would work to really comment on it. There are many out there that have some very personal attachments to this game. In fact I’ve even heard of in game protests on the stairs of Atlas Park, it warms my heart. If you log into the game and head to Atlas Park 33 you can even join the constant “Candlelight” vigil taking place, as I did the other night using one of my beloved heroes Melvin Maddock. Throngs of heroes stand constant with torches held high, it really is a moving sight.

I and a few other friends were anxiously awaiting the chance to play again with a buddy of mine after he returned from his lengthy stint sailing with the Navy sometime in the fall. He might get back in time for one more go at patrolling the streets of Paragon City, maybe not. It is my hope and prayer that the servers are up and running when he arrives. To the folks at Cryptic and Paragon Studios, thank you for your efforts and dedication. Games can be very important to people, I think in writing this I’ve rediscovered the itch and will be playing again very soon, maybe I’ll see a few old friends and we can have some laughs before the final curtain falls.

Petition to Save City of Heroes

Save Our City of Heroes Flyer

“We are Heroes” Movement by Titan Network

Send Masks & Capes to NC Soft

Twitter – @SaveCoH, #SaveCoH

FOCUS ON: Dungeons and Dragons: A Documentary

*Originally posted on the Monkey in the Cage Website on September 3, 2012

Today there are countless iterations of the Roleplaying genre. From light touches, like social media where individuals create avatars of themselves for daily play. To the heavy, being the innumerable pen and paper RPG’s, LARP’s etc. Even today’s video games often have you control a singular figure through their storylines. What could be the impetus of all this? Well one group of filmmakers wants to reinforce the claim that the hobby many of our readers enjoy, Dungeons and Dragons, brought the concept of Roleplaying, as a source of entertainment for anyone, into the mainstream.

Recently, while covering Gencon from afar (and by covering I mean following various Twitter folk who attended) I was introduced to the project of three filmmakers Andrew Pascal, Anthony Savini, and James Sprattley to really dig into the history of this pastime that shaped a large portion of my own, and a myriad of others’, childhood. They are currently researching for, and filming a documentary to truly bring to light many of the triumphs and tragedies of this beloved hobby’s nearly 40 year story. In the filmmaker’s words from their Kickstarter site (more on that soon)-

“From its humble beginnings in a basement in Lake Geneva, WI, D&D was created by a group of game enthusiasts and game designers. The story of D&D and its creation spans four decades and is a complicated, heart-breaking story. Imagine “The Social Network”, the creation of Facebook, but no one ends up rich. This is a cautionary tale of an empire built by friends and lost through betrayal, enmity, poor management, hubris and litigation.”

Many of us have played the game or have benefited from its effects on gaming in general, which are certainly plentiful, but the story behind it all may not be completely told to date. At least, it hasn’t been done so in the form of a documentary. Sure, we’ve seen a number of wonderful docs chronicling the stories of individuals affected by the game (i.e. Darkon, The Dungeon Masters), but now we have the chance to get at the roots of how it came to be, and how it has changed.

I for one am anxiously awaiting this film and hope dearly to see it grace the big screen in at least a few film festivals, or better yet have a national release. The trio behind the film is not a set of rookies either; they are all veterans in the film and television industry in both New York and L.A. so you know this is getting a professional treatment.

This brings me to the point I’ve been getting at all along, they need a little assistance. They’ve started a Kickstarter campaign that I want to bring to as many people’s attention as I can. There are currently under 20 days to go, and some of the backer levels net you some truly unique items. Early on you can get a digital copy of the finished film at only $25.00, this of course comes with a number of interesting items. I personally went in at the $75.00 level in order to get a 2-Disc Blu-Ray or DVD with all the supplemental stuff and Never before seen items. I will gladly display such a treasure on my mantel. Some of the higher level awards will get you screen time or even a game of D&D with the filmmakers. All along the way too, many of these awards grants you frequent video snippets delivered via email, totally worth it!

So I urge you all too at least check out the page and spread the word, I know this hobby is as important to many of our readers as it is to me. I think D&D deserves the serious treatment these filmmakers are giving it. They’ve already put their own money up front by shooting hours of footage; let’s give them some assistance to make the best final product possible. We all know that there is more to the hobby than a few die rolls, hit points, and some swigs of Mountain Dew. Why not show the world?

KICKSTARTER PAGE

WEBPAGE

TWITTER
Follow @DandDtweets for updates regarding the documentary on Twitter
Use #DnDadoc when referencing.

FACEBOOK

YOUTUBE

Certified Nerdified Rants with Melvin Smif – Today’s Topic: Twilight

*Originally posted to the Monkey in the Cage Website on August 29, 2012

A segment where Kevin Smith goes on and on about a subject he seemingly takes way too seriously that no one else likely cares about or has given any consideration.  Likely unnecessary but SPOILERS AHEAD!

Today’s Issue: The Twilight Saga

 

With K-Stew and R-Pat’s recent falling out and the final Twilight film coming out this November I thought it time to put fingers to keyboard on a major frustration of mine, The Twilight Saga. This rant is not likely going to be what you think it will, I’m not leaping atop a pedestal to proclaim why I loath Twilight, quite the opposite, I’m here to describe a seething love\hate relationship with the product. You see, I don’t outright hate these books. In fact there are tiny gems of highly intriguing lore peppered throughout the novels that draw me in just long enough for the attention to shift back to the core storyline I had little to no interest in.

Reading these books was highly frustrating for me, many times I had my interest peaked for just enough of a minutia, before ripping me away once again into the masochistic relationship at the story’s core, to keep me on board until the next interesting paragraph or page. In any event, today I’m going to discuss some of the items I wished Stephenie Meyer had spent a little more time on. Hell, she could have easily taken out about 50-60 paragraphs where Bella describes how much she adores Edward to make room. By the way, this may be unnecessary but SPOILERS AHEAD.

 

VAMPIRE POWERS:

I don’t know if I’m alone in this or not but I was always intrigued by the idea that the Meyer vampire might also come with a mutant ability. It is a fresh addition to the vampire idea that does not rankle, the way sparkly skin does, but instead adds a bit of personality to each vampire rather than the age old idea of only older vampires could have mysterious powers. In fact Meyer actually has a reason for why her vampire might have such an ability, being the enhancement of something the human form already had. Because of this every vampire you meet in the story becomes an immediate interest, I would wonder what power they might have.

VARIOUS VAMPIRE BACKSTORIES:

I’m a sucker for an origin story, so I loved any time the attention turned to the long lived vampires in these books. It was always too short, and though it often involved similar romantic undercurrent to the main storyline it was never nearly as heavy handed. Some of Ms. Meyer’s best work in the novels is found in these minor storylines, especially the backgrounds of the Cullens.

Carlisle Cullen was a monster hunter with his father, and once he was bitten he hid away utterly silent through the incredibly painful transformation and once changed has never drank the blood of a human for sustenance.

Esme Cullen was saved from her attempted suicide by Carlisle when he worked at a morgue in 1895’s Columbus Ohio.

Alice Cullen initially recalls nothing of her former human life but later discovers she was committed to an asylum for premonitions that eventually led to her ability to see the future now that she is a vampire.

Emmett Cullen was mauled by a bear and saved by his future wife Rosalie after she carried him over 100miles without succumbing to her thirst for human blood. It was initially very difficult for him to adjust to animal blood.

Rosalie Hale had a very abusive beginning that ended in a revenge scenario involving the torture and death of her previous abusers. She is an interesting case because she continues to envy humans for being allowed to have the humanity that she never fully enjoyed

Edward Cullen even old Eddy boy has a pretty good story. He even spent time feeding on humans, albeit mostly the scum of society as it would not do for Edward to have ever been all that bad.

Jasper Hale Okay, his story is so awesome it needs its own post.

JASPER HALE:
In book three, Eclipse, Stephenie Meyer needed an explanation for why the Cullens should fear a “Newborn” army being created in the nearby city of Seattle and in order to set the stage for this we finally get to hear the most enticing vampire back-story yet, that of Confederate Soldier Jasper Hale. Apparently during the Civil War there was a constant vampire shadow war being waged using small armies of newborn vampires who stronger due to their leftover human blood that still coursed through their veins but more difficult to control (not to be confused with the Shadow War fought against Abraham Lincoln). America was a new land and vampires of the old European countries sought to make their claim. Once becoming a vampire Jasper had an ability to manipulate other’s emotions making him a perfect general for one of these small armies. To this day he carries countless crescent moon shaped scars from the bites of the newborns he trained and eventually killed when their place in the army was no longer needed.

This is so close to a “Weird West” style story that I found myself incredibly intrigued, and it was given almost an entire chapter’s worth of attention. To this day it is what I consider the best handled portion of the entire saga. Jasper is probably my favorite character in the series.

THE VOLTURI AND THE COVENS: or basically all of the other vampires
The Volturi are briefly touched upon in the worst book of the franchise, New Moon. Their impending part in the book is the only reason I picked it up again. I was done with the series, not even a third into “New Moon”, until a female friend told me about the ruling government of all the vampires and how they played a role in the final moments of the book. In hindsight, if I’d known how bad the remainder of New Moon was going to be I probably wouldn’t have pushed through it for the painfully short section on these interesting vampires, all with new abilities to ponder. Granted this has been done before, it has been done better before (Vampire: The Masquerade or Ann Rice’s work namely) but I always like getting to know the power structure in any vampire myth story.
Now with the Covens lies some of the worst frustration I’ve had with the saga. They are all interesting and all have reason to be fed up with The Volturi, laying down the framework for why they decide to side with the Cullens, Bella, and the wolf shape shifters in the final book Breaking Dawn. Problem is it is only lightly touched upon. Even worse a very interesting character is introduced, a dispossessed noble, an individual of mighty lore, someone by the freaking name Dracula!

FREAKING DRACULA:
Meyer introduces the concept of the ruling class before the Volturi took over, the Romanians. Only two Romanians remain some guy named Stefan (who cares) and then a dude by the name of Vladimir… he is obviously Dracula. DRACULA! I mentally scream, this is awesome! So worth reading up to this point! What sort of power will he have? What kind of stories will Meyer regale us with now that he is in the mix? He is going to be the flipping tits! No. NO! Wrong thought process Kevin, Dracula gets himself about two paragraphs and then is politely asked to stand over there and not get in the way… WHAT!? Ugh, hated when that happened and let’s just say if I hadn’t been so close to the end of the book I’d of stopped right there.

THE CHILDREN OF THE MOON:
A throw away line in “Breaking Dawn”, I forget who said it and I don’t feel like paging through the book to do so. One of the Vampires says something to the effect that they are surprised to see the wolves of the La Push pack working together, he says that normally the “Children of the Moon” are solitary beasts that do not work well with anyone and terrify vampires. We are given the impression that the “Children of the Moon” are even more powerful than the Shape-Shifters of the Quileute Tribe.

That’s right everyone, Jacob Black is not a Werewolf (which I ranted in my brain from the earliest meeting of their tribe) but instead a Shape-Shifter. In this throwaway portion of the book, real Werewolves are introduced… for about two sentences and then forgotten. Now I don’t know how Meyer could have truly incorporated The Children of the Moon into her story but she could have at least spent some time explaining them. Werewolves are a particular obsession of mine and it would have been a nice effort on her part to think of me :P.

I feel I’ve droned on far too long about these books, looking back over this you may find yourself wondering “Hmmm… maybe they are worth a read if there are little nuggets of interesting supernatural stuffs like that”, my answer would be meh. Knowing what I know now, I wish I would have read something else during that time. My article here probably spends more time on some of these topics that he books do, my advice read the Wikipedia synopsizes if you really want to catch some of this good stuff, the books are largely pretty awful for anyone who isn’t into the love story. That being said if the love story is your bag read on fellow nerd! Never let my, or anyone else’s words get in the way of your enjoyment of anything!

And now I present how you likely feel about my diatribe –

A Q&A with Hugh Howey, Author of the Popular Self Published Work “Wool”

Posted to the Monkey in the Cage Website on August 9th, 2012

wool2 600

Hugh Howey is best known for his series of Novelettes that resulted in the Wool Omnibus Edition a self published, and still ongoing, series on Amazon. This Omnibus spent a span of time at the number one mark on Amazon’s Bestselling Science Fiction list and is currently sitting at number 7, months after its debut. The individual Novelettes all took their turn as well. The most unique aspect of it all is, every one of them were self published and were electronically available via Amazon.

After arriving late to this party I picked up the Omnibus for my Kindle and was very glad I did. I was treated to a unique Science Fiction adventure that allowed me to surrender myself to both a thought provoking and seriously fun ride. Hugh Howey has proven to be very receptive to his fans and immediately agreed to my proposal for a Q&A to let our fellow Monkey Lovers learn a bit about his process, influences, and even some tips for others looking to enter the Self Published world. In any event, less from me and more from Hugh Howey-

 

 

Kevin Smith: Reading the “About You” section on your webpage one gets the impression that you’ve always had a desire to write but only recently capitalized on that desire through the ability to Self Publish via Amazon. Did you ever attempt to work through publishers at all or did you set out to Self Publish from the beginning of your work?

Hugh Howey: When I completed Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue, my first-ever manuscript, I assumed it would be self-published. It wasn’t until I let friends and on-line acquaintances read the work that I was urged into publishing it through someone else. So I sent the manuscript off with a query letter to dozens of agents and publishers. Surprisingly, a few expressed interest in short order; I had an offer from two publishers within a couple of weeks, and I went that route.

After seeing what was involved in producing the book and getting it off to readers, I decided to try my hand with the sequel. Even though I had a contract and offer for the next work, I realized that the vast majority of the effort behind selling a book fell to the author no matter how they are published. Only a tiny fraction of writers have real marketing muscle placed at their disposal. I never dreamed of becoming that fraction, so it made sense for me to shoulder a little more of the work in order to keep a lot more of the profit. The goal wasn’t to get rich, but to at least make enough money to not have two full-time jobs.

KS: Wool, and the following Novelettes (5 in all) collected into the Omnibus Edition, is by far your most well known, and loved, body of work. Is it your favorite as well?

HH: As a reader, it is probably my favorite. I think it’s technically and emotionally my best work. But as a writer, I would have to go with the first Molly book. The plot in that story is something I’m so proud of, and you never forget the feeling of completing your very first manuscript. It’s always a rush, but never again like that first time.

KS: I read on your webpage that Wool began as a single short story and you wrote more because of the rabid love of your audience. Does this mean you initially intended to stop with just that one story, or did you always intend to expand?

HH: I had no real intention of expanding the story, but I do leave that as a possibility with all of my works. I have sequels in mind for Half Way Home and The Plagiarist. But time is limited, and I have a ton of stories I want to tell, so most of these follow-ups will never see an opening sentence.

The demand for more Wool was something else. It’s remarkable, looking back, because the tenor of the rest of the story and the main characters that come later are nothing like what people were demanding more of. I had these high expectations from readers, I delivered something radically different, and it miraculously worked out very well.

KS: Did you ever expect this kind of response to your novellas? Did you do a final read through of Wool and say to yourself “I’ve got something here”?

HH: When I finished Wool, I knew I’d written something that really pleased me. It was the kind of story I love to find as a reader. What I didn’t think was that anyone else would enjoy it. It was almost like a writing exercise, like a surfer going out on a perfect day with no audience and just carving waves for the pure thrill of it. When you find out later that it was caught on film and other people took sublime pleasure in what you did – it makes it a completely new experience. That’s what Wool feels like to me: a work written for very private and personal reasons that then resonated with a crowd of like-minded people.

KS: A complaint many have with the Self Published community is how poorly edited much of the prose offered there is. A repeated compliment in the reviews I’ve read refers to how grammatically sound your fiction is. Did/Do you have an editor that you work with, or is it all you?

HH: Oh, if it were all me, there would still be tons of errors in there. Having said that, I have received compliments from professional editors that my rough drafts are very clean. I credit this with all the great editors I’ve worked with over the years. Lisa Kelly-Wilson and Nadene Carter taught me a lot. And I didn’t just correct the mistakes they found – I tried to learn from them.

When I was working with NorLights Press on my first manuscript, I started noticing that the same mistakes accounted for most of the corrections. We were editing the work a chapter at a time, so I rushed ahead and tried to fix these bad habits so I could send new chapters across and make Nadene’s job easier. In a way, I’ve just kept doing this with each manuscript. I made a note of my weaknesses and tried to improve in these areas.

I think my work ethic helps. I do five or six revisions and complete passes before I hand the manuscript off to my wife and mother (and anyone else offering to take a look). The more eyes the better. And when readers email me with a typo or a suggestion, I try to take these into account and update my e-books. That’s another advantage of digital publishing: you can make changes much more easily. A work doesn’t every have to be “done.”

KS: When did you really “get” that Wool was making a big splash? Was it when people started demanding more or was it when the likes of Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian started speaking with you about potential movie rights?

HH: It was the foreign deals that really made me sit up and wonder what in the world was going on. The enthusiasm from so many markets and cultures overwhelmed me. We went to auction in the UK and Germany, and the pitches from all these editors detailed huge plans for Wool that really blew me away. In order for a book to land deals like this, it has to be read and enjoyed by a lot of people who are difficult to please, who read a ton of work that they pass on. I finally started believing this was real when those people came at me with such strong offers. We’ve agreed to terms with sixteen foreign countries as of this writing. Another country made an offer today, in fact!

Another sign that something is taking place has been the recognition of my peers. I was at a book conference recently as an attendee, not a guest. Wool had taken off, but it was too late to ask to sit in on any panels. I spent my time trying to learn as much as I could from these other authors, not telling them who I was or even that I was a writer. I was buying signed copies of their books and sitting in the audience and taking notes. What freaked me out was when a few authors at the conference did a double-take at my name badge and asked me if I was who they thought I was. That amazed me. It made me realize word was spreading further than I had thought.

KS: Wool is so claustrophobic, not just because of the physical location, but even in some of the more tense situations. Was it a challenge limiting yourself to such a small a tiny environment?

HH: Not at all! I spent five years living on a 27’ sailboat. My last house was 750 square feet, and my current one is a palatial 900 square feet. In a lot of ways, creating a tight environment simplifies the writing process. There isn’t a sprawling empire with a dozen lordships and dark forests and mountain ranges to manage. And a small place also gives the reader a feeling of being trapped. Look at Alien or any of the great haunted house films. There’s no place to escape to. The action is contained, which makes it even more intense.

KS: Do you think you will ever spell out exactly what happened to cause the apocalyptic world the characters in Wool live in? Readers now know who caused it but not how or why.

HH: I already have! The first prequel is out right now. It’s called First Shift: Legacy, and it tells the story behind the creation of the silo. It’s an end-of-the-world scenario that I think is far more likely, and it hasn’t been done anywhere else that I know of. It’s always some vague environmental collapse or nuclear holocaust.

The former I find highly unlikely; nature is more resilient than we give her credit for. The impact that wiped out the dinosaurs (and most other species) created a devastating nuclear winter that nature recovered from (and some mammals thrived through). The nuclear threat diminishes with each passing year. I find it cliché and less terrifying than it was in my youth. The disasters I can believe in are quieter and less dramatic: a virulent virus, nanotechnology, a genetically modified disaster. If our end comes, I fear it will be nearly invisible and not worth seeing in IMAX 3D.

KS: So it seems I should have done more homework then! So are you going to continue writing in Novelette form?

HH: The first of three prequels is already out (First Shift: Legacy). These will all be novel-length at 60,000 words each, which is about 240 pages. The third act will combine the storyline from Wool with these prequels, and it will either be short novellas or one big honking book. I haven’t decided yet.

KS: What tips would you give to others interested in Self Publishing?

HH: Five things I wish I knew before I got started:
1. Keep it short and simple. I think 80,000 words is a good ceiling to set for your first work. You’ll find editing and revising a work of this length is much easier. If you can, start even shorter than that. Write a 15,000 word work with a beginning, middle, and end. Get used to finishing what you start.
2. Don’t write a series. After you publish that first novel or short story, go write something completely different. Otherwise, you’re always selling book one of the series, which will not be your strongest writing. Diversify. You never know what will take off.
3. Your book is never ready when you first think it is. Take some time away from it before giving it another read. And believe all the criticism from beta readers. Use their objectivity to make the work stronger. Doubt those who love you.
4. The plot is more important than the writing style. If you have a good story, just tell it. Don’t try to get fancy or flowery. Pretend you’re writing an e-mail or chatting with a friend. The harder you try, the more it’ll show.
5. Stay focused on your goal. When you sit down to write, don’t get distracted. Force yourself through to the end of the story and trust the revision process. Don’t get sidetracked! Write a horrible first draft if you have to. It’s better than no first draft.

KS: What is it about the Novelette format that keeps you writing your stories this way?

HH: It was an accident, really. I wrote The Plagiarist as an assignment for a class I was taking, and I really fell in love with the length. I was able to tell a full story in 60 pages, and I was able to edit and revise it in much less time. After finishing this book, I was inspired to write a story I’d been sitting on for at least five years. It was originally going to be much longer, but I’d seen what was possible with an economy of space. And so I wrote Wool just to excise it from my system, to get it out there. Its popularity is what led me to explore the novelette further.

KS: Tell me about some of your other works. Which ones would you suggest to someone who has just put down Wool?

HH: I would start with The Plagiarist. It costs a buck, is a quick read, and features similar philosophical questions. And then I would check out Half Way Home, which is Lord of the Flies meets Starship Troopers. And while I’m cautioning most people away from I, Zombie due to how disgusting it is, I think the underlying metaphors are worth enduring the messiness.

KS: Will I, Zombie be a single story, or do you intend to continue with that as well?

HH: I have two follow-ups to I, Zombie in mind. There’s no telling if I’ll find the time to write them, but I want to tell the story from the other side. When you read I, Zombie, you’ll see all these survivors and hints of their perspective. A book that mirrors I, Zombie but is more conventional begs to be written.

The other sequel is a post apocalyptic tale that takes place well after the events in I, Zombie. This book would follow the grandson of one of the characters in I, Zombie as he searches for the legendary “talking zombie” that his grandmother once whispered about but no one has ever been able to prove exists.

KS: What has been the greatest thing about this whole experience for you?

HH: Connecting with readers and having an audience. When I started getting emails from fans — and people began reviewing my book on their blogs because they wanted to, not because I sent them a free copy and begged them to — that really reinforced what I was doing. Now I get to spend my day crafting stories that I enjoy telling, and I have an eager readership waiting on the other side. It’s an amazing feeling. A lot of pressure, but an amazing feeling.

KS: Were you a fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy prior to writing Wool? Is there any body of work that you could point to as hugely inspirational?

HH: Absolutely. I grew up on science fiction. I loved the Foundation series, Ender’s Game, 1984, all the works that made you think about deeper issues while they entertained you. I’ve also been influenced by the thousands of comics I’ve read and all the TV and film I’ve watched. There are so many ways to absorb stories, and I’ve learned from them all.

KS: Did/Do you draw on any people in your life as inspiration for your characters?

HH: Oh, yeah, I think all authors must. You have to draw upon what you know. But it isn’t like you take someone and drop them into your story; you pick a slice of their personality, a physical trait, and you combine it with a half dozen others that you’ve picked up on. Every character is an amalgamation of multiple people.

Except for the bad guys, of course. Those are all people I’ve worked for.

KS: You’ve had an adventurous life yourself. You spent some of your time as a young adult sailing through islands in and around the Atlantic Ocean. Any chance you’ll ever write a sea faring adventure?

HH: In a lot of ways, my Molly Fyde series is a seafaring tale. The planets they visit were inspired by islands I’ve hopped between. And running a large yacht is a lot like captaining a spaceship. You have to be able to cobble together repairs in the middle of nowhere, stock food and spares and supplies for long journeys, and know a little bit about electronics, diesel engines, plumbing, and so on.

I do plan on writing something like my memoirs one day. It will focus exclusively on events that occurred near or on the water. I’ve had enough crazy things happen to me that I think it’ll only be mildly boring, not full-on mind-numbingly boring.

KS: Are there any other Self Published writers you would recommend?

HH: For sure. I’m a huge fan of Matthew Mather’s Atopia series. I like Cole Drewes and David Adams. There are so many wonderful writers out there (Ryk Brown is another) who could easily be with a major publisher, they just don’t want to take the pay cut that would entail.

KS: Many of the readers on this site enjoy gaming, whether it is Pen and Paper Role-playing, board, or video games. Do you partake of any of these hobbies currently or have fond memories of doing so?

HH: I was a huge pen and paper role-player in middle school and high school. I’ve been dying to get back into it, but it’s hard to find a steady game. Me and my geeky friends aren’t forced to sit together for an hour every day at the same cafeteria table (I wish we were!)

I then moved to computer RPGs. My favorites are the single player games with turn-based combat and great writing and characters. Baldur’s Gate, Fallout 1 & 2, The Temple of Elemental Evil, Divine Divinity, and Arcanum are some of my favorites. If they still made games like this, I wouldn’t get any writing done at all.

KS: If someone approached you with an idea to create a role-playing universe or video game based off of Wool would you like that?

HH: I wouldn’t kill for the chance, but I’d certainly maim someone. I do have an idea for a video game that would break all the rules and bring realism to the medium that hasn’t otherwise existed. One of the things that’s always troubled me with video games is the fake ratchet of difficulty. You fight the weakest baddies at first and gradually work your way up. Why doesn’t the evil mastermind send his ninjas or dragons after you right away rather than train you up on rats and weaklings? The game I want to make handles the difficulty ramp in a believable way. It also tells a story about the human condition that I think would move players like few games have.

But of course, all game developers set out with these ambitions. And at the end, they are rushing a product out the door and writing the first of many patches at the same time. Still, I’d love to give it a shot. Or at least draw up the plans so someone else could make it and I could play it!