A Conversation with the Team Behind Querent…

Last Arisia, I met up with a fellow author, fiber artist, and all around interesting individual who also is creating a game incubator. They were talking about this project online, and I happened to see a post about the game’s character creation process. It struck me that this would be an excellent way to create a character for a novella I was working on, but it also seemed like a cool game that I might want to try out in the future. Through my contact, I asked the team to come on the blog to talk about their project. They are just two weeks out from launching a Kickstarter, so go drop them a follow (info at the bottom) and see what they’ve got going on!

Q (Infamous Scribbler): Querent seems to be in the beginning stages of the project. Can you tell me a bit about what the project is going to be, and where you are in the process?

A (Querent Team): Querent has actually been in development since about February. It started out as an independent class project for Kayla and Mish, with the intent to get enough of a proof of concept that we could start developing it into something that could be on Kickstarter.
Now we are working on developing a full roleplaying game with tarot cards. We’ve completed our personality creation spread, and we have plans down the line to create a secondary background spread for players who want to go even more in-depth into developing their characters. Right now we are working on story generation spreads. We have one that outlines a story, and another that follows the Hero’s Journey structure for storytelling. We’ve tested all of these but are looking forward to developing them more in-depth!

We hope to make a roleplaying game that gives players and GMs the freedom to tell a story, and keep a story moving, without having to juggle stats or roll dice. Everything is narrative-based and story-driven, while still allowing for freedom from the players. Currently, we are working on creating content and testing our different “spreads” so we can revise and adapt for the final product.

As far as art goes, Amila’s current process is contributing to the design and layout of our book, as well as creating any other assets needed by our designers. A stretch goal for us is to create a custom deck of tarot cards that is unique to Querent, but that’s a very time and labor intensive project for our artist so she’ll either be chipping away at it slowly throughout the school year, or if a grant Amila applied for is approved, then she’ll get to work on it as a part time job and complete it much more quickly!

Q: In the world of tabletop games, what makes Querent unique? What might seem familiar to tabletop gamers?

A: Querent is unique in a number of ways! Our biggest difference is the fact that we use tarot cards instead of dice. Tarot cards are subjective and we use them to create a random, yet personal experience as the players get to interpret for themselves what the cards mean. Using cards helps to make sure that every experience is unique but that the player still has flexibility to interpret their cards as they wish.

We still want to incorporate familiar elements, like character sheets and the whole character creation process, and we also want to incorporate campaigns / campaign generating and a way for players to handle and play through encounters that isn’t reliant on dice rolls. We want it to have enough familiar elements that players of other tabletop roleplaying games can pick it up quickly.

Q: What are/were some of the personal challenges in creating this project?

Kayla: The game itself has been the easier part for me, because we have had a pretty clear vision of what we wanted it to be from the start. What’s been hard has been getting on the path to put this game onto Kickstarter. There’s so many new skills (like social media, marketing, business, finance) that we’re having to learn–we’re basically starting our own small business! There is so much logistical information to learn and to sort out and there’s still work to be done before our Kickstarter campaign in October.

Mish: The biggest personal challenges that came up mostly came from the fact that Querent wasn’t our full time jobs over the summer. We all had other jobs/internships which we had to prioritize, so simply having time to complete the project was a challenge. We had to adjust the amount of work we promised to do so that it would fit our busy lives! Overall, though, this has been one of the smoothest projects that I have ever worked on, and I really have to thank the rest of the team for that.

Amila: We’ve managed really well to work remotely together so far, but going into the school year I could see that being a challenge. We’re all pretty good at communicating though so we’d just have to make sure to continue that.

Q: What are/have been some of the personally satisfying moments in creating the game?

Kayla: For me, some of the early playtests of the game were hugely satisfying. They let Mish and I know that we really had something with this game idea and that we needed to develop it further and past just a class project. This was really inspiring and whenever we test we get at least a few people that really enjoy our game.

Mish: Testing, by far, has been most rewarding. Although we are obviously had a lot of changes to make, people seemed to genuinely enjoy playing our game, and that’s always good to see! Right from the beginning, we knew were onto something based on the response from testers.

Amila: Seeing people’s excitement for our game on social media and during QA testing.

Q: When people are playing this game, what do you hope they will get from it? How is the experience designed to give them that experience?

A: We want the player to get an experience that really seems unique to them, as if they were “meant” to be part of and connected to the world they are playing in. We want them to get invested in the character they created and the story itself in a way that other game[s] don’t allow. We have designed this through the use of tarot cards. The way that the cards work allow for a degree of randomness in interpretation, but also allows the player to project into the characters what they think the card means, giving them some control over the character and with world without having to come up with all this information from scratch. We really want to help players and GMs create rich experiences.

Q: What’s coming up next for Querent?

A: Right now we are working on an outline spread that would help players create the outline of a campaign that they can play through. As soon as we can get the content done we want to start to test it out with new players as well as GMs/DMs (gamemaster/dungeonmaster) of existing RPGs to see how playable our generated campaigns turn out.

We also have our Kickstarter campaign coming up at the beginning of October!

Q: Anything to add?

A: Thank you, Rachel, for this opportunity! We can’t wait to see how our game can work for you!

If anyone wants to follow our process, you can find and follow us at:

Twitter – @QuerentGame
Instagram – @QuerentGame
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/querentgame
Website – https://querentgame.com/

 

Please, give me patience…

Writing bad guys? Or do you mean … my biography?

This past week has been an exercise in patience, thanks to the ever-labyrinthine world of military health care bureaucracy. And military child care bureaucracy. And some other military bureaucracy. Don’t get me wrong. A few hours spent in the house that makes you mad (free digital copy of Cold Run and Night Run to the person who can tell me that reference) is a small price to pay for the services that come with success in navigating your way through. But I still have to take a few stops to breathe deeply and remind myself to be polite and firm and not lose it on the person on the other end who is just trying to do their job, and is also mostly just trying to help me as much as they can within the limits they’ve been given.

Not much writing is getting done today in the sense of words on page. However, I have had some breakthroughs with characters. The novella (novelette?) I’m working on introduces a new team, and a bunch of new people, and I’m trying to work on characters who are stretching my boundaries. I’ve actually got a pretty fun character exercise lined up that I’ll share later this week or next, in conjunction with an interview with the folks at Querent, who are creating a tarot-based tabletop game.

I’ve also got an interview coming up Monday with an old friend who is an awesome photographer. Can’t wait to share!

In the meantime, I’ve got a batch of mini-bagels to finish baking for the art show tonight, and I need to burn off some of this bureaucracy head steam by folding some laundry. As blog posts go, this is pretty mundane. On the other hand, more exciting stuff will be coming up, so stay tuned!

(And let me know if you catch that reference… 😉 )

A Conversation with Dr. Susana H. Case, Poet

Sometimes, reading poetry will trigger a memory so intense that it takes a moment before you realize that the memory it triggered belongs to someone else. That’s what it felt like to read Susana H. Case’s work. Here, I’ve asked her to speak on her work, in the hopes of sharing it with some fellow poetry enthusiasts who would also like to spend some time in the moments she crafts…
Q (Infamous Scribbler): As I perused the Internet, I found many author bios that included a list of your many publications, but not many that talked about who is Dr. Susana Case, and where did she come from. Can you share a little about yourself, the ‘behind-the-scenes’ so to speak?
A (Susana H. Case): I grew up in New York City in one of the outer boroughs (Queens), though I’ve lived in Manhattan most of my adult life (except for a few years in Ohio). Though I’ve traveled widely, sometimes for months at a time, I’ve always lived in the United States. The only child of a public school English teacher and a dietician, who gave up her career to become a full-time mother, I first had some of my poems published in my late teens, but then went in another direction. I earned a Ph. D. in Sociology and became a university professor. In the early 1990s, I returned to my first love, poetry, though I still continue to teach Sociology. The combination of interests means that there are a number of social themes that run through my creative work. For example, I teach a course in gender, and there is a lot about gender that runs through my poems. I’m also interested in power from many different perspectives and that interest is threaded through several of my poetry collections, for instance, my first full-length collection, which was inspired by archival materials from the Salem witchcraft trials (IS Note: Salem in Séance), and also a later book of prose poems inspired by copper mining and the early history of the labor movement in the United States. I’m interested in injustice, but I’m also interested in love, in its many manifestations. You can find one or the other or both practically everywhere you look in my poetry.
My interest in war comes from that interest in power and injustice and is the reason that warfare is the background of two of my collections. My first published chapbook, The Scottish Café, which won the Slapering Hol Press chapbook competition in 2002, and was later translated into Polish and re-published as a dual language (English-Polish annotated) edition by the University of Opole Press was the first series of poems I wrote in that vein, with World War II as the imminent event for a group of mathematicians in what was, in those years, a city that was part of Poland. I returned to thinking about life under war with Erasure, Syria, which has just been released. Having never had to live where a war was in the process of being fought, I consider myself lucky, and my interest in looking at what happens while people are living in those conditions has led me to try to imagine it within the framework of my (very different) experience. What I connect to is the interest in survival, in trying to fashion a life under the worst types of circumstances, a form of persistence and luck. Those are things that interest me. I’m married, to a visual artist, and also live with a dog, an elderly Scottish Terrier.
Q: In your poem, The Apartment, you explain that it was part-experience, part-research, part-imagination. Is this a common theme in your work? If so, how does that amalgamation coalesce when you’re working on a poem? If not, what about the process made this poem unique?
A: Yes, it’s common for me to draw upon my own experience or to project my own experience onto unfamiliar situations and I use imagination a lot. I also read widely if I’m writing about anything that has a historical basis or a basis in fact. Empathy probably also helps. But what I like about writing poetry is the ability to shift from the documentable to the realm of fantasy. “The Apartment” is a poem written about the apartment in which I currently live and the state it was left in at the time I moved in. There had been two people living in the apartment: an elderly man and his schizophrenic adult son. The son was not able to live on his own, and his remaining family eventually moved him out, but the disheveled state of the apartment piqued my interest in the two of them and what their lives must have been like in those final years. I didn’t know them, though I previously lived across the street. The apartment was full of guns, and there were external locks on the internal doors. The son did sleep on a mattress in the middle of the living room. Most of the rest, I imagined from what I know about schizophrenia. I did hear a few details from neighbors as well, the detail about the squeaky wheelchair, for example, which belonged to a resident who had died way before I moved in, coincidentally one of the wives of Robert Moses, the New York planner-builder. I was told that the noise of the wheels irritated the father enormously, that he was not a nice man, but in the poem, I ascribed the disturbance over the sound of the wheelchair to the son.
Q: Your book, Drugstore Blue, resonates, I think, with any woman who grew up in the 1980s. Can you talk about the decisions you made of what to include in the poems in the work, as well as a bit about creating the work in the present with the memories of the past?
A: Although I draw upon my personal experience and biography quite a lot in Drugstore Blue, it’s not a straightforward autobiography. The collection began in its conception as a book of poems about travel. But I soon realized that I wasn’t writing about travel so much as I was writing about the nature of navigating the world as a woman. I then organized the poems in terms of expanding circles of experience, starting with my roots, then moving outward to other parts of the United States, then moving further outward to the world, finishing with a section populated by many who are not of this world, have died, or are mythological, and so forth. But within each of those levels of experience, it’s the nature of being female, and what that means in terms of growing up, love, work, respect, etc., that were important to me for inclusion. I do not have a great memory, so whatever I can remember I’m grateful for, and what I can’t remember, I make up. I generally have not kept a journal, though maybe that would have been a good idea. I think adversity can be mined for creative content and we all struggle, we all have setbacks. I’ve tried to take some of that and turn it into “lemonade” so to speak, something better than it might have been as I was experiencing it. I don’t mean to suggest that my life has been terrible; I’ve been relatively very fortunate. But struggle is universal. We all have problems we are trying to solve. We all want to be loved, and to be happy, and to be fulfilled in our endeavors, and to be somewhat centered. None of that comes easy.
Q: I see from your schedule that you often read your works in public. What about reading the work aloud (as opposed to private creative process) is similar or different to publishing it in a book or online?
A: I was an extremely shy college and graduate student. If anyone had told me then that I would make my living teaching or, worse, that I would get up in front of a crowd of people to read my poems, I would have laughed and said, “no way.” I don’t know exactly what happened—maybe it was the sheer repetition of doing it that eliminated the anxiety, a form of immersive desensitization therapy—but I’m not that shy person anymore, thank goodness. I’ve very happy about that because it made my life at the time more difficult. I could barely say anything aloud. From that kind of history, I’ve come to a place where reading my work in public is something that makes me feel very much alive. But part of the private process for me is also hearing it read aloud. I need to hear it to see if it sounds right before it’s ever sent to be considered for publication.
Q: Your newest work, Erasure, Syria, from Recto y Verso Editions, came out this year. Can you talk about the creative process that went into the works in this book? Many of your other books bring an aspect of personal life from private experience to the public profound. How do you bridge the gap between your process and the lived reality of the war in Syria? 
A: I have no ethnic roots in Syria and, as I mentioned earlier, have never lived or worked in a war zone. I had been following the news. My reaction was to the destruction of a country. It was less a political reaction and more a response to the heartbreak of the situation. I have met a number of Syrians over the years living in other countries who would have preferred to be home, if there was an intact country to return it. It doesn’t look like that will be possible. I mean for my project, which has just been released, in fact the link isn’t even up on Amazon or Barnes & Noble yet, to be a universal response to this kind of upheaval, even though it uses news coverage specific to the situation in Syria. I have been interested in erasure poetry for a while, though I have not included erasure poems in my other books.
Erasure, Syria is a series of erasures of the daily news on Syria. I created one erasure a day and condensed the erasure into a black square in which I paid attention to spacing and other visual elements. It was an attempt to make art out of tragedy, something positive out of something horrific. I was fortunate to work with a publisher with excellent in-house design skills (Christian Ortega) and the book, which is about a terrible sets of events, turned out to be very beautiful. It was the publisher’s idea to also include some pages that showed the process of using this technique to select and arrange text and so it’s also instructional in a sense.
In addition, not that there’s any real money in poetry—that’s not why poets write—I decided I would donate from my part of the royalties to the International Rescue Committee’s programs in Syria. They provide medical and emergency help to refugees within the country and also in bordering countries and also provide water, sanitation, educational, and counseling services within refugee camps. Children and at-risk women are a substantial part of their client base. In this way I felt I would not just be feeding parasitically on someone else’s tragedy. In line with this, if anyone donates $35 to the International Rescue Committee directly, through this link (help.rescue.org/donate), and sends me a copy of the receipt via facebook messaging, I will send that person a free copy of Erasure, Syria. If you live outside the United States, please make a donation of $45, as my shipping costs will be greater.
Q: Anything to add? 
A: I have accumulated a large number of poems in which crimes of various sorts are threaded through the works. I’ve now begun to focus more on filling in the holes remaining in the sequences I currently have and this will be my next project.
~~~
You can purchase a copy of Erasure, Syria from the publisher, Amazon, or by donating $35.00 to the International Rescue Committee and messaging a copy of the receipt to Susana Case via Facebook. You can also find her online at her Website.

 

 

 

 

Getting a review from the Infamous Scribbler…

As most of the readers of this blog are aware (all three of you…), I often post reviews and author interviews, here and on Medium (if you happen to be writing as a member of the military or military-affiliated community). I like doing this because a., free books, and b., I like doing it. I am an author for two small presses, and a member of a number of groups of authors of like-minded backgrounds (enjoy writing spec fic or are military veterans), and so I usually go ahead and see if anyone has something new they’d like me to spotlight. That pretty much fills my review/interview quotient.

On the rare occasion, however, someone will reach out to me via Goodreads, or LinkedIn, or even Amazon, and offer me the chance to read their book for a review or interview. I don’t mind this at all, as it gives me a chance to meet new authors and check out their stuff. And, let’s face it, it provides me with content when things are slow (or a chance to procrastinate if I should be writing.) Some authors, or future authors, may be reading this blog post to find out what they need to do to get me to review their book, so here it is, broken down…

  1. Do your research. See if there is anything in my multitude of public information online that resonates with anything in your book, and then tell me that. For example, are you a military veteran? Do you write steampunk? Did we go to college together? Did I favorably review a book that is in the same genre as yours?
  2. Be concise. When emailing (and this is the best way to reach me for this particular matter), give me your pitch/logline, explain why you think I’d be interested, and then offer me a copy in whatever formats you have. If I’m interested, I’ll let you know. If I’m not, I’ll also let you know.
  3. If I’m not interested, please don’t email me back trying to convince me that I’m interested. I know what I’m about. Typically, I will say no if a., the premise just doesn’t sound interesting, b., I don’t have the time, c., I’m deep in the bowels of my own projects. I already have a To-Be-Read list of over 200 books, and if your book doesn’t grab my attention enough to jump to the top ten or twenty, then I would be rude to promise something that is likely not going to happen.
  4. Have an online presence. If I’m going to do an interview (and most of the books I accept, I do so with the intention of doing one), I am going to do a moderate amount of online stalking. At the very least, have an Amazon or Goodreads author page with a bio, author photo, list of publications. At best, have a full Web site with an online media kit. Have something I can sink my teeth into without having to turn Internet detective. If I can’t find this, it makes it more difficult for me to craft thoughtful questions, and I hate doing more work than I have to.

EDIT/UPDATE:

I was perusing Twitter today, and an author mentioned that bloggers who do reviews would be helpful if they mentioned whether or not they were interested in stories from diverse authors. I know that publishing outlets still consider stories with persons of color and LGBTQ+ characters to need their own subcategories and different spaces, but this space is for stories of all shapes and sizes, so if you are wondering whether you should send your SF story here, even though A,B,C, feel free to hit me up.

EDIT COMPLETE.

I hesitate to speak for other online reviewers, and so I don’t know if all of them prefer these guidelines, but I can say that if you are interested in striking up a conversation with me, and getting me interested in reading your book and doing an interview or review, this is the way. I need to get back to writing words for a project, and not for a blog, but if you’d like to send me something, email me at infamous_scribbler ~at~ yahoo, or fill out this handy Google form, and let me know what you’ve got.

Happy writing!

Marketing is hard…

As we enter the New Year, I do what I normally do, which is sit down to sketch out my plan for the year. Some of that I’ve put here in my last post, some is still hanging out as an outline in my bullet journal, and some remains to be uncovered in the book I’m currently reading, The New Rules of Marketing and PR (more on this, just scroll down a bit.)

One thing that has changed from previous years is that this time, I’ve set up a system of tracking what I am doing which will enable me to identify areas of effort that are performing, underperforming, or actually quite lucrative. My brain does well with systems that allow me to fill in numbers and see, in a tangible way, what I am doing.

Also, I spent some time, money, and effort in previous years on things that did not really do anything except waste all three.

The first thing to do, though, is get some words down. I’m putting off a few submission goals until I complete the two series I’ve got going on now. The intended result is to improve my craft, and build an audience through giving readers a full series instead of just a one-off. (It will also, with luck, demonstrate to any future agents I query that I have the ability to stick with writing a series, which is pretty important in the genre work I prefer.)

I will talk about my Patreon page, which falls in here somewhere and is intended to create a community of storytellers through coaching, but I’ll hit that at length at a later time. Although you can definitely check it out if you’ve been thinking about wanting to write your own stuff. I won’t stop you. 😉

The next thing is to build social media through connections and interactions. I’m under no illusions that I will sell books through Twitter, but again, it’s a way to demonstrate to readers and potential agents/publishers that I am more established and serious about what I’m doing. Connections and interactions are another reason that I’m applying to various conventions and conferences as a panelist and workshop leader. My theory is, if people want to read books or hire someone as a coach, they are more likely to do so if they’ve met that person in real life, and are able to then connect with them (me) online. So I have some shiny new bookmark/business cards, and a couple of dates in 2018.

The last thing, and this is courtesy of The New Rules book referenced above, is taking a look at how I can use content to gain a wider audience. (I realize I’m burying the lede here, but bear with me.) I’m about halfway through the book, but what grabs me as Mr. Scott’s central concept, is the idea that we’ve gone beyond marketing and public relations to a new concept of communicating and interacting on an authentic basis. The book delves into tactical-level concepts and courses of action, but the overall idea is that an author, or an organization, or a corporation, etc., must find a way to engage an audience of both potential buyers and non-potential buyers. (I know, what? I gotta talk with people who have no intention of buying my book?) This communication then shapes the general perception of that organization.

While much of what I write is available on places like Amazon or my publisher’s Web site, or at my Patreon, I wanted to find a way to continue to share content that would be the basis of interaction. And I specifically wanted that content to come from articles and interviews with a wide variety of interesting people doing interesting things. While some of them may be authors, or poets, or journalists, I also wanted to interview nurses, and scientists, and crafters, etc.

When I first started this Web site, I had a page called “Characters and Conversations.” I still entitle my interviews “A Conversation with …” My goal is that in inviting people to come on here and talk about who they are and what they do, these articles will spur more conversation and invite more people to join us.

If you are an author, or someone who works in any sort of capacity with trying to generate interest in, publicity for, or interaction with any sort of organization (or your sole proprietorship), I can’t recommend this book enough. It comes with a lot of great suggestions and stories, as well as a full online presence, and a blog.

I also suggest checking out the Twitter hashtag #bookmarketingchat as well as The Author Biz Podcast. Find what works for you, even if you have to do a little experimenting to figure that out. (Don’t forget to track your data and set your benchmarks!) And if you figure out the magic overnight secret to amazing online book success, feel free to share in the comments. 😉

Happy Writing!

 

Meet the New Year…

…with any luck, it won’t be the same as the old year.

To be fair, while 2017 was challenging at times, there were still some really great parts of it. For one, we welcomed our newest addition to the family, baby Jennifer. I got to spend time with friends and family, traveling to both the Pennsic War for the first time in almost twenty years, and heading down to Dragon*Con on our annual pilgrimage. I marched in my first protest, and then my second. My romance writing got picked up by Boroughs Publishing, and I made the decision to rebrand and relaunch the Rick Keller series. Also, I won NaNoWriMo for the first time in a really long time.

2017 was also a time of learning. I took a hard look at what I wanted to do as a writer and writing coach. In a manner that was half-experiment and half-throwing pasta at the wall to see if it’s done, I tried a bunch of different things, from a SkillShare account (too much noise to signal ratio), to sitting my butt down and putting words on paper (very effective!), to starting a bullet journal (so far, pretty helpful.)

So, coming up to 2018, I’ve got a few, focused goals and actions.

  1. Finish the Wilmington romance series for Boroughs Publishing. Grow my audience through social media and blogging.
  2. Finish and relaunch the Rick Keller Project for Untold Press.
  3. Finish more than just the first book of the Blues series and write my submission plan.
  4. Expand/promote my Patreon page to not only attract followers, but build a community of storytellers.

I’m also going to pursue attending conventions and workshops as a presenter/panelist. So far in 2018, you’ll find me at Arisia in Boston, where I’ll be leading three panels, two workshops, and sitting on a few more. Then, in March, I’ll be at the Liberty State Fiction Writers Conference, where I’ll be leading a workshop on writing military heroes.

If you’re going to be at one of these locations, drop me a line! Let me know if you’ll be stopping by. If you’ve decided that 2018 is the year you finally sit down to write that story/novel/memoir, get in touch, or stop by Patreon, and let’s make a plan.

2018 is going to be great. Let’s do this!

 

Flash Fiction … Maps

I made a terrible mistake when I subscribed to Chuck Wendig’s blog. Now, every Friday I get these little writing challenges emailed to me. Sometimes, I’m able to read and file(writing coaches need prompt ideas), but some other times, an idea comes swinging its way out of my head, demanding some screen time. This Friday’s Flash Fiction Challenge was just such a thing. Because maps.

I’ll get into why I love maps at some point in the future, but until then, here is up to 1,000 words of Friday prompt. Thanks, Chuck Wendig. You distracting distractor.

~ ~ ~

The lines on the map faded the moment Rose picked it up off the floor. She cursed out loud as first the shadings, then the characters, and finally the lines faded to a light gray–and then nothing. A deranged ghost of a giggle echoed in the air. Once again, she was forced to admit, she’d come off the worst in a bargain with the Fae.

Beside her, Frank chuffed and shook himself, Basset ears and drool flying in opposite directions. Jimmy bent over and wiped off his calf, then wiped his hand on his shorts.

“So where do we go now?” He squinted against the glare.

“It’s not like we have much choice.” Rose folded the blank map and stuffed it in her back pocket. Try as she could, she found herself unable to Grasp anything around her, the Magic curiously unresponsive under the harsh double sun. “We either follow him into the maze or we stand out here and die of boredom.”

Jimmy’s eyes did the focus-unfocus thing they always did when Frank was feeling conversational. “And starvation.”

“That, too.” From somewhere in the maze, something that sounded like a truck backfiring startled a flock of leather-winged creatures. They broke from cover, streaking in a disturbed circle, screaming. Just as abruptly, they re-settled on the walls, looking down into the maze. They weren’t too far away that Rose couldn’t pick out a distinctly eager vibe on their visages, as if the only thing they were missing was a bucket of popcorn.

“On the other hand, there are worse ways to go, so maybe we should just stay here.” Jimmy took a step back, almost falling over Frank, who had sheltered valiantly behind him.

“For real?” Rose shook her head and stepped off, choosing to head down the center path, straight into the maze.

A few yards into the labyrinth, Jimmy’s running steps thudded behind, and he and Frank pulled up next to her. They slowed, walking casually.

“So, interesting weather they’re having here.” Jimmy’s voice only shook a tiny bit. “This jerk couldn’t have picked a crossword for his big showdown?”

Rose snorted. “A crossword puzzle?”

“I don’t know–Find-A-Word? Maybe Sudoku?” His eyes unfocused again. “Trail of dog bones?”

“I’d prefer to not find any bones.” Rose stopped. “Speaking of which…”

The center path came to an abrupt end. They had been unable to see from entrance, because the makers of the labyrinth had shrouded the block with an optical illusion of slightly disjointed walls and an abundance of concealing ivy.

“Well, shit.” Rose stretched out her hand, sweeping the ivy to the side. In front of her, there was only more brick wall under the hanging leaves. To her right, she had more luck–a narrow path, barely large enough to walk through with her shoulders touching each side.

“I’ve got something over here,” Jimmy said. He pulled the ivy on the left side away for Rose to see. Instead of another path, this side was blocked by a large, wood door with thick iron ornamental hinges, and an old-fashioned key hole. Next to the door, a large church key hung from a rusted post. “You got any ideas?”

Frank lay down, resting his head on his front paws. It was the Basset version of a shrug.

“No ideas,” Rose replied. “Not even a coin to flip.”

She considered the two choices. An open path with no barriers–if narrow enough to set off her claustrophobia if it didn’t end soon. On the other hand, a door with a conveniently-placed key was definitely untrustworthy. Unless she was reading too much into the situation. Which was also possible. On the other hand…

Rose closed her eyes and shuffled sideways a few feet down the path. She waited. Nothing.

“Um, Rose?” Jimmy cocked his head and frowned, looking somewhat like Frank as he did so.

“Hang on.” Rose waited, then shuffled back to Jimmy’s side. Slowly, she reached for the key, pausing just before touching it. Nothing. “Here goes nothing.”

She picked the large, iron key off the post and placed it in the door. “Ow, crap. Crap, crap, crap.” Leaving the key in the keyhole, she grabbed at her behind. Jimmy watched in bemusement as she fumbled with her back pockets, then finally drew out the map.

Rose spread the paper out, holding it so Jimmy could see. The previously blank parchment now contained a small illustration–the two of them and Frank, standing before a door. She realized Jimmy was staring at her instead of the map.

“It got hot,” she said by way of explanation. “What the hell does this mean?”

“Maybe we’re supposed to go through the door?” Jimmy suggested.

“Or maybe we’re not supposed to go through the door.” Rolling her eyes at the supreme unhelpfulness of the Electric Fae, Rose re-folded the map, cool now to the touch. “Who knows. Let’s just do it and get going before something finds us.”

~ ~ ~

So, that wasn’t the total distraction it could have been. Instead, it was some good drafting for a future scene/showdown for Steel-Toed Blues or a future book in the series. I count it as good words, and I’m going to go and figure out where to stick it in my outline.

Thanks, Chuck Wendig. Happy writing!

The Return of #WriteFridays!

Last night I sat at my friend’s table for a mutual writing session, attempting to grind out just a few ndred more words. I’m stuck at the place in this manuscript where trying to get the story out feels like pulling teeth with a rusty chainsaw–not very effective, and kind of bloody. (I was also laboring under the misconception that once I hit 40K words, I only had 15K more to go. After hitting 40K, and celebrating, I realized that it was actually 25K more to my goal of 65K. Why do I even bother doing math?)

What, ho, I thought to myself. Time for a writing exercise! At this particular place in the novel, my two characters are sitting outside a Whataburger in the middle of Nowheresville, TX, in the early morning. It’s one of those towns I’ve often driven through, that is basically the incorporated confines of a stoplight, a hotel, and a couple of fast food joints. Although it’s winter in my novel (it usually is, I think probably because I start writing them in November…) it’s also Texas, so unseasonably warm. So where is the exercise?

Well, I managed to write about seven hundred words from the beginning of the scene, went to write an action where one of the characters adjusts his clothing … and realized I had no idea what they were wearing.

So for this week, let us don our sartorial lens, peruse the racks of our mind’s eye, and head into …

Captain shares his sharp-dressing secrets.

Captain shares his sharp-dressing secrets.

Exercise 20: You Are What You Wear. For many of us, our clothes immediately convey to those around us a certain amount of information about ourselves. Whether we’re wearing high-fashion couture, fast food polyester, a wool jacket in 100+ degree heat, or shorts in the middle of winter (hello, my significant other), much information can be gleaned from a character’s wardrobe.

For this exercise, write a paragraph that includes very specific choices in your character’s (or characters’) clothing choices (or lack of choices.) This could be an introduction to a new character–or a new way of seeing an old one.

Happy writing!

Mail call!

I woke up this morning and opened up Goodreads, just to find out how many people had eventually ended up signing up for my Soft Target giveaway. My goal had been to reach about 250 people–even if they were only signing up for free for a free book, at least that would be 250 people aware of its existence. I still have a bit of stock from the copies I ordered to send to bookstores and use for marketing, and figured this would be a good use of them.

Apparently, more than 700 people decided to take their shot at winning a copy. I am about to head out to the post office and send two copies to people who live in my state, one copy way across country, and two across international borders. Which is way exciting.

And then, I’ll come back here and sit down with my laptop and a giant cup of coffee because my to-do list is, as for most writers, growing longer with each page I don’t write.

Thanks to all who participated!

Heading out to their new homes!

Heading out to their new homes!

Alternate creativities…

I spend a lot of my time writing, thinking about writing, not writing, wishing I were writing, blogging about writing, feeling guilty about not writing, or otherwise with writing somewhere in my conscious or subconscious. Sometimes, I forget that there are other creative works that I have percolating around in my mind. This weekend, I started re-connecting with one, namely the Society for Creative Anachronism.

This is a group that has been around for just about a half century, and that I first become involved with almost twenty years ago, when I was a freshman in college. It’s a group that recreates the middle ages, from a period of about 600-1600 CE. People do research, experiment with techniques for recreating various elements of the time period, and then periodically get together to share those techniques, whether they be armored martial arts, fine embroidery, music, or — and this is a particular favorite — brewing and cooking.

This weekend I dragged my spouse, little one, and a bunch of other newbies up to Raleigh for an event, the Windmasters Hill Cooks and Performers Symposium. It had been a while, and I spent most of the prep time putting together garb for LJ and Rob, so I threw on some really old last-minute-Pennsic-purchase garb and went on in.

The event itself was wonderful, and the group was incredibly welcoming. I took a class on making flatbread, which was a class of bread-baking that formerly eluded me, but which I now feel a little more confident taking on. I took another class on the development of Italian music in the Renaissance period, which featured some lovely listening (which also put LJ to sleep, so double score.) And when I was feeling a little like I needed a break, I headed out to a piece of grass where some people were sitting and playing some desultory tunes, and worked a little on a piece of embroidery.

Suffice it to say, this previous two week’s away from writing as my primary creative endeavor has actually been quite helpful. I’ve gotten a good deal of work done on revising one of my manuscripts, trying to make the magic word count that will tip it into the “novel” category, and thus be more marketable to agents and publishers. I’ve also broken through one of the major delaying points on Steel-Toed Blues, and have even gotten some stuff done on my nonfiction chapter.

My intention is to continue to re-connect with my other creative endeavors — the SCA, music, fiber projects — in order to keep the writing juices flowing. I sometimes forget that all these experiences show up time and again in my writing. To neglect them would be to turn off the tap for whatever it is that feeds the writing flow.

And with that, I am off to grab some buttons for a fiber project, and do my best not to spend all of this glorious day indoors with the sprog.

Peace!