Speaker for the Dogs

“Dad, what does Bender say?” he asks me, fully expecting an answer.

I want to break into the chorus of “What Does the Fox Say,” but the coffee cup is already at my lips and I simply struggle to swallow. A-bear asks of me the impossible, fully expecting I’ll have the capacity to deliver. The possibility that I might not have the answer to this or any question never enters his mind. I am practiced at this, I can make up the difference.

My first boy, who is nearly 18 and soon on his way to college, wasn’t so much this way. With him I could do no wrong. At a time in my life when I made so many mistakes and failed so miserably my reputation with him remained golden. I couldn’t be tarnished and looking back that far I know that the reason I stopped screwing up had a lot to do with living up to his expectations of me.

“Bender wants your table crumbs, he says ‘give me all your cinnamon roll,'” I reply after chocking down a hot mouthful of java-juice. It burns on its way down, so I have a little trouble imitating the begging Bender, who table-sharks our local coffee café, with the appropriate element of Scooby Doo.

“No he doesn’t,” Aral replies with indignation, “he says, ‘Rut row, give me all your cinnamon roll.’ Ah ha ha ha ha!” He’s got his Scooby down, which is surprising since he’s only ever heard it from my mouth.

“You’re right, little cub.”

Time enough …

Last night I went to bed intending to get up early. I wanted to do some yoga. Maybe sit for a peaceful moment, listen to my breathing or the rain. I went to bed early and then didn’t sleep, staring out the window at the clouds, backlit by the city, as the rolled their way north. When I did obtain some slumber I had anxiety dreams. Seems even I don’t think I deserve a house on the island, because last night, while in the moving truck crossing the Sound, the ferry went down with all hands. And this morning there I sit, at the bottom of the Salish Sea, amongst all our household goods. Notably, my dog sits next to me on the bench of the moving truck.

Dreams are creepy sometimes. I don’t even know why I was in the moving truck. But the most lasting effect of that little gem is that this morning when my alarm went off, I simply turned it off and rolled over snuggling under the down comforter.

A-bear has asked me several times just this morning what dogs are saying, he expects that I’ll interpret their body language and translate this into words he can understand. Pepper jumping around at the front door? “Errrrmahgerd, I have’ta pee!” The Maltese walking down the sidewalk with its owner? “Can I have some kisses, please? Just little kisses.” The guy walking this dog wasn’t impressed. And Bender at the coffee shop, who perpetually orbits under the table sniffing around for a tasty snack.

My leitmotiv seems to be acting as Speaker for the Dogs. For this I am thankful, life couldn’t have blessed me more. And so, sitting at the café sipping my favorite cuppa, I’m going to give myself permission let go of my house buying anxiety. I’m going to, at least for a time, forget all my self imposed deadlines and write for the joy of it. I’m going to talk like Scooby Doo and make my youngest son squeal with glee. I’m giving myself permission to simply be that guy. Not the idealized person I imagine I should be, but the guy I actually am. The person the moment calls for.

Question of the Day

Yeah so this is now bugging me. A plotting decision for which I can see no real justification. In the movie Big Hero 6 the charters Hiro and Tadashi Hamada live with their aunt Cass. The backstory is that when Hiro was four their parents died. No real explanation beyond they’re dead is provided. Their aunt takes the boys in and loves them, sure enough, but I keep wondering “Why?” Why even include this in the early scenes of the movie at all?

Seems like an unnecessary complication in the development of Hiro’s story. Did the writers want us to believe that Hiro was already acquainted with the the prospect of personal loss? Is it possible that Tadashi’s death, a big brother who fills a parental role, might seem less catastrophic because Hiro also lost his parents. Maybe this backstory is developed in the comic book, which I haven’t read, and the screen writers just included this detail to maintain some sort of pluralism with that version of the story?

Guess that’s what a morning of editing might do to you. After seeking holes in my own plot for so long it actually seems like a little break to poke holes in other’s stories. Still a great story, a movie I really enjoy, but I can’t help but wonder why.

Can’t Pass a Turing Test

So Tess and I are trying to buy a new house, I may have mentioned this before. Internet access — specifically high speed access — is a big requirement for us. Between the two of us we’d have a very hard time getting any work done without it. Thus, for anything that gets put into the “serious” list we usually search out local high-speed internet providers in the area and confirm a) that they offer service at the address and b) that they can accommodate our bandwidth and throughput requirements.

I’ve accomplished this before with several companies, and in particular with Comcast/XFINITY. Perviously I talked to a guy named Ruhid and while it took him a bit he was clearly searching for an answer. Today, I had to do the same thing, but as you can see below, I was not able to answer these very basic questions.

Chris: Hi, I’m a live Comcast product specialist. What questions can I answer for you today?
Chris: Just type your question below.
Matt: I’m trying to determine what sort of speeds I can get for a house we may buy

[address of new house]

Chris: I’d be glad to check the Internet plans we offer in your area.
Chris: Do you mind if I ask a few question in order to give you accurate information?
Matt: sure
Chris: Just to check before we move on, are you a current Comcast customer or have you had Comcast service in your name within the last 120 days?
Matt: no and no
Chris: Thank you for considering Comcast!
Chris: To better assist you with our Internet plans, may I ask what do you usually do on the Internet?
Matt: mostly work, I am an author, my wife is a software developer
Matt: we also stream entertainment
Chris: Perfect! How many computers or gaming devices do you connect to the internet? Are any of them laptops?
Matt: most of them are laptops and I maintain a router for NAP purposes
Chris: We offer the Wireless Gateway which packs a router, cable modem, and voice adapter into one device. It allows multiple devices in the house to access to access the Internet at the same time with lightning fast speeds!
Chris: Just to check, do you currently have TV and/or phone service/s with another provider?
Matt: Thanks, I’m just checking access for potential issues at this time
Matt: yes we’re on community fiber installation right now
Chris: By the way, are you interested in Internet-only service? We currently have promotions for new customer for triple play bundles that you may qualify. Please note that you will be able to save more on the costs if you go with bundling up our services.
Matt: only internet please
Chris: It’s alright, just wanted to let you know the benefits of bundling our 3 high speed cable services.
Matt: I just need to know what if any service at this address
Chris: Based on what you’ve told me, I highly recommend our Performance plan. With Performance Internet, you will be able to stream high definition movies and TV shows easily, work online at home and surf the web with fast speed of up to 50 Mbps downloads with up to 5 Mbps upload.
Chris: How does that sound to you?
Matt: are you saying that the CP on Vashon island can support 50/5 Mbps?
Chris: The calculated maximum speeds of the internet plans vary from area to area (in most cases by 2 – 5mbps differences). The promotions show the “National” plan that is advertised the same, the everyday pricing shows the local area pricing and the speeds in that area.
Matt: that’s not what i’m asking, I need to know what the line to that address will support
Matt: can you answer that question for me?
Chris: May I ask what do you mean by saying “CP”?
Matt: the control plane on the far side of the network. If there is coaxial cable into the house, which COMCAST owns, then there will be a control plane somewhere in the neighborhood.
Matt: its your companies router
Matt: What I’m after is does Comcast service this address? If so, what kind of service can I expect?
Chris: Our high speed cable services run through our fiber optic cable network that’s why we’re not only fast and reliable but we’re also up and running, rain or shine.
Matt: that is precious
Matt: so you can’t tell me if comcast can provide service to that address?
Chris: We provide services in your area as I have checked on our system.
Chris: Our Performance plan is on promotion at $39.99 per month for the first 12 months. After 12 months, regular rate of around $66.95 per month will apply.
Chris: The lease for the XFINITY Wireless Gateway ranges from $8-$10 a month, depending on your area. Let’s move forward so that we can check on the Customize page.
Chris: Do you have any other questions before we place the order?

As this conversation got longer and longer the thought that Chris might not be a real person, kept occurring to me. When I finally closed the chat dialogue, that question was itching my brain something awful. It seems I’m not the only one who is walking around with a raging case of Comcast brain rash.

Now, I think it’s probably safe to assume that Chris was a piece of software answering support calls on the far side of our current service plan. If not, well then I apologize Chris, but you should know that you come off as the cross between an incredibly shallow intellect and a religious zealot with a cable fetish.

So moving beyond the frustration of not knowing about internet service at this address, my fascination with this situation is plainly apparent. There is a part of me that wants to go back to that pop-up chat window and troll Chris for a while. Ask him unusual questions like “I love cherry pie. What’s your favorite pie?” Then make rhetorical statements suck as “Nice weather we’re having.” I’d just leave it there to see if he’d recognize the conversation bait. I’d love to provoke a more satisfactory tell than his relentless insistence that my life would be better if only I chose a package deal and I’d like to determine the edges of Chris’ script. Looking up an address in a service database is way beyond him, but does he contemplate the complexities of relative humidity and precipitation?

The story I’ve been investing in of late is an attempt to examine quality of life, both from within a perfect simulation of reality, and outside the simulation where experience is real, random and often fractured. We’re not too far away from a day when the virtual representation of a thing will be as good as, if not better than, the actual thing. When the fidelity and clarity and ease of an animated fish swimming through virtual space in our living rooms exceeds an actual SCUBA adventure off the coast of Hawaii, where will we chose to swim?

I should probably write Comcast/Chris a letter thanking them for giving me a ready made subplot. After I finish this blog post I’m going to go outline a machine learning Guru living within the Lucid Landscapes Corporation virtual space. Either that or I’m going to take a break from living inside my own head for a bit and go work with my hands. I have a kayak that is nearly assembled.

Distraction

I spend a lot of time writing in coffee shops. Over the last couple of years most of the words I’ve committed have been written while seated in these sorts of places. Today is no different. I dropped A-bear off at preschool, and stopped off at my favorite local bean house.

The goal this morning was to write a short description of the various settings I want to include in the piece I’m outlining. I need eight to twelve when it’s all said and done. The novel involves a networked simulation and so the setting changes over the course of the story which means I can’t just say “simulation” and walk away. Each of these worlds needs to feel real for the story to work.

So I’m sitting here, banging away at the keyboard, trying like hell to imagine each one after the other. How do these worlds work? What feels real, what does not? It’s world building ad nauseum. I’m sitting here, periodically staring off into space because I need to imagine these settings when this couple sit down at the table next to me. He’s in his late 30’s, a little gray in his unkept hair, and a belly has sprouted under his chest. I think she must be a little older, she has long strawberry hair that she must curl every morning.

The guy is mansplaining everything and otherwise dominating their conversation. He’s doing so with authority while at the same time he constantly contradicts himself. “I’m a libertarian,” he says. In the next breath, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had government sponsored parenting classes like France?” He starts to riff on the VA and how he thinks it should be destroyed and forgotten. Veterans should know better before they join up to serve. It’s their own fault if they come back from broken places, broken. But then, “You know me, all I want to do is help people.” I’m floored when he trots out the Microsoft vs. Apple card like OS preference is still a thing. He looks over at my Mac and I can tell I’ve ordered Pepsi when he starts dropping “billg” into their conversation like he knows the Microsoft co-founder. This guy is a fraud, he knows it, but he can’t help himself.

The woman periodically chimes in, but says relatively little. I can tell that she’s practiced at holding her tongue. She does a lot of enthusiastic nodding on the rare occasion he says something that she agrees with. Her eyes get shuttered and she looks down at her hands, folded neatly on the table, when he says something so completely fallacious that my four year old wouldn’t have too much trouble picking it apart. From what little she gets to say, I gather she’s involved in mental health or therapy of some sort and my imagination races to keep up with her internal monologue. She’s taking mental notes, she’s keeping score. What the fuck could she be thinking about what this guy is spewing? I marvel at her patience.

Had I hair enough I’d want to pull it out. I cannot help but listen in on this train wreck of a conversation as it bounces down the cliff and into the river far below. It’s annoying, it’s wrong, and it’s just too fucking attractive. I’ve written down a measly five setting descriptions this morning, but my puppy sensitive nose is sniffing around story ideas at the table right next door.

We’re currently looking to buy a house (more on this later), and today it is plainly obvious to me that I need a distraction free space in order to increase my words per week. None of these novels are going to write themselves. Coffee shops work okay, but there is an element of chaos resident herein that keeps becoming a distraction. I’ve got another twenty minutes before school gets out and I should probably get back to my setting descriptions and plotting work. But I wanted to make a mental note of this moment time because I don’t want to lose sight of what I need in a place to live tomorrow when we go looking.

Slog for the Pay Off

I may have just discovered my least favorite part of writing professionally. Without a question it is outlining, specifically following the snowflake method. After getting neck deep into a number of stories, mostly novel length tails, where I get to climax and wonder “what the hell am I doing?” I’ve opted to take a new-to-me, and possibly more constructive approach to this tale. Following the rules, as it were.

I’ve completed the early steps to planning using the method. Right now I’m going scene by scene and creating an outline of this story. It feels very much like shaving my head with a cheese grater. Painful, unnecessarily painful. That said, the crux — the part of story telling I have the most difficulty with — is coming into focus. I can see that when I sit down to write this, if I persevere during this painful slog toward an outline, I’m going to have a much easier time of it. I’ve also probably saved myself an immense amount of time in re-writes and revisions.

The odd thing is that back when I was doing program management for major software concerns this was the part that I really enjoyed. Creating the battle plan was then much more interesting and enjoyable than the execution phase. So, while I take a break and look up from my outline, I’m left speculating on this personal change. Was planning major, integrated hardware and network platform solutions the most creative thing I could do when engineering and planning were my occupation? During execution there was very little for me to do beyond tracking forward progress and reporting that motion up the food chain. These were the BBB* times in my life back then.

My anticipation for the writing phase of this tale is growing. This is a good idea, a compelling story that will have popular appeal. And, perhaps more than that, I’m going to enjoy writing it. So maybe that’s the positive angle I need to take on this endeavor. The outline is increasing my desire to write the story. Get the outline done, get it done right, and I can and will write it.

* BBB: Bored Beyond Belief

Project Management

This is more of a belated review of the last year in writing than anything else. I’m opening with that sentence because I want to end this blog post before I begin. That said, this post is also going to contain a modicum of resolve.

Looking back on the last year I am compelled to the realization that I’ve been putting the cart before the horse. This despite being a 40-something adult with a load of project management experience and a well developed understanding of how to go about these things. This realization comes on the heals of devising the crux to a story I’ve spent a considerable amount of time developing. I took an interesting idea, drones fighting wildfire, and sort of shoehorned it into a science fiction drama without ever really knowing how I might end the damned thing. Oops!

Clearly there must be a better way to go about this business. Right now my writing process seems entirely too by-the-seat-of-his-pants. And this news is coming from the inside, where it’s likely to go unnoticed until it has become a raging problem.

How did it get so bad?

I need to answer this question before I can see my way to streamlined perfection. Last year was a roller coaster for our family. At the time it felt like I was dipping with the dives, with my hands in the air, and enjoying the corners as much as these things can be savored, but each and every time we had to pack up and move I had to start jumping through my own rear end. Every time there was a change of job I had to pry a wooden shoe from the finely tuned mechanics of my schedule. With each friend that passed I felt like I needed to take a break, let myself grieve a little, before I could move on. When I got off the 2014 roller coaster I realized how sick I felt. That thing was scary, precarious, and it’s something of a miracle I got to the end of it in one piece.

I’ve already identified how important routine is for my little guy. The Holiday season has been ample illustration of what happens when he doesn’t get his nap in the afternoon and what I should anticipate if his expectations are thrown too far out of whack. But what I’ve seemingly missed all this while is that, as a father and a writer, I need that same level of routine. Without it word counts dwindle, projects stall, and this whole writing thing feels more like an expensive hobby than a career decision.

Upside

Yes there is an upside. While 2014 was not my breakout year I learned a lot. I learned plenty about the business of genre writing. If I don’t say so myself, I did a pretty awesome job being a Dad. And, I wrote plenty considering the number of lifestyle changes and interruptions we experienced.

 

Word Count by Project 2014

Because A-bear demands it, yes my little guy has decreed today is “backwards day”, we’ll review in reverse order. I was able to achieve about 61% of my 250,000 word goal for the year. Yeah, 150k ain’t nothing to sneeze at, I know. I sold a short story to an anthology which you can buy individually or soon as part of a collection. I gracefully backed out of two articles that were going to cost me more to write than I’d make on their sale. And I received a pile of rejection letters which included examples of both the best and worst of their form.

From all this word-smithing I learned a couple of things. First, I need to keep very accurate account of the time I spend writing as well as the amounts I produce per project (a tip of the hat to Jim Hines for the idea). In fact, since July I have been keeping an annual spread sheet of the times, word counts and projects I’ve worked on. The 2014 version of this, even though it only covers a little less than half a year and is very rudimentary, has unquestionably helped me and improved my accountability.

Second, I’ve learned from this accounting that it doesn’t always take me a lot of time to write well. Per the spreadsheet I’ve kept since July, I can see that some of my most productive times weren’t marathon sessions sitting in front of my laptop. Rather, they were brief ten and fifteen minute blocks, usually crammed in on the heals of laundry folding or dish washing, where I had an idea in my head and wrote it down in three to 500 words.

Aral turned four in 2014. I’ve been effectively handling him for the better part of two plus years now, being the stay-at-home-parent and acting the part as much as I am able. Don’t get me wrong, Tess is still an excellent and involved parent, but for the bulk of the workweek I’m the guy A-bear relies on. So I’ll take a bow from the wings of his stage knowing that my work as director has quality.

My big guy Justin, turned 17. He’s been accepted to the college of his choice, has improved his grade point average considerably, and plays a mean blues riff on his guitars. Although I haven’t had much of a physical presence in his life for the last couple of years I still fell pride in his accomplishments and I simply love the time we spend together online.

As far as the business side of writing, conventions played perhaps the most important role in that education. I really loved my time at all the different venues I got to attend. Even more I enjoyed participation at some of those venues. Time on panels felt more like an exchange of information and ideas than a dictatorial lecture. My favorite experience by far was the shared reading session I had with Jim Hines at DetCon.

Add to this, the valuable connections that happened in and out of these convention spaces. Spending face time with my heroes, people like John ScalziJacqueline Carey, and Tobias Buckell lead me to a number of important insights. Even better, it periodically renewed my intention to write more, and write better. It also put me in contact with networks of people supporting these writers. From these people I received valuable feedback, helpful advice, and a couple of opportunities (including interviews, more appearances at conventions, and in the case of Tokyo Yakuza a tip to submit).

In each case, I walked away from the convention feeling overwhelming gratitude; both for the opportunity to hang out with others “in my tribe” as well as for the amazing support I get at home. I’d still be slaving for a soul crushing salary if it wasn’t for my amazing and super smart wife.

Resolutions

So what does this all mean for 2015? So there are the obvious tweaks I need to make to the system to keep writing and working well inside my home. Add to this there are longer term life-goals that I should probably identify so that I can work toward them. Some of these are specific to writing, others are more about supporting or enriching me so I can remain a productive and effective bullshit artist.

Short Term

These are goals that I need to address in the next six to twelve months. In no particular order:

  • Finish outstanding projects. Like Fire Weather, Winter City Above the Clouds and Counterfeit Horizon. I’ve got a lot of time and effort wrapped up in these. If I let them sit, I’ll be wasting all that. FW is nearly done, I’m writing the ending now in fact, and I may try to workshop this piece before I try to publish it. Counterfeit Horizon is big, needs lots of reworking, but has some really cool ideas, characters, and concepts in it. Of all the stories I’ve written this one needs to be done and I’d feel horrible shame if I shelved it for any reason.
  • Focus on routine. A-bear and I both need this, so each and every time it is challenged I need to ask myself how a change to it will effect both our interaction as well as my productivity. Nap time, for the time being, is a necessity. Time outside cannot be lost to errands. And above all the laundry must flow.
    He who controls the Laundry, controls the universe! – Baron Harkonnen
  • Economize, economize, economize! I will continue to sell off or give away things that no longer fit into our lifestyle. Minimization will help, but financial discipline must be the other critical consideration in this equation. Debt only limits us moving forward, we are transforming ourselves into cash-only family.
  • Build endurance and health for the long term. At this point I’m very inclined to consider my whole health. Last year I’ve injured myself several times, mostly from overtraining, and as a result I’ve ended up taking two steps back for every one I take forward. So I’m taking advice, restructuring my training plans, and learning much about holistic endurance training. I’m doing this because endurance is key to my success as well as to my happiness.
    • Build a great aerobic base. This essential physical and metabolic foundation helps accomplish several important tasks: it prevents injury and maintains a balanced physical body; it increases fat burning for improved stamina, weight loss, and sustained energy; and it improves overall health in the immune and hormonal systems, the intestines and liver, and throughout the body
    • Eat well. Specific foods influence the developing aerobic system, especially the foods consumed in the course of a typical day. Overall, diet can significantly influence your body’s physical, chemical, and mental state of fitness and health.
    • Reduce stress. Training and competition, combined with other lifestyle factors, can be stressful and adversely affect performance, cause injuries, and even lead to poor nutrition because they can disrupt the normal digestion and absorption of nutrients.
    • Improve brain function. The brain and entire nervous system control virtually all athletic activity, and a healthier brain produces abetter athlete. Improved brain function occurs from eating well, controlling stress, and through sensory stimulation, which includes proper training and optimal breathing.-Maffetone, Dr. Philip (2010-09-22). The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing

Long Term

These are long term goals, they may take years to reach, but getting them out there will help me obtain milestones in the correct direction.

  • Continue to develop the Diaspora storyline. Counterfeit is a sort of prequel to what I have already outlined. A technology roadmap for sending humanity out into deep space. I’ve had some new ideas about how I want to spread humanity lightyears beyond our solar system and they’re unique and truly “epic” in every sense of the word. My intent is to make this trilogy large enough in scale as to be humbling for the reader. Someday readers will compare me to KSR, Iain M. Banks and Clark and say, “Thyer? Yeah he makes me feel truly insignificant in the context of the universe.”
  • Endurance Athlete. I want to continue my quest to compete in extreme distance endurance sports. At this point I don’t know if this means that I want to be part of organized suffer-fests like the Grand to Grand or if I should focus in more in on independent long distance crossings. In any event I plan on growing my personal endurance.This summer I am still trying to put together an independent bulki hike along the John Wayne Trail and I have a recurring delusion in which I hike all 2600 miles of The Tour Divide.My intent is to reclaim the sensation I used to be saturated in when I was a backcountry guard on the Flat Tops Wilderness. Then again, in 2009, having come to some sort of compromise with my bum leg, when I started running trails a lot more often.

    “You don’t stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running.” – Christopher McDougall

    Finally this goal, whatever it’s final outcome may require a COMPEX muscle stimulator, a new WAA Ultrabag 20l, and a competent and understanding endurance coach. As I discharge debt and fix my financial situation I’ll look for ways to invest in these things.

  • Collect Rejection Letters. I’ve come to realize that there are only authors. There are plenty of myths roaming around the internets about all the kinds of authors — traditional and independent, take your pick — but my observations lead me to the conclusion that publishing is in too much flux for these to have any lasting meaning. They are are the sort of ridiculous labels that get used to segregate people which doesn’t serve any of my purposes at all, ever.

    The best rejection letter of the 2014

    I want to make a living doing something I’m passionate about. That’s it, that is all there is about publishing that matters. All avenues to publication are open to me. As I write more I’m only increasing the possibility that someone will be engaged. Rejection letters don’t hurt me; they may help, especially when they’re well written and contain hints about the work under consideration. No longer am I a label dependent author.

  • Workshopping. Last summer, while sitting across a table from John Scalzi, I had the opportunity to talk to this man that I admire for what he has accomplished with his fiction about what motivates him. At least that’s what I wanted to know about. I’ve heard him say that he writes for his mortgage, but this doesn’t answer the question that’s been bugging me. Why writing? Of all the things a smart, accomplished guy could possible do, why would you willingly choose to enter into the profession of making shit up for a living?It’s a tough gig no matter how lucky you get.I’m not certain I really got an answer from him. John turned my own question around on me and then I was confronted with the surprising realization that I didn’t have a good answer. I know the answer is in part, “because I’d do this even if there weren’t any money involved.” In fact, I have written most of my life starting back when I was a kid. I wrote stories and drew pictures of those stories. But there is more to it than that. Writing is a discourse, an exchange if you will. I really enjoy the feedback I get from the audience that reads my stories. This is important to me as a writer.Since that conversation believe me when I say that I’ve thought on the topic. In September I ran into Ramez Naam at a reading in University Bookstore. At the time I was looking for workshops and writer’s groups and we discussed what role these played in his writing. Turns out pretty much none whatsoever. Mez has a select group of beta readers he relies on before he sends off a manuscript to his publisher.

    I’ve tried a bunch of different groups. Writing groups can be helpful, but my experience tells me that this is very rare. They can be clique-ish, some of them are set up to help only the organizer grow as a writer, and I’ve even run into groups that are more about playing games than writing or critiquing manuscripts. Mez warned me away from them, gently suggesting that I was indeed wasting my time.

    I heard Tobias Buckell talk about the sacrifices he made to go to school this summer on a panel at DetCon. My takeaway was that he feels four years of college actually delayed his writing more than anything. He found the most value, made the most improvement going to Clarion.

    In 2015 I’m not certain Clarion West is in the cards for me. Given the cost and the time commitment I need to answer the question, “can I do this if I’m given the opportunity?” I know I need exactly this sort of immersive experience to take my writing discipline to the next level, but this may have to go on the long range project lists for now.

 

New Things

Admittedly, I am a far happier person when I stick to the predictable. Want to take me out for something to eat? Take me to someplace I know well enough to avoid looking at the menu and I’ll be a happy. I usually ignore alternative driving directions because they might take me along unknown roads and into unexperienced traffic messes. And I spend the greatest effort in my day-to-day affairs sticking to a predictable schedule so that both Aral and I can exist in the tranquility that results from that sort of routine.

I’ve played World of Warcraft, the massively multiplayer on-line role playing game of great fame, since people actually role played within the confines of the world. When it was new I got sucked into it because a friend was playing and because it was arguably the climax of a pursuit I had invested a lot of time and effort into previously (starting way back with DiKU MUDs). So, for nearly a decade now, I’ve ponied up about $15 bucks a month and slogged my way through dungeons, guild politics, griefers and hackers while seeking purples and legendary orange tokens indicative of my dedication to this collective suspension of disbelief.

After a while this became sort of a habit. Something I kept doing because I have done it before, because I scheduled my life around this game. “Leave me alone, it’s raid night,” was a common refrain heard in my household. I don’t think I ever over did this indulgence, but I certainly invested my time and effort into it. Often gladly, some times even with great joy.

But here is where my story finds a kink. Last January, while attending Legendary Confusion, I met a representative from S2 Games. Unfortunately I don’t recall the guys name, but I imagine I could pick him out of a line up if pressed. Hopefully I can be forgiven, there were a lot of new faces and names and likely some drinking mixed in. Anyway, he handed me a short comic book about the new game he and his compatriots were working on.

I thanked him and tucked it into my bag next to a growing stack of interesting hand outs. There it sat, forgotten until just a few days ago.

Sometime this summer, when I was increasingly frustrated and bored by the same old slog I have labeled Pandarian Summer Funk, I somehow made it into the closed beta for Strife. I downloaded the game and played a little. Game play was exciting and new, tactically challenging even. Most matches were over in an average of seventeen minutes, which meant that I could pop open the client, get a quick game fix and return to real life satisfied. Compared to the cluster events that even Looking for Raid imposed upon me this was an exceptional advantage. Write a thousand words, play a quick match, fold some laundry — my days and life are not consumed by a little escapism.

As time wore on and the beta opened up I started looking into the story. The artworkS2 commissioned, both in game and for the game, is excellent. A very rich and involving world with just enough visual zing to keep the GPU warm. The character and world development feels a lot like looking over the edge of a crevasse on a deep glacier. You don’t see much on just over the surface, but you get the impression of depth. And the story itself, that the heros gather on the fields of Strife to practice their martial arts, requires no more disbelief than WOW ever did.

By September Strife had replaced all other games. Today I composed the basis of one of three new heros that have been floating around in my head (a werehippo named Hadiya, she if freaking awesome). In some small way, a way that I thought never to see repeated after WOW entered my life, my imagination has been captured once again by a game.

I’ve recently canceled my WOW subscription. Ostensibly it’s because I just don’t have that much time to play games these days, but you can add to this that I think Blizzard has lost the all too critical thread of their own story. They seem more focused on improving graphic rendering in game and concocting media sell-out events designed to pander attention than hiring good writers who can continue their formerly strong tradition of story telling. Seriously, Azeroth Cycles? This is some of the shit I am trying to escape while playing people.

Going through some of my convention stash recently I came across the comic I had been given last January. I pulled it out of its plastic and thumbed through the pages. Mostly inked over pencil work, nothing stupendous as far as a comic book goes, but in these pages I saw a group of people in love with an idea. Taking time and effort to perfect their craft and, more importantly, to tell a really cool, new story.

That’s gold, no tropes being repeated here, golden story telling.

EDIT:

If you’re interested in trying (and Strife is free to play) if you could use my referral link than you’d be buffing a true fan of the game. Click on through from here.