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Category Archives: Thought for the Day

Time to Fall Back . . . into Bed

The past couple of weeks, Oklahoma has actually had fall weather, temperatures in the 60s and lower 70s, not the mid-to-upper 80s (or low 90s) we’ve had since the beginning of September, which has been nice.

It’s that time of year when the weather turns colder, and we’re supposed to screw up our internal clocks again, and this year has the added bonus that Daylight Savings Time ends the day after Halloween, so everyone who stays up late slogging back spirits and sweets in celebration of the holiday gets to sleep in an hour later Sunday morning. That sleeping in later bit reminds me of a friend who passed away a few years ago who always said he liked going off Daylight Savings Time, that fall back part. In fact, he liked it so much he thought the clocks should be set back in the fall, then again in the spring, and so on year after year. Eventually such a time adjustment would give back a year to everyone’s life. If it were only that easy.

Sounds great. But I’d prefer the United States just decide Daylight Savings Time (DST) stays on or off all the time and stick with it.

I used to think No to Daylight Savings Time, but last year my son started junior high, which begins an hour-and-a-half earlier than the elementary school does. During DST at this time of the year, the sun is just rising. After the time change, he’ll be going to school when the sun is up and already starting to warm the day . . . but tennis lessons will be starting right after sunset. My daughter’s tennis lessons, which begin half-an-hour earlier, will have sunlight for only half the session. They’ll be playing tennis in the dark. To which they both reply, “Dad, the courts do have artificial light, you know.”

So I’ve started empathizing more with the keep DST all year long crowd. Sure, humans have several hundred years of evolutionary attachment to Standard Time, but having that extra hour of daylight at the end of the day is a nice benefit of DST.

Have a Happy (and safe) Halloween and savor that extra hour of sleep tomorrow morning.

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The Iron Y

Yeah, that’s my lame attempt at self-deprecation.

Note to self: the next time you write a blog post stating that a writer writes every day, don’t follow it up with a year of not writing.

 

I had a couple of projects offered last summer which I passed on simply because I was at a mental point where writer’s burnout seemed a valid option, so I’ve done (very) little writing this past year and concentrated more on hanging out with my wife and kids, shuttling the latter to and from various activities, helping out more at the elementary school my daughter attends (for which I wound up being awarded Patron of the Year honors which had been completely unexpected), playing video games with the kids, and watching too much TV (still). Basically, what I’ve been doing the last few years without the headache of forcing myself to sit at the keyboard every day either writing or attempting voice-over.

What I’ve discovered is that I still want to write, but the need to do so is less aggravating. Either I write or I don’t write. I spend a lot of time writing in my head, but when I sit at the keyboard, I wind up staring at a blinking cursor, decide to hop on the ‘net for inspiration, and two hours later I’ve surfed a dozen sites, given myself a headache doing so, managed not to write anything, and it’s time to pick the kids up from school. And wasn’t the whole point to do this without the throbbing skull? What I’d really like is a means to just think about writing and have the words magically appear on screen. That way I could write in my sleep.

Which would likely get me in trouble, so scratch that idea.

Now, when I say I haven’t been writing, I’m not being completely truthful. I still carry around my notebook and keep track of ideas as they float between my ears. I have notes for a couple of novels and half a dozen short stories, ideas for possible blog posts, and scribbles here and there on a setting or two that came to mind during the past year.

The kids and I were watching The Musketeers on BBCAmerica¹ and I found myself admiring the overuse of leather in the costumes, the dusty settings, the brawling sword fights, and the crack of musket fire. A few weeks after the season ended I saw Quigley Down Under (which I still think is one of the best Westerns ever produced), and I thought Musketeers + Old West + Pirates (since everything is better with pirates), so I began jotting ideas for what I’m currently calling the Crossbones & Cattle Barons, or Swashbuckling Old West, setting.

I know I want a continent ripe for plunder, discovered sometime shortly after a protracted war between various political factions across the remainder of the world. The continent has arable land, wide open spaces, mountains filled with jewels and precious metals, and it includes creatures not encountered in other countries along with a native population that fiercely guards its homeland. Tentatively, I’d be running this with the Honor & Intrigue system² because a few members in my gaming group (including me) are interested in seeing that system being used. Not that a system should have any real bearing on the setting itself and it probably wouldn’t anyway, but I do have a tendency to make system mechanic notes as I’m brainstorming.

I’d wavered awhile on including non-humans in the setting but decided since one of the major resources found in this New World would be Dragon Stones, the fossilized remnants of long-dead dragons, that having non-humans was a small step (and allows use of those elf, dwarf, orc, and goblin swashbuckler figures from Reaper). So, yeah, the standard fantasy races are there but with minor tweaks. Many of the standard fantasy monsters will be included as well but I’m working on reasons for them to exist and not drop them in just “because they’re in the monster manual.”

I know one of the towns at the edge of settled lands in this New World is Farkeep, a mining colony, at which is stationed a regiment of King’s Musketeers to guard against monsters and those natives I’d mentioned earlier . . . halflings (or gnomes). I haven’t come up with a better name for them yet, but I wanted a race that is small and would refer to the long-dead dragons as creators or deities. Yeah, I could go the 3rd edition D&D route and have them be kobolds, but I still recall images of the dog-headed creatures from the 1st edition Monster Manual. That may all change.

One of the areas near Farkeep is a ranch called The Iron Y, run by a retired alchemist named Yeager. He has a problem with those halflings (or gnomes or kobolds) and might wind up hiring a group of adventurers to exterminate the varmints. And, of course, the alchemist will wear a shooting iron slung low on his hip and chew up the scenery, claiming he had been born on the wrong continent . . . or maybe not.

I’ll keep plugging away at the setting, jotting notes as they come to mind, and I’ll try to post ideas here once every few weeks. We’ll see how things go.

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1. The first season of which we thoroughly enjoyed. The second season was less enjoyable for the kids because it was a bit darker (and methinks the third season will be even more so) and they found Rochefort less amusing as a villain than Cardinal Richelieu. And I thought Peter Capaldi was excellent in that role.
2. Which you might recall my mentioning previously as being a variant of the Barbarians of Lemuria system.

What Makes You Think You’re a Writer?

Nathan Richmond over at Scrawlings of a Mad Man has been mulling the question “what qualities make a writer or do writers possess?” and has been wishing to Hulk-smash said writers for the various evasive non-answers he’s received along the lines of a writer being someone who writes X amount daily or sets a schedule and sticks with it or similar. I commented maybe he needed the rephrase the question, then I went back and re-read the question above that he had posted on my Facebook page and realized that A) what I suggested he rephrase the question to was really the same thing he was asking in the first place and B) I haven’t been paying much attention to posts I’ve read lately (and then replying to).

Oops.

Not a quality that an editor (nor an audience) wants in a writer.

I still contend that a major quality/trait/whathaveyou for any writer is that daily grind,[1] in addition to a need to put words on paper whether it be telling stories or having an intriguing (or humorous) way of interpreting topics. For me it was another means of getting images out of my head.

When I was younger, I carried around a sketch pad and pencils and could usually be found doodling something (if I wasn’t reading), and most of the time I would have a story surrounding the events depicted in the drawing. During junior high, a buddy of mine showed me a collection of stories he’d been writing based on some artwork of his. I’d written a couple of things for class a few years earlier but never thought about putting the back-stories for my drawings to paper. I started doing so and realized I enjoyed it. Images in mind evolved into scenes then short stories and chapters then to novels. By the time I finished high school my tendency to draw had lapsed, and I seldom put brush to canvas anymore.[2] I was bound to the written word. I read everything I could get my hands on regarding the craft of writing. I took writing courses in college. And I spent at least two or three hours a day, five days a week at the keyboard (or writing in a notebook) just getting those images out of my head.

I have an on-again/off-again relationship with writing. I’ll go for months where I write nearly every day followed by months where I don’t even want to look at the keyboard or a notebook and pen.[3] If you haven’t figured out by looking at the last time I posted here, I’m currently in the latter state of mind. I’ve spent most of my free time reading, watching TV, or playing video games, and the odd thing is I have not had the nagging sensation that I need to sit at the keyboard.

Burn out/malaise creeping from my gaming into my writing (and voice-over work)?

Maybe.[4]

So what qualities make a writer?

The need to write and having a dedication to the craft.

Things like inquisitiveness and knowledge and interest in people are necessary support for the writer (because the writer has to develop ideas), but that need to write is key.[5]

So, what makes you think you’re a writer?

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1. Or weekly as the case may be. Just the act of putting words on paper (or pounding them into electronic form) with regularity does the same for writers that standing at the baseline tossing a yellow ball in the air and whacking it over a net at least once (or twice or three times) a week does for tennis players. It’s that repetition that says, “I’m taking my skill seriously.”

2. I took up painting during high school, which lasted just long enough for me to discover lead miniatures, which became the only thing I painted afterward—aside from an occasional piece of tabletop terrain. I have doodled seldom since college though of late I’ve considered drawing again.

3. Take it from experience, if you write longhand, do so with pen, and if you’re left-handed, make sure it has quick drying ink. When I moved from my parents’ house, I tossed several boxes of notebooks illegibly filled with smeared graphite. Several years’ worth of notes from various classes, ideas for stories, stories themselves were trashed.

4. Though I have met occasionally with a group at my local game store for board games, and I keep reading new roleplay game systems (or struggling through them anyway—most just bore me after two or three pages).

5. Just as the need to X (or passion, to use the term supplied by Bob Mayer) is the key for any who strive to excel in their chosen field whether it be driving really fast in an oval, smashing yellow balls over a net, twisting and tumbling across a 4-inch wide padded beam, or whathaveyou.

Sushi!

I started eating sushi somewhat regularly about five years ago. Golden China, a local Chinese buffet/hibachi restaurant, serves sushi alongside their other fare. I’d typically get a plate of veggies and chicken to be grilled and while that was cooking, I’d grab a sampling of the sushi. It was acceptable. Not that I’m any kind of expert where the prepping of raw fish is concerned, but A) the sushi never appeared dried out and B) I never felt ill afterward, so I guess it was prepared correctly. Of course, I made sure to get sushi right around noon, when it was first prepared.

Unfortunately, Golden China lost the use of their hibachi awhile back (and their buffet was never a high-point for me) so I haven’t returned in some time. However, I’d started looking for other places in the Moore area to satisfy my cravings for raw fish, and I ran across a couple of places: Sushi Hayashi at 104th and South Penn (in OKC) and Go-Go Sushi just north of South 19th Street (in Moore) on the I-35 Service Road. The former has been around for a few years and is worth visiting every once in awhile (the prices are rather steep). The food I’ve tried has been good and the place is a relaxing, usually quiet place to enjoy my meal.

The latter seems yearly to be awarded OKC Gazette’s Best in Asian Dining (or at least receives nominations every year) and while I find the prices more affordable—with the inclusion of a lunch-item-only bento box with your choice of a couple of different sushi rolls (from a very short list), house salad, miso soup, rice, and tempura vegetables (which I haven’t developed a taste for anywhere)—the atmosphere is more akin to McDonald’s, a noisy, chaotic, get-in-eat-your-food-and-then-get-out kind of experience. Go-Go Sushi does offer hibachi items as well, but I don’t recall if they are on the lunch menu.

Then about a year or so ago, Volcano Sushi opened. It, too, is located on the I-35 Service Road in Moore, just south of South 19th Street (about a mile or so south of Go-Go Sushi). It’s a small, quiet place. The menu is fairly dense and while the majority of items are of the sushi variety, it has hibachi items also, and I noticed some of those are included on the lunch menu.

I usually visit sushi restaurants alone. None of my friends like eating raw fish,1 and though my wife and son have at least broken down and tried sushi at least once, neither of them cared for the experience. I seem to recall both grabbing (and draining) glasses of Dr Pepper shortly thereafter. But back over the summer, I had a craving for sushi and, since the kids were with me, I had to figure out what to do for their lunch. I remembered the hibachi items on Volcano Sushi’s menu and suggested we go there. After a bit of grumbling from the kids, they agreed and, after ordering the hibachi chicken lunch special, my son decided the place was worth a second visit.

Alas, the second time around wasn’t a good experience for them: the chicken was overcooked and the lo mein was over-saturated with soy sauce. They haven’t asked for a repeat visit.

But last week my wife and I were trying to figure out where to eat lunch, and I had a craving for sushi. So, of course, I suggested Volcano Sushi and after she wrinkled her nose at the thought, relented. Naturally, she avoided the sushi but did order a bento chicken dish along with the shrimp tempura, which she enjoyed.

And today, when we went out for lunch, she was the one suggesting Volcano Sushi.

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1. Except you, Nathan, but you don’t live here, so in this case, you don’t count.

Writers Write, Right?

That being the case, then I have not been a writer these past couple of months.

The last time I posted, I was taking an online course to start and finish an RPG product in 30 days. Well, those thirty days came and went, and I failed to meet my goal. The product I had started on was to be a series of loosely connected encounters using the Honor + Intrigue system by Basic Action Games. What I had neglected to realize was I have never written adventures for someone else to run and what I came up with was, basically, garbage. I have run adventures for years and run several that my players talk about even today, but jotting notes for something I have in mind and trying to set things out for another person to run are two different skill sets.

The instructor looked over what I had written at that point (the middle of October and half way through the course) and suggested since I was attempting two hurdles at once—first-time adventure writing and the 30-day course—that I take a break from the class and bone up on my adventure writing skills then return when I felt ready. My slot would be still be open. I thanked him and spent the next two weeks scouring the house for “canned adventure” modules as well as picking up a few on clearance at my local game store.

I’ve read adventure modules before—I would never attempt something I had no knowledge of going into—and generally preferred coming up with my own material. Most adventures I’d read in the past have a linear, railroading, quality to them, and I wanted to avoid that in my own writing. Unfortunately, what I came up with for the RPG course was both railroading and written “fluff” first, descriptive but very limiting in what the Game Master could do. I spent a couple of weeks writing an adventure and hated the work, both the writing and the process.1

By the middle of November, I decided to take a break. I seldom do much writing during the holidays anyway and felt a need to clear my head. I helped the kids out with projects at school. We played video games. The kids decorated the house for Christmas. I avoided writing. And typically in the past whenever I stopped writing for more than a couple of weeks, my subconscious would nag me back to the keyboard or at least put pen to paper.

This time, nothing.

OK, I’ll admit that on December 31, 2013, I sat down at the keyboard and planned to write an end-of-year blog post but five words into it I thought, “Forget it,” and shut down the computer. Then, two nights ago, I woke up with that animal part of my back brain telling me to start writing again.

Now I just need to figure out what project to begin (again).

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1I’m unsure if the distaste came from the actual writing or my current role-play funk. One reason for jumping into the RPG course was to shake myself from that state of mind, but it persists.

Tennis, Anyone?

My son has been playing tennis for four years now and maintains an avid interest in the sport. Not so much that he spends hours watching matches on TV, but he does go to the courts as often as he can get me to take him and at odd times I’ll find him playing slow-motion “shadow tennis” working on backhand and forehand strokes or “tossing” a ball into the air to practice his serve. He’s never held much interest in baseball or football and finds basketball and soccer only partially interesting. So I spend hours at the tennis courts, watching him practice. True, I could drop him off and pick him up later (as quite a few parents do), but my wife and I feel it’s part of our responsibility as parents to be there for our kids’ sports activities.

So this year, my wife and I decided to do more than just support him in the sport and started taking cardio tennis lessons.

Yeah, I know. That’s the same reaction my mom had.

Cardio tennis is tennis supercharged. In other words, you run a bit more (in our case, run rope ladders to work on footwork, which gives you something to do while waiting in line) and you listen to Really Loud Music while you swat the ball over the net. Or try to, at least. I often strike the occasional bird innocently flying overhead. Or get really close.

After the first class back at the beginning of the summer, my son commented that it “was funny watching old people play tennis.”

I showed him proper backhand technique with racquet in hand.

He nimbly dodged out of the way and laughed his way to the car.

Since then, we’ve either gone to every cardio tennis lesson or gone to the courts in the evening just to get in an hour of tennis during the week. My daughter took lessons a couple of years ago and knows what she’s doing, so we all can participate to some extent. It’s fun exercise and it gets us outdoors (and away from the TV) for awhile.

Alas, all things come to an end and with the close of summer and school now back in session (along with half a dozen after school activities), the family outings of tennis will come less frequently. But hope remains that I’ll win the lottery and can have a tennis court squeezed into the backyard.

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Note: I was working on this last week and got sidetracked playing video games. Ah, well.

Too Much TV

A couple of weeks ago as I sat down to catch up on various TV shows I missed during the last few months, I realized I watch entirely too much TV, boob tube, idiot box, whatever you wish to call it.

I’d written awhile back about Too Many Books* but it wasn’t until I noticed I was behind four or five weeks’ worth of Revolution that I started thinking maybe I should drop something from my watch list. Not that the list is all that long—just three or four hours on Monday, two or three on Tuesday, two more on Wednesday, about four on Thursday, and the same number on Friday. Well, there are a couple of hours’ worth typically on Sunday as well, but who’s counting, right?

Wait. At minimum, I’m looking at nearly twenty hours of TV every week.

And I get on to my kids if they watch more than an hour or so each day.**

Hey, kids, do what your parents say, not what they do.

At one time I could count on programming sticking with the fall through late spring routine with summer repeats, and I would spend time outside for four or five months. Then along came USA Network with their summer line (and Monk). I was hooked and started video taping episodes.*** I think that station single-handedly beat out of me my typical avoidance of the TV during the summer. Oh, that and the summer heat keeping me indoors over the last few years. I used to love being outside in 90-degree weather, garbed in heavy period clothing, stomping around on stage, spouting Shakespeare, and drinking iced tea.

Now, anytime the temperature rises above 80, I’m heading indoors, and still drinking iced tea.

Lately though I’ve been spending more time watching TV (and still reading) than much else. Writing? Nope, well, aside from the occasional post here. Voice-over? Uh-uh, not while the kids are out of school. They do OK to be quiet while I make one recording. Anything longer than thirty minutes and they can’t hold the noise in. Painting those miniatures I received awhile back? Nope, at least not until I get the area around the painting table cleared so I can reach my paints. Drawing? What’s that? Oh, yeah, I used to do that years ago before I went to college. I still have the stuff around here somewhere to do that . . . .

Now, Bob Meyer in Write It Forward: From Writer to Successful Author indicates he watches TV against all conventional writerly advice, but my guess is that he sits with pen and paper in hand and analyzes what he’s watching, making notes on scenes that work, scenes that don’t work, interesting character ideas, and so forth. I used to do that. OK, I still sit with a pad of paper and pen at my side. Unfortunately, I too often get caught up in the spycraft of Burn Notice or laughing at some quip made by Hank Lawson that I forget to actually write anything. Oh, well.

Recently I received a newsletter from Johnn Four of Gamer-Lifestyle, a game writer course/support group that I’ve been following off-and-on for awhile. I’d noticed there’d been little activity there this last year, and in his newsletter, Johnn Four mentioned he’d been hit with a case of burnout—no gaming, no writing, little else besides watching TV and reading “weird books.” Hmmm, I dropped from gaming with my group about a month ago. I’d decided I just wasn’t having fun playing games at this time. I still read game rules, still ponder tweaks for game systems, but just haven’t gotten back into gaming.**** Maybe the GM Slump is a full-blown case of burnout?

The TV schedule hasn’t let up this summer either. USA Network’s summer line-up is in full swing again (with the new addition of Graceland, which my wife dislikes but I find amusing) and SyFy (I much prefer when it was SciFi—the new logo is goofy) has added Sinbad, a one-season only British import***** which reminds a lot of the old Hercules: Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, shows I think my kids would likely enjoy.

Aside from a few bouts of homeowner angst and painting the outside of the house or doing a bit of yard work, about all I’ve done the last couple of months (aside from shuttle the kids to-and-from various summer activities) is read.

And watch too much TV.

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*And I still have a never-ending stack of books that I am working my way through. Some that were on the list then have been finished and others have taken their place. Some still sit near the bottom of the stack(s) scattered throughout the house.

**They usually don’t watch TV during the week and reserve most of that time during the weekend, often switching on the TV and watching one show, then half-watching the next while playing a game, or drawing, or doing something else.

***Yes. And I still have a functioning VCR along with a small stack of movies on tape. I’m slowly tracking down DVD replacements.

****Well, that’s not true. My kids and I played a game of Novus Mundi over Father’s Day weekend then later that week, my son and I played Okko: Legend of the Asagiri, both of which were enjoyable.

*****The production company canceled it after one season for some reason. Too bad. The family and I enjoy this show because it is family friendly.

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