Delving into the Writing World

4/7/2020 - More Alternate Universe AD&D Covers

As the Coronavirus keeps me trapped inside the house yet another day, the madness has begun to sink in. The AD&D mockup cover project has become somewhat of an obsession. A beautiful, happy obsession, but an obsession nevertheless. Speaking of madness and obsession, let’s start with:

Unearthed Arcana II

A wealth of information back in the day, there could have been a lot more mined from the pages of Dragon Magazine.

 

Call of Cthulhu

This cover is close to what could have really happened in the real world. In 1980, TSR released the Deities and Demigods book as a supplement to the standard AD&D game. It featured a host of pantheons from mythologies across the globe. It also featured a section on Cthulhu Mythos, which centered on the beings known as “The Old Ones.” This mythos was included because it was thought to be in the public domain. Sadly, TSR was mistaken. The rights had already been given to another game company called Chaosium, and although the next edition of Deities and Demigods included a special thank you to Chaosium, by the time the next printing came out (retitled as Legends and Lore), all Cthulu references (as well as references to the Melnibonéan mythos) were excised.

This mockup ponders what would happen if that relationship had not been severed. It would have been a book that included adventure in a world full of chaotic gods, dark cults, and a vast underwater city where geometry just doesn’t function, and insanity is the almost assured outcome of beholding such a place. In other words, a real good time. For the DM at least.

The Survival Books

In 1986, TSR put out two separate books with a related theme, the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide and the Wilderness Survival Guide. Each book focused on The Underdark and Outdoor adventures respectively. They added a great deal of nuance to the information found in the Dungeon Masters Guide, and they were yet another reason why 1st Edition AD&D remains the most detailed edition of the game yet in my opinion.

But why stop there? What if other Survival Guides had been published?

Nautical Survival Guide

A book that would be the be-all and end-all D&D reference on adventuring on waterways. Taking the info found in the DMG, it would have expanded the ship classes found in that work, create new classes and races that were related to oceanic adventures, and create an entire undersea world of new monsters from the depths.

Aerial Survival Guide

This reference guide would start with the “Aerial Combat” section of the DMG and greatly expand it. New rules for engagement in the skies, a healthy amount of new winged creatures (including possibly a third class of dragons who fall between the metallic and chromatic ones), new classes for riders of the sky, and a new race – one that innately possesses wings and can take to skies at will.

Until next time, keep those ideas coming!


 

4/4/2020 - Alternate Universe AD&D Covers – “Celtic Mists”

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a fascination with Celtic Mythos. The Celts have such an incredibly rich trove of stories and legends that it’s hard not to become beguiled by them. As a child, I would read a number of books on Scottish history, and when they appeared in popular culture, I was quick to jump in on the fun, nodding my head here and shaking it there at the varying portrayals of historical figures in film and tv.

As a player and DM in my AD&D days, I attempted to integrate Celtic folklore into my campaigns as much as I could. There are tales of Dagda, a benevolent bruiser-god who was armed with a mighty club. And there’s of course the banshee of Irish legend, a female figure of ghastly countenance who wept constantly and whose appearance heralded the death of a family member. And then of course there was mighty Cu Chulainn, who wielded a deadly spear and roamed the countryside righting wrongs, appearing when all hope was lost. Tales of fairies, mystical unicorns, and The Wild Hunt also pepper Celtic Mythos, and all of it was wonderfully detailed in the AD&D Deities and Demigods book (later reprinted as Legends and Lore).

Recently I’ve begun to speculate what would have happened
if TSR had been able to dedicate more time to a variety of cultures to be appropriated by AD&D in the same way they did with Oriental Adventures. I think a Celtic book in the same vein as OA would have been a great addition to the Orange Spine books. It would feature all the above tales and more, as well as new classes. I believe that the Druid class would feature most prominently in this Mythos, with new subclasses being created to portray the rich variety found in Celtic stories. One can imagine an entire section dedicated to new spells for this class as well. In addition, it’s more than likely that the Woad Barbarian class would have been detailed, a companion class to OA’s Oriental Barbarian.

All in all, it would have been a superb addition to AD&D, one that featured a rich tapestry of tales that included magic and centuries of real history with in it.

4/3/2020 - Alternate Universe D&D books

Sometimes during a statewide Stay At Home order, your mind gets to wandering.

Crazy thoughts arrive unbidden into your head. Thoughts like: I loved the original Oriental Adventures from TSR’s Advanced Dungeons and Dragons line. Why didn’t they make more books like that?

For those of you who don’t remember, Oriental Adventures was a sourcebook for the AD&D game which expanded the Euro-centric world of D&D into the Orient. All of a sudden, players could now be Samurai, Ninjas, and Wu-Jen. New weapons came into play, and a whole honor system was introduced. On top of all this came the glorious cover art that 1st Edition AD&D was famous for. It was, in a word, magnificent.



Sadly, the time of the famous “orange spine” books and their incredible cover art was nearing its end, and 2nd Edition D&D arrived. Though no less artistic and detailed, Second Edition never captured my imagination the way first edition did. It was just . . . not the same.

So I started to imagine what would have happened if the 1st Edition Style had lasted much longer. What if TSR introduced new cultures after Oriental Adventures, greatly expanding the game? What would those covers look like? I’m a Photoshop guy, so there was one obvious path: Make them yourself. So I did. Taking random images off of the Internet, I designed three fictitious covers, one for the Norse world, one for the Greek, and one for the Native American culture.

 

These I posted on an AD&D Facebook group I belong to, with the request that if anyone had any other ideas, to just shout them out.

And boy did they.

The results were wonderous. African culture . . . Aztecs . . . Neanderthals . . . Pirates . . . D&D in space! The suggestions came in a flurry and I tried to accommodate all I could.

 

In all, a great way to distract a few of us from the current troubles, and a tribute to the ever-lasting appeal of Dungeons and Dragons.

 

3/24/2020 - (Book) Love in the Time of Coronavirus

The past week has been filled with suggestions from the media on how to fill this sudden free time a lot of us now have under our new reality of Social Distancing. I’ve seen news programs suggest things like old movies, impromptu puppet shows, board games, and . . . animal husbandry. One suggestion I heard came from a news anchor who blithely said, “Why not read a book?” I looked up at the television and smiled. Already there.

I have too many books. This is what I’m told. But between you and me, those people don’t know what they are talking about. Sure, every time I’ve asked friends to help me with a move, I can see the subtle wince they’ve made. They know what’s coming. Dozens of boxes, full of hundreds of pounds of dead weight. Everything from the lightest “The Zen of Zombie” to the incredibly heavy “A History of Art.” These books have always traveled with me, wherever I go. I’ve taken a lifetime to accumulate them, and – like the poor, distressed people you see on “Hoarders,” when it is suggested to me that I must throw some away, I instantly turn on them with a frightening look that says: Who even let you into my home?

I thought I had a solution to this problem a couple of times in my life. The first time was in 1988. I was walking past an electronics store in downtown Manhattan when something in the window caught my eye. It was a CD-ROM software title called “The Library of the Future” and it boasted that its magically held – hold your breath -1,750 literary titles. If you had seen young me standing in front of that window, mouth agape and frozen in place, you would have asked if I was having a serious health issue. I put some money together and came back in a week hoping that no one else had seen this powerful artifact of the Gods. No one had. At last, I thought, I’ll seldom have to fiddle with the inconvenience of a physical book again! There were 700 Megabytes of information on this one disc! How could you possibly need more information than that?

The years went by, and physical media exploded through the infinite storage space of the Internet. It became possible to find databases filled with Terrabytes of text from classic books. Then E-Readers came along, and this was - I thought - a second chance to stop my addiction. I bought my first Kindle and put it on my shelf with all the reverence of a treasured relative’s urn. Here was truly a magnificent device, I thought. A way to magically transmit modern books through the airwaves and into my brain. Nothing could be more inspiring than that.

And yet, throughout this digital revolution, I was living a lie. I still bought physical books whenever I could. I never stopped. It became a double anachronism among many of the people I knew. First, they said, why are you still reading in this age of mass media? And secondly, why are you reading an actual book?

What I’ve come to realize is that the act of holding a physical book, turning its fragile pages, holding some soft leather-bound cover, inhaling the scent of paper that has not seen daylight in years, is more than just reading. It’s ritual. It’s something that ties us to those long-ago sages who were as addicted to the act of reading as we are. There is a comfort in it for us. And when I see futuristic television shows or movies that show characters in this same act, it makes me believe that it will continue long after I am gone. And that is comforting as well.

That’s what we need during this scary time, isn’t it? A sense of connection to the past, and a hope for the future. Books give us that. And when I am settling into a quiet night illuminated by the Netflix-provided Fireplace For Your Home, and dulcet tones of my robotic Amazon Echo, you can bet that it’s a real book I’ll be holding.

3/15/2020 - Top Five Movies to Watch as Society Collapses

It’s a tough time for all of us. Every day brings new restrictions and closures as the Coronavirus continues its unchecked spread. We’ve all become isolated under this new normal. Here’s five movies to help you deal with the situation:

1) The Last Man on Earth - Vincent Price stars as the titular hero in a world ravaged by undead vampire thingies. The instructive part about this movie is how mundane Mr. Price makes the End of the World seem. It wouldn’t be so bad, he thinks, if it wasn’t for all these little details to attend to. He wakes up, has his coffee, and starts to bemoan the number of creatures he must kill that day. Ugh. So many murders, so little time. Then he’s forced to drive all the way out to the dump for christsake and burn all the bodies. Gonna need a gas stop for that. And these creatures, with their incessant moaning and clawing at the outside of his house. That’s gonna be another trip to the hardware store. And omg now he has to make even MORE stakes. It’s enough to drive a man to drink, all these little inconveniences about everyone in the world being dead but him. Le sigh.

2) Night of the Living Dead (1968) – In which mindless, hungry hordes roam the land, with neither emotion nor intellect, driven by a ceaseless and brutal need to feed themselves repeatedly, until the world entire is emptied of life. That was the grocery store the other night. The movie is pretty good.

3) The Thing (1982) – Trapped in an underground bunker, a small group of men fight for survival as suspicion and fear slowly begin to overtake reason. Chaos and murder soon follow as distrust is sown and people are revealed for their true colors. If you think this scenario is far-fetched, wait until the kids have been home a week and the cereal is all gone.

4) The Black Death – Sean Bean stars in a film set in a plague-ridden 14th century, where superstition and ignorance hinder efforts to get to the truth during a time of sickness and panic. Not at all like today’s modern world.

5) Bambi – because things were getting a little dark here, you know what I’m saying? Just sit back and watch a movie about animated forest creatures who prance through the greenery and then watch as some of them . . . die . . in . . . a . . . fire. Scratch this one – watch “Dumbo” instead and see . . . a baby elephant cry his eyes out after being torn from mommy. Never mind that one. See “Snow White” instead, and watch . . . as a jealous boomer poisons a beautiful girl for the crime of looking good. Walt Disney, who hurt you?


 

3/13/2020 - The Coronavirus Chronicles – Day One

The call came in at 2:20 p.m. yesterday. My son’s school will be closed for the next two weeks due to concerns over the spread of the Coronavirus. Two hours later, my fiancé’s work called and said that for the next two weeks, she can work from home, and my office is my upstairs bedroom. All retail stores are being asked to close for this duration. Non-essential travel is being discouraged. There is now the possibility that the three of us will be trapped in this house for many days.

This is a situation I have dreamed of.

Now before I get nasty emails about how the Coronavirus is nothing to be happy about, let me explain that I understand the reason for concern. We as yet have no vaccine for the virus, and many people are at risk. The panic caused by the virus is also equally alarming. Yesterday I saw lines at the grocery store that looked like they were for free trips to the Caribbean. People are genuinely scared.

But the result of this panic is that we will all be inside the house for approximately two weeks. And that, my friends, is my bread and butter. It essentially turns this suburban house into a cabin the woods during a two-week writer’s retreat, and what could be more perfect than that? I crave solitude. It’s the chance to think, work out imaginary scenarios for plotting, think up details for characters’ backstories, and most of all, read. “There’s time now,” says Henry Bemis in the famous Twilight Zone episode. “Time enough at last.”

There’s also the fact that one of my favorite reading genres is post-apocalyptic fiction. Everything from “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson to novels set in the “Walking Dead” universe fascinate me. What happens when the lights go out, these works ask. It’s a question about human behavior that I’ve always wondered about. The current situation is nowhere near something as dramatic as anything in those stories. Nevertheless, it does give you a glimpse of what such worlds would be like. To me, it’s frightening and fascinating.

I’ve become a homebody in recent years. When I was younger, I did a fair amount of traveling. I’ve been to Rome, Florence, Venice, Paris, and many cities across the U.S. Those were fun, exciting trips. But each year that has passed since, my fondness for the simple pleasures of simply being in this house has grown. My Friday nights are happily spent on the couch, with sounds sometimes no louder than the ticking of the wall clock or my cat’s purring. I love it. Dorothy was right. There’s no place like home.

This Coronavirus crisis will pass eventually. We’ll all go out and get right back to the things we love. But for this all-too-brief moment, I’m taking time to appreciate the comforts of the hearth.

 

 

 

3/9/2020 - The Double-Space Problem and the End of the World

Every writer of a certain age has, at one point or another, had a dark night of the soul and questioned everything they know about their world when they encounter the Double-Space Problem. To wit: Should every sentence be followed by one extra blank space before the next sentence starts?

“ Of course it should!” say the Old Guard. “That’s how we were taught! The law is immutable!” we yell as we rattle our walkers in anger. And in a way, we’re right. That’s exactly what we were taught. Alongside such maxims as the proper use for a semi-colon and the rules for enclosed punctuation with quotations, next to the towering bronze statue of William Strunk Jr. was the equally monolithic rule – always put two spaces after a sentence. Period. It was always thus, and thus is shall forever be.

Except for one event that changed everything: The death of the typewriter.

Let’s back up a bit. For decades before the typewriter existed, typography consisted mostly of proportional fonts. Proportional fonts each take up space relative to their character (i.e. an “W” takes up more space than an “i” in relative terms). When typewriters were introduced, however, fonts became Monospaced – the “W’s” now took up exactly the same space as the “i’s” because that’s the way the typewriter was constructed. Because of that, sometimes fonts seem to run into each other. It was because of that spacing that things went off the rails. To avoid any confusion, a double-space was now recommended between sentences.

And then in the 70’s, typewriters died. In the advent of computer word processing, no one really mourned too hard. Proportional fonts became the order of the day (with rare exceptions like Courier, which hangs onto dear life like Clint Eastwood trying to get just one more movie with a conservative bent made), and there was no need for anyone to ever put a double space after a sentence again.

But it was too late. It seemed no one outside of typography got the memo. Our teachers taught the rule as Golden. “Experts” insisted upon it. Our own bodies betrayed us as muscle memory forced us to hit that space bar twice after every damn period. There was no escape. In this blog alone I’ve probably done it 20 times. I am, like so many of us, doomed to repeat my mistake until my last day.

And so, humanity stumbles on as with so many other things, knowing better, and yet fated to continue doing it wrong, right up until the nuclear missiles pass each other in the sky and give us one, last accidental fireworks show for the ages.

Teach the children to do better. Break the chain.

2/28/2020 I almost fired myself today.

Today was the third time this week I was late for work. I can’t blame today on waking up late – Alexa woke me up promptly at 6 in the morning and I didn’t even ask her for one Snooze. I can’t blame it on the commute – the distance from my home to my workplace is one flight of stairs. I had my reasons, but my boss – in this case myself - wasn’t buying it.

I tried to avoid my boss when I got upstairs to the office - I even shut the door behind me - but as always, he knew exactly where to find me.

“ So, Jim,” He always calls me Jim when there’s a problem. “I see this is the third time this week you’ve been late.”

“ Yes James,” I said, avoiding his eyes.

“ Care to explain?” He had an annoying habit of asking irrelevant questions.

“ Well,” I said. “Monday I had to go the Doctor’s office-”

“ For an appointment that happened at 10 a.m. and lasted only 20 minutes,” he finished.

“ Uh, yeah,” I replied. “And then yesterday I had to wait for the generator guy at the house and then go get a marriage license-”

“ All of which was done by 1 p.m.” he said. How did this sonofabitch know so much about me?

“ Right,” I said. “Then this morning, I thought that before I sat down to write, I would do some research for the zombie short story I am working on-”

“ By watching Day of the Dead for the 55th time?” I could tell he was angry.

“ Well that’s just not gonna cut it around here,” he said. “We need you to be an efficient worker. That short story is due in by Sunday and – are you even listening to me?”

“ I’m sorry. I’m writing a blog about all this.”

“ A Blog?” He raised an eyebrow. "That's just a delaying tactic! We have real work to do!" And then a pause. “Am I in it?”

“ Yes”

“ How do I come off?”

“ Not very well I’m afraid.” That really did it. His nostrils flared. “Well you better have that short story done by today or that’s it.”

“ I will,” I said. “If I don’t have to go to the Poconos this afternoon.”

He looked at me in shock for a moment, and then walked away. I think I’ll be okay. He’s incredibly understanding.

 

2/3/2020 Three Reasons Zombies Won’t Die

After a brief recent hospital stay, my thoughts started to drift toward the topic of zombies. The first reason was practical – there is a looming deadline for a zombie short story submission coming up, and my progress on it has been as slow and sluggish as the walk of the undead. The second reason led me to more existential thoughts. After all this time in the public consciousness, why haven’t zombies faded from our daily pop culture? You’d think we’d be sick of them by now. But with Zack Synder’s upcoming “Army of the Dead” movie, and with the Walking Dead adding a third series to its television universe soon, you have to wonder if zombies will ever leave our thoughts. I think there’s three reasons the zombie story has staying power:

Uncertain Times


We we are living in an age of uncertainty. With the Doomsday Clock recently being moved to a mere two minutes to midnight, it’s not hard to see why. Climate change, political upheaval, uncurable viruses, and a world always seemingly on the brink of war would suggest to many people that the End is indeed upon us. Our media floods us with this info 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Given the climate, it’s easy to imagine what little of a push it would take for civilization to topple in as few as a week. This is exactly the world depicted in a zombie apocalypse, a world where the structure of society has broken down. We all take it for granted that the stores will stay open, the lights will remain on, and the government will continue to function. But what if they didn’t? The world without those things is part of the terror of the zombie story.

 

Immortality as a curse


Many people, when asked what they would do with a magical wish, will immediately come back with “I want to live forever!” It’s a seemingly pleasant thought, to pass through the ages unhindered by death or sickness, to know that you will see all of history unfold as you get answers to questions you couldn’t possibly have gotten any other way.

But a deeper look at immortality reveals some serious flaws, and some of them are horrifying. There is the issue of the decay of the body. We are meant for a finite time on earth, and the body knows this and acts accordingly. Our organs fail, or skin shrivels, our brain starts to misfire. The thought is disconcerting, to say the least. We watched in horror as Jeff Goldblum fell apart (literally) in 1986’s The Fly. Zombies are almost always depicted as missing something, usually as a result of the trauma that caused them to die.

There is also the loss of friends and family, the fact that as we get older, life seems to take away more from us than it gives us. The character of Connor McCloud deals with this heavily in the Highlander movies. He lives, while everyone else around him slowly dies. There are many vampire stories that deal with this issue as well.

I think we all say we want to live forever, but secretly dread the actual prospect. That mixture of fascination and dread is what keeps us hooked on the zombie genre.

The Zombies Are Us


Zombies don’t come at you dressed in spacesuits or look like creatures from another world. The typical zombie may be wearing a tuxedo, or a nurse’s uniform, or may be dressed as a police officer. In the worst scenarios, the zombie will appear as someone we knew and loved, a dear friend or a family member. That is the true horror of the zombie story. Anyone can turn against you.

This was baked in right at the beginning of the modern zombie myth by George Romero, who directed the classic “Of the Dead” film series. One need only think of Romero’s zombies shuffling through the mall in “Dawn of the Dead,” still trying to shop, or the zombies in “Land of the Dead,” running about their daily routines, filling gas, striking up a terrible band, and walking the streets holding hands. Were it not for the ceaseless need to devour human flesh, the zombies would act in ways that approximate regular human behavior so well that we might not recognize them as the undead at first. In fact, the film “Shaun of the Dead” perfectly captures this by showing the main character walking to the store before the zombie outbreak, and then a day later walking to the store again, with very little noticeable difference in the behavior of the people in the streets.

Zombies are ruthless killers because they are a hoard that acts without empathy or mercy. They are coming to get what they need, and they have no concern for who gets in their way. You might be forgiven for looking around at today’s world and wondering what the huge difference is between their world and ours. Therein lies the horror. We are almost in a state of zombie apocalypse already.

1/13/20 - The End (Should Be) Nigh

I recently picked up a copy of The Walking Dead Compendium Four. This massive book contains the end of the story for Rick, Michonne, Carl and others from the Graphic Novel series. Since their destinies are unchained from the versions of their characters on the television show, I was very curious to see how things ended up for them all. But I was more curious to see how the creator of the series, Robert Kirkman, felt about the end of his long-running story.

I jumped ahead to the very end of the book to read his farewell notes on the series and discovered something that I intuitively knew all along: Kirkman intended to end the Walking Dead long ago. How long ago? The story he had in his head ended after Rick and the other survivors settled Alexandria, which in the television series lines up with about the middle of Season 6. According to Kirkman, Rick would have given a great speech, and the “camera” would have pulled out and slowly shown his face on a statue which was overgrown with moss as the dead shambled through the empty streets of Alexandria. It was the bleakest ending possible. In other words, it was the perfect Walking Dead ending.
He nixed it, however, because he couldn’t let go of the franchise. He believes he made the right decision because had the story ended in Alexandria, there would be no All-Out War with Negan, no Whisperers, and many characters who appeared later in the story would not have existed.

Kirkman, as the creator of this world, is free to do whatever he sees fit with it. Yet I feel that his original instinct was correct. The ending he would have originally set would have fit in thematically with the story he was telling. It would have been a great George Romero-style ending, and Kirkman has nothing but admiration for Romero. It would have been the ending that the story demanded in fact.
There have been many epic sagas wrapping up lately, with mixed results. The Game of Thrones controversy still stings for a lot of people and the Skywalker Saga just ended on an interesting note. Fans may have felt cheated when they found the endings not to be to their liking, and there are some fair criticisms. We invest so much time in these stories that we want the result to be perfect.

All of this illustrates how hard it is to craft a great ending as a writer. The ending of a story must be satisfying, entertaining, and enlightening – all at the same time. I think one of the chief threats to a good story is staying too long in the world. A good story should leave the reader wanting more. The End gives everything that came before it meaning and makes the journey worth it.
“ The Roleplayers” is intended to be a trilogy. Period. I have everything in mind about what I must do, and I know the exact ending already. Details may change, of course, but Book Three is the Final Book.

Unless, years later, my budding writer son wants to continue it. Then I say have at it!

12/21/19 The End of Skywalker or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Saga


I’ve just returned from the latest episode of Star Wars. The ninth film in the Skywalker Saga (not including the offshoot movies “Roque One” and “Solo”) has arrived and I have … feelings.

To say that this latest film had a lot to live up to is like saying Everest is kinda big. Over four decades of fan investment was on the line, and JJ Abrams must have had Rancor-like shoulders for Disney to put this on him. And you know what? It worked. Abrams delivered a truly entertaining film, full of humor, action, surprises, and genuine emotion. It was a good time at the movies.

Still. Something was missing. And that something was George Lucas himself.

Lucas had a specific intention when he still owned Star Wars. He wanted to clothe old stories in new dressings, taking mythology out of the dreary past and putting in spaceships fighting desperate battles over exotic planets. He was keenly aware that the main point of watching Star Wars was to learn lessons from the past, universal truths about Good and Evil, about Destiny, and about all the things more suited to Bulfinch’s Mythology than a modern movie. Despite all the mythological pretensions, It worked. The films' spirituality spoke to an entire generation. From the original trilogy, through the prequel trilogy, and the excellent Clone Wars cartoon, his vision was stamped on everything.

Disney’s vision is different. They want to entertain more than teach. And there’s nothing wrong with that. This new sequel trilogy has been very engaging, and Rise of Skywalker is the best of batch. Now fully reunited, the three main characters – Rey, Finn, and Poe – work great together. One wishes that they had more time to create more of the story together. And Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren goes through a dramatic arc that will satisfy fans for years. “Rise” is a fitting finish to Abrams’ work on Star Wars. It has heart. It’s a great story. It’s fun.

As I sat there in the enormous darkness of the IMAX theater with my son and an old friend, enjoying a good ol’ time at the movies, I slowly began to realize that even though the new Star Wars is different, that doesn’t mean it’s less than the old Star Wars. Good Star Wars can take many forms, and as the great Disney+ series “The Mandalorian” shows, some of the new pathways are extremely promising. Even more encouraging for me is the upcoming Obi Wan series, which promises to focus on the more spiritual elements of the Original Trilogy.

So now, I can relax and not rail so much against the ending of the old way of doing Star Wars. The Saga is a living thing now and it must change and adapt for it to thrive in the future. It must move on to wherever Disney is taking it. I’ll stay on that ride for as long as I can.

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12/16/19 - Hey you – Get a (Writing) Room!

Non-writers may sometimes get the impression that writing fiction is a kind of mystical art, one that requires complete solitude and the supernatural ability of the writer to commune with an unseen world.

It’s kinda true.

What fiction writers attempt to do is create a world that does not exist and convince the reader that it is a living milieu. The writer conjures characters, backstories, histories, and situations to make that world as believable as possible. The smallest details must be invented from nothing, and all of it must be kept track of as if it were a tangible domain. If that isn’t a kind of magic, I don’t know what is.

In order to fabricate this world, it helps greatly to have a location that is sealed off from the real one, a place where the ordinary rules don’t apply, where the imagination is free to explore every possibility. That is why many well-known authors recommend having a space set aside to perform such works of wonder, a room where the possibilities are endless.

The size of the room, its location, and its contents are of little importance in its purpose. What is of vital significance is a door. A door that can be shut and even locked if necessary. The reason is simple. For the Writing Spell to work, there can be no interference during the casting. This is serious work here. A writer is conjuring demons out of thin air. Or accountants. The connection between the writer and the world being created word by word must be unbroken.

In his mighty work “On Writing,” Stephen King describes just how vital it is to have such a portal:

“…one of the most important parts of your writing space is the door. That’s right, your room must have a door that you’re willing to shut and keep closed until you’ve reached your daily writing goal. It also tells people that you mean business. By closing the door, you’re saying to the world to stay out, that important stuff is going on behind it. He says the door not only serves to keep the world out, but it also serves to keep you in and focused, without having to look to see who may be passing by the entryway.”

My own Writing Room is the highest room in the house. It is only reachable by a single flight of stairs, which can be conveniently destroyed in the event of a zombie apocalypse, cutting off all access. It’s a small space, 16x20 feet. This is where I keep all my reference books and the books on writing I’ve collected over the years. It took a while to get it right, but it really is my Fortress of Solitude. During National Writing Month, it served as the perfect location to bang out 50,000 words in 30 days without much distraction.

The size and contents of such a room can vary wildly. Some writers have a shed all their own to do the work in. Others find it useful to hunker down in a basement. Some even retreat not just to their garage, but to the confines of their car to ensure solitude. I’ve heard a surprising number of accounts by writers who have claimed the lavatory as their own Crucible of Enlightenment, attempting to steal an hour or two away from the daily claims on their attention. Whatever works.

So if you write, find that space and make it your own. Use it as a place of creative incubation and let the words flow.

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12/12/19 - Grimtooth’s Traps – Evil at its finest.

Near the end of The Roleplayers, our heroes discover to their abject horror that their Game Master has injected a little something special into the dungeon they are trying to navigate: Traps from Grimtooth. The characters sigh in exasperation. They know their gooses are not just cooked but flambéed.

Grimtooth’s Traps was a series of roleplaying supplement books put out by a company called Flying Buffalo in the 1980's. They were meant to be used with any roleplaying system, including D&D, Pathfinder, MERP, etc. At the height of D&D’s popularity, there were scores of third-party supplements made for the game, but Grimtooth set itself apart from the rest by focusing on one of the more fun (and deadly) elements of any good adventure.

The Grimtooth series focused exclusively on providing Dungeon Masters clever and in some cases brilliant traps designed to wipe out entire adventuring parties. Usually in a dungeon, a trap represents an opportunity for the players to figure out a puzzle to avoid serious damage, like tapping on the right stone to avoid falling into a pit. Grimtooth went past all that “serious damage” nonsense and got right down to business. In the traps found in their books, Dungeon Masters found a variety of ways to send their players back to the drawing board.

Consider just one of the traps in the first book of the Grimtooth series, The One That Got Away. The player finds his or herself before an underground lake within a cavern. On the shore of the lake is a chair and a fishing pole. The lake is filled to the brim with hungry fish.

The fishing line is an elaborate spring trap. Should the unfortunate player sit down in the chair and fish, pulling the line taut triggers the spring trap and the player is immediately vaulted to the ceiling in an arc. If they let go of the line, they are impaled on the stalactites found on the cave ceiling. If they hold the line while flying, at the end of their Journey to Death they are smashed against the coral reef that was hidden just below the surface.

Sometimes the best detail of the trap was found in its illustration. Here’s the one for The One That Got Away:


Just one more way for an evil Dungeon Master to show his players who was boss. Grimtooth was chock full of insidious traps to play with, and produced a whole series dedicated to new and inventive ways to send characters to their maker.

The best place to find Grimtooth material is at Goodman Games. Be warned, however. Your players will hate you for it.

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12/9/2019 Authors – What an Ego!

Well it seems I’ve crossed that line between Writer and Author. Some writers don’t see it as a mere line in the sand. Oh no. For many it’s a barbed wire fence, with landmines on either side, and venomous snakes patrolling the perimeter. Why would you even try to cross that?

The answer, it seems, is because you have a healthy Ego.

“ Ego” is a loaded term. When we hear it, we tend to picture some jerk walking around the office, verbally infecting everyone with their sense of self-importance. It’s a pro baseball player who strikes out when he should have been looking for a walk. It’s all those dolts in Washington who seem to be more interested in their own power than the well-being of the people. Who would want to have an Ego like that?

In truth, Ego is no more than a sense of self-esteem or self-importance. There’s nothing negative about that. We need Ego to move forward in life. Sometimes our Ego is what saves us from self-destruction. It’s a healthy part of our psyche that has been embedded in us since caveman times.

Given that, Authors need a healthy ego to thrive. Think about the difference between a Writer and an Author. A writer could be technically brilliant, blessed with the ability to make a reader cry or cheer or think about a topic in a way they never have before. A writer’s words could flow unto the page with a lyricism that should be studied by critics. But then there’s that little trick called “Showing our work to others.” And not just a handful of people. Showing it to the World. Capital “W.”

That’s a different mindset from enjoying the pure act of creation on paper. It requires a writer to believe that there are not only other people interested in reading what they have created, but that there are a ton of other people interested and waiting to read it. The Ego of that Writer!

The truth is, all you have do is believe that you’ve created something that you’d like to read. That’s it. Because in the end, you are not as unique as you believe you are. The world is a big place. Surely there are others out there who not only would be interested in what you wrote, but they would love how you wrote it.

Write for an audience of One and trust your Ego enough to believe that there are others out there who would appreciate what you’ve done.


The Beginning

So here we go.

I've always wanted to be a writer. My first book was written in the 70's when I was probably around five years old. It was the story of Prince GoldenArm, a vagabond hero who roamed the land helping those in need. I wrote the story on ten 8.5in x 11in pieces of paper, illustrated the work in crayon, published it by photocopying it, and promoted it by telling my Mom I was finished.

I never forgot the look on her face as she read it. She was into it! She eagerly turned the pages, her almond shaped eyes widened as she read. She silently smiled at the parts I wanted her to smile at, and gasped during the perilous parts our hero had to contend with. "This is great!" she said. "So much imagination. When's the next book coming out?" Maybe she was just being kind to her son. It didn't matter. It was my first and most unforgetable review. Her words in that little three bedroom apartment in Little Italy all those years ago sealed my fate. I knew right then and there what I wanted to be.

As I got older, I went on on to be the editor of my grade school yearbook, wrote pieces no one would ever read in high school, worked as a reporter at my college newspaper. I actually got a job out of college as a part-time reporter. I was a writer for all the time that a financially carefree youth would allow. One day I discovered to my shock that I was really good at using a computer for things that were actually in demand, like teaching others about software programs, and creating graphics and websites. I started a family. And when I did that, money sort of just jumped into the frame and started to push other concerns out of focus. I began to trade my time for the ability to earn a living, something we all contend with. Two decades slipped through my fingers like so much fine sand. My writing became nothing more than an interesting part of my past.

And then one day last year, I decided to take on the challenge of National Novel Writing Month. I'd seen it pass me by for many years each November. The challenge is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I always liked the simplicity of it, but I never took the time to do it because it always seemed, well, financially fruitless. I don't know why I decided to take a shot at it last year, but I do know that I felt compelled to participate. I felt as if the last rescue boat was passing me by in the dark of a rough night at sea, and if I didn't yell loud enough, I would drown. So I took on the challenge and somehow fit it into my work schedule. Thirty days later, and with about a half hour left in the 11th month, I crosssed the 50,000 word mark.

I re-read what I had created. It wasn't perfect. A lot of it didn't make any sense. I had an alarming number of grammar errors for someone who once taught English at the collegiate level. But I loved the story. I liked the fact that I had created something that wasn't there before. I set out with the simple goal of writing something I would like to read and I achieved that goal. Most importantly, I finally remembered what I wanted to always be.

I made my decision. After over four decades, I was going back to where I started. Once I made the choice to follow what I loved. it was then just a matter of planning. I got the blessing of my fiancee. I didn't get the blessing of my father. I started to save every penny I could. I read up on Minimalism, the only real way we could survive the financial drought that was coming. And I waited until I was ready to turn in my two-week's notice to my job. Doing so felt foolish and brave at once. But it did feel good. It felt right.

So here I am again. I'll use this blog to record the all the sucesses and failures of self-publishing my first book, "The Roleplayers." There's a lot I need to learn and do. Hopefully these entries will help people in thier own journies, especially my son, who has also caught the writing bug.

Mom, I hope you are looking down and smiling. I'm going to try and at least make this interesting.