The End of Ur

February 17, 2013 at 8:43 pm (Non-fiction Essay, Original Piece)

I’ve been sitting on this essay for a bit. I’ve realized I need a little time and sometimes some emotional distance before I’m satisfied with posting something. I’ve also been nursing writer’s block since my last post. I really ought to stop that, so I’ll be working on forcing myself to write up lots of future blog posts this week while I continue to finish some rabbit-hole research. I don’t mean that literally, I mean the research I’m doing is probably far more detailed than I really need. But I don’t care! It’s fun, it’s interesting! And hopefully, the King of Arms in England will see my blazons and coats of arms when I publish and be all “hey, those follow the rules!”. In the meantime, please enjoy this meditation on the end of one of my favorite games. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sub-Routine

February 3, 2013 at 7:20 pm (Non-fiction Essay, Original Piece)

A glitch in my usual routine happened today. It left me kind of befuddled for a bit. It’s funny how having a little routine go wrong can throw you off so much.

It should be noted I’m not very good at routines and habits. I have trouble forming the sort of regular activities people are supposed to develop to have “good habits”. For some things, that’s kind of a big deal. I’ve got a calendar in my bathroom on which I give myself shiny star stickers every time I brush my teeth. I don’t eat at the same time every day, or wake up or go to sleep at consistent times. I forget to do the daily activities most people do without even noticing. It’s why I’ve opted for longer term birth control – I’m better at remembering yearly events than anything shorter. All of my bad habits are simply the absence of good habits – I actually do put my things where they belong when I’m done with them and I don’t chew my nails. I’ve tried the “it takes x weeks to form a habit” thing, and I have yet to have any habit stick even if I manage to pull off the x weeks. I just don’t do habits.

On the other hand, like everyone else, I do have my own little routines, my “sub-routines”. They’re not real routines, because I don’t always do them. It’s more like, when I do certain things, I almost always do them a certain way. For example, when I go to a coffee shop to write or research, I always get a latte. I read my regular webcomics in a specific order. I generally take the same route on my walk to my usual coffee shops. These subroutines are almost all a result of laziness. I don’t want to spend time deciding what to order. I read webcomics in the order they appear in my bookmark folder for the day of the week, because otherwise I’d have to pay attention to what order I read them in. I take the same route to the coffee shops because I have a terrible sense of direction and I don’t want to get lost in winter.

This week has been one of those weeks that sucks in a rather privileged way. I lost a contest. A game store forgot to internally ship a game I’d ordered from one store to my local one. We had a day of sleet followed by dangerously cold weather which prevented me from taking my daily walks. I always go out to write, so being confined to the house kept me from getting much done. Today I was really looking forward to a walk to a coffee shop for a nice latte and some work. The universe having thumbed its figurative nose at me all week, I arrived to find that the steaming wand was broken.

The poor woman behind the counter seemed terribly worried that I was going to flip out on her. I’ve been the woman behind the counter – machines break, inventory runs out, and accidents happen. There was no way I was going to flip out on her, but I spent a few minutes clucking over what I was going to drink instead. I feel bad that this made her feel so terrible, but I’m the sort of person who needs to think aloud when I’m off balance. I refused her offers to compensate my “loss” of a delicious caramel latte with free flavor shots and got a regular coffee instead. I also treated myself to some soup.

I know where that woman’s nervousness came from though. Many, many people react to their routines being wrecked by getting angry. They might be angry at the universe or themselves, but they too often vent it on the innocent. Maybe because I’ve only got my subroutines, having them go awry doesn’t bother me as much. I’m not a real creature of habit, so I welcome the reminder to change things up. I would say the world would be a better place if people were more like me in this, but honestly, I’m no more of a fan of halitosis and dirty kitchens than anyone else.

I do, however, cordially suggest you take a breath and ask yourself if you’ve actually tried everything on the menu the next time your favorite food joint is out of some ingredient. You might find a new habit!

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Painting Tiny Armies

January 30, 2013 at 7:37 pm (Uncategorized)

Earlier today, I was posting to a private social network (you know, the antecedent to Facebook, minus the evil) about my miniatures painting hobby and wanting to turn that into income. Naturally, what I had to say got lengthy pretty quickly, so I thought I’d post here about painting instead, and get two birds by getting in a blog post in the bargain. And hey, if there’s interest, maybe I’ll do a step-by-step with pictures! Or get commissions! Money! Education! Exclamation points!! Read the rest of this entry »

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Geology in Action

January 22, 2013 at 8:07 pm (Non-fiction Essay, Original Piece, Uncategorized)

Back when we first tried to start this blog, I wrote a short piece based on a photo prompt I had posted. The photo was one I took when I was 10 or 12 years old, of a familiar “face” in the massive rocks of the North Shore of Quebec, near Baie-Trinite.

The piece was born of a deep connection to that region, and to the particular spaces and places there. My family is from there, now strung along the St. Lawrence coast from Montreal all the way up to Sept-Iles. I spent many a summer and winter vacation in Baie-Trinite. I would explore the shoreline for miles, picking up shells and catching krill. I would stare into tidepools, climb up cliff faces in my galoshes, munch on wild berries, and pick out pieces of washed up plates from old ship wrecks at the aptly named Point of Plates. The rocks, trees, sea, and wind are knit into my bones. My blood is mixed with saltwater.

After I flunked out of my first college, I didn’t get a chance to go back North until this past summer. A good 6 years had passed since I’d last clambered around on the rocks, and I was looking forward to meeting my old friends. The face in the photo is not the only one I knew, and plenty of the rocks are intimate acquaintances of mine even if they aren’t anthropomorphic and can’t speak in words. But there’s something important to know about that coast and those rocks: they change.

We all, I hope, learn about erosion and the power of wave action and scouring winds at some point in our schooling. But most of the time, we think of those various sources of change as taking centuries to work. The thing is, that’s not always the case, and rarely the case on the Canadian side of the Atlantic. The St. Lawrence is a gulf, 35 miles wide, at Baie-Trinite. People there call it the sea, not the river or gulf. On a very clear, dry day, you can see the mountains on the opposite shore, but most of the time you only see ore ships or whales. It’s fully saltwater (the changeover to salt happens far to the south, near Quebec City) and the beaches are bedecked with kelp and seashells. Every year, in the fall and winter, brutal storms roll in, dragging in or away multi-ton boulders of granite and iron ore. The face in the photo, in fact, is iron ore ribboned with quartz. In the long term, the action of sea and wind breaks these rocks down into black sand, which is magnetic and sparkles from the quartz component. In the short term? You can’t be sure a rock formation will even be there next year, much less look the same.

So when I went this summer, exploring the old familiar places, some of them were terribly surreal. A black sand beach that was covered in small stones and open to a rough sea had been turned into a cove of fine grayish-white sand. A boulder that had been 7 feet tall above the sand was now only 4 feet above the sand. I used to call it my “challenge rock”, and every morning in the summer, I would try to climb to the top of it. My old stone friend, so important to me that I took a photo, was nowhere to be seen. I went to where he should be, but he was gone, smooth stone in place of his nose and eyes. His smile is still discernible, but his spirit has surely departed elsewhere. It made me sad, but it also made me happy to see the work of the ages in my own lifetime. I took a new photo of a different rock, this one broken away from its mother cliff, and I’m eager to take a photo as often as I can to see when it will roll out into the sea. Until then, I hope we can keep each other company.

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The Question of Research

January 9, 2013 at 5:52 pm (Non-fiction Essay, Original Piece)

I suspect that until Vesper gets back in action, I’m not going to be coming up with much short fiction to post. So, here’s another random musing. At least this one is about writing!

Aspiring authors are most often told “write what you know,” which is a vague adage that doesn’t really convey what it means at all. It really just means write stuff that uses some of your existing expertise. It does not, necessarily, mean you have to dramatize your family or your misspent youth. Obviously you can, but if that were the heart of the saying, we wouldn’t have much science fiction and we wouldn’t have fantasy at all.

Of course, even when you try to write from a place of knowledge, you’re going to run into things you don’t know or don’t know well enough. If you don’t run into those things, there’s a 99% chance You’re Doing It Wrong. Seriously. Tolkien is famed for his dedication to research. I’m not saying every author has to spend a couple decades on research, but at least hit up Wikipedia once in a while.

For my part, I’m a bit of a research junkie. I’ll triple check things I already know. Every page of script I write, I end up noting something I want to look up. If it’s a plot element or a major piece of world building, I stop and do some research. But otherwise, I make a note, and use one of my placeholder phrases until I get back to it. I have to merely note it, or I would never get any actual writing done. I was nearly sidetracked today simply because in the script I’d described a castle as having specific flags flying. There was then a note that I needed to design the actual flags. I’m putting it off because I’m not making use of those designs in the plot. I only need to do that bit of world building before I manage to find an artist partner. It’s a rabbit trail that I will get sucked into completely if I allow myself to do it during my writing time.

There are a few reasons I like my placeholders better than writing something that seems okay but might need to be changed. First of all, the placeholders are generally in all capital letters to make them easy to spot in case I forget about one. I use something simple, usually a single related word. This way I can remember my own placeholder term. More importantly, perhaps, it makes it a very simple matter to run a find and replace session later.

There is a downside to placeholders, though. The biggest one is probably that if I use a placeholder name, I eventually become attached to the name, even when it’s really terrible. Every single character in my first script needs a change of given name, the ones I’ve actually properly named at all. A few people are listed entirely by their title. Then there’s a guy I didn’t name until later, and continuously refer to in pages written earlier as “recurring guard”. “Recurring guard” even became an affectionate pet name for him in my mind! Unfortunately for Fred, since he’s only referred to by name once in dialogue, he’s never going to get found-and-replaced in the panel descriptions. Perhaps I should give him the surname “Gard” in the character files.

My other major writing vice is commas. Please forgive me!

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Tiny Speck’s Crime

January 6, 2013 at 11:27 pm (Non-fiction Essay, Original Piece)

Tiny Speck needs to take responsibility for spoiling games for me for the foreseeable future.

Well, okay, maybe they don’t actually, but my point still stands. You see, in Glitch, player avatars did not come with a gender. Character creation was done a little out of order from normal – you dropped into the world, and then you spent a little while customizing your glitch after you’d played. Even so, the first toggle that just about every MMO has simply never showed up in Glitch. The toggle that causes you to choose a gender/sex was completely absent. In a way, an avatar’s “biological assets” could be considered sex, because it’s determinate – you have certain bits depending on which one you choose. On the other hand, players are generally not required to choose the same one for every character they make in a game or one that mostly matches their meat-space parts. But in Glitch, you never chose at all.

Oh, you could identify, if you wished, however you wanted. You could self-refer as a gender, you could choose to have a beard, or a piece of clothing with built-in cleavage, but you could have both at the same time, and you weren’t precluded from wearing pretty dresses if you also sported chest hair. You could build up your facial features and hair in such a way that you felt fit a certain gender. You could also run around naked, without the dainty underclothes found in other MMOs. Part of that was because glitchen didn’t have any visible genitalia, so you couldn’t really say a naked glitch was exposing zerself. Ze wasn’t even exposed to the weather, as there wasn’t any.

Truthfully, when I first started playing, I didn’t notice or think about the lack of toggle. I made my character to look appealing to me. It wasn’t until my mother-in-law started playing and asked me why I had a male glitch that I even considered what gender my avatar had. I came up with a mollifying answer that highlighted the ambiguity of gender in the space of MMOs, but internally I was thinking hard about what I had created and why.

To some extent, I’d made a glitch that embraced certain traits I find kind of attractive in women. I consider myself a generally heterosexual cis-gendered female, but I don’t see how that stops me from feeling some women are attractive. So my glitch was darkish skinned (Glitch did not, as a rule, have any “human” skin tones) and sported a short afro. But ze also wore pants and stylish fedoras and top hats. Had there been a toggle, I’d likely have chosen “woman”. When my mother-in-law asked me about my “male” glitch, I was a little hurt, because somewhere I thought I was a good-looking lady. Even so, I quickly recognized where my mother-in-law had been led astray.

But a strange thing happened. Instead of trying to make my glitch look “more female”, I chose instead to embrace zer’s genderlessness. I saw Glitch as an opportunity to explore my gender in a safe space without the difficulties or consequences I might face in the analog world. I’m still definitely a lady, in the sense that I’m pretty happy with my ample bosum and hips. On the other hand, I don’t feel like those bits determine what I can wear, how my hair is styled, or what jobs I should be able to do. Society might feel differently, and should I go against its opinion in some way, I’ll have to deal with that. I don’t think I necessarily thought differently before, but I feel more confident in that position now. Regardless, my glitch was sexless, whatever the wood trees may have wanted.

Having said all of that, now that Glitch has shut down, I have to deal with the toggle in the games I’m trying out to fill that space in my gaming roster. One of the games I’ve tried has at least chosen to have their two genders be fairly similar and possess the exact same options for facial features, hair, and initial clothing. I still stomped my metaphorical foot adamantly, saying “but I don’t want to choose!” But choose I must, until another developer as open-minded as Tiny Speck comes along. I hope I don’t have to wait as long as I did before Glitch, because now I know I’m waiting.

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Writing out of order is a Bad Idea

January 3, 2013 at 5:57 pm (Non-fiction Essay, Original Piece)

As the about page says, Pennies is supposed to be some kind of writing blog. It was based on the idea of prompts, and at some point we’ll get back into doing that. In the meantime, I think just getting it going on a regular basis is a good first step to improve myself as a writer. That was, after all, one of my New Year’s resolutions.
I’ve been mucking around with the idea of Being A Writer for 3 years now. I do NaNoWriMo every year, and now Camp Nano, and I did Script Frenzy until it died. I’ve slowly been working my way up to Getting Serious. This involves about 1 part confidence, two parts gall, and 3 parts discipline. NaNo has helped a lot with the first and the last, though I still have quite a ways to go yet.
Case in point, my approach to sitting down and getting the writing done. I enjoy writing comic scripts immensely. When I finally finish one, all 200 scripted pages, then I’ll go and hunt down an artist. My stick figures are mistaken for sad trees and my minimalist cats for bats, so I’m not going to even try to bring some art to the table. So the art is not really the problem here – I’ve got a plan for having someone else do that.
No, the problem is that I tend to write my scripts out of order. I like the way I’ve arranged to ensure good pacing – each issue is a strict 20 pages, and I create my roughest outline by writing up the chapter title page for each planned issue. Forcing myself to work in these confines has definitely helped me pare down the filler and make the most of every panel. But because I then write up the pages in whatever order I feel inspired by, I’m now down to the half of my first story that does not include things like combat and dramatic death scenes.
Which means the stuff that’s the most fun and easiest for me to write is already done, making every writing session long and difficult. I’m currently working my way back up to a Screnzy schedule of 6 scripted pages per day. I have yet to make that goal, but I have at least sat down and written one page every day. But while 6 pages of combat might take me all of an hour or two to write, these lone pages of fleshing out the world and my characters so other people can understand what’s in my head are taking several hours apiece. If I want to get serious, I’m going to have to up my game.
I’ll continue to slog through this comic script day by day. Whenever the going gets too tough, I tend to switch to writing up world building notes. Most of that information is already in my head, but I’m going to need to share it with my artist, and having it written down means I won’t contradict myself later. So at least I’m not slacking entirely.
But I’ve learned my lesson. My second script is being written 3 chapters at a time, to wean me off my piecemeal method. Whenever I complete one chapter, I get to set up and work on the next one, along with the two nearing completion. Hopefully this means that some day, I’ll always have the next story scripted out and ready for a second read by my artist, and no one will be able to blame me if my comic doesn’t update on time.

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Happy New Year!

January 1, 2013 at 5:46 pm (Non-fiction Essay) ()

Happy New Year, everyone! All two of you. I assume there’s two anyway, simply because Vesper and I both have significant others and close friends, so I figure one for each of us is reasonable. I’m finally posting to Pennies, as part of my completely ridiculous 8-part resolution for this year.
Eight parts, not steps. You see, I don’t normally do new year’s resolutions, because I won’t accept failure for them, which means I have to make complete systems for whatever I’m going to try to achieve. Most years, I haven’t been motivated enough to do that. But this past year, I’ve realized I’m dissatisfied with enough bits of my life that it’s time for an overhaul. Most people commit to a vague “lose weight”, spend a month in the gym without a strategy that they can actually stick to in the long term and fail to recognize potential snags in their new routine. Come February or March, they’ve already given up, and around May or possibly even October, they recognize their early failure. The real problem there is also that they don’t then pick back up. Instead, they say “next year,” and the cycle renews. So unless I’m willing and able to go hardcore, I don’t bother making half-assed promises to myself.
This year though? I have a plan. I have a strategy. It incorporates understanding of myself with tools provided by the current gamification fad. I’m not just reforming the bits of things I don’t like doing (chores, exercise…), but also the fun stuff I wish I did better at (completing video games). I looked at all the areas in my life where I’m not totally happy, figured out why, and decided what to do about it. I’ve got big goals, like getting in better shape for a friend’s wedding in March, but I’ve also got bite-sized daily tasks, like walking to somewhere useful every day. I’m using both an online “gaming your life” tool (I won’t give it free advertising until I’ve tried it for awhile), and a tidy spreadsheet. I’ve corralled friends and my spouse into keeping me accountable, too. After today, where I get this freebie post, I should be posting a mix of non-fiction essays and fiction prose to the blog three times a week, though I’m not holding myself to a particular schedule.
You know what’s in my massive resolutions file? Writing more. You know what’s not? Getting a minimum wage job.
Wish me luck!

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Misprint or genius?

June 4, 2012 at 11:49 pm (Writing Prompt) (, )

One of the first things I noticed when I first played King’s Blood were the two cards that seem to be apparent misprints. Both cards feature characters who seem to be transgender, one male and one female. Nicco the Beauty, not pictured, is a fairly masculine individual, listed as female. Oddly enough, she’s aligned with “art”, yet wields a sword. Possibly a drag queen? Marsha the Harem Knight is listed as male, despite the female name. Normally, these wouldn’t be quite so easily questioned, except all the other character cards follow pretty traditional gender depictions. I’ve always had a soft spot for Nicco and Marsha because of this, but they unfortunately cannot even be played together in the game without a special card. Ah well.

Marsha below the break!

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Camp NaNoWriMo Is Here!

May 31, 2012 at 1:14 pm (Original Piece) (, , )

Vesper and I will be participating in the June . I don’t know what she’s writing. I’ve decided to play a few games of the card game King’s Blood against myself until I have a good long game, and then turn that into a novel. I like working with outlines, and my original plan kind of went out the window at the last minute, so this is my form of modified “pantsing”. I’ve used King’s Blood characters in the past for role-playing characters, so this should be fun. In the meantime, we’re also going to revive the blog. I’ll be posting “prompts” in the form of King’s Blood characters that didn’t turn up in my story (or if they all do, one’s I like in particular). I’ll probably only write extreme shorts of them, but Vesper might go a little crazy. We’ll see! I just hope Steve Jackson doesn’t mind me scanning in a few cards…

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