Month: November 2016

Books I Haven’t Read Yet

There are of course infinite numbers of other people’s books that I haven’t read, but I want to talk a little bit about books of my own that I have drafts of but haven’t read.

  • A Turquoise Song – I wrote the second draft of this in November 2014, and I still have the unread print out in my desk drawer. The first version of the book was fun, but work on honing this second draft into something more complete was put on hold for 2015 because I was working on…
  • Shapes of Chance – I have about 75% of a second draft. I’ve run off the end of the outline that I had, though, so I need to go back to the beginning and reread what I have to pick it back up again.
    Calling this unread is a bit of a stretch since this is more an incomplete manuscript, but apart from some efforts at editing the first couple of scenes over the summer I haven’t worked seriously on it since September 2015.
  • Perscon – I wrote two books in November 2015, and while one of them is done and out the door Perscon is still lurking in my desk drawer. I’m a bit more nervous about this one since I remember the ending being more than a bit sketchy, but there are sections which I was quite affected by as I wrote them so I have hope.
  • Paragons – the book I just finished, rewriting what I can only describe as my worst November outing ever back in 2006*. The old manuscript sat in the drawer for more than two years before I finally pulled it out to read it, but if this version rests for as long it will not be for fear of how bad the book is.

Four books in the queue. I really ought to finish more of these.

[*] 2006 and 2008 are the two years I have come closest to not reaching the 50k goal. 2008 was bad because of external reasons (ie I lost my day job halfway through the month on the brink of global economic catastrophe), but 2006 was a nightmare solely because of my own poor preparation.

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The T-Shirts of NaNoWriMo: 2016 Edition – The Year of Two T-Shirts

Portland's awesome logo shirt

Portland’s awesome logo shirt

The 2016 NaNoWriMo shirt has been tremendously popular. I wasn’t able to get my one until just before the month itself began – it missed the kick-off – and the store is still having trouble keeping it in stock!

… and it’s easy to see why. That image is so perfectly composed, with the page lines distorting to indicate spatial rupture, the spaceship soaring towards its far destination. I find this evocation of the launch of the imagination that NaNoWriMo represents reaches deep into me. This is my favourite NaNoWriMo shirt, hands down.

the out-of-this-world 2016 shirt

the out-of-this-world 2016 shirt

The NaNo Portland group is a vibrant community of Portland area writers, and one of its MLs is a talented graphic designer. This example of his work really grabbed my attention, so I was proud to buy one of the shirts with it on. It’s a Cafe Press shirt which means the printing is heavy, but it looks gorgeous in person.

2016 is a vintage year for T-shirts!

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NaNoWriMo 2016 – Week 4

Words – 75,616 / 50,000
Chapters – 28 / 28
Words / Chapter – 2,700

Those last few scenes were pretty gloppy to write. I only had one or two firm ideas about how things needed to go, and the timing for writing them meant that I got jolted out of the writing head space just as I needed to figure that stuff out. So the last bits are a bit hasty, but I have the ideas down.

The story is finished.

Now to print it out and get everything ready to stick in a drawer for a few weeks.

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Running On Empty, Thinking You’re Full

One of the hardest things about running is making yourself go out when you’re tired, or when you need to push yourself to a longer distance during training — running when you don’t feel like it, in other words.

What’s even harder is when you want to run but you can’t: your body won’t let you.

I came down with a cold on Sunday. It wasn’t an especially bad one, but the early stages made me feel tired and light-headed which is always a sign to me that I need to rest. I had been planning on doing a seven miler and I had been ready for it the day before, but even as I was stumbling around before breakfast on Sunday I could tell that my body was telling me it was a bad idea. I took Monday off too, because I still felt weak.

Yesterday I needed a run. I was getting twitchy at my desk, and although I was still feeling a bit coldy, it wasn’t affecting me mentally so I figured I would be fine. The problem was time: I was looking at my meeting schedule wondering how I was going to fit in a run.

Then I realised that I was looking at the wrong calendar, and all my meetings had actually been cancelled for the day.

So I picked up my bag and went out.

I’d been running for about two minutes when the doubts I’d been supressing my fitness became unavoidable: this was a bad idea, my body was telling me. I felt completely boneless.

Is there a lesson here?

If there is, it’s one I haven’t learned yet.

There are lots of things that cut into my running: injury, illness, other commitments. I can work around the other commitments and I can manage injury, but illness is hard because it not only weakens my body, but confuses my already poorly calibrated sense of what my body can do at any given time. I mean, there are times when it is really obvious that I’m not going out, but there are other times on the shoulders of illness or when I’m only a little bit sick that I try to do things I can’t actually do.

At least I still try. I should probably worry when I stop trying.

But for now, I think I will try and run on Friday, hoping that the cold has buggered off by then.

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NaNoWriMo 2016 – Week 3

Words – 60,424 / 50,000
Chapters – 22.5 / 27
Words / Chapter – 2,685

Writing this a couple of days late since I’ve been making words rather than wanting to be writing about making words, but I’m definitely on the downslope now.

Obviously I have blown through the nominal 50k target. The story is into its final act too, with the characters isolated and hopeless. Unfortunately, that’s difficult to write so today’s writing has not been particularly enjoyable.

As a whole experience, though, this has been a good story to work on. I’m glad I came back to this one – it was worth another go.

Only a few chapters left to write. If I keep writing at this pace per chapter the whole thing will be 72k long. That’s a decent amount, and I know it will expend on the rewrite.

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Magic On The Cheap: Part 2 – Playing Cheaply

Magic is a great game, but it can be an expensive game. In this context, I work hard to keep the cost down.

Part 2: Cheating Into Play

Drafting at game shops is great, but I organise drafts at the day job1 (which is where I know the most Magic players) at cost and buy cards in the most efficient way to bring down the price. So, a booster draft costs $10 a head including land for an evening’s entertainment, and we do that once a quarter (basically when a new Standard set comes out). This satisfies the pack cracking urge quite well.

I also like constructed play, where you build a 60 card deck and play against someone else who has built a deck under the same constraints. These decks are built either by using your collection, or by buying the cards individually. Standard and Modern are both expensive for their own reasons, but I like Pauper.

A Poor Substitute?

Pauper is a format where you restrict the rarity of the cards played to just commons. The eternal form of Pauper (ie where any card printed is legal) has decks which cost more just because of the age of some of the staple cards, but as of this writing they still cost less than $100 (competitive decks can still be much cheaper). Standard Pauper, where you are only playing commons printed recently, is cheaper yet: a complete deck will likely cost less than $5.

But, I hear the cry: doesn’t restricting play to commons make the decks boring.

No. Definitely not.

The biggest loss to the Pauper player is access to planeswalkers. Those are all at Mythic rarity, but there are those who would consider that no loss at all. What you get from a good Pauper deck, as with the best Magic decks in unrestricted formats, is synergy: individual cards may not be doing as many things, but they work together very well. Some of the most fun games of Magic that I’ve played have been in Pauper formats.

And when it comes to proper Pauper, where the age of the cards is not restricted, you have cards like Lightning Bolt which was printed as a common until only five years ago. Many people consider that one of the best cards ever printed, and those who don’t might well put it second only to Force of Will.

So, there are cards you might miss, but the games will be interesting and worthwhile. They’ll also likely be more balanced.

Try Pauper. It’s really good.

Next time I will write about a permanent solution to the drafting blues.

[1] I also run a league at the day job, so there is a structure to encourage play.

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NaNoWriMo 2016 – Week 2

Words – 32,423 / 50,000
Chapters – 13.5 / 26
Words / Chapter – 2,402

Well, this has been quite a week. I’ve more or less kept up my first week’s pace, which surprises me quite a lot, and I’ve had only had one amoeba chapter (an amoeba chapter is one that keeps growing and spawns new chapters). I’m still working on that amoeba though, so who knows where that will end up.

Extrapolating linearly, it looks like I should end up with around 65k for the whole story. I have a maze tracker with 64 squares, so I would only overflow that very slightly.

The story itself is going fairly well. The surprise arrest of a major character changed one plot interaction, but the plot is developing more or less as I had planned which makes me happy. Certainly, this iteration of the story is going vastly better than it did back in 2006.

However, this week has also been very emotionally draining, and although I’ve kept writing so far I can tell that there may be a crash coming. That will kill my word count for a couple of days. I’m sure I will still finish, because I could well end up at 50k by the end of next week, but there is a dip in the graph’s curve in my future.

On to the next scene.

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Back to the 90s

Yesterday I remarked that this year’s election in general, but the presidential election in particular, felt like Labour losing in 1992.

I’m not going to go over the sullen misery I felt this morning, or my withdrawal from social media for the next few days*, or the general disengagement with news sources. I just don’t want to hear about it right now.


I do have reasons for hope though:

  1. this way, we get an unambiguous peaceful transfer of power. Trump’s terrible words about not accepting the result of the election if it was not in his favour are now moot.
  2. there’s a non-zero chance that he will simply not want to do the job. Being president is hard and involves paying attention to many many details all the time. That doesn’t sound like Trump. This would render a Trump presidency more akin to Shrubby’s, where the actual levers of power were swung by Cheney and other lieutenants. That does put immediate power into Mike Pence’s hands which I do not relish, but he is at least a responsible politician, if not an admirable one.
  3. Trump’s policy positions were either unclear or absurd. There’s a pretty decent chance that he didn’t mean any of it, because fundamentally we have no idea what he’s going to do**. That would mean we also have no idea what could happen, but I would posit that was always the case with him.
  4. I reckon the 2018 mid-terms will flip the Senate back to the Dems, and maybe even the House too (although the gerrymandering there is so grotesque that that may be a stretch). I am sure a lot of damage can be done in those two years, but if anyone’s going to be a one term president it will be him.

That’s what I’m clinging to, when I can bear to think about this débacle at all.

I’m still hoping I sleep tonight.

[*] not entirely, since I have a NaNoWriMo group I want to keep up with.

[**] although I have not been paying attention to any transition team announcements, so we may be getting more hints than I am aware of.

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1992 And All That

One of my most depressing political memories is of the 1992 British general election.

John Major’s Conservative government of the time had run out of steam. They didn’t seem to have any positive ideas left, Thatcher’s programme of reform having run past its course. The sitting government was enormously unpopular, and it was apparent – obvious to everyone – that Neil Kinnock’s Labour party would win control of parliament.

And yet the Labour party lost.

I remember I had been out at the pub that night. It was a Thursday: Britain votes on Thursdays, and I had a regular pub crew I met on Thursdays too, and I came home after closing time and turned on the telly to see how things were going.

The news was bad. Labour was losing. The polls had been wrong.

I slept very poorly that night, nightmares of a Tory win which were confirmed when I woke up.

On this night when I was feeling nervous but fundamentally secure as I was leaving the day job, I find myself remembering how 1992 felt.

I didn’t want to have this feeling again.

I am feeling very frightened right now. This doesn’t feel like the world I want to live in. Maybe things will seem better in the morning.


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