Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Ability to Adapt

Two story rejections came my way last week. One didn't have any fanfare. The other was accompanied by a very nice letter from the editor, who praised the story's merits and informed me that it was shortlisted in the top ten pieces for final consideration. In the end, they picked someone else, but it's been a long time since I got such a letter.

The magazine in question was called Ember, which is published through the California State Summer School of the Arts. While perusing through their website one day, I noticed they were hosting a special submission call entitled: "The Carrot is Mightier than the Sword." The editors wanted stories based on a painting somebody had done, which depicts a group of rabbit knights confronting a dragon. It just so happened that I was looking for story ideas, and thought, "Why not?"

The result was a whimsical children's story titled "The Curse of Horace Jonah." It's 3200 words long, and owing to time constraints, I typed it out very quickly. It was a fun story to write. I cut loose and didn't think about it too much once it was gone. I expected it would be rejected outright with nothing more than a "No, thanks." Imagine my surprise when I read that letter and saw how many people liked it! Now I'm curious who they did choose. Must've been a killer story.

While I try to find another home for Horace and the other tale, I've finally gotten the money to send my SM3 platen off to JJ Short for recovery. I've heard enough good things about the company and their service. Not sure what the lead time is on these things, so I'll be getting it out tomorrow.

Meanwhile, my Hermes 3000 will stand in as my main typer, for now. I've switched back to my metal typing table and wonder why I ever abandoned it. Sure, the big wooden desk has more room for paper, lamps, my clock, and framed photos, but it's not purpose-built. With the right chair and the correct posture, the metal table makes typing on just about any machine a lot more comfortable.

Saw a pretty little red Splendid 33 on eBay, opening bid was $9.99. It's now up to $40. Guess I should have know it wouldn't go unnoticed. Oh well.

Current temperature is 57ยบ F. I don't like it. January is my month! I want it to be cold! Bug free! No severe storms! These heat spikes threaten to bring all of that back!


Sunday, January 24, 2016

SM7 Woe Continues *UPDATED*

When I got my Olympia typewriter back from Vernon, he recommended working the tabulator button as much as possible in an attempt to loosen up the mechanism.  While I was doing so, I Tips the machine on its side briefly in order to shift in my seat. The drawback and came out of its grooves and is now tangled in the guts of the carriage assembly. I have never met such a finicky machine that is, otherwise, in excellent working condition. I might take it back to Him tomorrow and see if he can fix it, but I'm starting to question whether I should bother keeping it at all.  I have over $100 invested in this machine and it has caused me a lot of trouble.

Meanwhile, I received a letter from one of the magazines, a literary journal called Ember. A few weeks ago, they asked for stories based on a painting they had published. I sent mine and was informed that it had been shortlisted in the top ten, even though it was ultimately rejected. They had a lot of praise for it.

This shows that I am definitely improving, but now I'm not sure what to do with it. This is the only children's story I've ever written and I don't know the market.

Oh well. To Google.


I woke up this morning and found the draw band had mysteriously untangled I was able to reattach it and saved a visit to Vern.

Yay me!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

On War Crimes and Word Recognition

Found this at an antique store. Can't afford it, but thought it was worth sharing.

Power to the pen.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Lovely Task of Rewriting

"Real writing is rewriting."

You'll read it on blogs. You'll hear it on podcasts.

Rewriting is one of those things that separates the hopefuls and wannabes from the diehards and professionals. No first draft is perfect, let alone profitable for a publisher or enjoyable to a reader. Every writer must be willing to make changes, and sometimes they are substantial. My own experience is limited, but I've had to scrap a few short stories and start over because I realized something I was doing that was hindering the project (it usually involved writing from the wrong character's POV).

Writing is hard, and some people can't stand the idea of going back to a project they finished six months ago. They want to move on to the next new idea burning in their brain. That's great, to have more ideas coming, but statistically, these writers won't sell because they aren't polishing their work.

I'm glad to say I'm not one of them.

Now that I've finished writing the first draft of "The Sparrow's Fall," I've turned my attention back to a previous novel: "The Lightwich Expedition."

I've posted about this book before, completed in April 2014. Right now, it's in its second/third draft. I shopped it around to who-knows-how-many agents and nobody bit. No one even requested a partial manuscript beyond the chapters I sent them. Rejections don't bother me, but sometimes you have to wonder, "Is it me or them?" I decided that I needed another pair of eyes on the manuscript.

I was still in school and it took a long time to find a competent beta reader that would give me a detailed analysis. I did a fair bit of writing between finishing the draft and realizing I wanted to go further (got my break with "Nimrod Lexicon"), and I'm glad I finally have the chance and the inner drive to make this happen. I've only done a major rewrite on a novel once before (the ill-fated Lunar Dawn, which I rewrote from scratch), and my biggest fear was that I'd be tired of the story with no desire left to make changes.

But I think Lightwitch has real market potential. It was a blast to write it and I know it can be improved.

The challenges I'm facing are thus:

1. Inserting a New Character

One of the biggest faults with the manuscript is that it was supposed to be a YA novel, but one of the POV characters is an grown woman, and she's only there for about 4000 words in a 65000 manuscript. Not only that, but these 4000 words are boring, and that won't do at all. The new character won't be an adult, and I'll have to write those 4000 words all over again. In fact, I'll have to go way beyond that because this new character needs a complete life of their own, and that means creating new supporting characters as well.

The new character's chapters will then be interwoven with the others. One of the things that gives me hope is the fact I still have a complete manuscript, even without the 4000 words (that's assuming I would want to sell it as a YA historical fiction). I don't have to throw out the whole thing and start over. The 61000 words I have left can be a guide.

2. Improving my Medical Knowledge 

I don't want to spoil anything here...but most of the story revolves around a comatose boy, so I need to accurately portray a modern hospital and patient care. This means talking to people, because there are some things Google can't find.

3. Tweaking the Characters' Physical Movements

I thought I could keep everything in my head, but it didn't work. I was always second-guessing myself. I need a sketch of towns, buildings, etc just so the characters' movements will make sense.

4. Daily Routines are Complicated

I've discovered these wonderful little things called note cards. They're great for remembering certain details that you have to have in the story, but don't want to save to a computer file (the opening of which might tempt you to access the internet). These cards are most handy for remembering a character's daily routines. Don't know about you, but I can't remember my high school schedule, or my chores, etc.

5. Polishing the Rest

The 61000 words I mentioned at the top will have to be polished. Better characterization. Better action. However, there is only one section that I will have to be completely rewritten and that's acting on the advice of every beta reader who said it slowed the pacing of the story, thereby, making it difficult for them to engage.

I haven't set a deadline for this to be finished. Ideally, before the year ends, but I doubt it'll take that long. It's hard to explain, but I'm more relaxed about this project that I was about "Sparrow's Fall." I have a much moe concrete idea of what I want to do than plodding along a behemoth of a manuscript day after day with no end in sight.

Can't wait to see the results. It won't be easy, but that's why you have to be passionate. Only a true love of what you do will carry you over the unpleasant bumps.

Power to the pen!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

UNDERTALE: You Must Play This Game!!!

You Must Play This Game!

This is going to be a looong post, so, get comfortable…


This blog is dedicated to the notion that stories enrich human lives, and I’m not ashamed to praise the ones that have enriched my life. Every child, whether it’s through Aesop’s fables or the Harry Potter series, grows up hearing about a big wide world that they can’t wait to explore. They encourage kids to chase the horizon, or see what’s on the other end of that rainbow. For thousands of years, stories were shared person to person around a camp fire, and later, through written words. From this, we advanced to radio and were able to “listen in” as the action takes place. Then television came along, giving us visual representations of the things we’d heard about, where you can see the story unfolding in real time.

Video games, in my opinion, are the last great evolutionary step in story-telling. You aren’t just hearing the story, reading it, or even watching it. You are experiencing it, and I think that’s the crux of any game review. When people say a game was too hard, or boring, what are they really getting at? The experience wasn’t good enough, for whatever reason. There was a time when I couldn’t get enough of video games or television. My summer trips to grandma’s house involved a lot of binge watching. I craved games like The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy because they satisfied my desire to go out and be the strong, brave hero who got to see the world (which I could only dream of as a kid suffering with JRA). I craved shows like Dragonball and Mobile Suit Gundam because they offered dramatic tension, something that Loony Toons couldn’t match.

Then, I grew up and discovered a love of books. Today, I don’t play a lot of video games. I don’t have the money for console titles, and I choose to invest my time in other things that are much more satisfying.


Ever so often a game will catch my attention and my curiosity gets the better of me. This has happened three times. The first time was a game called Limbo, a very eerie puzzle/platformer with no real story to speak of but great aesthetics. The next one was Cave Story, an action platformer with a much better narrative and some RPG elements. Both of these games were a lot of fun and I played them several times. Go try them out for yourself.

But you know what they say…three time’s the charm.

The game we’re going to talk about today REALLY puts on the charm. But this post is a bit of a challenge. How do I sell you on a game that came out in September 2015 without revealing all of the juicy bits that made it so endearing to me? How can I convey this game’s timelessness by typing words and not using recorded footage, like so many other reviewers?
I guess I could start by saying it’s for Mac and PC, only $10…
Ok, fine, I won’t reveal anything beyond what you’d learn in the demo version.

The Game

The game has a simple premise:
Long ago, humans and monsters lived in peace. Then, after a terrible war, the humans used their magic to seal the monsters in a subterranean realm called the Underworld. Legend says that humans who venture too close to Mt. Ebott never return. You, the player, control a human child who does just that, falling through one of the last cracks between the two worlds. Trapped in the realm of monsters, your objective is to get back home.

If only it were that simple…

Right from the get go, this game messes with your head. The first creature you encounter is a talking flower named…Flowey. He welcomes you and offers to explain the game’s combat system. EXP means “experience points,” LV means “level,” etc. He then offers to share some power with you in the form of dancing white pellets so you won’t be so weak. Ok, I’ve heard this before. Tutorials. Yawn. Let’s get on wit…


If you play this game like me, a total moron, and take the pellets without a second thought, you’ll be horrified to see Flowey’s face contort in a demonic smile. He mocks your naivety and then moves in for the kill. BUT, you’re saved in the nick of time by the game’s real mentor. Toriel is the caretaker of the Ruins and offers to guide you through them. During this process, you learn how to ward off hostile monsters and solve puzzles blocking your way. Flowey is a character I hated from the start, but Toriel is one I loved from the start. She’s so darn attentive and motherly! I dare you not to like her.

After making it back to her house, you poke around and learn that Asgore, king of the monsters, wants to use the power of your soul to wage war on humanity. She then reveals that she plans to keep you as a companion, trapped in the Ruins, despite your ultimate desire to return home. You confront her as she’s about to destroy the only exit and thus, you have your first boss fight.
Right here, only a few minutes in, you learn the game’s first lesson:

1. Appearances are Deceiving.

You take one look at Flowey and think, “Hm, this must be my sidekick for the game. Kinda like Roll from the Mega Man franchise, or Navi from Ocarina of Time. A plucky companion who’ll be my friend and give me hints along the way.” NOPE. Flowey’s just a heartless killer who’s out to get you. You look at Toriel and think. “Ah, here’s my real companion. She will tell me everything I need to know.” NOPE. Toriel is a mother who wants to keep you safe from the outside world by denying you any real knowledge of it, and even goes as far as to fight you to keep you with her.
During your fight with Toriel, you have three options: attack, spare her life, or flee.

“Spare her life”?


Most RPGs have tutorial boss fights against a mentor or a conveniently placed monster. In the case of the former, you aren’t allowed to inflict any serious harm on the mentor because, hey, you’re just a pup and he/she is the master. Often times you wear down their health until they call it quits and extoll you for proving yourself and that you’ll probably be able to succeed if…

Oh NO!

I killed her. The very first time I played, I killed her. Not as in “I beat her” or “got her HP down to zero.” I mean “She’s bleeding on the ground, chokes out a few last words, her body dissolves to ash, and her heart shatters into a thousand pieces” DEAD.

And my reaction was something akin to…

“WHY? Why didn’t the game tell me that was possible?? I liked her! Go back! Go back! Redo!”

So, I did. Fortunately, I had saved right before the battle. The second time, I spared her life (you have to click that option a lot before she finally relents). After a few parting words and a tender embrace, she lets you pass. *whew* Glad I fixed that. Now I’ll just leave the Ruins and…


He meets you outside, right before the final gate. What he says will change depending on your actions up to this point. But what he said to me was…

“Clever. Very clever. Down here, it’s kill or be killed. But you chose to play by your own rules. You must think you’re pretty slick. But I know what you did. YOU MURDERED HER. And then you went back because you regretted it! You think you’re the only one with the power to “save”? You think you can play God with other people’s lives?”

I’ll be perfectly honest with you, this is the ONLY time a game has scared me.

Forget demons, zombies, psychos, monsters, sharks, aliens, giant spiders, and cheap jump-scares.

THIS, a tiny little flower (with a hideous laugh) scared me. Know why?

The game touched on something we all deal with.

The game prodded one of the darkest corners of the human psyche.

The game hit me with a six syllable word.



The game knew I did something horrible, something I didn’t want to or mean to, but did because I was reckless. It also knew that I tried to cover it up by backtracking and then called me out on it. It’s that sick, twisted-gut feeling when your parents find out you ate the last cookie, or hit your sibling, or lied about something and they’ve cornered you in your room. It’s probably what Cain felt when God came to him and said, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the Earth.”
You can’t get out. You can’t escape. You have to face the music, which brings me to the game’s next lesson.

2. Don’t Assume Anything. Your Choices Have REAL Consequences.

Most RPGs are about fighting through hordes of bad guys and saving the world. Undertale, however, is about saving the world without fighting. You can choose to kill monsters and get stronger (you almost have to on your first time through, more on that later), but certain characters will chastise you for it. In a game about repercussions, violence is condemned. You can spare Toriel’s life, but you can also spare the lives of the monsters you encounter by feeling out their personalities and befriending them, which is a radical departure from the norm. You, as the outsider to this world, have to alter your perspective and see the “monsters” for what they are: fellow living creatures. You won’t get stronger, but you can still earn gold to buy items later on.

What Comes Next?

This stuff blew my dadgum MIND the first time through. After completing the demo, I just had to get the full version (And thankfully, whatever choices you made in the demo don’t carry over to the full version. Clean slate!). Shut up and take my money! I promised not to reveal anything major, but here’s a little more to entice you to play it yourself.
There are three ways to complete the game:
  1. Neutral
This is the default game mode. Kill a little, spare a little. Middle of the ground. A grey area. After you beat the final boss, Flowey appears and challenges you to try again without killing a single enemy. He even reminds you of “our deal” when you meet him for the first time after rebooting the game!
  1. Pacifist

Gandhi once said, “Peace is not just a way, peace is THE way.” Very true, and this game is no exception. In fact, it exceeds expectations. Often times, games with multiple endings don’t give you a ton of variety. There are a few changes depending on your actions, but whether it’s Bioshock or Infamous, the endings never stuck with me. It was just something to explore if you were into completing a game 100%. Undertale, however, rewards you in ways I never thought a game could. If you’re somehow satisfied with the Neutral ending, you’re a lost cause. The Pacifist ending takes every little plot detail, wraps it up in a pretty bow, and then ships it to you overnight for free with a bonus puppy tucked away. THAT’s how good the closure is. And after doing this version, I learned that I STILL missed some fun side quests.

Let me put it to you this way: I’ve only cried twice from a story’s emotional impact. The first time was the scene in HBO’s John Adams when Abigail dies. The second time was the ending of Undertale.

However, there is a third path…

  1. Genocide
At the end of the Pacifist ending, should you choose to reset the game, you can go to the other extreme. Kill everything. Every random creature. Every boss. Not only do you end up destroying the world, but, according to what I’ve read, you rewrite the game’s programming code. That means if you regret being a homicidal maniac, it’s too late. You can try to do a Pacifist run to make amends, but the ending won’t be as good because you were so rotten that you took away everyone’s happiness for your own amusement on the first go round. You broke the world so much it can never be fixed, and in the end, even you, the player, dies when your own power is turned against you.

I didn’t bother playing this way. Couldn’t stomach the thought of it after the utter bliss of the Pacifist ending. If you’re that curious, Google it.

Final Thoughts

The creator of the game, Toby Fox, has said he’ll probably never make a sequel. I can respect that. Not every story needs a follow up. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. After the Pacifist ending, there’s nowhere else to go, but I hope Mr. Fox will make more games in the future. If he could pull off a masterpiece like Undertale with a simple Kickstarter campaign, then I’d like to see what he could do with a major development studio.

I’ve got a few final words on how I feel about the game.

Undertale is…

A ghost story
A symphony (seriously, the soundtrack is awesome)
A love story
A comedy
A tragedy
A wonderful…experience.

It’s been a long time since a game drew me in hook, line, and sinker. It’s the kind of experience I’m still dreaming about even though it’s over. Tolstoy said that his magnum opus, War and Peace, was more than a novel. I think Undertale is more than a mere game.

A bit melodramatic?

Go play it yourself and then get back to me.

Power to the pen, and the human imagination it channels.  

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Another Novel Finished

Don't forget to get in on the chain letter!

I was in a really big hurry yesterday morning and not only did I miss that I have now done 200 posts for this blog, but I have finished one of the biggest, longest, most complicated novels I've attempted to date!

After spending ten months, using two different typewriters, as of January 4, 2016, weighing in at 534 pages, the first draft of my newest novel manuscript "The Sparrow's Fall" is finally FINALLY done!

This book had everything. It was fun to write, and torture. It was imaginative, and derivative. It was routine (being my fourth novel to date), and ground-breaking. It was fantastical, and boring. I thought it would be a lot of things before I wrote it. It turned into some of those things, and became a lot of things I didn't anticipate.

First conceived as a children's story based on a crazy dream I had a few years back, "The Sparrow's Fall" is the first of a projected four part series and is best summarized by saying Game of Thrones meets Redwall (minus all the sexual content). It takes place in a world where humans have disappeared and sentient animals societies have arisen to replace us. The main crux of the story follows a young cat as she helps a group of historians search for human ruins.

Like all my novels, I'm now going to cast it into a dark filing cabinet and do my best to forget about it until I can summon the courage to re-read it. If I still like it, I'll go ahead and try editing. If not, lesson learned.

Speaking of lessons, I learned a lot whilst writing this behemoth:

1. No Amount of Planning Can Make Things Easier

I spent who knows how much time on Google. Between writing character backstories and sketching maps of the continents, I wanted to know how others had done it. I found interviews with George RR Martin, Brandon Sanderson, JK Rowling, and others who'd spent decades writing a single story. I organized my thoughts about what each book would accomplish and which group of characters would be the main focus.

I started off pretty well on 2-14-15 and got through the first 200 or so pages with no problem. But after that, there were plenty of rough spots. Sometimes I'd only get two pages a day. Other times I'd go a whole week without writing at all. I've already said this project is much like "Game of Thrones" meets "Redwall," an unfortunately, I tried to emulate the former a bit too much. I went from naming chapters after characters to numbering them because I couldn't write enough from one person's perspective. One character appeared out of nowhere and rapidly became a main player. As a result, there were many situations I hadn't counted on and needed time to figure out.

This also relates to world-building. Westeros this ain't. Probably one of the biggest gripes I have about the book thus far is the lack of fantastical environments. This is supposed to be thousands of years after us two-feets vanish, but not much has changed on the planet itself. I kinda forgot to plan anything for that, I was too engrossed in characters and plot. All of the species portrayed in the novel are real species that exist today. On top of that, there aren't even any mythological or original creatures. Yet. I'll fix it!

So, planning doesn't make it easier and you can't prepare for every contingency. Life happens. I got sick. I got depressed. I got side-tracked. I wrote other stories. Planning is only useful to the point it helps you remember the basics.

On the other hand...

2. Too Much Planning Robs You of Interest in the Story

If you write thousands upon thousands of words about the character background, that's fine. World details? Great. Cultural differences? Awesome. But, you have already decided that one character is going to do this and that because you say so?

It's like reading a movie synopsis on Wikipedia. It gives you all the relevant stuff, all the surprises and twists, and robs you of any desire to actually see the movie. Why bother? The same thing can happen to a writer. Tell the story too much to yourself and you won't want to bother using the paper. This the most common form of writer's block I encounter in myself. I have to get excited about a project all over again. I started writing "Sparrow's Fall" because I felt that urge coming on. I knew everything that was going to happen from start to finish and was already, subconsciously, moving on to better, mysterious things.

That's the hard part about writing anything, let alone a novel. You have to go back and rewrite the book. I'm planning to edit and revamp a previous manuscript, "The Lightwitch Expedition," to better its chances of catching an agent. That means lots of research, drafting new material. Heck, I'll practically be rewriting the entire book from page one (not that I mind, once I get my SM7 back from Vern). Writers who produce professional level quality fiction (which I hope to be) have to do more than the fun, breezy first draft. The nuts and bolts come next.

3. Make Sure Your Typewriter is in Tip-Top Shape BEFORE STARTING!

The vast majority of pages for this draft were typed on my Olivetti 21. A $15 Goodwill purchase, it wasn't in terrible shape. It was, however, a bit dirty, rattled because a washed under one of the frame screws had melted, and hadn't received a deep cleaning in decades. I could have written the entire novel with it as it was, but finally decided have it serviced. I'm glad I had my Lettera 32 on hand to finish the job.

At the very least, make sure the type slugs are clean and you have a brand spanking new ribbon installed. You'll need as much ink as possible (assuming you want the print to be clean, concise, and easy to scan later).

One side note: it helps to have a second or even third machine with the exact same font, in case something bad happens to the one you start with.

On another side note: make sure you actually like the machine you're writing with. Spend some time getting acquainted with a typewriter before committing so much ink and paper. Writing typecasts and personal letters is a good way to see how the machine works and where your technique needs improvement.

4. Consistency is Better than Speed

This book took me a long time to finish. I'm not a full-time author. I don't have an agent or editor to ask for help. I'm not on a deadline. My livelihood doesn't depend on the words I bang out. Yet, I put myself under ridiculous constraints. Every time I couldn't write, or get as much done as I wanted, I was irritated. It didn't click right away, but I had to come to grips with the fact that I was now a full-time working man who had a newly wed wife to care for (and who will always be more important than the stories in my head). It wasn't like my grad school days when I could write for hours after class and then do homework and not have to pay for my food, lodging, or utilities (grandma will forever be in my debt for letting me live with her).

Sometimes I had to set the bar really low in order to compensate for a lack of free time. I often sat down at the typewriter and thought, "Ok, if I can just get one page, that'll be good enough for today." 1000 words (roughly four or five pages), was my preferred goal, but it wasn't always doable.

Consistency is better than speed. The former is writing at a reasonable pace to ensure you put thought and effort into the story. Sure, it's a first draft, but why not make it the best one you can and save some trouble later on? As long as you keep coming back, the book will get done. Speed is typing so fast that you run roughshod over important elements and end up with garbage. George Martin once said he can write 500 pages in a good year, yet fans still whine that the books aren't coming out fast enough.

I fell your pain, George...except the whole thing about having fans.

And finally:

5. Search Yourself

If you're doing this for any other reason except a love of stories and the craft, stop and go do something else. Writing fiction (novels or otherwise) isn't always fun. There are plenty of fun elements, more so than any other calling. But there's still a grindstone and plenty of things that are not fun. The "wow" factor, the spark, the flame, the joy, the whatever that keeps you coming back to your favorite TV show, or favorite music has to be the same one driving you to the blank page. If it isn't, then your work won't be from the heart, and that means wasted time and energy.

Will "The Sparrow's Fall" ever make it to your bookshelf? Too early to say. Maybe. Hopefully. Right now, I'm just glad to be done and am enjoying the time to let my brain recover.


Power to the pen!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

First Chain Letter of 2016!

Thank you all for your kind words. The flood threat seems to have passed our town, and I am very thankful for that since so many other parts of Missouri suffered disaster.

It was a good holiday season. I had a great birthday.

So let's celebrate with the first chain letter of 2016!

You know the rules. Send me your names and addresses and watch the mail box!