Monthly Archives: October 2011

NaNoing Time!

TyperwriterIn just a few short days I will be undertaking, for the fourth time, NaNoWriMo. This time it’s different, this time it’s grander… this time… maybe I won’t fail. Haha.

I do have to apologize for the lack of updates lately. Things have been a bit hectic here. Job interviews and birthday celebrations and Halloween parties… etc, etc. And now I’m gearing up for NaNo. I can’t promise you regular updates through the month of November, but I can promise you this… you will get far too many posts about what I’m working on, excerpts, word counts… and the like. Far more than you’ll want to read.

But things will go back to normal in December… maybe. Chuck Wendig doesn’t call it “National Edit Your Shit Month” (NaEdYoShiMo) for nothing… Although if you need a break after the insanity of November, you could always wait for March and NaNoEdMo

So why do NaNoWriMo? I know I covered this before, but in an attempt to make my insanity understandable, as well as perhaps draw you, my faithful reader-s- into the insanity with me, I will address it one more time.

NaNoWriMo isn’t about winning. It isn’t about losing. It’s about writing. Whether or not you’re a seasoned writer, maybe even a published writer, or an amateur with maybe 500 words of fiction written down since your birth… NaNoWriMo can be for you. No one there really cares how many words you write, or how many times your main character magically comes back from the dead… or magically avoids an oncoming train… they care about writing. Getting words on paper. Making them mean something (at least to you)… and having fun doing it. The point of this exercise, if for nothing else, is to have fun.

NaNoBoston2011Now, there are people who would tell you that the point is to write a novel… yeah, sure… that can be a point. But some people really just can’t write 50,000 words in 30 days. Hell, some people don’t even consider 50,000 words a novel. But that’s up to you. Maybe you just want to add another 50,000 words to an already existing 60,000 word novel you’re working on. Maybe you want to write a series of short stories that happen to fit together in a cohesive manner. Maybe you just want a good excuse to take the time to write. Whatever helps you, let it help you. And most importantly, let it matter to you.

I think my final point, really, is that NaNoWriMo isn’t about meeting a word goal, it’s not about writing a novel (well, it is, but…), it’s about challenging yourself and having fun doing it. And it doesn’t hurt to meet other people who are insane about a similar interest at the same time – wrimo’s unite! haha.

So as November 1st rolls around, if you really aren’t the novel writing type… challenge yourself in another way. Start a blog on your favorite topic and try to write 50,000 words worth of posts by the end of the month. Start a new hobby that you’ve always wanted to try but have been scared of failing at… Hell, READ 50,000 novels in a month (okay… maybe not that many). But the point is, challenge yourself, and as always, have fun.


Top 5 Post-Apocalyptic Movies

Post-Apocalyptic TokyoSo, as I mentioned before, I kind of like the “Top 5” post idea, and I figured I’d run with it for a little while, or at least until I run out of things to make lists of.

This week I decided to run with Post-Apocalyptic movies. I’ve written about this before, and as some of you may know, Post-Apocalyptic movies are some of my favorites. And not just in movies, but comics, video games, and books as well. So without further ado, my Top 5 Post-Apocalyptic movie recommendations…

5. 12 Monkeys – A science fiction, post-apocalyptic/time travel film by Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame) based off of the French art-film La Jetée. This movie is just fun. Watch Bruce Willis go/be crazy. Watch Brad Pitt at his wackiest since Fight Club. It’s just a good, entertaining movie. With some rather peculiar social commentary slid in, but who cares about that, right? I recommend this movie almost solely based on the fact that it’s fun. I mean, the acting is phenomenal, the cinematography is phenomenal, and the story is damn good, but over-all I think the best reason to watch this one is for entertainment.

4. The Stand – The T.V. mini-series based on the novel by Stephen King, The Stand is really, really damn good. The acting isn’t… always there, but the story is just good. Take a world ravished by a horrible disease, then add a surprisingly non-stereotypical battle between good and evil, and you get this odd mix of “wow this is really good” and “okay, I actually didn’t expect that.” The Stand also slides in ahead of 12 Monkeys almost purely based on the fact that it’s long. Now, in many cases “long” is a negative way to describe a movie or show, but in this case it works out to be positive. The Stand has a very delicate, well balanced story to tell… and without the length of a mini-series I don’t think it could have been pulled off. If this was a two hour movie? Forget it, you’d end the movie going “meh.” But in this case you end it going “Cool.”

3. The Last Man On Earth – Ahhh… a Vincent Price classic. Almost a heavily remade movie. Many of you probably know it better as The Omega Man or I Am Legend. Not only is this the story of… literally the last man on earth (which is epic as far as post-apocalyptic stories go) but also a story about zombies, or vampires, or whatever you want to call them in this case. Based on the novel (actually, it’s almost a short story) by Richard Matheson – I Am Legend, this movie is not only classic as far as age, but classic as far as quality. There is something about horror movies made in the ’50s and ’60s that really makes Mad Maxme giggle. The best ones are usually a little cheesy, but so original and intelligent that it is impossible to find fault in them. Half the time the acting is atrocious… but I still love them. This get’s the solid number three spot because it’s just… amazing. Simply put.

2. Mad Max – Remember when Mel Gibson was cool? Or at least a good actor? I do… This movie is the pinnacle of post-apocalyptic movies for me. dystopic future, insane gangs of bikers and rabble… and one man trying to hold his life together in the midst of all this insanity… and how he reacts as it falls apart. I think the power behind this entire movie is how well it captures humanity. How we break when everything goes to hell, and how the mindless masses are driven to insanity by the freedom/prison of a world-wide incident. It’s beautiful, really, if you look at it from that point of view. I have to say, that no matter what, this will continue to sit as one of my favorite movies, not just post-apocalyptic ones, for a long time.

1. [Insert time of day/random word here] …Of The Dead – I love zombies. Most of you already know that, so I don’t go too deeply into it, but I felt I had to preface with that. I think more importantly here is that I love post-apocalyptic zombie tales. Put a group of people in a worst-case scenario game, and eventually someone will mention a zombie apocalypse. And George A. Romero is the master of that genre. No one else has ever been able to capture the essence of his films in the same way. Not only are they rife with the fear and dread of trying to survive in a zombie apocalypse, but the social commentary… and commentary on humanity in general, is utter amazing, and spot on. Not to mention how far ahead of their times these films are. And if you truly want my recommendation on these, watch them in order… but my favorite by far is Day of the Dead.

Diary of the Dead

Ah... filming zombies...

And there you have it, my top 5 post-apocalyptic movies. If you want more information on these films, or other post-apocalyptic films that I like… comment.


The Silent Comedy, a Review

The Silent ComedyOnce in a while, I bother watching film/television show/video game trailers online. Usually only if someone points it out to me, it’s something I’ve been anticipating… or just something that looks really cool. This week pulled two of those on me. First off, The Tony Stark ExtravaganzaAvengers trailer looks fantastic. Much snark, much explosion, much awesome. I’m looking forward to that one. Then yesterday I noticed a video game trailer someone posted online that had an interesting title – Dark Souls. Fairly generic, but you don’t see many games with generic titles like that, so it actually caught my interest. I watched the trailer, and while the game looks interesting (sort of a dark, medieval, horror fantasy style game) I was more caught up in the song that played through the trailer. Amusingly, the thing that sold me most in The Avengers trailer was also the song (Nine Inch Nails – We’re In This Together, fantastic song), which fit really, really well… so this was a running theme last week apparently.

So, Dark Souls trailer, song… yes. The band is The Silent Comedy. The song in the Dark Souls trailer can only be described as western rock… almost like a split between The Raconteurs, Murder By Death, and old blues. While not all of the band’s songs are quite this style (though most are similar), it’s definitely a fantastic sound (and doesn’t quite fit with the game trailer, which has an interesting dynamic). Fast-forward a day…

Listening to the album Sunset Stables I can definitely get a feel for the band. This is their first album, which is impressive. Very, very well produced and put together. It has a very nice sound, and flows very well. Reminiscent of The Raconteurs, as I mentioned earlier… with a bit of a Mumford & Sons sound in there as well. The similarities with the latter are in fact impressive, considering they formed around the same time I believe.

Spinning through the tracks on the first album, it’s a cohesive and fun sound. Enjoyable to listen to, not too ridiculous, not too boring. Something I can sit down and listen to “cover to cover” and not skip any songs. But again, nothing overly impressive. Nothing in particular that stands out and grabs me. Onward to the second album!

Common Faults is the band’s second album. This album has a bit more of that bluesy feel to it that I mentioned earlier. The song from the Dark Souls trailer is on this album – “Bartholomew” – and is definitely a favorite for this album. The album starts out extremely strong with “‘49” and continues to soak into your skin. Unlike their first album, which, while impressive for a first album, is simply good, this album is damn fantastic. Some of the tracks stand out more than others… but like the first album, it’s all very well put together, and the production quality of this album is absolutely fantastic.

So songs… songs are important. I should mention the really good ones. Bartholomew, as previously mentioned, is fantastic. “‘49,” “The Well,” “Moonshine,” “Exploitation,” …and “All Saints Day” are the other really good ones off of the second album (Yes, I realize that’s just about half the album…). If I was going to recommend one song for you to listen to, though, it would be the whole albumBartholomew. It’s my favorite anyway… It captures that old blues underdog power that many, many songs try for, and most fail at. It just drives forward, beating you down and lifting you back up. “Moonshine” has a similar feeling to it, but doesn’t quite have that unexpected boom that “Bartholomew” has. So yeah, that’s my recommendation there.

The Silent Comedy live

From The Silent Comedy's website.

Overall, the band has a fantastic sound that I think few bands even go for these days. And it’s original… as much as this genre of music can be. I mean, hell, in “Moonshine” you’re rocking out along with the song and suddenly there’s a jazz organ jamming away in the background… very unexpected. So if you’re getting really tired of “wubwubwubwub” or the same generic sounding rock/rap/pop/etc. music, this is one of the few newer albums I would highly recommend to you. The new Foo Fighters, Thrice, and Authority Zero would be a few others… but… we were talking about The Silent Comedy. So yes, if you want something that actually sounds “new,” then check them out. I highly recommend them.


An Interview with Chuck Wendig

Freelance Penmonkey logo care of Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.Update: The Critical Table isn’t dead, Courtney informed me today that he has been having trouble with his hosting, and lost a lot of data, but he’s redesigning the site and it should be up “in the next month or so.” Good to hear!

Seeing as The Critical Table appears to now be… defunct, I decided to repost this interview I did with Chuck Wendig over there on here. His answers are quite insightful and interesting.

The theme of the interview is gaming, and writing for a gaming company (in this case, White Wolf Publishing). Chuck Wendig has worked on a variety of their World of Darkness books, specifically as the main developer for Hunter: the Vigil. You can visit Wendig’s site at terribleminds, or pre-order his new book Double Dead which comes out November 15th. I appreciate Wendig taking time out of his busy schedule of writing, blogging, and slavery to his new overlord baby, to do this interview. Originally posted in August, 2011, at The Critical Table.

IEM: How did you get into writing for White-Wolf Publishing? I know you worked on the Hunter series, as well as others in the World of Darkness game, but did you start on Hunter, or did you start off on another project?
CW: A long time ago, in a double-wide trailer far away… I read on the Internet about a writer’s all-call they were putting out for Hunter: The Reckoning. They meaning, Ken Cliffe and Bruce Baugh. I answered with a pretentious 1000-word essay on the loci of fear. Somehow, my bullshit got in their eyes and convinced them to hire me.

IEM: How much work really goes into putting together a source book? As the Developer on the Hunter: The Vigil book, how much time did you spend going over all the material other people put into it, vs. working on the material you wrote for the book?
Chuck WendigCW: Quite a lot of work, though a lot more work for a core like H:tV. Bibles and outlines and hiring writers and tons of emails and first drafts and second drafts and art notes and so forth. The material I wrote for the book came after the other material hit my inbox — I filled in gaps at the end of the process. I don’t know how long, exactly — with some writers, minimal work, with others, a lot of work.

IEM: How much time do you spend re-writing material after it goes to the play testers? Is it kind of a back and forth “This doesn’t work? – Okay try it now” thing, or is it more of a “Here’s everything we found that we think needs improvement. – Okay it’s fixed, book is done” thing?
CW: In H:tV’s case, not a ton of rewriting was necessary. Lots of tweaking, but nothing severe. No hacked chapters or lost systems or anything. Mostly it’s just a case of red flags going up.

IEM: In “Old” World of Darkness each game was more or less standalone. Mage’s didn’t mix well with Vampires, etc. etc. Can you give us any insight into why that was changed in “New” World of Darkness? It seems like an effort was made to make it possible to play any type of character in any game – balancing out the abilities of all the different types, and making them work better together – as opposed to being enemies (I’m thinking of Vampires and Werewolves from oWoD specifically).
CW: I don’t know if the goal was really to balance them against one another, exactly. But I do think the goal was to make a more unified world, and certainly a more unified system.

IEM: Are you yourself a gamer, or do you just work on awesome games? And if you do play any, which tabletop games do you play? World of Darkness?
CW: I’ve been a gamer for a long time, though regrettably the last year or so has seen my gaming drop to essentially non-existent levels. I’ll play anything put in front of me, though I’ll usually only run WOD stuff.

IEM: As the developer for Hunter: The Vigil, were some of your ideas the driving force behind the game and it’s mechanics, or was your role more as a writer than mechanics designer?
CW: With Hunter I definitely helped lay the brickwork for the mechanics — mechanics are kind of added that way, one brick at a time, I think. Writers are instrumental in that, too, not just developers.

WoD Hunter: the Vigil

IEM: Do you play video games, and did you work on any of the Vampire PC games that were produced? And if so, in what capacity?
CW: I do play video games. I am right now getting so much pleasure from Borderlands it should be made illegal. That said, I did not work on any WW PC games. I did do some writing work for the WOD MMO, though I don’t know how much of that writing will survive the years-long process of bringing an MMO to the world.

IEM: Many Storytellers will take systems like World of Darkness and pull strongly from other influences (such as H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos) to alter the world and sometimes the mechanics of the system. Have you ever tried anything like that, and do you have any advice for people who want to experiment but may not want to design their own system from the ground up?
CW: I don’t generally do too much major world-shifting with the WOD — my advice to any who want to play with the system and the setting is to look into a book called WOD: Mirrors. I developed that and you just nailed the whole purpose behind that book.

IEM: On the other hand, do you think there is a point where a Storyteller changes a system so much that they should just design their own? Do you have any words of advice or caution for people interested in taking this plunge? (Not necessarily trying to publish it, but simply designing their own system at all)
CW: That’s up to each Storyteller — designing a system from the ground up is tough stuff, but also incredibly fun. Just make sure they have the time and the energy for it.

IEM: How difficult is it to contribute new ideas when writing supplements for these books, while balancing the fact that there is 20 or so years of work in the same “world,” as well as not trampling on the creative process for the Storytellers making up their own stories for their games?
CW: I don’t know that it’s so important to bring “new” to the table as it is to seek new arrangements of old ideas. Everything is a remix in its own weird way.

IEM: When watching movies (like say… Underworld) that get accused of “ripping off” World of Darkness, do you see similarities to the work you’ve done, and does it bother you?
CW: I didn’t do any work that would’ve made its way into Underworld, so, at present I don’t feel particularly ripped off. 🙂

WoD Logo

IEM: What ideas, either in film, fiction, music, or anything else really, influence/inspire you in your work with World of Darkness?
CW: The world around us is inspiration enough. From banking crises to serial murderers to WWII code-crackers, you have no end of horror and weirdness to choose from.


Top 5 Things I Learned From D&D (or Gaming in General)

Tabletop Gaming at PAXI felt like I wanted to write a gaming post this week, but couldn’t decide what to write about. After Mondays gaming session with Brandon, Crista, Dave, and a couple other friends, I’ve been thinking about how I learned to be a “Dungeon Master” – or for a more general gaming term – “Storyteller.”

A little background: I started gaming when I was in middle school, about 13 or 14 years ago. I know people who have been gaming much longer than that (since before I was born, in fact)… but to me that seems like a generous portion of my life. And like most teenage nerds, I started off with good ‘ole Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D 2.0. A very, very heavily modified version, which included many features from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series… and the fact that I was a “half dragon, half water-elemental” with an intelligent, talking bastard sword didn’t help either. It was an interesting game, I’ll leave it at that.

After that game finally went the way of the Dodo, I discovered World of Darkness, specifically Werewolf: The Apocalypse. While I really enjoyed the game world, Werewolf wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. Yes, it’s fun and all, but I’m not big on the “yay, I can turn into a giant monster and rip things in half” aspect. So I looked into the other systems in the World of Darkness, and found Vampire.

Vampire: the Masquerade was definitely my cup of tea. A subtle blend of politics, power-struggle, and dark, brooding angst. Perfect for the socially awkward teenage nerd who likes metal and punk music… Moving on… So I started to devour Vampire, and ran a game for 4 years. The same game. It was epic, and I had players crying at certain plot twists. This is where I really learned how to run a game. Then I went off to college. End of gaming career for 3 years.

During my fourth year of college at Northeastern I moved into this mildly-crummy apartment with my then friend-who-is-no-longer-a-friend-and-shall-not-be-named, and Brandon, whom I had never met. Eventually, Brandon and I got to know each other and became good friends, and he invited me to play D&D with the group he gamed with. I had not played D&D since my early introduction to gaming, so I read up a bit and tried to get into the swing of things very quickly. 3.5 was the edition at the time, so it was a drastic change from what I had learned on, but much easier to comprehend, so I fell back into things very quickly.

Metal DiceTo wrap up this story, since then I haven’t really stopped gaming, except for a few months here and there when I’ve moved and whatnot. It’s become a staple of my life once again. Sadly, when I was living in Delaware the group I gamed with changed games more often than socks… so we never stuck with anything long enough to get a good story going. But now that I’m back in Boston, let the epic gaming commence!

So, now that I’ve ranted for a while about my gaming background… on to the actual point of this post! So, through all of this thinking I’ve realized that I’ve learned five, very important, lessons from gaming. Lessons that, in most cases, translate well into the rest of my life. These lessons are as follows:

5. “Lawful Good” people are dicks. It’s true. Every gamer, at some point in their gaming history, has been in a party with at least one Lawful Good character. And he (or she) is a Dick. With a capital D. Lawful Good characters are the most likely to start an in-party fight. They are the most likely to completely ruin a perfectly good strategy. And they are the most likely to impose their belief system on everyone else around them. Starting to sound like anyone you know in real life? Exactly…

4. Good plot twists generally involve people dying, or at least making everyone think someone died. Look at any Soap Opera. 99.9% of the time the plot revolves around everyone thinking someone is dead, or discovering that they aren’t dead, they’ve just been living in Aruba for 15 years. In any good story, someone dies. It’s bound to happen. It pretty much has to happen. Basically, kill off a major NPC, kill off a minor NPC, kill off your players. Hell, kill off GODS if you want. You’re the Storyteller, do what you want. When in doubt of a good twist in the story, kill something. It usually works. Though, on that note…

3. Combat sucks. Combat is both the most rule intensive and time consuming part of any game. Combat is also, usually, the most liked or disliked part of any game. I know gamers who refuse to play D&D because it’s “combat oriented” and I know gamers for whom D&D is the only game worth playing for that exact same reason. And guess what? Take a step outside and what’s the biggest problem you’re likely to encounter (next to maybe poverty)? Violence. War, gang violence, domestic violence, crimes of passion, etc. So guess what? Violence (combat) sucks. But I do think it’s healthier to deal with it with dice and numbers on paper than with a Glock or Stinger missile…

2. The Players Rule. You might be the all-mighty, all-powerful Storyteller… but without players, you have no story to tell. Or at least no one to tell it to. And important thing to remember in any game is that if your players are unhappy, and I don’t mean “hey, you killed my character” unhappy, I mean “this game is boring and your plot sucks” unhappy, then you won’t be happy. You have to cater your game to the players. Your players love combat? Don’t play a low-combat game. Your players love political intrigue? Play Vampire: The Requiem or some, similar, politics based game. Cater to your players. The same can be said in real life. If you want to actually have, you know, friends, you have to be open to what other people like/want to do. You can’t control every little aspect of your life, because if you do, don’t bother trying to form any lasting bonds or relationships…

And finally…

1. “Don’t be a Dick.” Wil Wheaton said it best. I don’t think I even need to explain how this applies in gaming and/or real life. Just don’t be a dick. DM/GM/Storytellers have the greatest reputation for making or breaking a game based on how much of a dick they are to the players. Give your players some leeway. Don’t force plot points if the players don’t want to go in that direction. Don’t railroad your players. And don’t change the rules at your whim because things aren’t going your way… or rather… are going too easy for the players. If you can’t make a game that challenges the players, maybe you’re the one that needs to fix something. Plain and simple – Don’t. Be. A. Dick. And I really don’t think I need to tie this one in to “real life.” Seems self-explanatory to me…

Thank you, and goodnight.


A-NaNoing We Will Go

TyperwriterSo in about 21 days all hell breaks loose. All across the country – nay, the world perhaps – mad people try their hand at writing a 50,000 word novel. Insanity, I know, but it’s a valiant effort. Here in Boston, there is a very strong community who attempts, and from what I have seen, usually succeeds at this task. I have heard amazing and fantastic things about this group of people from Brandon for a couple years now, but now that I have moved back to this fantastic city I will get to meet them firsthand. That’s right… I’ll be doing NaNoWriMo again this year… and with a little luck, and hopefully some help from new friends, actually succeeding at it.

So for those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. NaNo started in 1999 (in July, not November) in San Francisco with 21 people. The next year they moved NaNo to November, and it started growing to the 200,500 participants last year. Today, in fact, they are launching a new website for NaNoWriMo, so look for that soon!

The idea, really, for those of us who write outside of the month of November, is to really motivate ourselves. As a writer I rarely have a chance to say “I’m going to write for the hell of it.” Nine times out of 10 I’m writing for a paycheck, and therefore not only does that writing have to be good, but it also has to meet a certain standard; namely, that of the person I’m writing for. With NaNo, though, I’m writing purely for myself, and in general for NaNo – who cares about the quality? The point is to get 50,000 words written in just 30 days, and that is no easy task in and of itself!

Different people have different approaches to NaNo. There are some contestants who feel that in all fairness of the concept, they should start with a blank slate on November 1st, with nothing planned. I tried this my first year and wrote exactly 3 pages. That’s it. I had NOTHING. It was kind of sad, and almost pathetic.

Then there is another frame of mind, which creates not a one month event, but a three month event. Chuck Wendig (who wrote an interesting post on NaNoWriMo here) calls October NaStoPlaMo, or National Story Planning Month. And he calls December NaEdYoShiMo… National Edit Your Shit Month. His suggestion? Plan your novel through October, figure out your plot, characters, hell, etc. Then you hit November and you write like a madman (or woman) and knock out 50,000 words. Now, here’s the important part. Those 50,000 words. They don’t have to be perfect. You don’t write the next “Great American Novel” in one month. Hell, the story doesn’t even have to be good. Just written. Then you use December to edit. Turn that pile of crap into the next great American novel. Or if that’s not your thing… just turn it into something decent you’d let your friends read.

Chuck Wendig’s most important point about NaNo is something I am taking to heart this year, though.

“NaNoWriMo has a lot of rules: you’re supposed to “start fresh,” you’re not really meant to work on non-fiction, blah blah blah. This is all just made-up stuff. It’s not government mandated. This isn’t taxes, for fuck’s sake. Do what you like. Even better: do what the story needs. Hell with the rules. Fuck the police. Write. Write endlessly. Don’t be constrained by this program. It’s just a springboard: use it to launch your way to awesomeness. Anything you don’t like about it, toss it out the window. That certificate you get at the end doesn’t mean dog dick. The only thing that matters is you and your writing.”

Who cares if you start early? Who cares if you simply use the enjoyment of NaNo to work on the novel you started in August? This is about writing, not rules. So guess what? My NaNo novel? I already have a few thousand words written. Hopefully I’ll write an additional 50,000 in November, but if I don’t? If I only write 50,000 total? Tough shit. I’ll be satisfied, and that’s what matters.

NaNo2011

Not a big fan of this years badges...

So the point of NaNoWriMo? Write. The idea of NaNoWriMo? Write. Why should you do NaNoWriMo? To write. So if you want to write… want to write a lot… and want a motivational tool to get you going with it, join us for NaNoWriMo next month. And remember… don’t worry about the rules, just write.