21 Jul 2017

The Devil You Know - Chapter 1

Ione shivered in the early morning chill.  She adjusted her grey overcoat, trying to keep warm and trying to ignore the weight of the SIG Sauer under her left shoulder.  The pistol was on loan from her British hosts.  Ione peered into the false dawn at the warehouse.  Two of her hosts enter the building.

"Everyone, look lively."  The British woman's tone was clipped and sharp.  Acknowledgements clicked over the radio.  Ione added hers as she crouched down near a a scraggly bush.  A mist built up over the warehouse's parking lot.

Gemma's voice broke the silence again.  "Car and a truck arriving."

Ione looked past the warehouse taking note of the approaching headlights.  Once the vehicles stopped, she raised her binoculars and zoomed in on the passengers.  "Four people total," she reported.  "Confirm that Babbage is there."  Babbage was the code name Ione chose for her contact, a weapons dealer.

"Acknowledged," Michael replied.  "Time to get to work."

20 Jul 2017

The Soul Blade Epilogue - Commentary

Brenna had her talk with Matt, in The Soul Blade Epilogue.

Okay, now it's over.  So many dangling plot points.  But, the last chapter gets some explanations that didn't fit with the direction I was going in.  And Brenna got to talk to Matt properly.  Sort of.

Matt probably should have called first to avoid surprising Brenna.  If he did, he'd never have been able to see flustered!Brenna.  And while Brenna being flustered would add to a NaNoWriMo word count, I wasn't writing the epilogue for a NaNo event.  She's just trying to work out her thoughts and separate them from her desires.  Good thing the door is open and facing the rest of the neighbours.

Nellie's is fictional, but I searched for a typical pub menu in Brenna's area to figure out what the vegetarian offerings are.  Fish and chips is a standard, though, and beat a burger.  I figured Matt wouldn't go for beef when out with Brenna.  He's not oblivious.  The ambiance is generic, but most pubs aren't going to have specialized music mid-afternoon.  Top 40 music is inoffensive, usually, and easy to come by.  Matt can take Brenna to a bar that plays Japanese metal idol on a later date.

There are some quick explanations thrown in.  Why Grace stepped up to fight Brenna instead of letting someone else.  Why Brenna had Matt get closer in the fight.  Why Brenna wears gloves and had a bed in her van.  What the Ashen Man's plan was, though even Grace didn't tell the full story; he was going to open a portal, get his minions to bring his body, transfer back, then sacrifice Brenna.  Grace might have seen that, but didn't tell her sister.

Brenna's psychometry is a plot-breaking ability.  She just has to touch something to get a good read on what events happened with it.  However, it's always on.  Just brushing up against something can trigger a vision.  She gave Matt fair warning about the ability, and she can refrain from looking even when curious.  Try not to think about what happens in hotel rooms.  Best case, Brenna gets a flash of passion.  Worst, well, hotel rooms have been murder scenes, and it's awkward to ask if a crime occurred in the room she's assigned.

I have no idea where Brenna's jealous streak came from.  An early version of Brenna had it, but she was sixteen and had just received the Blade, so the possessiveness came from the sudden increase in sexual desire and her not coping at all with it.  But here?  Brenna doesn't share, apparently.  Tillie is who Matt says she is, someone who gave him advice.  She has her own story, but she didn't get a chance to tell it here, so feel free to make up your own backstory for her.  All characters have a story; some just don't get the time in the spotlight to tell it.

And now, that is it for The Soul Blade.  I hope everyone reading enjoyed it.  A new story starts next week, The Devil You Know, from NaNo 2013.  Since I was able to get The Soul Blade done because of posting it here, I'm going to give that a shot with the new work.  The Devil You Know is an urban fantasy crossed with a spy thriller.  Have fun!

Friday, the first chapter of a new story, The Devil You Know.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, a hiatus week.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Mystery Science Theatre 3000: The Return.

14 Jul 2017

The Soul Blade - Epilogue

"Too many futures."
"Get off me, fluff."
"Get out of my body!"
"What part of 'No one dies,' did you not get?"
Three days of being stuck at home alone was all that Brenna could take.  Her father had his work and Amy filling his time.  Grace kept busy working two jobs to raise money for her move to LA and reading ahead for her fall classes while still juggling time with her friends.  Her visiting family left for home Sunday evening, leaving the house quiet again.  With her van crushed, Brenna couldn't leave the house without bothering Missy.  Even her sewing starting to be tedious, especially with no way to get out to a craft show or a small convention to sell the results.  Joni hadn't reappeared after the fight, worrying Brenna a bit, but without being able to get to Bert Stanford's building, she couldn't just assume her mother had finally moved on.  She also didn't want to know if her mother was getting friendly with Bert; it was bad enough that Brenna's own sex drive was overactive, she didn't want to know that her mother's was still working.

13 Jul 2017

Boomers Like Me - Commentary 2 of 2

A rogue robot has existential angst in the conclusion of "Boomers Like Me".

Lorelei has made her escape and has a new life as Erin.  The story picks up six months later.  A lot of the details I might have fleshed out more if I wasn't hampered by a word count limit.  The fanfic contest encouraged short stories, mainly for the ease of the judges.  I mentioned the difference last week, but it doesn't hurt to say it again here - writing short stories is a different enough skill from writing novels.  Short stories have to get to the point, so there's no time to get into details, like Lorelei meeting with the black marketer to get new identification.  It's worth trying both formats, especially if you're writing fan fiction = it lets you discover and expand your writing abilities.

Lorelei/Erin is now in Tokyo.  Why there?  That's where the Knight Sabres are, the main characters of Bubblegum Crisis.  My approach to fanfic is that the characters who appear in the original do need to make an appearance.  Otherwise, I'm just writing original fiction under someone else's title*.  And I have a rogue boomer, the main target for the Knight Sabres.  So, this chapter has a lot more name dropping than the first.  The AD Police - the unit responsible for fighting rogue boomers - also appear, mostly as cannon fodder.  Other names dropped - Hot Legs, the nightclub Priss performs in; Lady S633, home to Sylia Stingray, the head of the Knight Sabres; Silky Doll, Sylia's cover business, a lingerie story; the Member II pistol, a cut down rifle that Pris prefers to use.

Ariko, though, is my creation.  She's a fellow courier, though she rides a bicycle, and a way to show that Lorelei/Erin is fitting in with others.  Ariko doesn't suspect that her friend is a rogue boomer, and Erin isn't telling her, for good reasons.  Ariko's main purpose is to get Erin into Silky Doll.  However, she's also the reality anchor for the boomer.  As long as Ariko is there, Erin can fit in with humans.

The trip to Silky Doll does raise an odd question - what sort of underwear does a robot wear?  Most people want comfort, some want to feel sexy.  Given the purpose of Lorelei's make and model, she's going to have touch sensors.  But if she's buying for herself, instead of being supplied by an owner, then the question is just hanging there.  I figured Erin would go with inexpensive underwear - something that can last under normal wear and tear but without the issues that arise from digestion and reproduction.  She's not dating; there's no need for anything fancy, and her programming lets her feel sexy no matter what she wears.  Naturally, I only think about this question now instead of while writing - the answer was so obvious then, but without the thought processes that led to the conclusion.

The above is something to think about no matter the character, really.  What sort of clothes - underwear or outerwear - would the character wear?  Sometimes personality dictates the answer.  Autumn in Unruly has a drawer full of lacy underclothes while Skye has a number of sports bras along with fancier underwear for special occasions.  Nasty from Subject 13 wears comfortable underwear, often mismatched because she doesn't care about that sort of thing most of the time.  Although, she would have made the effort to make sure panties and bra matched in Crossover.

The main thrust of Part II was to have robot existential angst.  Erin is well aware of who and what she is.  If she was merely a runaway robot, she'd be returned after a memory wipe.  However, she killed her owner.  Anyone hunting her isn't going to stop to consider what happened to cause her to kill, just that she killed and is dangerous.  Erin is well aware of that, too, thanks to news reports about the AD Police.  Renegade boomers get shut down, usually in a violent way.

There was a Part III written, but dropped for the fanfic contest.  It's been lost over the course of several hard drive changes, but I still have some of the feedback.  The last part was the last recording Erin made, ending with two words - "I am."  I really wish I could remember what I had there.

I also had ideas for a part in between Part II and the lost Part III..  It would have involved Wagner's youngest daughter, mentioned in Part I, tracking down Lorelei and using Ariko as a pawn.  Keep in mind that Lorelei considers the daughter to be much like her father.  Erin would have had to reveal her secret to Ariko during the chapter.  The events would force Erin to decide which was more important to her, Ariko's life or her own.  It wouldn't have been an easy choice, either.  I have a start to it, from Ariko's point of view.  However, "Boomers Like Me" was one of three fanfics that got me wondering why I wasn't creating an original work, considering how little of the main Bubblegum Crisis cast appear in the story.

I don't normally write in the first person.  I prefer ensemble casts, even when I have a solo lead - see also Subject 13 and The Soul Blade.  With a first person perspective, the only events that are shown are those that the main character is around to participate in or, at least, witness.  The fight between the AD Police and the rogue boomer - taken from the first episode of the OAV - had Erin hiding.  I kept the fight short - the purpose was to propel Erin into her angst, not make her a participant.  The hardest part of writing in the first person was keeping the tenses straight.  The first draft had tense problems all the way through.  I naturally tried to use past tense, which is how most stories are told.  Except, the opening sentence - "He is dead" - doesn't hit as hard in the past tense.  One sentence determined the nature of the writing that followed.

First person also meant trying to figure out how to get key details out to the reader.  Look at this commentary - I use "I" when referring to myself, not my name.  Yet, I needed the name out there early enough so that it didn't look like I was hiding it.  Wagner's bodyguard used Lorelei's name more so that the reader knew who she was.  Likewise, getting a description of Lorelei in resulted in a scene where she changes her looks.  Apparently, you can get away with one mirror scene in a writing career to describe a character, and that was mine.

"Boomers Like Me" was my most serious fanfic.  I tended towards oddities and crossovers, or even odd crossovers.  The effort was about the same, though in 2000, I was still on the improvement curve.  The story let me stretch my abilities, which is always a good thing.  Without "Boomers Like Me", I might not have had the confidence for /Subject 13/, and that work was a gateway to longer efforts.

Friday, The Soul Blade epilogue.  Surprise!
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, The Bond Project introduction..
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, a hiatus week.  Things got weird for me this week.  Sorry.

* If you read last week's commentary, that's why I switched to original fiction - I was just using the setting, not the characters.  Note that there can be exceptions, mostly where the setting is large enough that original characters can explore without ever running into anyone from the main work.  Works that can support such approaches include the various Star Trek series and, arguably, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica (either version).

11 Jul 2017

NaNo 2017 - Four Months to Go!

With under four months until November, it's time to review the possible projects.  I listed a few back in April, but I've had time to think about what to do.  Some ideas have changed, some ideas have been added to the list.

The Shadowrun serial may be the front runner right now.  I have the first two arcs of the series in mind, and the cast is more or less stable.  Ultimately, I want to take the serial and adapt it as an audio script, to see how that process would turn out.  Why audio?  The special effects are easier; no need to use extensive CGI for trolls and dwarves and no need for makeup effects for elves.

The time-travelling kaiju invasion is also shaping up, though it will need a portion written before NaNo starts, just to set up what happens in the first chapter.  Because of time travel, it's not a prologue.  Temporal mechanics flip cause and effect, but the bit written before NaNo won't count towards the 50k words needed.  I probably won't reach the events for some time in the story.  I'm also working out the rules the defense team uses when time travelling.  Since they are still trying to figure out temporal physics, they're doing everything possible to avoid paradox.  Their method of travelling uses a variation of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, where they can know where a team is going or when a team is going, but not both.  It's easier to plan for a known time than a known location, so the team uses the former when planning.  Going to the late 19th Century?  These are the typical clothes, this is a typical weapon, and tell not!Burt to hide his rifle better.

The Terran Commonwealth stories - the new colony and the courier crew - are on hold.  The ideas are sound, but plots are thin.  They're on the back burner while I work out just what the casts are supposed to do.  Not a problem, really.  Other ideas are going to take their place.

Finishing The Devil You Know is also off the table.  Posting The Soul Blade created a push to finish it, so why not try that again with The Devil You Know?  That means that once "Boomers Like Me" is complete, you can expect to see TDYK appearing on Fridays.

An older project, though, wants attention.  Mecha Academy, an older work that hasn't seen much light, could use a rewrite of the beginning to properly set up the characters.  When I was working on it, I was trying to turn it into a novel.  The story isn't working out that way, though.  It is a serial at its heart, and would work best in that format.  The chapters need changing to reflect the new approach, and I do need to work out what all the characters' arcs are, not just two in particular.  Fortunately, the setting is mostly built, and can be easily expanded as necessary.  I even worked out rank structures, since the academy is for military cadets.

I also have an old Final Fantasy VIII fanfic that could get the numbers filed off without losing much from the story.  As I mentioned in the first "Boomers Like Me" commentary, this was one of three fanfics I worked on that had me wondering why I didn't just do original fiction.  There are going to be questions, such as why is there a military academy taking in young teenagers and sending them out as elite soldiers before they turn eighteen, to be worked out, but rebuilding the world may help.  I'll also have to make sure that it doesn't look too much like RWBY, which has a similar premise.  However, the characters are solid enough and can be moved to the new setting without too much effort.

Unruly and Subject 13 both need more love.  I've posted some ideas about Unruly already, and there are some outstanding plot points that need development and wrappage.  Subject 13, though, was left just before what would be a massive crossover event in a major comics line and is a major headache for a serial with just one title.  I may want to skip to the aftermath of the battle against the Four Horsement of the Apocalypse to get Nasty back on her own arc so she can finally return home.

At some point, I'll have to narrow down the selection.  Right now, though, I do want the wider range, to let me see what intrigues me enough to delve into the idea further.  I don't want a replay of 2015, where The Elf's Prisoner was the last minute choice with next to no preparation and world building done on the fly.  Made for an interesting November, one where I wasn't sure what direction I was going in.  With the above, I do have an idea of where I'm going, though without a path set.

9 Jul 2017

The Unruly Gap

A recent Lost in Translation review gave me a reason to watch a couple of the St. Trinian's films.  For those not aware of St. Trinian's, it's a cartoon gag comic strip created by Ronald Searle that had been adapted as a series of movies first in the Fifties and then again in 2007.  The girls of the school are, well, delinquents, the type who see field hockey as an excuse to turn their violent instincts against another school instead of one another.  St.  Trinian's is also the grandmother to Unruly by way of the tabletop RPG, Hellcats & Hockeysticks, itself essentially being the unofficial St. Trinian's RPG.  After viewing both the 1954 The Belles of St. Trinian's and the 2007 reboot St. Trinian's, I realized one thing about Unruly.

I have to step up the Unrulies' activities.

While Caitlin could easily deal with the sixth form girls from the '54 film, the fourth form girls would give her fits.  Most of that is on Caitlin - she's a Bond villain-in-training, not a criminal mastermind.  She wouldn't be able to handle the raw chaos that the fourth formers provide.  Most of my work so far has been with Laura and Caitlin, and the redhead is conservative, which rubbed off on her roomies.

The 2007 film, though, well, they would eat the Unrulies for lunch and ask for seconds.  Just listen to their school song.  The best the Unrulies have is "Tubthumping"; it's even where the school's motto, "Concidimur sed resurgimus"* comes from, thanks to my University of Alberta Classics faculty cousin and her husband.  Even the '54 movie had "In flagrante delecto", or "Caught in the act".  The difference is mottos and school songs reflects the difference in schools.  The Gephardt Academy is there for girls who are trouble and have nowhere else to go.  St. Trinian's is for budding and blooming criminals.  Still, there are lessons to use.

The big one is that there isn't an Unruly version of the posh totties of the reboot movie, the girls who are getting by more on their beauty than their brains.  Cassie was originally meant to be this type of girl, but she went in a different direction, and the rest of the Unrulies don't really give her the respect or credit for being able to do anything with walking her through step by step.  Autumn thinks she's in that group, but she's easily distracted.  Oddly, Skye may turn out to be better for the role, but she doesn't advertise the fact.

Again, putting Laura in with Caitlin means that using beauty for gains is off the table.  It's just below Caitlin, and she's the mastermind of the dorm room.  However, there are more girls than just that one room.  I haven't fleshed out the full senior class.  There's about twenty or so girls in the one class, English, they all have in common, and I've only named eleven publicly and one more in a work in progress.  That gives me at least two more dorm rooms to fill, and Cassie does run the Fashion Club.  There's room.

What can I do to close the gap and make the Unrulies the threat that they're supposed to be.  I do have two characters who have ties to the criminal element.  Vamsi fills the Flash Harry role, the go-between and fixer between the Unrulies and the Oshawa criminal element.  Laura is more familiar with parts of the Toronto underground, though she's more supply side than thief.  That does leave a huge gap that could be filled by a yet-unnamed Unruly.  And the Academy does look for girls who are creative at breaking the law.  There's always room for a Bay Street insider and a budding young cat burglar.

* "Concidimur sed resurgimus/Subjectos nos non retinebitis" for the full chorus.  It does scan with the music.

7 Jul 2017

Boomers Like Me - Part 2 of 2

(Note: Bubblegum Crisis and related characters copyright and trademark of Artic and Youmex, with North American rights held by AnimEigo and are used here without permission.  "Boomers Like Me" was originally submitted to Anime North's fanfiction contest in 2000, winning the Best Action/Suspense category.)

II -- June, 2032

        It's been six months since, well, since escaping.  Shortly after I arrived in Tokyo, I adopted a new identity.  I found a black marketer in the Yokohama district who was willing to allow me to pay for the identity in part with my hard currency and in part with services rendered.  In exchange for my new identity as Erin Merrick, I became a courier for the black marketer.  I still owe him a favour, and he is waiting to call it in.

        After paying back most of what I owed, I was hired by a legitimate courier company.  I paid for my motorcycle and some protection -- a Member II pistol -- with returns on stock investments.  I made sure that with every side job I took, some of the money was invested in the stock market.  The black marketer allowed me to miss payments several weeks after seeing how well I was doing.

        That brings me to now.  It's late.  I have a package to be delivered.  Business never sleeps in Tokyo, and the lights from street lamps and ads guide me down the street.  The only thing on my mind is to deliver the package as quickly as I can.

6 Jul 2017

Boomers Like Me - Commentary 1 of 2

Last week, I posted the first of a two-part fanfic.  "Boomers Like Me" was one of three fan works I created that had me wondering why I didn't just do original work, the other two being an incomplete story based on Final Fantasy VIII and an incomplete alternate-future Sailor Moon story partially posted elsewhere.  That last one involved enough world building that I could have created an original work for the same effort.

I am not putting down fanfiction.  It's a great way for budding authors to learn the mechanics of writing while building confidence and finding their writing voice where the the stakes are low.  Experimenting is to be expected.  But when you start making wholesale changes to the setting and characters, it may be time to make the leap to original fiction, even if it's still inspired by fandom.  Again, everyone has to start somewhere.

The bulk of "Boomers Like Me" was written December 31, 1999 to January 1, 2000.  I ended 1999 the way I spent most of the year - doing overtime.  The Y2K bug was more hype than effect, mainly because IT departments were working hard to make sure that critical systems didn't cause major time problems, such as rolling back a hundred years or jumping ahead 17 000*.  I was supposed to be scheduling test files to make sure that they triggered properly.  They did.  But in between the scheduling, which was easily done from a batch file, I typed up `Boomers Like Me".  It was a few weeks later when I finally had the time to sleep and wind down a bit from work when I realized that I wrote a story about an artificially intelligent robot having a homicidal break the night of the Y2K bug.

Lorelei's origin came from R. Talsorian's Bubblegum Crisis RPG as much as she did the direct-to-video anime series.  Granted, the game was based on the anime, and included all the elements from both Bubblegum Crisis and the follow-up/prequel series, AD Police.  The book was ideal for looking up little details after watching the series.  In the game, it was possible to be a boomer, the setting's name for a robot, but the suggestion was to keep the android character around the same power level as human PCs.  Thus, combat boomers were out, but the BU-33S, aka the sexaroid, was allowed.

Every bit of writing advice I'd heard included making sure that the story started with a hook that would keep readers wanting more.  The very short first paragraph, all of two words, was what I thought of - short, succinct, enough information to show what just happened without necessarily going through the actual murder itself.  The follow up paragraph went right into the main character's mindset with her immediate panic.  The entire first part was the escape, getting away from the scene of the crime, building towards the end.

During Lorelei's escape, I tossed in what would normally be mundane encounters.  Lorelei, though, is in full flight, running away and sees everything as a potential threat to her existence.  The annoying seatmate attracts attention from station security.  Customs follows up on obvious discrepancies, and this was before security theatre existed in airports.  At the same time, Lorelei is an artificial intelligence.  Her thoughts come from heuristics that include simulated emotions.  Her thinking shows how she invokes those emotions.

The idea of an android gaining sentience is an old one.  In film, renegade robots can trace back to the German film Metropolis.  Not all robots go mad when they gain sentience - Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation is a perfect example.  Lorelei committed murder just before the story started, but it may have been justified.  So, temporary insanity or self-defense?

As mentioned in the disclaimer at the beginning of the chapter, "Boomers Like Me" won its category at Anime North's fanfic contest.  I wound up winning something for the contest's first five years, never getting the grand prize, but placing no lower than Honourable Mention, getting category wins four years out of five.  This is after slowly turning around my desire to write and not having confidence.  Apparently, I can write.  Go fig.

The fanfic contest had a 5000-word limit, which I may have slipped by or came close to exceeding with "Boomers Like Me".  This puts the work solidly into the short story range.  The skills needed to write a short story are just different enough from writing novel-length works, something I discovered in 2006 with Lethal Ladies.  Short stories reward conciseness and getting to the point quickly.  There really isn't much time for in depth development.  Everything needed has to be out there.  Yet, I didn't want to just state what everything was.  Details are there, but much of it is through inference, including the personality of Lorelei's owner.

Friday, the conclusion of "Boomers Like Me".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, St Trinian's.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, The Bond Project introduction.

* I was using Windows 3.1 running on top of DOS 6.22.  DOS handled the change from 1999 to 2000 with no problems. Windows 3.1 used the last two digits of the year, then added a `19`in front, leading to years being listed as 19100.  It still worked, mainly because Windows ran on top of DOS at the time, so files were dated correctly, just not displayed properly.

30 Jun 2017

Boomers Like Me - Part 1 of 2

(Note: Bubblegum Crisis and related characters copyright and trademark of Artic and Youmex, with North American rights held by AnimEigo and are used here without permission.  Boomers Like Me was originally submitted to Anime North's fanfiction contest in 2000, winning the Best Action/Suspense category.)
I -- January, 2032

        He's dead.

        I let go of his throat, letting his lifeless body fall back on the bed.  His eyes stare up at the mirror on the ceiling.  I step back, rearranging what little clothes I had on.  The bra ripped during the struggle he put up while I strangled him.  No matter - the bra is easily replaced.  I take it off, and put on my business suit.  His business suit - the one he picked out for me.  I'll have to replace it.

        It dawns on me - I can't be caught here.  The laws are strict -- I will be killed if I am caught with the body.  I have to leave.  I finish dressing and stuff the ruined bra into a briefcase.  No, that won't be enough.  I need to leave the station, get down to Earth, hide in the population.  He has too many people up here who will hunt me down if I stay.  Yes, I will go down.

29 Jun 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 39 - Commentary

Brenna got her happy ending, in The Soul Blade Chapter 39.

And it's done!  I had two false starts, resulting in rearranging scenes to try to get things worked out, then rearranging again because I needed a different beginning.  There was a lot that wound up not getting in, in order to have the end happen.

Brenna's possession was set up back in Chapter 24.  She and Matt discussed what happened on their class trip to Gettysburg.  Brenna's susceptibility to being possessed was one of the core ideas I had for her, long before the story was even a concept.  She refers back to the Gettysburg trip to remind readers of the conversation, so it doesn't feel like the twist came from nowhere.  Grace's resistance to telepathy, empathy, and all that has been hinted as well through the story.  Brenna has used the Blade on her sister a few times, though only really twice because of a major fight between them.  So Grace is the one to keep the possessed Brenna busy.

I needed Brenna to come up with the solution to retake her body.  She's the heroine.  She can't sit back and wait for someone else to come to her rescue.  The original idea was that with Grace being attacked and hurt, Brenna would be able to regain some control.  However, the idea hit me that Brenna knows her own body's reactions than her unwanted guest would.  Thus, Matt.  The combination of Grace in danger and Matt in proximity gave Brenna what she needed to get some control back.  The colours in the Blade represent that fight for control.  At least there, I kept to my original idea.

The wrap up threatened to continue.  Again, there was a lot outstanding that needed some sort of conclusion, from McCoy's investigation to Tricia's body.  I almost forgot that she was still there, lying on the road, dead from multiple gunshot woulds.  Matt's placing was good, which means he also gets to be investigated by Internal Affairs.  Gary and Keith still needed one last appearance - as Greg mentioned in the comments for Chapter 37, they're not going to just leave their daughters in danger, even if the daughters are more capable in the fight than they are.  I was starting to see ending fatigue, which was the reason why I couldn't finish the story in 2009.

There's still some outstanding problems.  Joni is the biggest one.  An idea that came to mind that I wish I had thought of sooner was that Joni's time on Earth as Brenna's advisor is coming to an end.  Brenna did mention that it may be time.  The day to day writing left that potential dangling, though.  Oops?

Now, if I were to adapt the story, I would treat what I'd written as the pilot movie or mini-series, with a lot of editing to bring to a manageable length, then move on with a new premise.  Detective McCoy gets tagged to head a special unit that investigates paranormal oddities.  Not quite X-Files; McCoy is aware that the supernatural exists.  He'd have a small staff, including Matt, Cruz, and Henderson, and would have Brenna on a retainer for when it really does look like the supernatural is involved.  The focus remains on Brenna, though.  It's her life, though she can now work with Matt.  I have no idea who to cast, so feel free to suggest names in the comments below.

I want to thank a few people.  First, the Ottawa NaNoWriMo Region for making November an enjoyable time, especially as one of the Municipal Liaisons in 2009.  You guys made things easy and kept me going.

A big thank you to Greg Taylor, who not only left comments on the story here on the blog, but also provided an early look.  Go over to his site and check out his own work, and vote on his current Epsilon Project!

And thank all of you who have read through The Soul Blade.  You've made it through three-quarters of a year with weekly updates on a story that might not have been finished at all.

Friday, the first chapter of a two-part story.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Batman (1966).
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, St. Trinian's.

23 Jun 2017

The Soul Blade - Chapter 39

"Larson, did you see what your girlfriend just did?"
"Yeah, that's going to just buff out."
"No one dies."
"Brenna can't answer you right now."
Grace crumpled on the ground, hands holding the sides of her head.  Her breathing came in ragged gasps.  Summer ran towards her blonde cousin.  "Grace, what happened?"

"Too.  Many.  Futures."  Each word came out through clenched teeth.  Grace forced herself to stand again.  "Whatever took Bren, we have to stop it right here."

"That bad?" Dawn asked.


Henderson raised his shotgun.  "Bullets worked."

Rae ran over to the officer.  She pulled the shotgun barrel down.  "No!  Brenna's still there!"

"Joni usually used the Blade on Brenna when she was possessed," Dawn said.  "Girls, any of you feel any different?  Who has the Blade?"

"You mean this?"  The Soul Blade grew from Brenna's hands.  Instead of the beam of pur white, the Blade was now a black so dark it drank in surrounding light.

22 Jun 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 38 - Commentary

Brenna and family face off against Tricia's skeletons, in The Soul Blade Chapter 38.

Writing is tough, until you get past the first sentence.  I've never been one to be told, "Here's a writing prompt.  Write for thirty minutes."  Nothing comes out.  It's not that I need to be in the mood to write.  I need the scene, or at least the beginning, sorted out in my head first.  I run the scene in my head so I can figure out where all the character's are.  Sometimes, it takes a few passes to work out why a scene properly.  And with The Soul Blade needing an ending, I imposed on myself a need to write.

However, I already knew what the ending was going to be.  That made writing much easier.  The problem I had with finishing The Soul Blade was extraneous plot lines that hadn't wrapped up instead of not having a clue what the ending would be.  Made the writing easier.  And, yet, I still left wriggle room at the end.  Not "Next Week" but "Coming Soon."

The reason for the skeletal army was that, when I first started working on the story, zombies were getting overexposed.  Then The Walking Dead aired.  So, what do I know?  But zombies have well known weaknesses - head shots are common in zombie fiction, and they still have fleshy bits like muscles that could be damaged enough to slow them down.  Skeletons, though, don't have those weaknesses.  There is no brain.  There is no flesh.  Depending on the story, even smashing them doesn't stop the bony fingers from still trying to reach out to grab throats.  And, unlike zombies, skeletons are under the control of one person, who is usually evil.

The chapter is dialogue heavy.  The skeletons aren't doing much beyond marching and trying to choke Brenna and her family.  Everyone is just swinging bats.  The action gets repetitive.  The dialogue carries the plot here.  Thus, Henderson blowing up Matt's cruiser.  It got rid of the skeletal column just in time for the rest of the army to appear.

The story was building up to the final battle between Brenna and Tricia.  Too bad for Tricia that I had other plans for her.  Those plans were in mind ever since the Ashen Man appeared in Chapter 5.  He and Tricia had been working at cross purposes throughout the story.  The Ashen Man just never got the focus.  Questions should be answered in the next chapter.

It does feel good to see progress on the story.  Brenna has needed an ending since 2009.  With this finally done, I can start thinking about future works featuring her or the Soul Blade itself.

Friday, the thrilling conclusion, in The Soul Blade Chapter 39.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, TV versus film,. fight!
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Batman (1966).  Yeah, I miss him, too.

16 Jun 2017

The Soul Blade - Chapter 38

"Do you hear sirens?"
"We're evacuating the neighborhood, sir."
"Novotny girls never run."
"Everyone ready?"
"Larson, did you see what your girlfriend just did?"  Cruz hurried her pace to catch up to Matt.  "Did you know she could make a light sabre appear like that?  How the hell did she do that?"

Matt fell back a few steps from behind Brenna.  "She showed me, Damaris, yes.  Can we focus on the skeletons?  Where's Henderson."  Matt turned around.  "Hey, Henderson, a shotgun?  What the hell, man?"

Henderson hefted his weapon.  "Bean bag rounds.  They should break bones."

"Just don't hit any of us."  Matt dashed to catch back up to Brenna.  "Bren, do you know what you're doing?  I mean, if this was a zombie movie, we'd just aim for the head."

15 Jun 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 37 - Commentary

The police broke up Grace's graduation party, in The Soul Blade Chapter 37.

The style of writing may have changed a bit between Chapters 36 and 37.  When I saw the end of the file coming, I started work on finishing The Soul Blade.  Going through the story again, especially after not doing much work on it since 2009, gave me a new perspective.  The numerous dangling plot lines I saw at the end of November 2009 weren't there, or were easily wrapped up.  Brenna's dislike of Amy was easily pulled out.  Her relationship with Matt was at a good point, with room for later works to expand if I wanted.  WIth the looming problems not so looming or problematic, I could find a way to end the story to my satisfaction, without having the conclusion drag several chapters longer than necessary.

As I started to write, a small detail almost stopped me.  Would Grace and her friends wear graduation robes at her party, or would she have to return them after the ceremony?  I asked on Twitter, and the majority of the answers I got said that she'd return the robes after the ceremony.  But the one response that said otherwise came from someone in California, not Ontario.  That was enough to have me wonder, so I did what I should have done in the first place and checked the web site for University of California San Diego, Grace's school, to see what graduation involved.  Grads there can choose to purchase a package that includes the robes to keep.  Grace did that, mainly because Gary was offering to pay and he wanted to see her in those robes.  My backup plan was having Grace in a nice dress, and had put that in as a placeholder while I checked details.

Brenna didn't want her family fighting alongside her.  She has the Soul Blade, she's the Chosen One, not them.  However, Joni trained Grace to fight the supernatural before Brenna got the Blade, and Dawn made sure her daughters were ready just in case.  There's no way to predict who will get the Blade when the previous Bladekeeper dies.  Joni and Dawn made sure their girls were ready.  Mostly.

The reunion of Brenna and Matt serves as the resolution of their relationship for the story.  They're a couple, even if they haven't told each other yet.  Grace and Rae do get Brenna to focus a little, mostly my causing her embarrassment.  Rae got a good flash of what Brenna was feeling, though everyone else probably realized what was going through her mind already.

Once again, the problem of how to fight skeletons comes up.  Baseball bats are good; most people have an idea of how to swing one.  My experience with them is that I tend to swing under the pitch; I'd kneecap a skeleton.  But the other problem is that skeletons don't have the obvious weakness that zombies have.  Head shots may or may not work.  Skeletons also don't have flesh, so shredding muscle isn't possible.  And there's never a cleric around when you need one.

The one issue I wanted to make sure was having proper cliffhangers.  Unruly and last year's NaNo let me learn how to set up cliffhangers properly.  The goal with Chapter 37 was to get something a good length worth reading without being too short or too long and still get the key elements out there to set up the fight coming up.  I also had a time deadline.  I started the writing after prepping Chapter 36 for posting.  Two weeks to get a chapter written should be enough, provided I can get the right approach.  The right approach isn't always easy to work out.  I set up the scene, then brought the focus on Brenna.  Given that I really wanted to wrap up The Soul Blade, I didn't get into great detail.  Might have been a mistake, but I've been working with it since the end of September 2016.  The story needs to end.  There may be longer serials out there, but The Soul Blade has been needing an end since 2009.

Friday, skeletons attack, in The Soul Blade Chapter 38.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Death Race.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, TV versus movies, fight!.

9 Jun 2017

The Soul Blade - Chapter 37

"Bren, you can let go of me now."
"Try no skin.  Detective, are those things for real?"
"Detective, I know it's a long shot, but I think I know where they're going."
"Anyone got an idea?"
In the Halliday backward, Grace flitted from guest to guest, her black graduation robes flowing as she walked.  Her friends and fellow grads, Piper and Yesi, added to the bustle, socializing with the gathered families.  Brenna edged towards the Halliday home, keeping away from the centres of attention.  She sipped on her cola, trying to focus on the music instead of the vast throng of people celebrating.  Her uncle emerged from the crowd carrying a plastic cup half-filled with beer and approached the young woman.  Brenna flashed him a smile.

"Not enjoying your sister's party?" Keith asked.

"I am."  Brenna forced herself to smile more.  "Just, it's a lot of people."

"I get it.  Rae's inside.  You know how her empathy gets.  Maybe you should go in and keep her company for a bit."

"I don't know.  Rae needs time to herself."

Keith grinned.  "You don't have to be in the same room as her."

"Oh?"  Brenna realized what her uncle was saying.  "Oh.  No, I'm good.  Really."

"Are you sure, Brenna?"  Keith rubbed her shoulder with his free hand.  He paused.  "Do you hear sirens?"

8 Jun 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 36 - Commentary

Grace graduated and the police met Tricia's army, in The Soul Blade Chapter 36.

When I first wrote this chapter, I had place holders.  The chapter was done in the final days of NaNo, so I just getting words out was the main concern.  I was pushing for a nice large number, and got it.  I haven't been as prolific since, but I am getting better at pacing myself, both with how plots work out and maintaining a good writing speed.  To maintain speed and the ideas I had in my head, I put in variables for the different street names and Brenna's neighbourhood.  Turned out, the street names were worth more words than the variables.  But, working out where San Diego's cemetaries were, then working out walking routes for the skeletal armies involved would have taken away from both writing time and mental processing power.

Grace's graduation ends her story arc for the story.  She now gets a party with friends and family, works for the summer, then moves to LA to study law.  Joni's appearance might be a problem, as Greg pointed out in a comment.  If I had been thinking about it, Joni`s disappearance would have been related to Tricia`s blanket effect.  Of course, Brenna would then be worried about her.  I do have an idea, but it'd be difficult to retrofit now - Joni's purpose for remaining has been completed, so she can now move on.

Matt returns again!  This time, he's actually working.  Cruz and Henderson also return, mostly to give Matt a hard time.  I re-used Cruz and Henderson to avoid adding more characters to track.  Thus, they appeared in the chapters leading up to this moment.  They know each other, having met on the job, obviously.  Cruz has no problem hazing Matt, either.  It's about time Matt found someone, really.

The argument Matt and Cruz have is about the effectiveness of clerics in different versions of AD&D.  Cruz prefers first edition, where sixth level clerics got an automatic disrupt on the Turn Undead table against skeletons, destroying them outright.  Matt's playing with the third edition, where there's no instant destruction, but he can still force weaker under to turn away even on a bad roll.  Henderson prefers wizards, who can cast the third level spell fireball at fifth level, no matter what the edition.

Matt's last line, "Anyone got an idea?" isn't just him looking for options.  That was the end point of NaNo 2009 for me.  I let The Soul Blade lay fallow to try to clear my head and see what I could do to wrap up all the plot points I saw dangling.  That time let me see which ones were the problems, which ones were illusions, and which ones were important.  One thread involved Amy; Brenna did a 180 on her feelings about her.  Fixing that removed Amy as an immediate plot point.  On re-reading, the relationship between Brenna and Matt wasn't as urgent to wrap up as it was while writing.  During the writing process, it seemed like the obvious direction for them would be into the back of her van.  For now, they're in a good spot.  The odd thing is, there is more romance in The Soul Blade, unintended, than there was in my attempt at a paranormal romance.  Go fig.

There is more coming.  Chapter 37 goes up tomorrow.  There will also be a Chapter 38 and a Chapter 39.  I have an idea for the end; I just have to get to it.

Friday, the stage is set, in The Soul Blade Chapter 37.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Get Smart.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Death Race.

2 Jun 2017

The Soul Blade - Chapter 36

"It's so nice you girls can work together."
"Then they should already be cringing in fear."
"'Everything has a price.'  I believe you even said those words to me at some point."
Sunday morning saw the Halliday household in a mad rush.  Aura helped Brenna get the older woman's hair properly styled.  As much as she wanted it, Brenna left out her usual ribbon, letting her hair down in a wavy cascade past her shoulders.  Gary knocked on the door, giving Brenna the five minute warning.  Brenna finished dressing, making sure the dress and her cardigan fit properly.  She plucked at her pantyhose and chastised herself for not getting a longer skirt for the day, then ran down to her father's black Challenger.

The drive to the University of California San Diego campus didn't take as long as Brenna's father expected.  The time saved, though, was used up finding a parking space.  Father and daughter crossed the paved expanse, passing by Grace's gold Beetle, to get to the Jenny Craig Pavilion.  Brenna let her dad find a pair of seats, then settled in.  She felt the presence of her mother hovering over her, watching the stage.  Brenna looked up and gave Joni a smile.

1 Jun 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 35 - Commentary

Tricia calls her legions, in The Soul Blade Chapter 35.

Once again, Brenna has a relatively normal day while Tricia continues working on her goal of absolute power.  With Brenna, the idea was to show her and her extended family and the relations within.  The conspiracy among cousins to get away from the parental units is one that has been used long before Rae was born.  Rae was always too young to join her older sisters and cousins on their hijinks before.  Back in Chapter 32, Grace complained about the last time she had to share a bed with Rae, so it has been some time.  Rae isn't a child anymore, so the older girls are now including her.  Not that Rae appreciates being included.  She's been the young tag-along for too long to trust her sisters and cousins.

Writing this chapter, I was still trying to set myself up for the end.  I could have focused on just Tricia the past few chapters, but the story is supposed to be Brenna's.  So, half the chapter is Brenna spending the day out, the other half is Tricia locating Brenna and her family.  I did manage to work in that Brenna was out and about into Tricia's scenes.  Getting the Bladekeeper and her family in one nice neat package is a bonus for Tricia.  It means she doesn't have to study genealogy to find her current and future threats.

Tricia is also taking advantage of having minions and magical power.  If one can't enjoy being attended to hand and foot by magically animated skeletal minions, why bother having them?  The location spell is something I used in a different story draft, one with a loose tie to the Brenna-verse.  The spell tracks a known person on a map, a real one instead of a map app.  Tricia's version requires a blood sacrifice, which is never a good thing, even if you use your own blood.

The raising of the skeletal army was worked out in my head before even setting words down.  I pictured the scene as a movie.  Tricia creeping through a cemetery, intoning mystical words, then skeletons crawling up from graves.  I try to work through a scene in my head before typing.  I want to make sure that I have the right point of view, the right camera angles, and the right feel.  If something is out of place, I can move it in the scene in my head far easier than I can when typing.  All I have to do after that is describe what I have in my head and hope that it makes the translation.  I'm not saying that this is the best way to write, but it works for me.

Friday, Grace graduates and the police respond, in The Soul Blade Chapter 36.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, adapting to games featuring Cortex/Cortex Plus.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Get Smart.

31 May 2017

The Elf's Prisoner - Post-NaNo World Building - Lessons

The Elf's Prisoner - Post-NaNo World Building - Lessons

Building a world after the fact.
Part 1 - The Lands
Part 2 - Militaries
Part 3 - Elves
Part 4 - Architecture
Part 5 - Magic
Part 6 - Wrap Up begins now.
Building a world while writing by the seat of your pants is not for the faint-hearted.  Some of it can be hand-waved if the characters aren't exploring or travelling much.  Once they leave a small section of a city, things start to grow.  If you do wind up creating a world whole cloth on short notice, here's what I learned.

First, when in doubt, choose a part of the Earth that resembles what you want.  Google Maps helps here.  Don't worry about the scale - you just want something to refer to.  I used the lower mainland of British Columbia, then changed the distances to what I needed.  The various kingdoms can be as large or small as you want, too; counties may work well as kingdoms, especially if you zoom in close enough.  Use Earth cultures as a base to give characters names that don't sound like a cat walked across a keyboard.

Have in mind a rough idea of what technologies are available.  The traditional fantasy world needs iron smelting at a minimum to produce the weapons and armour characters use.  The nameless guards will have near-identical arms and armour, mainly because of economics of scale.  Keep notes on what you decide; if the town guard in the king's city wear chain mail and carry short swords while keeping the peace, then a reader will notice if a guardsman is wearing leather or plate.  Not that the guardsman can't, but he'll need a reason.

Non-humans should have their own histories.  Look at how humanity developed on Earth.  Why shouldn't elves and dwarves have the same diversity?  Feel free to change things up, too.  There is no reason for every elf to be a Legolas clone.  Using names based on foreign languages may shake things up and give a new perspective.

Buildings are going to be functional.  The technologies used today require iron refining that wasn't available in the Renaissance, though the ideas were there.  Stone and wood will be the main construction materials, though bricks are a possibility in some areas.  At the same time, once magic gets involved, figure out how that will change building design.  Ultimately, a house will need walls, a door, and a roof, and even magic can't change that.

Figure out, at least roughly, how magic works.  You don't need to work out every last detail, but the general nature should be known.  Do the mages work with the classic elements?  Or do they shape raw mana with their mind?  Ideally, this is worked out before the mage casts the first spell, but sometimes, the spell gets out before the nature of magic is ready.

Finally, don't stress over the details.  Not everywhere needs to be fleshed out.  That inn the characters stay at one night can feel more real by adding description.  Its history isn't as important as what is happening at the moment.  Keep open to ideas that pop up.  Dwarven canals to ship raw and refined ore?  If that fits your concept of your dwarves, why not?  Or maybe the elves are the technoligical types instead, with canals to bring their armada in from the ocean.  It's your world.  Have fun with it.

29 May 2017


Crossover is now indexed under Subject 13.  I've also added a commissioned picture of Nasty to the page.  The Soul Blade has its own page with the chapters linked.  Several of index entries may not be live yet, though, but should be once the chapters go up.

28 May 2017

Test Run - Demon Hunters

After the analysis done on the Cortex system over at Lost in Translation, I felt like putting a character together.  The decision on which setting was made easy - Demon Hunters came with a DVD to watch, a training manual on becoming a member of the Brotherhood of the Celestial Torch.

The game and the series it's based on, the Dead Gentlemen Productions works Demon Hunters and /Demon Hunters - Dead Camper Lake/, are supernatural comedies.  There are vampires, werewolves, and demons out there, and some might be your teammates.  One segment in the orientation video includes a list of trades the Brotherhood is looking for, including TV/VCR Repair.  I have my concept, a TV/VCR repairman who isn't fazed by the supernatural; he's seen far worse.

26 May 2017

The Soul Blade - Chapter 35

"The bleach was getting to me."
"Officer Cruz is here to make sure I'm safe, Daddy."
"Detective McCoy needs available officers."
"Mom and Dad are fighting almost all the time now."
Saturday morning arrived far too soon for Brenna's liking.  She awoke to the sounds of bustling downstairs.  Slipping out of bed, Brenna padded on bare feet downstairs to see what was happening.  Her father was in the living room with her uncle watching the sports highlights.  Brenna peeked in to find out the score from the Padres road game, then ducked back out.  In the dining room, Grace and Rae ate their breakfasts as Aunt Dawn returned with a stack of pancakes.  "Good morning, Brenna," Dawn said.  "Sleep well?"

"Yeah, I guess.  You don't have to cook, Aunt Dawn."

"Let her, Brenna," Rae said.  "We've had the discussion already."

25 May 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 34 - Commentary

Brenna's cousins arrive, in The Soul Blade Chapter 34.

There's a callback to the start of the story, where Brenna returned from an out-of-town convention.  She's starting to make her doll clothes.  This bit came about after seeing ball-jointed dolls at anime conventions.  After a bit of research, I discovered that the dolls come in standard scales, thus Brenna could easily start designing her own line of doll clothes for them.  That catch is that while the scales - 1:6, 1:8, and all - are standardized, the features aren't.  Two dolls the same scale could have different hip and bust measurements.  Brenna could make some generic clothes, like robes, t-shirts, and jeans, to sell and also take commissions based on the measurements of a specific doll.  Those measurements mean that she could create a new size for her standard line.  Brenna could get into the fashion industry after all!

Officer Cruz's departure was abrupt on purpose.  The reason is Tricia and her actions in Chapter 33.  While she probably should have stayed, that wasn't her call.  A decision was made higher up to get all available officers out on the street looking for Tricia.  Killing police officers tends to attract attention.

Everyone has arrived!  Now to set up the grande finale!  Dawn is Joni's sister and Brenna's aunt.  Dawn and her daughters are also sensitives, like Brenna.  Grace isn't sensitive, but she still has her own abilities.  In another setting that goes into details about psychic and psionic abilities, Grace would be classified as a psi-null, a person who tends to negate psychic abilities.  However, The Soul Blade isn't that type of setting, so the girls don't have a ready term for Grace's lack of sensitivity.

Since the names come fast and furious in this chapter, here are Brenna's cousins once again.  Summer, the middle child, should be familiar, having provided details to Brenna previously.  Raven, or Rae as she prefers, is the youngest, and is an empath still in high school.  Aurora, who goes by Rory for the most part and is called Aura by Brenna, is the oldest, close to Brenna's age.  Summer and Aurora's abilities haven't been revealed.  Rae's did get mentioned, though the girls treat it as a known factor amongst themselves.

Late night traffic through L.A. was interesting to add.  Knowing everyone would be driving, I had to factor in what they'd go through to travel the length of California.  Having been in L.A. very briefly for a Battlestar Galactica convention, I was able to get some details.  The freeway traffic at 2am reminded me of mid-afternoon traffic on the Queensway locally.  The road surface was rougher than the Queensway as well, though not as bad as Autoroute 5 in Gatineau.  There are high-occupancy lanes, and the speed limit is honoured in the breach.  Aura should have stopped at a motel, really.

Dawn and Keith's friction is coming from having to spend time with each other after having raised a family.  Where the girls took up much of their time and gave them something in common, they're now discovering that they've drifted apart a bit.  They'll need to sit down and talk and get to know each other all over again.  However, their sex life is amazing.  Dawn really never minded the idea that her sex drive would skyrocket if she ever inherited the Soul Blade.

Friday, the beginning of the end, in The Soul Blade Chapter 35.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, hiatus week.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, adapting to games featuring Cortex/Cortex Plus.

24 May 2017

The Elf's Prisoner - Post-NaNo World Building - Magic

Building a world after the fact.
Part 1 - The Lands
Part 2 - Militaries
Part 3 - Elves
Part 4 - Architecture
Part 5 - Magic is below.
Part 6 - Wrap Up
Fantasy worlds have magic, overt, subtle, flashy, or sublime.  With The Elf's Prisoner, magic is a known factor, with few people capable of using and abusing it.  As mentioned in previous parts, the story was inspired by the various editions of Dungeons & Dragons.  Thus, there are two main forms of magic, arcane, as cast by wizards, and divine, as cast my priests.

Divine magic comes from the deities of the world.  The priesthood of each deity is chosen, called by the god to serve.  The magic that's available is flavoured by the deity.  Mechanically, this makes divine magic closer to a power pool from Champions.  The special effect is depending on the deity; a priest of the Lightbringer must keep to the idea of enlightenment, whether through spreading knowledge or creating a light.  A priest of the Defiler must break something down, destroying or rendering useless a person or object.  While both priests may be able to heal someone magically, the priest of the Lightbringer will cause the wounder person to glow while the magic flows through while the priest of the Defiler will cause the wounded pain as wounds reform and seal up.

Because the source of magic is tied to the deity, it is possible for a spell to just not work.  The reason could be that the spell is antithetical to the deity's own belief and goals.  Or the priest may not have been as devout as he or she should have been.  Or the deity is out to sow discord.  On the other hand, some deities may provide a spell to a layman or even a non-believer; the Chaos Beast is the most likely to do so, just for the sheer fun of causing confusion and chaos as a result.  Essentially, the priest must believe that the spell being cast is in service of the god he or she follows.  Doubt could cause the spell to fail.

Arcane magic uses the inherent mana around the spellcaster.  Instead of being granted a general ability to cast with the only limitation being belief, wizards must study and create spells.  Once the spell is known, it can be used when needed.  This was a deliberate decision to separate the wizards away from AD&D's Vancian magic, where spells were fire-and-forget until memorized again.  I took some inspiration from Shadowrun's magic system, where mages of all traditions could know any number of spells, but casting them could wear them out, especially if channelling more power into the effect.  Shadowrun's spells tend to obey the laws of thermodynamics; mana cannot be created nor destroyed, just changed into different energy forms.  The Elf's Prisoner may ignore that restriction.  I'm also adding a way for wizards to ignore or reduce the effect of having magic course through them.  By using a focus, such as a staff, a wand, an amulet, or a rod, the magic is directed, allowing wizards to withstand greated energies.  It is still possible to channel too much mana, leading to the wizard turrning crispy or receiving a backlash of the spell used.

Priests may be more flexible, provided that they keep to their deity's goals.  Wizards, though, aren't dependant on being in good faith.  Wizards can also develop spells, modify them, and trade them.  I don't have a spell list of arcane spells; that would be limiting.  However, wizards who do appear will have a list of spells they do know.  Jyslyn's list so far includes a cleaning spell, an elemental manipulation spell for both water and earth, and a spell to open locks.  I also know she doesn't have a spell that directly hurts a target, though those do exist.

So how do spellcasters learn spells?  Priests are trained in the basics as acolytes, learning the prayers needed and how to beseech when needing a spell not already covered.  Wizards study magical tomes and network with each other.  The elven cities of Wildwood and the Sundered Chasm have guilds where mages learn the craft.  The Seven Dominions has colleges of magic, an academic study instead of a craft.  The Niceans have their own form of magic, which I haven't worked out yet.  It may be akin to the hermetic/shamanic divide from earlier editions of Shadowrun, where the two traditions more or less cast spells the same way, but summoning was more formal for heremetic magicians while shamans called upon the spirits of the land.  If I get to the Nicean Islands, I will have this figured out.

Magic is an area in fantasy where care must be taken.  Too powerful, and magic short circuits the plot.  Too weak, and readers start wondering why anyone would want to be a wizard.  A balance is needed to make sure the magicians don't overshadow the rest of the cast.

19 May 2017

The Soul Blade - Chapter 34

"Hi, Krista, it's Brenna.  I am stuck at home with a crazy sister."
"The dead woman was Fiona Leary, a secretary for a high-priced mediator."
"Her boss's name is Tricia Meadows, and she hasn't been seen since yesterday morning."
"Tricia Meadows is the woman who attacked me last week."
Brenna woke up in time for Officer Henderson's shift to end.  She said her farewells to him and introduced herself to Officer Cruz, a woman taller than Brenna herself but not quite Grace's height.  Although relieved, Brenna was also disappointed that Matt hadn't been assigned to protect her.

After a quick dinner, Brenna brought her sewing downstairs.  At a recent convention up the coast, she had received several requests for doll clothes.  One of the people asking about the clothes had even shown her the doll in question, fragile-looking, posable, about two feet tall.  Some research online gave Brenna the measurements she needed to work with.  With a lull in her travels and not much else to do with her hands, she sat down and started with a simple design of her own creation.  Fitting would be a problem, but she could always get the doll owners to put the clothes on before buying the outfit.  On the spot alterations wouldn't take Brenna much time as long as she didn't get a sudden rush.  Brenna chatted with Officer Cruz as she worked.  Cruz watched in amazement as the young brunette worked on the tiny stitches needed to make the sleeves.

Grace returned home long after dark.  She waved to her sister and the police officer before going to the kitchen.  The younger Halliday woman returned to the living room with a can of Pepsi in her hand.  She introduced herself to the officer, then asked of she needed a refill on her coffee.

18 May 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 33 - Commentary

Under protective custody, in The Soul Blade Chapter 33.

This chapter begins the set up for the big climax.  I'm getting all my ducks in a row and all those other clich├ęs about getting things in order.  I'm also trying to wrap up all the other dangling plot hooks, like Grace's graduation, so that the climax is the end.  This was a problem once I realized where I was going during NaNo.  I had too much, or so I thought, that needed resolution.

Detective McCoy has the name of his prime suspect in the latest killing.  No surprise, it's Tricia.  And Krista now has a major scoop, thanks to Brenna.  Krista should get a raise or a promotion out of this bit of investigative journalism.  This is the end of Krista's story arc, such as it was.  Brenna could finally say the killer's name to someone.

Grace is hitting maximum nervousness.  Brenna probably should have tased her, but she's too nice.  Officer Henderson, though, doesn't have a sense of humour while working and would stop her.  Brenna might be able to claim self-defense; Grace is good at looming.

Tricia, at this point, isn't worried about the police arresting her.  She's more concerned about her minions, in that she doesn't have a quick way to replace them if the police execute a search warrant on her home.  With the Ashen Man as a passenger inside her head, Tricia has access to more magical power than ever.  She also sees no reason to not use the energy.  To her, there is no such thing as overkill.  The result?  Four dead police officers and one crushed police cruiser.

A note on the research for this chapter.  I had looked into what sort of vehicle the San Diego Police Department uses.  I was going to put in a place holder, a Ford Crown Victoria, since that seems to be common and was once the car of choice locally.  A quick Google revealed that, at the time, the car in use was... a Ford Crown Victoria!  Great!  That's three words where a vehicle like the Dodge Charger is just two.  Then I realized something.  Tricia doesn't care what the police cruiser's make and model are, just that there are two cops inside.  But, at least I knew what the car looked like before it was crushed.
San Diego Police Department cruiser, before Tricia crushed it, photo via Wikipedia.

Friday, Halliday family reunion, in The Soul Blade Chapter 34.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Deadpool.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, hiatus week as I will be at CanGames.

17 May 2017

The Elf's Prisoner - Post-NaNo World Building - Architecture

Building a world after the fact.
Part 1 - The Lands
Part 2 - Militaries
Part 3 - Elves
Part 4 - Architecture is below.
Part 5 - Magic
Part 6 - Wrap Up
Of all the things I never expected to figure out, architecture was near the top.  After all, the setting has limits in what it can do with building materials.  Stone and wood can only go so far up before collapsing on itself.  But, there is magic in the world, and magic changes what can and can't be done.

Starting with the elves, since they're fresh from the previous part, each type of elf has used magic to create their cities.  The sylvan elves grew Wildwood in a forest; the dark elves grew the Sundered Chasm in a cavern; and the crystal elves formed their city from crystals.  None of those cities could exist without magic.  With Wildwood, the entire city is raised off the ground, with buildings connected by walkways.  Obviously, horses are only allowed at the stables at the cities various gates, but height restriction are now based on the trees themselves and not construction technology.  Buildings are coaxed from the trees, forming the basic layout, though other items, like doors and window panes, have to be installed afterward.  The tallest building, the Council Chambers, has a garden in the centre.  The Chambers are formed from and around the oldest tree, which branches out wide enough to let the sylvan elves place an ornamental garden in the centre.  This might be difficult to film if adapted...

In the Sundered Chasm, since there are no trees, nor room or light for them to grow, so the dark elves formed the city out of the earth itself.  Being underground, height restrictions aren't a consideration.  The central tower, home to the temple of the Outcast Queen and where the ruling families gather to argue, is by tradition the tallest structure, and must be seen by all locations of the city.  The ruling families cluster near the central tower, with each home taking its own style from the whims of the Matriarch.  The common folk live in a maze of tunnels and alleys, with homes formed as needed without planning.  The marketplace, though, was created as that, so the buildings there look more traditional, allowing the traders who come to the city to feel like they're in a familiar place.  Even then, the inns are made from a solid piece of earth, not stone or wood.

The crystal elves would have similar buildings as the dark elves, except made from crystal above the surface.  Height now does matter, if only as a way to separate the ruling families from the commoners.    Natural crystal formations dictate where housing would be, so streets are formed as travel dictates.  There isn't a central tower; instead, the Council of Matriarchs meet in a crystal formation grown from the side of a mountain, allowing them to look down upon the city when they discuss matters.

The dwarves, at least in the Realm Below the Mountain, don't bother with magic.  They carved their kingdom out from the mountain.  Areas were planned.  The Realm Below has an entry cavern where visitors can be verified before being allowed further.  Going up inside the mountain from there leads to Embassy Row, where ambassadors from other realms may set up an office to help with trade and negotiations with the dwarven kingdom.  Going down leads to the market, the main area where drawves and outsiders mingle.  Beyond the marketplace and deeper in the moutain are the shops and homes of the dwarves.  Magic isn't used to create buildings.  The dwarves excavate as needed, though this does place a limit on the size of the Realm.  The dwarven guild hall, where the various guilds send representatives, is just past the market, keeping close to where trade occurs.  The further out from the guild hall, the lower the property values; it takes more time to get from the outer edges to the hall.  However, for some dwarves, especially the miners, this isn't a problem.  The miners are closer to where they work, and they are always expanding the Realm by following veins of ore.

The dwarves have a preference towards technology, which is available to far more people than any sort of magic.  To get ore from the Realm to the sea, the dwarves built a canal system.  Transportation between dwarven realms is via a rail system, some of it with carriages pulled by giant lizards, other parts with steam, depending on how secure the area is.  More delicate goods are shipped with the rail system, avoiding weather conditions on the surface.  Ore, however, doesn't care if it gets wet.

The human settlements will follow more traditional means of building.  Castles made of stone, inns made of a mix of stone and wood, Nicean homes on stilts due to the potential for flooding along the islands' coasts.  Some areas may use magic more than others.  Colleges of magic will have magical reinforcement in place.  With humans, I'll fall back to what has been used historically, depending on the aesthetic I want in use for a location.  Few settlements will be thoroughly planned out; the grid pattern seen in North American cities core is a deliberate choice applying lessons from European cities that were more ad hoc in development.

The end result, I hope, is a world that doesn't feel like a mono-culture.  Each city, each town, no matter the nation, should have its own character, making the world itself seem more alive.

12 May 2017

The Soul Blade - Chapter 33

"There's been another murder."
"Take a good look at them and tell me if you recognize any of them."
"Arrange for protection for her and her family the next twenty-four hours."
"You're not about to track blood into the house, are you?"
Being confined to the house didn't help Brenna's mood any.  With Grace becoming a taskmaster, the elder Halliday sister's thoughts turned black.  She thought about asking Officer Henderson to tase her sister, then realized that the police officer probably didn't have a sense of humor about such things.  Cleaning took up the remainder of the morning, leaving Brenna to fend for herself for lunch.  She gave her police protector free access to the kitchen, thinking that he'd be better off trusting his skills than her own if he wanted something outside a vegetarian diet.

In the afternoon, Brenna set up her tent in the backyard in case any of her cousins wanted to use it.  She disappeared into it, enjoying a brief escape from her sister's cleaning madness.  As much as she knew why Grace was scrubbing the house from top to bottom, Brenna didn't want to get caught up in the madness.  After an hour of hiding, Brenna returned inside.  Officer Henderson sat on the couch in the living room with the television turned to a sports channel.  Brenna waved to the officer before going up to her room.

11 May 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 32 - Commentary

Brenna identifies the prime suspect, in The Soul Blade Chapter 32.

The police have been keeping busy, even if Brenna spent most of her time with her friends.  Now that the police have a name and a confirmation of a suspect, they can go after Tricia.  Detective McCoy, who really became a major supporting character despite being an unplanned presence, has been listening to Brenna, even when she was suggesting odd motives.  If McCoy does need a warrant, he can get Brenna to make a sworn statement.

The police protection came out of the plot organically.  What would the police do?  They'd make sure that Brenna was protected, being their best witness.  Officer Henderson turned into a fun character to write, the stone-faced cop who is unfazed by everything around him.  Sure, he just had to deal with bickering sisters this chapter, but he, like Carly, became useful to keep.  He isn't really the Blade's type, but Henderson is in uniform, so Brenna is attracted.

Brenna's cousins get a large mention here.  Aurora, who Brenna calls Aura and Grace calls Rory, is the eldest, roughly Brenna's age.  Summer is the middle girl, university aged but younger than Grace, and is the one who lost the book with the magic rites written in it.  Rae is the youngest, still in high school.  The incident that Grace pointed out was from when Rae was three.  Brenna's correct in saying that Rae isn't going to have problems in bed like she did thirteen years ago.

This chapter wound up shorter than the previous ones.  When I wrote this in 2009, I was still trying to get a handle on how to chapter a book.  The breaks I'm using are scene breaks I used, but they weren't meant to be proper chapters.  They work as such, though.  I'm getting better; writing a story as a serial helps.  With a serial, I need to have a good length, a proper chapter ending, either to provide key info or a decent cliffhanger, and keep the action flowing.  Works like The Soul Blade weren't written with serialization in mind, so everything is being retrofitted.  With my experience writing Unruly and the unpublished project from 2016, I'm improving with creating chapters.  Of course, one would think that I should have that idea after Subject 13, but I hadn't considered the concept of a serial when I wrote the bulk of that title.

Friday, protective custody, in The Soul Blade Chapter 33.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, on adapting characters.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Deadpool.

The Elf's Prisoner - Post-NaNo World Building - Elves

Building a world after the fact.
Part 1 - The Lands
Part 2 - Militaries
Part 3 - Elves - below.
Part 4 - Architecture
Part 5 - Magic
Part 6 - Wrap Up
The Elf's Prisoner is built around a character idea I had when AD&D's Unearthed Arcana was released.  Jyslyn took advantage of multi-classing rules not available in current editions, where non-human characters could work on two classes at the same time by splitting experience between them.  Progression is slower, but provides flexibility.  Jyslyn was a drow magic-user/thief, limited to fourth level as a mage but unlimited as a thief.  I accepted the limitations; the idea was that she was unusual for being a drow woman dabbling in the arcane instead of being drafted into the divine.

Since this was coming via AD&D, the different elves there worked their way in as well.  Along with drow, there were also high elves, grey elves, wood elves, wild elves, and the grugach or sylvan elves.  Lots of elves.  However, I wanted to file off the serial numbers.  The game is a start, an inspiration, not the desire result.  Thus, the names of the elves will get changed.

Since Jyslyn was the basis of the story, let's start with the dark elves, or the Accursed as they're know by the surface elves.  The details of the War of Splintering were lost in the dawn of history, but represents how the elves wound up across the world.  The War saw the dark elves driven or escaping underground, depending on whose historians are consulted.  The surface elves see the transformation that their dark brethren went through as a curse.  The dark elves argue that the transformation was a blessing.  Dark elves have ink-black skin and have hair colours that include platinum blonde, copper red, and jet black.  The various dark elf settlements, including the Sundered Chasm, forced their buildings to form out of natural caverns, creating vast cities underground.

Dark elf society is matriarchal, with the heads of the ruling families forming a fractious council.  Matriarchs of the ruling families are clergy serving the Outcast Queen and are judge, jury, and executioner.  However, ruling with a capricious hand doesn't make the ruling families beloved by the common folk.  There is a resistance, small as it is, dedicated to overthrowing the ruling families.  Problem is, a power void is never good.

Moving to the surface, the first elves seen in the story are from Wildwood, in the Sylvan Forest.  My intent was to have the elves of Wildwood be the high elves, but, on retrospection, that doesn't quite work out.  The term "sylvan elves" might work better here.  They are closer to nature, having grown the city of Wildwood.  Physically, they are tanned and have similar hair colours as the fark elves.  As a culture, I want them to mirror the Sundered Chasm.  Wildwood is also matriarchal and run by the Council of Matriarchs.  Unlike the Sundered Chasm, there is no core restriction on who is on the council.  All family heads have a seat.  Neither do the family heads need to be clergy, though some are.  However, there are matriarchs who are listened to due to their wisdom.

If I'm changing up my elves, then why not defy expectations and have a group with darker skin that isn't drow?  For this, I have the "crystal elves", the working term for the nation living further to the south.  These elves also grew their city, this time using crystal formations in the area.  Skin tones are ebony and mahogany; the goal is to have an African-American or Caribbean-Canadian tone while not having an Africa, America, Caribbean, or Canada in the setting.  Using trees for descriptors may help with the idea that elves are/were tied to nature.  Hair colours are similar to the dark and sylvan elves, though platinum will be rare.

Like the sylvan and dark elves, the crystal elves have a matriarchy, this time with ruling families.  The idea is that the crystal elves see themselves as the core elf type that all the others splintered from.  They may even refer to themselves as just elves, with no modifier, while the rest of the world adds the world "crystal" for differentiation.  This does put a new twist on the War of Splintering.  Not only did the War drive the dark elves out and underground, it sent the sylvan elves north and who knows what other types of elves elsewhere.  The ruling matriarchs aren't necessarily clergy, unlike the dark elves, but most have spent their lives preparing for taking up the mantle of rulership.

Two elven types that aren't planned for yet but could appear in some form are the wild elves and the sea elves.  With the wild elves, instead of living in forests, the idea is to have them living in nomadic groups in the prairies to the east of Wildwood and the Seven Domains.  Sea elves, for now, are considered a legend by the various elves and don't exist.  The more inland elves, like the sylvan elves of Wildwood and the dark elves of the Sundered Chasm, are too far from the sea to even consider the possibility of them being real.

For the languages of the different elves, there is a common ancestor language.  Because of the Splintering, each type of elf went in different directions with how the language developed.  In Part 1, I compared the elven tongue to English, with the sylvan version being akin to Canadian English and the dark elves using an Aussie development.  The crystal elves, seeing their role as preserving what it means to be an elf, will keep their language as close as possible to the original, letting the splintered groups bastardize what they speak.  This also gives another insight on the crystal elves.  Instant conflict with at least three of my main characters right away.  The key with the languages is to make sure that each different elf type has its own way of speaking, which may mean an edit pass to fix up the dialogue.

With all this work on elves, I really should put some thought into the human cultures.  To a degree, I have, back in Part 1.  Elves, though, tend to be treated as a singular culture; if there are differences, the it's more from distance, not design.  Here, I want to make sure my elves are grounded in the setting, giving them a bit of a history to provide depth to use while writing.