Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A Signature Dilemma

I thought I was prepared to be an author.

I've done the research, I have prepared witty answers to all the popular questions (Where do you get your ideas from? When is your next book coming out? Is this character based on me? Where do you get your ideas from? How does the book end? Will there be sequels? Where do you get your ideas from? and so on) I've steeled myself for the slings and arrows of cruel reviewers (so far, not so cruel!) And I've practiced my signature and limbered up my signing hand. I am so ready. Fame and fortune, here I come!

Or so I thought. There are pitfalls that I was not expecting. Pitfall number one? The personalized inscription. How hard could that be, you ask? Good question, Dear Reader, good question. I was unprepared for the pressure that little space on the first page of my novel could bring. Friends, customers, family, all grinning madly at me as they slide my own book towards me. 'Write something clever,' they say. Or 'write something witty, I know how good you are at this.' Or my personal favorite, 'Just write something I'll love!' Something clever, witty, and good that they'll love. And personalized, of course. And different from whatever clever, witty, good and personalized thing I wrote in the last book a few minutes ago. The pressure gets to me after the first fifty or sixty inscriptions. I'm running out of clever and I'm running out fast.

Please don't misunderstand; I'm incredibly flattered and pleased that people enjoy my writing and that they expect me to be clever, witty, and so forth! It's all good, and I really love signing and inscribing my books for people. I just wish I were better at it! Now whenever anyone comes at me with one of my books, panic sets in. What if this inscription isn't as good as the last one? What if I start to repeat myself? What if everyone I've signed a book for gets together and compares notes? Inevitably, my brain seizes up and I totally blank out. So I'm holding a pen in my hand and I'm staring at that first page and it's tiny little space for inscriptions. Someone who likes me and/or my book is standing right there, smiling at me, waiting and I'm drawing a complete blank.

'To whom shall I make this out?' I ask to stall for time.

'I'm your mother; make it out to me,' replies my mother.

That stall didn't work so well.

The line of smiling people stretches out endlessly behind my mother, all of them holding copies of my book, all of them expecting something original and funny and warm and personal. Or so it goes in my nightmare anyway. I am not ready for this.

There are worse problems to have.

Meanwhile my life continues to amuse and distract me. If all goes well, tonight will see the first session of a new role playing game campaign. We're trying a Cthulhu thing this time around, so I have failure, insanity, and death to look forward to. No really, it's going to be a good time. Trust me, I'm an author.

I've been playing a board game called Stronghold lately. It's a great fantasy board game where one player controls an enormous invasion force of orcs, goblins, and trolls trying to overwhelm a walled city full of good and noble human soldiers. Stronghold has a sort of a tower defense vibe with the human player desperately trying to decide where to spend limited resources as the hordes of bad guys hurl themselves at the walls. The defender has to choose which walls to shore up, whether to invest in boiling oil, better trained soldiers, or a host of other options including praying for some truly impressive miracles. The attacker has a slightly randomized selection of options and the difficult choice of throwing bodies at a single wall section or spreading it around in hopes of overwhelming the defender. So far I'm slightly better at defending than assaulting, which is kind of a shame because my heart will always be with any side that can field trolls.

On the book front, I'm enjoying the heck out of Stephen Hunt's 'The Court of the Air.' Hunt has crafted a complicated political intrigue adventure in a fantastical steam punk universe that doesn't forget to offer up plenty of punk alongside the steam.

In the world of comics, I'm liking the new Action Comics, Justice League Dark, Secret Avengers, and Dungeons & Dragons. I'm also re-reading the classic (and all too short) run of Chase and the recent run of post-Annihilation Nova. I've loved the human rocket ever since his first appearance back in 1976. So yeah, I'm a fanboy.

And now it's time for me to read some classic pulp science fiction to get excited for my next interactive novel. It isn't always easy being me, but it sure is fun! Happy Merry Chrismahannakwanziyulikka everybody!

December 20, 2011
Chelmsford, MA

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Zero Content Theater

So it's been a while since I've posted here.

When I do something I shouldn't do (which is often) or don't do something I should have done (even more often) there are reasons and there are excuses. We're all familiar with excuses. The dog ate my homework, I'm a little behind at work, I got massively drunk and spent the day hung over ... all perfectly reasonable and understandable excuses for why Stuff Doesn't Get Done (tm and patent pending). Excuses rarely impress anyone, perhaps it's because they actually are so very reasonable and understandable. In real life (a place I prefer to avoid) when things don't get done it's often for really bizarre and unbelievable reasons. My homework stack was so tall it fell over on my dog and I had to drive him to the emergency veterinarian, there was a flood/fire/electrical explosion leading to a fire and a flood at work, and so forth. These are reasons, but they make lousy excuses. And for the record, I have no dog, but if I did, he or she would be fine so please don't worry. And there hasn't been a fire, flood, or electrical explosion at my store in weeks; I'm just being rhetorical and stuff here.

My point - and I do have a point around here somewhere (more or less) - is that I haven't been keeping up with the blog thing and I'm hoping that a little bit of artful whimsy will distract all of you lovely people from that sad and glaring fact. How am I doing so far? That bad, huh?

It isn't as if there hasn't been plenty of Stuff Going On (tm and patent pending) the big shipment of Monday and the Murdered Man books has arrived, completing two-thirds of the literary hat trick (hard covers are still in process) and making me a very happy author, indeed. Things have been hopping at my game store, 3 Trolls Games & Puzzles, and my partners and I are hip-deep in preparation for the big finish of our Firefly-themed Live Action game Serendipity Station.

So why haven't I taken the hour or so out of my busy day to keep you, Dear Reader, up to speed on All Things Andy in my uniquely (and allegedly) entertaining fashion? Have I been hard at work on reviewing Once Upon a Time in Tombstone? No. Have I been overwhelmed with the logistical details of first-time publishing? Well, a little bit, yes, but not enough to account for all my time. Have I been laboring in the literary coal mines of the next Monday book? Again, yes, but also again, not all the time.

The answer is that I have no answer. No reasons and not even an excuse. Life just gets away from me sometimes. And you know what? That's okay as far as I'm concerned. I give myself permission to blow a few deadlines now and then. It's good for me stress-levels.

Not too often, I promise.

You'll be hearing from me again soon and next time with actual content!


December 14, 2011

Friday, 18 November 2011

A few thoughts on Genre

People keep asking me about my novel's genre. I'd love to be able to come back with a snappy one word answer that effectively answers their question, but I can't. I think when someone asks the genre question they're asking a lot of different questions all at once. What's it about? Will I like it? What other novels that I have already read and enjoyed is your novel like? And other stuff like that. So when I answer contemporary urban fantasy murder mystery, the response is often, 'Say what now?' I really need to boil that mouthful down to a one or two word version.

But that got me thinking about genre in general and I thought maybe instead of answering tough questions, I could just sort of make stuff up. I'm way better at making stuff up, and I bet I can make a passable blog out of that, so let's go with it.

When people say genre these days they usually mean anything other than mainstream. It could refer to romance or science fiction or fantasy, or horror, or mystery. Technically mainstream literature is a genre, but in practice it's more like the lack of genre or perhaps just the default. The word genre comes from the French and originally meant 'hard to get published.'

One book can fall into more than one genre, for example my own book is both a classic noir mystery and an urban fantasy. The Lord of the Rings is both an epic work of high fantasy and a travelog of Middle-Earth. Believe me when I tell you to skip Mordor when you book that tour. Steampunk is almost always accompanied by another genre. Classic steampunk is often paired with Victoriana, but it can also be found in contemporary fantasy, pulp science fiction or even post-apocalypse adventure. Where ever you find anachronistic technology (often over-sized and baroque as all get out) paired with social inequity, goggles and hats you will find steampunk. It's really more of a style than a genre.

Can stories can change genre after they've been published? When Frankenstein was first published it was science fiction (and horror, of course) because folks believed that maybe - just maybe - if you shot enough electricity into a corpse, that sucker would get up and move around again. Now I think it's safe to say that idea has been relegated to fantasy. But does that mean that the novel should likewise be relegated to fantasy? Should we re-shelve Frankenstein? How about billing it as the world's first medical drama? Or should we just call it proto-steampunk and move on?

Let's consider Paranormal Romance. Is the paranormal part more important than the romance part? Is dating a bad boy from the wrong side of the grave cooler than dating one from the wrong side of the tracks? Could I write a historical romance novel, replace all the instances of the word pirate with vampire and have a million seller? They both wear pretty much the same kind of floppy shirts, it could totally work. Should I add a pretty-boy vampire to my next book? Should I add steampunk to my next book? Does throwing in elements from another genre change a story? Would it make a book better?

For me the answer is not just no, but hell no. When I'm writing in a genre, I want the heart of the story to be intrinsically related to that genre. If I'm writing a fantasy murder mystery than the means, motive, and opportunity all have to have fantasy elements. If they don't I'm just re-skinning a story using genre elements. There are reasons to do that and I might do it some day but not today. Tomorrow's not looking so good either. Is the genre the story or merely the way the story is told? How many stories can be translated into an entirely different genre without changing the essential elements of that story?

These are the things I think about late at night when other people are thinking about that last slice of pie in the refrigerator. It's just as well, I could stand to lose a few pounds.

Chelmsford, MA
November 21, 2011

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

My plot for World Domination.

This is the part where I get to be a super-villain.

Not the kidnap Aunt Petunia type of super-villain, but rather the fly over Manhattan on a zeppelin and hold the entire island hostage type. We're talking your typical masked megalomaniac here; you know the type. Why do I get to become a monolog-spouting, world-conquering masked menace? It's simple, I write contemporary fantasy.

Moo hah ha!

Not seeing it? Make yourself comfortable inside my slow but insidious death trap and let me explain ... because I believe that only someone like you could understand how someone such as myself came to be. Before I kill you, Dear Reader, I shall explain my nefarious plan ...!

I write contemporary fantasy and that means I get to translate any aspect of real life I want into my own little fictional world. I can re-write history any way I please. I can replace science with magic and coincidence with destiny. That last part is important because it means that I can change history in my fantasy world as long as it always makes dramatic sense. Even senseless tragedy or meaningless coincidence can be used as story-telling elements that eventually lead to good pacing and drama.

Like when the innocent little girl loses her family and her home and is forced to lead a life of deprivation, but whose wholesomeness and plucky inner strength lead her to greatness - or in some cases a really terrific boy friend. Or like when the villain shoots his gun right before the fight scene starts, knocking over an oil lamp and starting a fire. During the fight, the fire grows and grows as the combatants ignore it completely. After sufficient thrilling action ensues, the fire causes a beam to fall down, clonk the bad guy on the head but leave the good guy completely unharmed. For bonus points the good guy then saves the bad guy's life by dragging him out. No one will mind that I totally Deus ex Machina'd the end of the fight because the meaningless coincidence was given meaning. After all, the bad guy did start the fire, right?

I won't need to do a lot of research when I change history because it's an alternate world and any number of things could have gone differently. I'm describing a world where magic is commonplace, it should be easy enough to slide in some wild historical inaccuracies. So long as all my changes make good dramatic sense and support my story, no Literature Professor in the world would prosecute me. Or so goes my plan. Only time will tell.

I am pondering such thoughts as I celebrate E-Day. Yes, E-Day! From this day forward, I will mark November 14th as the day my novel became publicly available as an e-book, thus E-Day. This is the day I will completely forget about each and every year, only noticing a week or so after and saying to myself, 'Damn, I missed E-Day again. I really should celebrate next year.' Where ever my writing and publishing career goes from here, this will be the day it officially began.

It's good to have official beginnings. Actual beginnings are usually pretty murky and notoriously hard to pin down. Did Monday and the Murdered Man begin when I decided to publish it in August 2011 or when I sat down to write it in January of 2009? Or when I first thought of the Murdered Man and his unusual request while writing for a live action campaign called Threads of Damocles. How about when I first named a character Zack Monday back in college? This is why I'm happy to have an official date that can be easily written down and subsequently forgotten.

Publishing my own book puts me in some very distinguished company, both historically and today. I'm certain there are lots of webpages that can tell you the true history of publishing, but in the spirit of being a history altering super-villain who can make up his own history as long as it's entertaining, I'm going to say the history of publishing goes like this:

In the Beginning God Self-Published the Universe. Or maybe there was a Big Bang, I wasn't there, I don't know. Either way it certainly wasn't a traditional publication so I'm going to go with God being an independent.

Later on the Renaissance happened and steampunk was invented, and shortly after that enormous steam and electric-powered typewriters that were so big you had to use ten servants to hit all the keys (and the two guys at the back only got to fight over who hits the space bar). And so DaVinci's Legendary Lost 13th Notebook becomes the next noteworthy historical publication.

At this point the gag is getting old so there's a rock-music montage of a bunch of literary images that brings us to the present day. Because I skipped over a lot of the details I can go back later and add stuff without contradicting myself. Again the only rule is that whenever I mold history to my whim it has to be cool.

So I don't get to do this in real life, but I can do it all I want in my books. Zack Monday's Fifth World is a lot like our own on the surface, but I can dip below that surface anytime I want (or at least I can anytime it serves the story) and bring up some bizarre and cool difference between our two worlds. And I can change history to do it. I can say that Gottfried von Leibniz and Isaac Newton were the heads of rival magical societies involved in a shadow war to control all of reality and that's why traditional publishing houses first came into existence in 1719 when Leibniz died. After that moment and for the next 300 years all who published without the help of a traditional publishing house were doomed to failure. Only the invention of the automatic printing press in the year 2,000 could finally break the curse.

So yeah.

That's how I would say the History of Publishing went if I were a time-warping, reality-controlling super-villain.

And also I would have made E-Day fall on 11/11/11, because that would have been so much cooler.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

My Problem With Reality

I've never been very good at real life.

That's probably not a huge shock for most of the people who've met me, but please let me elaborate. My problem with real life is simple: it's not very well written. Everyone knows what makes up a good story. You want a catchy opening to grab your attention, interesting characters that are introduced logically and who get development and arc as the plot moves forward, some solid structure a little bit of foreshadowing, and a satisfying well-constructed conclusion that ties up all the loose ends and makes some kind of sense. That doesn't seem like too much to ask, does it? We expect it from our entertainment and we cry foul if we don't get it. Unless we're talking about foreign film, but that's a topic for another day (much like my review of Once Upon a Time in Tombstone).

But real life hardly ever works that way. We're expected to figure out what's going on without any flashbacks or exposition or narration. The characters are either unmemorable or unbelievable and there's no satisfying resolution to any of the ongoing plots. I'd say it's like one of those night-time drama soap operas, but even they have some structure to them. Heck, even so-called Reality TV has a better plot than actual reality does.

And let's talk about pacing. In any decent story - be it television, movie, novel, or campfire tale - the action is spread around so there aren't long boring stretches followed by everything happening all at once. Once again real life steadfastly refuses to follow even the most basic rules of story development and structure. Reality is also filled with fiddly little details and long passages of time where absolutely nothing interesting happens. This is the kind of stuff that any good story totally glosses over. I'm not necessarily saying this is a bad thing it's just how real life differs from a good story.

Despite all the Chekov's Guns that go unfired and all the Occam's Razors that never get to shave their conclusions down in real life, I'm still stuck with it until something better comes along. That's why I like to take little vacations from reality by playing games (where balance and mechanics often over rule petty concerns like realism and accuracy), reading, and writing. Real life does have the advantage of surprise; unpredictability is hard to predict after all.

In other, completely unrelated parts of real life, I'd like to give a shout out to a great web page that my real life cousins have put together. If you're so inclined, click on over to Despite Everything Obama. Warning: Contains Politics.

Speaking of real life, Monday and the Murdered Man lurches zombie-like ever closer to publication. If all goes well and no one shoots it (or me) in the head, I will have some cover art to show soon. If other parts of all go equally well, the upgrade for the Verdigris interactive steampunk novel will be available at iTunes by the time you're reading this. We added two new storylines, a bunch of new locations and simply hundreds of new screens of material. If you've already bought the original Verdigris, the upgrade is free. If you haven't gotten it yet, it will set you back a mere 99 cents.

Addendum: Things didn't go well, but at least no one has been shot. Yet. Why isn't anything ever as easy as it's supposed to be? In theory, all we had to do was upload the new Verdigris build and have a sandwich. Guess what? You guessed it: Real life strikes again. This game has been so tricky, I'm beginning to think I should have cribbed from MacBeth instead of Hamlet. The first time we planned to do the update (a few months ago, my partner João had to go on a series of business trips. This was a good thing at the time, because it meant his day job was actually going well, but it put things off. We had planned to do the build and load out last weekend, but Mother Nature intervened in the form a 4 and 1/2 day power outage. (Believe me Dear Reader when I tell you that heat and light are good things to have.)

And that brings us to today wherein the our code seems to have chosen to redefine how parentheses work. Or something like that. I leave the programming details to my partner; I'm just the word monkey. A couple of hours of multilingual cursing later and much talk about partially versus fully formed expressions, what the aforementioned expressions can and can't see, and something about the correct binding of tokens, things were back where they used to be ... I hope. Maybe we can publish the update tomorrow. Sometimes reality sucks more than others.

Stay tuned for further developments.

November 6th, 2011
Chelmsford, MA

Thursday, 27 October 2011

It's all about Timing

As I stare down the barrel of the season's first snow, I find myself - to paraphrase Tom Lehrer - waxing philosophical while I wane sensical. Looking back on the weekend that just passed, everything went well. I and a group of friends ran a session of the Serendipity Station live action game and then the next day I got to play in A Dance of Flame and Shadow, an old school vampire game. By old school I mean that it harkened back to the live action games of the late 90's, so maybe the school isn't all that old.

I was struck by the structural differences between the two games. Having recently attended a weekend-long game (Once Upon a Time in Tombstone), a six hour-long game (Serendipity Station Game 5) and a four hour-long game (A Dance of Flame and Shadow), I'm in a good position to observe the differences between the three different forms.

In any role playing game, there is only so much game to go around. Whether you're talking about secrets to be discovered, interactions to had, puzzles to be solved, rituals to be performed, combat to be resolved, or any of the other myriad things that happen in a live action game, the most important thing is pacing. If all of your game gets burned through in the first quarter, you're going to have a whole pile of bored and grumpy players. But is it just as bad to have three quarters of the game all happen right at the end? There's nothing wrong with an exciting and dramatic climax, but if there's too much going on, players will feel rushed, confused, and yes, grumpy. Deciding how a game should be paced is a good start, but actually adhering to that pace during run-time is the brass ring. How to pace a game is a hotly contested challenge.

Once Upon a Time in Tombstone did it with a combination of lengthy and intricate character sheets, a moratorium on character death for most of the game, and regularly scheduled events. I think the writers also relied on the players having a sense of timing, drama, and fair-play inspired by the movies the game was based on. Most players won't want to have a big showdown with their arch-enemy first thing Saturday morning when they know that there will be a day and a half of game to play afterwards.

I've played in some great games that featured a steady trickle of information over the course of the game, sort of a serialized character sheet. This works particularly well in amnesia or other limited information games where that sort of thing makes sense in game as well as mechanically.

In Serendipity Station we employ a number of tools to control pacing. Our go-to method is something often referred to as a Social Puzzle. That's where one or more characters in the game know something that another character must discover in order to move forward with their own plots. This challenge has multiple levels. In some cases, the players (and their characters) don't know who has the information they need, so some time must be spent identifying who to speak to. An additional layer comes in to play when the characters with the information have reasons not to share it immediately or even at all. A well-written Social Puzzle will give the player the proper tools to eventually gain the information they need to move on. Examples include blackmail, fair trade, intimidation, or a mid-game paradigm shift that removes the original reason not to share.

We also had major in game information reveals that we hoped would spread through the gossip engine that most on-going campaign games enjoy. Since that information gave the players the tools they needed to resolve some major long-term plots we were confident that the information would get where it needed to go in reasonably good time. This is a risk because some players hoard information no matter how badly it hurts them, but we know our players pretty well at this point and we try to have at least three different sources for anything really important. We also had new characters enter game space at the half-way point and a half hour before game wrap with vital new information. That isn't always an option but when it is it can be a writer's best friend.

A Dance of Flame and Shadow used in game intelligence gathering methods (in my character's case, talking to rats), Social Puzzles, and escalating villainy to move the action and the plot inexorably forward to a series of rapid-fire climaxes and combats. I enjoyed the bulk of these combats from a nice comfortable laying down position as my character was a bit out of his depth in a fight and got hammered flat pretty quickly.

Pacing a live action or a tabletop role playing game isn't all that different from pacing a novel or a movie, but the writer has completely different tools, advantages, and limitations to make that pacing happen. In the end, the goal is the same: entertaining the audience. The main difference is how much absolute control versus collaboration the creators have in each project. From effectively complete control with a novel all the way down to the 'fire and forget' of an improvisational live action game, each level brings new challenges and rewards. Seeing what extreme wackiness players get up to with the pretexts and situations you have written for them is one of the great rewards of writing and running live action games.

But I'm still working on that timing thing.

October 27th, 2011
Chelmsford, MA

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

A tree grows in Chelmsford

Dear Reader,

As is rapidly becoming usual, I am once again not writing about Once Upon a Time in Tombstone. (which truly was a great game, honest!) No, today I am writing about the founding of an independent publishing company, my independent publishing company. Cherrytree Publishing, future home of Monday and the Murdered Man, Monday and the Apocalypse Engine, and Monday and the Clockwork Corpse. Yeah, I've got a theme going but it's working for me so far.

For those Dear Readers who don't know what is involved in the establishment of a publishing company, the following description will very likely be absolutely no help whatsoever. Sorry folks, but that's just the way I roll.


Yes, that's right, I'm pretty 'Street,' now.

So my first stop on the bureaucratic odyssey was my local banking establishment. Everyone was very nice and helpful and we got my accounts mostly set up, but since it was to be a business account, we couldn't finish without a few simple details. Simple in theory, but not so much in practice. I was informed that I needed to register as a business at the local town offices. 'Okay, that sounds easy enough,' I thought. 'I'm a townie, I should be able to handle this.'

I hop back into the author-mobile and scoot across town to the local town offices. So far, so good. I was pleasantly surprised at how well-labeled and organized the offices were; it took me no time at all to find the town clerk and slide into line behind all the other confused folks on their own bureaucratic odysseys. When it was my turn, I told the nice lady behind the counter what I wanted and she told me I had to go ... Downstairs. (cue: ominous music!)

Downstairs was everything I had been afraid of, narrow labyrinthine corridors with dozens of closed and cryptically labeled doors. I wandered aimlessly until I found a group of people waiting outside one particular closed and cryptically labeled door. I figured this many people couldn't be entirely wrong, strength in numbers, et cetera, et cetera. So I decided to get in line behind them. Eventually, it was my turn and I explained to the nice man behind the counter what I wanted and he told me - believe it or not, no word of a lie, that I had to go upstairs. Sometimes this blog just writes itself.

It turned out that the guy downstairs was the first person I needed to talk to, but I needed a form from upstairs first. I went upstairs, waited in another line, got the form I needed, went back ... Downstairs, got back into line #2 to talk to the guy who needed the form, filled out the form and got told by the guy that I needed to get it notarized and then give it back to the lady upstairs that I had gotten it from in the first place.

Notarized, check.

'Can I get that notarized somewhere in this building?' I ask.

'Nope,' the guy replies, 'new legislation says we can't do any notarizing.'

Somehow, I am not surprised. I ask where I can get the document notarized. The downstairs guy replies ... wait for it ... at the local banking establishment. I should have seen that one coming, in retrospect. It actually all made sense from a story perspective. And people ask where I get my ideas from.

I hop back into the author-mobile and scoot across town back to the local banking establishment. Everyone is pleasantly surprised to see me again so soon. 'So soon?' I ask. 'It feels like it's been weeks since I was here last.' The precious document is swiftly and duly notarized and I motor on back across town to the town offices. I slide back into the very first line and wait for one last time and I am in business. Cherrytree Publishing is born.


I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Today's distraction: Ps238 Online! Read Aaron Williams' spectacularly funny, well-written, well-plotted and well-drawn comic about young super beings, their school, their teachers, parents, and adventures. I can't recommend this one highly enough.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The Art of Procrastination

Things I should be doing right now:

  • A video project for www.SerendipityStation.org

  • Working on Monday and the Apocalypse Engine

  • Paying bills, filing paperwork, reading catalogs, etc. at www.3trolls.com

  • Filling out the post-game report from “Once Upon a Time in Tombstone”

  • Writing a blog about “Once Upon a Time in Tombstone”

Things I am doing right now:

As you can see, my stats don't look so good. For me, being productive is the art and science of tricking myself into blowing off one project by doing another. Most of my major life successes have been achieved at the expense of whatever it is I was supposed to be doing at the time. In fact, I wrote most of Monday and the Murdered Man while I was supposed to be writing an entirely different novel, not to mention a live action game. I seem to need a 'straw project' to ignore while I do something else. If I only have one thing I'm meant to be doing, nothing gets done. Kids, don't try this at home. I'm a professional.

The good news is one of the totally awesome and cool things I found was my good buddy Dog doing something mind numbingly geeky and yes, totally awesome and cool. After you're done reading this, pop on over to his tumblr page and listen to him sing from The Canterbury Tales (in Middle English, naturally) to the tune of Billy Joel's “The Longest Time.”

Between Dog and Bruce Campbell, I might well have my hands full. Sadly, having multiple projects on my metaphorical plate doesn't seem to result in more than one thing getting done at at time. And that's a shame, really. Given the length of my average to-do list, I should be the most productive guy on the planet. I am not. In fact, working with me can be awfully frustrating for more traditionally productive types. I generally meet my deadlines, but not with much space to wiggle around in. Douglas Adams once wrote, "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they go by." I don't know if I actually love deadlines, as such, but I do seem to need them if I'm ever going to get anything done.

Perhaps I need the 'juice' that comes from impending deadline doom. Perhaps I need the threat of imminent failure. Maybe I'm just lazy. Whatever the reason, I've had the most success when large groups of friends (many of whom own swords) are eagerly awaiting whatever it is I've promised to produce.

So fear not, friends, readers, and random internet browsers, all of the things on my list will eventually happen. Some of them may even happen tonight. But right now I'm doing this thing right here, and it seems to be going pretty well. Which is more than I can say for Bruce Campbell over in The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr., he seems to be in a bit of trouble right now. Oh, and here's the link to Dog's tumblr:

Chelmsford, MA
October 15, 2011

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Unexpectedly Harrowing and Accidentally Epic

Greetings Dear Reader and welcome to the second installment of an ongoing and poorly organized tour of my brain.

I had intended this to be an entertaining and informative recap of my weekend adventures in Hagerstown, MD where I was fortunate enough to participate in “Once Upon a Time in Tombstone,” a weekend-long live action roleplaying game set in the wild American West. However, to quote Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, “This is not the comedy we intended to do when the week began.”

No, that tale shall have to wait. Instead, I present the unexpectedly harrowing and accidentally epic story of how I and my boon companion and federal crime-fighter (hereafter referred to as Federal Crime-Fighter) traveled back and forth across the Eastern Seaboard in four different cars and countless different states. No human beings were harmed, injured, or oppressed during the making of this adventure. Sadly, the same cannot be said about cars.

The trip began innocently enough. My good friend the Federal Crime-Fighter suggested that we travel to the game together. She lives in Connecticut, which – I am reliably informed – is closer to Maryland than my own beloved Commonwealth of Massachusetts, so I piled myself and an inordinate amount of Western-style clothing into my faithful author-mobile and trucked on down to meet her at her Crime-Fighting Cave. We put my inordinate pile of Western-style clothing on top of her pile, clambered into her faithful crime-fighting-mobile and we were off. (Noted for the record, the faithful crime-fighting-mobile is her off duty car and not an Official Government Vehicle. Had an actual Official Government Vehicle been used, things might have been much, much more complicated.) For the first several hours of our trip, all went well. The conversation was agreeable and occasionally witty; the traffic was relatively light and so were our hearts and minds.

We decided to take a short rest break in Berndardsville, NJ. The town was chosen because my good friend the Federal Crime-Fighter (hereafter referred to as The Fed, because this is just getting way too long) has relatives nearby. It turns out that I do too, but that isn't relevant to the story, merely a point of trivial interest for the hard-core Andy Kirschbaum fans out there. We were cruising along Rte. 202 in Bernardsville at a comfortable clip when things went downhill rapidly. I shall not relate the details of The Incident; suffice to say that it was brief, highly impact-full, and turned the crime-fighting-mobile from a well-maintained, finely-tuned engine of cross-continental travel into a decoratively-crumpled Go-Kart inclined to fly apart in a stiff breeze or at the first indications of a sharp left turn. I hasten once again to assure you, Dear Reader, that no human beings were harmed, injured, or oppressed during The Incident. We were, however, mildly surprised to find ourselves standing on the side of Rte. 202 in Bernardsville, NJ awaiting the arrival of the local authorities. The nice lady driving what we shall call, for technical purposes, The Other Car was quite friendly and helpful as we exchanged pleasantries and vital statistics.

In short order, Officer Friendly of the Bernardsville, NJ police department showed up. Now, I will admit that I have been known to apply the occasional sarcastic nickname to the people I encounter in my travels, but absolutely no sarcasm is intended in this case. Officer Friendly of the Bernardsville, NJ police department was efficient, polite, helpful, and – yes, friendly. Based on the reactions, attitudes, and sudden swooning from every female in the immediate vicinity, I also gathered that Officer Friendly was quite the hunk. I often miss small details like this. As an author and literary specialist, it is possible that my mind is too keenly focused to notice such things. Another small detail that had escaped my keen literary notice was pointed out by Officer Friendly when he examined my ID. Apparently, my license to operate a motor vehicle had expired slightly over a month ago. Yes, Dear Reader, it was shaping up to be One of Those Trips.

After everything was as sorted out as it was likely to get, Officer Friendly bid us and the lady in The Other Car a fond farewell and we GPSed up the location of the nearest Insurance-Approved body shop. We found one that was supposedly a mere 11 miles away, as the crow flies. How, we wondered, did people do this before Smart Phones and GPS devices? We limped the poor wounded crime-fighting-mobile to the aforementioned Insurance-Approved body shop. And believe me when I tell you this was a harrowing and hazard-light filled trip. The supposedly mere 11 mile trip turned out to include a stint on the highway and far more than 11 miles on twisty back roads. Both of us held our breath and sat quite still, fearing any excess movement might cause our vehicle to explode apart into chrome and tinsel. It didn't. After turning around and backtracking once or twice (the GPS may well have known where it was going, but we didn't) we safely arrived at the body shop.

Paperwork was filled out and heels were cooled while we waited for the nice people from the not-so-nearby rental car company to come and get us. We were instructed, warned, and admonished not to forget anything in the car when we left. We politely tolerated these thoughtful words. Surely we would not be so foolish as to leave anything behind? Surely not. (Note for the record, this confidence will come back to bite us in a future episode of this very blog.) Eventually, the nice people from the not-so-nearby rental car company arrive with our car. They assure us, that this was the only available car and if we truly wanted to make it to Maryland tonight, this was our only way.

Believe me Dear Reader when I tell you that this 'car' was one good meal away from being a school bus. If we could have lifted it, we could have easily tucked the original crime-fighting-mobile inside and still had room for both passengers, all of our piles of inordinate Western-style clothing and perhaps a mid-sized nuclear family in the back seat. I'm saying this car was big. But it was also the only car available. Also, because of my embarrassing license situation, the Fed was the only driver available. Given our options, we took the car and returned to our journey. And so it came to pass, a mere 4 hours after we stopped off the road for a quick rest stop and sanitary break, we finally made it back onto the road and continued our trip, somewhat worse for the wear.

A few blessedly uneventful hours later, we approach our destination. The Fed asks me to call a soon-to-be local costume shop to see if they will be open tomorrow (Saturday) morning so she can pick up a wig for her costume. She knows the name of the store she's looking for and with a little bit of Web-Fu, I manage to track down a phone number. We once again wonder how these things were done in the days before Smart Phones and GPS devices. I call the number and a pleasant-sounding gentleman answers the phone, but not with the name of the costume store I thought I was calling. I ask if I have reached the number to whom I am speaking. I am informed that I have. I ask about their Saturday morning hours. I am informed that the costume store has gone out of business. I am sympathetic, but ask if there is another local store where I might be able to get a wig tomorrow morning. The gentleman asks me if I am looking for a wig for my wife. I respond that the wig is for a lady. This is, apparently insufficient information, so the gentleman once again asks – as if, perhaps, he had misheard me – “Is this wig for your wife?” I glance over at my good friend the Federal Crime-Fighter and decide that some battles are simply not worth fighting over the phone. “Yes,” I reply. “Yes, it is.”

With the honor of the wig business upheld, the gentleman gave me the address of another costume shop and we were able to arrive at the hotel without further comedy. Even though the game had already begun by the time we dragged ourselves down, several friends broke character to wish us well and greet us. I amiably explained, that my horse had broken down outside of town and we had to get a replacement rental horse. The Fed explained, to those who asked, that "there was a problem with the wagon," and that some complicated repairs were necessary outside of town, and that at least no one died of dysentery, and that hopefully, soon enough, all would be well to raft down the Dalles. The Fed it seems is a big fan of “Oregon Trail.” Eventually, the two of us got into costume and into character and managed to have a lovely evening in Tombstone of the 1880's. The next morning, while I got into a showdown with my coffee, the Fed went off to trade in our enormous rental bus for something smaller (and cheaper!) and purchase the aforementioned wig of honor. I am pleased to report that she was successful in both endeavors.

Stay tuned to this web page for the game report and the (much less exciting) story of our return trip (and my adventures at the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles...)

October 13th, 2011
Chelmsford, MA (and various points South)

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Who he is and how he came to be!

Hello and welcome to a ongoing and poorly organized tour of my brain.

Who am I?

My name is Andy Kirschbaum and I'm a novelist, game store owner, LARP writer and general nerd-about-town. You can find my store at www.3trolls.com or in lovely downtown Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Most days you can find me there, too, if you're interested in meeting me in person. Confidentially, I'm much more interesting over the internet, also taller.

When I'm not writing novels or goofing off, I'm writing LARPs. LARP is a very silly acronym for Live Action Role Playing game. Which basically means dressing up, walking and talking while you're playing role playing games. It's great fun and absorbs all of my spare time, money and sanity. I'm currently involved in two live action role playing games, www.SerendipityStation.org which is an ongoing campaign and Feast of the Minotaur which is scheduled to run at http://www.interactiveliterature.org/L/. I'm collaborating on both projects with other very talented creators and I'm lucky to be able to work with them.

I'm currently in the process of publishing my first novel, Monday and the Murdered Man. My previously published interactive story, Verdigris, is available from the Apple iTune store. http://www.verdigris-tales.com/. I also just wrapped up a successful project at www.kickstarter.com to fund a print run of Monday and the Murdered Man. If you come to this blog by way of any of those links, welcome! If you just happened along, you're even more welcome! I'm glad to have you along and reading.

While I will talk a lot about the writing and publishing process in this blog, it's not going to be my primary subject. There are lots and lots of fantastic blogs that already cover these subjects in depth, and I'll certainly be talking about some of my favorites going forward. (http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/ is a must-read for all aspiring author/publishers) I'll also be talking about board games and role playing games that catch my fancy, as well as other diversions I enjoy ranging from television, movies, coffee, books, comics, web comics and anything shiny that catches my eye. And yes, I will occasionally talk about politics, but not too often. Hopefully, there will be something of interest for everyone who stops by. Please feel free to suggest topics for consideration; I don't promise anything, but sooner or later, I'm going to run out of things to say and believe me when I say, I'll be grateful for the suggestions then!

Because I'm largely self-absorbed and more than a little bit egotistical, I'll be talking about what I'm currently up to in any given week. As often as not, that will amount to a lot of goofing off. I'll also talk about what I should be doing instead of goofing off, just for the record.

Speaking of goofing off, I recently discovered a really cool web comic called 'The Bean.' You can find it at www.beanleafpress.com and decide for yourself how cool it is. Writer/Artist Travis Hanson has a very clean style. His use of negative space and creative borders is as visually appealing as the story itself, and I love the little lizards and faces carved into rocks that accumulate in the corners of panels. It's a fantasy epic, by the way, so be prepared for a long haul. You won't find daily punchlines or quick story resolution, but you will find interesting characters that develop slowly and a well-developed world with a past and a future.

Speaking of what I should be doing instead of goofing off, my writing partners and I are in the final stages of preparation for the October 22nd run of Serendipity Station. The tricky part of writing a game with multiple authors is continuity. We try to get the primary writing done a month before game run so we can go over everything with a fine-tooth comb and find where we contradict ourselves. We're in the continuity stage of things right now and it can be challenging having to re-write things that were 'put to bed' days or weeks ago. We've done this 4 times so far and I think each game has been better than the one before. Live action gaming is an ephemeral art. It's a collaboration between the writers and the players and when it's over it's gone and lives only in our memories. Is it worth all the time and effort and expense? I think so, but you'd have to ask my players, or perhaps my co-writers.

In novel news, now that the Kickstarter project is complete (yay!) I'm reaching out to a small army of professionals to design the physical book, the electronic book (multiple versions), web site, and what-have-you. The hunt for a cover artist continues, as does my stressing over which printer to use. There are so many tiny little decisions to make. When I was a wee tyke dreaming of being a published author some far-off day, I never dreamed about which fonts looked good together or worrying about white or cream-colored paper. Reality is so much more complicated than fantasy.

October 1, 2011
Chelmsford, MA