Friday, May 31, 2019

Man-made Writers’ Block

In case you haven’t heard, my debut novel Western Terminus is now available at Amazon through the link in the sidebar there. Very good reviews. You’re going to love it. I put the final edits to it in Feb 2019 and here we are in June almost (!) and there’s been very little movement on the next installment of this Eli Tucker series, titled The Fixed Element. I’ve got about 6500 words in the can, and I want the book to run about 65-70k, which would be just under 300 pages.

The story picks up after Christmas in the early spring, maybe just before tax time. Eli’s FBI relationships are easy to follow up on because he’s still with the Bureau, so that’s good. I introduce a new interesting character who will help him through the first part of the story due to his connections. I introduce one of the two antagonists for the book very quickly too. 

But something has been holding me up: the location. Both sets of antagonists are in the Tucson-Phoenix corridor, outside of Cochise county. Jim Funk and Heather Hill, both of whom are important people in his life, are based in Cochise County and for whatever reason are unlikely to come into Tucson and Phoenix. So setting the action in these cities meant I could not for the life of me figure out how to weave them in. 

Sure I could write separate subplots for them (and Harold) but that would leave the book disjointed. There’s already an A reel and a B reel, so adding C, D and E etc. will make it a different kind of book. No longer a thriller, really. Thrillers have to move fast. 

So no dice.

And herein lies the writer’s block.

Of course the answer is obvious. Sometimes my natural dumbness overcomes obvious solutions. That’s how strong my dumbness can be. The answer is to move the main antagonist from southeast Tucson, where I had planted them, over to Cochise. Cochise isn’t very populated but there are enough dots on the map that I can squeeze this antagonist in. In fact, it’ll be even more threatening and dire in a smaller community. 

That’s the next thing. I’m going to go back and pick up the whole scene and move it to Cochise. Then Jim Funk and Gabe Rodriguez and Heather and even maybe Ellen can work in easier. Probably not Ellen, but her situation is the focus of the B plot so I’m not as worried about it. 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Transuranic Man

The Atomic Age dawned upon Mankind with the promise of cheap, unlimited energy. Enough energy to raise everyone in Creation out of poverty. The power to send us to the stars.

Largely, this vision has come true. We have seen the atom light up a city. We have seen it end a war.

In 1957, the reds beat us into space. Sputnik crossed over America at the edge of forever. We had been beaten. But we were not going to stay beaten.

The year is 1961. I’m 32 years old. A Lieutenant Colonel in the new US Air Force. We were testing the X-49, an experimental nuclear fighter/bomber which could fly forever without needing to refuel. Its envelope was like nothing else at the time. The airframe went on to be the basis of the SR-71. Let me tell you, it was a hell of a ride.

Second test flight. I was at 160,000 feet traveling at Mach 3.3 – past the official edge of space. I was earning my astronaut wings. We had a little glitch so I went back to lock it down. I looked down for a soldering iron, and that’s the last thing I ever saw.

An instant later it’s 1990. Another instant, it’s 2004. Then it’s 2011. And then I landed back in reality in the year 2019. Somehow I’d been thrown skipping through time, like a smooth stone across a placid lake back in Vermont during the Depression. I’m still 32.

Worse yet, I had been stripped of my body and placed in… this. Pure white, nearly featureless. Little on the tall side, but basically the same shape I was before all this. The boys in the back say it’s a quantum rip in spacetime. Looking at me is seeing the sixth dimension. The shrinks say that only through my determination to land that bird did I make it through complete nuclear disintegration, having existed momentarily at the heart of a star.

We think of time as linear. Like, we’re an ant on a narrow little conveyor belt moving all in one direction at one speed. Time dilation is like that ant running backwards as fast as he can. He can slow down the progress, but it’s a one-way trip.

But the truth is, time is a three-dimensional manifold in four-space. Or, perhaps, four-time. I don’t know. It’s hard to describe. When I am hit by a particularly powerful energy surge such as from a thermonuclear explosion, I’m thrown up into the third dimension of time. From my point of view, it’s null time. Literally, zero time passes. But when I come down, I come down in the future, at a distance proportional to the energy I absorb.

How do you explain what you experience in literally zero time? How does the human mind process it? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just my imagination filling in the details of the unimaginable.

Time also stretches east and west, as it were. We call that parallel universes, or different timelines. The drunks who write space pulp stories for kids have a better grasp on it than our top scientists, to tell the truth. We’re in one of those alternate timelines. Oh, it’s close to ours. All the same big events and all the same historical figures. Jackie Robinson was still the first colored in baseball and America still invaded Vietnam. But little things are different. Ike had a different VP for his second term and it was Bill Haley who died in that plane crash a few years back instead of Buddy Holly. But as I’d predicted, the television is a fad and everyone uses the international digital computing network to look at their programs now, marijuana reefer cigarettes overtook good old Connecticut tobacco, and basketball became popular among the inner city youth.

I’m sure I’ll skip ahead again.

I do want to go home some day and let everyone know I didn’t really die in that detonation. But most of all, I just want my face back.  

Sunday, April 28, 2019


Just as he was walking up to Interview, the lady detective who was in there walked out shaking her head. As she walked by she said to Elias, “Maybe take a run at him. I don’t think I’m going to get the confession.” She didn’t stop. Just kept walking out to the bullpen. Elias watched her go. She was wearing brown slacks and a tan blouse with her badge on a lanyard around her neck. Her holster was empty.

Elias breathed slow, picked up his brown briefcase, and turned the knob.

“Hello, Mr. Schroeder. My name is Elias Tucker and I am a Special Agent from the FBI. The detective said that you got the best of her. That true?” He sat and smiled and put his case down. Just as Fletcher was about to talk, Elias interrupted. “Oh—sorry, just a second.” He turned around and unplugged the single CCTV camera that covered the whole room, and sat down again. “Bureau says we don’t need the recordings, so…” Elias smiled again, a little uncomfortable.

Fletch Schroeder was all angles. Sinew like a bowstring pulled tight up and down. He didn’t have his belt or any jewelry at this point. He wore a white ribbed tank top, faded jeans and flip flops. His left wrist was handcuffed to a railing on the metal table put there just for the purpose.

“These locusts. The screws, the shrinks, the shysters, the fags in pussy hats. Politicians. Hacks. They’d all like you to believe that everything is made. Like, made by culture. That we’re endlessly changeable.

Because that means they can remake the world in their image.” He stopped to let a gob of spit drip from his mouth to the table. Slow like a movie monster.

“But that ain’t so. We ain’t endlessly changeable. There’s such a thing as human nature. We weren’t made by society. We made it and He made us.

“And let me tell you mister, no matter what you do, Mother Nature will always be the biggest, baddest bitch on the block. She’ll be here when the White House ain’t even a memory in the brains of whatever comes from us. From us, not you, Tucker. Not you. Chimps have no future.”

Fletch leaned back in the metal chair, back on two legs, as far as he could handcuffed to the table like that. He looked at the ceiling. Like he was counting the holes. And then he said with resignation, “That’s Mother Fucking Nature.”

Suddenly he shot forward, slamming the front two legs of the metal chair against the hard tile floor, and hitting his hands flat against the metal table all at once. Bam! It surprised Elias and he startled a little. Fletch smiled at his reaction and continued to talk.

“Man is a part of Nature. That means that no matter what we do, Mankind will always be, at heart, the same. A man can be changed. Mankind can’t. We have a nature. There will always be evil. There will always be chaos. There will always be men who live to see everything burn; live to die. That’s the fixed element, Tucker. That’s us. That’s the Schroeders. You cain’t stop us. You cain’t change us. We’re gonna see it all burn. We’re gonna see you burn, Tucker. You and your filthy, dumpy monkey-ass handlers at the monkey ass FBI.”

He stretched around to face the mirrored glass behind him and raised his voice. “Now I’m done. Do what you want to, I’m not talkin’ to no monkey ass fed anymore.”

Having made his point, he turned back to Elias and shot laser beams into him. Fletch Schroeder smoldered.

Elias didn’t move. He sat, head cocked to the left a little, and breathed easy. He looked at Fletcher like he was the Friday New York Times crossword. He stroked his chin.

A minute passed. Fletcher was getting tired of holding his face in a contorted mask of rage. He squirmed a little in his seat.

Another minute. They were quiet enough to hear the hum of the fluorescents. Fletcher let his shoulders drop. It was tiring, holding that posture of rage.

Elias halfway closed his eyes. Like he was listening to something inside himself. “You love your kid brother Duke?” Asked Elias.

He could see the hamster wheel turning in Fletcher’s head. Fletcher’s visage turned almost imperceptibly from rage to suspicion. “What’s that got to do with anything?” He asked, slowly.

“He look up to you?”

Fletcher shrugged a little. “I don’t know. Yeah, I guess. I don’t know.”

“He ever imitate you? Like, see you doing something and he does the same thing? Because I have a sister back east, and when we were little she was always imitating me.” Elias smiled and laughed a little. He leaned forward.

“Yeah. Sometimes. Why?”

“That’s how people learn. They learn by watching people and doing what they do.”

“So what?”

“So, when there’s a person comes after you Fletcher, and you love that person, it makes you want to do the right thing to show them right from wrong. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“Duke ain’t learned nothing from me,” he said. He pulled his free arm into his lap and turned to the side in resignation. It made it so he was kind of hugging himself, with the arm across his chest handcuffed like that.

“Hmm,” said Elias.

“Never,” repeated Fletcher. “All he knows he learned from the old man.”

“I could see that. Your old man is pretty strict. He runs a tight ship.”

Fletcher looked down into his lap. His back was bowed some. “I ain’t gonna cross him. I didn’t ever and I won’t now. Nothing you can do to me’s worse than what he could do.”

“Nah,” said Elias. “I won’t cast aspersions on your family. Especially not a man’s own father.

“But see, a building burned down. Police scientists say they’re sure it’s arson. Here, let me show you this.”

He pulled a manila folder out of his briefcase and opened it up. He turned to the forensic report where it showed evidence of accelerants used. He turned it around and pushed it to Fletcher.

“See here, it shows they know it was something from your shop. Your garage where you build your burners.” It didn’t say that, but Elias played a hunch that Fletcher wouldn’t know that.

Fletcher turned his neck to look, but kept his body turned away. He was like a twisted old tree with gnarly branches all tangled up together.

“So that means I have to put at least one of the Schroeder men in front of a judge and say to the judge that we think he did it. And then show the judge this evidence.”

Fletcher turned away and bent over at the neck and shoulders. He looked down into his lap real hard. His face was turning red.

“Fletch, they don’t care who gets done for this crime. The FBI wants to mark this down as a win and they don’t care who gets hurt in the process. I have no choice in that. All I can do is hopefully make sure nobody innocent goes to jail. You, your brothers, your father. Maybe Duke, I don’t know. That’s… that’s up to you now.”

Fletcher straightened most of the way up again and turned back to Elias. “How’s it up to me?”

“Well, the way I see it, either you can finger one of your kin and maybe see them go to jail for a long time.”

“Or else what?”

“Or you can write down what you did and I’ll take it to the judge and tell him you are a right guy. That I think you can be rehabilitated. I don’t know, but I would sure be in your corner if you could do that. And it would protect Duke too. He wouldn’t have to go through all this.”

Fletcher looked down and around and shook his head like he was dizzy. Then he said, “I want a deal.”

Elias took a moment to make it look like he was thinking. “Okay. Tell you what. I’m going to get a paper and pen for you and then I’ll talk to the court people and see what they will offer you. But in the meantime it’s important for you to write down what happened. As a sign of good faith.”

Fletcher nodded. He wanted the deal.

Elias mirrored him and nodded. He got up and went into the hallway.

Jim was there with the detective and the assistant district attorney.

“No loss of life,” said the young Hispanic woman from the DA’s office. “Five to fifteen with chance of parole in three.”

Jim and Elias looked at one another. Jim said, “That’s more like three to five with good behavior.”

Elias nodded. “My part’s done. You can have him.” He went and got a drink from the gray metal water fountain.

Jim and the woman talked a little more. Elias went back in.

“Oh, man, I got some good news from the court people!” he said.

“Yeah? What’s that?” Asked Fletcher.

“Well,” said Elias, looking over Fletcher’s confession, “Long as your part’s all in order, they don’t want a court case at all. Just tell the judge what you did. Here. Sign this at the bottom and put the date, ok?”

Fletcher was in holding at the precinct overnight before they took him to the county lockup over in Bisbee.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Western Terminus - Available Now!

I'm so happy to tell you that my debut novel is now available! 

It's called Western Terminus. It's a modern-day thriller with a government conspiracy, lots of disappearances, dead politicians, medical breakthroughs, sneaking around, a gunfight and two pretty girls. You're just going to love it, believe me. Even the cover is amazing.

Due to the vagaries of the publishing industry, you can get your physical copy shipped immediately but the Kindle version will be available for download starting April 30th. If you don't have a Kindle, you can read the digital version on any device. 

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Robert Bluetooth and the Theology of Frigga

My role in our campaign is the guy who dies a lot. Not that I actually die a lot, but my characters die more often by far than the next guy along. There are three adult and three minor-age players in the game and the DM makes a point of focusing the stories on the kids. I think that’s a good idea.

About the deaths, I’m cool  with it. It’s like playing the special guest star. It’s good to try out different classes and different personalities and ways to approach situations. I can teach the newbies different tactics and strategies that way.

When I was handed the kernel of an idea for my latest guy, we knew he was a cleric and they found him digging latrines for a refugee camp. He was the toilet cleric.

So what do you do with a toilet cleric?

It’s been established in this campaign world that at least some of the gods are the Norse gods. Whether you’re dwarf or man or elf, you might have allegiance to one or another of the Norse gods.

So which Norse god would be the god of latrines?

I looked over several lists of gods, demigods and giants and it seemed most likely that my cleric venerates Frigga. She is the wife of Odin and the goddess of hearth and home. (Norse gods are not worshiped like Christians might worship, but rather venerated and paid homage to in a more purely-ritualistic way.) And I have played with this cleric to Frigga for several sessions now.

He is Lawful Neutral. He is into control and orderliness. His favorite spell is Hold Person, because it negates some enemies without having to fight. Additionally, once a person is held, it’s possible to negotiate from a position of greater strength.

So I’ve done a lot of thinking about this cleric and his theology. There is no real theology to speak of in Norse history. They have a cosmogony – a story of the beginning, middle and end of the gods – and possible rebirth, along with a structure for Existence. But there’s not a lot of theory to go along with it. I feel comfortable inventing my own.

My cleric’s name is Robert Bluetooth, named after Harald Bluetooth Gormsson, who was the king of Norway and Denmark in the 10th century. “Bluetooth” in this case refers to his clean white teeth that look bluish.

When already a middle-aged man nearing the sunset of military age, Bluetooth was on a walk in the woods collecting pine cones. There he encountered a lesser outsider – we would call it a hound archon. The outsider charged Bluetooth to go on a pilgrimage to the mountains and to meet with Frigga herself in her winter palace. Bluetooth was moved by this encounter with the otherworldly but initially refused. So he was visited by a lantern archon, a more powerful outsider. Only then did he begin the trek up the mountain.

It took nearly a month. He climbed from one village to the next. Scathi, the giantess who controls the snow, played tricks on him most of the way, but he persevered. Three days’ climb out from the very last village, he finally came upon Frigga’s winter palace. Lacking any evidence that he was expected, he parleyed with the giant at the gate and was eventually allowed in.

Within, he was received by Frigga. She was twenty feet tall and gloriously beautiful. Upon a great feast of ambrosia and mead, she explained to him that Surtur was coming for the people of the realm and that he was bringing the dark elf armies to plague the lands. It was important for men to put aside their material concerns in the face of the coming conflict.

“Surtur wishes to expand his domain. He wishes to control all of Midgard. And in so doing, remake it in his image. He believes he can create the perfect army from the ashes of the world.”

“Why can’t you stop him?” Bluetooth foolishly asked. “You are the goddess and he is merely a giant.”

Frigga smiled motherly. “Gods love and hate and rage and fight. We sing and feast and mourn, just as men do. Giants do the same, but they are not eternal. They can die in times before the Great War at the End of Time. But what we cannot do is enter into the world without your permission. We cannot make you love us, and we cannot force our way into your realm.”

“I didn’t know that,” said Bluetooth.

“The task of Men is to leave their neutral bent. They must choose up sides. For Creation is not neutral, even if the children of the four elements are often so. I’ve called you here to beg you to join the side of order. For if you do, I may then join with you.”

“Why me, goddess?”

“Believe me, you were not my first choice. And you won’t be my last,” she said cryptically.

She explained to him then that there is rationality, an eternal spirit. It has siblings as well: hatred, hunger and thirst, competition, lust, love, wrath and inquiry among other things. And each god has one or more of these in his portfolio. “This is why the gods can be eternal, for these ideals are indestructible. And it is why you mortals are our playthings: you are controlled by these base instincts in whole or part. Have you not been so controlled at times?”

“I have, goddess.”

“Not because you are bad, but because you are mortal.”

“Rationality is an eternal spirit. It is indivisible and indestructible. It is my purview and my animating force – my logos, my cause. But it only exists, my son. It does not act. The logos must be enacted by mortals. The cause must be put into action by you, and men like you.”

“But how? Will I be consigned to the cloisters and to poverty to think great thoughts for the rest of my days? Frankly that sounds boring, goddess.”

“Not at all. Cloistering yourself against the realm may allow you to master yourself, but it will do nothing to destroy Surtur. Remember, this is the goal – to preserve Midgard against the predations of the fire giant king. To allow rationality to go from idea and ideal to affect, it requires mortals to make sacrifice of themselves.”

“I have always made appropriate offerings to you and the other gods. This you know,” he said with some indignance extant.

“I don’t mean incense, figurines and the milk of goats. I mean that you must give a part of your soul to me. And in exchange I will infuse you with great magic with which to change the world.”

Bluetooth chewed some fat set in the fowl he ate with his bare hands. “My time upon the realm of Midgard draws to a close in less perhaps than half a score of years. Hel walks close. What have I now to lose? Valhalla? I’d rather serve at Frigga’s side, per truth, than feast with younger men for all the rest of time.”

And Bluetooth well agreed, and Frigga made him up into her champion – a cleric given over to the goddess.

Frigga is above all things a Lawful goddess. To master Frigga’s faith is to master one’s mind. This means always telling the truth, no matter how it hurts you to do it. It means to keep yourself from strong emotions to the best of your ability, and to never act from rage, or worse, from lust. But the mind is most mercurial. So the clerics of Frigga start literally by putting their houses in order.

This means keeping every campsite tidy. It means perfecting hygiene. It means to treat the sick and cultivate the land in ways amenable to Men. It means the faithful will build houses for the poor, and work as woodwrights, stonewrights, chefs. They build and civilize. And it means avoiding bloodshed when it’s possible, especially among the people of the common kinds – hence, why this Bluetooth uses Hold Person rather than flashier kinds of magic spells when he can.

Frigga’s magic has kept this cleric, Bluetooth, and his health’s improved as well. Perhaps he’ll have a score of years to go before he meets with Hel.

But not if Surtur hand his dark elf armies have their say.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Blackmoor's Favor and Stones of the Ancients

Tin Jin the Bandit King thanked the fellowship for their service in slaying the septarch and returning the golems' hearts to him. "Promised to you I did some token equal to your valor. Tin Jin deliver to you." They hadn't had a choice in the matter. Not really. It was fight the septarch or fight 299 wild and bloodthirsty bandits on their own turf.

He pulled a red velvet sack from a foot locker and put it gingerly on the table. What could be inside? Bars of Platinum? Rubies? Some strange potions? 

He carefully upended and emptied the bag. There on the table tumbled out four stones of glass, about the size of a bar of soap, with glyphs carved intricately on one side. There was one each in red, gold, green and blue.

"Read the glyphs upon these stones. Venerate the ancients they named: Zagyg, Braunstein, Blackmoor and Og. They will give you a boon for as long as you carry them, but you must make the prayer each morning or the magic is lost to you for the day."

The fellows each picked up a gem. They read the inscriptions solemnly aloud, and for a brief moment, each was surrounded by a dark force field that manifested with a sound like a bat's screech; then the force fields faded.

"That's it?" Said Robert Bluetooth, with disappointment. "It only lasted but a moment."

Tin Jin smiled with a twinkle in his eye. "The dweomercraft last all day. Invisible and waiting to turn away blades of foes."

Stone of the Ancients: wt 10 cn. Value 2,500 GP

When venerated in the morning and carried on your person, this stone grants a 1 point deflection bonus to Armor Class and a 1 point bonus to all Saving Throws. It is as heavy as glass and fragile, so wise adventurers will wrap it in their bedrolls or similar for protection.

"Tonight we feast. Three kinds meat! Tomorrow we hold joust: you put armor up against our fresh horses and supplies. Then you go and never come back to the realm of Bandit King."

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Spice Up Your Random Magic Items

When your party finds a useful item in treasure, it is fun to describe it. But it's hard for most people to think of interesting adornments off the top of their head. If you are one of those people like I am, these tables can help.

When you place or randomly generate an item, look at the category and roll d100. If the number has no material next to it, use the material above it. Use that material as inspiration for what kind of special feature or adornment that item has on it. Maybe the item is made from that material. maybe it has decorations in that material or is set with it.

I left out wondrous items because their descriptions are pretty specific.

Here is an example of what's in the tables:

Click to enlargify

There's also a list of all the materials I used to make up the lists in case you want to fiddle with them or make a list for something else, like statues or golems. The materials I used largely come from the old MMO Asheron's Call in case you're wondering.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Monday, March 11, 2019

Monster Notes

Not a whole post. Just a few notes. Inspired by Becoming Orcish earlier in the week.

Consider changing around other fantasy races just a little bit.

Zombies are killed by salt. Regular folk beset by zombies can use fire and holy water of course, but salt dries them right out and ruins them. Likewise, mummies crumple like wet paper when they are drenched by clean water.

Gnoles are the evil children of Gnomes and Trolls. They look like humanoid orangutans, live in trees, covet rubies, and like to eat wayward children.

Kobolds are little blue humanoids who live in the walls of peoples' cottages. They wear clothes much like people do, except they're in shades of blue. They go to work and tend their kitchens just like people do. The men are expert miners and the women are expert cooks. If you treat them well they bring good fortune and if you treat them badly, they cause mischief.

The little kobold men consider everything a complicated engineering and construction problem. They will always make the most complicated solutions to problems they can come up with. 

This is why dungeons are like mazes – kobold miners can’t seem to just dig straight for the ore.

Little things make a huge difference.

The Next Novel Update

I know the theme and the premise and the A plot and the title of the next book and I'm going to start writing in earnest on April 1, but not all of the characters are showing up yet. It's like, I'm going to have to start writing before I find out who wants to be in the book.

There's Eli of course, and the B plot is going to focus on Ellen and Gail and campus politics and a potential international incident. So those are set. I also have a main antagonist for the B plot based on Sepp Blatter or maybe an evil Poirot.

There's a new sidekick whose name is Goldberg or maybe Epstein who is a Brooklyn kid who moved out to Arizona a while back and he's going to be a guide and a foil for the first part of the book and end up murdered. He's going to fill in some of the local color but also help navigate the court and prison system for the reader.

But then I have this family of just really horrible crazy people and I'm drawing a total blank on them. I think they should all have really blond hair and eyebrows. And they're all just terribly damaged humans. I know some of the key plot points. But I don't know how to make the crime spree escalate.