Friday, March 5, 2021

The Mask

 Behold, the Mask. (Not the best picture. It was still drying on a sheet of cardboard when I took this. But this is what he did.)



Well, that was a full day...

So, owing to some minor digestive issues I worked from home yesterday. And I spent most of it trying to troubleshot a weird issue on a test server, where something about the SSL setup seems to be causing parts of the application -- but not all of it! --to fail. 

Except that just before I got on a call to try to troubleshoot that, Secondborn came rushing out of his room to ask if I knew where his mask was. Well, all right: it was time for Art class, so clearly this would be the mask he'd been building for the last two weeks in art. It was... well, for starters it was not in his room. It was not in the living room. It was not in the kitchen, nor the back bedroom. It was, in fact, nowhere to be found. 

So I emailed his art teacher to explain that he really was looking for it and really couldn't find it and had enlisted my help, and that him not working on it was not a failure of motivation but rather a clear case of massive disorganization on our end. Somewhere in there I got in touch with Beautiful Wife, who was pretty sure that it had gotten thrown away when she cleared all the trash out from under his bed. 

Well, okay. I mean, not ideal, since I'd promised the art teacher that one way or another we'd get the project done last night. But we could work with this; we'd just have to redo what he'd done on the mask so far, and then add the next steps. So I went back and finished work. 

After work, I took Secondborn with me on a couple of errands (he wanted to buy some Pokemon cards and we were nearly out of milk) and then came back, ate dinner, and then finally we started on the mask again. Since we were doing it from scratch, I broke out the X-acto knife and did most (but not all) of the cutting. Secondborn sketched out the pieces we needed to cut, and then I went over them with various pieces of spray paint and we glued them in place. 

It went well and we got it done, but that took pretty much everything I had; there was no writing last night. But, well, that's how it goes: sometimes you finish the project, sometimes the project finishes you.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

The Story That Would

I think I have my opening scene. I haven't tried to write it out yet -- it literally came to me just as I was climbing into bed last night -- but I can see it, and if I can see it then I can usually find the words. Something like...

     Darian Silver stood at the edge of the airfield and wondered if he'd just made another big mistake. On the far side of the field, a massive beast nudged against the smooth stone spire of the only dock, its fins shifting in the air as it adjusted to keep the gondola on its belly level with the upper deck. Waves of color rippled across its flesh, contrasting with the lines of the harness that held the gondola in place. It seemed far too large to be floating in the air. The mandibles at the front of its head were large enough to rip to his house apart, and body was... he thought of old man Winterwood's dry goods shop in the village, but that was too small. He didn't have anything to compare this to.

     It was huge and wonderful and terrifying, and he was going to get into its gondola and let it carry him to the Academy.

     His father, perhaps sensing his mood, asked, "Are you sure you want to do this?" 

     Darian managed not to swallow, and said: "I still don't think I have a better choice." 

     His father nodded at that, then reached down and clasped his shoulder. Darian adjusted his pack. He was fourteen years old and leaving home for the first time, and he didn't know whether to be excited or sad or terrified. Apparently, in the face of such uncertainty, his brain had decided to go with all three.

So that, or something very like that, will be the start. The Hero's Journey can bite me; I'm going to skip the Ordinary World and the Call To Adventure, and leap straight to the point where Darian is making a final decision about moving out into the larger world. 

Also? Sleep is good. Sleep is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Challenge: My Greatest Weakness

For the last two years, I've been taking part in the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. I've had a great deal of fun with it, so naturally I'm continuing it this year. If you'd like to participate, follow that first link for the list of prompts, and then check the main site for the weekly post with links to everyone's responses (and add your own link, if you're so inclined). 

Today's prompt is "my greatest weakness".

Yeah. 

Um. Cowardice? Maybe? I mean, I do sometimes wonder if the reason I don't complete writing projects is simple cowardice -- if, more than just having a full-time job and a house with two growing boys, I don't get more writing done because (as various martial artists have also suggested over the years) You have to make it a priority, and I don't out of some sort of fear of failure. 

Except I don't really think that's fair, because I actually do have other priorities and they actually are important, also. And because back when I had less going on, I actually did finish the Great Unpublished Pulp Fantasy Novel and submit it in an actual attempt to get it published; and I have submitted short stories to various places as well, though not so much recently. 

So maybe not cowardice, or at least not something that can be summed up quite so succinctly. 

I definitely fail to read the room sometimes, especially when it comes to office politics, and that's definitely caused some issues here and there. There were several situations where, if I'd been paying attention and realized what was going on at the time, I could have done some things differently and my career would (probably) be further along, or at least paying better. Probably. But I don't know if that's so much a weakness as it is just a combination of undiagnosed ADHD and coming into the job from a nominally-similar job that actually had very different expectations. 

Letting myself get too tired. This one is a particular problem because when I get tired I tend to lean into it and try to keep getting things done anyway, which doesn't work too well and leaves me both more tired and with more things to do, so it quickly becomes a downward spiral until I finally look up, realize that I'm waaaaay more tired even than thought I was -- like, Do Not Operate Heavy Machinery tired -- and collapse. I'm working on this one, but it's definitely a recurring pattern. Of course, now that I've spent a week and half making sure that I get plenty of sleep and like that, I'm weirdly more tired -- or more aware of it -- than I was before. Less focused, certainly. 

So clearly even more rest is in order, here.

I don't know. I don't think any of us are very good at evaluating our own weaknesses; if we could, we'd probably do a better job of compensating for them and then they wouldn't be nearly as much of a weakness. 

(This is one of those prompts that's probably going to get a lot of "um... I'm not sure how to answer this?" responses, along with a number of people coming at it from interestingly different directions, so I'm really looking forward to see what everyone else comes up with. Leave your thoughts -- or a link to your thoughts -- in the comments, if you're so inclined!)

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Evil!Party: The Shifting Maze

 EvilParty is: 

Jenny: Human Barbarian, Does Not Do Puzzles.
Hatch: Halfling Arcane Trickster, rogue skills and empowered scorching rays.
Ramikin: Imp Familiar, wielder of the Wand of Grease, usually invisible.
Chuck: Human Sorcerer turned Vampire, always up to start something.
Durest: Dwarven Priest and Necromancer, travel and trickery.
Bob: Skeletal Frost Giant, Durest's companion/mount, and smacker of things with the Very Large Axe.

We're thousands of feet underground, navigating through ancient ruins that seem to be one giant set of mechanical puzzles and nasty constructs.

"There's all these dumbass metal bugs floating around, they're like lightning assholes or something. Crystals in cages, too, probably bad shit. Then there's this giant fucking... I don't want to say for sure, but it was a beholder guys. So, like, we're out right? We're done? Job complete." Thus does Chuck explain the next level after scouting ahead.

We make ready, and descend down the water-vator.

There are tiny lightning-bug constructs providing dim light across the massive room. We're standing on a bridge, which seem to form a sort of maze. At various points in the maze there are crystals on pedestals, trapped in metal cages. A beholder is orbiting the nearest one.

Chuck: "Is this your place? I want to bargain. I've been stuck down here a long time."

It doesn't respond.

Chuck. "All right, I see how it is." He leads off with an Empowered Scorching Ray.

That definitely gets it attention.

Jenny charges and lays into it with her chain, connecting solidly. Chuck shifts his position and zaps him again; the Beholder tries Charm Monster on Chuck, but fails; then it tries disintegrate. Chuck is partly dissolved, but doesn't die. It then tries to charm Jenny, fails, and then tries Finger of Death on her. She is injured but not killed; he tries to make her afraid, but that fails, too.

Durest gets petrified (because of course I failed that save). It then tries Inflict light wounds on Chuck, which... heals him, because he's a vampire. The beholder curses colorfully. It tries to put Jenny to sleep, and finally succeeds. It casts Slow on Chuck, and succeeds, then picks him up with Telekinesis and throws him off the edge.

Bob charges and buries his axe in the beholder. Hatch lets loose with empowered Scorching Ray, and basically immolates the thing.

They manage, despite the odds, to restore Durest to mobility.

They stagger forward, and start searching. And Hatch starts rooting around in the beholder corpse and finds a key inside it!

The pedestal has a keyhole. Chuck, looking it over, thinks this is come kind of control console. Hatch searches it for traps. He doesn't find any traps, but the mechanism clearly affects things way down below up. He turns the key, and the chunk of maze that we're standing on moves. A bit of experimentation indicates that the key can be used to move this section back and forth.

We move up to the next pedestal. There's a large safe sitting on a corner next to it. The pedestal is surrounded by metal body parts. Durest attempts to assemble the robot-construct-thing thing, but... well, I mean, it turns out that if you shove the head into place really hard, it'll stay as long as you don't move anything. "Och, Captain, I'm a necromancer -- not an artificer."

Hatch, meanwhile, is looking to break into the giant safe -- it's like 15' tall -- but the dial on the front is huge and high, so he calls Jenny The Barbarian over to help. Bob the Frost Giant skeleton lends a hand, and with Hatch guiding them they turn the dial back and forth. There's a satisfying *click* as the tumblers fall into place, but unfortunately even Bob isn't strong enough to turn the lever -- even with Jenny's considerable help.

Hatch uses Grease on the mechanism to try to loosen it up. Finally, barely, we manage to push the lever up and open the door.

Hanging inside, on a little chain, is another key.

We move to a central platform. There a hollow, metal craft that vaguely resembles a lobster or crab: legs, pincers, portholes, and a door on the bottom that irises closed; there's a button next to it. This is almost certainly the artifact that we were sent to fetch, only it's way too heavy to move.

Hatch presses the button. A voice from the artifact says: "Path not found. Maintaining hibernation."

We move on a bit, and find a pipe organ with a circle of tuning forks beside it. The forks are sensitive; they hum a bit in response to our voices. The organ, however, does not have music on it; doubtless we need to play something, but Chopsticks does not do it. 

We move to the edge of our current area and start dropping spells on the constructs across the way. Jenny is disappointed not to be part of the killing, but we assure the barbarian that she can have the tiny mechanical village to stomp on when we get over to that section of the maze. (Jenny's reply.)

We take out the lesser guardians, but the big one starts dropping spheres of force around us and then teleports into the sphere. Now we're in real trouble, because Jenny -- our heavy hitter -- is outside the sphere, and this large construct is in a position to flatten the squishy spellcasters.

This plan was not as good as it seemed.

It looses chain lightning, injuring all of us, and Durest teleports everbody back out of the sphere. Jenny comes around and Durest aligns her weapon to Chaos. She slaps the smack out of the thing with her spiked chain.

It dies, and we take its key.

Monday, March 1, 2021

The Story That Wouldn't

Long, busy weekend that... like, my boss's boss asked me how I was doing, and I had to stop and think about it... for about thirty seconds. Because, I mean, right now I honestly don't know how to answer that. Or I don't know how to answer that honestly. 

We had a week of minimal power and water, with everyone trapped in the house. Then we went straight back to work for another week. The sheer amount of dirty laundry in our house... well, I mean, that was most of my weekend. Everything I did this weekend, I did between washing, drying, and sorting loads of laundry. And dishes; dear ye immortal gods, the dishes. 

Beautiful Wife spent most of yesterday just sort of... collapsed and reading. She has things she needs to be doing for work, but there's some extended family drama that's causing a lot of stress -- and doesn't seem likely to resolve any time soon -- and I think she just needed a day of downtime. So I'm just basically trying to keep everything going and give her some room to recuperate. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly (given all that) last week was not a good week for writing. I tried to switch off the weird-dream, venture-out-of-the-citadel-and-across-the-strange-outside-world story and at least pull together an opening for the "Hogwarts for Monsters" and... I don't know, maybe that was a mistake. I know what I want to set up for, but when I tried to write out the setup it just... wouldn't come. I don't know if it's not ready yet, or if I would have had the same problem with the weird-dream project. Last week was exhausting in that "the crisis is past, but none of us have had a chance to recover" sort of way, so it could be either one. 

Writing takes energy. 

So my current strategy is basically the same as last week: get everybody down to bed, take a few minutes to calm my brain and look over story stuff, and then try to write the sorcery-school-for-monsters story. If that doesn't work, read the last couple of page of the weird-dream project and see if I can pick up from there. If that doesn't work, brush my teeth and go the hell to bed. I just need to remember to stick to the plan, and not stay up hoping things will shake loose when they clearly aren't. 

Also, keep doing laundry.


Friday, February 26, 2021

Music: By The Rivers Dark

 Leonard Cohen: 

This really feels (like so much of Leonard Cohen's work) as if it should be the seed of a story.