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StoryForge Cards

Earlier this year, I learned about something called StoryForge. The easiest way to think of it is as what it essentially is: tarot cards for writers.

I wanted them badly because I had some problems I thought maybe they would help me work through.

Unfortunately, StoryForge Cards were, at that time, merely a dream in the mind of the creator. He had a KickStarter campaign to raise enough money to do a run of cards. Without hesitation, I pledged $25. At the end of his allotted KickStarter time, if he had enough pledges to make up the entire amount of money he was asking for, I would be billed along with all his other supporters. And a short time after that, I would receive a deck of StoryForge Cards in the mail.

Let me pause here to give you a wee bit of history and a painfully brief explanation of tarot.

Tarot cards have an ancient history dating back hundreds of years. Originally used as any other kind of card deck, for playing games. Later, people started to use it for "mystical" reasons. The structure of the Tarot deck was four suits of Minor Arcana: swords, wands, coins, and cups. Later, it became swords, staves, pentacles, and cups.

Either way, there were 14 of each suit, ranging from the one (ace) to the ten, plus four ‘face’ cards: jack/page, knight, queen, and king. So far, it basically sounds like a normal deck of cards with an extra face card (the knight).

But in addition to these 56 cards there were the Major Arcana, another 22 cards that were added to the deck specifically for their mystical symbolism. They had no suits and names like The Magician, The Empress, Death, The Hanged Man, and The Fool.

It was believed that by shuffling the deck while concentrating on a question, the cards could be flipped face-up in a certain pattern and the cards that occupied each space in the pattern determined your fate. Of course, it was all open to a lot of speculation. All the cards had two "interpretations" – one for when they were dealt upright and one for when they were dealt inverted (upside-down). Generally, people get out of it what they want to get out of it, which to me is the entire point.

I never believed in any of the mystical symbolism or the occult nature of the cards. But they’re a great way to work through what might be bothering you. You lay out the cards in the pattern and as you try to find symbolic meaning in what the Seven of Wands or The Heirophant means when it "crosses you," you can gain insight into what might be bugging you by what your mind seizes on as a likely match. "The Seven of Wands represents being under siege . . . and yesterday at work, Frank told me he thought my plan for the budget for FY 2013 was naïve! How do the cards know!"

So that brings us to the StoryForge Deck. He got his funding and then some. After a few problems with the printer, I finally received my cards a few weeks ago.

It, too, has suits. Five of them. There are 14 each in the four suits of Wealth, Will, Emotion, and Identity, and then 22 more in the suit of Destiny. So in a real sense, you could equate Wealth with Pentacles/Coins, Will with Swords, Emotion with Cups, and Identity with Wands/Staves. (I just randomly assigned the other three. Maybe you could tell.) And that leaves Destiny to fill in the role of the Major Arcana.

Each card contains two concepts, one positive and one negative. If the card is upright, the positive meaning is taken. If it’s inverted, the negative meaning is taken. A short description of each is provided on the card.

As with tarot, there are layouts, such as "Character Background," "Film Noir," "Love Story," and "Train Wreck." Each of them contains a number of cards selected for each element of the layout.

Right out of the box, I decided to give it a try by fleshing out the background of one of my minor characters in a novel I’m working on in an urban fantasy set in Atlanta, but magic works. The character’s name is Yvonne Hanson, and she’s a psychologist who is also a profiler for the FBI. She doesn’t know it, yet, but she’s destined to have a fling with my main character. But all I knew about her was what you see above. I couldn’t get a feel for who she is.

So I sorted the cards until I was satisfied they were randomized both in order and orientation.

For the Mother position, I cast Health. Okay, that’s general enough. For the Father position, I cast The Dilemma. Again, that could go pretty much anywhere. I kept going.

The Strength of Their Relationship: WealthWell, that seems like a bad idea, but maybe I’ll be able to fit it in . . .

Problems Between Them: DefeatClearly, something goes horribly awry. But what?

Circumstances of Yvonne’s Birth: MarriageHmm. It’s a cliché probably as old as time itself, but it does still happen.

So far, nothing was coalescing. But there are a lot more cards to cast.

Complications of Yvonne’s Birth: Aversion – And this is where I got the glimmer. I had imagined Dr. Hanson as a normal character—one who does not possess any magical ability. But if that’s the case, why send her out on assignments to profile criminals using magic? It makes more sense if she is also magical. So . . .

Her dad is one of those people who, for whatever reason, can’t stand people with magic. (Like some can’t stand people of other races or sexual orientations.) And the thought that his own flesh and blood could be one of them . . .

At first they didn’t notice anything. Little Yvonne (named after her paternal grandmother) was a happy, normal child, but at around age 5 or so, she started knowing things she couldn’t possibly know. They took her in for testing, and she came up positive. She’s a psion, fairly weak, but able to sense emotions and strong surface thoughts.

Well, Dad couldn’t handle it. And little Yvonne could sense that he was more than just uncomfortable around her, and she would cry whenever he was around.

So he left. And that ties in to Defeat being the problem between them: he wanted normal children, he got a freak of nature.

The Universe’s Influence on Yvonne: Confession – Well, that plays right in! She’s an empath. Nothing is a secret from such a child, at least on some level. Imagine being asked by your darling 6-year-old girl if Santa is coming on Christmas, and having her feel the lie if you try to hide the truth. So they never hid anything from her.

Early Strengths: The Captive – Now, here we have what to me is one of the strengths of using the deck. We have here a strength or a positive attribute of the character, but what came up was a negative or inverted card. So how can I turn this negative into a positive?1 By forcing me to think along a path I would not otherwise have gone down, I get something surprising.

As a child, she was only ever around people who accepted her difference and loved her unquestioningly. She was sheltered and protected from the negative influences in the world. After her Dad left, that is. She never had to experience hatred and fear while she was untrained and unable to block out other people. She had a private tutor and was home schooled until she was able to erect strong mental wards.

Early Weaknesses: The Counselor – And here’s the flip-side of the coin: a negative attribute indicated by a positive card. Again, not a direction I would have gone had I come up with all this without any prompting.

Because of her ability, she knows people’s traumas intimately. She becomes too emotionally involved in other people’s problems, wanting to fix them from an early age "so the hurt will stop."

Education: The Mentor – Well, I mentioned earlier that she was homeschooled and had a private tutor. But let’s take this a step further. Say when she eventually goes to college—to study psychology, of course—she encounters a psychology professor who is, herself, psionic. She develops a fast friendship with this professor, and becomes her mentee. (Yes, it’s a real word; look it up.) Yvonne’s abilities are fairly weak, but this professor/mentor helps her maximize what she has.

Belief Foundation: The Black Sheep – Well, that couldn’t have been more tailor-made if I’d selected it out of the deck on purpose. Since Yvonne is literally held in suspicion, even by her own father, and actively shunned by people at all levels of society, this is a large "Duh."

Life Experience: Order – Hm. Okay, Yvonne’s neat and orderly in her life because . . . all around her is the chaos of other people’s feelings and problems. The only thing she has any control over is her space, so it’s meticulously clean to the point of OCD. A useful little quirk I can play with from time to time. Nick’s a slob. :)

Recent Shaping Experience: Delusion – Because of some early successes in her career in the FBI, she develops too much confidence in her own abilities. It’s caused her to believe that she’s infallible. And we all know what happens when someone believes in their own self-delusion, don’t we?

Scarring Experience: Infamy – Ruby Ridge. Waco. These are place names that any self-respecting FBI agent would cringe upon hearing. Unfortunately, when Yvonne failed, she failed big and some people died because her profile was way off and her own team bought into her "infallible" delusion. He wasn’t caught when he could have been, and as a result, several more people died. The press, of course, picked this up and absolutely vilified her.

And finally, State of the Character at the Beginning of the Story: The Mirror – Everything above leads inexorably to this point: she’s unsure of herself, now, having discovered that she’s not a superwoman. Her world-view is upended. She’s no longer sure of her own abilities. Top this off with the fact that her mentor has just died, so she has no one to turn to that she trusts. She’s having to examine her own motivations and abilities for the first time in a long while. And along comes Nick . . .

At this point, the first few things don’t matter, but if I need them, I can fill them in. Perhaps the mother was very ill and her father was either a friend who supported her and it turned into romance . . . or he was her doctor that saved her life. Perhaps the dilemma was whether he chooses to stay with his current family? Leaving his practice to move with her? And the wealth could be one or the other of them getting lucrative work or an inheritance that helps to seal the deal. But I’m not married to any of that, and I can leave it open, or just ignore it. Perhaps Yvonne’s mother is still around and will come into the book series at some point. Then I can flesh her out.

Anyway, I just thought it would be interesting to go through a layout from start to finish and see how I made it all work and tie in together. Not all of it was in that order. Some of it happened all at once after I cast the cards and saw a pattern among them.

And now I have a much deeper understanding of who Yvonne Hanson is, what makes her tick, and how she might react to various events within the story. All thanks to 15 cards and some "forced" creativity. (It wasn’t forced; I was merely coaxed to think outside the box.)

And hey, maybe Dad had more kids and she has half-brothers and sisters out there. Or maybe Mom remarried and she has some on that side. The possibilities are open and ready to be solidified if I need them. This entire profile will get expanded upon as I go, and some stuff will probably fall by the wayside, and some other stuff will fill in the cracks.


  1. I could literally have just flipped the card upside-down and gone with "The Stranded" instead, but that was too easy. :)

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Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream

Pressure Guages by wwarby, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  wwarby 

A few days ago, a friend—actually, two separate friends who don’t know each other—sent me links to two different articles on how the human body reacts when exposed to the vacuum of space without the benefit of a space suit.

I have strange friends. Or, reworded: I have friends who know me, perhaps, all too well.

So I read these two articles and filed them away for future reference in case I might need to know for some future writing project.

Apparently, something about the articles got into my head and stuck there. And swirled around for several days.

Then, last night, my brain supplied me with a truly lovely dream. Really.

I was on a space station with a bunch of people. Some of them are co-workers of mine, some are friends, some are writer-friends, others were “extras”. What gamers would call NPCs.

And this space station—or perhaps it was a space ship a la “Star Gate: Universe”—was traveling along merrily until . . . you guessed it, explosive decompression. Basically a slow leak.

But this is a dream world. So in my dream world, the “slow leak” resulted in me and others being able to stand, sans space suits, in corridors that were open to the vacuum of space as gale-force winds blew past us into the void. Never mind that, were this to actually happen, the air supply on the ship/station would be expelled in toto and those of us standing in the corridor would have soon also been attempting to breathe vacuum.

So I watched as, one by one, my friends, co-workers, and fellow writers were blown (not sucked; the articles were clear on that point) into the vacuum.

And, thanks to those articles, my dreaming brain knew precisely what to show me as each of them died. A puff of frozen breath as the lungs forcibly expelled the last breath, then started to draw oxygen out of the blood. The icing over of the mucus membranes: the nose, eyes, and mouth. Saliva boiling on the tongue. The skin turning blue with bruises. The dawning horror as they realized what was happening to them. The unconsciousness in maybe fifteen to twenty seconds. The seizures. And finally, the stillness as the body slowly releases its heat while the heart still continues to beat deoxygenated blood to the starving brain for a while. All in all, not a very pleasant way to die. But at least it’s over quickly.

Sometimes, it really sucks to have both an imagination and a desire for scientific accuracy in one’s science fiction.

At several points during the dream, I woke up to turn over, and then went right back to the dream. During all this death and decompression, the ship was literally breaking apart. But at one point, me and some friends went to the mess hall (cafeteria) to have a nice, leisurely meal . . . while the air gushed out of the hull breaches.

A very strange dream. Finally, I was able to take control and lucid dream a rescue before everyone died.

And then the alarm went off and NPR regaled me with stories about the recent shooting in Colorado.

Hello, Monday.

In other news, don’t be surprised if this shows up in a story at some point. :)

shadow target riddled by bullets  ◄─ by quapan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  quapan 

I’ve been writing this Fairy Tale Private Eye story for a couple of weeks, now. There’s a lot of stories to pull ideas from, as well as finding fun little tidbits to throw in (such as Snow White being CEO of the Magic Mirror Network, on which one of the shows is Fairy Idol). I’ve been having a lot of fun with it, but as part of the “research” process, I’ve been reading the original Grimm’s fairy tales I’m referencing.

Have y’all ever read the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales?

I read them years ago. I have a two-volume paperback collection of them. I’m not sure which edition it is (they modified the stories themselves with each publishing). But I remember reading it and being . . . I believe the phrase is “taken aback.” The stories are pretty . . . well, grim. (HA HA ME MAKE PUN!)

Since Snow White is one of the characters, I read the story. In the Disney versions of all the “Princess” stories, the princesses themselves are generally shown to be about sixteen years old. I guess to avoid the very thing I’m about to mention.

In the original story of Snow White, she was seven years old when she surpassed her wicked, vain stepmother in beauty. She was seven when the evil queen sent her out to be murdered. Seven when she was turned loose into the forest. Seven when she discovered the little house with the seven little dwarfs.

And she was still seven when the queen tried three times to kill her, succeeding only with the last attempt.

In other words, princess Snow White was seven years old when she was laid to rest in the coffin, and lay there for a “very, very long time” before a “young prince” happened by, fell in love with the um, corpse, and decided that he absolutely must have it because he could not live without it.

Are you getting the little prickle on the back of your neck, yet? So far we have filicide and necrophilia and a parade of other nice traits like vanity, jealousy, and obsession.

Now, to my point. When the bite of apple that Snow White had bitten from the poisoned half of the apple was dislodged from her throat, she awoke, and the prince basically proposed to her and said “Come away with me and be my wife.” She consented, and they did exactly that.

Now. She was seven at the time she consented to marry. One source I found said that in the middle ages in Europe, seven was considered the age of consent for girls.

It doesn’t say how old the prince is at this point, but “young” implies he’s not some hoary old guy (of thirty), but even if he’s fourteen, he’s twice her age.

It’s about time for Chris Hansen1 to step out and say, “Good evening. Please have a seat.”

I think I’ll be . . . altering the stories. A bit. :)


  1. Host of Dateline NBC’s “To Catch a Predator.”

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The So-Called Hollywood Formula

Hollywood by loop_oh, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  loop_oh 

A while back on the Writing Excuses podcast, they discussed something called “The Hollywood Formula.” Basically, it means that there are three main characters: Protagonist, Antagonist, and Relationship Character.

But that’s not the Hollywood Formula that I want to talk about. The one I want to talk about is something everyone should avoid doing at all cost rather than something we should aspire to.

I canceled cable several years ago, and after an initial “OMG WTF did I do?” period, I haven’t missed it. But because it cut me off from several shows I liked—and also means that I don’t get to watch some “new” good shows—I would seek those out on NetFlix or whatever.

Two of those are Eureka and Monk. Both of them contain a character that Hollywood seems to feel must be present, yet would be virtually impossible to believe in the real world.

Now, don’t we want our characters and our worlds to seem real? Like we could walk outside and suddenly encounter situations and people from our own writing and/or favorite books/movies/shows?

Let’s start with Eureka. There’s a character on that show named Fargo. Dr. Douglas Fargo, to be exact. He’s billed as a genius, as is most everyone else on the show, since they live in a ‘genius colony’ in a mythical town in the Pacific northwest. We don’t know how old he is, but we can assume he was a child prodigy who probably earned his doctorate before he could legally vote.

On Monk, we have Lt. Randall (Randy) Disher. He’s a detective in the homicide division of the SFPD and always seems to be paired up with Captain Leland Stottlemeyer. Randy is a ‘young’ detective, clearly not as experienced as either Monk (an ex-cop PI who solves cases in a Holmesian style) or Stottlemeyer.

Here’s what the two characters have in common: they’re bumbling idiots.

On Eureka, Fargo is often the butt of many jokes. He’s the character you immediately go to if you want an accident to happen or for something to go horrily wrong. He’s the guy who pushes the button that says “DON’T PUSH” next to it. He’s the guy who takes a bite of something he finds lying on the counter, only to have it transform him into a giant moth. Without once wondering what it is. He’s the guy who plays with powers and equipment too far above him and gets burned or causes other people to get burned. Not just occasionally, but in every episode. There are very few episodes in which Fargo doesn’t cause a disaster of some type.

In the show, people get mad at him and yell and question his sanity and wonder how he could be such an idiot.

And yet. And yet, they keep him. He’s trusted time and time again with projects that could literally destroy himself, other people, the town, the state, the continent, the world…possibly even the universe. In the real world, after maybe the second time he accidentally murders someone (I can think of one episode where equipment he invented and set up incinerates an innocent pizza delivery guy…and no one ever mentions it again), destroys billions of dollars worth of equipment, or endangers the existence of life as we know it, they would fire him. Or arrest him. Or, given the nature of what he knows and where he lives, lock him away in a deep, deep silo and eradicate all knowledge of him or his work.

He simply would not be permitted to exist in anything even approximating our real world. And yet, in the fictional world of Eureka—where everyone is way smarter than you—they can’t see the blindingly obvious.

The same holds true of Randy Disher. He’s always the butt of every joke that isn’t aimed at Monk. He bumbles. He makes mistakes that someone who has earned the rank of Lt. Detective should not make. His theories are all insanely stupid.

I thought there was hope at one point when, some time in the fifth season of the show, Randy made a stupid mistake that was going to cost the city all kinds of money and negative publicity. He realizes he should not be a cop. And he resigns. But, of course, Monk swoops in, saves the day, and then makes Randy believe that he solved the case so he comes back and is given his shield and weapon back.

Disher even references the fact that he’s a screw-up during this episode, and in one more where it looks as though Monk has made a <gasp!> mistake, Randy keeps saying, “This one wasn’t me.”

Again, in the real world, a detective who is dumber than custard wouldn’t be permitted to remain on the force, assuming he survived long enough to get fired.

I think that with both of these characters, Hollywood is trying for the “lovable fool” stereotype. It goes back a long way, too.

Gilligan. Gladys Kravitz. Major Roger Healey. Chrissy Snow. Frank Burns (although ‘lovable’ certainly does not apply here). There are many more I simply can’t think of right now.

In the real world, the castaways would have ritually slain Gilligan and mounted his head on a pike in the middle of their little settlement after about the third time he single-handedly bumbled his way into preventing their rescue.

Abner Kravitz would have had his wife Gladys committed after several months of claiming that her neighbor was a witch.

I find it hard to believe that anyone like Roger Healy could ever become an astronaut, given how capable one has to be to make that cut. And a major, to boot?

Chrissy Snow could not possibly have survived unscathed in the real world. As naïve as she was, she would have fallen prey to every evil-minded schemester in Las Angeles. Of course, this whole show was one of the low points of television, so I was reluctant to include it. But included it, I did.

Frank Burns would have been sued out of practice before he was ever sent to Korea, and if he had been sent, his own side would have seen to it that he “accidentally” met his demise, or at least a court martial.

None of these characters could exist in the real world. They violate the rule that a character must be believable in order to work.

Scooby Doo is an example of one that actually does work. Scooby—or Shaggy—is usually the one who foils the elaborate, Rube-Golberg-esque plan the gang (Freddy) came up with to trap the “monster.” But in stark contrast to (most of) Gilligan’s Island, it usually ends up working better than the original plan would have worked, and the bad guy is caught, the mask is taken off, it’s Old Man Perkins, and the gang grooves on to the next adventure in their trippy van.

Sometimes, Hollywood sees the writing on the wall, and fixes it. In the (awesome) show Big Bang Theory, the character of Penny started out to be the ditzy idiot who was the butt of all the jokes and who had no redeeming qualities other than being hot. They quickly fixed it so she became a much more likable character, able to stand up to her supra-genius neighbors, and although she’s no physicist, she gets the better of the boys quite a bit.

Are there equivalent characters in literature? I’m having a hard time thinking of any.

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This Always Happens

Sprint006 plan by J
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  J’Roo 

This always happens.

I fully intended to post this during NaNoWriMo, but . . . somewhere in the shuffle, I forgot about it until last week . . . and then it was Christmas. So here I am a couple of days after Christmas posting something I intended to post on November 7th.

Anyway.

I had to put my current novel on hold for NaNoWriMo because I simply couldn’t think too much about it and do 26 stories at the same time. But someone posted a link to a video on YouTube that distracted me for several hours during NaNoWriMo, and may have directly contributed to the fact that the story I wrote on November 7th (“G Is for Gravesite”) was the shortest (finished) story of the bunch.

This is the video. I created a playlist of all five parts. It’s Dan Wells‘ presentation at BYU’s Life, the Universe, and Everything writing symposium on February 13, 2010. It is his seven-point outlining scheme.



(For some reason, WordPress refuses to let me embed a playlist. I’m working on it. For now, this is the first of the five videos.)

So I watched this, and was pretty much overcome with the desire to use this to figure out exactly what the plot(s) is(are) for my novel Perdition’s Flames. Not to mention the other novels in the same series. Maybe if I can figure out the seven points of the first one, I can come up with the seven points of others, as well.

It came as quite a surprise to me when I sat down to actually do this that I already knew exactly what each of the seven points was going to be for the plot of the novel. Not so much for subplots and character arcs. Those I still need to work on.

This always happens. I find yet another reason to stop writing and start over. I think perhaps what I’ll do instead is to continue writing and use this for the rewrite. There are only a few more scenes, really, and I already know what has to happen in them. I don’t have any subplots, and two of my characters have kind of disappeared, but hey. That’s what rewrites are for, right? :)

I keep searching for useful tools to help me plot and plan. Truth is, it’s all in my head, but every time I try to put it on paper (figuratively or literally), I end up frustrated. One of these days I’m going to find a useful tool, dammit! :)

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Do You Believe in Magic?

"Magic Abound" © 2007 by Mark Cummins

Magic Abound

[As an aside, as soon as I knew what the content of this post was going to be, you can probably guess (from the title if nothing else) what song has been in my head.]

The Shiny™ came back from Apple, all fixed up with a new logic board (the sound card is apparently integrated), a reseated cable which had come loose, and with the hard drive wiped and re-initialized with the latest and greatest version of MacOS. When I got it home, I cranked it up and the first thing it asked for was for me to supply a drive on which I had backed up with Time Machine, and it took about 2 hours to restore it to pre-problem status. I was back up and running in less time than I thought possible (because I used to use only Windows).

Of course, then I started having to type all those ideas I was flooded with into Scrivener.

The good news is that I finally worked out (I think) how magic works in my Urban Fantasy series (la de da, doesn’t that sound high-fallutin’?). This may sound trivial and ho-hum, but you have to remember that I’ve been writing this thing for the better part of two years and have two novels at various stages of completion, plus ideas for a couple or three more. It’s about time I figured this out.

It uses elements from a lot of things that have come before, and probably isn’t unique, but since I’m not writing a “How to Cast Magical Spells” book and am trying to tell a story within the framework, I don’t intend to actually ever lay out how it works for readers. (Plus, that also gives me wiggle-room for changing it as time goes on. :)

There’s definitely some stuff in here from Babylon 5/Crusade, a touch of Star Wars, a smidgen of Dungeons and Dragons, a healthy dose of ancient Greek mythology, a soupçon of The Belgariad, and a sprinkling of Actual Science™.

Now, here’s my question. Although I need to know How It All Works™ (I’m not going to stop doing that ™ thing any time soon, by the way, so get used to it) in order to have some internal consistency (hopefully), how much does or should the reader ever know? Is it enough to leave it something of a black box, or should I sort of have the characters who can perform magic explain it a little bit as they go, for the reader and/or other characters who are not able to do it (and who therefore ‘stand in’ for the reader)?

I’ve seen it done both ways, and to excellent effect. I think it depends on the writing, but . . . still, I’m curious.

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I’m Not Twitching, Yet, Am I?

"The Scream" © 2006 by 7E55E-BRN

The Scream

I’ve been writing like a fool for the last couple of weeks. Once I figured out how to get past the snag I was . . . well, snagged on, it all started to flow, again. I’ve written two complete chapters, started a third, and added copious notes.

And then I ran up against another snag, but this one didn’t have anything to do with writing. Or at least not directly.

I use a MacBook Pro 17″ (I call it The Shiny™) to do all my writing, and I use a lovely application called Scrivener to do it in.

After an ill-timed mishap involving a falling laptop, a cat, a bottle of Coke Zero (Elixir of Life™), and a USB cable (insert your own interesting story here) . . . I think something was a little wonky with The Shiny. It would play sounds if I had the headphones in, but not through the speakers.

Now . . . I need my sounds. I share a house with someone who goes to bed at 8:00 (because she gets up at 3:00 AM for school), so I wear headphones much of the time, but you can only wear them for so long, you know? I mean, ear-sweat is not a topic to discuss in polite company, so I won’t.

On Saturday I took The Shiny to The Apple Store where I had an appointment with a lovely Genius1 named “Mike.” Of course, when demonstrated for Mike, the problem miraculously went away (and the nearby patrons all got an audio demonstration of my abiding love for A-Ha as their 13th album began to play at high volume), in the way problems since the Dawn of Man™ have gone away whenever demonstrated for the person who is intended to fix it. I can easily imagine two Homo habilis dudes sittin’ around the campfire, chillin’, makin’ flint spearheads. Og can’t get it right to save his hairy neck, but when he tries to show Zug, it works perfectly every time. Of course, as soon as Zug leaves, Og can’t make a single correct blow on his flint with the striking stone.

I also imagine this was immediately followed by the first-ever (l)user joke and the first-ever 3-hour wait on a tech support “hotline.”2 But I seriously digress.

Because of all the symptoms I described for Mike, he suggested—gently, I might add—that the problem was almost certainly hardware-related and that even though nothing showed up on a hardware diagnostic he ran, I should leave The Shiny in the capable hands of Apple so that they might fix whatever might be wrong once they crack it open. <wince>

After assuring Mike that I do, indeed, do regular backups (I use Time Machine—as opposed to a time machine, which would be awesome—and it runs hourly, plus I ran it about 11,394 times in the 15-minute period leading up to the time I needed to leave the house to get to the Apple store on time), I handed The Shiny over and . . . and . . . and left it there. Alone. <twitch> <lip-quiver>

He assured me I’d have it back in about a week. Maybe less.

Since all my writing is on there, I have, of course, been absolutely inundated by ideas. Poughkeepsie3 must be practically empty by now.

Of course, on top of not having Scrivener to write in, I have had to go several days, now, without podcasts.

Podcasts, to put it bluntly, are why you have not heard about me on the national news. You know, along the lines of

MAN, 46, GOES BERSERK IN ATLANTA TRAFFIC, SLAYS 32
“Morons! It’s the pedal on the RIGHT!” — Insane Atlanta man

I can’t stress enough how much of a calming influence they are on me. (I might be exaggerating just a bit.)

Luckily, I have a backlog of some podcasts I’m catching up on, and I’m in no danger of running out of them any time in the next week. But this means I’ll get behind on the ones I regularly listen to. But I’ll catch up. I always do.

So, anyway . . . That’s how my weekend went.

(I’m not <twitch> twitching, yet, am I?)


  1. I’m not being facetious or snarky—that’s actually what they call their support techs. I do wonder, though, if there is a clause in the employment contract with Apple that requires all male Geniuses to grow a beard, whether they really should or not. I’m just sayin’. . .
  2. I can only imagine that the poor drummers’ arms got tired relaying the hold music. . . “Short and hairy and young and lovely, the girl from the next cave goes walking upright, and when she passes, each one she passes goes, “Aaaah!”. . .
  3. There is an old story, probably apocryphal, which claims that Harlan Ellison used to get asked the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” just one time too many, and he finally answered, “Poughkeepsie.” It’s been attributed to others, and some stories say it was Schenectady instead. I’d probably say Walla-Walla.

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“Writing” Tools

"Vintage Typewrite" (c) 2008 Brandi Simms, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

(c) 2008 Brandi Simms, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

A couple of weeks ago, I was thinking over some of the details of an urban fantasy novel I’m tentatively calling Death Scene. It will be the second in my urban fantasy series set in Atlanta, only magic works.

As part of the story, one character has to convince another to leave Atlanta and go somewhere “nearby” that is still within reason for people to travel kind of on a whim, but has places remote enough that, say, a body will not be found for three years. You know, just for example. :)

And you don’t want to call up the forestry service and say things like, “So, I’m an author doing research. If I were to want to dispose of, let’s say, a body, where would it be least likely to be found for a few years? Hypothetically.”

Or maybe you do. I have no idea. I’ve never done anything like that. :)

Google Maps…is okay, but it’s limited in what it can show, so I started casting about for some tool to help me figure out where to set the scene.

I thought, “I could buy a really detailed map of Georgia.” So I searched on Google for “detailed map of Georgia.”

And what came up was Google Earth.

Now, I’ve resisted the siren song for a long time and just never found a good enough reason to want to install it. But, that day I thought I’d give it a chance.

Oh. My. God. :)

I’m completely hooked. Not only did I find some nice “wilderness” areas in Georgia (which gives me an idea where to concentrate my research, even if I have to go there), but now when I hear a place mentioned, rather than just looking it up in Wikipedia, I call up Google Earth.

I was listening to a podcast just now where one of the hosts was talking about his volunteer work several years ago on the island of Fogo in Cape Verde. I’ve never heard of Cape Verde, much less Fogo.

So I whipped out Google Earth and typed in “Cape Verde” and it zoomed into an archipelago off the coast of Senegal in west Africa. Fogo turns out to be a little volcanic island dotted with settlements and a couple of larger cities. And I can zoom in on those population centers and see how they’re laid out. Or I can click on YouTube videos or pictures people have uploaded that are tagged with GPS coordinates that put them in that area. It’s…just astounding.

I highly recommend Google Earth.

For writing, that is. Yes, as a tool for writing. Not wasting time zooming in on places you’ve never been and never expect to see with your own eyes.

Research. Yeah, that’s it. Research.

[Crossposted from my Blogger blog.]

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