What to do…

What to do; what to do… For over the last two weeks I’ve been sick, while stupidly trying to start up on a new diet/health regiment. Not a diet so much really as it is a lifestyle change, but that is for another post. But couple that with holiday activity and the fact that my day job has been relentless lately due to those impending holidays, I am just barely keeping afloat. I am afloat, but there isn’t much more that I can handle.

Writing, getting my next book finalized for publishing, the gym, and blogging are the things I’ve let go of just so I don’t fall too far down, so I don’t burn out.

Writing this post is a manner of my admitting that to myself.

A few weeks ago I posted that I wanted to create a political opinion blog and a blog that discussed my atheism. While I still want to, getting to a point like I am now has gotten me to reexamine what I should do.

Here’s the deal: I want to be a fiction writer first and foremost. If I ever see success as a blogger in other realms, that would be nice, but that isn’t the goal. And when I am having issues keeping up with things as I have been the last few weeks or longer, what I should be doing is doubling down on what work is needed for my primary goal: fiction. Meaning that even though I am spending time to write this post, I should be getting myself back onto the job of writing fiction and then publishing those projects. As I free up more time, that’s what I will be doing.

So what the hell does this even mean? Really nothing. It’s me being a writer and doing what writers do when they are trying to work out a problem: write about it. And I don’t think that I am having so much of a problem as much as just going through the normal rough patches one has. But this rough patch has given me the desire to reflect.

I will still do a political blog and a blog on atheism, but it will just be a little longer for them to happen. Plus when they do, they’ll be the first thing I slack on when other priorities (or life) get in the way. So keep your eyes peeled for when these do come up. They’ll be happening, but in due time.

5 Titles for Sale!

Starting on Friday, November 25, 2016, I will have 5 of my (ebook) titles on sale!

For 3 days, (11/25, 11/26, and 11/27) the ENTIRE Gravity saga as it stands right now will have the ebook versions FREE! That’s right, you can pick up all 3 current titles for FREE. Click the links below to get them on Amazon.

1: Remember the Yorktown

2: Awakening of a Predator

3: The Movements of Pawns

Also, until December 31st, or for the rest of 2016 (however you wish to frame it) 2 titles will be priced 50% of their current price (for ebook copies only).

Both “The Good Teacher” and “Change of Seasons: Selected Poems” will be $1.49 each. Click the links below to get them too!

The Good Teacher (novel)

Change of Seasons: Selected Poems (poetry)

Please download, read, enjoy, and rate on Amazon! Thanks for your support!

Separation

I’ve given this option months of thought. As I continue to work on my main site and my writings, I still wanted to occasionally write about politics and now my religious leanings… otherwise known as atheism. But months ago, my brother had suggested that perhaps it wasn’t in my interest to keep all of that lumped in with my writing. I am a fiction writer first and foremost, so these topics almost were a distraction as neither should be considered when one is going to look at my site to read a story. It took me some time to see why, but I now agree.

So from here I am purging prior posts on politics, some social commentaries, and mentions of my theological leanings. I will keep anything on writing or non-political and religious items that I wish to yap about.

I have not created my site for my atheism yet, but for politics, my other brother’s and my old blog uspoliticalnonsense.wordpress.com will be where I post from now on.

Links will also be available up in the menu. I won’t post often on them. I’d rather keep my primary focus on fiction. If you are curious of my posts on those topics, you are welcome to click over.

Quitting Social Media

Well I am not exactly quitting. Not entirely anyway.

There’s a number of reasons behind this. The foremost is that I had been getting far too distracted by social networks in recent months to the point that I found it difficult to do much of anything without having a smartphone or tablet or computer in front of me. I’d be in the middle of a conversation and out will come my phone. Rude, I know. It became nearly unmanageable.

Then I saw a Ted Talk held by a guy that purported that we should in fact quit social media. I wanted to. I wanted to so badly. Despite the momentary flicks of enjoyment that I might get in seeing a few random status updates, I just didn’t honestly see value in my staying online with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. There is a value… but I’ll get to that in a bit.

This multimedia, social networking institution has impacted me negatively in a lot of ways. My concentration is off. My ability to focus into my writing has suffered. Listening to a person during a conversation without wondering if I can sneak a peek at my phone is a chore. I pick up my phone rather than write or draw. And whatever happened to scribbling when I was bored. Hell, most of my poems I wrote when I was younger was a response to boredom. I recognized these all as problems building up to bigger issues over time. It might be innocent in the moment, but after some time, a dripping faucet can flood a house.

I haven’t run time studies on it. If I were to, I am sure that I would find an absurd amount of time being dedicated to effectively nothing. When am I supposed to get time to myself to write, meditate, read, draw, or anything when I am burning it up just to distract my mind?

Additionally, the recent binge reading I’ve been having on self-help style books such as “The Way of the Superior Man,” “The Right Questions,” and “Flow,” social networking was being demonstrated as an evil that I could not afford to give power to.

So when I got home from work on Thursday 10/27, I put my phones down and vowed to drop social networking. Aside from brief stints on Facebook to approve posts to my profile I was tagged in (being honest more with myself, that is all I did), I managed to ignore social media altogether so far.

But it hasn’t all been easy. I have a constant compulsion to grab my phone and open apps. I want to jump on Instagram to see the latest snaps. I want to blindly scroll through Facebook to pass my boredom. And then I tend to write most proficiently on a computer, so there is always that urge to minimize Word, or Google docs and click the link to the next distraction. Even the other night I had a dream where I was fighting with myself about checking Instagram, and how I should reward myself for “good behavior.” Yeah. I am an addict. This is my withdrawal.

I’ve seen this behavior from me in the past. I’ve tried to cut back in the past. Hell, I’ve even deleted profiles in the past. I feel that this is the wrong approach though. Cutting back, deleting profiles, or setting an allotted time each day to surf my newsfeeds wouldn’t serve me any justice.

I need to have the stuff right in front of me, taunting me. I need to beat it while it tempts me to succumb to its siren call.

Because there is the good in social media I wish to use.

It can be a tool. When used properly, it is a highly effective means of communication. Improper use leads to the issues I stated above. And when trying to create a career as a novelist, not having some sense of a social media presence is absurd. Possible, but absurd and less likely.

The problem is how do I manage this without falling back into the trap? I almost feel like a recovering alcoholic bartender. I need a way to be around the stuff without allowing myself to succumb to the temptation to relapse. I might be looking at a week of success, even while having access, but there is always that looming threat.

I can tell you one thing though: I don’t feel as though I am truly missing anything. And already I have been seeing little signs that I can concentrate more. I can remain present in a conversation.

Someday soon I will return, particularly when I release my next stories in the coming weeks. Until then, and even during then, I will continue to push to not allow it to regain the hold it had a week ago.

Why I am not participating

It’s NaNoWriMo. For those not familiar with that term, it is National Novel Writing Month. And with that comes the yearly challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month’s time-frame. As one can decipher from my heading, I am not going to be a part of it. That isn’t to say I am not going to write, it just means that I am not going to take part.

What is required is simple: write 1,667 words on average every day to complete the 50,000 goal by month end.

My average is generally most comfortable just north of 500 words per day when I am actively writing. I can, and have, maintained an average above 2,000 words per day for weeks at a time, but there are a lot of factors that determine my ability to do so. By rights, I can and should participate. But I am not.

There’s a few reasons I am not going to try this year, and here they are:

  1. I do not have a good project set aside.
    Now while this might be a weak excuse, it isn’t without some merit. To be able to run NaNoWriMo the right way, I feel that I need a project well planned out and ready to roll, err write. A lot of my projects don’t necessarily function this way, but that’s beside the point. I am not trying to keep up a short burst of writing over a week, I am trying to run a whole month at that word count. I need something ready to write a marathon. I just don’t have something ready.
  2. Other projects require my attention.
    I have 1 book dreadfully close to publication date. 2 other projects are in desperate need for my attention (book 4 of my scifi series Gravity, and part 2 of my novel-in-parts Of Earth and Ice). There’s about a ½ dozen or so other projects I am trying to move on as well. Starting a new project isn’t wise for me.
  3. I have a busy month ahead.
    I work a full-time job (with hours that go beyond full time). Sometimes I work 6 days a week. That’s under normal circumstances. With my line of work, we are now into the 4th quarter which is big for the company I work for. Couple that with vacations that I will have to cover for on top of normal responsibilities and I will find myself with a heavier work load than I manage for the other portions of the year. Less time to focus on writing
  4. I want to get my blog and social media accounts fixed.
    Not super important, but I am trying to break my addiction to social media at the moment and my blog (prior to this post) has been on a black-out. Marketing my books will require the success of my being able to responsibly handle both my social media presence and my attention to my blog. Writing in NaNoWriMo will only distract me from these goals.
  5. I am trying to fix myself.
    I have been on a slow path on realigning my goals in life. While writing is still top, I must admit that my other, hidden, goals have gotten in the way. (I speak of hidden goals which is a reference from a book I recently finished called “The Right Questions” by Debbie Ford.) These hidden goals were ones that led me to a social media addiction, a smart-phone addiction, falling off of my gym habits, and struggles in other areas of life. Directing energy towards NaNoWriMo will only allow myself distraction… again. Sure, it’s writing, but that isn’t the point.

For those of you taking part, I wish you luck. Maybe next year I’ll be ready. We’ll just have to see where I stand then.

Blog Black-Out this Month

Going to be quiet on here for the remainder of October.

In early November I will be releasing my first YA and second full-length novel, The Dangerous Life of Agnes Pyle. In the 16 days remaining until November, I am focusing all of my efforts on ensuring that the story is ready, including formatting and cover design. (Unfortunately having to do the cover art myself still. I had an artist already slated, but it fell through. Eventually the art work will be updated.)

Agnes is slightly over 80,000 words long and took me a little over 2 years to fully write. It has been “done” for a few months, but has been in a state of review to ensure that I didn’t mess something up.

It tells of a 12-year-old girl (Agnes Pyle) whose parents were recently killed leaving her to enter into apprenticeship far sooner than was planned as she and her parents belonged to a group of mortals tasked with protecting the barriers between the spirit realms and the mortal realm. But there has been something hunting them down and killing them. Now Agnes must learn to defend herself or face the same fate as her parents.

Novella Ideas

I wrote earlier about how I like novellas, how they are making a comeback, and why I tend to see that as all good. Short, concise, and counter to the long, overwritten, intimidating books we often have seen in the last few decades. I mean, books got long!

Sure, there’ve always been classics that were very long, but that’s not the point.

In referencing the Psychology Today article I mentioned in yesterday’s post, it said that polls about reading showed that 40% of those under the age of 44 in the US haven’t read a single book. I’ve also made hypothesis as to the reason for this.

In my liking novellas, I thought, why not write a non-fiction book with the same target length of a novella (less than 40,000 words)? Be the book about politics or religion or one of the other topics I am interested in. Couple that with lighter language and it may encourage learning that other books tend to intimidate people away from.

Two points here that I can assert are the cause of the reading decline: a growing divide between intellectuals and non-intellectuals, and book length (i.e. that book is just too damn thick to read).

Point 1:

I see this in listening to and reading Sam Harris. The man speaks very well. But he also speaks very intellectually. He doesn’t speak in a manner a normal person will not see as off-putting and non-hoity-toity as some might assert. He has his audience, so that is fine for them. But for those who are laypeople or non-intellectuals, or who have little interest in that, the language is often pretentious (though not intended as such).

Point 2:

Book length coupled with the prior point and people are just more apt to want to switch on the TV for something more entertaining thinking that it is informing them of whatever. Again, just rehashing prior points.

 

So this all came in when thinking about what I am going to do with this passion project I have been slowly writing I am calling “Godless” right now, about my atheism. Although I know it will take me well over a year to write it, I debated on just how “intellectual” or long I was going to make the book. Now I think I figured that out.

Celebrity Culture

As a lover of celebrity gossip, I am beginning to see the problems with my fascination. Sure, it’s a bit of escapism, but with real problems going on in the world, the fact that Kim Kardashian had several millions in jewels taken from her at gunpoint is really of little consequence.

She’s still a person, and as such doesn’t deserve the treatment. But have we become so enthralled by these outward displays of fame and wealth? There’s plenty about how Kim and others like her live a lifestyle built on a void of talent or societal contribution. That isn’t the problem. The problem is how we hold such people aloft.

For days now I have seen nothing but the primary headlines on several internet news sources site stories about Kim’s robbery. Tragic that any person go through that, but she’s alive and still a millionaire, so why is this continuing? Vice Presidential debate? Down the site a ways…

I read an interesting article from Psychology Today on today’s anti-intellectual culture and this whole thing on Kim came right on time to further demonstrate the article’s point. We are failing. We hold fame, fortune atop real contribution or intelligence. We worship these stars and jeer at scientists (who are often portrayed as bad or ill-intentioned in movies or books). I just don’t see this ending.

And it worries me.

A Discussion with Myself

The other night I had the opportunity to run to the store to pick up a spattering of groceries and get a frappe from McDonald’s for my wife. It was so close to our son’s bedtime that it was best that I went alone. Now while such an adventure had me close my laptop, keeping me from doing the one thing I should have been doing: writing, I was able to use that 20 or so minutes to have a talk with a person who typically doesn’t listen. Me.

It is always a good idea to examine yourself. Take your beliefs and behaviors, your wants, desires and goals, and place them all under a microscope. This is a good exercise in finding whether or not you are falling astray from your goals, or if your goals are in the right place to begin with. One of the books I have been reading of late is one titled “The Right Questions” does that. Yes, it can be placed under the stigmatized section of self-help related material. In this particular case, it is a quest to get to your desires, and finding what those desires really are. Then once you figure that out, you draw a map (metaphorically speaking) on how you are going to get there. Once that map is in front of you, then the right questions (a set of 10 questions) will help to guide you through decisions that might end up standing in the way of the goal. I am still very much in the drawing the map phase. My goal? Becoming a self-sustaining writer. (My job is writing and any other paid gig is either a side project, or their because I want to do it.)

Needless to say that my conversation was heavily slanted towards how I treat my writing.

I am primarily a fiction writer. Not that I do not wish to also have success writing articles, opinion pieces, science articles, or other works of non-fiction, as I certainly do, but my primary passion is making up stories. Even writing this post right now is countering that fact. But against the questions, this endeavor is holding up. Here’s why:

It’s filling in part of the map.

I have a blog. It’s a part of this site, which is supposed to be “me” central. Working full time, having a son with multiple extracurricular activities, a family life, it becomes a challenge managing all of this. Not impossible, just challenging. So far that has not been my forte.

I’ve neglected to post daily and I’ve stopped writing fiction every day. What?! How could I do that?! Do I not want to find success?

Don’t get me wrong, I write daily… it just happens to often be blog posts I will probably not put up, or lengthy posts that do not need to be the daily norm. I write non-fiction every day. And though that is a part of my goal, it isn’t the penultimate goal.

So this discussion of mine revolved around two items: my blog and writing every day.

Let’s discuss the first.

As of this moment, I might get an average of less than 5 visitors a day to this site. Not bad, but not great. I am an unknown so it is understandable. And it is 5 fold greater than in the past on who visited. That needs to grow, but it will only grow with content and consistency. One I am doing OK with (although “OK” might be exaggerating it a bit), and the other is terrible. Pick either and you are probably correct.

I want to solve both items. Can’t happen overnight, but I need to try.

Many of my posts are a lot like this one: wordy. Already as I am writing this sentence I am hitting 627 words. I used to target 500 words of fiction a day. I’ve already surpassed that, but with a blog post. That means another two things:

One, I am focusing too much on writing blog posts. Two, I am not using my time to write what I want to write – fiction.

Time to change that. And that should help free up some of my focus to address the second problem from earlier: writing (fiction) every day.

I want to post something each day Monday through Friday on my blog. It needs to follow a few rules now. In the car on my way to the store I determined them. Here’s the bulleted list.

  • A daily post cannot exceed a certain number of words. I am going to say somewhere between 200 and 300 words. Let’s go in the middle. 250 words. Not very much, but enough to get a quick point across. Plus it helps learn writing concisely.
  • My wordier posts? I need to limit them to once per week at most. I want people to read my fiction, how am I going to do that if I don’t shut up long enough for them to do so? And I cannot write them in a day like I am doing at this moment. Work on them a little at a time.
  • Post topics need to stay away from a couple of items as I do not want people to refuse to read my stories based on a stance I have. These topics are: politics & religion. That means that the posts I’ve made earlier on Trump, Black Lives Matter, and Gun Control will not be the norm, but rather remain posts I made while finding what the hell I am doing on here.
  • Topics have to be things I enjoy, like my last post on Alice Grove (although it was wordier).

The above should help in the near term to better point me to a better way of managing this site. IT won’t be perfect by any means, but the point is not perfection, rather improvement. And that is all I can ever ask of myself.

The Oregon Trail Card Game

A review of the card game sold at Target stores and our (my wife’s and my amended rules).

So after nearly a month of checking, rechecking, and again rechecking, my wife and I were able to get a copy of The Oregon Trail Card Game from Pressman. This game is an exclusive at Target and arguably was Target’s most successful release of a board game. So popular was it in fact that when it started trickling back in stock, we had to travel almost 30 minutes out of our way, or 5 stores away to find our copy. The store was sold out not long after we secured our copy.

We certainly think it was worthwhile. A) we’re big board gamers as is demonstrated by the below picture.

a small part of our gaming shelves

a small part of our gaming shelves

B) we were huge fans of the original Oregon Trail video game.

The Oregon Trail Card game is a cooperative game where players work together to reach Oregon, all without dying (of dysentery).

One of the things we heard in reviews about the game, we heard that there were some rules that were unclear or that didn’t exist. Being avid gamers, this didn’t deter us. We knew we’d figure it out based on the experience we’ve had playing board games.

Now playing it.

At our first playing, we played to the letter of the rules. Suffice to say, it was unsuccessful, but we both ended up with a few amendments to the rules in order to have smoother play. It was fun, but it needed a little work. So here are those amendments. If you like them, please feel free to share. If you have any of your own, feel free to share your suggestions or links to suggested rules below.

 

  1. Minimum Hand Limit of 5 for Trail Cards.
    In the rules, you are dealt 5 trail cards to start the game. There is no verbiage to describe what you do when you play a trail card as far as replenishing your hand. There is no drawing. Thus, when you have played 5 trail cards, you are empty. Then you essentially lose a turn to draw a card. So the rule is at the end of your turn, if you have less than 5 trail cards, draw until you have 5.
    The reason: in the video game, there is a condition that pops up where you’ve lost the trail. It doesn’t happen often, but the rule written in the card game simulates that. If you don’t have a trail card that matches, you draw 1 trail card and your turn ends. This makes sense then as a reasonable punishment if you do not have a match with a hand of 5. Additionally, there doesn’t appear to be any other mechanical reason to have a hand that depletes to empty only to have you then be drawing only 1 at a time other than a waste of time.
  2. Supply cards are a problem.20161001_132637 Based on the list shown (see the photo) the most optimum number of players are 4 or 5 players, meaning that the party has 20 supply cards to use between the group in either scenario. 6 players is next with 18, then 3 players with 15, and 2 players with 10. What?! There’s 26 total supply cards! If you are playing with 4 or 5 players then there are only 6 left in the store, but there are 16 left if you are playing 2 players?
    Part of the idea of making a game that can move between 2 to 6 players is having conditions that balance the gameplay. Either there are conditions removed, or there are a varied set of rules based on the number of players if there is a negative impact from playing 2 players vs more. Here, the team is trying to get through 50 trail cards and playing 2 players is punished harshly for it. Game mechanics are about balance as much as they are about a challenge.
    We have two differing rules for this. Here they are.

    1. For 2 Players – Players may choose their supply cards at the start of the game.
      The Reason: Gives 2 players a chance to balance if they don’t want to deviate from the chart.
      OR
    2. The supply card chart is as follows:The reason here: This adds balance to the number of players, making less difference between the number of players and the difficulty. 2 & 3 players now have as much ability as a group of 4 or more have.
      # Starting Players # supply cards stating for each player Total # Supply cards in play at start
      6 players 3 supply cards 18
      5 players 4 supply cards 20
      4 players 5 supply cards 20
      3 players 6 supply cards 18
      2 players 9 supply cards 18
  1. Play a trail card or a supply card unless you only have 2 players left (or start with 2) then you can play 2 supply card… AND
    Here is an issue because of the timing of a round. A “round of play” as it stands in the game is not defined, but the term is used in calamity cards. For this sake, we are only going to use the standard gaming definition of once each player has a turn, a round has occurred. In other words, a round is when all players have taken 1 turn.
    Here’s the slightly modified rule then: You may play 1 trail card (if able) or a supply card, unless there are only 2 players (left alive or having started) and you may play 1 trail card and/or 1 supply card, or 2 supply cards on your turn.
    The reason: Being that a round is when all players have taken a turn, then the team has a stronger chance the more players in the game to remedying a calamity card. This gives a little added balance to 2 players, else you die pretty quick.
  2. This last amendment has to do with a single card. It is one of the river cards. Here’s the picture to the right.
    a not full description on this card (and the others like it)

    a not full description on this card (and the others like it)

    The solution is that you blend the rule into the other river cards. Roll an odd and lose 1 supply unless you roll a 1 and then you (the player having played the card) drown.

I see that the above 4 amendments solve the majority of the balance issues in the game. So here’s some (untested) ideas I have on added rules. Let me know what you think.

  1. Choose a difficulty level.
    1. There’s one choices here to ADD difficulty: Each player draws 1 less supply card.
    2. Here’s a choice to LOWER difficulty: target a lower number of trail cards to play. For example, instead of reaching Willamette Valley after 10 stacks of 5 trail cards, play to 8, or some lesser number.
  2. Group roles.
    Much like the videogame, your party leader chooses a role and that gives the party special abilities. This is based on the 3 original choices in the videogame. There might be some better ideas for this, but here’s my ideas.

    1. Banker – Draw 1 extra supply card at each town or fort. Once per game may trade 1 supply card for another of their choice instead of the normal 2 cards per 1.
    2. Farmer – You may have 2 free supply card actions for bullets or food.
    3. Carpenter – You may have 2 free supply card actions for spare parts or oxen.
    4. NOT IN THE ORIGINAL VIDEOGAME – Doctor – You may have 2 free supply card actions medicine or clean water.

HAPPY TRAILS!