Coming to Close

Let’s rip the band-aid off: Emily and I are going to stop regularly making posts on this blog.

We’ve discussed it, and this blog has become more like a homework assignment rather than the fun blog it was when we started. We are becoming interested in starting newer projects that we will hopefully find are more fun.

For our few dedicated readers, we appreciate you coming along! Emily is going to start a new blog eventually called OneDrunkGoth where she will review horror subjects and pair them with beers!

I will be starting a Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition content blog where I will create monsters and races. My first monster is currently in development and I’m going to try and start the blog this year.

There is a very, very good chance Emily and I will start a different blog involving flash fiction. We will write much shorter, improv stories rather than the almost-an-actual-short-story that Write Makes Right became.

I’m sure we’ll be uploading here when we get these up and running. Don’t kill your notifications for this blog just yet!

I’m sure Emily or I will also sporadically post here. The original purpose of the blog was to communicate with each other more after Emily moved away. We are closer as siblings, so I think the blog was a success.

Thanks for your laughs, thanks for your kind words, and thanks for reading!

—DTM & EMS

Am I Actually Being Productive?

Emily—you said something to me a while back that I basically haven’t stopped thinking about. I don’t remember the exact quote, but it was something along the lines of, “you keep starting new projects to ignore the fact that you don’t have a hobby.”  While I don’t remember it clearly, I do remember the questions it made me ask myself.

Do I start new projects to ignore the fact that I have no persistent, passionate hobbies?

Do I continue to start new projects to cover up the fact that I’m not finishing projects?

Am I actually being productive?

My friends like to give me crap because I’m basically always planning a new project: a new blog, a new RPG campaign, a book I want to write, rules for a new system; it’s all in good fun. They love to point out that I have no time left in my week. My partner loves to laugh with me every time I have a new idea I want to chase.

A big problem I face is that many of my projects don’t have designated end dates. This blog started and doesn’t exactly have a stopping point. When we started Write Makes Right, we didn’t really have an end point in mind. I want to start a third blog publishing DnD content, and that also won’t really have an end date in mind.

I don’t have a lot of free time anymore, so if I want to pursue these things I need to become a work horse, or I need to start cutting out more of my free time. Or the third option: I can be more productive with my time. I can make schedules and set deadlines.

But lets back up and revisit the questions before. I keep myself really busy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m being productive.

Do I trick myself into believing that doing anything is productive? Or should I cut the fat and find a few core projects to focus instead of trying to do everything? Right now, on a given week where I’m working a bunch of stuff, I work nearly every night. That means I’m quite busy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean productive.

So what is productivity then?

Productivity_Definition

Does it need to be defined by input and output? Does it need to be defined by the value of the work? I think the first thing I need to do is define productivity for myself.

I work on stuff as often as I do because I want to build experience and form creative habits. I would love to eventually be a writer and designer for games like Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder. But first I need to practice doing this on my own. The idea of a savant who is genius from the start is a lie, and I know that if I want to eventually pitch these things to companies, I need to have experience under my belt.

I take a lot of inspiration from the German Bauhaus school and it’s artistic movements. I learned about it in college and I was enamored with it. The original Bauhaus school was a bunch of designers and artists who had grown tired with the movements of the past, and came together to create a school and a collective. Just to push art forward and create new and interesting things based on newer, more modern ideologies. Many great designers were part of it back when it was still a thing. A lot of artists used the school to create great volumes of work that we still emulate today.

That’s the idea I am trying to encompass when I’m toiling away at the things I want to create. Maybe I shouldn’t bother wondering whether the thing I want to create is going to have value. I think I value the journey a lot more than the product.

Important Thing #1: I place more value in the journey, rather than the product I create.

But let’s back up. What if I stretch myself too thin and I botch the landing? If one spreads their attention between too many ideas, none of those topics get the attention it deserves. It’s cool and all that I have so many things I want to do, but instead of adding more to the workload, perhaps it would be better to form a list and then work on them one at a time.

I could also make the argument that a lot of things don’t get worked on. I have a list of things I want to create and accomplish, but they are always put off because I have something more important to work on—usually Rogue Trader prep or blog posts.

I have always known that I work better and more creatively when my deadline is close. It was probably the most important thing I learned in college: when under pressure, I perform better. This is still prevalent today, it’s the reason I keep trying to start projects and activities that have an inherent, “thing is needed on this day.” Seven Degrees of Smudde, Write Makes Right, and Rogue Trader all have deadlines I need to meet, and as that deadline looms I become far more productive.

There it was. I used the word productive candidly. So what can I learn about this?

Important Thing #2: I need to be completing things on a deadline.

That one makes a lot of sense. I wouldn’t be concerned with productivity if I wasn’t concerned with time, right?

We should also consider that a lot of my projects are things I would like to do, not have to do. No sense adding deadlines upon deadlines for each project I come up with. I’m sure I’d get a lot more done, but I’d also be a stressed out, anxious mess.

One of the above definitions of productivity is: “the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input.”

I already talked about how I don’t necessarily want to measure my productivity in an input to output ratio. But perhaps I can instead group my ideas by overarching categories and treat it as one large, spanning project. Then it will be easier to dissect everything into smaller steps that I can complete on deadlines. I can complete more pieces of larger wholes and still go on a longer journey while also having easy to accomplish goals.

Important Thing #3: Categorize individual ideas into larger wholes so that I can complete larger ideas by finishing smaller pieces.

I have tons of things I want to create for Dungeons and Dragons, Rogue Trader, and eventually my own RPG system. It only makes sense that I take all the elements that fit into one category and begin doing treating it as one whole. Instead of trying to contextualize wanting to create seven new player races, and dozens of new monsters, I can instead think of it as my “DnD Project” with the goal of completing one piece per month. Instead of trying to write chapters simultaneously, I can instead think of it as a book where I tackle smaller parts.

All of this probably seems really obvious to many—if not all of you. But I struggle to contain my wandering mind, so parsing all of this helps me slow down and find my stride. My mind wants to spend its time trying to manage my energy, when really I should instead try and manage the workflow so that my energy is spent more efficiently. Whenever I want to do something, for an example, create a new class in Dungeons and Dragons, my brain thinks, “Yeah, if I just buckle down and get to work I should be able to squeeze this in.” But that’s not really how anything works. It’s a romantic idea to believe that I am a content creating machine, but I’m just setting myself up for failure.

—DTM

 

 

 

Horror 101: Body Horror vs. Splatter Horror

Alright, I’ve had something on my mind for a while and I think I finally want to get it off my chest. Going to take this opportunity to get up on my soapbox, grab my megaphone, and scream gibberish about horror narratives at unsuspecting passerbys.

Brace yourself, Daniel, I’m about to get super nerdy.

Body horror is not the same thing as gore.

Let me say it again, body horror is not the same thing as gore.

Now say it with me, body horror is not the same thing as gore.

If I had to pick my favorite subgenre of horror, it would be body horror and it drives me nuts when I tell people this and I get a response like:

“Gross, I hate gory movies.”

“Gore in horror movies is just lazy writing.”

“Ew, you’re nasty and you need jesus.”

I’m not going to deny the fact that I do like gory horror films and that I am nasty and indeed need jesus. There is something so satisfying about sipping a beer and watching buckets upon buckets of fake blood splatter across the TV screen.

But that’s not body horror. Those types of films are called splatter horror, which is a subgenre that demonstrates a fascination with the vulnerability of the human body through graphic gore and violence.

Body horror on the other hand is a subgenre of horror that intentionally showcases disturbing violations of the human body, like mutilation, mutation, disease, stranger behavior, or graphic violence. Unlike splatter, this subgenre is more focused on making the audience question what is means to be human and their own autonomy.

I think this is where the confusion between splatter and body horror comes from. Yes, body horror can use gore to achieve its goal, but it’s so much more than just gross special effects and fake blood.

A classic example of body horror is John Carpenter’s The Thing, a movie about an alien infiltrating a research outpost in Antarctica by killing off people and then taking that person’s place. The movie does show people dying and some gross mutations, but it’s never needlessly violent or gory. It’s the perfect example of body horror without having to disembowel anyone.

Another example of body horror that doesn’t use violence is The Faculty, one of my personal favorites. This movie is about an alien that takes over the teachers in a high school and it’s up to a group of students to save the world from in invasion. Again, this movie is scary and disturbing without utilizing over-the-top gore.

Body horror done well does not have to be gory or super gross. Body horror does not necessarily equal buckets of viscera and bad writing. Stop acting like I’m nasty because it’s my favorite subgenre. There are so many other factual reasons to call me nasty. Educate yourself.

-EMS

Stop Banking on Curiosity

In the past couples months I’ve had some serious trouble finding a book that urge me to keep reading. I read the Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, and that book had me vibrating in my chair waiting until I was able to pick it back up. The first book in that series was a little slow and weirdly esoteric, but at a certain point I was hooked. This dude came into the river and noodled me like a catfish. The second and third books I willingly jumped into his boat and wished for him to whisk me away.

Now that I’ve finished that series—and I’m changed in deep, physical ways—I’ve been chewing through books trying to find the next person to enrapture me. But I’m having trouble. Many books I’ve been reading end up being a drudge, and for the first time in my life I actually put a book back without finishing it.

I keep seeing this trend in books where they structure and write their stories so that pieces of the puzzle are sprinkled throughout the book. That’s all well and good, but what you are doing is banking on my curiosity to take me to the end of your story. Curiosity is a cool element to stories, but more importantly I need to know what the book is about.

Stories are about problems that a protagonist must overcome. That is a very simple way of phrasing a complex idea. Curiosity is making me search for an answer. Purpose drives me to read until the conclusion.

Listen—I can look up your answers. If you write a book and the big thing that’s taking me to the end of the book is a black box, your book won’t hold my attention. I can go find the answer in your book and then put it away. I can look it up online to sate my curiosity. Why should I care about your black box?

This is what I keep finding in books. They don’t tell me what the protagonist’s deliberate purpose is; their stories use curiosity instead of purpose to drive the narrative. And since I don’t know what the protagonists are trying to do, I have no investment. Their actions, their successes, their failures, and their sacrifices mean nothing because I don’t know what it’s all for. I know what the writer is trying to go for, but by the time I know what the goal is I can no longer be so emotionally invested.

It can get confusing, because most books are pretty good about telling you what the protagonist is attempting to do, but there is a difference between telling me that a character needs to achieve something, instead of telling me what they are trying to achieve.

I just a read a book called The Stars are Legion by Kameron Huxley. I want to talk about the two protagonists. There is Jayd, a cunning woman seeking to save her world, and Zan, a woman who has cliche’d her memory but still has to fulfill her mission!

Spoilers inbound!

They two protagonists are… lovers? Who knows—book ain’t got time for this shit—the protagonists are separated by their duties as Jayd goes to a rival planet to negotiate peace and Zan is tossed down a recycling chute.

The book from there follows their stories: Jayd trying to protect the future of her people and her world by navigating a political nightmare, and Zan, who has to climb her way back up from the bottom of the world to the surface. But don’t worry! The two separated heroes have a plan.

They don’t tell you what the plan is up front. You have to keep reading to find out! Jayd just keeps saying things like, “It’ll all be better when we complete our plan and are back together!” and Zan has fuggin’ amnesia so even she has no idea.

For most of the book the reader doesn’t know what the end goal is. And I mean specifically. We know that Jayd and Zan have a plan to “save their dying world” but we don’t know what that plan involves. How are you going to do that? What specifically is your plan?

It is important for the inciting incident to not only kick the story into motion, but also set the stakes, or at least lay them out.

Zan’s story is one of survival, and she keeps having to face life threatening obstacles. I get a little stressed because I like Zan, I don’t want her to die, but when things don’t go as planned I have no idea what the consequences will be if she dies.

With Jayd, her two main goals were to retrieve a mysterious metal arm, steal a woman’s womb [sic], and get the hell off her rivals world. Cool! We know what she needs to achieve, but I have such a hard time being invested in her trials because I don’t know what the arm and the womb [sic] represent. What do these mean to the story? Keep reading to find out!

I had no real grasp on what the end game was until about two-thirds of the way into the book. I enjoyed reading it, but I was more enthralled with the world building than I was with the goals of the characters. The ending was a little anti-climactic because I had trouble being invested in a goal that was so nebulous.

Let’s contrast this.

Lord of the Goddamned Rings.

Frodo finds the One Ring and needs to take it to Mount Doom to destroy it at the place it was forged! Why do we need to do that? Oh, if Sauron regains the Ring, he will have power over all other races and will likely bring doom to Middle Earth!

The story can have it’s various acts, all of it’s action, and it’s exploration because we know this is moves towards the goal of getting Frodo and the Ring to Mount Doom. The Ring Wraiths feel threatening because they threaten that purpose. Without that purpose, the books plot is basically feckless. Nothing feels dangerous.

Harry Goddamned Potter.

Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, haplessly defeated Lord Voldemort, and as he matures into a fledgling wizard we learn that Voldemort is going to return. Harry needs to amass the allies and skills he needs to face down the Dark Lord.

Each book in Harry Potter has it’s own plot and driving force, with various levels of success, but the overarching threat of the book, Lord Voldemort, is established immediately. With that single looming villain, we have more context for what happens and the consequences of those events. Harry can’t die because he needs to defeat Voldemort. He needs to be strong enough to face him in the end.

The Goddamned Hunger Games

Katniss Evergeen is thrust into the heart of both survival and politics as she takes the place of her sister in a deadly publicized event known as the Hunger Games. She must literally fight to survive, and when she does, she becomes the figurehead of a movement to abolish the games and overthrow the capital and all of it’s tyranny.

Katniss’s story is an enthralling one because she is a reluctant protagonist that eventually turns into a driven one. She needs to survive her fellow competitors, and eventually becomes embroiled in a civil war that threatens all she knows.

The above mentioned books establish their books plots within the first act. They might not be the most complex books, but their strengths come from the fact that they lay out the problems for the protagonist—and me, the reader—and I can go on their journey with them. When you establish a strong premise, and a strong problem to overcome, readers are dying to know what happens next. Curiosity should follow purpose, but you definitely shouldn’t use curiosity as your driving force.

I enjoyed The Stars Are Legion enough to finish it. I’d even recommend it to you because the world it sets up is super unique. I would love a follow up book! But what it and many other books do that does not resonate with me is they keep the purpose behind everything—tucked away until I, the reader, am allowed to know.

As with all rules, there are plenty of times to break this rule, but I think it’s way more important to establish goals and expectations early in a book so that I can be engrossed in the journey instead of waiting to see what it was all for.

—DTM

 

 

 

 

 

Movie vs. Book: The Ritual

So, I am a little behind the times.

The Ritual, a movie about four college friends reuniting to hike through Sweden and coming across an ancient, bloodthirsty creature, came out in February of this year. I even watched it six months ago when it initially came out, but before I sat down and did a proper review I knew I wanted to read the novel. Well, this past month I finally bought a copy of The Ritual by Adam Neville, and now that I’ve read it, it’s finally time to share my thoughts.

Brace yourself. They’re not very positive.

The Film Adaptation

ritual movie posterWhen the film came out earlier this year, everyone started recommending it to me. Everyone who watched it said it was new and unique and amazing and that I just had to watch it. I would love it! Well, I’ve never been one to shy away from a horror film, so I cracked open a beer and queued it up.

If you’re not familiar with the film, I’ll give a brief synopsis. Four college friends reunite to go on a hike through the Swedish wilderness to honor their friend, Robert, who died a few months beforehand in a liquor store robbery. One of the friends, Luke, was in the store when it happened and did nothing so there’s some lingering resentment from the other three toward Luke. On the hike, they decide to take a shortcut and end up lost in a forest inhabited by an ancient god that is desperate for sacrifices and picks the men off one by one. Luke ends up stumbling across a small village of people in the forest who worship the entity, a bastard offspring of the Norse god, Loki, and manages to escape before they sacrifice him to the creature.

Even just writing that, the story sounds amazing. Lost in the forest with some creepy beast stealing your friends away and stringing them up in trees sounds like the recipe for an amazing horror story. Except, whoever the hell mixed up the ingredients for this movie put in way too much “men lost and complaining in the woods” and not enough “cool monster” and “creepy cult.”

The movie was incredibly unbalanced in my opinion. We spent way, way too much time following the four friends getting lost in the woods. It’s boring and overdone. I’ve already read that story, I’ve already watched that movie. Hell, I’ve fucking lived that story myself one time when I got too drunk on a camping trip.

Also, as a woman, I could not even remotely relate to the characters, Dom, Phil, Hutch, and Luke. All they seemed to focus on was being the most masculine and the conflict was completely based on miscommunication and toxic masculinity.

Boo. Boring and overdone.

ritualmonsterThe movie really got interested when the monster actually showed its face. I remember squealing when it came on screen, as if it were some cute kitten or baby bunny that had appeared. Amazing design. Loved the monster. Unfortunately, the monster was on screen for maybe a quarter of the movie. I was way more invested in it and the cult that worshiped it than I was in the four male characters and it barely got a part in the movie. I was thoroughly disappointed. A cool movie with so much potential that just didn’t follow through.

Reading the Novel

After I was disappointed by the movie, I found out it was based on a book!

Great, I thought to myself. The novel must spend more time focusing on the cult and the monster than the movie did. Movies more often than not cut out major scenes to keep the film short.  I need to buy it and read it so I can finally hear more about my sweet, baby monster.

The_Ritual_Adam_Nevill_cover

Nope, I was so very wrong .

The book was even more unbalanced than the movie was. In total, the book was a little over 400 pages and we only ever got small glimpses of the monster. Also, it wasn’t until around page 260 that the cult even came into the story.

Oh, and it wasn’t a cult. It was three metal-head teenagers with authority-issues looking to spill blood. Loki and Fenris, the two young men who made up the band Blood Frenzy, had heard stories about the beast living in the woods and came to worship it while at the same time desecrating ancient churches and other modern religious altars.

While that sounds interesting, Loki, Fenris, and their other friend, Surtr, were boring and one dimensional, basic metalhead stereotypes. They reminded me of the bad kids in an after school special about peer pressure and satanism.

I had issues with all three of these metalhead younglings, but my biggest issue with the book was with Surtr, one of only two women featured in the book.

Women in The Ritual

Let’s talk about Surtr.

In the novel, Surtr was, as far as I could tell, a groupie of Blood Frenzy and Loki’s psychotic girlfriend. Although her age was never stated, based on Luke’s pondering of whether these delinquents would even get tried as adults, I’d guess she was between 16 and 20 years old, which honestly makes the last third of the book creepy for an entirely different reason.

Surtr, whose number of speaking lines I can count on one hand, was described as a short, overweight woman with with black hair. Pretty vague, right? Well, thankfully, the author doesn’t stop there! We also get to hear all about how plump and pendulous her breasts are as she runs around the forest naked and how sebaceous and creamy her vagina smells while she pins Luke down.

That’s it, that’s all we get for physical characterization. And as for her personality, well all we know is that she’s incredibly violent, unstable, and wants to cut Luke’s toes off for no reason other than her sadistic streak. Surtr is basically a wild animal, thrown into the narrative for no good reason other than to provide an opportunity to use insults like “fat bitch” and “ugly cow.”

As a lover of horror and a grown ass woman, I have no issue with that type of language or misogyny. This isn’t kindergarten and I don’t expect authors to pull punches to spare my feelings, especially when they’re talking about a character in life or death situations. However, in The Ritual it was absolutely pointless because Surtr was absolutely pointless. The story started off very male-focused and I was fine with that, until the author brought in a female character and demonstrated how little he cared about her.

Surtr was my main issue with this section of the book, but after the author included a line describing the smell of her vagina, I started noticing other little things that just pissed me off. The old woman who lived in the house and was the descendent of the creature in the woods was one hundred percent a horror stereotype. Old women, living in the woods alone practicing ancient magic? Been there, done that.

However, that stereotype took on a whole new light when I read that description of Surtr. I remember thinking, “oh, he just doesn’t know how to write women at all. Awesome.”

And then, the old woman called the creature in the forest “moder,” which means mother.

So now even the monster is feminine, which means in the last twenty or so pages of the book, Luke is exclusively fighting against feminine entities. He’s fighting Surtr and the old woman and now the ancient mother of the forest.

As a woman reading this, I was even less thrilled than I was in the beginning. Obviously, the author has some issues with women that he unknowingly unloaded into this novel. I felt alienated reading it and only finished it because the hidden misogyny only started popping up when I was almost done. When I’m less than 200 pages away from finishing a book, it takes a lot for me to not finish it.

That, and I really wanted to write this post criticizing it and the only way I could be seen as a credible critic was to finish it.

My final thoughts: 0/10, boring, misogynistic, was rooting for the monster to win.

Steven Universe

First of all:

Emily, you done fucked up. This marks the first time that you not only missed a post, but here we are on Friday and you still haven’t posted.

I guess that means the blog is over. Thanks for the ride everyone. I hope you learned a lot about me and my inner workings. You’ll just have to wait until I start my next blog: Devon Degrees of Doody, now with a new writer!

Credits

Speaking of waiting, as of this week Laryssa and I are caught up on Steven Universe. We now join the frothing masses as we wait for the next series of episodes to be released on Cartoon Network.

Steven Universe (2013)

It’s a fantastic children’s show following a young boy named Steven Universe, and his adventures with the Crystal Gems: several powerful beings who are tasked with protecting the Earth. Steven himself is special: he is half Crystal Gem, and half human.

It starts off as a cheerful show about a young boy growing up and helping out around his home town of Beach City. Early episodes revolve around the town and the strange entities and magical items that cause problems.

As the show goes on, the viewers begin to learn more about who Steven and the Crystal Gems truly are, where they came from, and the trials that lay ahead of them.

With a premise like that, it sounds like this could be just another straightforward, formulaic children show about being a kid and growing up. But this show strives for so much more. There is a tight cast of characters, all completely unique and bereft of cliche. Every single character that appears on screen is deeply thought out and very developed. They all have personal and emotional arcs that are easy to get invested in.

The show is amazingly positive and teaches very complex issues ranging from simple topics like forgiving someone to much more complex issues like consent and emotionally abusive relationships.

The actual story line of the show is methodically thought out. I’m sure the shows creator, Rebecca Sugar, had the entire show plotted out before they even began writing the pilot. The larger story is slowly sprinkled in as the show moves forward, hinting at the massive scope of the world and the events of the past. And as you learn more and more, you realize that very important things were hinted at in the first episodes, and you never noticed.

This show is, at its core, a show about relationships between different people and different credos. Characters who seem easy to read at first become so much deeper as more about their histories and relationships are laid bare and explored. These are real relationships these characters have, and no two characters have similar dynamic. This gives the show a wide range of ideas to play with as two characters might go on an introspective romp through the town, while the other two take to the railroads to return to their birthplace. No single friendship is duplicated, and it is a beautiful way to explain to children that no two people are alike, and therefor no two friendships are alike.

Image result for steven universe crying

This show is one part Mr. Rogers, one part Dragonball, and one part Power Rangers. The episodes can change wildly. One episode might show a cartoon fight of epic proportions, and another might be an emotionally charged reveal where people contextual how they feel about difficult to understand topics. This show works so diligently to avoid cliche that there is nothing else like it. 

Fucking real talk: this show has changed the way I write, and it helps me deal with my anxiety.

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My new writing style

I could gush forever, but I recommend to any of my readers to go watch this show. Just watch a couple episodes and I think you’ll see what I mean. The episodes are short, somewhere around 11 minutes on average, and it’s quite easy to binge many of them in an evening. Steven Universe gets my absolute recommendation. I’m sad I didn’t watch it sooner, but I’m glad I’ve watched it now!

—DTM

Writing Strong Emotions

So Krivash’s prelude was kind of a bummer. I knew it was going to be, when I had developed Krivash for our Starfinder game, I had most of that mapped out in my head.

Problem is—it’s a bummer story. About halfway through writing it I suddenly had some doubts: what is the point of this story? Is it’s only point and purpose to be sad? I tried to add a positive spin on it; Krivash was going to try and become the diplomat that Ashraya and Lafid saw him as, and try and give their memory validation.

Since Rogue Trader started, I’ve ended up talking to a bunch of my players and their writing. Seems that our group getting back into RPG’s has kicked off a personal writing renaissance. A common theme I’ve seen among my friends is that the writing is usually a pattern of tragedies. It makes sense: a very common thread among calls to adventure are negative emotions. You don’t often see adventurers happy from the get-go. At least I don’t.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I want to write happier things, and some of the stories I have in my head definitely end happier, but I realized a couple things as I mused on it.

It’s easier to write sad things because everyone has experienced deep, profound sadness in some way, but not everyone has experienced deep, profound happiness. It’s interesting to think about how great happiness and great sadness manifest themselves in the same way emotionally.

Not many. I’ve been thinking about this because I’m crafting a narrative for Rogue Trader, and I don’t want everything to feel sad. I had a reunion between a player and her characters lost brother, and thinking about how to act that out I realized a bunch of these things.

When you think about someone dealing with loss, you see quiet, disbelief, usually accompanied by crying.

When you think about someone experiencing great happiness, you see disbelief, usually accompanied by crying.

Here’s the thing: 99% of books I’ve read end happy. The conflict is resolved, the protagonist gets the love interest, and they all live happily ever after. So why is it hard to write happiness in the shorter form, like me and my players usually write?

We lack the time and space to develop the investment needed to feel happy. Sadness is often a shortcut.We write sad things because we believe having an emotional reaction to writing makes it good writing. Sad things are caused by emotions everyone has felt before: heartbreak, betrayal, death, abandonment.

How many of us know the feeling of suddenly having our burdens relieved? How many of us have beaten cancer? Inherited a ton of money? Found a long lost loved one?

Stories have happy endings because there is enough time for the reader to understand the characters, parse the problems that they face, and most importantly, develop an investment in what happens. This is what I hope to achieve in my writing, and what I hope to achieve in Rogue Trader.

This probably wasn’t a ground breaking thought to a lot of people, but I need to move past the point where sad things is the point of my writing. It’s neat to evoke an emotional response, but I know that I can craft stories better than that. I need to write something longer, or at the very least explore other ideas in my short form writing.

—DTM

 

My Beer Journey

As everyone knows, I love beer. I am a beer nerd and will go out of my way to find new and interesting beers to try. However, looking back, I didn’t always like beer. My first experience with beer still makes me gag to this day.

I have no idea how old I was, but this was in our home back in Wisconsin. We were downstairs in the basement while the grown ups were upstairs, playing cards and drinking beer. Now you probably remember that the basement stairs sat right below the living room so if you spilled something in the living room it would spill down onto the basement stairs.

At this point, our readers can probably guess what happened.

miller can

I remember so many of these cans in our fridge when we were little. I honestly couldn’t remember what the beer was until I found this picture of the old Miller cans. 

I don’t know who was drinking the beer or who put their beer on the floor above the stairs, but someone spilled a can of Miller Genuine Draft. It got all over the carpet right at the door to the basement and it smelled so bad.

So yeah, that was my first experience with beer, and it was gross as hell. I remember thinking I would never drink beer.

Well guess what, childhood Emily. You were wrong.

Well, I guess I wasn’t entirely wrong. I have yet to drink a Miller Genuine Draft and I doubt I ever will because it’s gross.

Anyway…

My next experience with beer wasn’t until I was in my early twenties because, as you know Daniel, I was a huge fucking nerd in high school and never did anything against the rules. I never drank alcohol, I never did drugs, I never snuck out. I think I got grounded once for missing curfew because I was too busy watching weird anime at my friend’s place. That was as bad as I got. Huge nerd alert.

deschutes-black-butte-porter

Black Butte Porter is amazing and always will be amazing.

When we moved to Washington, dad started drinking more microbrewed beers and one of his favorites back then was Black Butte Porter from Deschutes Brewing. He talked about how delicious it was and how it tasted like chocolate and how it was so much better than any of the mass-produced beers. At the time, all I drank was Smirnoff Ices and Mike’s Hard Lemonade and even then I thought they were too sweet.

I looked at the Black Butte Porter in the fridge, shrugged, and decided to give beer another try.

It was so delicious. It did taste like chocolate and it was crisp and refreshing without tasting like liquified candy. That was where I started to fall in love with beer.

I started trying other beers when I had the chance, usually sticking with beer that had a low alcohol content and lighter flavors since the darker stuff was still a little intimidating. Well, nowadays I absolutely adore dark, dry, bitter stouts that dry your mouth out like a nice red wine and it was the Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout from North Coast Brewing that got me hooked.

Our Aunt Jaime was in town visiting and she went out of her way to pick up a four pack of Old Rasputin. Everyone who tried it said it was too dark and bitter, but she kept saying it tastes like black licorice. Well, I wanted to look cool in front of everyone and I like black licorice so I took a sip off of her beer.

rasputin

It’s like a warm hug in a beer bottle. 

Oh my god, it was amazing. It was rich and spicy and amazing. It was like wrapping a warm blanket around you on a cold, rainy day. It was like the smell of campfire smoke. It was like floating in a tub of warm water. It was amazing.

After that, I was always drawn to the darkest beers I could find. I would go out of my way to drink every imperial stout or porter I could find. They made me feel cozy and warm and comfortable.

I have plenty of stories about other beers that have had an impact on my life. The Tsunami Stout from Pelican Brewing, the Oktoberfest from Sam Adams, the Milk Stout from Left Hand Brewing, the Ten Fiddy Imperial Stout from Oskar Blues. I can distinctly remember the first time I tried all of these beers and how they made me feel, but I’ll save those stories for another time.

-EMS

 

Krivash the Roach: Part 6

I miss my mom sometimes.

She wanted me to be a good kid, and I wasn’t.

The police don’t really help us—we’re thieves.

Krivash pounded on the elevator door, willing it to go faster. His antennae flicked about, probing and brushing the walls in agitation. It was a larger elevator, able to carry several dozen people at once, maybe even a small car, but Krivash was alone. It was late at night.

Krivash hadn’t understood. He had only ever taken care of himself, and he had only ever taken care of those around him. He wanted to make things right when he made things wrong. He wanted to fix the things he had broken. He didn’t want help. He didn’t ask for it. He just wanted to be left alone to choose for himself.

He didn’t want a life where he had to do what he was told. No one had ever told him what to do, and he certainly wasn’t going to be told what to do now. Krivash could take care of himself.

So why did Ashraya care? She was messing with his life and the lives of his friends.

I don’t want to see you turn into someone like him.

Krivash finally understood. She had made a mistake, and she wanted to make it right. She wanted to fix what was broken. Krivash had been so self absorbed—he assumed other people were that way. It’s the way it had to be, right?

The truth of it was evident: he was in the elevator, wasn’t he?

The doors chimed politely and began to open carefully. The moment the gap was big enough he squeezed through he began running. The distance suddenly felt insurmountable. It was one of those nightmares, where you were running but your arms and legs were stuck in sludge.

The house was within sight, at the end of the block. He didn’t see Grimmel’s vehicles. Krivash almost stumbled and fell when he heard the distant pops of gunfire. A couple stuccato bursts and then all went quiet.

He kept running, although he desperately wanted to curl up and hide. His head was a swirling torrent of fear.

The street lights nearer Ashraya’s house were out. They didn’t seem broken, and Krivash still didn’t see any of Grimmel’s thugs. Krivash could see that houses door was ajar. He crept up the stairs.

Their home was destroyed. The door had been kicked in, and the coat tree was knocked over. In the living space, the TV was on, some television show continuing on as though nothing had happened. There was a spilled drink on an end table, dripping into the carpet. The couch had blood on it. There were bullet holes across several of the walls.

Krivash crouched down to take off his shoes like Ashraya asked, trying to pretend like everything was okay, but then the tension in his stomach was too much. He vomited. He was coughing when a heavy booted footstep came out of the kitchen.

“Roach? The fuck are you doing here?” said a man Krivash had never seen before.

Krivash coughed a couple more times to buy himself a few seconds, then composed himself and tried standing up. “Grimmel sent me. Wanted me to—”

A couple rushed foot steps and something heavy slammed into the strange mans head. He crumpled to the ground without a sound. Ashraya was standing there, holding a heavy looking lamp. There were years streaming down her cheeks.

“Krivash—you—you told them about me?”

Krivash stood up. “No! No I was coming to stop them!”

“They shot Lafid, because you told them about me.” She screamed at him, her emotions spilling over. “Krivash—we just wanted to help you, you—”

A bullet hole appeared in her forehead. Ashraya collapsed to the ground. A pool of blood began to seep through the carpet.

Krivash whirled around and saw Cyan standing there. A smoking gun in her hand. A van of thugs behind her. In the distance, sirens could be heard all across the Ring.

“Cyan—what did you do?” Krivash shouted at her. He collapsed to beside Ashraya, desperately trying to figure out what he should do.

“Roach, why did she know your real name?” Cyan said, her voice quiet.

Krivash didn’t answer. He stared at the dead woman.

“You were the snitch.”

“You just killed her! You killed her!” Krivash shouted into the ground. “She was gonna help—” He stopped. Grimmel’s men were gathering. Krivash stood up. If he was found out to be the snitch by all of them—

“Krivash—you bastard!” Lafid shouted behind him.

He lurched out of the kitchen behind Krivash. He had been shot several times in the chest and neck. His expression was of anger and grief. As Krivash turned, Lafid wrenched a police baton through the air, and it cracked against Krivash’s skull.

As the heavy pan connected with Krivash’s head, something in his right antennae popped. Krivash fell, and he could see the broken antennae dangling in front of his face. Gunfire from behind Cyan whizzed past into the building, cutting down Lafid where he stood. Krivash clutched at his head and rolled into the living room. He was in too much pain to stand, and he didn’t know whether it was all physical.

The sirens were getting closer. The men definitely heard this exchange. Some of them were calling up, saying they had to get out of here. Cyan was frozen in place.

Krivash slowly, staggered to his feet. He had done this. All of this. They were dead. They were dead. Cyan is a killer now. It was his fault. Cyan stared at him, her eyes already blank and her expression slack. She knew what this meant—Krivash being the snitch meant she was dead, too.

No.

Shoot me, Krivash said to Cyan.

The look on Cyan’s face crumpled, and she began to blink away tears.

Shoot me or they’ll hurt you. Krivash urged.

Cyan closed her eyes. She lowered her gun.

You said you’d give me up, remember? Krivash said. Shoot me!

He just wanted to make things right. He just wanted to fix what was broken. He didn’t mean to steal a truckload of guns. He didn’t mean to get them all mixed up in this. He didn’t mean to get Ashraya and Lafid killed.

Cyan, you have to—

“The roach is the snitch.” She called out. She sniffed away the tears.

A lot of confused and enraged voices sounded behind her, and then they all surged towards the house. Krivash turned and ran for the far window across the living room. Cyan fired her gun a couple times, breaking the window pane for him.

“He’s getting away!” Cyan shouted. Her eyes were puffy, and she wiped her nose with her off hand. She looked defeated, and alone. I did this.

Krivash paused for a moment at the broken window. The broken faces of Ashraya, Lafid, and Cyan all stared at him. His legacy.

Krivash pounced through the window into a narrow alley. The broken glass stabbed at his feet, but he didn’t fall. He turned  left and ran. Behind him he heard more angry voices, and a couple gunshots ricocheted off the walls.

The sirens reached a crescendo as several armored vehicles with flashing strobes pull up to cut off his escape. Gunfire erupted all around Krivash as police and gangsters began exchanging fire. Krivash scrabbled under a car. The end of his broken antennae jammed into the ground, and it hurt. He emerged from the backside of the vehicle, got to his feet, and kept running. From up the street, another of Grimmel’s transports smashed into a police vehicle. More of Grimmel’s people hopped out and began another firefight.

Krivash sprinted for the next alley, and several people shouted after him. A couple thugs gave chase but eventually had to stop and turn to defend themselves.

As the distance grew, it became quieter. The air became calmer. He could still hear the gunshots somewhere distant. Krivash kept running. It was the only thing he was good at.

He eventually found a quiet place near some empty dumpsters. He crouched down behind one. His world was spinning, and Krivash wanted to give up, to quit, to hide, but he didn’t know how. He never wanted responsibilities, but now he was the one responsible. He could see the stars above him now, and the starry eyes held nothing of their comfort. He was being judged.

He pulled his legs up to his chest, wrapping himself in a hug. He sank his head down and sobbed.

I didn’t kill them.

But I killed them.

His antennae twitched, and it hurt.

Krivash wasn’t sure how long he’d sat there. It was still night cycle when he stood back up. The gun fight and sirens had quieted down several hours ago. He emerged onto another unfamiliar street and looked around. More houses, but this side had more bodegas and shops. One billboard caught his eye against the darkened buildings: it showed a bunch of people lined up, all wearing uniforms and looking skyward. Words flashed across the screen.

Join the Starfinder’s today!

Krivash returned to the dumpster and emptied out his coat. He threw away the trinkets, baubles, and partially eaten pieces of food he’d accumulated. He pulled out his gun, which Ashraya had given back to him all those weeks ago, but then put it back in his coat. He shook his coat twice, brushed away dust and debris, and the coat was partially returned to it’s deep brown glory.

Krivash made his way to the docks. At first he thought the Starfinder building would be directly under the sign, but he was mistaken. A lively old lady in a shop laughed at his haplessness, but then directed him towards their building when she thought he might cry. By the time he arrived, it was several hours past morning.

For having such an impressive billboard, the office was very plain and tidy. He wasn’t sure what he expected, but it seemed like any other administration building. Krivash walked up to the counter where a greenish blue Vesk was seated. The barbs on her scaly skin were all smoothed back, and there were delicate intricacies to the patterns arrayed across her visible scales.

“Hello! How can I help you?”

“I’d like to join the Starfinders.”

“Oh! That’s great! Do you have time to fill this out?” She shuffled through pads and papers for a moment before handing him a data slip and a pen.

Krivash stood there and looked at all of the questions. Name. Date of birth. ID number. Emergency contacts.

I—I don’t know any of the answers.”

The nice lady looked at him, concerned and a little confused. “Well—we can work around that. But I do need something from you to prove who you are.”

“A nice man named Lafid signed me up.”

“Oh! Lafid!” She typed hurriedly at her terminal. “Yes! Okay, I’ll get this processing. He put in a special word for you.”

Krivash’s antennae twitched, and it hurt.

The world was threatening to spin again. He stood there, as still as he could, worried that if he moved, everything might crumble around him. He remembered sitting at the table with Ashraya and Lafid as they talked and laughed.

“So—what do you want to do in the Starfinders?”

“I want to be a diplomat.”

The vesk lady nodded agreeably. She kept working for a minute or two. Krivash could sense that she was trying to make small talk. Chit-chat.

“What do you want your name to be in our system? I only have your first name.”

“Krivash… the Roach.”

She hesitated and tilted her head in amusement. She informed him on the rest of the proceedings, where the shuttle was taking the recruits, and what to expect. At the end she smiled and waved as he left, reminding him again and again what time to show up at the dock.

“I’m sure you’ll make Lafid proud!” She said as the door opened.

Krivash’s antennae twitched.

And it hurt.

 

 

My Queer Eye Makeover

This week, I have been miserable and Mother Nature is to blame.

My eyes have been red, my throat has been raw, and my nose and ears have been unbearably itchy. The culprit, the canola fields surrounding my town are in full bloom and are spewing their devil pollen all over my life. I am miserable and I have been stuck indoors all week, trying not to die.

To while away the hours, I have been rewatching the show Queer Eye, which is a beautiful, sweet show that makes me cry every single episode.

So, I am assuming you know what Queer Eye is, Daniel, but for all the people out there who do live under a rock, let me explain. Queer Eye is a show about five gay men who change people’s lives for the better. The original version of this show, called Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, focused solely on sloppy, straight men, helping them update their wardrobes and learn proper hygiene. The Netflix reboot, which I have been rewatching all week, has made over straight men, gay men, trans men, and even women. Like the show’s tagline says, it’s more than just a make-over now.

Watching the episode about the woman, I started imagining what would happen if I was nominated. How would the Fab Five help me? What would my episode look like?

My episode would start like every episode, with the Fab Five driving to ambush me. In this scenario, I’m not sure who would have nominated me, but I feel like they would have nominated me because of how externally focused I am. I focus so much on keeping the people around me happy and content that I usually skip taking care of myself.

So the Fab Five would swoop in, see how cluttered and unstructured my life is, and they would make it so much better.

Bobby is the interior designer. He would take one look at my mismatched, college student apartment with piles of junk in all the corners and probably lose it. He would redecorate, finally giving me an adult apartment, and he would set up organization systems for all my books and craft supplies and clothes. He would also help me purge all the stuff I don’t need.

Jonathan is the grooming specialist and I think he would be somewhat proud of me for having a regular skin and hair routine. However, he would probably take one look at my medicine cabinet and throw everything out. I always buy the cheapest options when it comes to beauty products, and I’m pretty sure Jonathan would not stand for that. He would teach me everything I need to know about beauty products and would show me the best places to get things and would teach me how to make amazing beauty products at home. I would be so cool after meeting Jonathan.

Antoni teaches the clients about food and I think he would have the biggest challenge when it comes to my eating habits. He would probably sit me down and explain to me all the things that do not count as full meals that I have been using for full meals. Cereal is not dinner, saltine crackers are not dinner, a spoonful of peanut butter is not dinner. You need to start actually eating food. And of course I would listen and nod and as soon as he leaves, I would eat a jar of peanut butter for dinner. Not all of their lessons will stick. Sorry Antoni.

When it comes to fashion, Tan is the expert of the Fab Five. I’m pretty sure he would appreciate how varied and colorful my closet is, but would be a little confused by how I use that color. I have a tendency to find an outfit that works and then wear it over and over and over again. I need more pieces that I can mix and match for work and for play instead of statement pieces that only look good one way. He would also teach me where to find clothing that actually fits my bizarre body and throw out all the jeans I own that are way too short for my long legs.

Last, but not least, Karamo would just help me get my shit together. He’s supposed to be the culture guru, but more often than not ends up being a therapist for the client. I’m sure he would hear me speak and think to himself, this girl needs to get back into her therapy routine. He would start by helping me find a good therapist and getting my self care routines back so I could properly recharge my energy for once. I think he would also help me layout my career plans, which have been amorphous and undefined since I left college. Karamo would not stand for that. He would sit my butt down, tell me I need to take risks, and lay out a fifty year plan for me. Boom, done, set for the rest of my life.

I so desperately want to meet my five gay fairy godfathers.

-EMS