Sunday, December 10, 2017

GIFTMAS 2017 - DO WE NEED THE HOLIDAYS?

Hi all,

Today I have the privilege to host Alexa Seidel for the Giftmas 2017 Blog Tour. In her own words: 

Alexa Seidel writes poems and stories about things that are...real. Kinda. Her work can be found at places like Lackington's, Strange Horizons, Mythic Delirium, and others.
If you are so inclined you can follow Alexa on Twitter (@Alexa_Seidel), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/alexa.seidel) or read her blog at http://tigerinthematchstickbox.blogspot.com/

Without further ado...

Do We Need the Holidays?

This year has nor been an easy one. There was that feeling of doom inspired by political events, we have all been feeling that. Additionally, this year brought some difficult family matters with it for me, relationships I thought I could rely on crumbled or had to be broken off. I became the main emotional support to my mother, a role I didn't actively seek out, but one that needed to be filled. At the same time, I had to try to take care of myself.

Because family is so very intricately tied to who we are, or who we think we are, my sense of self was tried a lot. There were emotional loops and one way streets. There was the discovery of strength I never knew I had. And a lot of questions. Boy can the human mind ask questions!

With family fading a bit in my personal life, holidays took on a different flavor. And so one of these questions that I asked myself was: do we still need X-mas in this day and age?

I'd like to begin by saying that I am religion-free and celebrate X-mas not as tied to dogma but rather see it as the year coming to a close, as a time reserved for your near and dear ones, a time for introspection even. Needless to say, when the circle of family shrinks, your holidays might change.

In fact, don't families shrink for most people these days? Divorce and single-hood and distance might all play a part in the traditional picture perfect nuclear family becoming less and less applicable to most people's lives. It would seem then that X-mas too is less applicable than it was half a century ago.

In part I think that this is true. A holiday reflects the people that are celebrating it, and things have changed, will continue to change. Maybe the holidays can adapt as well.

Still, X-mas also serves as a way to mark passing time, it means the year is coming to a close, it means it's time to recharge and reset the board, because the next year is just around the corner. This I think is something people need, both as a society and on a personal level: closure and the perspective to start fresh.

And family, the one that you were born into, is not the only family you can have. We can choose our friends, we can choose whom we want to share our time on this planet with. And we can choose to set a little bit of time aside each year to spend with them.

It's also okay to spend this time to take care of yourself, because self care is a habit, and it needs to be practiced, regularly.

The opportunity the holidays offer us is a time for quiet too. And I don't mean the quiet to reflect about stuff going on in your life, I am talking about the quiet that actually allows you not to think about anything. This leisure is something we may hardly be used to anymore (when was the last time you turned off your phone and didn't check emails for at least 24 hours? Try it this X-mas!)

My personal conclusion is that the holidays are needed, maybe more than ever, but that we all should make an effort to actually celebrate them too--not with noise but with mindfulness and consideration, with care, and ultimately, with love.

A big thank you to Rhonda Parish for organizing this Giftmas Blog Tour

Here's the link to the fundraiser for the Edmonton's Food Bank.


And the rafflecopter for the all the goodies.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

HEROES OF LIGHT

As many have noted, it’s been a rough year for folks. I know of people that have had a rough go of it, along with lots who I don’t know but see on the streets. Those that don’t have a home or place to go. The methods of handling those who are homeless range from place to place, but there’s always a need for assistance. How we do that can range from handing them a few bucks or donating to a local shelter or being an activist seeking to implement change. I’m see this first hand within my social circles.

There’s a local shelter that offers the homeless a chance to bathe, do laundry, and pick up supplies such as socks, hygienic items, and the like. One of my acquaintances works for the shelter and dedicates his free time as well towards the problem of homelessness. Their dedication to the cause is nothing short of amazing in the face of what I see as a nearly insurmountable problem.

They’ve had to shave their head due to lice and get checked for TB in the course of their duties. But they haven’t given up due to the hardship. As shelter is a charity run by the city, the funding it always an issue and adds to the struggle. It’s people like this that gives me hope that things aren’t always going to be terrible despite the world.

I have few heroes, but one stands out. He makes me think about what I’m doing with my life and how I could do better. That man is Jimmy Carter, the former president of the US. On an honest note, he was not a good choice for president. Not because he was a terrible person, but because he was a good person and a bit politically na├»ve. What he lacked in that field of endeavor, he’s more that made up in being a decent human being.

The man left the office and could have retired to a nice quiet life of lectures and profiting off his time as president. Instead he put his beliefs into practice and formed the Carter Center to help human rights and end human suffering. He’s acted as an ambassador and special envoy to nations to negotiate treaties and free hostages. It’s been close to 40 years since he became president and he’s not resting on his laurels. By all rights, Mr. Carter could retire to a nice farm and relax. Instead he’s out there building homes for people and working to make things better for his fellow man.

Those are my points of light. The people that I think about when I need that moment of clarity against the oncoming darkness. Find those people in your life. Thank them so they know that their efforts aren’t in vain and help inspire others.


A big thank you to Rhonda Parish for organizing this Giftmas Blog Tour

Here's the link to the fundraiser for the Edmonton's Food Bank.

And the rafflecopter for the all the goodies.


Friday, March 11, 2016

RELFECTIONS ON A LIFE




This last weekend I made a fast trip to Portland to say goodbye to a friend who passed away last month.  I could’ve made excuses due to time/distance/inconvenience. But I didn’t. In fact, when I was informed of memorial, I booked the bus ride down as soon I double checked my schedule. Honestly, I would’ve canceled any plans to attend. Sometimes, you just owe it to someone not to miss a gathering. There were a few tears and people were sad, but for the majority of it, we talked about Brian and how much he meant to us. It reminded me that we do need to keep connected to people and never take for granted that tomorrow is going to be around.

By coincidence, I turned 50 recently and its forced a shift in perspective. Brain was a year younger than myself and I thought very healthy. It seems that he wasn’t and perhaps a bit too stubborn & self-reliant. There’s a saying about speaking no ill of the dead and my comments aren’t a criticism of how he lived his life. That was his call and I [and no one else for that matter] have a right to judge. We live how we live and there shouldn’t be many regrets. Take that chance. Take that risk. Ask the person out. Write that novel. Skydive. Walk outside your comfort zone. Live like there might not be a tomorrow. Cause there might not be.

So, the good that came out of this, is that I finished my novel and have kicked it out the door to beta readers. One has already given me feedback and the it seems that the plot is good. A few holes, it’s in a dire need of a copy edit, and I forgot to purge the mention of a character, but I chalk it all up as a positive. I have a page of notes and expect feedback from two others over the next few weeks. That project goes forward and I’ve already been making notes on shifting POV, adding POV and adding details. One person disappears off the face of the earth, there’s a question about Theo’s crew, and a suggestion that my ending invalidates a few events and victories that happened. The beta reader did suggest a change, so I’m going to work on that next while getting my short stories in shape. Now if I can get it complete synopsis and the first ten pages in shape, I might be able to make a submission deadline.

Out of the five short stories that are currently in process; one is complete and ready for beta while the other three are in various states of finish. Rotating the projects works for getting words in on a daily basis along with a sense of moving forward. The were-Gronk story is the weakest at the moment, while the Stars and not-Cthulthu-cyberpunk moves along briskly. My Beauty/Beast/Cinderella cyberpunk story is a third done and holds some good promise in terms of being fun. The Grimm Cybertales [not that type of cyber] needs a few more Grimm/fairytale concepts to flesh out, but I’ve hit all the big ones so far.

This month is starting out slow in terms of words to paper. Got a goal to keep and these stories aren’t going to finish themselves.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

GAMES THAT TELL STORIES



            One of the best things about my job is that I get to see new games come in. While RPG’s aren’t a big seller in the market, I keep an ear and eye out for interesting ones. This week is the return of a staple in the D&D world, Ravenloft for 5th edition. I’ve got my copy reserved already and hoping that I can snag it to read over the weekend. There’s some hope it’ll live up to hype and the pedigree. We’ll find out soon enough. There’s a story or two contained within the adventure, but it’s someone else’s story. The characters are following a script of sorts and may not have total freedom to act. Fifteen odd years ago, this style of gaming was almost your only option, but something interesting happened to change that landscape. Story telling games began to make an appearance.

            I should define what I mean by story-telling – the narrative, not the mechanics are what drives the game. Players get more input to what’s going on and even direct how events unfold. This goes beyond rolling dice and figuring out hit or miss, save or failure. The GM hands narrative control to someone else, letting them become both actor and director at the same time. Recent entries such as Dungeon World, Apocalypse World, and Fate are all good examples of this. In the case of the first two, the GM doesn’t even roll dice. His job is to make things interesting should things go pear shape. It becomes a collaborative effort between the people at the table, letting them craft their own slice of the world beyond what the GM might have set up. These games make the fiction the star of the show and that drives the action. Three cardinal rules which come from these style of games are: Make failure interesting, play to find out what happens, and begin/end with fiction.

            A step beyond that are games that can be run as a single session to tell a short, very self-contained story. Often there’s no dice rolling or GM. The randomness comes from the players and the “rules” are more like guidelines. Examples include Once Upon A Time, Kingdoms, Microscope, and Fiasco. I own all of these, but have yet to play the first one yet. OUTA is a card game where everyone has a hand and tries to get rid of them by telling story that includes elements on the cards. These can be things such as water, large, small, castle, knights, etc… Many of the themes adhere closely to fairy tales and the Brothers Grimm. A few of the sessions that I’ve watched, the game’s pretty light-hearted and played for laughs. With the right [or wrong] set of people, it could get very dark quickly. Not that it’s a bad thing, but you do have to know your audience.

            Kingdoms and Microscope fall into the world building category; either building a history between two major events or exploring a specific instance in time. Each presents a different way of telling a story and can be used in conjunction with one another to drill down or expand. They’re great for world building, to bring players into the world and give them greater investment in what’s going on. Sure they know the beginning and the end, but how you get there is the fun part. One of my ideas is to use Microscope to explore the fall of humanity due to the apocalypse and what emerges afterwards. It’s suggested that a timeline of 100-200 years between events be laid out, which in my mind is a good stretch for a PA scenario. Kingdom focuses on a community along with a cast of characters who act to show how the kingdom feels, how they will act, and what the consequences to the action. They confront issues [called Crossroads] which shape things to come. It’s not as strong of a game like Microscope, but that’s more of a preference on my part than it being a bad game.

            As I wrote this, I remembered another game in the story telling genre. The Quiet Year can be played with a deck of playing cards and a pamphlet which explains what each card means. Better still, you can get a set of cards that are specifically made for the game and has the text on them. The premise is that you’re playing a village that’s has a year before Doom comes to visit. Players make a map on the 8.5x11 sheet of paper adding 2 features each. You start in the spring and play through the seasons. Sometime in Winter, the Doom will appear, signaling the end of the game. Each season has 13 cards which are shuffled, drawn randomly, and then you have two choices. One is picked and based on the village you created, adding villagers and places or destroying them as dictated by the card. There’s some discussion and interaction with everyone giving input. As the seasons progress, things get worse and the events get darker. By the time winter hits, the village is on the fast track to destruction and things are failing. When the Doom shows up, it’s almost a mercy killing.

            Last game is best described as Fargo meets Pulp Fiction with a side of Reservoir Dogs thrown in. You know those movies and stories that just scream about going sideways and terrible things are going to happen due to the cluelessness and ineptitude of the characters? That’s the premise of Fiasco. You roll a number of dice to set up the scenario [like a bank robbery], the actors [thieves, hostages, cops], and relationships [hated rival, love interest, daughter]. Mix together and then start the role play. At the end of scenes, white or black markers are awarded, which tie into the ending. If you’re lucky, your character might walk away with the loot and the girl. Or wind up dead in the gutter, left to take the fall, or slumping away to try again tomorrow. As long as you get too attached to the character, there’s a lot of fun to had in seeing just hard they’ll fail. A full session can be run in an evening and the sheet amount of scenarios [called playsets] out there is astounding.

            So if you’re looking for games that tell stories, check out the links below and head to your local game store to pick up a copy.


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Mortality



MORTALITY

I’ll get back to books next week. This week, it’s more personal.

One of my friends in Portland died on Friday. Brian’d been sick for some time and even hospitalized for a stretch. I heard this mostly via Facebook and other people closer to him than I was. From what I’ve gathered is that he died of natural causes due to complications of the illness. He wasn’t much older than myself which hit closer to home that I’d normally be willing to admit. After I left Portland, I didn’t have much contact with my former group due to distance and that most of the members were/are private people.

I first met Brian via a website and a local meet-up of Portland peoples. We gathered for pizza and to talk about gaming. After it’d ended, a few of us moved to another place to have coffee and play games. This is where I was introduced to Apples to Apples and a little game called Chez Geek. I had a hoot of a time and started me down the path which crossed his a few years later.

Again, the gaming website came in play, as one of the member moved to Portland and ended up staying with Brian and his boyfriend at the time. We talked and she invited me over for their Friday evening gaming session. I played a couple of games and the one that stuck in my mind was Power Grid and Ticket to Ride. Nowadays they’re a bit old hat, but in those days, they were new as hell to me. I got to hang with some really cool people.

Brian, as it turned out, had a number of hobbies besides gaming. His interest and knowledge in prog rock rivaled many people and while he wasn’t the most outspoken of people, he had a passion of for it. He worked hard to include everyone and make the times were got together interesting. When I headed over to his place, there was usually something new on the gaming shelf and Brian was ready to explain the rules. He wanted to make sure that everyone had an even footing when we played. More times than not, he won, but not because he knew something we didn’t. He was just that good of a player and more often than not, a very unassuming one.

Brian suggested that I go to PAX with him and a couple of other guys. There I learned that Will Wheaton was a fantastic speaker and the joys of soaking in the eye candy of gaming. He knew all the cool little places to go for breakfast and introduced me to really good sushi for the first time. There were a lot of firsts thanks to Brian. I learned to grow in my outlook of people and found new enjoyment in the gaming hobby.

Thank you Brian for the little things. They’re the ones that mean the most even if I didn’t understand them at the time.

You’ll be missed by everyone you touched.