Pages

Friday, June 07, 2013

FFF Part VIII --- The Aftermath

Okay, it's been over a month since I did one of these. Sorry about that. Let's get caught up and then keep going, because believe it or not, I wasn't quite done yet. If you want to get caught up in what's going on in this extended "treatment" of a found footage horror film, you can read up on it.

WHERE WE LEFT OFF:  The current parish priest in Garretsburg explained how his predecessor was basically nuts in believing there was a cult in the woods. But then Father Anderson shows up at their motel. He starts to tell them about what's happening, when he has a coughing fit and keels over. At the same time, the footage started to break down, going awash in noise and static.

WHERE WE PICK UP:

The camera cuts to a shot of a police car and an ambulance in the motel parking lot. We see the legs of a bunch of people in uniform, along with some EMTs pushing a stretcher into their vehicle.

We can overhear a little bit of the conversation between the cops and the college students:

"So what were you doing when Anderson had this . . . fit?" a deputy asks.

"Just talking to him," Staci said.

"For this 'project' of yours?" another asks.

"Yes," Staci admits, but her voice is hesitant.

"Did you happen to catch the conversation on camera?"

Staci starts to answer, but Ray jumps in, "No, Leon couldn't get the camera started. Then, when Father Anderson had his fit, he dropped it."

A foot steps down in front of the camera, blocking the lens.

The camera then cuts to Leon turning it on again. He faces the camera and explains the situation: "So the cops just left with Father Anderson's body. The EMTs are thinking he had some sort of stroke or a heart attack or something."

"Why'd you lie to them about the camera?" Staci asks off-camera.

Leon swings the camera around to show Staci, Bethany, and Ray in the motel room. Ray is up and pacing.

"Don't you realize what would have happened if we told them we had it on?" Ray asks. "They would have confiscated the camera immediately and we'd have lost everything. Then they probably would have run us out of town. But now they think that we don't have any evidence of what happened."

"'What happened?'" Bethany asks. "You think they murdered him?"

Ray nods. "Of course. Isn't it obvious? He comes back in town to finally talk about what happened with the kid, and next thing you know, he's dead. A little too convenient, don't you think?"

Bethany rises and starts packing her things. "Then that's it. I'm out of here. I don't want to stay here any longer."

"I agree with Bethany," Leon said. "A school project is one thing, but I didn't sign on to investigate a murder!"

Ray turned around. "Now hold on. Let's not chicken out yet! This is just starting to get interesting."

"Don't you get it, Ray?" Bethany's voice is almost a hysterical shriek. "If they killed the father, they could kill us next!"

"Besides, with Father Anderson gone, what else do we have?" Leon asks.

"Not gonna happen, babe. We're fine. Look, let's at least check the camera's footage and see if there's anything that might explain what happened. The least we can do is turn over the footage to the FBI, right?"

Everyone looks to Staci. She turns to Leon. "Dump the footage. Let's see what we have."


So what do they have? We'll find out next week. (I promise!)

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Reus

Oh, boy, it has been a while since I've been on here, hasn't it? I've let a lot of stuff slide (sorry, Freaky Fun Friday readers! I promise, the last installment was not the end of that series!).

I blame Reus.

Okay, so it's really my fault. I'm not good at keeping myself motivated, especially when there's a video game to distract me. And Reus (don't ask me how to pronounce it) is an incredible distraction.

The premise is simple: you're a living planet. You are in direct control of four giants (Ocean, Forest, Rock, and Swamp). You use them to create different biomes and place resources (animal, plant, and mineral).

But the giants aren't alone on the planet. There are these pesky things called "humans," and they have a mind of their own. They'll settle anywhere they can find resources and start building special projects. It's up to you to provide the humans what they need so they can build those projects. But at the same time, you also have to keep them in line because, if you don't, they'll turn on you and attack the giants. And you only have 30, 60, or 120 minutes to get as much done as you can.

I've found Reus to be mind-bogglingly addictive, and part of the reason why is the nature of the game. It's a stripped down god-game (think old school Populous) with heavy puzzle elements. Every resource you can place can interact with the stuff next to it. For example, if you place certain animals near minerals, they'll provide more food. Or if you put certain minerals next to plants, those minerals will provide more gold. Part of the challenge is to find the best interaction to help bolster what the humans are up to. And you want the humans to build those projects. Pretty much every time they do, they provide your giants with an "ambassador" that unlocks special powers, allowing the giants to upgrade the resources, leading to more and better interactions that allow the humans to build more and more impressive projects.

Ah, those humans. Love 'em and hate 'em in this game. There literally is no good way to control them (aside from being really careful where you place the resources). They'll sometimes pick odd projects (one of my swamp villages kept trying to build a "Geologist" project, which requires mountains. They were nowhere near a mountain. I finally had to have my Rock Giant destroy the village). And if you give them too many resources too quickly, they'll get greedy. Greed is bad. Greed leads to the villages attacking each other and eventually, the giants.

Not only that, but the game sets unofficial "goals" for each playthrough. For example, one of the goals I'm trying to meet right now is to create a game where all of the villages create 2,000 food together. Meeting those goals unlocks more resources to use in the game (something you also receive the first time the humans build a particular type of project).

Not everything is hunky-dory with this game, however. Figuring everything out is kind of tricky. The game links to a wiki that I've found really helpful, but a lot of what a player does is trial-and-error. That's not necessarily bad, but you have to be careful not to lock yourself into one way of playing.

Also, there are stability issues that have been maddening for me. A few times, my giants have frozen in place and won't take orders. I found an easy fix for that one, but the most recent has really upset me. The game will randomly crash at the same point, over and over. For example, last night, I finally managed to complete some projects that had been eluding me. I had only 15 minutes left in my game. And then it all crashed. I tried reloading from the auto-save, only to have it crash again. And again. And again. Needless to say, I had some unpleasant thoughts about the game.

But that shouldn't stop you from checking out this great game. It's available from a variety of sources and it's only about ten bucks. Well worth the money, believe me!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt Stop #25

Welcome to the 2013 Summer Scavenger Hunt! This hunt has 32 stops and runs 5/17-5/19/13. If you make the loop, reading unique content from 31 different authors, and fill out the Rafflecopter form at Stop #32, you'll be in the running for an iPad Mini (loaded with all our books), or one of two runner-up prizes---all 31 of our new releases in paperback.

Some authors are offering additional prizes, so be sure to read each post thoroughly to be in the running for everything that's available. The contest is open internationally too!

If you've JUST discovered the hunt, I recommend you start at Stop #1, found at LisaBergren.com. But you can also begin here, and keep rolling. Just be aware that if you win, you need to email Lisa Bergren (within 24 hours) the COMPLETED phrase in the correct order (which you construct by gathering clues at each stop). If Lisa doesn't hear back from you with the correct phrase within the time limit, she will move on to the next winner that Rafflecopter draws. Ready? Here we go...

Meet Jill Williamson
JillWilliamsonNewSmall

Jill Williamson is my personal hero when it comes to writing, and she's a great friend. I first discovered her work when Marcher Lord Press published her Blood of Kings trilogy (By Darkness HidTo Darkness Fled, From Darkness Won). Then I met her at an American Fiction Christian Writers conference, where she pitched my debut novel, Failstate, to her agent, Amanda Luedeke. Simply put, Jill is awesomeness personified!

Haven't heard of Jill before? Here's her official bio:

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens and lives in Oregon with her husband, two children, and a whole lot of deer. Visit Jill online at www.jillwilliamson.com, where adventure comes to life.

Personally, I'm in awe at the amount of detail and forethought that Jill puts into worldbuilding. It's not an easy trick, creating a new reality from scratch. When Jill does it, you can tell that she's put a lot of hard work and effort into it. And today, she's going to "pull back the curtain," so to speak, and show us how she does it. So, without further ado:

Creating the Future by Jill Williamson

Ever read a book that transports you to the future? That was the challenge I faced when working on my latest novel Captives, which is a dystopian story that takes place in the year 2088. I needed to create a futuristic storyworld that felt real. Here's how I did it.

1. I drew a map.

Maps always get my imagination going. Captives takes place in the future in what was once the ski resort of Mount Crested Butte, Colorado. So, I started with an actual map of the ski resort and added my futurist city. This way I was able to meld the past with my imaginary future. Lots of cool story ideas came from this map. Click on it to zoom in.
safelandsmap

 2. I wrote a history for a controlling government that's hiding a secret.

Dystopian novels are cautionary tales in that they take fears from our real world and make them a fictional reality. I had a head start in this area because I already knew what I wanted my storyworld to be like. And it was all Beth Moore's fault! Want to know why? Check this out: 


Once I knew I was writing a futuristic Babylon, I wrote a history of how the Safe Lands came to be such a place. The important thing to remember when creating any fictional government, as dastardly as they might seem, they really do believe they are doing the right thing for the survival of their people. If they're just plain evil for no reason, the story won't feel as realistic.

3. I created technology.

This took some work, and I thank my Facebook followers for helping me brainstorm. Glass can project any image in The Safe Lands, as can human skin. I created SimTags, which are microchips that people can get embedded into their skin to create SimArt, which are virtual tattoos. Also, since everyone is sick, they use personal vaporizers (which are like electronic cigarettes) to take their meds or any other substance like stimulants or candy.
GlassTopAd

It was pretty fun to make up this stuff, and the combination of it all helped bring the storyworld to life. Check out the official book trailer my publisher made to see what I mean.


Jill's new book, Captives, is simply awesome. Young people have been kidnapped from their homes and taken to an ironically named city, the Safe Lands. But those lands are anything but safe. Can the victims make it home again? Or will the Safe Lands be the end of the road? (I've already read it and loved it!) It is available at bookstores or online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christian Book Distributors, and at a bookstore near you.

Captives The Safe Lands

AND NOW, YOUR NEXT STEPS:

Write down this clue: through
 
Have it written down? Great! Now head on over to Jill Williamson's website for your next clue!

But wait! For stopping by, I have a special bonus for you!

A few years back, some friends of mine (the folks of Tangled Blue) recorded a  special song, On What Has Now Been Sown, for the release of my first book, Failstate. Well, I'd like to share that song with you. Just click here and fill out the form, and you'll get your free music. It's really, really fun group and I highly suggest you check them out.

Thanks for stopping by!

Star Trek Into Darkness

Hoo boy. Here we go. Earlier today, I sat down to watch Star Trek Into Darkness, and now I'm trying to process exactly what it is I saw.

Let's start with the plot. Captain James Kirk and company are back. Kirk is hoping that he'll be selected to head up a certain five year mission, one that will take him into deep space and go where no one has ever gone before. Only there's a problem. Actually, more than one. At first, the fly in the ointment is Kirk himself. He still hasn't learned how to follow the rules, much to the chagrin of his first officer, Mr. Spock. An adventure on a primitive planet threatens to derail Kirk's dreams.

But then things really go awry when a man named John Harrison attacks a Starfleet archive. But then he makes things personal for Kirk when he attacks Starfleet's leadership directly. Kirk volunteers to go after Harrison. But that's a problem. Harrison should be far out of their reach. By going after him, Kirk is committing his crew to delve into darkness and they'll all be fortunate to emerge unscathed.

I had a really fun time watching this movie. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto embody their characters to the fullest (Quinto especially; it's eerie). Those two are definitely the heart and soul of the movie and they are more than capable of carrying the franchise forward. The action sequences were great, the plot had plenty of twists and turns, and there were more than a few subtle nods inserted for the fans (I caught two in quick succession that made me smile, two shout outs to DS9 and Enterprise).

But as much as I enjoyed this movie, I'm still a little frustrated by it, but before I get into why, I need to trot out my old friend again...


Okay. I've seen this particular plot point spoiled in numerous places (I'm looking at you, imdb and Entertainment Weekly), but let's talk about who John Harrison really is. Yes, it's a front and yes, if you're a Trekkie, you're going to know who this guy is. When I heard who Benedict Cumberbatch was really playing, I about went through the roof.

My first objection had to do with the continuity of the larger Star Trek universe. Yes, I know these movies are set in an alternate reality, but even still, I had a hard time wrapping my mind about how Harrison could really be . . . him. I'm sorry, even with Godzilla warning people off, I'm still not going to say the name. Thankfully, this objection was answered somewhat handily. They came up with a good "in story" reason and I accept their little tweak to the storyline. It works.

But my larger objection is that, in some ways, this is a retread. By resurrecting a classic Trek villain, we're just covering old ground again. Now, in some ways, I get it. This new movie series is a reboot and that makes everything fair game. But at the same time, I kind of wish we could have seen something a little newer. That's all.

Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of fun. I can't wait to see what's coming next.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Wordcount Wednesday

I'm just going to say this now: I hate the flu. Despise it. I got nailed with it twice this past week. It took me out of commission for two days and then again this past weekend. As a result, I've been having some trouble bouncing back. I still managed to do some writing, but again, not enough.

As of right now, Failstate #3 is at 53,087 words. That's only 4,180 more than last week. I'll have to step it up some more if I can.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Son of Truth

Rowen Mar and Caleb Tala are back in Son of Truth by Morgan Busse, a book that helps set up what can only be an epic confrontation in the final chapters.

When we last left them, Rowen had wiped out the invading Temanin army, thus saving the White City from destruction. But she also confronted and awakened something in the Temanin assassin, Caleb Tala.

Now both Rowen and Caleb have new challenges to face. Rowen, for example, has received a call for help from the distant city of Thyra. In the last book, an evil called the Shadonae has overrun the city and its Monastery, sending the soon-to-be scribe named Nierne to seek help from the Eldarans. Since Rowen is the last living Eldaran (that she knows of), she agrees to go with Nierne and fight this force of evil, even if it does mean leaving the rugged Lore Palancar behind. But the journey is not easy and takes and unexpected turn. Rowen must sacrifice something great to save her companions, something that might change her life forever.

Caleb, in the meantime, must come to grips with the fact that he's a changed man. He's no longer the ruthless assassin he once was. His experience with Rowen has revealed a completely different world to him, one that he barely understands. Maybe Nierne could help him understand his role, but Nierne is a constant reminder of the man he used to be, one that he's not comfortable remembering.

I really enjoyed this book. I think it's little surprise that Morgan is a 2013 Christy finalist for Daughter of Light. She is an extremely skilled writer and I loved losing myself in this world once again. Morgan has created some fantastic characters and concepts.

My one gripe (and it's a small one!) is that this book is more of a bridge than a complete tale in itself. It's obvious that there's another story to come. That's not a problem per se, but I wished that the book had it's own self-contained tale.

That didn't truly diminish my enjoyment, though. I can't wait to see how this epic tale concludes!

Friday, May 03, 2013

FFF Part VII --- A Dead End?

WHERE WE LEFT OFF: Staci and Leon struck out when they tried to interview the locals. Ray, surprisingly, uncovered a pattern: approximately every three years, someone goes missing from town. The disappearances are explained different ways. Not only that, but the local Catholic priest resigned after one of the disappearances. He claimed they were the work of a cult in the nearby woods. The gang decided to interview the local priest to find out what happened.

WHERE WE PICK UP:

The next morning, Staci, Leon, Bethany, and Ray head over to the local Catholic parish and ask to speak with the priest. Eventually a middle-aged man who introduces himself as Father Collins comes out. He seems friendly if a bit wary when he sees the camera. Staci quickly explains that they're shooting a documentary, that they have all of the permits, and they just had a few questions for him. Would he mind sitting down and chatting with them? Father Collins seems unsure, but he agrees.

The camera cuts to the interior of the church. Father Collins is seated in one of the pews and facing the camera. Staci is apparently standing just off screen. Father Collins asks where Ray and Bethany had gone. Staci assures him that they'll be respectful (although her tone makes it sound as if she isn't so sure).

They chat for a while, getting his background. He's been in Garretsburg for the last ten years since the former priest resigned. Staci immediately broaches the subject:

"We understand that the former priest resigned because a little boy went missing?"

Father Collins holds up a hand. "Now hold on. I know that it's become acceptable to assume that we priests are always involved in nefarious plots against little kids, but Father Anderson had nothing to do with his disappearance. He simply became overwhelmed and suffered a mental breakdown."

"No, we understand that. But didn't he claim that there was some sort of cult out in the woods?" Staci asks.

Father Collins snorts. "Ridiculous. Like I said, I've been here ten years and I haven't seen any evidence of a cult."

"So why did Father Anderson think there was one here?"

"Because of the little boy. His name was Tyler Engler and he belonged to our parish. Father Anderson was very close to the Engler family and he took the disappearance hard. When the sheriff ran out of leads, Father Anderson started his own 'investigation.' His only theory was the so-called cult."

"What evidence did he have?" Staci asks.

Father Collins laughs. "''Evidence' is too generous. 'Conjecture' and 'guesses' is even too strong. He spotted what he thought was a pattern and ran with it. Before too long, he was so worked up he just . . . snapped. Listen, I don't know what this school project is you're working on, but if it has anything to do with Father Anderson, you're only going to wind up disappointed."

The camera cuts to Staci and Leon waiting out in the parking lot afterwards. Ray and Bethany jog up to the car.

"Where were you two?" Staci demands. "If you two snuck off to---"

"Hey, come on, give us some credit," Ray says. "While you two were playing nice with Father Collins, we did some digging on our own. I distracted the parish secretary and Bethany found Father Anderson's contact number. Why ask his replacement when you can ask the real deal?"

Staci squeals and hugs Ray. But their celebration is cut short when Leon notices the sheriff's car parked down the block. They can't see if someone's in the front seat or not, but Leon suggests they get out of there.

The camera switches back on late at night in the motel room. Someone is pounding on the door. Staci turns to Leon and asks if he knows what's going on. The camera drops onto the bed (still pointed at the door, of course). Leon creeps over to the door and opens it.

Standing outside is a bedraggled looking middle-aged man. He seems twitchy and a little off. Leon demands to know who he is.

"What do you mean? You called me!" the man says.

Staci creeps around Leon. "Father Anderson?"

The man nods. "Who else? So are you here to reveal the truth? Is someone finally going to listen to me?"

"Come in," Staci says. She then pounds on the wall.

A second later, Ray and Bethany come into the room. Leon retrieves the camera and gets it pointed at Father Anderson.

"So what can you tell us about this 'cult?'" Staci asks.

Father Anderson collapses onto the bed and coughs. "I hear doubt in your voice, young lady. But I had to come anyway. For Tyler. His disappearance is my fault."

"Why do you say that?" Staci asks.

"Because I ignored the signs around me. Because I didn't pay attention to the evil that's boiling right under the surface." He coughs again.

"Let's jettison the poetry, okay?" Ray says.

Bethany elbows him.

"I don't blame anyone for being skeptical, but Garretsburg has been poisoned for a long time and no one knows." Another long cough. "No one but me."

"Why? What's going on here?" Staci asks.

"Do you know about the pattern?" Father Anderson asks.

"1,008 days," Ray says.

Father Anderson nods. "Three lunar years. Precisely. And the pattern is about to restart soon. That's why I came back when you called. That's why..."

He breaks down in a coughing fit. As he does, the footage goes blurry and begins to break down. It stutters and skips, odd screeching noises cutting through the frantic sounds of Staci and Leon. It's hard to tell what's happening exactly, but it looks as though Father Anderson is having some sort of seizure. He collapses off the bed before the footage goes to static and then nothing.

So what happened? You'll have to wait until next week to find out for sure!

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Iron Man 3

In The Avengers, Captain America insulted Tony Stark by calling him a "big man in a suit of armor." Then he asked, "Take that away---what are you?" Tony replies that he's a billionaire playboy philanthropist. I could argue that this one exchange is a sort of outline for Iron Man 3. And it turns out that Tony is so much more than that.

Thanks to my wonderful wife (who spotted a free preview on Facebook), I got to see the latest Marvel movie on Tuesday. And now that I've had a few days to mull things over, I have to say . . . I'm still not sure what I think.

The story starts with a flashback to Geneva, where Tony Stark is the old Tony Stark, the weapons dealing ladies' man. There he encounters a sexy biologist, a severely crippled researcher, and an exploding ficus. All of these will come back to haunt him. Then, several months after the attack on New York by Loki's forces. Tony Stark has tried to deal with his harsh memories by building new sets of armor. The latest is a prototype that can be summoned to him at a thought. Tony's trying desperately to hide the fact that his little trip through the wormhole has rattled him badly.

But he's about to be drawn into a massive plot involving the uber-terrorist the Mandarin. The Mandarin is trying to teach the President of the United States a lesson of some sort. When Happy, Tony Stark's bodyguard, is injured in one of those "lessons," Tony takes it personally and issues an open challenge to the Mandarin.

The Mandarin responds (and if you've seen the trailer, you know what he did). As a result, Tony is ripped from his world and is forced to improvise. Can he foil the Mandarin's plot? And how does Aldrich Killian fit into all of this?

Well, it was a fun ride. I was surprised at the amount of humor that was woven into the story. Parts of it were genuinely hilarious. And the plot was . . . interesting. At one point, I wondered how it all would tie together. Toward the end, it all became clear. Sort of. I think they skipped over some of the connecting tissue, so to speak.

But it was definitely a fun movie to watch. Ben Kingsley, especially, is awesome. And Robert Downey, Jr., is fantastic as Tony Stark. I keep wondering how much of these movies are made up on the spot. Downey's performance is spot on and excellent.

What's holding me up is more of a meta concern. Where are they going to go from here? In many ways, this movie seems like a dead end. But given how awesome Marvel's movies have been, I can't wait to see what Tony Stark does next.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Wordcount Wednesday

I'm going to keep this quick. Life has been conspiring against me lately when it comes to writing. Now it's flu. Grrrrr.

So right now, the third Failstate book is weighing in at 48,907 words, which means I added 12,242 words since the last time I checked in. Not good enough. I'll need to knuckle down and keep working.

Friday, April 26, 2013

FFF Part VI --- Digging Deeper

WHERE WE LEFT OFF:  Staci and crew checked out the site where Lisa's house once stood and found very little except for an odd little rag doll. They're yelled at by the sheriff and they interview the mayor. Now it's time to hunker down in the library and do some research.

WHERE WE PICK UP:

The gang arrives at the library. They try to enter with the camera running, but the head librarian stops them and orders Leon and his camera to stay out. Staci seems perturbed by this, but she comes up with a plan: Ray and Bethany will go into the library and do some digging. In the meantime, Staci and Leon will go out into the town and shoot more footage, maybe conduct some interviews with the locals. Ray and Bethany agree to this. When Ray seems particularly eager to get Bethany alone, Staci has to remind her that they're here to work. Bethany agrees, but she giggles and Ray pulls her into the library.

Staci looks at Leon (or the camera, as it were) and apologizes. "I'll work on her, I promise."

The footage cuts to the small park and playground that Veronica was at. Staci and Leon interview several of the local citizens, mostly young mothers at the park with their kids, about life in Garretsburg. Almost all of them have glowing things to say about the town, about how friendly it is, how they all pull together when they have to. When Staci presses them about the mayor, the interviewees seem to get a bit more nervous. They're still all smiles, but they don't appear happy to talk to them anymore.

Eventually, they return to the hotel to see what Ray and Bethany have found.

It turns out that Ray actually did some of the work himself and found some items of interest. He dug through the old newspapers and found out that over the last fifteen years or so, Garretsburg has had a string of odd disappearances. Every three years or so, someone goes missing in town.

"Why do you suppose no one outside of Garretsburg has noticed?" Staci asks.

"Because they're not all the same," Ray says. "In one case, it was a teenage girl and the sheriff claimed that she ran away from home. Before that, a local farmer was supposedly murdered by a man passing through town. Before that, a little boy went walking through the woods and never came back."

"So why do you think they're connected?" Leon asks from behind the camera (and it's obvious he's not happy).

"Because like I said, there's a pattern. These happen every three years or so. More specifically, there's a period of 1,008 days between each disappearance."

There's a long pause. "1,008 days? You figured that out?" Leon asks.

Bethany ruffs Ray's hair. "What can I say? My baby has a head for numbers."

Ray looks ready to pounce on Bethany right there, but Staci stops them. "Did you guys find anything else?"

"One thing. After the little boy disappeared, the local Catholic priest resigned from his parish. He claimed that there was some sort of cult that meets in the nearby woods and they're the ones responsible for the disappearance. Later on, the diocese claimed he had to leave due to 'mental exhaustion,' and since then, it looks like people have decided it was his fault the boy disappeared. But I don't know. Think it's worth going over to the church to check it out?"

Staci smiles. "I think that's our next step."

And that's where we're going to break for this week, folks. Come back next time. Trust me, you won't want to miss it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Darth Plagueis

I'm a sucker for Star Wars books, especially when they branch out into the ancillary characters and plots. For example, tonight I spotted a book called Into the Void, a book about the first Jedi and I immediately sat up and decided I had to read it someday. So when I saw a book called Darth Plagueis, which tells the story of Darth Sidious's master. I figured there'd be a good chance that we'd finally learn the story of Palpatine himself., something that I've been curious about for a while. I actually had an idea about that a few years back. So how did James Luceno do?

Well, it was okay.

The story picks up as Darth Plagueis kills his master, Darth Tenebrous. By doing so, he becomes the Sith Master in need of an apprentice. After all, a thousand years before the original Star Wars trilogy, the Sith Lord Darth Bane crafted his Rule of Two: there will only be two Sith, one to embody the power, the other to crave it. Plagueis finally settles on a young noble from Naboo named Palpatine. He is surprised at how powerful Palpatine is in the Force.

Plagueis realizes that Palpatine can help him achieve his fondest wish: Palpatine will be the one to control the Galactic Republic, and he will be the power behind the throne once he has figured out how to achieve immortality through the dark side. And so we go on a journey through darkness as Plagueis and Sidious position themselves and their forces to topple the Jedi and bring about the rule of the Sith.

On paper, this should be a fun story. And, in some ways, it is. Luceno dangles some interesting tidbits about what the Sith have done to prepare for their revenge. And it was interesting to watch as Plagueis teaches Sidious the secrets of the dark side. But in the end, this book dragged a bit. Plagueis is a little too fond of long speeches. And what seems to be the most important event in the story is glossed over in its entirety. Kind of disappointing.

The one positive I'll say is that this book does help unpack some of the dense and strange backstory of Episode I. I can honestly say I understand it a little better now. And that's not too bad.

Friday, April 19, 2013

FFF Part V --- Exploring Garretsburg

WHERE WE LEFT OFF: Staci and Leon have been joined by Bethany and her jerk of a boyfriend, Ray. They've driven from their college to Garretsburg and checked into a motel.

WHERE WE PICK UP:

The next morning, the crew goes back to the vacant lot where Lisa's house once stood. Bethany whines about why they're there, filming an empty lot for no apparent reason. Leon replies that they're getting B-roll footage for Lisa's interview. He pans the camera across the field. There isn't much to see, mostly just dying grass. We see Staci and Bethany kicking through the grass. Then Ray shouts that he's found something. Tucked into some scraggly bushes is a strange ragdoll, looking like it was made out of a black towel and tied together to make arms and legs. Ray wonders out loud if it's a clue. Leon snorts and says it's unlikely.

"What are you kids doing?" a voice shouts.

The camera turns to reveal a sheriff's car parked next to the lot. An older gentleman, maybe in his late fifties, is leaning out of the window.

"We're filming a documentary," Staci said.

"You got a permit for that, right?" It's clear that the sheriff knows that they don't. "You go down to City Hall and get one, got it?"

The camera shuts off, only to turn on again in City Hall. Staci motions for Leon to keep quiet and they wait outside a door. We can hear snippets of an argument through the door, someone saying something about how "they won't find anything, don't worry."

Then the Mayor exits the room. He too is an older gentleman in his late 50s and almost appears to be "everyone's grandpa." He seems a bit surprised to see the students and the camera, but he plasters on a smile and thanks them for coming. He says he's already started the work on drawing up the permits and if they have any questions, they can come by and talk to him.

Staci brings up what happened to Lisa's house. The Mayor is still all smiles and replies that it was clearly an unfortunate accident, one that caused Lisa's dad to overreact. They go down to the clerk's window and get the permits. The Mayor agrees to meet with Staci and Leon the next day for an interview.

The footage cuts to that interview. The Mayor is seated behind his desk. Pictures of Garretsburg hang on the wall behind him. Staci asks questions about the property outside of town, the election, and the fire. The Mayor explains that the property is owned by the city and the person who donated it stipulated that the city had to hold on to it. That's why they couldn't sell it to Lisa's dad. As for the rumors of a rigged election, the Mayor denied any wrongdoing. He suggested that Lisa's dad was simply paranoid and jumping at everything. The fire was a tragic event but coincidental to it all.

Once the interview is over, he ushers Staci and Leon out of his office. Leon asks what they'll do next. Staci looks upset. She stares at the Mayor's office door and says, "He's lying. I know he is. C'mon, let's get the others and head to the library for some research."

So what will they find? Tune in next week to find out!

Sin and Grace in Boston

So last night, as I was thinking about going to bed, my younger son woke up and started crying for Mama. Well, Mama was sound asleep and I wanted her to stay that way, so I got my son and snuggled him by the computer. That meant that I had to poke around and find something quiet to do. I checked some of the blogs I read for new content (and, at midnight, I didn't find any; go figure). I tried to play Plants vs. Zombies with the sound off, but that woke him up and he excitedly said, "Zombies!" And finally I clicked over to Twitter.

And I saw a slew of tweets about a dead police officer and an explosive chase in Massachusetts.

Seeing as it was midnight, I wasn't about to turn on the TV. For one thing, I knew it'd wake up my son. For another, I knew that in the chaos of the moment, there'd be a lot of speculation and very few facts. So I kept rocking and snuggling until he went to sleep.

I had to get up early this morning to shovel my driveway thanks to the mid-April snowstorm Minnesota experienced. Before I could get outside, my wife told me that the news was reporting that the people involved in the shootout and the car chase were suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, that one of them was in custody (we didn't know that he had died at the time) and the other one was still at large. I nodded and went to get my boots on.

As I did, I started thinking about that bombing suspect and what I wanted for him. And I knew what I wanted. Pain. Death. Retribution. He had attacked our people, and he should experience some of the hell that he put his victims, their families, and our whole nation through.

But then, as I started clearing away the new fallen snow, a different thought invaded my mind. One that made me uncomfortable. One that made me rethink my initial, visceral reaction.

Is that really what a Christian should want?

I kept shoveling but, as I did, I wrestled with this idea. These men, whoever they were (at the time, I didn't know that they were brothers, I didn't know that they were Chechen,  I knew very little), were evil, wicked men. Why else would they have planted those bombs? If anyone deserves "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" treatment, it's these despicable vermin.

And yet, I couldn't get away from that thought.

Is this really what I should want as a Christian?

It's hard for me to admit and even harder for me to say. I fully expect people to disagree vehemently with me. But didn't Christ say that eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, is the opposite of the way we should be living? Didn't He say something about turning the other cheek? About praying for our enemies and forgiving them?

I know it's hard to do. I love bearing a grudge and I'm particularly fond of seeing people I don't like getting what they deserve. But if I am a Christ-follower, if I am a Christ-imitator, then my reaction to Boston is not to revel in the death and destruction of sinful human beings. Instead, it should be to offer forgiveness and hope that the grace of God can turn two lost and fallen men into children of God.

Does that mean that I think that they should get off the hook? Not at all. While the cross of Christ may erase our eternal punishment, we still have to face the consequences of our sins in the here and now. And as St. Paul says in Romans 13, the government does bear the sword for the punishment of evildoers. But I'm not the one holding the sword.

Instead, I think I'll do the following instead and I invite you to join me:

  • To continue to pray for and support the victims and families of these men
  • To pray for the families of the bombers as well. I suspect that they're hurting and confused as well. If they're not, I'll pray that they come to see the error of their ways.
  • To pray for the bomber who has yet to be caught. Not only will I pray for him to be found before he can hurt anyone else, but I also plan to pray for him to see the error of his ways and repent as well.
  • To make sure that I don't fall for "guilt by association," that I won't treat anyone who might share these brothers' worldview any differently than I would want to be treated.
  • To pray for peace in our fractured world, to join with the groaning creation in the ancient cry, "Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Organ Trail

Every now and then, I find an interesting video game on Steam. Usually it's an indie game and I love buying those games, if for no other reason than to encourage the indies to keep working.

Well, the other day, I got excited, because I thought that I spotted an old favorite on Steam: Oregon Trail. Who here remembers Oregon Trail? When I was in elementary school, I remember how excited I got plopping down in front of the Apple II and trying to get my little band of pioneers from Independence, MO, to the promised land of Oregon. Yeah, I usually wound up wiping out due to dysentery or the final trek down the river, but it was a lot of fun!

You can imagine my surprise when I thought I spotted Oregon Trail on Steam. It even looked the same as the Oregon Trail I used to play. So I clicked on over and then stopped.

Organ Trail? What on Earth?

As it turns out, I had stumbled on a silly little indie game in which a group of survivors have to travel from Washington, D.C., to a promised land on the west coast. Load up a station wagon, gather your provisions, and head on out. Just hope that nobody gets bit by a zombie or you might have to put them down.

So let's talk about what the game gets right. First of all, it's got the feel of the original 8-bit version of Oregon Trail, down to the awful graphics. You have to buy your original supplies, like food, ammo, med kits, and spare tires and mufflers and batteries for your car. You can set your pace and your rationing and hope for the best.

Just like in the original game, you can stop from time to time to scavenge for more supplies, just like how you had to hunt for game in the original. Only this time, you're scooping up magically appearing wallets and grocery bags and using your trusty rifle to shoot the shuffling zombies that come after you. Plus there's plenty of silly humor in the game, some nods to the original that had me smiling.

But not everything is kosher in this game. The combat system is a major disappointment.

Look, I get it. The game developers didn't want this one to get too easy. But using the mouse to aim the gun is too much of a hit-or-miss proposition, and usually, it's a miss. Instead of putting the cursor between the zombie and myself, to aim, I have to put the cursor behind my avatar. The only way I could reasonably aim my gun was to draw a line from the zombie target to myself, but there were still times when my hand would twitch and suddenly, my character would turn 270-degrees and I'd be facing the wrong way, unable to turn around quick enough to shoot the zombie. Because of this glitch, I haven't even come close to reaching the end of the game. And all of this is on easy! I shudder to think what would happen on the harder difficulties.

So do I regret getting this game? Not at all. It is fun. I just wish I had a better shot at beating it.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Rapture

If you've been around my blog long enough, you've discovered that I have a thing for video games. That's especially true for games that come with a good story. And if you're looking for some great stories in video games, you don't have to look any further than Bioshock (and in this case, I'm referring to the first two in the franchise; I haven't finished playing Biohosck: Infinite just yet, but I think I might be close).

Part of what makes the Bioshock franchise so engaging is the setting and the larger-than-life characters the player encounters throughout the games. I still remember the first moment I saw the underwater city of Rapture looming up on the bottom of the ocean floor in the first game. I still remember the shock I felt at The Twist in the middle of the first game (and no, I'm not dropping any spoilers here). I still remember how excited I was to go back for the second game.

So when I saw that a man named John Shirley was tasked in creating a book about Rapture and its denizens, I wanted to see what he put together. I got a copy of BioShock: Rapture and finally got around to reading it.

The book is pretty much what it advertises. We get to go along as industrialist Andrew Ryan envisions his objectivist utopia and builds it on the floor of the North Atlantic. We get to watch as all the characters we meet in the games come to live in Rapture. And then we get to watch as it all falls apart: as war breaks out between Ryan's forces and an upstart who wants to rip it all away, as Dr. Sofia Lamb tries her best to create a collective out of what should have been competition, as so many little girls are turned into Little Sisters, paired with the hulking Big Daddies.

I really wanted to like this book. I mean, I really loved the games. The first one, especially, kept me up late one night wrestling with philosophical questions of how much free will a person really has (and really, isn't that what a good story is supposed to do?). I guess those high expectations translated over to the book.

Don't get me wrong. Shirley does an admirable job weaving a very convoluted timeline into a whole (I've often gotten confused about how all the events of the two games fit together). And I think he does a pretty good job capturing the personalities of the games.

But after reading it all, I think I know what it was missing: a true through-line. We needed a main character to follow and care about. There are a lot of people that I felt sorry for while reading the book. But we pop around Rapture so much throughout the book that it was hard to really care about any of them. Shirley almost does that with Bill McDonagh, but we don't spend nearly enough time with him to really come to care.

So this was an admirable try, but it fell short of the greatness of the games.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to find out what happens in the flying city of Columbia. Ah, Bioshock, you're so much fun!

Friday, April 12, 2013

FFF Intermission

Sadly, there won't be a Freaky Fun Friday post today. Unfortunately, it got bumped to the low priority list and I don't have anything to share. But it will be back next week!

I hope.

Until then, I leave you with a question: what's your favorite found footage movie?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wordcount Wednesday

Remember that goal I set for myself last week? Where I said I hoped (as impossible as it might seem) to have Failstate #3 done by the end of April.

Yeah, I have a feeling that's not going to happen.

This past week, I did my best, I really did! But I was kind of stuck. I only was able to write 7,948 words this week. Granted, that is a little more than last week, but it's not going to be enough. My grand total is now at 36,665 words. Again, not too bad, but not good enough, especially since I finally introduced a character that should have been in the book 10,000 words ago.

Ah, well. That's what editing is for. All I can do is say, "Onward and upward!"

Monday, April 08, 2013

Captives

Back a few weeks ago, at the release party for Failstate: Legends, I was asked who my favorite authors were. And I said that one of them was Jill Williamson. Granted, Jill is a friend of mine, so I might be a little biased, but when I read books like her latest, Captives, I am forced to conclude that no, I'm not being biased in the slightest.

In the not-too-distant future, society has broken down due to a plague. A lot of folks have grouped together in what was once known as Colorado, in a major city called "The Safe Lands." In the Safe Lands, everyone is permitted to pursue pleasure. As a matter of fact, that's what's expected of everyone. Live for today, focus only on yourself and what you want, and hope that it all works out.

Only it's not working out too well. Everyone is infected with something called the "thin plague." Worse, it's a disease that is passed on to any children born in the Safe Land. Thanks to the plague, that isn't many. The Safe Lands desperately needs an infusion of new citizens, uninfected citizens, who might be able to produce a new generation of citizens.

Enter Glenrock, a tiny village not too far from the Safe Lands itself. A few dozen people live a relatively simple life there, having rejected the Safe Lands and their decadent lifestyle. That's not to say that it's perfect. A young man named Mason, for example, is being forced into a loveless marriage by his father. Mason's younger brother Omar is constantly bullied by their father and the others of the village for being artistic rather than a hunter. So it's little wonder when Omar strikes a deal with the Safe Lands: he's willing to voluntarily join their society and he'll try to convince the others to come with.

Only the Safe Landers don't want to risk it. Enforcers enter Glenrock and kidnap most of the women and bring them into the city, along with Mason and Omar. Soon the people of Glenrock find themselves trapped inside the walls of the Safe Lands, unable to leave.

Will they be able to survive and escape? Or will the seductive call of the Safe Lands condemn them all?

This was a great book. In the interest of fairness, I did see an early copy of the manuscript, so I kind of knew where the story was going. But it was great to come back to the story now and see how Jill put it all together. I absolutely loved Mason. He's by far my favorite character and I'm rooting for him in future books. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, but the good news is, that's easy to do.

But what was really fascinating was the Safe Lands and the way Jill described it. She created a vibrant if crumbling culture, one that leaps off the page and gets stuck in your mind. It's easy to see why it would be so appealing, but it's also easy to see why it would also be dangerous for a person of faith.

All in all, this is an excellent YA book and should definitely be picked up by everyone. Simply put, Jill did it again.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Let's talk Etzal'el!

That's Etzal'el in the back
One of my favorite new characters from Failstate: Legendswas Etzal'el. I had been looking forward to introducing him after dropping his name a few times in Failstate. It was a lot of fun including this character in a book finally. And I say "finally" because Etzal'el has been rattling around in the back of my head for a long time now.  As in, at least since about 2004.

And the reason? An old MMORPG called City of Heroes.

Back in 2004, Cryptic Studios released a game that allowed its players to create superheroes and then go into a massive city to fight crime. There were all sorts of different powers a person could have and myriad villains to defeat. It was a lot of fun.

I made at least half a dozen different heroes during the months that I played. A few were jokes (a gigantic purple man with a Vikings helmet called the Purple People Eater), one was intended for role playing (a hero called Tolkien who was based on a group of villains called the Trollkin), but three of them kind of stuck with me. First was a red-headed superhero girl named Jensina, who used fire attacks. Then there was Evangel (I think), a blond-haired bruiser who wore a white shirt with a bright red cross on it.

But my favorite of the bunch was Etzal'el, a creepy man who dressed in a black suit, wide-brimmed hat, and had glowing red eyes. He was a controller, designed to deal with large crowds of bad-guys. He wasn't the best in a straight up fight. Instead, he fought by creating illusions in people's minds. And he could also control the weather.

Yeah, don't ask.

So where did the name come from?  Well, when I was creating the character, I needed a name. I couldn't think of one, so I pulled out my copy of Character Naming Sourcebook and flipped to the Hebrew section.One name stood out: Betzalel, which means "In God's shadow." Well, I know enough Hebrew to know that the letter B in that name means "in." So I dropped it to make the character's name to roughly mean "God's shadow." I liked it.

Eventually, Etz became my primary character. I don't remember how far I managed to level him to, but I do remember earning him a cape at one point.

This past week, I went looking for my screenshots of Etz and the gang. Sadly, they've disappeared.

But here's the interesting thing. While I don't have the pics anymore, I remembered something about Etz, Evangel, and Jensina. Even though it wasn't necessary, I came up with a backstory for those three. Etz and Evangel were brothers. And they were both in love with Jensina.

Wait. A superhero with seemingly weak mental powers, his superstrong brother, who are both in love with the same girl? Where have I heard that before?

I guess maybe Failstate's been with me for a while too.

Don't forget to sign up for the Legends giveaway on Goodreads!



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Failstate by John W. Otte

Failstate

by John W. Otte

Giveaway ends April 10, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Friday, April 05, 2013

Across the Universe

So I've had an interesting time with this book.

A few months back, I had this great idea for a book. At least, I thought it was a great idea. Granted, it wasn't much of an idea right now. Just a few snippets of character ideas, an idea about the setting, and that's about it. I've started with less in the past. I figured it might be worth pursuing.

Then I saw a copy of Across the Universe on the shelf of a Barnes and Noble. For some reason, I felt compelled to pick it up and read the back cover copy. And almost immediately, my heart fell into my shoes.

It was my idea. Published a year earlier than I had it.

Okay, maybe I didn't have a reason to panic. There are lots of instances where multiple books are published with similar plots. But the back cover copy for this one was so similar to my initial glimmerings of an idea, I had to check it out. I bought it but then left it on my to-be-read pile, mostly because I didn't want to see if it was the same.

I finally screwed on my courage and pulled it down this week to read it. And, for the most part, I'm glad I did.

This book is the story of a girl named Amy. She and her parents have signed on to be cryo frozen and then put on a generation ship, one that will travel through space to a new planet, one that they will colonize.

Fast forward to several centuries later. A young man known as Elder is studying under a man called Eldest. Eldest is the leader of Godspeed, the generation ship. Elder is supposed to be learning how to someday take up the mantle of leadership from Eldest, but it isn't easy. Eldest doesn't seem to like him that much.

But then, a surprising thing happens. Amy thaws out early. That wasn't part of the plan, especially not Eldest's plans. Amy is an intrusion into his carefully ordered world and he's worried that Amy could destabilize everything.

Elder isn't so sure. Amy is unlike any girl he's ever seen. For one thing, she's his age. He's the youngest person on Godspeed by design. And she has some unusual ideas about how life is supposed to work.

But that's not the only problem on Godspeed. Someone is killing the frozen passengers. And Elder is beginning to realize how much of his home is founded and run on lies.

Okay, so now that I've read the book, let's see what I think:

For the most part, the book is fascinating. In many ways, what Beth Revis has written is a dystopian novel, one with a science fiction veneer to it. The whole relationship between Elder and Eldest is interesting, even though Eldest seems more of a caricature than a real person. The society in Godspeed is interesting as well.

But here are the problems:

1) I saw the ending coming. It's telegraphed pretty badly.

2) There was a lot of graphic content in here. Now, I get why. I do. The way the society is engineered, it makes sense. But I'm not sure that Revis had to be as graphic as she was. It's a personal thing, though.

But there's one big thing that has me upset about this book. And before I explain why, I need to bring back an old friend to my blog.

Godzilla, take it away:

I'll try to keep them to a minimum, but be forewarned.

3) Like I said in my little recap, Godspeed is a ship of lies, a lot of which unravel as Elder and Amy work together. Eventually, Eldest reveals part of the truth to Elder. When he did, I wound up groaning.

It's clear to me that Beth Revis doesn't have a working knowledge of physics. At least, not to how it might apply to interstellar travel aboard a generation ship. There's this little thing called momentum that would play a big part of that journey. That's all I'm going to say. If you've read the book, hopefully you know what I'm talking about.

The thing is, what she did could have worked in a slightly different way. But sadly, there's an oops here and it's pretty significant.

That said, I came to the following conclusion:

1) I'd like to read the rest of these books. I'm curious to see where Revis goes from here and what will eventually happen to the people on Godspeed.

2) My idea might work after all. We'll see.

FFF Part IV --- Meet the Crew

If you're not sure what's going on, you can catch up on what's been happening in this found footage horror film I'm writing by reading the previous entries. Just a warning: they are in reverse order. Sorry.

WHERE WE LEFT OFF: Staci, a journalism student, has convinced her friend Leon to shoot a documentary about apparent political corruption in a small town called Garretsburg. They interviewed a girl named Lisa who lived in this town. Her dad ran for mayor and, when he started asking too many questions, their house caught on fire and burned to the ground.

WHERE WE PICK UP:

Leon has already turned on his camera and is filming Staci packing their stuff in the back of the van. He makes some comments about them going off on their grand adventure that causes Staci to smile and roll her eyes. Leon then looks around the parking lot.

"So where's Bethany? She is coming, right?" he asks.

"Don't worry about it. She said she needed some time away from campus, and she seemed really excited when I talked to her about it last night. I'm sure she'll be here any minute. Relax!" Staci says.

Sure enough, Bethany arrives. Bethany is a cute girl, dressed nicely, and has a bag slung over her shoulder. She smiles at Staci but then scowls at the camera. "Is that thing going to be going the whole time we're gone?"

"Well, not always, but we are filming a documentary," Leon says.

Bethany interrupts him. "Because I"m really hoping for some privacy while we're gone."

Staci frowns. "Why?"

Bethany looks over her shoulder and a guy walks up to her and puts his arm around her waist. "I asked Ray to come with us."

The camera droops in Leon's hand. It shifts as he turns to face Staci. "Staci, a word."

They go off to one side. "I thought you said that Bethany broke up with Ray," Leon says.

"I thought she did too!" Staci replies. "Last I heard, anyway. They must have gotten back together yesterday or something."

Someone walks up to them. Leon angles the camera to reveal that it's Bethany. She fixes Leon with a toxic look and turns to Staci. "Look, Ray and I need this time away from campus. I want to rekindle the romance, y'know?"

"This isn't a vacation, Bethany," Staci says. "We're going to be doing some serious work while we're gone."

"Oh, I get that, but we're not going to be working the whole time, right? There will be some time for fun. That's what I'm hoping for. Ray won't get in the way of your little film thing, don't worry."

"We going or not?" Ray shouts.

Leon turns to see Ray toss his bag into the back of the van, along with Bethany's bag.

"I guess so," Leon says, his voice bitter.

Bethany scoots over to Ray and throws her arms around him.

"Look, I know this isn't what I promised," Staci said. "But look at it this way: Ray's a complete tool. Now Bethany can get to know you better and see what a great guy you are. Then you'll be there for her when things go south again."

"Great, so I can reserve my spot in the friend zone, huh?"

"C'mon, let's go."

The camera cuts to shots of the van driving along the highway, past farm fields and clumps of trees. Then it jump cuts to footage of Garretsburg, little snippets of sites we've already seen: the park, city hall. At one point, the van slows to a crawl next to a vacant lot. Staci reveals that this was where Lisa's house stood before the fire. There's no evidence that it was ever there. Leon wonders if they should go check out the property Lisa's dad wanted to buy. Staci decides not to because it's getting late.

Instead, they pull into the motel parking lot and Staci goes in to get their rooms. Leon and Ray have one, Staci and Bethany another. Leon puts his stuff in his room, only to hear a knock at the door. It's Staci. She's apparently been chased out of her room and needs a place to crash. Leon offers the other bed. Staci suggests they shut off the camera for the night, because their investigation starts in the morning.


So there we go. We have our four intrepid (and ultimately doomed) college kids. I'm trying to be a bit better about describing how I visualized a lot of this. As always, let me know what you think.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Wordcount Wednesday

Well, back at it then.

Last week, I finished up my edit pass through Numb, trying to find and eliminate some of my common "writing tells," the over- or poorly used phrases that pepper my works. Once that was done, I decided to take a little break. It was Holy Week, after all, and as a pastor, I had enough on my mind as it was.

But Easter is now done and past. I'm back on the Coke . . . er, the drink, that is. I hope that was obvious. And I'm feeling the itch. The itch to write about superheroes again. So I'm back onto Failstate #3. The last time I reported in three weeks ago, the new manuscript was at 22,248 words. After working on it for the past couple of days, it's up to 28,717 words, an addition of 6,469 words. Not too shabby for only two or three days' work.

So what's my plan from here on out? Well, I'd like to finish this monster in the next month. That leaves me about 27 days. I honestly don't think I'll be able to make it. I'd be surprised if I can. But I still might be able to. I'd have to write about 2,750 words a day, which is a bit high. I'll do my best to try, but I'm not going to be too disappointed if I can't do it.

In the meantime, have you entered my Goodreads giveaway?


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Failstate by John W. Otte

Failstate

by John W. Otte

Giveaway ends April 10, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Only 104 people have entered right now. That's still pretty good odds, and you've got a week left to enter. So get on it!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

DLC Quest

If you're a gamer, you're probably painfully aware of the fact that the video game industry has adopted the practice of overusing DLC, which is short for downloadable content. You buy the base game, and then, either on the day the game releases, or scattered throughout the following months, the developers add content to the game, allowing you to run new missions or get new weapons or stuff like that. For example, in Mass Effect 3, we have the following DLC packs that have been released (some for free, some for up to $15 a pop):

  • Alternate Appearance Pack 1
  • Leviathan
  • Extended Cut
  • Reckoning
  • Citadel
  • Groundside Resistance Pack
  • Omega
  • Firefight Pack
  • Retaliation
  • Earth
  • Rebellion
  • Resurgence
  • From Ashes
Somehow, typing that list out made me more depressed, although to be fair, the vast majority are free multiplayer upgrades.

Regardless,  the inclusion of DLC has a lot of players steamed. And where there's anger, comedy quickly follows. Enter Going Loud Studios' DLC Quest where everything is DLC.

You start as an 8-bit character. You have no animation, no sound, and you can only move to the right. As you move, you collect coins in the game and meet up with a shopkeeper, one who will sell you the DLC necessary to rescue a kidnapped princess. So you buy the ability to move in every direction. You buy the ability to double-jump. You buy everything you need to actually play the game as microtransactions. And along the way, there are ridiculous jokes about current gaming trends, other popular game titles (such as my beloved Mass Effect games), and even more DLC.

When I bought the game on Steam, it also came with an expansion called "Live Freemium or Die." All told, playing the whole game took me about two hours. It's not a lot of time, but I was laughing out loud through most of it.

If you're a gamer and you're not happy with the current trajectory of gaming when it comes to DLC, this is a good game to check out. And hey, it's only like three bucks. Not a bad deal!

Friday, March 29, 2013

FFF Part III -- Something's Rotten in Garretsburg

Professor Veronica Weathers, after being told by the police that they couldn't investigate the disappearance of four college students without further evidence, headed to their last known location. In the little town of Garretsburg, she couldn't find anyone who would admit to seeing them, but she did find an empty suitcase in the local motel's dumpster. She also found a camera bag in the woods with a tag on it, identifying it as belonging to one of the students.

Veronica is back in her office and wants to document what she's found. She shows the camera she found, along with the portable hard drive. She reveals that there were dozens of videos taken around the time that Staci called her cell phone with her frantic voice mail. Veronica has uploaded all of the files onto the department server and she's going to start going through them...

We cut to the first entry and get our first look at Staci Fowler. She's around 20 years old, perky and nice looking. She's seated on a couch in a dorm room, one that obviously belongs to a guy. She smiles at the camera and teases someone she calls Leon about finally getting it working. Leon, who remains off camera, mocks her back.

"At least now I can get to work on my film studies final project," he says. "But now I have to come up with something to actually film." He zooms in on Staci. "Wanna make movies with me?"

Staci smirks but then says, "Actually, I have an idea about that. You know I have that big journalism project coming up, right? Why don't we team up and do a documentary?"

Leon makes a fake snoring sound. Staci picks up a pillow and throws it at Leon.

"Seriously, though, a documentary on what? Isn't your project supposed to be about politics?"

Staci nods. "Exactly. There's this girl in my econ class. The other day, she was telling me about some crazy stuff that happened in this town she lived in a while back. It sounded like the perfect thing to investigate. What do you say?"

"I don't know," Leon says. "I mean, yeah, I'm supposed to put together a movie, but a documentary? That sounds like a lot of work."

"Oh," Staci says. "That's too bad. Because you know, I asked Bethany to help us on the project and she seemed excited. Just think. The two of you would probably have to spend some time alone together."

"Oh, come on! That's not fighting fair, and you know it!"

Staci smiles. "So what do you say?"

Leon sighs. "Fine. What do we do first?"

"Let's go interview the girl from my econ class and get the story from her."

The footage cuts to another college-aged girl. We catch our first glimpse of Leon as he clips a microphone to her her shirt. Leon is also twenty years old, a little on the pudgy side and definitely average as far as looks are concerned. He then steps around behind the camera again.

Staci's voice comes from off camera. "Okay, Lisa, we're just going to talk about that story you told me in econ, okay?"

Lisa takes a deep breath and nods. She then starts to tell her story, with Staci interjecting questions from time to time:

"Several years ago, my family moved to this little town called Garretsburg. It seemed like a nice enough place at first, very friendly. You know, typical small town.

"My dad, he's an avid hiker and he couldn't find any trails or anything nearby. But there was this large wooded property  right outside of town. It was a couple of acres with some old rundown buildings in it. Dad thought that it would be perfect as a park. He had some money my gram left him, so he tried to track down the owners to see if they'd be willing to sell it.

"The weird thing is, no on in town seemed to know who the land belonged to. They all knew about it, but whenever Dad would ask about it, he got what he called the royal run-around. He finally found out that the land belonged to the city. He offered to buy it, but the mayor wouldn't even talk to him. When he tried to track down the records about the land, he found out that they had disappeared. Not only that, but the mayor was becoming really rude to him.

"So when the next election came around, Dad decided to run for mayor. But that wasn't easy. He said it was like everyone in city hall was against him. They lost his paperwork three different times. His lawn signs kept disappearing. The town newspaper kept misspelling his name.

"Then, when the election was held, the old mayor won in a landslide, which Dad thought was fishy. Sure, he knew he had an uphill battle, but based on what the newspaper reported, it sounded like no one voted for him at all. Dad thought maybe the election was rigged, and so he started making noise about contacting the state's Attorney General's office. That's when the sheriff stopped by and 'suggested' that Dad take it easy.

"Two nights later, our house burned down. Strange thing is, none of the smoke alarms went off. Dad took it as a sign that we should just forget about it and get out of town.

"So there you go. That's my story."

The camera swings around to Staci. "Sounds like there's something rotten in Garretsburg. I think we should go find out what."

Keep the comments coming. I know this was another "wall of text" scene, but it will get better. I hope. LOL!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Insurgent

It had been a while since I've been to the dystopian future that Veronica Roth created in Divergent, but I finally got a copy of Insurgent for my Kindle for Christmas. I finally managed to eke out some time to actually read it to find out what happened to Tris and Tobias.

In some ways, the hiatus left me a little confused. I could barely remember where I had left off. I vaguely remembered something about Tris switching factions to become Dauntless. I knew something bad happened toward the end of the first book. So when I was dumped back into futuristic Chicago with very little by way of introduction, I'll admit that I floundered.

But it's a testament to Veronica Roth's abilities that I didn't care. Once again, the characters came to life and drew me into their story as the Dauntless tried to take on the Erudite. Tris learns more about Tobias's family and about herself, leading up to a dramatic conclusion that left me ready for the last book.

I know that I'm a little late to the game and I also know that YA dystopian books are all the rage. But Veronica Roth's are the best of the best. You would do well to check them out.