Friday, March 11, 2016

Friday Flash: Bardsong

Pawel watched her from across the smoke filled tavern, slightly drunk and more than a little curious. Her strumming on the lute was beautiful, but not nearly as much as her lustrous red hair or her curving ample bosom, framed deliciously by her daringly open white shirt and simple woven vest. Pawel knew, right then, that he had to at least talk to her, to meet her. He continued to drink as she continued to play and sing, and it was plainly clear that he wasn't the only one in the crowd who appreciated her for more than just her music. As the evening progressed, and he went from his second beer to his third, the crowd around him gradually grew more raucous.

Her voice began to have difficulty overcoming the generally noise of the crowd, and was thoroughly drowned out when they shifted to catcalls and cheering at the end of every song. Finally it was clear she'd had enough, and she stood, yelling "This is the last song, you dirty rascals!" and began to sing.

"A dragon has come to our village today," she sang loud and clear, and applause broke out as the crowd recognized one of their favorite drinking songs. "We asked him to read but he won't go away," she continued. "He's met with our king..." she made a rude gesture with her hand, tongue in cheek, implying certain indiscretions on the part of the King, "And they've worked out a deal." She began thrusting her hips as the crowd laughed and hollered. "No homes will be burned, and no crops will he steal."

She began the next stanza, "Now there's just one catch, we dislike it so much." Her head shaking, "Twice a year he invites a hot virgin to lunch!" She laughed and bent slightly, allowing the Pawel and the crowd an improved perspective down her blouse. "Well," she straightened again, drawing out the note, "we've no other choice and we've had to much drink," she drank a long draught of ale, and the crowd drank with her. "But still this decision has caused me to think."

She paused again, pondering, as the crowd took up the chorus. "Do virgins taste better than those who are not? Are they saltier, sweeter, more juicy or what?" The crowd roared on, most horribly out of tune and laughing as the girl lewdly depicted eating a virgin. "Do you savor them slowly, or gulp them down on the spot?" From their reactions to her dance, the crowd wouldn't particularly complain at either option. "Do virgins taste better than those who are not?"

The song continued, but Pawel knew that if he wanted to speak with her, he'd have to be in just the right place, at just the right time. He slipped from his perfect spot to watch her and moved away, to the very end of the bar. Right where she would come out and sit, ready for a drink. He'd buy her one first, and maybe even buy some time before the crowd surged in and took all her time. First impressions, and all that.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Davor's Background


                The wind beat down on Davor's face, arms, chest, legs, a constant pressure of icy cold mixed with occasional stinging needles of driven snow. The storm was just beginning, and Davor knew that in order to complete his training, he had to finish his meditation, his week of privation and suffering. And he had two more days. Ignoring the needles and focusing on the heat radiating from his core, Davor slid back into his meditative reverie, mind drifting over memories, body melting the gathering snow. 

*             *             *

                Davor knew his time in the city was limited, even as a young teen. He knew he couldn't stay, that his father was mocked and ridiculed for having an orcboy around, for daring to love a magnificent, wild, untamed woman. He knew deep in his heart that he should leave and rejoin his mother, rejoin the tribe and their wild ways, knew he was meant for the wild dancing and the brutal warfare and the surprisingly complex shaman's rituals, but he couldn't help himself. The city was amazing. The soft, pathetic women wore beautiful gowns that accentuated and enhanced their form, and Davor would stare out his window at the gaggles of them that hurried past, dressed in every shade imaginable. The boisterous men in their trumped up finery escorting them, falling over themselves to please these women. The best parts were duels, when a crowd spilled out of the gentleman's club down the street. Coats on the ground, shirts ripped off, swords in hand as the women gasped or fainted or cheered or kissed their champion and the men mocked and circled, blades finally clashing in magnificent crescendo, only rarely hitting more than a few times before the guard arrived. 

*             *             *

                Breaking from his trance briefly, Davor shivered in the cold air. Night was falling, and the storm continued to rage around him, venting empty fury on the cold and lonely mountainside. Distracted for a moment, Davor pondered his place here, his time at the monastery, and his inability to truly master the disciplines he had been taught. Most of his brothers he joined with had long since graduated and began wandering the world, spreading the teachings of law and love, but Davor remained. Unable to muster the true spirit of his order, he had put off this final challenge as long as possible, knowing that no fire lay within and the cold would destroy him. As the years slipped by, he knew he had to face it someday, but he just kept putting it off. Finally his master had called, and this was his last storm. He had to survive the cold and join the brethren, or fail and be cast out forever. Neither choice seemed ideal, and Davor pondered how he had come here, casting his mind back into meditation to free himself from the pressing cold wind. 

*             *             *

                His path to the monastery had not been easy. Half human, half orc, a civilized father and a barbaric mother, no part of his life had ever been easy. Constantly tormented at the prohibitively expensive school his father paid for, Davor never managed to grow a thick skin. Teased and tortured, he fought back brutally and often, returning insults with kicks and blows with swift punches, but they ganged up on him, holding him as others beat him only to run to the headmaster when he managed to land a solid blow. Davor spent many days scrubbing floors, often cleaning his own blood off them, and eventually their patience ran thin and his father's money was no longer enough. His education finished, his father gave him no choice: it was time to live with his mother. If he was going to act like an orc, he may as well join them. His father escorted him to the tribe and, after spending enough alone time with his mother to make a pair of younger sisters, abandoned him to his fate.
                What made him a violent and dangerous boy in school was laughed off among the violent and chaotic Black Suns. orcs his age had been learning the blade since they were old enough to walk, and no matter how he tried, Davor was utterly unable to gain any ability with them. He often resorted to using the butt of the sword, or cutting in close and landing blows with feet, elbows, or knees, a strategy his new peers saw as worse than worthless on a blood-soaked battlefield. Still, he was quick and smart, and often found himself leading and directing, guiding combats in the battle games they played; more often than not finding victory through quick wits and sharp tactics. Davor somehow managed to earn the grudging respect of his clanmates.
                Until the time came to raid a human town. 

*             *             *

                Bitter cold had settled into his limbs again, and Davor knew he had to find warmth or die in the storm. Unable to muster the inner flame his masters had spoken of, he stood up stiffly instead. Slowly at first and then faster and faster, Davor began to move through the semi-ritualistic patterns and movements he had been taught. The dance of combat was no joke, and his blood began to flow, thawing from his long meditation. As he danced, flowing from one form to the next, Davor continued to consider his past. Anger bubbled up, but Davor knew that if he surrendered to it he surrendered everything he had worked for, and all was lost. Only through creating true inner peace could he survive this storm. The masters had made that perfectly clear. The motions helped, but Davor knew he was only buying time, that this was a short reprieve. Warmed, he continued the dance, allowing his body to continue to flow as his mind cast back to remember the first raid. 

*             *             *

                That morning Davor had woken hours before the sun rose. A dozen or two warriors had accompanied him and quite a few other younglings trying to prove themselves full members of the tribe. The expectations had been simple and clear. Prove yourself in battle or die trying. The whole tribe had been on the move, and they'd gone downriver enough to be solidly in human territory - and well past the fortified and deadly border towns. This had meant that if they were caught in the wrong place the whole tribe could have been smashed to pieces, trapped between hammer and anvil, but otherwise most towns would be pretty easy pickings. This was the second village they'd come across, and it seemed simple enough the Elders had determined it would be meant for one thing only: initiating new tribe members.
                Davor had been dreading this moment for weeks, but he knew it had to come eventually: the moment when his true loyalty had been tested, when he turned his back on his father and joined the Black Suns. Whatever respect he had earned, that day had been his sole opportunity to keep it or throw it all away. Naturally he had chosen the harder path. The moment of truth had come quickly, when they closed in on the village, shifting from a quick walk to a hard, fast rush. Unable to watch the town burn, Davor had given the village as much warning as he dared: a rapid ululating orcish battle cry. The yell had ripped from his throat as they crested the hill and had given the villagers precious time, perhaps a full minute before the small band reached them. The other younglings, not to be outdone, had joined in his cry, creating a cacophonous wail that had echoed through the quiet village.
                It hadn't been enough time. A few men rushed out, carrying axes and pikes, scythes and swords, with no armor and little more than farm equipment. When Davor had reached the first one, his clumsy axe had nearly cost him his life, but he had dropped and punched the man instead, knocking him out cold. He moved on quickly, knocking out several more men and a couple of women with well placed fists, knees, and feet. Reaching the other side of the small village, Davor turned back to survey the damage. Several buildings were afire, and all the other younglings were involved in fairly intense combat with the remaining human defenders. The next house over, hidden from view, a woman screamed in panic and terror. Davor had rushed to her aid without even thinking, without even considering why she screamed. The raid leader, an orc named Bloodtusk, was attacking the woman with blatantly less than honorable intentions. Without thinking, Davor rushed in and kicked the man's leg, snapping one of the bones in his calf with a horrifying snap. Fully committed, he punched Bloodtusk repeatedly, punching wildly over and over until the orc fell face first, unquestionably and thoroughly dead. 

*             *             *

                Davor broke from his reverie to realize that at the end of his last punch a gout of flame had spun around his hands, warming him. He considered the death of Bloodtusk, his abandoned life with his mother and her tribe, with his father and his school. He contemplated how he had fled the broken corpse of the first orc he had slain, how he had run from bullies and brutes. He meditated on his long time avoiding all settlements and camps, avoiding humans and orcs alike. He pondered his path that led, ultimately, to his collapse, half starved and nearly dead, on the foot of the mountain which held the Monastery. His sisters had found him and carried him up the mountain. His brothers had nursed him back to health. His new masters trained him, worked with him, taught him to control his anger, contain his wrath, handle his body and master his soul. And now, finally, in the heart of the storm, Davor's inner fire was unleashed.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Writing Inspiration

Dear Hashtag,

So right now, I'm really struggling with writing. Part of it is just that I'm totally out of practice, and part of it is that I need to just sit down and do the work. And part of it is that for the last couple of years, I've been feeling utterly uninspired. Or if I do have inspiration it is for D&D, or a project with John, or stupid crap for this blog, but nothing that I feel makes a decent short story, much less has the potential for a full length novel.

Which is stupid. Because I'm not a terrible writer, when I'm doing the work and writing often enough to keep my skills sharp and my brain functioning. Which I  haven't been doing, so this is something to help me find the inspiration I'm looking for and sharpen my skills in the mean time.

Here are my sources of inspiration which I will use to write:
  •  Pinterest! I have so much amazing art collected on pinterest, and I never use any of it. So using some sort of rational methodology, I will select an art piece and use it as a starting point. 
  • Story Prompts. I typically read a dozen prompts (or more) before one speaks to me, but these can be a fun starting point. 
  • Writing Challenges. For the most part I'm acquiring these from the various writing podcasts I listen to. I'm going to start collecting them and actually doing them. 
  • Fan Fiction - I know, I know, but I don't care. This one is to use a major character and write a new story for them. 
  • Fan Fiction Part Two - Use a minor character and write a story for them. This is much more fun, personally. 
  • Wired Magazine. Science fiction is surprisingly interesting, so the idea here is to read an article, take it to some extreme conclusion, and write a story in that world. 
  • Fables, Myths, Religious Stories and Fairy Tales. Write the "True" story. Or a modern rendition. Or a new take on it. This is a classic way to learn structures. 
  • Podcasts. What? I listen to so many, these are a constant source of ideas. The basic idea is to take whatever I'm listening to when I sit down to write and figure out how to make a story out of it. We'll see how well this actually works. 
  • Current Events. There's always something going on. This is similar to the Wired concept - take a current news event and craft a story from something contained therein. 
  • World Building. This isn't a prompt, just background stuff. The idea here is to take an existing fiction piece, craft additional stuff in the world, and then either add to the story or start a new one in the same world. 
  • Character Building. Again, not really a prompt, but the idea is to take a secondary or tertiary character in an existing piece and write a new story just for that character. 
  • Twitter - There are tons of challenges, prompts, and ideas on twitter, so I just search for something, find it, and write. 
  • Idea Notebook - When an actual idea comes to me, I'm writing it down. I currently only have a couple, but am slowly adding them. Hopefully I will add them more frequently than I use them, since that's what it is for. This will take one and make a story from it. 
  • Expand an existing piece. Add to it, or flesh it out, or just start a new scene or a new chapter. 
  • Polish an existing piece. One single existing piece, go through and edit, search for junk words and crappy dialogue and make it better. 
So that's my plan. Make lots and lots of work until I write something I think is actually good, until I find the inspiration I need to make real stories or a full novel. And then write more.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Podcast Catgories

Dear Hashtag,

As I continue to write and discuss podcasts, I definitely feel the need to break them down into categories. I currently listen to well over a hundred different podcasts, with an average cycle time (how often I get through the entire list) of about two weeks. I want to cull this down at some point, but so far I seem to be finding MORE podcasts to listen to, not less. Anyway, I have a wide variety of topics which I'm currently listening to. Here's a list. If there's any you're particularly curious about, let me know and I will add them to the top of my "To Discuss Soon" list. Otherwise I'll probably do them somewhat randomly.

Food and Drink -These are podcasts about food, cooking, culinary science, and drinks.

Stories - These are about the story. Some are fiction, most aren't. Story oriented. This is a whole genre, believe it or not. Many individual episodes overlap with other categories. 

Writing and Language - This is actually a substantially varied group. First there are podcasts about writing itself, primarily the work of writing as well as how to get published. Second there are podcasts about words, language, word history, etc. Finally there are discussions about specific books and author interviews.

Religion - Although this was once primarily about Mormonism, my listening has broadened to include Hindi, Buddhism, meditation and spirituality.

Money - This is either about personal finance or economics.

History - One of my favorite categories. All the history.

Sex - Some of these are about having sex, some are about struggles with sex and sexuality, and a couple are simply erotica. 

Current Events and News - This category is one of the only ones where I listen to shows from most recent back, instead of oldest first. Because it is so much more relevant than the minutiae of current events from 2009.

Gaming - Primarily RPG's, this also includes board gaming and game shows.

Science and Technology - pretty self explanatory. Woo!

Miscellaneous - These don't fit in any other category and there's not really a rational way I've found yet to split them off and give them their own label. As the number of podcasts I listen to has increased, the number of shows in this category have decreased.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Pure Dialogue: Pretty Boy

"Kind of a pretty boy, isn't he?"

"What? No, I just..."

"You just can't stop staring at him. You haven't moved from this spot in the last twenty minutes, and you stopped talking about five minutes ago. He is good looking, I suppose, just kind of.. pretty."

"Oh, Nat. I'm sorry. I've been listening, I really have. The new girl is totally hot and you're distracted at work and there's a chance your boss might have noticed."

"Well, you may have been listening, but your advice sucks. I'm not going to sleep with her any more than you're going to bang Mr Pretty Boy over there."

"You think I couldn't? I'm not good enough for him?"

"Ugh, don't be such a drama queen, Beth. Of course you're good enough. You're more than good enough, he'd be wrapped around your finger in no time. That's not the point."

"Then what is the point?"

"The point is, sleeping with Mr Pretty Boy won't get you where you want to go in life. It won't make you happy, it won't make you successful, it won't even make you feel better about yourself. Ditto Angie at my work. Well, except she might make me happy."

"Why are we still talking about this?"

"Because you're still staring, and he's coming over to talk. Hey, good luck. I'm gonna sneak off and get fresh drinks, ok?"

(Dialogue Prompt:

Friday, January 29, 2016

Noises in the Night

I picked up a writing challenge for my Friday Flash this week, because I don't have an existing piece written and wasn't sure where to start. It asked me to find 10 first lines (from an anthology, but I'm using other Friday Flash pieces I found on twitter, and provided links to the originals) and then write a new scene, at least 200 words, using one of those as a starter. Sounds like fun, right?

  1. “Babe, could you please check outside?” (Link)
  2. The days were growing short, and the air turning chill when the visitors came.  (Link)
  3. The door wouldn’t open. (Link)
  4. Night’s candles have burnt out. (Link)
  5. It was the bunny ring on the middle finger of her left hand that caught his attention. (Link)
  6. The large oval mirror in the corner of the dusty study began to glow a brilliant light blue. (Link)
  7. Although I’ve worked as a waiter, off and on, for years, I never wanted to open a restaurant myself... (Link)
  8. The preparation was not ritualized in any manner whatsoever. (Link)
  9. Police are investigating a string of murders across London. (Link)
  10. Who the fuck is playing Joy Division? (Link
So I'm going with... the first one.

"Babe, could you please check outside?"

Mark rolled over, and grunted incoherently. He sat up from their small futon and slid the nearest slippers onto his feet. Bunnies. He grunted again, and then looked back at Jess. "What am I checking for?"

"I heard a noise," she said, "Downstairs. I think it came from the fire escape." Just as she finished, a clank outside confirmed her theory and she squeaked loudly. "Please check and make sure it is just a cat or something?" Eyes wide, sheet pulled up to her neck, Mark couldn't say no. He walked down the spiral stairs from the loft to the main floor and, stumbling across the ottoman cursed softly.
He opened the ottoman and pulled out his old knife, testing the edge quickly on his thumb. "Still sharp," he muttered.

"Mark?" Jess whispered loudly from the top of the stairs. Mark shushed her, and moved to the large window which led out to the fire escape. Even in the dark of night the city was plainly lit, streetlights and skyscrapers polluting the air with a constant glow, making it pretty easy to see outside. Nothing. Just metal. He craned his neck up to see what was above them, but still. Nothing.

"Jess, I don't see anything," he said, talking normally.

"Can you open it and check, please?" She stopped whispering, too. "I've got my phone, so if it isn't a cat we can call the police," she said, her phone illuminating her face.

Rolling his eyes as he turned back to the window, Mark said "Okay. And then we're going back to bed." He unlocked the window and looked out. He checked down below and twisted, looking up. The neighbors upstairs had put planters on their escape - a technical violation, but not one anyone worried about. Still they formed large shadows, so he couldn't see above very well. He watched for a minute, then bent back inside and closed the window.

"There's nothing, sweetheart." Just as he spoke, a resounding clang echoed from the fire escape and a fist pounded on the window.

"Who..." Mark started, but before he could get the words out, the window flung open and a man leapt through. Mark's hand rose instinctively, knife at the ready. "What do you want?"

"Whoa, Mark, fuck. Put that away!" the man yelped.

It took a second for the voice to sink in, knife already moving toward the stranger, but Mark recognized the voice and stopped the blade. "Nate?"  

Jessica's voice rose behind him, "Yes, there's a man who just broke into our house! Please send the police right away!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

On Podcast Apps

Dear Hashtag,

So it turns out...

I'm incredibly picky when it comes to my podcast apps. This week I got a new phone, an iPhone, and tragically the podcast app I've been using doesn't exist within the Applesphere. Android Only. So I went shopping. Now, first just let me say: I hate paying for apps. I know, that's a pretty Android User thing to say, but it is the truth. And some apps within Apple cost $20! Or More! It is completely insane, and I don't understand it in the slightest. So when my buddy suggested and app that "only" costs $3.99, I just laughed and went hunting.

First up I looked at Stitcher. I've heard really good things about it, and I must say it is SHINY. If you don't care about bells and whistles and just want the most recent episodes of a few shows along with a Netflixian recommendation algorithm, Stitcher is the way to go. It is pretty impressive. But... the settings suck. Just to be clear, they are absolutely horrendous. Your choices are basically to subscribe or not, and what speed to play at.

I looked at a couple of other free apps, and none of them allowed me the flexibility I was looking for: to select play order, to build queues, to allow me to mark old episodes as already listened to, and to automatically delete played episodes. That's not too much to ask, is it?

Finally I found one, but even it has several downsides. First off, it uses RSS feeds instead of pulling from Apple's store, so the selection of episodes within a single show vary somewhat (as some shows retire episodes faster or slower for RSS than they do within Apple). Some shows are just plain unavailable via RSS (this was a problem when I first switched to using one that sourced from Apple in the first place, so it goes both ways). And finally...

On all my podcast posts in the past, I've been putting some statistics about what my listening time is and stuff... but I'm going to have to change the format slightly, as the information given to me is different.

Overall though? It does the trick.

Now I just have to finish importing all 100+ feeds, update the episodes I've listened to, and start building myself a playlist.