31 Oct 2013

Lethal Ladies #12 - Commentary

As always, please read the chapter before continuing.

The location for the beginning, Riddle's Penultimate Café & Wine Bar. was a real place in St. Louis.  It closed in 2010 apparently over a rent dispute.  Good thing the time stamp is still in 2007.  Time just has not been nice to the story's details.

Yet, some details are a little prescient.  Who'd have known that the National Security Agency, the NSA, would get caught in a massive spying scandal?  In 2006, the NSA was a known agency who kept a tight reign on what the public knew what it was doing.  In 2012, Edward Snowden changed all that.  Makes my plot look tame, really.

Allison's boast of not being connected is a little much.  It would take effort, but she knows the difficulty of maintaining online privacy.  Her Thursday nights are kept apart from her friends, family, and co-workers, and maybe Amber would have a chance at finding her.  It's easier now with Google's image search, but that would require Amber to take a photo of Allison.  Amber would find doing that rude and Allison would find a new place for Amber to keep her camera.  As for Allison updating her website, if there's no obvious link between Allison and her Thursday evenings, no one will think to look for an update to the site.  How do you look for someone in a comic store when you don't have any indication that the person reads comics?

The second scene turns out to have a bad address, now that I look it up for the commentary.  If I use 41 North 2nd Street, I get what I found before.  Again, it's possible that development and road construction over the past seven years have changed things.  The experienced spies dash off in grey, again based on advice from Burn Notice.  Black clothes are harder to explain because of past use of the colour in popular media; grey, however, can be explained away as work clothes and works in dim light as well as darkness.  Michael Weston is a font of useful information.

Also useful, distractions.  Something to keep the attention away from the action.  Allison's idea will get attention.  She probably should have mentioned her idea to Amber first, though, but Allison needed the geek to react the way she did.  Allison doesn't have great hopes for Amber's acting ability.  The nervousness on Amber's part is real and should sell the scene to anyone watching them over a security camera.  A good guard should figure out that the make out session is a distraction, but girl-on-girl is hot.  Yes, it was also fanservice.  Later chapters, though, will show Amber's reaction.

Tomorrow, Rose and Elena's break-in.
Saturday at MuseHack, methodology in my last Lost in Translation before Typhoon NaNoWriMo hits.
Coming up, NaNoWriMo updates, plus some sanity checks.

30 Oct 2013

National Buy a Doughnut Day

Mmmm...  Chocolate glazed...
Apparently, National Buy a Doughnut Day is a real thing.  To celebrate, I bought a doughnut, a chocolate glaze.  Mmm.

But, the doughnut was immediately threatened!

Fear not!  A valiant heroine appeared to defend the honour of my doughnut!
"I'll save you, doughnut!"

A fight raged!
"Take that, though foul doughnut fiend!"

The dragon, overwhelmed, fled!
Turning tail

And the day, and the doughnut, was saved.
"Donut mess with me."

The doughnut was delicious.

29 Oct 2013

NaNo Prep 2013 - The Villain

I have my heroine.  However, the plot can't really start until she has someone to thwart, since Ione is not the one prompting the plot.  Sure, she'll start taking over at some point, but someone else needs to set the story off.

Enter the villain.*

I realize that there are proper terms used by English majors and teachers for the roles: protagonist and antagonist.  I also realize that the protagonist is the one trying to change the status quo while the antagonist is trying to maintain it**.  At the same time, common usage flips the two, so that the protagonist is the hero and the antagonist is the villain, even if the latter is trying to shake things up and the former is trying to prevent it***.  Thus, my usage of hero and villain; the roles are much clearer.  Just don't ask about Jack.

Since my plot is, boiled right down to basics, "rogue angel tries to start the apocalypse while rogue analyst tries to prevent it", it's time to work out the rogue angel.  Angels tend to be on the side of the heroes, so why is my angel rogue?  What gave him**** that push to start the Final War?  How does a writer peer into the mind of a being so elevated and alien to properly figure out a motive?

Arrogance is a starting point.  The angel, for whatever reason, feels that the time is nigh to begin Armageddon and defeat the demonic forces of Lucifer.  No other angel or not enough angels agree, so the next step is to provoke the War.  The rogue wants to anger demons working on Earth into retaliation.  Get the demon angry enough and it may very well lash out, upon which the rogue angel can call foul and say that Armageddon has begun.  This course of action gives me at least two motives for Jack.  The first is that he is the demon being provoked and that he sees through the ruse.  The second is that he doesn't want to see the Final War started yet; he likes his job and has gone slightly native.

Now, I have a motive for the rogue, at least a superficial one where the cause can be looked at deeper in a follow up story.  There is probably a deeper reason, but there may not be time or even a proper point of view to dig into it.  What happens next?  How does the angel provoke?  The main way I can think of is to disrupt a demon's work, preventing the demon from corrupting others.  Easiest way to corrupt others is temptation, and mass temptation comes through a network where once you're in, it's difficult to leave.  A cult won't cut it; sure, it will get a number of people to follow, but outsiders will scoff at the victims' sanity.  Organized crime, though, has a number of tentacles, aided and abetted by governments through Wars Against; War Against Drugs, War Against Alcohol, War Against Terrorism.  From there, organized crime has its tentacles into everything from municipal construction to protection rackets to loansharking to legitimate businesses laundering money.  The rogue angel just needs to ferret out the chain to hit a criminal organization where it hurts.

The next question is where.  The edges of the criminal empire are the street dealers, the human traffickers, the enforcers, but they have to answer to someone above them.  The gang leaders, the barons of crime, are usually isolated from the illegal activity, funding and reaping the benefits through layer after layer of deniable plausibility, at least in fiction.  Power tends to corrupt, so the demons don't have to necessarily be attached to the heads of the crime gangs; they can be a few rungs lower, whispering into lieutenants' ears and providing other funding while skimming off the top.  So, the rogue just needs to work up from the bottom, which will have already been done by the start of the novel.  The story is Ione's, not the angel's.  This leads to a warehouse in Paris.

Going off track a bit, here's where Ione comes in.  Her job, CSIS analyst and decryption expert, means that she uses various methods of intelligence, mainly signals intelligence (SIGINT), to locate threats.  Ione used the tracking of BitCoins to find an arms dealer, made contact over the Internet, and needed to set up the meet with British agents hunting the marketer at the warehouse is Paris.  It's not the same method of tracking that the rogue angel uses, but still effective.

Why Paris?  While working out the details of the spy who carries the story, I thought about the different nationalities possible.  I originally thought to use a British spy as my lead, riffing off 007.  I also considered a CIA agent and dismissed the idea of a Canadian in the same position.  But while I worked it out, I realized an agent out of her depth would work far better than an experienced spy, and the best way to do that would be to use a Canadian.  During all that, though, the opening scene coalesced, leading to the warehouse in Paris.  I thought about moving it.  With a CIA agent, I could move the plot to Montreal, since the CIA isn't officially allowed to work within the US.  A CSIS analyst, though, could just pass along the info to a field agent who could drive to Montreal, leaving Ione out of the plot altogether.  If I moved the plot to the US, the angel starts running into religious issues in the States, a factor that I do not want to touch.  So, Europe it is, and Paris works as a hub of intrigue.

Now, I have a main villain.  There's a small problem.  There's no pressure on Ione to find the rogue angel in a short amount of time.  Sure, Jack will urge her along, but Ione doesn't have a motive to speed things along.  Enter my secondary villain, a British agent who believes that Ione set up the British team at the warehouse.  This agent, who does need a bit of fleshing out but will work on standby for now, wants to know what happened and doesn't believe the official reports.  She thinks that Ione isn't telling everything she knows.  The agent is right, but for the wrong reasons.  So, with the British spy nipping at her heels, Ione has a reason to work with Jack.

That should be enough for me to get going November 1st.  Little details will still need to be worked out.  Some research, such as types of rental cars available both here in Ottawa and in Paris, needs to be dug into.  I should be good to go for November.

* Dun dun DUN!
** Die Hard with the director's commentary on should be required viewing and listening for anyone wanting to film and even write.  I learned far more in those two hours than in four years of high school English.
*** Exceptions abound.  The heist movie genre alone provides the bulk of exceptions.
**** Or her.  There's no decent third person neuter pronoun that doesn't imply non-sentient object.  "It" is a very impersonal word.

28 Oct 2013

Test Drive - Edge of the Empire

A recent gaming purchase was Fantasy Flight Games' Edge of the Empire.  In related news, I also got out to Star Wars Identities at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum back in September and created a background for Darhun, a Twi'lek pilot.

Let's see if the two can be combined!

Going in the order of the creation steps as given on page 34, the first step is *Character Concept and Background*.  That has been done, thanks to the exhibit.  Not much else to say, really.  Darhun is one of the down and outs on the fringe, but working to build himself a name.  His greatest thrill is flying.

Next step, *Obligation*.  Every player character has to take one.  Obligations affect how others treat the group, how much trouble the group gets into, and what experience and other rewards the players receive.  In Darhun's background, he got on the wrong side of the Emperor, so Bounty seems like a good one for now.  The value of the obligation will depend on the number of other players in the game, as per page 40.

Step three is *Selecting a Species*.  Way ahead of the process here, at least in choices.  The Twi'let description, starting on page 51, also includes starting experience to spend, starting characteristics, and special abilities.  In Darhun's case, he gets a rank in either Charm or Deception, which cannot go about rank 2 after character creation is complete.  Darhun takes Deception.

Steps 4 and 5 are related; *Choose a Career* and *Choose a Specialization*.  Two careers offer Piloting (Space) - the Explorer and the Smuggler.  The latter career has a specific Pilot specialization, thus, [name]'s career is now Smuggler, with the Pilot specialization.  Darhun now gets to choose four of the career's skills, as listed on page 60, and takes Coordination, Deception, Perception, and Piloting (Space).  He also gets two of the four specialization skills and takes Astrogation and Piloting (Space).

Step 6 is *Invest Experience Points*.  As mentioned, Darhun has 100XP to spend.  Table 2-4 on page 92 shows the costs.  No skill can go beyond rank 2, so Darhun can't improve Piloting (Space) or Deception any further.  However, his other skills can.  He spends 30XP to raise his Agility to 3, 5XP to get Gunnery at 1, 5XP to get Piloting (Planetary) at 1, 5XP to get Skullduggery at 1, 5XP to get Vigilance at 1, 5XP for the Skilled Jockey talent (page 93), 5XP for the Full Throttle talent, 5XP to get the Galaxy Mapper talent, 10XP for Cool at 1, 10XP for Ranged (Light) at 1, 10XP for Outer Rim at 1, and 5 XP for Underworld at 1.

Next up, *Determining Derived Attributes*, in this case, thresholds for wound and strain, defense values, and soak value.  The base for the wound and strain thresholds are based on species.  Defense is zero unless modified by armour.  Soak value is based on Brawn.

Step 8, *Motivations*.  Partially covered in the background back in step 1, motivation helps the GM work out adventure prompts and can provide bonus XP for players.  Players in doubt can roll randomly, but Darhun has a motivation already; non-human rights.  It's tough when being oppressed.

The last step, *Gear and Appearance*, is already partially done.  The Identities link shows Darhun's picture.  Gear, though, begins with 500 credits.  He will need a blaster, armour, and other useful widgets.  He purchases a light blaster pistol for Cr300, heavy clothing for Cr50, a handheld commlink for Cr25, and a datapad for Cr75, leaving Cr50, plus a d100 roll for starting cash.

There is a tenth step, *Select a Ship*, which is done by all players as a group.  Typically, the choice is a freighter, though a generous GM could allow for a snubfighter for an appropriate pilot character.

Total time needed to create the character was twenty minutes, including prepping the blog post.  Perfect for a Star Wars game to get people going right away.

The final character sheet:
Name: Darhun
Species: Twi'lek
Obligation: Bounty
Career: Smuggler
  Specialization: Pilot
 Brawn: 1
 Agility: 3
 Intellect: 2
 Cunning: 2
 Willpower: 2
 Presence: 3
Wound Threshold: 11
Strain Threshold: 13
  Ranged: 1
  Melee: 1
Soak Value: 3
Special Abilities:

Skills Rank
 Astrogation  1
 Charm  1
 Cool  1
 Coordination  1
 Deception  2
 Gunnery  1
 Outer Rim  1
 Perception  1
 Piloting (Planet)1
 Piloting (Space) 2
 Ranged (Light)  1
 Skullduggery  1
 Underworld  1
 Vigilance  1
Weapons & Equipment:
 Light Blaster Pistol
 Heavy Clothing (Defense 1, Soak 2)
 Commlink, handheld

27 Oct 2013

NaNo Prep 2013 - Sarah Ione Mackenzie

With just 12 (edit, thanks, mathtans:) 4 days to go, time to figure out my lead character enough so that if I head off in an odd direction, I will know exactly how she would react.  The plot is, ultimately, driven by the characters, hero and villain alike*.  The more I know the characters, the more I'll be able to write myself out of corners.

I'll borrow the format from Subject 13 for the basic info.  Tables are good at displaying information.
Name: Sarah Ione Mackenzie
Birthdate:         December 1982
Birthplace: Ottawa, ON
Sex:         Female
         Eyes: Green
         Hair: Brunette
         Distinguishing Marks:
Mother: Lise Mackenzie, nee Flynn, born in 1955
Father: John Mackenzie, born in 1952
Sister: Amy Marie MacKenzie, born in 1989
Education:         B. Math
        M. Sc in Math
Employer:        Government of Canada
Ione prefers using her middle name; she was one of far too many Sarahs in her classes and decided to go to her middle in high school to avoid being Sarah-with-an-h M yet again.  She grew up in Ottawa, with frequent trips to visit her grandparents in Montreal.  Ione can speak French; it's just with an accent that will have her stand out in France.

The employer is vague.  If asked about her job, Ione herself answers, "I'm an analyst in the Public Service."  It's truthful, but vague.  Ione is an analyst with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, decrypting messages and analysing patterns.  A career that should normally be boring, along the lines of Ian Fleming's early description of James Bond; "A man with a government job."

Ione's home life is simple.  She rents a house near Little Italy with Karen Higgs, a friend from their Waterloo days, and Diesel, a cat.  The cat just moved in after Ione and Karen did, as cats are wont to do.  The house, based on one found on a search is a two-floor, two-bedroom building with narrow kitchen.  Ione's bedroom has her bed, dresser, an office chair, a desk where she docks her laptop (Windows), tablet (Android), work cell phone (Blackberry), and personal cell phone (Android).  Her bedding is typically green, with a quilt made by her grandmother.  Ione also maintains a Linux box in the living room to act as a server for the various other electronics around, including a Playstation 3 and Karen's Mac laptop, iPhone, and iPad.  The Linux box also lets Ione do extracurricular work, including the work that leads to Chapter 1.

Getting to work, Ione uses the bus.  It's actually easier to get to downtown Ottawa by bus than to try to find parking; it's cheaper, too.  And as "Camelot" is still being built, Ione gets to work in an unnamed building in the downtown core, which, for the purpose of the story, will be on Sparks Street.  Ione doesn't even get a cubicle with a window view; her work requires her to be moved away from the views.

Karen, meanwhile, doesn't work for the government.  She is an ambitious up-an-comer in the private sector, working in the financial field.  Karen will use the bus, but also drives if she's planning on working late.  She owns a car, a Fiat 500, that she'll let Ione drive as needed.  Ione chips in for fuel and car payments.  If Ione needs to drive somewhere when Karen already has the car, well, that's what the Kawasaki Vulcan is for.
Ride long and prosper.

Ione has an adventurous streak, one that she manages to keep restrained for the most part but lets loose in odd ways, like taking a job at CSIS instead of continuing on to her doctorate and riding a motorcycle on weekends when the weather is good.  Ione also participates in a boffer LARP, where she wields a fake sword with gusto.  Chapter 1 will show her a consequence of the streak.**

I think I have a good idea of who Ione Mackenzie is and how she'll react when I start throwing plot and Jack at her.  Next step, work out what the villain is doing.

Oh, and feel free to comment and give feedback here.  Better a problem gets fixed now than during November.

* And whatever Jack is.
** Does it sound like I have Chapter 1 ready?  Because I totally do.  I just can't write it until 00:01 November 1st.

25 Oct 2013

Lethal Ladies #12 - Riddle's Penultimate Café & Wine Bar

St. Louis, Missouri
Riddle's Penultimate Café & Wine Bar
28-JUN-2007  1830

Amber spotted Elena and Allison before Rose did, and led the older woman to the four-top their co-workers held.  They sat down and flagged a waiter to put in their drink orders.  "Waiting long?" Amber asked.

"Maybe ten minutes," Elena said.  "Interesting findings, though.  You?"

"Just as interesting," Rose answered.  "Want to go first?"

"I want to save my information for last.  Go ahead."

24 Oct 2013

Lethal Ladies #11 - Commentary

As always, please read the chapter before continuing.

The Ladies are back in St. Louis proper, and at the Chez Café Coffee Shop and Internet Café, a real place that existed in St. Louis in 2007 but apparently doesn't anymore.  There is one in Florida, though, but the Ladies aren't there.  Allison's explanation of a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) is good enough for non-technical types like Rose and Elena.  Unlike Hollywood productions, finding the location of someone through an IP trace isn't easy.  If it were, the number of murdered spammers would be far greater.  An IP address will get a provider's name, not necessarily the user's name.  Businesses tend to have static IP addresses, so a whois look up will get an address.  A unique business is easy to find; a Starbucks or Tim Horton's, not so much.  So, Allison should really be getting what she needs then leaving.  However, narratively, that's yet another scene whe it's not really needed.

Again, time and tech marched on.  Text messaging was relatively new in 2006 and standard today.  There's a reason why I didn't change the year in the timestamps; a lot of the technology would need to be updated. Lethal Ladies is just not aging well.  The file on the network method does work, though, today, two people can and have shared a Gmail account and communicated through a draft email.

Amber really does need to cut back on her coffee addiction.  Rose, though, catches her with a Canadianism, "a double double".  Unheard of in the US as of 2008, as per the thread at WordReference, it's exactly as Rose says, coffee, two milk, two sugar.  Rose spent a lot of time at Tim Horton's.  It's an exercise for the reader to imagine what Amber is getting for herself.

The ship, a Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate, was chosen specifically because the HMCS Ottawa* is that class.  While I was working at the Department of Defense at the time, all the info I found was from the then-publically accessable webpage.  It doesn't exist now, but there's a Facebook page instead.  Amber recognizes the plans because, as mentioned before, she's a gearhead.  She's not just into cars and anime.  I had access to posters that showed the general layout of visible portions, thus the main guns and helicopter platform.  The rest is me making things up.

After the Ladies split up, Rose calls a contact on the St. Louis police force.  The contact was meant to be in the story all along; he just never got a chance because everything up to this point involved activities that would force him to intervene.  Amber reveals a little more about her home life and that she really doesn't want her family to worry about her.  Probably too late there with her caffeine intake.  At the same time, Elena and, of all people, Allison head to a Wal-Mart.  The store number was random.  Turns out, it's in Hawaii..  Why Wal-Mart?  I wanted to place a former spy in the least likely location.  Elena's former colleague Sergei does have extracurriculars, some of which will be shown later.  He shot high for an opening price.  Allison, already out of sorts because she's in a Wal-Mart, is not helping.  Elena, however, isn't easily fazed, and manages to get chocolate and her info.

Tomorrow, information is shared and a new plan of action is put into place.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, I will have something.  It'll be a surprise, even to me.
Coming up, the last of the NaNoWriMo prep work and a test run.

* Her Majesty's Canadian Ship.

20 Oct 2013

Review - Can*Con 2013 - Part 2 - Sunday

I've already covered Saturday.  I had missed Friday, but planned on getting in for Sunday.  For another view of the conference, go see Mathie x Pensive; he covered Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and took photos!

First panel, Creativity in Fandom.
Panelists: Errol Elumir, Debs Linden, Chadwick Ginther

The panel covered creative fandom, the ins and outs and the fun.  Debs and Errol perform geek music and have just released an EP.  Debs also works solo and knits on the side.  Chadwick is a novelist.  Although the panel was about creativity, LinkedIn recommends that creativity not be used as a keyword; the term is too broad to be meaningful.  Get specific.  Meanwhile, Chadwick uses music as a fuel for his writing, creating a soundtrack for his novels as they get written.  What helps is being creative in your daily life.  The creativity helps remove filters.  Errol is a great example.  Also helping in removing filters, NaNoWriMo, which encourages to, if not kill your inner editor, at least leave it tied up in the closet for a bit.  Other ideas to help with being creative is to keep a notebook handy for when ideas strike.  Some reading material mentioned was Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, both by Czech psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Animation from Script to Screen by Shamus Culhane, and Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland.  Flow and Creativity both show the need to enter a state of flow where you lose track of time while creating.  Animation mentioned the dichotomy between perfection and completion; novels aren't so much finished as abandoned.  Taking on crazy challenges, such as NaNoWriMo, still results in something being created and refined as needed.  Perfectionism though can be a problem, deadlines help push the project to an end.  Also mentioned were "pantsers", people who write/draw/create by the seat of their pants; even they* have pitfalls including poor work and distractability.  However, with practice, the processes will be internalized, becoming natural.  To help become more creative, keep an eye open for ideas; they're everywhere.  Improv classes help remove the internal filter.  Watch out for research, it can sometimes become a chase down a rabbit hole, especially on certain sites like Wikipedia and TVTropes.  Collaborate; having people participate, even through being first/beta readers, will help keep the creativity going.  Again, a very useful panel, for both writers and fans.

Second panel, Marketing for Writers 201: Blog Tours and Other Clever Ideas*
Panelist: Linda Poitevin

A followup to a Friday evening panel, Marketing 101, which I couldn't make, Linda Poitevin presented a talk on virtual tours.  Linda is currently on one to promote her latest book in The Grigori Legacy and shared her knowledge.  She also came prepared with handouts!  A lot of the info can be found on her blog by searching "blog tour".  The short of it, a blog tour is a virtual book tour, giving guest columns and interviews at various websites.  The goal is to get your name and the title of your book out there to as many people as possible in a short amount of time.  There's two ways to go, set up the tour by yourself or hire a tour organizer.  In both cases, you need to decide how long the tour will last, how many times a week you'll post, and if you'll have a giveaways during the tour.  With an organizer, the bulk of the work will be off your shoulders as the organizer arranges for the sites, makes the needed introductions, and giveaways.  The organizer can cost anywhere from one to several hundred dollars, but, in return, a lot of the heavy lifting is done for you.  Otherwise, you'll have to research and contact the various hosts.  Ideally, you'll appear on blogs that review books that are similar to what you've written.  Verify the number of followers the blog has; the idea is to raise your presence.  Also check the level of feedback; the number of followers isn't always indicative of the activity on a site.  The more active the commentary, the more active the followers are.  And keep track of where you're appearing, so that you can send a reminder to hosts of your guest appearance a a week or two in advance and remember what sort of post you're putting up at the site.  Prepare your guest posts as soon as possible and send them when they're ready.  The posts don't necessarily have to be about the book being promoted; Linda has written about canning on her current tour.  When in doubt, ask the host for a topic.  Once your post is up, check back a few times over the next few days and the following weekend so you can follow up on feedback.  And, above all, remember to send thank yous.  Definitely an informative panel for writers.

My last panel, The Mystery Plot Form.
Panelists: Violette Malan, Hayden Trenholm, Robert J. Sawyer, Tom Barlow

The panel was delayed a bit as the Aurora Awards banquet wrapped up; Robert J. Sawyer arrived halfway through the panel because of photography needed after his Lifetime Achievement Award.  Once it got started, the panel covered adapting a mystery into a speculative fiction format.  The panelists noted that speculative fiction is similar to a mystery, with an investigation into what is happening.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes was the first scientific detective, using methods that were, at the time, akin to science fiction and based on the work of Doctor Joseph Bell and of police officer Bartelet.  The key is to know whodunit before starting to write.  In effect, mysteries are written twice, once from the end to the beginning to make sure the chain of clues to the perpetrator holds up, and then again from beginning to end to add the needed red herrings.  The writer needs to use subterfuge and sleight of hand to distract the reader from the clues.  At the same time, the author has to maintain a separation of writer and character knowledge.**  The big thing to avoid is the "I don't understand" reaction by the reader; the mystery reader adds a meta-level of reading by trying to solve the mystery along with the investigating character.  Mysteries tend to be in series because the lead character is the most empathetic; this can lead to the problem of the lead character not changing as the writers aim to make each book accessable whether a reader picks up book 5 or book 35.  The order of most mystery series usually isn't important; however, there are exceptions such as John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series, which has a subtle progression.  In science fiction, though, there is a progression; characters develop from book 1 to book 3; missing book 2 means missing key events.  Sawyer brought up another aspect once he arrived; his first novel was a science fiction mystery. He saw the Venn diagram of readers of SF and of mystery, with the intersection.  He thought he'd reach everyone; instead, he got the intersection.

Summing up the weekend, I am happy I went.  First, this was my first con since FanExpo in 2010 where the crowds were far too overwhelming.  CanCon was much smaller, intimate, and didn't involve getting trapped going upstream in a crowd.  Second, the panels were focused on written work.  The panels I went to were either to get information for projects, especially the Traveller idea, about the business of writing, or about the creative fan aspects.  I did see some cracks, but that's four years of being a con exec for AC Cubed speaking up.  I also had an idea for a panel for next year's, which I do plan on going to.

If you're a writer or a reader of fantasy and science fiction, this is the con to attend.

* Okay, we, but I'll have a post on my methods separate from the review.
** Similar to player versus player character knowledge in RPGs, really.

18 Oct 2013

Lethal Ladies #11 - Chez Café Coffee Shop and Internet Café

St. Louis, Missouri
Chez Café Coffee Shop and Internet Café
28-JUN-2007  1435

Allison did one final check on her network settings before firing up her connection to her home server.  Her fingers flashed as she entered her password, then waited for the confirmation.  The brunette tapped her foot as the laptop processed the incoming information.  "There, I'm in."

"You won't be traced, right?"  Rose's worry was written on her face.

17 Oct 2013

Lethal Ladies #10 - Commentary

As always, please read the chapter first.  Spoilers, you know.

Back to the main action, Amber leads off by focusing on a detail while missing the obvious.  Yes, indeed, I did use character names from War and Peace.  I had run out of useful names from hockey teams.  Amber also let me show off the research, such as it was.  I probably shouldn't do that.  Allison did get the point of the story; Rose and Elena were spies.  How Elena came to the US would be handled elsewhere.

Once again, the march of time turns an explanation into a "well, duh," moment.  Remember, though, that the iPhone came out in the summer of 2007 and Lethal Ladies was written in 2006.  Blackberries were already out, though seen more in corporate and government use than in the home consumer market.  Cell phones weren't really Internet capable yet; cameras were a new feature.  As for Allison's preference for a high-speed connection, again, 2006 still saw dial up as a primary method of connection, though fading as high-speed Internet such as DSL and cable gained in popularity.

The address on Main Street was a stab at pinning down a location first then checking it later.  Main Street in St. Louis turned out to be residential, which worked for my needs.  The bit about the senior FBI officials being followed by KGB agents riffs off an idea from the old TV series, Adderly, where the Soviets thought that the department Adderly got assigned to after his injury had to be important because it had a vague name and was hidden in the basement.  In truth, Miscellaneous Affairs was a dumping ground, with two other people in it, in the basement because the head of Misc. Affairs had zero pull to get a better location.  My twist is that the FBI officials were fans of the NFL's St. Louis Rams, and came out when they could get tickets.  The KGB, not listening to Elena, followed because they were sure that something else was happening.

The core idea of the "disguises" the Ladies use is to make them look different from their usual appearances.  Amber and Allison essentially trade places, with the scruffy Amber having to dress properly and Allison going with geek chic.  Haircuts can also drastically change appearance, at least long enough to slip away unnoticed.  Wireless hot spots were not as common in 2006 as they are today; Internet cafés sprouted to introduce a new service.  Today, even McDonald's and Tim Horton's have wifi.  War driving, though, has slowly fallen out of favour since 2006; the risks of having open Internet access on a home network got too great.

The bit about Belgrade was to add a mini-flashback to add to my word count without disrupting the flow of the plot.  Rose and Elena mentioned several of the active terrorist groups.  Once again, time marched on, but for the characters and not the story.  In 1990, the Soviet Union was mired in Afghanistan, fighting the Taliban.  A 007 movie, The Living Daylights, teams Bond with the Taliban.  Time indeed marched on.

Tomorrow, find out what the Ladies were hired to steal.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, the October news round up for Lost in Translation
Coming soon, more notes for NaNoWriMo 2013 as I finish putting the main character together, and the rest of the CanCon 2013 review.

14 Oct 2013

Review - Can*Con 2013 - Part 1 - Saturday

This past weekend, October 11-13, 2013, saw Can*Con 2013 held in Ottawa, Ontario.  I wrote a review for MuseHack, but the following is the more personal approach.

Before I get into the details, I will mention that I took notes.  Those very notes are the reason why the review is late.  Take a look at my handwriting at the start of the first panel.
Chicken scratches are more legible.

Someone should hire me to encrypt messages.  Even in plaintext, it's hard to figure out.

I was not able to get to the convention the Friday evening.  The program shows a variety of panels, including one for first time con attendees, one about chemical weapons and synthetic medicine, a marketing panel, and humour in science fiction, along with a concert at the end of the evening that included open mic filking.

Saturday morning, I arrived with a rough idea of what I wanted to see, a mix of panels to stimulate the imagination and panels to learn about the business side of writing.  While I did notice some organizational issues, the problems wouldn't be apparent to most attendees; experience running a convention let me see a few cracks that most people would miss.  However, I paid for the weekend, I was off to the panels and the rest of the weekend went smoother than expected.

First panel, Atmospheres Around Solid Bodies: Mars, Venus, Titan, Pluto.
Panelist: Science guest of honour Mark Robinson
The panel covered meteorology on rocky planets. using Earth as a basis; my reason for going was to learn more for a personal project.  Robinson is a meteorologist, hosting StormHunters on the Weather Network, and has experienced the more extreme weather here on Earth.  He then extrapolated that information to show how weather would work on Mars, Venus, and Titan.  Definitely was worth getting to, and the questions from the audience were intelligent.

Second panel, Going Viral: Infection and Disease in Speculative Fiction.
Panelists: Lynne M. MacLean, PhD, Leslie Brown, Wayne Conlan, PhD, and Cameron McDermaid.
As the title implies, the panel covered how diseases spread, again using real data as a base to build on.  Again, this was more for personal projects, both current and future.  Cameron McDermaid is part of the Ottawa Public Health Unit, tasked with tracking rates of infection while Leslie Brown, Dr. Conlan and Dr. MacLean are research scientists.  Also again, the audience asked good questions about the nature of viruses and bacteria and the vectors used.

Third panel, The Business of Writing.
Panelists: Authors Suzanne Church, Jean-Louis Trudel, Karen Dudley, and Chadwick Ginther.
This was the first panel about the business side of writing that I attended, and it was loaded with information.  Topics covered included the use of social media and how to use it, how to balance the time spent between writing and marketing, the pros and cons of self-publishing beyond just the still lingering stigma.  Also mentioned, be nice to fans; word of mouth can work against authors, too.  Also to keep in mind, electronic catalogues can now track a writer's online presence, so just having accounts on various social media platforms isn't enough; writers need to be social on social media, too.  Also useful, especially in light of the track almost dedicated to it, learning how to give readings; sometimes a good reading can pull in people who didn't expect to be buying the book.  The financial side lead to more useful information, including what and how to claim for expenses.  Even books and magazines can be expensed by writers.  Since Can*Con is Canadian, there was a mention of an extra hoop when publishing an e-book through Amazon.com.  The bookseller requires an American tax number; the panelists mentioned that both EIN (Employer Identification Number) and ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) and how to get them.  The panel was well attended and, yet again, had thoughtful questions from the audience about processes.  This panel, if no other, was a key one for aspiring authors.

The next panel I went to was Women as Authors and Women as Fans.
Panelists: Marie Bilodeau, Linda Poitevin, Cherry Valance, and Robin Riopelle.
With the controversies involving authors snubbing women writers and the "fake geek girl" turducken of insanity happening, the panel set out to find positive solutions.  The odd woman out, Cherry Valance, is a fan, not an author, but is very active in the Capital Geek Girls, a group to promote activities for the geek girl.  The problem, though, isn't limited to fans or to creative types; it's systemic, pervasive through society.  There are no easy solutions, but ideas were presented.  One was the idea of a safespace, especially at conventions, where someone can go to get away or someone to go to when help is needed.  Another was increasing awareness, having panels at conventions similar to this one, raising the issues.  Changing the language used is also important; assertiveness isn't being bitchy, it's standing up for what is right.  The changing of the word changes the impression of the action.  Marketing must be brought on board; too often, the packaging becomes limiting, with pastels signfying a book for women only, even if the story might appeal to men, too.  Marie Bilodeau ran into this problem with one of her early novels; it got the pastel treatment, leading people to believe the romance was the main plot when, in reality, the main plot involved explosions.  If the previous panel was key for just authors, this panel was key for everyone.  Fortunately, a good cross-section of the attendees were there, women and men, young and old.

After lunch, the first panel I went to was Gas Giants to Hot Jupiters to Brown Dwarfs.
Panelists: Mark Robinson, Peter Watson, and Derek Künsken.
Like the first panel on I went to, this was about weather, this time on gas giants.  Again, this was for a personal project and, again, very useful for my needs.  Plus, finding out about gas giants where precipitation is molten iron and molten glass.  Definitely geared towards the writers of science fiction.

[And look at what the BBC is now reporting: raining diamonds on Jupiter and Saturn.  Fuel skimming of gas giants is not as easy as it sounds.]

Late in the afternoon, I went to Cripping the Light Fantastic.
Panelists: Derek Newman-Stille, Tanya Huff, and Dominik Parisien.
The panel covered the role of the disabled, starting with a "Disability Bingo" featuring slides of characters from speculative fiction in all media, based on various tropes including "Disabled as mentor for hero", "The magical or technological cure", and "Disability as ugliness".  As society became more sensitive to the needs of the obviously disabled, some tropes were seen less and less, but the disabled character is beginning to be all about the disability and not a full character.  Awareness will help, but efforts will be needed.  This panel was for fans and writers, to help recognize the issues.

[Since the convention, I managed to catch an episode of the remade Ironside series.  Although I can't really extrapolate from just one episode, that one managed to avoid the major tropes covered, having Sergeant Ironside be a detective sergeant first and foremost.  Time will tell, but, so far, Ironside is a character first, his disability second.]

Afterwards, I went to the panel Researching for Fantasy Stories
Panelists: Matthew Johnson, Karen Dudley, and Mike Rimar
Another panel aimed more for writers, the topic covered world building and researching.  Brought up was the /National Geographic/ test on amount researched; if you have enough information to write an article on the subject for the magazine, you have enough information to work with in writing.  When it comes to a fantasy world, start with the science and extrapolate while watching out for incompatibilities.  While it is easy to take an example from Earth, elements of the world may break the sample.  Allow readers to fill in the gaps.  Solid advice from the panel.

Last panel of Saturday was National Novel Writing Month!  Aspiring Writers: Do It!  Commit!  Commit!.
Panelists: Nicole Lavigne, Geoff Gander, Maaja Wentz, and Chadwick Ginther
The panel covered what NaNoWriMo is, the aspects of writing 50 000 words in thirty days, and the social elements.  Also covered were software to help keep writers going through the month, including Write or Die and Written Kitten, and some dirty secrets of NaNoWriMo, including the fact that editors dread December.  Professional writers have also used the month to get a start on a side project, working out a first draft while still working on their main works.  Most of the audience had participated in NaNoWriMo before, but the panel allowed for an exchange of ideas and for getting to know others embarking on the same insane ride.

Remember that handwriting sample?  Here's a sample of my handwriting by the end of the day.  I, for one, welcome the computer revolution.
And that's when I print.  Imagine proper cursive.

As soon as it's written, the review for the Sunday will be posted.

11 Oct 2013

Happy Anniversary!

It's been one year since the first post ever here.  I started the blog to see if I could do it.  After one hundred posts, I decided that I could.  The focus has drifted over the past twelve months.  At the beginning, I was working on figuring out what to write for NaNoWriMo 2012 while commenting on D&D Encounters.  Slowly, the blog became a place where I posted past works and wrote about writing.  I still have the occasional RPG post.

I'm still trying to find my own voice while writing, but the blog and Lost in Translation is helping.  I'm also establishing a division between personal works and more professional, which resulted in an analysis of DC Comics' missteps to go over to MuseHack instead of here.  Meanwhile, I'm having fun with annotating the bits of fiction I've put up here, and writing out the background for NaNoWriMo is far more useful than I'd ever thought it would be.

The future of the blog is the same as it was in July; keep posting serialized fiction on Friday, comment on the fiction the following Thursday, post gaming material as it comes up, and blog about NaNo.  If something comes up that doesn't quite fit on MuseHack but does here, I'll write about it.  I'll also try to get more pictures involved.  I haven't posted many, and all of them have been my own work.  I'm hoping to be able to get a picture of my characters for NaNo projects and for any RPG material I do.

Thanks for reading!

Lethal Ladies #10 - 1633 Bond Avenue, East St. Louis

East St. Louis, Illinois
1633 Bond Avenue
28-JUN-2007  1220

"Wow," Amber said.  "You really named your teams after War and Peace characters, Elena?"  Rose, Elena, and Allison all stared at Amber.  "What?" Amber protested.  "I'm not allowed to have read War and Peace?"

"I think you missed the point, Amber," Allison said.  "Rose and Elena were spies."

"Duh, Allie.  I figured that out long ago.  Remember?"

10 Oct 2013

Lethal Ladies #9 - Commentary

Yes, this is the real commentary, for the real chapter 9 last week.  You should go read it before continuing.

Elena and Rose are still in their fox-and-hare game, though both are deadly serious.  Rose is armed and the carabinieri, the Italian military police, are now aware that something is up.  This adds pressure to the Soviet agent and gives Rose a some breathing space.  The entire point of espionage is to keep things quiet, 007 not withstanding.  A police presence will make for awkward questions.  Rose just ditches her "borrowed" pistol, but kept the silencer.  Elena has to dismantle her blockades.

The Metro station does exist, and is on Via Ostiense.  The commentary for chapter 8 went into the directions more, but all the streets were a retrofit based on the action, starting with the station.  At the time of writing, I left a placeholder to be filled in later.  It was NaNoWriMo; slowing to find information took away from the scene and flow of writing.  To add to the fun, I was helping with putting on AC Cubed, which would take away at least three days of productivity*.

Rose and Elena finally get to meet in the flashback.  The big build up.  Hopefully, the pay off worked, though feel free to comment below with your thoughts.  The scene allowed me to contrast the women; Rose with her desparate bluff and Elena with her calm negotiation.  The idea was to sow the groundwork for the partnership seen at the beginning of the story in the then-current date.  Later stories would show other flashbacks, slowly building up a story on its own where Rose and Elena would trade victories and build respect for each other.  Rose's bluff does get called; even at 11pm, there are people using the Metro, though not many.  Rose turns the table back on Elena.  Tossing the silencer to the KGB agent was Rose's last distraction; she was counting on Elena still believing in the possibility of an explosive device.

Tomorrow, back to the full team of Ladies.
Saturday, Lost in Translation looks at The Amazing Spider-Man.
Coming soon, still more NaNoWriMo prep work, an anniversary post, and test flight of the new Shadowrun edition.

* In the end, it was five days; three of actual convention plus two days to recover.  More details once the relevant chapters appear.

8 Oct 2013

Test Run - Firefly RPG

Recently, I picked up the Firefly RPG preview by Margaret Weis Productions.  I've read through it, and it's a nice little system so far, even if incomplete.  I figured I'd try create a character or two in it.

4 Oct 2013

Lethal Ladies #9 - Embassy of the Soviet Union

[This is the correct chapter 9.]
Rome, Italy
Embassy of the Soviet Union
23-APR-1982  2307

Elena allowed herself a smile.  Her agents had tightened the noose around the CIA agent.  It was only a matter of time before Rabbit was back in her custody.

"Lieutenant, Agent Lavrushka reports running into Rabbit."


3 Oct 2013

Lethal Ladies #9 - Commentary


Turns out, last week's post was really chapter 8.  I will post the proper chapter 9 on Friday.  The other chapters will be correct.

I hope.

Apologies for the mess up.