30 Sept 2016

The Soul Blade - Chapter 1

Brenna gripped her van's steering wheel hard enough to turn her knuckles white.  "Mom, I am doing the speed limit."  Despite her argument, she glanced down at the speedometer.  It read fifty-five miles per hour, the designated limit.  "Fifty-five, right on the dot."

The ghostly apparition of Brenna's mother sat in the passenger seat.  "It sounds like your going faster."

"That's the engine, Mom."  Brenna rolled her eyes.  "It's a diesel.  It always sounds like this on the highway."  She spied the sign for her exit off the freeway.  With exaggerated care for her mother's sake, Brenna signaled and changed over to the off-ramp.  As she slowed the van down from highway speeds, she said, "See?"

"Don't take that tone with me, Brenna," Joni warned

Brenna held in an exasperated sigh, knowing it would just escalate the argument.  "Sorry."

"And try to smile.  Your sister doesn't graduate university everyday."

With a forced smile, Brenna answered, "I know.  Good for Gracie and all that."  She signalled to turn on the main road into her neighborhood.  "She worked hard."  Blue and red lights in the van's side mirror caught the young woman's attention.  She pulled over to the side to let the emergency vehicle pass.

A police cruiser passed by then rolled to a stop in front of Brenna's lavender Savana van.  "I told you that you were speeding," her mother admonished.

29 Sept 2016

NaNoPrep 2016 Casting - Commentary

Meta commentary!  Ooh!

Last week, I laid out the characters I'd need for potential project.  After all, without characters, it's not so much a story as it is a 50 000 word essay.  Today, a look into how the ideas came together in the first place.

In general, stories come in two different ways; either I have a character looking for a setting and a plot or a plot looking for a setting and a character.  Rare is the setting that is looking for plot and characters, though Colony Base 183 is turning out that way.  When I have a character, the cast tends to boil down to one or two main characters with others added as needed.  The plot comes from the character, either because of what he or she* can do or is what is being done to him or her.  Subject 13 is a prime example; Nasty grew out of my desire to throttle people over the phone while doing front line phone firewall** work.  The rest grew as I worked out who Nasty was.  In this case, I know more about the character than I do the rest of the story, but can toss in events and know how the lead will react.  The setting is partially baked into the main character; she doesn't exist in a vacuum and will have roots of some sort that can be exploited as needed.

The flipside is starting with an idea for a plot.  At this point, I start working out what character roles I'll need.  Beaver Flight began this way.  Here, the idea was an alien invasion, specifically a "Venus Needs Men!" approach, coupled with the Arrogant Worms' "We Are the Beaver".  I needed the Canadian flight to have a leader, a technician, a linguist, and a scientist, then worked out who those characters would be.  When starting with a plot, I sometimes don't have a full handle on who the characters are, and have to stop and work out details in the middle of a scene.  The answer to "How would Tori react if she was abducted by aliens?" turned out weirder than expected.

Sometimes, similar sounding ideas come up.  Take the three different ideas of amateur detectives in university from last week's post.  Each one is different, but possibly just in my own head.  The Lakehead group is very much in their own setting, and is more focused on a modern reality.  The Carleton group, though, flirts with the supernatural and owes a bit to Scooby-Doo and Ghostbusters.  The third group is more focused on the main characters' dysfunctional families while still solving minor crimes.  Could they be merged?  Not really, not without effort that could break the core concepts of each idea.  However, the Shadowrun ideas do run into each other and into By the Numbers because of the shared setting.  Skater had an appearance in By the Numbers and could easily have a cameo in the webcomic.

Setting should get a mention.  Several of the ideas, particularly the ones set in universities, are easy to place.  Two of the universities exist, and I've checked one's website to get an idea of how its residences are laid out.  The other, I can just make a trip on a weekend to verify a detail or two if needed, as long as I don't have to enter a building.  Even then, I know enough of the buildings on campus that I can extrapolate as needed.  A classroom is a classroom.  Draconic Magic, though, needs work.  Right now, I have a village or town in the distance, a dragon's lair in a mountain, and a wind-swept rock where the villagers/townsfolk leave their sacrifices to the dragon.  I do need more, though I will borrow from The Elf's Prisoner for how magic works.  Maybe last year's NaNo project didn't work out, but I did start building a world that I can plunder for its good ideas.

There's still over a month to get ready.  The key thing for me is to choose a project, and keep it chosen, unlike last year.

Tomorrow, a new serial.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, insights from Can-ConSF 2016.
Saturday, over at Seventh Sanctum, first impressions of the new MacGuyver.

* Most likely, "she".
** Tech support for an ISP.

23 Sept 2016

NaNoPrep 2016 - Casting

With November uncomfortably close and the number of projects I have in mind narrowing from two to seven*, it could be helpful to start casting some of the ideas.  I've already worked on the Shadowrun idea and on Colony Base 183, and Unruly has a cast list already.  That still leaves five potential projects to be fleshed out.

22 Sept 2016

NaNo Backgrounder - Araminta - Commentary

Araminta is on her way to Colony Base 183 as I continue working on background info for NaNoWriMo and try to figure out what I'm doing this November.

The result was rushed.  Very rushed.  As in, I was working out details as I posted the story.  World names were left as marked filler.  I don't have a name for the world the base is set on.  Those would be important things to have if I choose Colony Base 183 as my NaNo project.  Some details I did need worked out, such as Araminta's name, appearance, and motive for volunteering for her next posting.  So, 50% there?  Adding to the chaos and quickness of writing the backgrounder, I had "Explorer Corps" instead of "Exploration Service" before I double-checked the name I used.  "Explorer Corps" is from the BatteTech setting, the name of ComStar's exploration branch.  Good thing I caught the mistake.

One thing that made sense to me was the Exploration Service's standard jumpsuit, the closest thing it has to a uniform.  Bright orange, which makes the person wearing the jumpsuit visible.  It gets used in areas where the wearer needs to be seen, such as ground installations with traffic and construction sites.  When Araminta becomes the junior constable at Colony Base 183, she'll wear the jumpsuit; she'll stand out from the colonists and still not look military.  That said, the jumpsuit isn't worn everywhere.  In the office on the starport before she was given the boot, Araminta wore something more comfortable and better suited for an office.  During her time on the mailships, where she was the only crew, being dressed became optional, especially near the end of the third week.

The Belanger High Port, the official name for the orbital starport, was loosely based on several space stations in media, in that they were also space stations.  The high port sees traffic passing through; not all ships are atmosphere-capable, and not all cargo is worth the cost of landing a large starship instead of using a shuttle.  With artificial gravity, there's no need to rotate the station, making docking easier.    There's a central docking bay for smaller ships; larger ones dock on the outer rings.  The high port is in geostationary orbit above the down port, the ground installation.  There are minor ports on the surface, mostly for cargo.

There probably should be a part two, where Araminta boards The Dusty Crater, with some drama as two people share a small space for a week without being able to step away.  It will be in mind as well as other background works to prep for November.

Tomorrow, more background work for NaNo.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, Electra-Woman and Dynagirl.
Saturday, over at Seventh Sanctum, insights from Can-ConSF 2016.

16 Sept 2016

NaNo Backgrounder - Colony Base 183 - Araminta

Araminta watched through the viewport as the first passenger shuttles of the day left the station.  Far below her, Belanger began to glisten orange, as the light of its star bathed it.  Cargo vessels lumbered overhead, heading to parking orbits.  Araminta shifted in her seat, stretching her arms and legs.  The light of the station's concourse was still dim, reflecting the night of the main starport on Belanger.  Shop employees arrived to set up stores before the crush of transient shoppers arrived.  Lights in the shops came on, one by one.

15 Sept 2016

NaNo Backgrounder - Tempest T. Pot Commentary 2

Tempest lured her prey into her web, but Mason had a few surprises in store.  No plan ever survives contact with reality, and Murphy's Law reigns supreme.

I skipped over the flirting and the travel from the bar; the scenes weren't necessary for my purposes.  Tempest wouldn't be herself but her target's preferred pick.  Instead, I jumped to the new location.  The audience can imagine what happened in the cab.  Might be better than anything I can come up with, which isn't a bad thing.  Sometimes, implying is better than showing.

Again, I needed the names of bars.  I did think about using locations from Seattle 2072, but the sprawl has room for much much more than what's in the book, allowing me to create the locations I needed.  Part 1's Two Pines received its name for being a restaurant/bar in the Pacific Northwest trying to be a neighbourhood establishment, a place the locals go to for a night out.  Liber Pater, however, got its name after I did a quick search for the Roman equivalent of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, indicating that the bar is more hedonistic.  Since this is where Mason goes when he wants to indulge his BTL habit, the name worked for my purposes.

The Triads are part of Chinese organized crime with connections to the illegal simsense chip trade.  Tempest's concerns about being in a Triad-controlled bar comes from her own background and contacts, which are hinted at with the final scene.  Part of the her background that didn't get revealed is that she worked in a Yakuza bunraku, or "puppet", brothel.  Tempest maintains ties with the Yakuza.  Those of you remembering what sort of surgery Tempest had, this is the reason why.  This work is also why Tempest has the chip habit.

Something that I didn't work at but realized I should have emphasized a bit more is the difference between Tempest's addiction and Mason's.  Mason thinks he is a casual user, though he has a mild problem.  It's not affecting him yet, but he's heading down the dark path of addiction.  Tempest, though, is climbing out of that hole.  She's well aware of her addiction and is trying to kick the habit.  When Mason ran his BTL raw, Tempest did what she could to keep up appearances while still negating the worst effects.

The BTL, Rage Red until I come up with a better name, wasn't planned out when I started.  The usual moodchips focus on highs like happiness with a few going the depression route.  Rage Red goes for anger.  This BTL may become a recurring plot device, though, unplanned for.  The Shadowrun setting includes such things as combat drugs that boost the natural abilties of their users so they can keep up with the cybernetically and the magically enhanced.  Typical users are street cops, gang members, low level corporate security, and other redshirts that would cross paths with shadowrunners.  Drugs, though, have drawbacks that affect the users's health.  BTL chips are a psychological addiction with no direct physical drawbacks.  A combat BTL that amps up aggression may have a few bugs, but that's what Mason's there for, to be a guinea pig.

While the effect of the chip is obvious on Mason, I wanted it to be a little mopre subtle with Tempest.  She's not aware of the effect right away, even though she's already getting angry.  Running the BTL through cold simulation means she's not getting the full effect; she can still choose how to react, even if there's snark involved.

In the van, Tempest gets to show off for the reader some of her implants.  She lied to Mason about not having a chipjack, but no one should be surprised there.  Tempest has a skilljack with skillwires, letting her use specialized programs to fill in skill gaps she may have.  The software, called skillsofts, are a replacement for the education and experience; they don't add on.  But, for teams that need niches filled, skillsofts are a stopgap.  For added fun, Tempest's skillwires are second-hand cyberware; cybernetics shouldn't buzz if installed properly.

The last scene has Tempest alone again.  Her call to Takamura is less calling a friend and more repaying an old debt.  Takamura is Yakuza; Tempest is giving him a heads-up on the new BTL chip the Triads have on the market.  This ties into other elements, including the plastic surgery I mentioned last time and her work in the /bunraku/ brothel.  Tempest feels that she owes the Yakuza and, specifically, Takamura for what they did for her, ignoring for the moment that they're also responsible for her addiction.  Thanks to how the Yakuza operates, Tempest may always have a debt to them, beyond buying her BTLs from them.  This connection and her addiction will provide conflict in the potential NaNo project.

Tomorrow, more background work
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, Electra-Woman and Dynagirl.
Saturday, over at Seventh Sanctum, Star Trek: The Animated Series.

9 Sept 2016

NaNo Backgrounder - Tempest T. Pot Part 2 of 2

"The target always comes here on Thursdays."
"Reel him in already!"
"Cal Hots.  Shh."
"Are you sure that the chip-head can do this?"

Liber Pater, Tacoma, 20h37 August 3, 2072
The cab stopped in front of a two story building, the name, Liber Pater, outlined in flashing neon.  A few people milled around outside, smoking, vaping, chatting, or just taking a breather in the cool night air despite the rain.  Mason exited the cab, holding his arm out to help Tempest get out of the car.  He kept the hold as they entered the bar.  "I need to talk to some people.  I'll meet you at the bar."

Tempest maintained her smile as she looked up into his eyes.  "I need to hit the little girl's room."

Mason pointed at a hallway.  "Back there.  Don't be long."  He leaned down to nuzzle Tempest's neck before walking away.

Tempest watched Mason for a moment before making her way through the rougher looking crowd.  Once in the women's washroom, she went to a sink, turning the water on full.  "Crab, still with me?"

"Still online with you," he answered.  "And that's Mr. Crab.  Where are you?"

"The ladies' room at Liber Pater in Tacoma.  Where are you?"

"Getting into position."

"ETA is ten minutes," Greyline added.

"What the hell were you doing with the target in the cab?" Blaze asked.

Tempest scowled.  "What you're paying me to do.  Can you get here sooner?  This is a Triad joint.  They might not like me being here.  And their chips are pure junk."


For those of you in Ottawa, I will be at Can-ConSF this weekend.  Lost in Translation will be up at its usual time, but I won't be able to advertise it.  Likewise, part 2 of Tempest's backgrounder work will appear this evening.  If you're at the con, feel free to say hi.  Or not.

8 Sept 2016

NaNo Backgrounder - Tempest T. Pot Commentary 1

Last week, I posted the first part of what was supposed to be a quick background story for Tempest.  The idea was to get a better idea of who the cast is, something I've discovered helps for NaNoWriMo.  My goal was to have a self-contained story.  That, well, didn't quite work out.

Once again I am playing in the Shadowrun setting, something I did with By the Numbers.  Tempest, as a character, started when I wondered if I could create someone with a potentially crippling flaw and still want to play her.  My choice for the flaw was an addiction, and with Shadowrun's cyberpunk setting and computer-brain interfaces, the Better Than Life, or BTL, chip seemed like the best way to go.  Tempest is a chiphead in the game's lingo, addicted to software that stimulates the brain without having to deal with the dangers of artificial chemicals.  Problem is, even with the type of person who would become a expendable deniable asset*, that addiction means Tempest isn't considered reliable.

Tempest has teammates for this run, though she doesn't normally work with them.  I'm not sure how much of that came through, but at least Greyline is up front about his objections.  Greyline is the rigger, the getaway driver who can plug into his vehicles.  Blaze is a street samurai, much like Molly from William Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy.  Mr. Crab is the decker, a hacker like Case from Gibson's Neuromancer.  All that's missing is magical support, but magicians are supposed to be rare.  The team needed a face for the job, thus Tempest's involvement.

The job is an extraction.  Someone, and for the purpose of the story, it's not important who, wants Darren Mason, alive if at all possible.  The plan is to use Tempest as the lure using Mason's habits and known preferences.  From the writer's point-of-view, this let me show Tempest off in a good light, using her strengths - her ability to get along with people.  In this case, her ability to fake being sympathetic to a mark.  It's a knack for her.  Her goal is to flirt with Mason, get him to choose her for his Thursday night fun, and make sure that the rest of the team can take him without being seen.  And contrary to what Blaze thinks, Tempest is the best choice for the role, as will be shown in Part 2.  However, her mentioning Cal Hots, or California Hots, is a hint.  Cal Hots are simsense chips that aren't quite BTLs but push the legal limits on what is allowed.

The awkward phrase, "At least he's not that skeevy to follow a teenage band if he doesn't recognize Aimee Klein right away," refers to how Tempest looks.  For reasons that will be revealed in next week's commentary, Tempest has had plastic surgery to resemble Aimee Klein, the bass player of the teenaged pop band, the Latchkey Kids, as introduced in the 4th edition supplement, Attitude.  The lead singer, Trish Scallenger, is mentioned as being about fifteen years old in 2073; Tempest is older than that.  I went over that bit a few times and couldn't find a better way to phrase it.  sigh

For what was meant to be background work, not much of Tempest's background gets revealed.  It's mostly characterization, though that is what I wanted.  The story she told Mason is just that, a story.  Tempest is from Seattle, not Pittsburgh, but the lie lets her explain why Mason has never seen her before.  If this was a longer con, she'd have a better story for him, but she's not expecting to see him after he's been delivered.  Mason is a target for her, not even a hookup.

Tomorrow, the conclusion of Tempest's NaNo 2016 Backgrounder.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG.
Saturday, over at Seventh Sanctum[http://codex.seventhsanctum.com], Electra-Woman and Dyna Girl.  Yes, really.

* AKA a shadowrunner.

4 Sept 2016

NaNoPrep 2016 - Narrowing Things Up

This past year, I've posted brainstorming for this upcoming NaNoWriMo.  Naturally, other ideas have come up.  Some are older ideas, some are new.  The list after the break!

2 Sept 2016

NaNo Backgrounder - Tempest T. Pot Part 1 of 2

Two Pines Restaurant & Bar, Downtown Seattle, 19h21 August 3, 2073
"No sign out here," Blaze said, annoyance creeping into her tone.  "Are you sure he comes here on Thursdays?"

"The target always comes here on Thursdays," Mr. Crab answered.  "He has no reason to not come tonight.  Is the chip-head in position?"

"Confirmed."  Greyline's voice sounded like it was several metres away from his comlink's mic.  "Are you sure that the chip-head can do this?"

"The chip-head can hear you."  Tempest took a sip of her cocktail to hide her subvocalization.  "She wouldn't have been recommended if she couldn't do the job.  Now stop referring to me as if I'm not here."  Assholes.  She took a longer sip of her drink to let herself calm down.  I have this under control.  No BTLs on the job.

1 Sept 2016

How Do We Solve a Problem Like Caitlin Chapter 2 - Commentary

Caitlin has arrived at her new school.  Her reaction is completely different from Laura's.  Then again, Caitlin chose the danger.

While Chapter 1 flowed naturally as I wrote, I had problems getting Chapter 2 started.  It wasn't so much writer's block as not having an idea of a start or end point.  There was a lot I wanted to include in the chapter that I couldn't find the right approach.  Emails with Gregory Taylor of Taylor's Polynomials, and Time & Tied*, and The Epsilon Project helped; he asked key questions that helped me work through the problems I was having.  With his help, I figured out where to start and what the conflict would be in the chapter.  The ending came about after the callback to Caitlin's reaction to being called "Ginger".  She did lead a revolt as a wee Jennifer and calls back to the reason why she's at the Academy in the first place.

About halfway through writing the chapter, I realized that I needed to know who would be in the same bunk room as Caitlin.  Some choices were obvious, others weren't.  When I realized that I had Caitlin's future roomies and most of her neighbours, the decision on who to include became easier.  There are twelve girls in the room, but not all twelve are named.  I realized that I didn't need to name all of them, but knowing who was there became a detail I needed.  There are three unnamed girls in the room, total.  One is Vamsi, since her other roommates are already there.  This does mean that Camille and Francesca are roomies, with either Claire or Felicia, thanks to "The Great Jennifer Round-Up" Chapter 2, so one of the latter two are there as well.  That leaves one girl unrevealed.  I have no idea who she is.

I played with expectations in this chapter.  Skye wasn't friendly to Caitlin right away, and wound up sharing a bunk bed with Camille instead of either Caitlin or Autumn.  Flora and Fawna look alike and haven't made an attempt to get their own looks.  Autumn is surgically attached to her phone, the only computing device she was able to smuggle in.  With everything I wanted to get in, somethings had to give, such as the idea of Autumn not yet boy crazy.

Alyssa makes her first full appearance after being mentioned many times.  While it wasn't mentioned, it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that her favourite Muppet is Crazy Harry.  Alyssa loves explosions.  I tossed in a subtle bit once again though I have no idea if it was picked up by readers.  Notice Alyssa's eyebrows, or lack thereof.  The implication is that they got burned off when she was too close to one of her explosions.  Her giggle at the end, though, should cement the idea that she loves explosions a little too much.

Another bit that I have no idea if anyone noticed at the end is what Alyssa calls Caitlin.  In the Unruly arcs already written, only one person calls Caitlin "Cait".  Two, if you count Cassie's "Kitty-Cait".  Skye is the one person in Caitlin's year that can talk with her and get the redhead to try being reasonable.  Alyssa also fills that role with Caitlin.

Going back to "Kitty-Cait", I hadn't intended to make that connection when Cassie calls Alyssa "Alley-Cat".  Looking back, it does work, especially when one considers that Caitlin and Alyssa become best friends over the next five years at the Academy.  Of course Cassie is going to refer to them as "Kitty-Cait" and "Alley-Cat".  Completely unintentional, but works beautifully in hindsight.

The four juniors - Cameron, Nadine, Star, and CiCi - make their first and possible only appearance here.  Nadine makes the mistake of calling Caitlin "Ginger", the same mistake Phil Wheeler and Alexandra Fichetti made.  This is the source of the conflict and the reason why Caitlin led the Great Jennifer Revolt.  Sure, there are other issues, hinted at in the chapter, but Caitlin isn't one to let a grudge alone.  If the juniors had been more attentive to their charges, Caitlin would have just focused on Nadine.  They learned the hard way.

The Camille-Skye conflict evolved as I tried to work out the chapter.  Different girls, including Caitlin and Autumn, were going to be in Camille's position and I hadn't worked out the resolution.  Once I worked out that Camille was going to be in the room, reasons fell into place.  Camille has a backstory, like most of the students at the Academy, one that makes her want a bed as far from the door as possible.  Being above Skye is a bonus for her.

The coda provides an ending for the story.  "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Caitlin" was meant to be just two chapters.  Going into details of the juniors' negligence and Caitlin's plotting would take up many, many more words than I wanted.  Showing the origin and result did what I wanted.  The story is about Caitlin, and that was a very Caitlin thing to do.

Tomorrow, the first of a two-part NaNo 2016 Backgrounder, featuring Tempest T. Pot.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, ... and the Weird.
Saturday, over at Seventh Sanctum, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Roleplaying Game.

* For fun, try figuring out which characters in Time & Tied would get a similar invite as Caitlin's.