31 Aug 2017

The Devil You Know - Commentary 6

Another explosion in France sent Ione out to clear her mind, but Jack won't give her the time she needs, in The Devil You Know Chapter 6.

Not all cats move as fast as Diesel when it's time to be fed.  Some will run.  Others will just get far enough in front so they can keep turning back to make sure the staffer is following.  It all depends on the cat.  Even the type of food eaten is cat-dependent.  Sure, you can buy the expensive fancy wet food, but I've had cats that would turn their nose up at it and prefer the cheap, smelly food, in part for the added floor show.

Ione is having a typical morning where she doesn't have to go in to work.  Feed the cat, drink coffee, watch some TV.  The problem is, she's not in a slice-of-life story.  The news story is about her mission that started the story.  And now what was in the warehouse is known to the world - illegal arms.  Ione's mission wasn't a complete failure; all those weapons will never get to their destinations.

One of the problems of being in a city where the primary industry is government is that most people understand how the bureaucracy works.  There is a method to the madness, and most people in Ottawa understand that.  The rest either are newcomers or deliberately obtuse.  The question isn't whether someone works for the government but which department.  So, if one works or even applies to one of the more secretive agencies in the National Capital, it's a little harder to brush off the question of where one works by answering, "a government analyst".  Even if one can say, there are still times when something interesting happens at work and can't be told because of secrecy and security.

Media conventions in Ottawa is a relatively knew thing.  Sure, Cangames has been around for forty years, but other cons fizzled.  The mindset wasn't really there; Ottawa was more a sports town than anything else.  Rough Riders would see large turnouts, even during their worst season and only dwindled when it became obvious that the ownership didn't care about the team.  However, with more attention being paid to comic cons of all sorts, there's a new interest.  AC Cubed, of which I was one of the exec, saw large turnouts, far more than expected.  Can*Con has returned.  And, finally, Ottawa got a pro comic con.  Fourth largest city in Canada here, and it gets treated like a bloody backwater at times.  The biggest problem the city has is a lack of space for conventions.  The hotels here are set up for smaller events.  The lack of space was one of the reasons AC Cubed folded; the con was about to burst from being a small convention to being a medium one or larger, and there really wasn't anywhere to expand.  So, the mention of a new media con was news in 2013.

The last scene at the intersection made a good spot for a chapter break.  Who is this daredevil who dared to cut off Ione in a dangerous yet flashy manner?  The answer should be obvious and will be revealed in Chapter 7.

Friday, Jack makes Ione an offer; can she refuse?  The Devil You Know Chapter 7.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, when an adaptation isn't an adaptation.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Mutant X.

25 Aug 2017

The Devil You Know - Chapter 6

Ione met with Jack, who knew far more about what happened in Paris than anyone should.
The next morning, Ione once again woke up with a weight across her legs.  "Diesel," she groaned.  "Did you miss me that much while I was gone?"  With effort, she managed to flip over on to her back.  Diesel padded across the bed to meet Ione face to face.  He sat down, staring at the brunette.  Ione stroked his grey fur.  "I'm sorry for disappearing this week."  She raised her head, offering her forehead to the cat.  He leaned forward and touched Ione's forehead with his, then purred.  "Let's get breakfast."

By the time Ione's feet hit the floor, Diesel had torn out of the bedroom and was halfway downstairs.  Ione grabbed her robe and followed.  The grey cat sat patiently in front of his food dish and stared without blinking at Ione as she shuffled into the kitchen.  She topped off his dry food, then searched through the cupboards for a clean dish.  Finding one, she scooped half a can of salmon flavoured wet food into it and set it beside Diesel.  The grey monster pawed at Ione until the dish was set as his feet.  Diesel lunged at the cat food, chomping loudly as he ate.  Ione shook her head.  "Just don't make a mess."

24 Aug 2017

The Devil You Know - Commentary 5

Jack arrived, in The Devil You Know Chapter 5.

Again, I'm using a real location.  The Earl of Sussex is a real pub in a real city and near a real American embassy and counts as three words for NaNoWriMo.  The crowd is typical for mid-week.  In Ottawa, the Senators' away games are on many a bar's televisions.  October also means Redblacks games and baseball playoffs.  An embarrassment of sports for the sports fan.  Fortunately, the Market also has dance bars for those wanting to do more than drink and watch sports.

Meet Jack.  Jack was the first character I worked out for the story, with Ione coming after.  Yes, he was the Mountie in Chapter 3, but he gets his proper introduction here.  Jack also knows more than he tells, even to the author.  He was fun to write.

Those who pay attention may be wondering why Jack is calling Ione "Sarah".  Again, Chapter 3, which turned out to be a key chapter even if that wasn't planned.  Ione's sister used the classic "so angry I'm using your full name" approach - Sarah Ione Mackenzie.  That is also how Ione's name appears on her driver's license.  If someone only knows Ione's name from her license or other official form, they'd use the traditional first name, not the middle, until corrected.  Note that Ione hasn't corrected him.

Amy makes another appearance.  Ione's family won't be the distraction that Brenna's was in The Soul Blade.  Amy's there because she's part of Ione's normal life.  Ione's life is already getting upset; Amy's appearance is to cement that home for the readers and push Ione a little more off-balance.  There's also the issue that Ione can't really talk about work.  She works for an intelligence agency.  One does not talk about work there, for security reasons.  Instead, one gets caught up in international intrigue in foreign countries, apparently.

I'm still getting into the feel of things with the /Previously/ intro.  The details aren't in depth, but I'm just summarized the chapter.  How are readers taking it?  Yay?  Nay?  Meh?

Friday, work beckons, in The Devil You Know Chapter 6.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Captain Power & the Soldiers of the Future.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, when an adaptation isn't an adaptation.

18 Aug 2017

The Devil You Know - Chapter 5

After evading a stalker, Ione is pulled over for speeding.  However, the ticket she received was an invitation, not a summons.
Ione stepped into the Earl of Sussex fifteen minutes early for her meeting with the constable.  Her neon red helmet dangled by its strap from her hand.  She stopped just past the doorway to let her eyes adjust to the soft lighting inside the pub before stepping up to the bar.  Before sitting, she looked over the clientèle; there was a young couple lost within each other to the point that they didn't notice anyone else.  A group of five young men, their suit jackets off, sat with a round of beers watching the muted pre-game show for the Ottawa Senators' away game.  Across the room, on the other side of the bar, a group of three, two men and a woman, chatted.  Spying a seat that faced the door, Ione walked around the bar to get to it.  She sat down, shifting herself on the bar stool to get comfortable.  As she set her helmet on the seat beside her, the bartender turned his attention to her.  "A Coke, please."

"Coming right up."

Ione craned her neck to check the hockey pre-game show.  Her mother's side of the family were lifelong Canadiens fans for generations; Ione, however, became a fan of the Sens as a tween-aged girl and tried to follow them whenever she could.  She wished she was home to watch the game instead of meeting a mysterious constable in a bar.  Ione paused.  A question came her mind; what did the constable look like?  She racked her memory.  She remembered his car, a Ford Crown Victoria with the RCMP logos and livery.  She remembered his uniform.  She remembered the ticket book.  She even remembered his sunglasses.  Ione just couldn't remember any facial details, despite looking right at him.

17 Aug 2017

The Devil You Know - Commentary 4

Ione's ticket turned out to be a meeting request, in The Devil You Know Chapter 4.

Let's see if the oddities were apparent.  The big one is the ticket Ione received in Chapter 3.  Diesel found it, but Ione never took it out of her jacket pocket.  The cat is treating it like it was a threat.  The note could have been a Mountie trying to hit on Ione, but then he added the bit about Paris.  Did it work?  Was it just off enough to get readers wondering?  That's up to readers to answer.

Diesel's antic are something I've seen cats do.  Cats know when their staff are upset and will take it out on the object they believe is the cause.  Contrary to popular belief, cats do have loyalty to their people.  It's just that the cat believes it is in charge.  My own floof has come to me after I've awakened after a bad dream, concerned about me.  In the past, I've had cats come tell me that something was going wrong.  In particular, going back iver twenty years, three cats came to tell me that the burger I was trying to reheat in a microwave a problem, including the little feral who was afraid of people.  She was the one that made me realize that something was serious.  Turns out, the wrapper had foil, which made for a light show.  If I had been more awake, I would have realized the wrapper shouldn't go in, but I had a headache and was tired.

This floof cares about her staff.  Photo by author.
Ione's using a method I tend to use with problems - setting them aside to clear my head and come back refreshed.  It works provided there's no deadline.  Probably shouldn't be used when being trailed by an unknown and having a third person step into the mess.  But, Ione needs to take a step back to get a better picture of what's going on.

It was fun writing Karen's part of the dialogue this chapter.  She doesn't know what is going on, so getting a note from a cop instead of a ticket is more thrilling than odd.  Karen is encouraging her friend's love life.  There's an unstated backstory going on there, something I never really expanded on.  However, Ione and Karen have called each other on first dates to see if the other needed to be extricated.

Friday, meet Jack, in The Devil You Know Chapter 5.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, The Hercules & Xena Roleplaying Game.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Captain Power & the Soldiers of the Future.

13 Aug 2017

Test Run - Hercules & Xena - Priestess

It's been a while since I've put a character up here.  Since I'm about to review the game anyway, why not give The Hercules & Xena Roleplaying Game a spotlight?  If any TV series looked like an actual RPG as played, it would look like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess.
Xena: "I want to be a warrior princess atoning for past sins."
Gabrielle: "I want to be her sidekick, chronicling her adventures."
Joxer: "I want to be the black sheep from a family of murderers.  Oh, and I don't know which end of a sword to hold."
GM: "Er, you do realize that this is swords and sorcery?"
Joxer: "I do.  And I've written my character's theme song."
GM: “Of course you did.”
Salmoneus: "Now I don't feel so bad for creating a cowardly merchant."
West End Games picked up the license and created a game using their D6 Legends mechanics, a variant of the d6 rules used in Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game.  Very cinematic, which suited both series.  Alas, in 1998, when the game was published, WEG's parent company was going through bankruptcy and drained the game company dry, so Herc & Xena was the last RPG released under the old company.  WEG has been reborn, but it lost all of its licenses, including Star Wars*, Herc & Xena, and Men in Black.

History aside, let's create a character!  I'll go through the step in the book, as usual, but I already have a concept.  A priestess of Athena, cast out of Sparta for both her size and her hobby of studying scrolls.  I could use one of the templates in the book, but none fit the concept, so I'm going with the creation process.

11 Aug 2017

The Devil You Know - Chapter 4

On her day off after returning from Paris, Ione's jitters get to her.
Back at her home, Ione hung up her jacket, then went up to her room.  The email from Babbage's contact lurked in the back of her mind.  She had dismissed it thoroughly, but the encounter with the silver car brought it back.  Ione wished she had seen into the car as it passed, but with the Mountie writing her a ticket, she didn't want to annoy him on top of everything else.

She set up her laptop and fired the program to create a link to the web mail host through the anonymous proxy servers.  Ione tested a few approaches in her head before settling on being accusatory.  Better to go on the offense instead of looking like she was responsible for Babbage's death, her guilty conscious aside.  There had better be an explanation for what happened.  I know I have no leaks.  How were we found out?  I barely escaped!  My people died!  Ione hovered the cursor over the send button.  Sending meant that Babbage's people would know that she, well, her alter ego Ada, was still alive.  At the same time, she needed to know what went wrong.

10 Aug 2017

The Devil You Know - Commentary 3

So much for a mental health day, in The Devil You Know Chapter 3.

Ione needs time to recover.  However, being well aware of my cycle of action-reaction-recover, I decided to switch things up.  Ione's still off-balance, but to show her out of sorts, I need her in sorts.  Thus, her mental health day.  It's another chapter with her in her normal life, from waking up with a cat draped on her to dealing with her family.  Ione's world gets a little bigger.

Diesel is a cat.  I've had many, some who liked to sleep on me, others that needed space.  Some who would leap out of bed when I woke up and others who would just sleep harder despite me trying to extricate myself.  I've even had cats that preferred to sleep on my pillow, forcing me to move aside.  Diesel is the type that likes to curl up right beside his humans, no matter what the weather is.  It's great in the winter, but in the summer, the cat is treating the human as a heat sink.

My little heat sink.  She has no problems curling up beside me in the summer.  Photo by author.

Same heat sink is also good at getting out to the treat drawer when I'm finally out of bed.  However, Tux wasn't as interested, so he'd take his time, usually stopping right in front of me.  Cats will be cats, though they do understand when their humans are upset.  Mischief will curl up on me if I'm having a bad day of if I had a bad dream.

Ione's been out of town for a few days on a mission that she can't talk about.  Naturally, family doesn't understand when she doesn't answer right away.  Since we're seeing everything from her point of view, we're going to have a biased view of her sister, Amy.  The family dynamic comes up again later, but this scene sets up the later scenes and keeps Ione from completely recovering from her trip.

One again, there's evidence that Ione isn't average.  Sure, women ride motorcycles, too, but even a male character riding one despite having a government job is an indication that he's going beyond expectations.  With Ione, couple her riding preferences with her hobby of LARPing and her job of SIGINT analysis, both detailed in last week's commentary.  So, Ione is an urban fantasy heroine in the making.  She doesn't have power, or at least, none have manifested yet, and she has unusual skills, provided that one believes math is unusual.  At the same time, she does need to be a spy thriller lead, if not an experienced agent, then the analyst who gets involved in missions because of specialized knowledge.  It's a balancing act.

The Bridgehead Roastery is a real place.  The chain has more outlets than Starbucks locally, though nowhere near as many as Tim Horton's.  Pumpkin spice everything is available in October, and chocolatines are part of the regular menu.  Ben, though, is not based on a real barista.  He started out as a sympathetic ear for Ione.  It became a running theme for characters in the story - instead of just being around for one scene, they kept returning.  Ben's one of the returners.  But, he did allow me to get a couple of geeky quotes.  "Always in motion, is the future," and "Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff."

Ione's full name finally comes out.  She uses her middle name, mainly because there were too many Sarahs in her grade in school.  Amy's use of the full name is an indication of her anger.  They love each other like sisters, which means they'll stand up for each other, but if they fight, they know exactly where to hit, physically and metaphorically.  To be fair to Amy, she was never told her sister went out of town on work to Paris, someplace she wants to go.  And life goes on, with family being family.

The "chase" sequence, such as it is, is on local roads.  Ione made a poor choice of road.  The Parkway doesn't have many exits.  However, each direction is just two lanes, with curbs and no sidewalks.  A motorcycle can slip through traffic, while Ione's stalker is stuck.  The other feature of the Parkway is that it falls under Federal jurisdiction.  Welcome to the National Capital Region, where there are six separate police forces - Ottawa Police Service and Gatineau Police covering the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police and the Sûreté du Québec covering mainly the highways, the RCMP who have jursdiction over Federal lands, and the Military Police.  And that's not even touching embassy security.

Friday, the citation turns out to be a summons, in The Devil You Know Chapter 4.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, let's remake Disney's The Black Hole.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, The Hercules & Xena Roleplaying Game.

4 Aug 2017

The Devil You Know - Chapter 3

After a mission's abrupt end, Ione returns home and tries to deal with her regular life with her housemates, Karen and Diesel.
Ione woke up with a weight draped across her legs.  She pushed herself up off her stomach to try to roll over.  "Ugh.  Diesel, time to get up."  Half twisted, she shoved the blankets aside to take a look.  As she expected, the huge grey cat sprawled across her legs.  "Come on, kitten, I want up."  Ione pulled her left leg up.  Diesel slid into the newly created gap.  He let out a loud purr.  Ione let herself collapse back down on the bed.  "Be that way."  With effort, Ione inched her body towards the head of the bed, sliding her right leg out from under the cat.  Soon enough, she was able to climb out around him and get out of bed.  Diesel curled up one the tousled covers and fell back asleep.

After stretching, Ione changed for the day, exchanging her oversized t-shirt and sweat pants for a black tee, her faded jeans, and a fleece-lined grey sweater with the University of Waterloo's seal.  She gave Diesel's ears a scritch, then padded over to the laptop on her desk.  The machine beeped as it came out of hibernation.  Ione sat down, then opened her email.  Scanning through, she saw a number of messages from her sister, the subject lines growing more and more desperate.  Ione rolled her eyes; Amy was more used to instant feedback and couldn't understand why anyone would delay answering.  She figured there were a number of text messages waiting on her phone; checking, Ione was not surprised to find that she was right.

Setting aside her family, Ione started a different program, one that she had written.  The program searched for different anonymizing proxy servers to create an almost untraceable path to a web mail site.  After several seconds, an Opera browser window opened to let Ione sign into the site.  To her surprise and shock, a new email waited for her.  The email address was completely fictional and the subject line was left blank.  After making sure her anti-virus program was up to date, Ione opened the email and read it.  Her brows furrowed; one of Babbage's contacts was trying to find him.  Ione hesitated in responding.  She wondered if it would be best to let him think that she had perished in the explosion at the warehouse along with Babbage.  Ione closed the browser, then ran a second program, again of her own creation, to carefully destroy the path the early application had created.  She stared at the laptop's screen until the screen saver triggered.  "Screw it," she muttered.  "It's a mental health day.  I'm not working."

3 Aug 2017

The Devil You Know - Commentary 2

Ione's mad dash home, in The Devil You Know Chapter 2.

This chapter needed research, which started before November 1, 2013.  With NaNoWriMo, all writing that goes towards the final word count must be done in November.  Other work, like outlines and research, can be done before NaNo starts.  So I took the time to figure out how Ione could get home.  It's not easy getting from Paris to Ottawa.  There are no direct flights.  Some flights required changing planes five times.  Routing through Toronto led to wait times longer than it would take to drive from Pearson to Ottawa.  Same thing happened with Montreal, but I remembered one other option available.  VIA Rail does stop at the airport, allowing for a quick transfer without a long wait.  Really, it's a two hour drive between Ottawa and Montreal; wait times of four to five hours just didn't make sense, even with Ione's jet lag.  The flight Ione does take would involve a trip to Toronto, then another wait and another plane to Ottawa.  Yeah.

We now know what Ione's job is.  That was part of the plan from the beginning; in a spy thriller, one needs a character working for an intelligence agency.  Ione, though, is an analyst.  More details are coming about why she was in Paris.  Her basement office owes more to the TV series Adderly than anywhere I've worked, though she isn't part of Miscellaneous Affairs.  Other than that nod, the office is a cubicle farm much like any corporate or government office.  A photo from a cube farm could be from any department, whether Agriculture or Defense.

Olivier, the admin assistant, is loosely based on someone I met at a government department.  This someone was in an important office - think high up - and kept the office running smoothly so that the people he worked for could focus on their jobs.  Olivier is the same, even if he's not in as high-placed an office as the guy I based him on.  And for someone with such a brief appearance, I put a bit of work into him.  Olivier is from Gatineau, dresses better than anyone else in the office, and is gay.  He also should be the best paid employee there, but that's up to the the union's bargaining people, not me.  Without Oliver, Ione's office would be a mess.

While I don't like basing characters on real people, I did it twice this chapter.  Normally, I feel that writing should be creative, that the characters should be independant of who I've met.  However, cats don't get their noses out of joint when they get fictionalized.  Diesel is based on Charlie, a cat I once had, a long time ago.  Charlie was a big grey cat who moved in with us just after we moved to the new place.  He loved to hug, which made picking him up the first few times awkward.  A strange cat is struggling in my arms as I'm trying to put him back outside, but once he got turned around, he hugged.  No one had the heart to kick him out after that.  Not that putting him back outside would have stopped him.  Charlie figured out how the window screens worked, and was able to slide them open so he could walk in.  Diesel is based off Charlie, from his appearance to his loud purr to his tiny mew.  Diesel has his own traits, too, and also his own story arc.  Yes, even the cat got a story arc.

Karen isn't based on anyone.  Her role is to be Ione's confidant.  Before the weird sets in, it helps to have a baseline normal.  It gives Ione a chance to reset herself and the readers time to see her personal life.  And there are indications that Ione is on her own path.  She's involved in a LARP - live action roleplaying.  Her job is analyzing data for an intelligence agency.  So, Ione's normal may not be everyone else's.

One thing I tend to do is create new locations, from schools to bars, mainly to give a place my own spin.  This time around, I'm using real locations.  Ione and Karen's home is based on a quick look in the neighbourhood I wanted.  The Prescott is on Preston Avenue, a real road in a real city.  I felt the nature of the spy thriller genre needed a bit of verity to anchor the nature of the urban fantasy.  It also made checking details easier.  I'll point out when I create a new place, though.  It does happen, but to to the same degree as Unruly.

The description of the Prescott also let me cement the time of year.  It's not just the fall, it's that bizarre overlap between the end of baseball season, with playoffs, and the beginning of hockey season, with Maple Leaf fans' hopes for a winning season haven't been crushed yet.  October also brings a relief from the summer heat.  Also handy, since TDYK was being written for NaNo, I could just look at the weather where the action was happening and not have to worry about historical trends.  Ottawa happened to be warmer than Paris that fall, which surprised me.  But, it got worked in.

Friday, is it paranoia if there is someone following Ione, in The Devil You Know Chapter 3
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, a second look at the A-Team movie.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, let's remake Disney's The Black Hole.