There’s a Chill in the Air

With daylight savings time coming to a close, we find ourselves thrust once again into nights that seem to fall all too soon. I’m not a big fan of leaving my desk job at the pretty standard 5pm and not getting home from my 45-minute commute before it’s pitch black out. There’s something deeply uncomfortable about the pressing darkness and the wordless threat of winter.

I may have blankets and tea and warm leggings aplenty to keep me comfortable, but I never really look forward to winter. Not like I used to. Not anymore.

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I think it comes down to snow. Something that beautiful and magical should be wondrous and worth looking forward to – and as a child, it absolutely was. But now? Now I have to shovel the stuff and worry that a blizzard will knock out the power and force me to somehow find warm shelter for me and my birds.

Snow isn’t magical anymore; it’s a menacing reminder of the responsibilities that I have to three helpless little souls who need me. And if that isn’t a metaphor for adulthood, I don’t know what is. What was once wondrous is now just another burden as we can peer behind the curtain of what keeps an orderly life chugging along.

So, horrible grinch that I am, I hope for no snow this winter (or maybe just a light dusting or two). But I certainly am looking forward to hot cocoa. I guess it’s a trade-off that I’ll have to learn to live with.

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Meet Abraham!

You may remember some of the wonderful birds that I’ve fostered before for the Phoenix Landing Foundation, an organization dedicated to finding homes for parrots. I’ve been a temporary home for four African Greys, one Senegal parrot, and one Meyers parrot in the past. Since my life got turned upside down with divorce and trauma last summer, I’ve been working to get myself back on my feet, but have only been focusing on myself and my two birds.

Now that I’m solidly settled in to my life (six months at my job, re-upped my lease on my one bedroom apartment, paying down lots of my debt), I decided that I could take in another bird and give them the home that they needed.

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Here’s Abraham, the black headed caique. He’s about four years old and very sweet-tempered so far. A zen little man during our first few days together (though he hates me for taking him to the vet), he likes walnuts and The Great British Bake Off.

I’ll be changing his diet gradually (he’s a little chubby!) since he eats mostly seeds. I’ll also be working on some basic clicker training and working on getting him to step up onto a stick instead of a gloved hand. He’s a little shy right now, which makes perfect sense – his whole world just changed! I won’t be shoving myself into his space too aggressively so he can just get used to me.

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For now, he’s in quarantine (for 30 days), which is to ensure that he isn’t ill and won’t make my two parrots sick, either. At the vet yesterday, he had some testing done (fecal and blood samples were taken and one was a lot more upsetting for him than the other!) and I’m waiting to hear back on those later this week or early next week.

Overall, I’m really optimistic that he’ll find the right home. Caiques are popular birds for a reason – they’re very fun, silly guys! But they’re not beginner birds by a long shot. They can have some real attitude. As for me, I’m a fan of attitude, even if it means the occasional bite. We’ll learn to work with one another over time, I’m sure!

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If you or someone you know is interested in adopting him, please contact me! I’m happy to talk to you about him and to ind him a good forever home.

Reading for Fun

I don’t read for enjoyment as much as I used to. Of course, I am much busier than I used to be. I’m not even sure what time frame I’m talking about here; I’m thinking of some nebulous idea of “the past.” Maybe childhood? Or high school? Times when there was less to worry about in general.

Now, as an adult with a lot on her plate, I find it hard to just sit still and let myself enjoy a good book. I also burn a lot of my potential free time each day driving 45 minutes to work and then home again in the evening.

Enter the miraculous creation of audiobooks. Can I get a shoutout for Audible? It’s a game-changer for me. Between that and some D&D podcasts, I’m full up on media for my commute. I’m digging in to N.K. Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate (it’s amazing) though kindle’s whispersync and am reading All Systems Red by Martha Wells and Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View in the more traditional manner.

Notably, the old-fashioned eyeball-type reading is moving at a glacial pace. I’m easily distracted by other things when I sit down to read. I’m starting to take my full hour for lunch at work (I usually take much shorter lunch breaks, if any) to just sit and read. It’s actually kind of a personal challenge what with my immediate gratification engine (phone) right there next to me. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s worthwhile to just ignore my phone for thirty minutes here or there an dig in to a good book.

Micro Fiction Resources

At Capcalve 2017, I co-taught a workshop on creating micro fiction – specifically, 100 word stories. Our participants left with written and critiqued tiny tales as well as this list, which is just some of the sites and contests that are looking for 100 (or fewer) word stories. Enjoy! I hope it proves useful to you all!

https://101words.org/ Open call for submissions
http://syntaxandsalt.com/submit/ Yearly open submission, seasonal contests
http://www.100wordstory.org/submit/ $2 submission fee, open submissions, photo prompts
http://www.hobartpulp.com/submit Open call for web publication and an upcoming anthology
http://www.drunkenboat.com/submit $3 submission fee
https://flashfictionmagazine.com/submissions/ Open call through March 1 2018
http://albanlake.com/drabble-contest-9/ This contest deadline has passed, but they do them all the time.
http://nanoism.net/submit/ Twitterzine, 140 characters, pays $1.50/story
https://nailpolishstories.wordpress.com/ns-submissions-guidelines/ Must use a nail polish name as the title, 25 words exactly
http://vestalreview.net/Guidelines41.html Open for submission through Nov 30 2017, stories from 1 – 500 words, pays $.03-.10/word
http://www.thecasket.co.uk/submissions/ Annual flash flction contest
http://nanofiction.org/category/weekly-feature/writing-prompts Publication is closed for submission, but they have published archives (to see sample stories) and this great page of flash writing prompts.
https://www.aerogrammestudio.com/2017/07/13/museum-of-words-flash-fiction-contest-2017/ Contest with a $20,000 prize, no entry fee, due Nov 23 2017
www.101fiction.com Currently closed, but usually does several online issues per year, 100 word story with a 1 word title
https://microfictionmondaymagazine.com/submissions/ Up to 100 words

No Whooshing Allowed

I rather like deadlines. And I don’t enjoy their infamous whooshing sound a la Douglas Adams. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and part of that, to me, involves delivering on what I promised in a timely fashion.

That’s not to say that I can’t/don’t/won’t procrastinate. I absolutely will. But I need something looming overhead to push me to get work done instead of just tinkering forever. Deadlines, projects, contests, peer groups – these are all tools that I lean on to push me to actually move forward with writing projects. Without these things, my What If folder of story ideas just sits there and none of those inspiring jumping off points will ever evolve into anything.

The key, I find, is to be realistic, but never negative. Set milestones that you can reasonably meet and, if you miss them, don’t waste time kicking yourself. Just adjust your schedule and then get back to work.

Having goals to meet and parameters in which to work helps me more than creative freefall without any sort of restrictions. My best work is usually created under strict deadline and with limitations applied to it (see my flash fiction piece Nine). That’s part of why it was so important to me that the first draft of my current short fiction piece, Augury, be ready for critique last week. The contest deadline is November 1st, but I just felt like I needed a firmer push forward to get it going. And I’m so glad I did make myself work on it – working through crunch time made me put words on the page instead of just letting ideas simmer and stew indefinitely.

That’s my big advice: in order to make deadlines, set even more deadlines for yourself! A deadline is a promise that you make and, hey, we should always try to keep our promises, right?

GM Advice

Continuing the talk about tabletop RPGs, I want to share a little bit of what I’ve learned from watching/listening to some talented GMs/DMs, playing in a bunch of games, and – now – running my own campaign game/one-shots. Here are my best tips for executing a rewarding role-playing game experience:

  1. a96b_medieval_steel_gauntlets Don’t try to rule a game with an iron fist. You create a world, a story, and a cast of characters for your players to engage with – but it’s up to the players to guide the plot along. Trying to control every little detail and force them down one path (“railroading”) frustrates everybody and can leave players with a bad taste in their mouths.
  2. keep-calm-and-improv-on-550x0 Be open to improvisation. If you’re like me, you have pages upon pages of notes, character bios, setting descriptions, possible dialogue, and plot points that must be hit. The moment you start playing, however, a lot of that is going to go out the window. Players like to, as I call it, turn left – they’re walking down your story and then they suddenly do something wholly unexpected and now you’ve got to just roll with it.
  3. tumblr_mx6xd5c2hp1s5e5bko1_500 Say yes. The GM’s job is to say yes to the players whenever possible. Now, this is often “Yes, but…” or “Yes, and…” with some conditions attached to that nod of approval. The gaming experience is about exploring and solving puzzles – you should encourage creativity and try not to shut down unexpected solutions to problems.
  4. 9iRzyXxie Find the right balance of table talk and role-playing. There’s nothing wrong with joking around or chatting at the table – if your players are friends, this is likely to happen throughout the game. Let some of this chatter roll on, but be ready to rein it in before the entire game gets derailed.
  5. ThinkSales-Technique-Performing-Oct-2010 Encourage your players to role play. If there’s a lot of out-of-character talk about strategy and problem-solving going on over the table, nudge the group and remind them to have their characters talk problems out in-game. If metagaming gets out of hand, treat everything the players say out of character as if they had said it in character and have NPCs react to their words. This sort of forces them back into the game.
  6. which-way Let your players have agency. This is crucial. The point of a role-playing game is to make decisions and see how they play out. If there’s only one plot line, one possible solution, one way the story can go, your players will feel like they didn’t matter. Let them have an impact on the story. I encourage you to guide them along the larger plot arc line, but when it comes to smaller encounters or sub-plots, let them have free reign.