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.

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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.

That Tabletop Life

Send help. I’ve gone from enjoying tabletop role playing games to being absolutely  head-over-heels in love with them. I’ve dug in deep and found so much passion for this strange and wonderful hobby.

I’ve played tabletop games before – probably starting around 2005 – and always enjoyed the experience. I’ve been lucky enough to be in some amazing one shots (self-contained adventures that play out in one session) like the ridiculous Author One Shots in the Call of Cthulhu system, in which everyone played as a famous writer in a survival horror setting; I once went with Dr Seuss and only spoke in rhyming couplets. I’ve also played in some longer campaigns in the magic-plus-cyberpunk Shadowrun system as well as in Elysium, a system built from scratch by some friends.

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A few months ago, I joined a D&D group of strangers that I found on meetup and those Sunday afternoon games have become a wonderful part of my weekly routine. I still play in one shots from time to time, using Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition or Pathfinder.

I’ve also stepped up and taken on a massive project myself: writing and running a wholly original long-form campaign. I’m using the Elysium system that my friends built and taking their Immortal Legacy fantasy world that they created as the setting for a story that I’ve penned. This was my first time running more than a one-shot game and it has been an undertaking an a half so far. I’ve run character creation and a prologue demo battle as well as the first two sessions (of an anticipated ten sessions).

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Playing and GMing (being the Game Master) are wildly different experiences. While playing is potentially immersive and can be loads of easy-going fun and hours of, essentially, improv, running a game involves a lot of juggling! Acting out the NPCs (Non Player Characters that inhabit the world), fighting as multiple enemies that challenge the players, trying to steer the party down the path of the main plot while also giving them agency to do what they want.

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There is something about GMing that leaves me feeling absolutely elated. And I’ve come to realize that it’s because I’m sharing my creativity with people who are enjoying it. Writing/running a campaign subverts the traditional pathways to publication/public consumption by allowing a writer to immediately share their creation with an audience that is willing and ready to engage with that story. It is a challenge to write something with branching story lines, knowing that your players can completely change what you had planned in an instant. But it is also incredibly fulfilling to give this gift to a group of people who are excited to play along with you.

And this is a form of play that is not like anything else. It’s collaborative storytelling at its finest. Tabletop role-playing games encourage adults to use their imaginations in ways that, for years, we have been discouraged from doing. It’s a big improv game and lets people explore characters, problem-solving, and emotional investment in something that is team-oriented. Creating and running a game is exhausting, but it is also incredibly rewarding.

Columbia Writers

It’s official now: I co-run the critique group Columbia Writers. Myself and two good friends are now in charge of this meetup group, though we’ve been sort of de facto running a lot of it for over a year now. All the same, it’s nice to have the reins for real now.

Probably the best attended sub-group within CW is the 20/20 Critique Meet – this is also the one that I generally run. For this, we meet every other week, and two writers submit up to 20 pages of fiction to be critiqued by our attendees. Then we go round-robin style at the meetup itself and talk (and cross-talk) about the pieces. This works for both short fiction and longer pieces as well.

We have several other sub-groups like the Small Group Meet (up to five attendees each submit up to ten pages) and some write-ins at area coffee shops. There’s also the Novel in Six Months group that has been run in the past and there is sometimes a Beta Book Club group that reads completed manuscripts. There are plenty of opportunities to engage in writing and critique and perhaps, in the near future, there could be more or different sub-groups.

Changes are coming to our beloved CW and myself and the other two organizers look forward to making it better and brighter than ever.

Maryland RennFest

If it’s early fall, then it’s prime Maryland RennFest season!

You already know that I’m a massive nerd. It’s no secret. And one of my nerdy hobbies is costuming. I’ve stepped away from the con/cosplay community for many reasons, but every year, I still enjoy putting together a few piratey garb looks for the Faire. This year’s look will be a captain’s coat made from greens and golds with burgundy accents. It’s based on this pattern and will be using these fabrics.

Like most adults, I enjoy a few beers now and then. I enjoy them more while in costume. And I enjoy them most of all when in costume and with my friends (usually also in costume). The Maryland Renaissance Festival is, therefore, a key destination for me every year. Last year, I hit both it and the PA Renaissance Faire up several times.

My weekends seem to have booked up awfully quickly this fall (every Sunday is sacrificed to the gods of D&D, so that rules a lot of potential RennFest time out), so I probably can’t make it to the Fest until September 30th. Honestly, that’s pretty perfect! It should be cooler and therefore more comfortable in a heavier, long-sleeved coat. It also happens to be pirate weekend. Perfect.