Category Archives: Rob’s Ramblings

Rob’s Monday column that will cover whatever the heck he feels like. It will include AARs, sports discussions, and reviews.

Rob’s Ramblings: Only *This* Story

This week I’ve been pleased to receive a whole slew of short stories for the FantaSci anthology. All told, we received 37 entrants, which seems like a good number to me. Chris and I are still discussing the ones we’re going to choose, so I’m not going to talk about results just yet.

However, since it’s fresh on my mind, I thought I’d go over some of the things I saw in this process. At this point, I’ve read a bunch of short stories over the years, written a dozen or so, and am in the process of editing my second anthology. There are many out there with more experience than I,  but this contest really helped coalesce my thoughts on short stories to something more concrete, so I’m going to post on this as much for me to remember as to help you all.

Let me lay down one overarching principle: “Only *this* story matters.” There’s your TL:DR of this post. Only this story matters and anything that’s extraneous drags it down.

First, let’s talk about exposition. The vast majority of stories that got put straight to the bottom of our list explained too much. There’s little that’ll bring a story to a screeching halt like a sizable infodump near the start.

Yes, readers need to know stuff. They’ll get frustrated when something isn’t explained. However, you want to only explain what you have to explain for *this* story, even if you have plans for that story being a part of a larger setting.

If you plan to compile a collection of connected short stories into a novel, you can come back and add exposition later if needed. But that’s part of that process, not this story.

Readers don’t always need to know technical details or the physics/metaphysics underlying a universe. They need to know only if the plot twist turns on it. Most of Asimov’s robot stories turn on the Three Laws, so the reader has to know them. But details how robots work? Not as much.

It’s really easy to throw in details the author thinks the reader needs to know. It’s rare, especially without more experience, for an author to limit that exposition to actually what is needed for *this* story. Believe me, I’m as guilty of this as anyone, and it’s a major part of my editing process to cut that sort of thing out of my own stuff.

For Songs of Valor, authors had 7-10,000 words to strike with. And I mean strike! Short stories work best with action, in my mind, not explanations of this and that. That especially includes a bunch of stuff about what the character is thinking. Show, don’t tell, the character as much as possible.

Now I don’t mind a character parsing through tactical choices a bit. “I did this to learn this and then did that to get this reaction.” This is, I think, especially useful in first person noir style stuff.

But even that’s a balance. For None Call Me Mother, a novel which needed more tactical discussion than a short story, my editor told me I’d gone overboard and I cut back on them dramatically to get a faster, sharper story. Editors are nice like that and the 148k original draft that seemed bloated ended up as a 124k sleek creature I’m pretty pleased with.

Tell us what we need to know and nothing else. And whenever possible, weave it into conversations and side notes in the story and avoid a major infodump.

But that brings up an obvious question, how do you know what the reader needs to know?

For me, short stories have a soul. This is true of all stories, long or short, but I think it’s more important with shorter stories because you have to focus on that soul and nothing else. With novels, you want to have some misdirection, extra plants, and some additional frippery. There’s simply not enough time for much of that in shorts.

The problem is that “soul” is such an amorphous term. I’m a pantser, especially with short stories. It is extremely rare that I know the soul of the story when I start it. It’s happened once, with my story “Far Better to Dare” from Those in Peril, but that’s it.

Most of the time I write at least 4-6,000 words before I realize what the soul of the story really is. Then I realize that much, if not most, of what I’ve written so far is not actually relevant to the soul of *this* story. Maybe I had to write it out to know the character well enough, or the events underlying the story, or whatever, but all that stuff is just background and I have to cut some, if not nearly all, of what I’ve written.

This is hard. You have to be ruthless with your own writing and take extra stuff out. Don’t delete it, of course, you may use it later elsewhere, but not here.

Of the stories we received that I thought had potential but weren’t in our top 4 and thus a part of the anthology, I would say nearly all of them suffered from too much exposition that didn’t matter to that story’s soul. In some cases, this exposition was the kernel of the story, and hence the author thought it had to be in the story. However, that’s not always the case, and took away space for action without adding as much as the author realized. That chunk mattered, because it drove the character, but the reader didn’t need to see all of it, just hints of it.

Let me give you an example from my story from this anthology. Its POV character is Katarina, the chaotic evil crime boss from Achrida who Edward has to deal with far too often. I initially started with a thread of her comparing people around her to those she’s murdered in the past. Number twelve, number two, number 47, etc. It’s a fun thread for this character and I had to have it in mind as I was writing from Katarina’s point of view as the most unlikely/reluctant hero I could think of, but those words were wasted in this story.

Don’t worry, I have all those murders saved and listed.

But what’s the soul of the story? That’s hard to determine and it could be really far afield from where you started.

When I started writing “Here Must We Hold,” my story about the Battle of Maldon in Trouble in the Wind, I wanted to write a version where Byrhtnoth’s decisions weren’t because of “ofermod,” or hubris, but rather from smart strategic thinking that gave up a tactical advantage. That’s there, of course, but in the end, it became about something else, a pure redemption arc I won’t spoil by describing here. That forced me to change the entire structure of the story, remove some particulars, and add others.

My story in We Dare, “The Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms,” is a version of the Finnsburh Episode & Fragment, or Romeo & Juliet if you prefer, set on Mars. That was all, but in the end, it became more of a story about the hero in the Wanderer or the Seafarer, two of my favorite Old English poems. That, too, forced a series of changes, cuts, and tweaks. I didn’t realize that until I reached the absolute end of the story and needed the extra gut punch.

I could describe the journey of each story I’ve written, but I think you get the point. Be open to finding a soul of the story after you’ve written it, then shaping the story around it.

Whatever I’m writing, I constantly think about Raghunath Rao. He’s a character from the Belisarius series by Eric Flint and David Drake. He is fond of saying, “Only the soul matters in the end.” Not a bad thing to remember when writing short stories.

Returning to “The Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms,” I mentioned I thought it needed an extra gut punch and that’s because I think short stories need a twist. Something at the end that forces the reader to think and want more. I get this philosophy from one writer in particular, my favorite writer of short stories ever, Randall Garrett.

He was about as flawed a man as he could be, which is why many of you have never heard of him. He wrote only when he needed drinking money. However, he was so good he could go to John Campbell and ask for an advance on a story and get it! What a crazy thing, especially in the era of the pulp magazines of the 50s and 60s.

If you ever see a copy of The Best of Randall Garrett paperback in a used book store, get it. Even if you already have a copy so you can gift it to someone. There’s an e-book on Amazon with the same title, but it’s not the same as the paperback, though the two are linked. Here’s the link for the paperback on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Best-Randall-Garrett-1982-01-01/dp/B01K3JZWX2. Again, the e-book version is not the same.

That paperback has the single best collection of SF/F short stories I’ve ever found. Every story in here is absolutely amazing and powerful. And they all have a twist at the end, some which have never stopped resonating with me since the first time I read this collection in the early 80s. I would never suggest anyone emulate Garrett’s life, but his skills as a writer of short stories are hard to match.

So I try to have all my stories have some sort of twist at the end. It could be just a subtle thing like the last word in “Far Better to Dare.” It could be big like the gut punch at the end of “The Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms.” The twist in “What’s in a Name” is the word “Deor,” which is an odd word in Old English, but which added a neat addition to the redemption of Edward, provided the title, and shaped the soul slightly.

Doesn’t really matter what the twist is, nor is it necessarily a requirement. However, I think we can all understand that a story that hits you at the end with something extra is likely to be more memorable than without. In an anthology where you’re surrounded by great stories, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. And if you’re in a muddle of 37 stories for a competition, it’s even more important.

Finally, I’m going to touch on something that’s important, but which *can* be overcome, and that’s the use of language.

This is a fantasy anthology. We got a variety of definitions of fantasy, which was great, but of course some of it was medieval fantasy. There were a few of these submissions that suffered because the language was too modern for the setting. Imagine, if you will, Gandalf saying, “Well, hindsight is 20/20.” Wait. What? That totally throws me out of the story.  So does “OK.”

Likewise, if you’re writing an urban fantasy or SF and the characters speak in a Shakespearean style, the readers are going to wonder what the heck is going on. It might work, like David Weber’s Jiltanith character from his Mutineer’s Moon series, but it has to be explained.

It may seem cool, but that exposition might take the place of action later on or confusing the soul of the story. In other words, getting in the way of the story’s power.

Now, sure, an editor can go through and edit all of the modernisms out of a medieval fantasy story, or whatever other oddnesses might be there, but in a contest, it’s a factor from the editor’s point of view. It means your story has to be clearly one of the winners. In a tie or close race between two stories, it will matter more. It’s quite literally part of the discussion Chris and I are having right now.

So to sum up, here you go.

  1. Only *this* story matters right now.
  2. Exposition only as needed for *this* story.
  3. Only the soul of *this* story really matters, in the end.
  4. Find a twist to give *this* story extra punch if you can.
  5. Use only the language that makes *this* story work.

Yeah, sure, these targets are amorphous and difficult to hit. I’m also not perfect at hitting them. However, I know that when I have these principles in mind, I write better stories. I also know that those stories submitted for this anthology that matched these principles got noticed more.

Again, you’ll find others out there with more experience than me, and also more success. You should absolutely pay attention to them. Also, there’s one true way of writing, and it’s whatever works for *you.* Still, I would say you wouldn’t go wrong at least considering these five things as you write short stories.

 

Rob’s Ramblings: Casting a Spell

I’m going to continue with this thread of posts going under the hood of my writing process with None Call Me Mother and the now-completed trilogy, The Kreisens, with a discussion of my magic system and what thoughts went into its creation.

By the way, if you want to see the first two of what is becoming a series, here they are. On Monday I talked about improving my production process at: https://robhowell.org/blog/?p=2163. On Tuesday, I went through my thoughts creating three of the characters in this series at: https://robhowell.org/blog/?p=2166.

Also, I want to take this moment to thank Cedar Sanderson and the crew at Mad Genius Club for cross-posting this as a guest post over there. You can find them at: https://madgeniusclub.com/. Also, check out Cedar’s page at: https://www.cedarwrites.com/. I’m not saying that just because she advertised None Call Me Mother there.

Anyway, back to this topic. I’m quite pleased with my magic system. I wanted to have a system that was easy to write, made every mage a little different, and forced wizards to make choices. It also had to have limitations and it couldn’t be pure handwavium. At the same time, I wanted to have something that connected with traditional magical depictions and expectations.

The roots of this system go all the way back to 1980 when I first played D&D. I was always a guy who enjoyed breaking things down and I had always wanted to design a magic system that was plausible and powerful.

The first challenge to me came from looking at the huge spell lists of various RPGs. From the standpoint of a game, discrete spells are a great thing. They allow for the kind of immediate choice needed for any turn-based system.

But I don’t like them from a writing point of view. I’ve enjoyed  various game-related books over the years like DragonLance and the Forgotten Realms books, but I’ve always struggled a bit with the prose describing these discrete spells in action.

So my system had to be a little more free-form from a writing point of view. On the other hand, that vast list of spells does includes just about every magical effect one could want, so I had to consider it.

I also didn’t want to break things down the same way as D&D. The divine/arcane magic system works great from a game point of view, but I just sort of think magic should be defined by its processes, not its source.

So what are the processes of spells? Not the idea of components, but how does a spell do the thing it does?

The first, and possibly most important, set of spells I broke down were the cure spells. I started with them because there has to be healing, if only because I tend to hammer my characters.

Now, hit points are a simple concept that handwaves over a bunch of stuff. Is a person harder to kill as they gain skill? Undoubtedly. Does the amount of physical trauma required to kill that person increase dramatically as their skill rises? Well, that’s a different question. I don’t want to dive into that philosophical discussion, but it’s useful to remember this question here.

The easy thing, and first to come to mind, is the concept of Life Magic. From a healing standpoint, it’s obvious. But it’s just as easy to harm. Excellent. I’ve now got a starting point for magic to be just a tool to be used as a character wants, good or bad.

But “life” is such a huge word, and I started spinning off idea after idea. I still do, by the way. Magic traditionally assigned to druids like controlling animals and plants, for example, is easy.

Yet there’s even more. I said I wanted something that made each wizard a little different, and Life Magic ended up being about variable as them all. Some cure well, but can’t hurt and vice versa. I’ve got Life Mages who really can’t do either, but can do other things really well. One essentially talks to bees. Connection to a single animal like a familiar. Some plantlords.

And I’ve got fun ways I can describe all of this. One of my standard things is for healers to step in and stop the bleeding and minimize the chance of infection. Obviously, they don’t have the same basis of medicine that we do, but people have known about infected wounds long before germ theory.

I also use Life Magic in a forensic way, having some Life Mages specialize in tracking traces of evidence off bodies. This is great for my Edward books, which are fantasy/mystery/PI hybrids. Again, they won’t know DNA per se, but they can track bits and pieces that give some clues. Great from my perspective.

Every aspect of life has its own calling, so I’ve hit on one magical process that works great. Life Magic works with life in every form but is individual to the mage. It can’t, however, deal with inanimate objects unless it can get a life form to do something to it, like say having a tree push its roots to destroy a rock.

That’s a great start, but clearly, I needed more types of magic.

Again, the question of cure spells guided me. How does one increase morale with magic? I’ve seen it happen with a group singing a song or following a banner. With speeches and theater. With rewards and gifts.

All of these things had effects as symbols greater than their intrinsic value as things. Magic, then, could push these symbolic effects to even greater heights and we’ve got so many traditional things to draw from here.

Bardic spells, so music and song. Religious ceremonies. Any kind of ceremony, actually. Runes and arcane scripts. Banners. Flags.

These things can influence just about any endeavor. I have never come up against a limitation of what symbolic magic could do. Heal, harm, teach, warn, refrigerate, heat, attack, whatever I wanted.

That’s a great thing, but from a story standpoint is a problem. All of the wizards had to have limitations, and so did Line Magic, which is what I ended up naming symbolic magic.

Fortunately, the limitation for Line Magic is fairly obvious. Symbols and morale *are* limited. You can be Rudy all you want, but you still have to have a certain level of size, speed, and skill to make the NFL. So Line Magic became the most versatile, but least powerful of all my spell types.

The next spells I looked at were Fireballs and the like. They don’t really fit with Life or Line Magic, but we need something like this.

I don’t talk about it much anymore, because I’ve integrated it so fully I don’t really think about it at this point, but I have a physics layer underneath my magic system involving Shijuren’s geodynamo.

Now, I handwave a jump or two, like the old cartoon with a math equation that has in the middle, “and then a miracle occurs.” However, it’s important that I keep it in mind and make sure those miracles aren’t too miraculous.

This concept of a layer of physics underneath the magic provided the answer to the fireball. I created a magic process that is basically e to m and vice versa. A fireball is just liberating a tiny fraction of energy from matter.

But again, this gave me a whole slew of possibilities. Heat, sound, light, and so much more. Stones that warm things or refrigerate them. Stones that create light or lock doors. Listening to mountains.

So now I have Land Magic. Here’s where I made the most handwavium decision in the whole process, though. One could make the argument that since living creatures have mass than Land Magic could affect them just as easily. I decided Land Magic could only work against inanimate objects. That life, for whatever reason, resists this sort of manipulation. Yeah, it misses a bit on the logic, but it creates a distinct limitation that works well to differentiate mages.

By the way, yes I went through and came up with “L” words for each type of magic. Stupid maybe, but it seemed like fun at the time.

OK, so what am I missing? Let’s look at charm spells. To a great extent, these rely upon manipulating emotions. Love Magic! Perfect. Magic that manipulates emotion can be extremely powerful, but only with humans and some more intelligent animals.

I’ve extended this a bit as I’ve gone along, by the way, to the study of the amygdala and how humans create emotions. It’s a strange process that we don’t really understand as far as I can tell, but that’s perfect for my purposes. I can adapt as needed.

I’ve also used this as forensic magic in the Edward books, as emotions presumably spike during murders and such, leaving a residue that can be tracked.

For ease of description, I say emotions flow from a person in tendrils. Then I use Pluvchik’s Wheel of Emotion to give me guidelines. To step from one emotion to another is one degree of difficulty, as does going up and down in intensity.

From a magic standpoint it’s fairly versatile. From a writing standpoint it’s fun to describe. However, this magic system tends to lead to fewer differences between wizards since there’s only so many different emotions. There are some differences, though, as each Love Mage has their own preference. Some work best with love and some with hate. So far, this has seemed to be enough for my purposes and I’m coming up with more, like those specializing in forensic magic.

That’s a pretty good collection of magics, but I got to this point still thinking I was missing a process. Living things, non-living things, symbols, and emotions don’t allow for what D&D calls the divination school. Also, we really don’t have a that traditional long-bearded knows-everything iconic wizard. I mean, you could have that from each of the four we’ve described, but knowledge itself should have power.

This was especially important to me as a historian, by the way.

Lore was an easy L-word to use here, but it took me a while to figure out how to make Lore Magic work.

Somewhere along the way, I stumbled across the Greek concept of kairos. This gave me a kernel of an idea, especially when I considered the concept of how so many wizards in other stories often don’t do D&D style magic but instead just happen to be at the right place at the right time and do the right thing.

So maybe I have something here. The more you know and research, the more you can pick out those kairoi, which means you can influence them to come out the way you want. A Lore Mage, then sees a series of kairoi as butterfly points of potentialities. They then shape the potentialities to fit the desired result.

Wow! What a fun concept, though I will say it’s been proven hard to write with. How do you shape potentialities on the fly? This magic has to work over time, not really in the heart of a conflict. To shape a battle, a Lore Mage has to anticipate the fight then put themselves into a stronger position to win.

OK, this actually isn’t so bad from a writing perspective. I now have a way for bad guys to shape a plot and I have ways for good guys to respond. Best of all, each Lore Mage is limited by what they’ve studied, so there’s a differentiation built into it from the beginning. Plus, not every Lore Mage views how to manipulate kairoi in the same way. Veikko, for example, manipulates kairoi not be using his magic to change them but to put people in the place where they can change it for him. Nebheshu has a much more direct and arrogant approach.

In the end, Lore Magic became the single most powerful magic one can do in Shijuren. It can do just about anything. However, it requires time, often lots of time. I’ve had mages create spells that are centuries long. Of course, the shifting of kairoi can be undone by the shifting of other kairoi by an opposing mage.

Lore Magic is the hardest to write, but the most fun, when I get it to work.

We now have my Five Streams of Magic, each with limitations and options.

I then decided that those humans capable of magic could only do one of these types. I did allow for a very few exceptions, though, in part because it fits some of the hidden backstory of the world, but these are incredibly rare, in part because they are extremely powerful. Their ability to mesh magical concepts means they can do more with each because of synergistic effects.

In any case, this means that mages in Shijuren have a very limited toolbox. They essentially have a hammer and they have to figure out how to make that hammer work in the situation they face.

This has been awesome for me as a writer. I’m constantly trying to figure out ways to do this or that, based on the tactical situation and the wizard’s set of skills.

More importantly, my spells haven’t really broken down into routine from wizard to wizard. They’re not all blasting away with a fireball or healing with cure light. Sure, an individual wizard might do the same thing multiple times, like Egill and his runes, but each has a flavor and an individuality, just as I had hoped for.

There’s my system. It might not be perfect, but it’s been magical for me and my stories.

Speaking of my stories, I will take this moment to talk about None Call Me Mother. Did I mention it came out on Tuesday? No? Well, hey, just to let you know, it came out on Tuesday!

In a way, it’s almost like I released *three* books on Tuesday, because None Call Me Mother finishes up a trilogy. I also took the time a week ago to clean up the other novels in the Kreisens trilogy, which you can find here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07G8MTPP4.

And if you want to go straight to the first book, I Am a Wondrous Thing, it’s here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01HHKZJVA.

Finally, if you’ve gotten this far, I might as well just link to my Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Rob-Howell/e/B00X95LBB0/.

Thanks for reading this post, and I hope you enjoy my stories. Best wishes for a great holiday season to you all.

 

 

Rob’s Ramblings: Character Origins

Todd Searls mentioned that he liked seeing under the hood yesterday, and when I thought about his comment, I realized I love that from my favorite creators too.

One of my basic principles is to be the author I want be a fan of. Write the stuff I want to read and interact the way I want to be interacted with. So I’ll do some more of these posts, especially now while None Call Me Mother is new and fresh in my mind. In this one I’ll discuss some of the things I thought of while designing a few characters.

Irina Ivanovna

Irina Ivanovna is probably the most important character I’ve ever designed, not simply because she is the key to this story, but also because she shaped the entirety of Periaslavl and hence, much of the entire world.

I love Star Wars, but as I’ve gotten older, the Luke Skywalker character gets really boring. It’s a common fantasy trope, of course, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. How could I create a character than had all that “destiny” but knew a ton, yet didn’t know anything? That’s a thought exercise, let me tell you.

What if the character’s been sheltered? What if their limitation is that they’ve been focused on something else, not living in the world. And that led to the idea of the velikomat, or Great Mother, of Periaslavl. I won’t get into some of the reasons behind why Periaslavl made sense for this because it’d be a spoiler, but I had here a vehicle to make sure that the Great Mothers lived for a looooong time.

During the events in None Call Me Mother, Irina is 140 years old but her body is still that of a teenager. M-a-a-a-gic. If it’s a fantasy world, I should darn well use it.

Making her a ruler with all this experience and power meant she knew all sorts of top-end things. How much food an oblast would need to make it through the winter. How many troops Periaslavl could support. What was the Empire going to do? Or Svellheim. And so on.

Yet, of course, she’s never really been a person. She was chosen at 16 to be the Great Daughter, and for 124 years her life has been nothing but ruling Periaslavl. It’s a great set of experiences for a character, but it’s also a great set of non-experiences. I had a ton of fun playing with those things she never experienced or, more importantly for one kinetic reason, didn’t remember.

So there’s my callow character of “destiny.” I really have a problem doing the easy thing, don’t I?

One last note about Irina. My mom’s mom’s name was Irene. Yeah, I’m shallow, but I loved making that connection as the “Great Mother.” You should all expect this, by the way, because my mom’s dad’s name is Edward.

Eleonore Drechsler

The second character I’m going to look at is Eleonore Drechsler. I’ll start with her name. I use a random generator on Behind the Names. It’s a fantastic site, one of the most useful on the internet. I had to laugh at this name when it came up, because one of my favorite basketball players ever is Clyde Drexler. Ha! I slay myself.

Anyway, in many ways she draws from the same sort of fallen paladin ideas I often love. In some ways, she’s a hard-edged version of Edward. Sometimes it’s fun to write a good guy doing bad things. Really bad things.

Eleonore had to be a great warrior. More important, a skilled leader. I needed to inject a bit of skill into the cesspool that is the Kreisens anyway, and Demmenkreisen, as one of the largest and most powerful Kreisens was a good place for it. That it was in the exact right place (thank you, Adam, which I might touch on in a different post), was a bonus.

Part of the reason that it was important to me that she was a leader is that I needed that to be able to break her down. She has to take a path, not an easy path, but the one that seems easiest for someone who’s enraged. I think most people get enraged not on their own behalf, but on behalf of those close to them.

Her character arc, then, is to screw up but then spend the rest of the series overcoming her mistake. In many ways, this is my favorite arc because it’s something we all do. Her part of the epic battle is perhaps the most subtle, as she cannot win her fight. She can, however, slow the magic that’s attacking her and thereby give the others a chance to win. I probably make this too subtle in the book, because as a set of actions it’s not terribly active, but I, at least, know what battle she faced, and it’s one that I rather enjoyed.

Etain Muirghein

Many of you know the story behind a bunch of characters that appeared in Brief Is My Flame. These were a bunch of redshirts as part of a fundraiser for a great guy who had some health issues.

Obviously, I won’t go into these characters’ origins, because if you know the person redshirted, you’ll catch the references and if you don’t, you won’t care. However, I did want to touch on a few ways these redshirts helped shape Shijuren and the story.

Etain Muirghein was a character I mentioned briefly in I Am a Wondrous Thing. As the Thalassocrat of the Western Isles, she had a part to play in the political maneuvering between realms. However, I didn’t say anything else about her at the time.

Then I was asked to redshirt someone I really respect who helped shape Calontir. Etain suddenly became a great vehicle for that, and so I put in all of her I could. Feisty, tough, awesome. I even added her dog, sort of. It’s named Madra Te in the books, which is a great pun for those who know her.

Anyway, that meant I had to put Etain into some of the action. I hadn’t anticipated that I’d do anything really involving the Western Isles or anything on that end of the Kreisens, but in the end it became a fantastic vector to get to the end.

Plus, I got to write fantasy ship battles using another redshirt, and have both die gloriously. Man, that worked out well, and it’s all because I had to fit this redshirt somewhere and Etain was the absolute right place.

So there you go. A bit of a sketch behind three of the most important characters in the series. There was some serendipity involved in these characters, but at least I was smart enough to recognize it when it hit me upside the head. Serendipity’s got a punch, let me tell you.

Rob’s Ramblings: Climbing the Mountain

Greetings all

None Call Me Mother comes out tomorrow!

I keep talking about how much I’m excited about this release, and it’s all true. I have scaled this mountain.

There were times I doubted I’d make it. However, it’s here, and it’s good. One of the reasons I think many people become authors is that they want to write the stories they want to read. I have re-read all of this series in the past week and it’s my kind of story.

Anyway, I thought I’d take a moment and talk about some of the things I discovered while writing this series. This series, more than anything else I’ve written, changed my processes.

First and foremost, I screwed up at the start of all this. I’m a pantser, meaning I write by the seat of my pants.

For the Edward stories, this works great. However, part of that’s because everything in those stories comes from the single window of the first person POV. The author can have a more limited view because both the character and the reader have that same limited view. We all expect certain things to happen off screen.

The Kreisens has a completely different structure. Yes, I want the character and the reader to have limited views, but for those limited views to mesh at the end required me to know everything behind those views.

I didn’t do this well.

I came close. I didn’t have to retcon anything important. I don’t see any huge plot holes, and neither did my editor. However, I missed opportunities for fun plants and hints in I Am a Wondrous Thing that I really regret. I also have great plot ideas that in the end I couldn’t use because to do so would have required major retconning I wasn’t willing to do.

So the first thing I will change the next time I write a multi-book story arc will be to either plot significantly (unlikely), or write all of it at once and release the trilogy (or whatever) in sequence with little need for change. A series is one kind of animal. A trilogy is another.

Second, my production process was flawed. Some of this was experience. I’ve gotten better at writing blurbs, for example. It’s its own craft and one I continue to practice.

However, I’ve never been pleased with myself in my original release of I Am a Wondrous Thing. A Lake Most Deep suffers from a number of issues, but that doesn’t bother me as much because it was my first book, and first books *always* have issues. Live, learn, get better.

But I Am a Wondrous Thing was book three and I just simply didn’t do a great job producing it. Of all my books, it had the most typos/mistakes. I would have made a much more active cover. It had the most extraneous words. The blurb wasn’t great.

It’s especially frustrating now because I see these things so clearly and at the same time I see a great story.

The good news about being an independent writer is I can fix some of these things relatively easily. Live, learn, get better, after all. I Am a Wondrous Thing made me do all three.

The biggest change was to add a verbal read-through editing pass. I now print off the entire book or short story and read it out loud (when the cats let me). While my editor does a great job, this pass lets me catch some things simply because I’m reading the page differently. Also, it helps me see words that aren’t necessary. Most importantly, I think, is it shows me when I’ve arranged a sentence badly, something I am wont to do. If I can’t read it out loud smoothly, then it needs to be rephrased or cut.

This one thing has dramatically improved the quality of my stuff, and I’ve done it with everything I’ve written ever since.

As part of the None Call Me Mother release, I wanted to make sure both I Am a Wondrous Thing and Brief Is My Flame matched.

So I did a verbal read-through editing pass on I Am a Wondrous Thing. It’s much stronger now, much sleeker. As I said, I didn’t retcon anything major, but I did add a few hints and plants that mesh better with the events in None Call Me Mother. In many cases, this was literally changing one word to another, even to the point of changing an “and” to a “but.”

Along the way, I also realized my method for novel organization had flaws. I like having a section where I can discuss the people who helped, things about the current book, and that sort of stuff. That’s why I wrote a Foreword in the first place. However, that gets in the way of the reader reaching the story. so I changed it to an Afterword.

All three novels now have the same internal structure on the electronic versions. There are some challenges to making that true for the print versions, but those will be completed by the end of the week, I think. All three will look and feel the same inside, except of course for the story itself.

Side note: This may or may not show up yet with existing readers by the way. There’s supposed to be an update feature with Amazon so you get the latest version. However, it’s not working on my copies, so I’ve sent them a message to ask what’s going on. Also, this obviously doesn’t change the physical copies. Keep those. They’ll be collector’s items someday.

In the past, I have put dates and locations on each chapter. I have also gotten feedback that this distracted the reader without really adding anything. Some of you will prefer having those details, and I will continue to make sure the time continuity works on my initial drafts, but they make the story ponderous at times.

A third thing getting in the way of readers were the wiki links.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the wiki is a great thing. For me, it’s a place to do my world-building, serves as my bible, and gives me a bunch of story ideas. For readers, it allows them a chance to really grok Shijuren. Again, my basic philosophy as a writer is to provide the content I want from those authors I love.

However, the links *in the prose* got in the way of some readers. Hence, I’ve done a compromise. The story itself has no links, but the appendices do.  It’s all in the wiki, and you can go directly to it from the appendices, but there’s no link distracting the reader in the middle of a sentence.

Readers are, after all, what’s important in all of this. All of these changes are based on comments made to me by you guys and I haven’t even touched on my changes to my prose. I continue to work toward streamlined, faster prose because again that’s easier to read, but I also strive to produce the books well. I’m getting there.

But I have scaled this particular peak. As of tomorrow, The Kreisens is a complete unit, freshly touched up, and fully annotated in a revamped and improved wiki. Best of all, I love it.

What a great thing to be able to say.

 

 

Rob’s Ramblings: Portmanteau

(Note: Published first on Mad Genius Club at: https://madgeniusclub.com/2020/06/29/portmanteau-a-guest-post/. Thanks to them for letting me join them with a guest post.)

You might know that portmanteau is a great word, but do you know just how wondersational it really is?

In medieval French, portemanteau meant “the “court official who carried a prince’s mantle” as of about the 1540s. This is fairly easy to see. “Porte” is the imperative of porter, which means “to carry.” Hence we get porter. “Manteau” is simply mantle.

In other words, “Hey, you, go carry that cloak.”

In the 1580s, it shifted to the more modern meaning: “traveling case or bag for clothes and other necessaries.”

While that’s still a current meaning of the word, it’s the not the one I find most fun. My favorite meaning is, of course, the combining of parts of two or more words to form another. Motel is a mashing of motor and hotel, for example.

The technical definition of a portmanteau in linguistics is: a single morph that is analyzed as representing two (or more) underlying morphemes. This means words like starfish or foreshadowing are compounds using two full words are not actually portmanteaus.

Now that we’ve got the boring linguistics stuff out of the way, lets get to the true magic of the word.

Did you know you can say tigons, ligers, and bears and be right? A tigon is a male tiger crossed with a female lion. A male lion and a female tiger is, obviously, a liger.

How fun is that?

OK, maybe I’m easily amused.

I bet eating a turducken with a spork is really difficult, but maybe delicious with a Cambozola cheese on the side. That actually sounds really gouda… (Sorry, I can’t help making cheese puns, even if they are a non sequitur).

Did I mention easily amused?

Anyway…

Here’s a portmanteau you probably use quite often. “Velours” is French for velvet. “Crochet” is French for hook (which is useful to know if your sweetie crochets everything). However, if you attach one to the other, you get Velcro. (Attach. See what I did there?)

Very easily amused, am I. Very.

Unlike most words, we have a specific time when it was first applied to this usage. The first person to say portmanteau in this way was….

Wait for it…

Humpty Dumpty.

No, really. Totally was.

OK, fine, it was Lewis Carroll having good ole’ Hump (as he’s called by his friends) speak to Alice in Through the Looking Glass. He said, “You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.”

“Slithy,” by the way, is a portmanteau: slimy and lithe. “Mimsy” is one too: miserable and flimsy.

Speaking of amusement, now I’m wondering how many of you will spend hours scouring Jabberwocky for all the portmanteaus you can find. Bwa ha, bwa ha ha. For mine is an evil laugh.

But here’s the best part of it all.

Now when you use your Garmin (Gary and Min founded the company) to find a motel in Texarkana (or somewhere in Eurasia) and then undo the velcro holding something in your luggage, you can now let your mind drift to Alice in Wonderland and Lewis Carroll’s imagination.

And ain’t that spifftastic?

 

Rob’s Ramblings: Discombobulation

Greetings all

Like many of us, this is a discombobulating time. Events canceled like Gulf Wars, FantaSci, and March Madness. Concerns over family friends. And people will be talking of the Toilet Paper Rush of Ought-20 like they did the 1849 Gold Rush.

There are silver linings, though. One, I get to use discombobulation again and again. It’s one of my favorite words.

Two, I’ve seen people in various communities band together to help their friends and neighbors. It’s not unusual for these people to do that sort of thing, but it’s more obvious right now and that’s comforting.

But it’s still a discombobulating time.

As a writer and someone who works from home, I have some nice advantages. Obviously, if I have food, water, and electricity, I can do my job normally. Without electricity, I have to hand write things, which I can do, though my hand problems make that challenging. Still, I can get through a reasonable time and still do my job. That’s comforting too.

But it’s not without dangers. I am an only child and a tendency to get too withdrawn.

Worse, the cancellations and the discombobulation exacerbate my tendencies to hermit and dwell on things far too much. I ponder where things go and game scenarios out in my head. It’s a great trait as a writer, of course, but can often send me down the road to thinking too many bad thoughts. That’s what cost me September, along with fatigue.

Today I’m writing from Brewbakers. I suspect, I’ll be here most days during this discombobulation as long they can stay open. I need to get out and see the world and not simply through the lens of social media.

My suggestion to you all is to do the things you’ve been putting off because you didn’t have time. I’m going to throw myself at None Call Me Mother and work on some projects around the house.

I also suggest everyone look for cool things to do for other people. Discombobulations bring stress. The word is fun to say, but the experiences are often not. The more nice things we do, even small ones, the better we’ll all be when we get back to our normal rat race.

The best thing about doing nice things for people in a discombulated time? It has a tendencies to combobulate all involved.

Rob’s Ramblings: Cleared to Engage

Greetings all

This past weekend was the first weekend of the XFL. For many years I have been hoping for a spring pro football league and the XFL has been my best hope for while.

I would like a spring league not only because it’s more football, although I always want more football. It could also serve as a developmental area, because NFL teams just don’t have time under the current CBA to really do a bunch of developmental work on down-roster players. This is especially true for quarterbacks and offensive linemen who need full-speed repetitions to improve.

It is also an area to develop other aspects. Referees and coaches can also get more experience. If done right, it could be an place for innovation and experimentation.

The XFL held this promise, despite the fact that the AAF, which was announced at about the same, failed like every other competitor to the NFL.

Why do I think this will succeed when none have before? Vince McMahon is no idiot, and he wouldn’t try this again if he didn’t think he could make it work. He also made it clear he wanted innovations, not gimmicks. Where the AAF rushed to get their product to market, the XFL took an extra year to devise new ideas, test them for effectiveness and player safety, and make sure all the financial foundations were in place.

Now, we finally got to see the product. One of the major innovations was a radically re-designed kickoff system. Those who have been watching the XFL come together have been very curious about this one change in particular.

It was a huge success. So much so that I’d be surprised if it doesn’t become the norm for kickoffs within the decade.

And it’s emblematic of the innovations in the league. They promised a faster pace and they got it. Two specific rule changes were made to achieve this. One, 25 seconds between plays instead of 40 in the NFL. Two, there’s an official whose sole job is to spot the ball between play. A little thing, one might think, but I watched the officials make ready for play with an efficiency the NFL currently can’t even dream of.

The extra point has been revised, with 1, 2, and 3 point options. This has a ton of potential, though it’s clear coaches don’t yet understand all the possibilities. Punts have to be inbounds, but coverage guys can’t leave as quickly. We also didn’t see the double forward pass play used yet, but I see a bright future for it.

The closest thing to gimmicky was the immersive coverage. Cameras can basically go anywhere. There was one play yesterday when Jordan Ta’amu had to avoid a cameraman on the field. Players who made a big play, either good or bad, were interviewed almost immediately. It’s rough on the player to have to look into a microphone after a big mistake, but it’s fantastic TV.

And the broadcasts can let us all listen to everything that’s being said by the coaches and the officials via their radios. We can hear play calls as they’re being called. Amazing. When there’s a replay, we can hear the officials talking through the play and see them looking at their screen.

This last thing is huge, by the way. Everything is reviewable in the XFL, but reviews are quick, quick, quick. And we can hear them doing it. Sure, they pause the game, but not for a commercial. Instead, we’re seeing them adjudicate the play in real time and that’s a game-changer. Replays stop being boring and become entertainment in themselves.

Plus, let’s mention that having replay officials inherent to each game means they’re on the ball. Again, quick, quick, quick.

If the NFL doesn’t adopt the XFL’s replay system, and soon, they’re missing the boat.

And that’s exactly what I always wanted from a spring league. Opportunities for players like Ta’amu to practice his craft for a while and add innovation to the stodgy hide-bound NFL that sometimes gets too high and mighty.

Of course, none of this matters if it’s not good football. Fortunately, it was. All of the players were 90-man roster types, practice squadders, or even tail end 53-man roster capable. The NFL, by the way, has 90-man rosters at the beginning of training camp. By the end of camp, they have a 53-man active roster and a 10-man practice squad, which leaves 27 players to fend for their careers. That’s more than enough to fill XFL rosters.

Also, the difference between the 90th player and the 30th player is a lot smaller than many might think. Oftentimes it’s a question of opportunity, especially if a player gets hurt.

I suspect that many players might choose the XFL over an NFL practice squad in years to come. A practice squad player gets few reps, few opportunities to improve. An XFL starter gets a bunch.

In any case, the football this weekend was NFL-fast, fast-paced in terms of plays per minute, and filled with quality play. Sure, there were mistakes, but week one of the NFL season is filled with similar mistakes. QBs threw dimes. RBs made moves. WRs made great catches. Defenders made great plays. The offensive lines struggled a bit, but that’s to be expected and is exactly what we see in the NFL in week one and their struggles were often miscommunications, not a lack of ability.

And I’m not the only one to be impressed by the XFL. All across Twitter, people were talking about in. The vast majority I saw were impressed, including every NFL player, current or former, who I saw comment.

I’m excited because this will make football at all levels better and safer.

It didn’t hurt that the St. Louis Battlehawks, predicted as a major underdog, went on the road and won.

In any case, I’m hooked. I’m so glad we got season tickets this year. Go Battlehawks! #ClearedToEngage.

Rob’s Ramblings: Super Bowl LIV

Greetings all

Yesterday, I did a live thread on Facebook during the Super Bowl. Today, I’ll distill those comments and expand upon a few. If you want the original complete thread, you can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/rhodri2112/posts/10158095267396085.

Before the game, I predicted the Chiefs to win 34-27, so I wasn’t far off. I kind of rooted for the Chiefs, in part because someone in my house had to and the stepdaughter is a huge 49ers fan, and in part because the petty Cowboys fan in me wanted Andy Reid to win for someone other than the Eagles.

Overall, I thought Patrick Mahomes was mediocre until the very end, Reid outcoached Shanahan by a lot, and Nick Bosa was the MVP.

The day started with some awkwardness. The Chiefs almost bungled the coin toss and Bill Vinovich, rightly in my opinion, saved them. He overrode a player who tried to say “We’re kicking” by saying, “You’re taking the ball” until the Chiefs finally agreed. The Chiefs lost the toss, the 49ers deferred which means they get the choice to start the 2nd half. Had the Chiefs chosen to kick there, the 49ers would have chosen to receive in the 2nd half, meaning they would have gotten it to start both halves.

After the Cowboys almost botched it earlier, the NFL either needs to streamline this process by asking if the team winning the coin toss wants to get it first or second half, or these special teams coaches need to brief their players better. I go with the first, because KC’s teams were really good and well-coached all year long. The reason, by the way, for the confusing option is to allow teams to take the wind, but with fewer and fewer games affected by weather, I think we should make that option one they actively have to choose.

One reason that didn’t turn into a hullaballoo, I think, was the great Jake from State Farm commercial with a new Jake which immediately followed. Great way to use all the old humor while adding more. My second favorite commercial for the night actually.

The opening kickoff gave us the first questionable decision, and that was Mecole Hardman choosing to return the ball from 5-6 yards into the endzone. Even for the best returners, this is an iffy decision. He got to the 26, so it turned out OK, but the risk/reward there between coverage, penalty, and fumble vs. long return just isn’t there.

Side note, the the 49ers teams played really well overall, and so did the Chiefs. Almost a great day for the Chiefs if Byron Pringle, who had a great game, could pull that ball out of the end zone on the punt with about 2 minutes remaining in the first half.

Patrick Mahomes made several mistakes right off the bat. He was clearly amped too much and I think that pretty much lasted until the 49ers gave him a coverage gift in the long throw to Tyreek Hill in the 4th. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Then we got to the first mistake, the fumble on the punt return. The 49ers got really lucky that the ball bounced their way, because Pringle fought through a double-team block to get there. Like I said, I thought he was great.

Then the 49ers took the ball down the field for a FG. This is how I thought the 49ers offense would look all day. Lots of great, intricate running plays with tons of misdirection and the occasional pass to take advantage of gaps in the zone provided by KC having to play zone.

Side note one here: We’re witnessing a revolution in the running game. Analytics is clear that passing is better than running. The average pass play, counting sacks, incompletions, and scrambles gets about twice as much as every called running play. The revolution has made running much more effective, but requires constant motion and misdirection.

I am unsure what defenses will need to do to adjust, but my guess is a dramatic change in actual kinds of defenders, moving to some sort of 2-4-3-2 kind of thing. The 2 are down linemen. The 4 are hybrid edge defenders. These will vary from a big ones to play a normal DE, to heavy safeties who will be faster than LBs but still can provide good run support. The 3 are CBs to defend the 3rd wide receiver (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR is the most common offensive formation now), and the remaining 2 are more safeties. I guess, now that I write it down, I think safety hybrids will become more and more valuable.

Anyway, back to the game. Whenever the 49ers offense ran first they controlled the Chiefs defense. I’m not surprised. The Chiefs defense is better than many prognosticators said, but so is the 49ers offense. 49ers 3-0.

At least, they are when their coach doesn’t play to lose.

I think it’s at this point we got the first Tide commercial. Man, I thought those were awful. Bland humor at best repeated ad nauseam. Overall, I thought the commercials were pretty weak. The ad creators tried too hard and rarely hit the mark. I’ll mention a few highlights along the way, though.

Then came another play not to lose decision by Shanahan. On the Chiefs’ second drive, they ran a 2nd and 2 play which was incomplete but the Chiefs also had an ineligible man downfield. Had the 49ers accepted the penalty, the Chiefs would have been 2nd and 12. They declined it to go to 3rd and 2. Amazingly, one of the best offenses there is managed to get 2 yards on the next play on the way to a TD. Amazingly.

Later on the drive came a real interesting play: (2:22 – 1st) P.Mahomes scrambles right end to SF 3 for 12 yards (J.Ward). FUMBLES (J.Ward) ball out of bounds at SF 5. SF-J.Ward was injured during the play. His return is Questionable.

Ward had a great and legal hit there. What’s fascinating with this play, though, is his hit turned it from a 12 yard gain and a 1st down into a 10 yard gain and a 4th down.

Andy Reid is a great coach, and he showed it time and again in this game. He went for it. Absolutely the right call, as I said before the Chiefs converted it.

And that doesn’t even touch upon the great play call on a play yoinked by Eric Bienemy from the 1942 Rose Bowl. True story. I’ve seen the replay of the 1942 play and it’s exactly the same. It’s a small misdirection to change the direct snap that gives the defense a small hesitation and on short-yardage plays, that’s all you need. They got 4 yards and a 1st and goal from the 1.

Side note: Eric Bienemy should be a head coach next year. Should have been one this year. He may not end up being a great one, but he’s definitely an offensive wizard.

Which showed on their scoring play. They scored on 2nd down with a brilliant play. I predicted a play-action pass. What I got might have been better. It was a play fake dive just like the play-action to create exactly the same crunch of defenders in the middle. However, Mahomes then went wide with an RB at his side for an option play. Two on one against the CB. The CB can’t win that, and he didn’t. Beautiful stuff. Chiefs, 7-0.

After that was the Tom Brady Hulu ad. That was cold and cruel. Patriots fans lost their souls for about ten seconds.

Bashaud Breeland was an early contender for MVP in my mind. He made a couple of great tackles on WR screens and he took advantage of Pennel’s great hit on Garoppolo to get an interception. It’s a real shame he got dinged in the 2nd quarter for a bit.

The Chiefs got a FG on the ensuing drive, though I thought Reid’s play calls were iffy in the red zone this time. His offense focuses on horizontal passes and yards after the catch, but sometimes you need to have at least one receiver going over the top. This has happened to him before and will again. It’s not a question of aggressiveness, just style. Anyway, 10-3 Chiefs.

Now the 49ers get the ball and have a chance to get back into the groove. One play they used on this drive was the push pass. This is essentially an end around/jet sweep from the shotgun. However, it’s technically a pass because the “handoff” is a forward toss. This is such a smart thing. First, it pushes the defense to be keeping to their jobs. Second, if there’s a problem with the exchange and the ball falls to the ground, it’s an incomplete pass, not a fumble. Great stuff, and Deebo Samuel is the perfect style of WR to use it.

Samuel, by the way, had a very good game and the 49ers could have used him more.

This drive ended with a 15 yard TD to Kyle Juszczyk. Juszczyk has been fantastic this year, and he was great in this game. 3 catches on 3 targets with a bunch of great blocks. He scored one of the 49ers TD and set up the other.

Now we get to a series of mediocre decisions.

First, Hardman took an end around on 2nd and 8 and lost 6 yards. At the end, he meekly went out of bounds. Awful. Even the Chiefs struggle to get a 1st on 3rd and 14. They didn’t. With less than two minutes left in the 1st half, if he stays in bounds, he forces the 49ers to think about a time out.

In any case, the 49ers should now expect to get the ball and expect to have a good chance to score. However, Shanahan didn’t think of it in those terms. He coached not to lose. The following play was a screen pass for only 1 yard, meaning at 1:53 left on the clock it was 4th and 13 for the Chiefs. You take a time out there if you’ve got 2 or 3 remaining. He had all 3.

But he didn’t take a time out.

This is astounding to me. If you take it there, you get the ball back with about 1:45 left and 2 time outs. Any competent NFL QB can look at that as an opportunity for points. Apparently Shanahan doesn’t think Garoppolo was competent. He basically rolled over and played dead.

Then, with 14 seconds left, the 49ers got to about their own 45. They could have been there with about 1:20 or so and still with 2 TOs even with the same play calls. At that point they’re really likely to score something. Instead, they are forced to try their only deep attempt to Kittle which he clearly pushes off to get a correct OPI call, but would have given them a chance at a FG.

So many opportunities for the 49ers to at least get 3 points. All squandered. And this ends up biting them in the ass.

We go to halftime. I’ve grown to dread halftime shows. They’re all boring and canned. This time had one highlight for me, a snippet of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir which then went into a Middle Eastern style dance song. Other than that, I thought Shakira and J-Lo looked great for a combined age of 93. And meh.

To be fair, meh is a step up for many halftime shows. Prince, who I’m not really a fan of, is clearly still the best one. He gave so much emotion and soul to that performance. Clearly not canned. Clearly a great musician doing his thing. Most of the time, they lack soul. As did this one.

Anyway, we get to the second half. The 49ers came out and ran the drive they should have at the end of the first half. Lots of easy passes to receivers schemed open. They get a FG and are back on top 13-10.

In this commercial break we get the best commercial of the evening in my opinion, the Sam Elliott dancing commercial. It started kind of dumb, at first, but then got really funny really fast. The horse shaking his head, declining to dance, was a great touch.

Mahomes was bad in the 3rd quarter. Not much you can do to suggest otherwise. He had a couple of moments to start this drive, but then Nick Bosa took over the game for a while. He ended up having 12 pressures which is a ton. On this drive he gets a strip sack which Mahomes was lucky to corral.

Whether that bothered Mahomes or not, the next play he threw an awful pass made worse by the coverage and got it picked off.

Then Garoppolo leads another drive, this time for a TD. The 49ers have now shown they can run and they can pass effectively. In these two drives, he’s 8-9, 97 yards. The Chiefs are out of whack at this point, but from now on, the 49ers will sustain almost no offense. One reason is better Chiefs defense, but another is that Shanahan didn’t take advantage of his run game enough.

Anyway, at this point Mahomes goes through a sequence of awful throws. Every one is off target, at least a little bit, even the ones that are completed. This drive concludes with an off-target pass not getting caught by the receiver, bouncing off his hands, and then a great catch by Moore to get the interception. Hill would say he should have caught it. Perhaps. However, the throw was well behind him and it should not have been that difficult of a catch. I remember thinking that there wasn’t a reason not to lead Watkins on the throw, no reason for Watkins to sit down on the route, no obvious miscommunication. Just a bad throw, and Moore makes Mahomes pay.

At this point, there’s 12 minutes left in the game and 49ers are up by 10. This high win probability territory. The 49ers could have slammed the door here.

I didn’t like the play calling here. They start well, getting a nice run to Mostert and a pass to Kittle. That’s when I thought they’d rely on the run for a bit (as did Aikman). Running is one of their strengths, after all.

Mostert got 1 on a run. I am not watching the replay, but I seem to recall this was a basic run. Either way, the next play is another pass. I don’t mind them throwing to Kittle here, but I would have preferred a good misdirection run, maybe even another Deebo sweep.

For that matter, early in the game, the use Deebo as a decoy on a play and never come back to him as the primary. This despite Deebo getting essentially free on the first play. This is the point of the game where you can put a stake in their heart and that’s exactly the time to take advantage of the plays that you highlighted from the first half. Why they didn’t, I’ll never know.

Anyway, so the Chiefs get the ball back at their 17 with 9 minutes and things are dicey. Mahomes is OK at the start of this drive, but not great. He makes the good decision to scramble. He throws an off-target pass that Hill catches. Then he throws an awful pass to Hill that gets overturned because Hill trapped it. Really bad throw to a wide open receiver.

Now is when the magic happens, and it’s all because the 49ers have a coverage breakdown. Mahomes connects with Hill for 44 yards. This was an awful throw, I thought. Hill had to wait for it and had Mahomes hit him in stride it’s a TD. I’d have to see the All-22 to confirm, but I think he was two beats too late on the throw and only an awful coverage scheme left Hill so wide open he could sit and wait on the throw.

Sometimes you just need a spark.

This was it, and Mahomes was much better after that. He throws a seam route that Moore (the defender who caught the tip interception) butchers on the coverage. It’s clear pass interference. He impedes the receiver and never gets his head around, so he wasn’t playing the ball. Obvious call.

First and goal at the 1 and the Chiefs score easily. 20-17 Chiefs and I said on Facebook: “Is the wind in the Chiefs’ sails?”

Spoiler Alert: It was.

First play of the ensuing 49ers drive is a 5yard run by Mostert. Derrick Nnadi makes a real good play to get off the block and I think it’s overlooked. Mostert had a huge gap after Nnadi and if he breaks through he’s going to get 15+. That makes a huge difference in the timing of the game here.

Anyway, the next play is a ball batted down by Chris Jones, who suddenly came alive. If he doesn’t, Kittle has 15 and again we’re talking about stake in the heart kind of time. Also, Deebo was wide open in the flat on that play. This play worked really well, in other words, but only a great defensive play stopped it.

The next play wasn’t as good. It was a pass, which isn’t bad on 3rd and 5, but I’d have been looking for one of my speed guys, Kittle, Deebo, Mostert, or Breida. The last one in particular was a mistake by Shanahan. Breida wasn’t targeted a single time in the game, and he’s a really nice player with great hands and a lot of speed. I am positive that Shanahan could have schemed one of them open instead of a contested throw to a backup TE.

This is a drive of wasted opportunities by the 49ers and just enough by the Chiefs to force a punt.

Here’s another subtle moment in the game. I criticized Hardman for taking the opening kickoff from deep out of the endzone. However, here he makes a great decision to fair catch the punt. As the punt was coming down, I thought he might have a lane, but the 49ers coverage closed the gap almost as the ball got there. Had Hardman been too aggressive and tries to run, I think only bad things happen for the Chiefs.

Anyway, this Mahomes finally on his game. His throws are on and 2:26 later Williams catches his pass for the TD. This is the questionable TD where we’re not sure if Williams breaks the plane or not. I *think* Williams broke the plane but it was close. A number of others said they thought he hadn’t, but it was close.

The referee called it a TD on the field. It was too close to criticize a ref for making a decision on the field. He called it a TD. No replay gave anything close to something that showed the actual result. Slow it down all you want, and it’s still “I think.”

And so, replay came back, rightfully, “Call Stands.” No matter what the ref on the field called, replay wasn’t going to overturn it. It’s a big thing, because otherwise it’s 4th and goal at the 2-inch line. I think Reid goes for it, so probably scores anyway. It’s irrelevant, though, and the Chiefs now up 24-20.

This is where the stupidity at the end of the first half really costs the 49ers. If it’s 24-23, then the 49ers have 2:44 with all 3 time outs to get into FG range. There’s no desperation. Also, they don’t *have* to succeed the first try. If they go three and out, with 3 TOs and the best defense in the NFL, they can reasonably expect to have another opportunity with something like 1:45 and 1 TO left.

In other words, the Chiefs would have had an advantage, but not a great one. Needing a TD changes that equation significantly, especially the time part at the end.

The 49ers get to midfield with 1:56 left to play. They then throw 3 incomplete passes. At this point, the still have 3 TOs. It’s 4th and 10. I believe it’s the right call to go for it here, but I didn’t like the play call.

I said in my notes before this drive the Chiefs should throw the house at Garoppolo. Even if the 49ers manage a long TD, the Chiefs offense would have had time with 3 TOs of their own to get into FG range. They didn’t, except on this play.

And I think Shanahan should have expected that. The throw he called took too much time. Again, I haven’t seen the All-22 to see the coverage, but I think he should have gone with a five steps and throw immediately sort of play. A fade to Deebo. A seam to Kittle. A wheel to Mostert. One of those sorts of things. They’re quick, take almost no time off the clock, and have a good chance if the defense is aggressive there.

Instead, Garoppolo is sacked and the Chiefs get it at the 42.

There’s an interesting sequence here. I don’t think I was completely correct on my math but I still think Williams makes a mistake here, albeit an understandable one.

Play 1, 1:25 on the clock: Williams runs for 4, 49ers take their first TO.

Play 2, 1:20 on the clock, Williams runs 38 yards for a TD.

Now, there is 1:12 left on the clock here. I think he should have downed himself at the 1 or 2 yard line.

By scoring, he gave the 49ers 1:12 with 2 TOs and a not inconsequential chance of a TD with a 2point conversion, an onsides kick, and a FG attempt. It’s not likely, but there’s a chance.

Also note how different that would have been with 3 points at the end of the first half.

Now consider if he goes down on the 1. This forces the 49ers to take a TO, so already you’ve depleted the 49ers chances. Let’s look at the following sequence.

Play 1: Chiefs kneel. 49ers take their last TO. There’s about 1:10 on the clock.

Play 2: Chiefs kneel. 49ers have no TOs. 40 seconds run off the clock, leaving about 30 seconds.

Play 3: Chiefs kneel, game over.

Yes, the Chiefs defense makes a great interception and they’re barely able to run out the clock, but even that was harder than it could have been because the 49ers had one more TO.

Williams going down at the 1 ends the game, period. By scoring, he extended it. Frankly, he ends the game by going down in bounds anywhere after getting the first down. The math is that simple.

Anyway, the Chiefs win and Andy Reid did a fantastic job. He pushed the action and depended upon Mahomes to be great. Mahomes wasn’t, for most of the game, but I think we all knew that he’d get on a streak at some point.

Shanahan was awful. He’s a great coach, but this game doesn’t show it. He consistently overthought things. He’ll do better next time, I have no doubt. I’d guess Reid’s experience from his previous Super Bowl appearance helped him a ton.

Williams was a good player in this game, but not great, I thought. I say that not even criticizing him too much for the last TD. Few players aren’t going to score there. Too much excitement.

He does end up with 2 TDs and over 100 yards on the ground, and there’s a case to be made for him to be MVP. This is especially true since Mahomes didn’t have a great game.

There’s been once in Super Bowl history where a losing player won the MVP. That happened in Super Bowl V with Dallas’s Chuck Howley. I think it should have happened here with Nick Bosa.

No other player dominated the game like him. He had those 12 pressures and a strip sack. However, he also dominated Eric Fisher time and again on running plays. He made the Chiefs work for everything start to finish.

The scary part is that he was a rookie this year and he’ll only get better. I’d be shocked at this point if he doesn’t have a Hall of Fame career. The only thing that will stop it will be injuries, so knock on wood because he’s a joy to watch… playing against anyone other than your team.

Congratulations to the Chiefs. I said in the FB thread: “I’m really happy for Reid. I’m sad for my stepdaughter, a big 49ers fan. I’m sad for me, because this city is going to be insufferable all year.”

Well, go be insufferable, your team earned you the right.

OK, that’s way too many words on this. Time for me to go make dinner then start a short story in the 4HU.

 

 

Rob’s Ramblings: ChattaCon AAR

ChattaCon has come and gone for 2020. It was, as usual, a great time. I really enjoy the Chattanooga fan scene. It’s a bunch of smart, fun people and I’m glad I get to go there twice a year.

As usual, Lani gave me a nice busy schedule. Actually, it was brilliant this year because it was front-loaded, which I appreciate.

I’ll get to that in a moment, but one of the most important parts of cons these days is the Thursday before con networking. This time, I had a chance to sit down with Brian Cooksey and lay out some plans for getting the Shijuren RPG off the ground.

Side note: Brian will be a Special Guest next year at ChattaCon because of his game design skills. I’m honored he’s helping me out.

We spent a couple of hours agreeing upon overall goals, a general breakdown of responsibilities, and that sort of thing. I had given him some ideas I wanted to try and he gave me his opinion on them.

One thing I think is good about our partnership is that we have different perspectives. While I have a lot of gaming experience, it’s mostly in one tree, D&D/Pathfinder. Brian, on the other hand, knows a ton of game systems and he has a lot of different things to bring into the conversation.

Our basic philosophy is this: We want a game system that allows for a ton of flexibility and options in character design. I want players to play the character they want. At the same time, we want a game system that streamlines the process to minimize checking rules during the game because all the information a player needs is on his character sheet already.

I’ll expand on the game system plans as they get going. I’ll be posting process updates consistently both here and on the wiki when I get it updated.

Suffice to say I’m really excited as it starts to get off the ground. I’ve always wanted to be a part of an RPG and I think we can do some cool stuff here.

The actual convention started at 5pm on Friday with my Martin Koszta panel. As usual, people enjoyed it but I am more convinced now that I need to retire it for a few years. I’ll actually come back to it at some point, I’m sure, but I’ve presented it too much. What I really need to do is pick a new historical event, maybe run through bits and pieces of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle or go through Old English poetry.

That was at 5 on Friday. Immediately after was a world-building on the fly panel by Brian Cooksey that was a lot of fun. He structured it with 4-5 things that had to be in it and 4-5 things that had to *not* be in it, then let us riff off the combinations. That’s a process I might just try for the next Shijuren series as I come up with different characters and storylines.

At 8pm was a similar panel, and had I been thinking, I would have pulled from Brian’s.

Of course, had I been thinking, I would have noticed I was the listed moderator and been prepared to direct things. We muddled out some things, but it needed more direction and audience involvement. It could have been great, but I didn’t come prepared. Next time, I’ll fix that.

And yes, I had a 9pm Friday panel discussing how much violence and sex should we include in fantasy and SF. My answer is it depends on the story I’m trying to write. I tend to action/adventure stuff, so there’s lots of violence. I can change how graphic that is up and down the dial, but it tends toward violent.

On the other hand, I’ve been incorporating more romantic and sexual themes in my stuff. The Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms is a riff off Romeo and Juliet (actually the Finnsburh stuff, but same thing). As for how graphic my sexual content will be, it will depend on if it pushes the story. I don’t like either violence or sex that’s just put in just to have it.

Then was the LibertyCon party, and I hung out there until it closed. I bounced around for a bit, but I was tired and went to bed. A good day, all around, though really, really busy.

That business on Friday meant, however, that Saturday was fairly light. I had a panel at 1pm on weaving historical events and real things in speculative fiction.

I actually checked to see if I was the moderator and did a much better job at coming up with questions. I thought it went really well, though I will say having Terry Maggert as a panelist is fantastic. All you need to do is stick a quarter in him and he’ll create a ton of things to talk about.

I had my author signing/sales session from 4-5pm. It went really well, highlighted by a couple of regular readers showing up right away. They’re a joy to have as fans, smart, nice, and pleasant.

Then I spent much of the evening talking with Terry Maggert and Mel Todd about writing and processes. I learned a ton. Terry’s done well from writing and he’s definitely someone to pay attention to. Mel has studied things from a different tack, and she’s got quite a bit to teach me on the business side especially. It’s nice to have smart friends.

Then I went and hung out at parties and such-like things. One con regular hosts her own party, and I spent a goodly amount of time there. Then I went and watched the burlesque for a bit. Then I joined in on Kat’s birthday party.

I went to bed late, but it was worth it.

I was moving slowly on Sunday morning (shocking, I know), but I really enjoyed the panel on using Culture, Mythology, and Spirituality to fill out speculative fiction moderated by Amanda Makepeace.

Side note: Amanda is an amazing artist and will be Artist Guest of Honor at MidSouthCon opposite FantaSci and then ChattaCon 2021.

Anyway, I wondered where this panel might go, because it’s such a broad topic. In the end, what I think I got was a codification of something I already knew I did, but had never said aloud. I chose to use real world religions in Shijuren because I wanted to get the immediate evocative response from a Zeus or a Woden instead of a made-up deity who was some analogue. I use gods and goddesses from a bunch of cultures because I find them all fun and interesting.

Researching other cultures is one of the best parts of writing in Shijuren.

At that point, my responsibilities were done. I emptied my room, made my goodbyes, and was on the road by 11:30.

I thought about staying for some of the closing stuff, but after staying up late on Saturday and with the way the weather has been around KC of late, I decided I wanted to get on the road as quickly as I could.

At LibertyCon, I’ll be staying for the Dead Dog Party, and maybe even for a couple of days after. However, on this trip, it was time to be home. The trip went well, I didn’t even need a nap, and I made it home at 9ish.

As usual, today is sort of slow day, and I’m not doing much other than writing my AAR and puttering around on some detail work here and there. Nothing huge or stressful, nor anything I’ll beat myself up for not doing except the AAR, which really is best done today anyway when I’m still basking in a great weekend. All part of learning how to manage myself better.

Anyway, the short version. The trip went well. I achieved the goals I had in mind. I had fun.

I’ll be there in 2021.

Rob’s Ramblings: ChattaCon and Stuff

Greetings all

This week is ChattaCon. It’s one of my favorite cons because Lani Brooks always gives me plenty to do. This year is no different.

Here’s my schedule:

  • Friday at 5pm (Vision A Ballroom): Martin Koszta Using History Panel (This might be the last time for a while. I’ve done it quite a few times, so I’ll stop suggesting it until I miss doing it.)
  • Friday at 8pm (Vision B Ballroom): Iron-Storyteller. This looks like a lot of fun and I wonder if we may end up wanting to run long because we’ll come up with so much stuff. However…
  • Friday at 9pm (Wisdom Boardroom: Beyond G-Rating. How much violence and sex should we include in fantasy and SF.
  • Saturday at 1pm (Vision A Ballroom): Blurring the Lines. We’ll discuss how to interweave real events in spec fiction.
  • Saturday at 4pm (Ballroom Hall): I believe this will be my author signing period. Yes, I’ll have books with me.
  • Sunday at 10am (Vision A Ballroom): Culture, Mythology, and Spirituality. Studying how cultures help fill out speculative fiction and RPGs.
  • There is also a game creation panels that I might attend, given the Shijuren RPG. It’s Principles of RPG Design run at 3pm in Vision C.

It’s going to be a great time. I love it that she keeps me hopping.

One thing that might be weird is this will be the first con I attend after Neil’s passing. His death is still reverberating among Rush fans and I’m not the only one not really over it.

I always wear Rush T-shirts at con. There are always a bunch of Rush fans at SF/F cons, of course, and I’ve always enjoyed interacting with them.

This time will be different and I’m not sure how it’ll go.

Anyway, on to other things.

Congratulations to the Chiefs and the 49ers for reaching the Super Bowl. I’m in a hard place here as a Cowboys fan living in the KC area. On the one hand, it’s the 49ers, and I never like it when they win. On the other, it’s one of the stepdaughter’s teams and if the Chiefs win, KC fans are going to be insufferable until they next get knocked out of the playoffs. And that couldn’t be any earlier than December 2020.

I guess I’ll root for the Chiefs. Andy Reid is a guy to admire, and I’d be really happy for him to win a Super Bowl with a team other than the Eagles. Yes, I’m petty. But the Eagles fans deserve all that and more.

Anyway, we’ll have a Super Bowl party here. I generally have had one. Last year was the exception because of moving about. Hopefully, the stepdaughter can have the night off from work, but if not, we’ll make a mini version of her and sit her right in front of the TV.

Also exciting is the result of the Dragon 9/Crew Dragon test. It looks like we’re almost to the point of crewed missions for that platform.

I’ve long believed, and circumstances are proving me right, than private industry would be the real path to space. NASA has certain uses, but commercial ventures can do things NASA can’t, and do them at a much faster rate.

I would really like to see humanity have a solid and stable presence in space before I pass along the mortal coil. Dragon could make that happen.

Well, enough of all that. Back to writing in None Call Me Mother. Making progress.