Monthly Archives: October 2008

NaNoWriMo in 12h

NaNoWriMo begins in less than 12 hours. I spent much of last night working on my outline and character designs, and I’ll post more about that at a later time. I’ll definitely hit the supermarket tonight, for enough supplies for the weekend; this will even include some soda so as to keep myself awake at night. The minimum per day is 1667 words, but the more I get done this weekend, the better.

I’m definitely – no, nervous is not the right word – anxious to get NaNoWriMo done. 50k words; 30 days; why the hell did I get myself into this? 🙂

NaNoWriMo Music Playlist

I work either in complete silence, or I create a play list with music appropriate for whatever I am working on. This was true in the 1980s and 1990s when I did a lot of coding, it is still true for my world building, and it will hold true for writing novels.

For my NaNoWriMo project, the playlist is currently this:

  • Let it whip by The Dazz Band
  • Earth Died Screaming by Tom Waits
  • Where Evil Grows by The Poppy Family
  • Cities in Dust by Siouxsie & The Banshees
  • Control by Traci Lords
  • Love Removal Machine by The Cult
  • Burn by Sister Machine Gun
  • Baby Did A Bad Thing by Chris Isaak
  • Masked Ball by Jocelyn Pook
  • When Worlds Divide by The Clutters
  • Clash City Girl also by The Clutters
  • Black is The Night (Code RMX) by Code
  • Go! by Tones to Tail
  • iam the sun by auto-auto
  • Great Balls of Fire by Buddy Holly
  • Cock the Hammer by Cypress Hill
  • Last Action Hero by Tesla
  • Mass Destruction (Single Mix) by Faithless
  • Oops Oh My by Tweet
  • Edge of Reality by Elvis Presley
  • Bitch by the Rolling Stones
  • Hammer to Fall by Queen
  • Gimme The Prize also by Queen
  • Armageddeon Time by The Clash
  • NYc’s like a Graveyard by the Moldy Peaches

Needless to say, not all of these have a direct relation to the story. Some do. The selection is as much intended to just keep me focused on fast writing as it is on putting me in the right mood.

Once I am done with the novel, it may be fun to point out what parts of it I thought about when I picked the music. Of all the things that distinguishes movies from novels I think having a sound track is probably the greatest advantage for movies, and the least appreciated by the average consumer.

Anyway. Eta 36 hours.

The Revised CD-Cover Game

Here are the revised rules to the CD-Cover game. I found it originally on Pedro’s blog, but I had to change them slightly. If anybody else wants to play, let me know – I’d love to see your creations!

The rules:

1. Go to the Wikipedia random article page (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random). The title of the article is your band name. (For a twist, use the Special:Random page of an alternate language version of Wikipedia.)

1. Go to the very last quote on random quotations (www.quotationspage.com/random.php3). The last four words of the last quote are your album title. You may opt to use only three words, if that improves the quote. (For example, I got the quote “To sway an audience, you must watch them as you speak.”, by C. Kent Wright. “Them as you speak” sounds pretty stupid. “As you speak” makes for a much better album title!) You are not allowed to use more than four or less than three words, and you may not change any of them.

1. Go to Flickr’s “interesting photos from the last seven days” page (www.flickr.com/explore/interesting/7days/). Use the first photo that allows you to legally use and modify it (“All rights reserved” is out!). You may have to reload this page multiple times.

Flickr does provide a page that filters for a Creative Commons license (www.flickr.com/creativecommons/), but for our purpose this isn’t very useful: There is little randomness, and the photos include completely useless ones like photos of text. The method in rule#3 is much better, even if it takes a while to find a photo under an appropriate license.

My covers so far:

You’ll find new covers under the CD Covers tag.

Plot-a-Day: Ghost Baby

Here’s another idea for a plot which would work great for both fiction and RPG sessions.

Michael Persinger, a Neuroscientist, investigated a case in which a teenager reported that she received nocturnal visits from ghosts. The scientists were called in at the request of the mother, and determined that a clock close to the girl’s head combined with a mild brain injury she had received as a baby caused the hallucinations. The clocks was removed, and the “visitations” stopped.

The article in the Scientific American goes into greater detail, especially on follow-up experiments designed to determine scientific causes for sightings of the “supernatural”, including experiments to test whether a person who wants to see a ghost is more susceptible to such causes and thus more likely to “see” a ghost.

This would work well in a setting in two ways; you can either take the “ghost baby” story and turn it into an investigation (and, since an electric clock is probably very anticlimactic, you may wish to use the devil / evil spirits / space aliens as the cause), or you could take the scientific experiments in general to kick-start a campaign. The investigators either come to delve into the “true supernatural” (Ghostbusters did it, why not you?) as a consequence of their inquiries or they uncover pranksters or frauds who may even be making a great deal of money off of the unsuspecting. The later works especially well if your players actually do expect ghosts.

NaNoWriMo ETA 3 Days

NaNoWriMo 2008 is almost upon us and I am starting to wonder what the hell I got myself into. Will I really manage to write 1667 words on average each and every day in November? Well we will surely find out… It’ll be interesting, as I am having trouble being creative the last few days, for various reasons that shan’t be discussed on the blog.

Back when I was a teenager, I used to actually write. A lot. Unfortunately twenty years and several problems with my computers mean that I have almost nothing left from those days. Even so, I don’t need to read it again to know that it was pretty much garbage. The difference is that today I recognize the drivel when I put it in a file, and I automatically try to rework it as I do so.

NaNoWriMo forces me to stop doing that. If I don’t, I’ll never complete 50k words. As I spend many hours outlining, I still think “this is nonsense, this wouldn’t happen, this is bad”. But then, after torturing myself for some time over the last three bullet points, I finally tell myself: “It doesn’t have to be good, that is what revisions are for, it just has to get done.”

I had never imagined just how difficult it is to deal with that inner critic. It’s a great lesson, though. After all, isn’t the inner critic also what keeps us from taking chances in other situations?

“Oh, I shouldn’t apply for that job. I doubt I could make it.” And maybe miss out on a good job.

“I shouldn’t talk to that stranger, even though there is a reason to do so. I shouldn’t bother him.” And maybe miss out on an interesting conversation or possibly even a new friend.

“I shouldn’t bother approaching that girl, she’s way out my league.” And maybe miss out on, hey, a whole lot.

I am not saying taking part in NaNoWriMo will make me bother strangers, women, and potential employers afterwards, but in my opinion everything that lets you look at yourself and think about how you deal with the world is a fairly good thing.

As a bonus, I may call myself an “unpublished writer” afterwards.

Now… if you’ll excuse me, I have half a novel to outline, and three and a half days to do it.

Sci-Fi Teaser

Alex posted a science fiction teaser in what looks like it could be one of those Internet memes, except this one is of course for writers and would-be writers.

Since I am not a writer, not really anyway, and I don’t have any completed works to tease from, I decided to create a teaser from scratch. It is about a new setting I am working on and that I may explore in my NaNoWriMo novel instead of what I had originally intended. (It is really an extension of the same theme rather than something completely new, sometimes those ideas that pop up in my mind happen to complement each other rather than compete for attention.)


The atmosphere in the shelter was a mix of tense anticipation and quiet resignation. Some occupants stoically awaited their fate, others whimpered or cried. Luckily nobody had panicked – yet. I kept to myself, sitting on a chair staring at the heavy blast door, wondering what I would experience had I been on the other side.

The radio played music that was decades out of date. It sounded like an automatic transmission that had been designed decades ago during the height of the cold war. There had been no messages after the initial emergency broadcast. Somehow the absence of any human announcer was much spookier than news of the world’s destruction could possibly have been. At least it meant that there was still a radio station, somewhere out there, that had not yet been hit.

Max, the shelter’s owner, kept things organized. He talked to people, introduced himself to those he didn’t know – most of those in the shelter, including me. Max was an older man, at least fifty, and his graying hair and beard gave him a bit of a grandfatherly appearance. He smiled and talked in a calm voice. I don’t know how he managed to be so serene, but then again he was the one who had had the foresight to build a bomb shelter. Even a few hours ago people probably thought of him as “one of those survivalist nuts” and while I am sure he was as devastated as everybody else, a small part of him may have been gleeful that he had been right after all. A kind of Noah, except Max had not hesitated to rescue strangers.

“You doing alright,” a woman to my left asked. I turned around startled. I had been so lost in my thoughts that I had not even noticed that she had pulled up a chair and sat down. She, too, looked straight at the blast door as I had done, imitating me. I studied her for a moment. Dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin. Pretty.

I looked back at the door.

“All things considered.” It sounded not quite as positive as I had hoped.

For a moment neither of us spoke.

“Listen,” she broke the silence. “I am helping Max by making a list of everybody here, so we know who’s who, what jobs they have, and any medical conditions we should know about. Would you please tell me about yourself?”

I couldn’t help but smile because of the unexpected attention. Under other circumstances…

“Sure. Name’s John Sanders. I… don’t have a job right now.” There seemed to be no reason to tell her about my recent legal troubles. It didn’t concern anybody in the shelter, and quite honestly, how could a little theft matter now?

“But what is your training? Maybe we must rely on your skills at some point.”

“I see.” I hadn’t thought her question through. There was too much on my mind. “I am a programmer. Not much help after the EMP fries every bit of electronics out there, I am afraid. Had first aid training, but that was a long, long time ago.”

I turned again, this time to find her looking at me. Yes, she was beautiful.

“I have two hands,” I shrugged. “Tell me how I can help, and I will. I can carry things, cook without poisoning us, and clean the bathroom. Whatever.”

She made some notes on her clipboard while I spoke.

“Thanks,” she said and stood up.

“Could I ask you something?”

“Yes?”

“What is your name?”

“Artemis.”

I didn’t have a chance to follow up on that. The radio stopped playing that very moment. Then the lights went out, except for the reddish emergency lighting.

Two minutes later a pattern of tiny cracks in the walls began to glow a brilliant blue.


I am not sure I am eligible to join the evil writers’ club just yet but were I a writer, that is something I’d strive for.

We get better at what we do with lots of practice so feedback is, as always, appreciated – this explicitly includes corrections on spelling and grammar, as I am not a native English speaker.

CreativeCommons Video

Creative Commons is an easy way for authors to license their content to others, in an attempt to encourage sharing of culture. The following video explains it very well:

I’ve always been a fan of this – I believe everybody should have the right to be compensated for their work – and if it’s only attribution at the most basic level – but I also believe in sharing and working together with others to create greater works.

I’ve taken this opportunity to license my wallpapers under a CC license, as promised. And future works published will also be licensed similarly – I just do not feel that I should set a CC license for every single blog posting. But maybe we’ll get there some day as well.

(Video via Joi Ito.)

Thoughts about Natural Resources on Arnâron

Arnâron is an old world. It is no longer controlled by a global civilization but rather a couple of smaller nations that survive here and there.

A planet’s natural resources are not infinite. We witness this in the “real world” – after the rise of energy prices, Peak Oil is probably the best-known example, but there are also fears that other materials may run out, for example copper. A civilization will use up all the available resources over the course of its history, and either adapt when shortages occur, or die.

However, the civilization of Arnâron was destroyed prematurely by external causes. The receding coastlines also made additional deposits available for exploitation; the oceans contain a wealth of materials that are hard to extract. But once the oceans dry up, all these additional deposits become available for exploitation.

For these reasons I can set the remaining resource levels rather arbitrarily – the world likely would not suffer from material shortages. The main problem would be one of location. In the searing heat of the desert, a rich mine may as well be nonexistent if it is located far away from canals or trade routes, as traveling overland on arbitrary routes is extremely difficult due to the hostile climate.

Water

Water, something we often take for granted, is a critical supply on Arnâron. People survive where they can find water, and the dry deserts are abandoned and hostile to life.

In some areas, open water remains – due to rivers which run into the few remaining “oceans”. Canals help to feed the remaining oceans, and transport water over long distances into regions where no free water would otherwise exist. Wells are also used to irrigate stretches of the desert, and to provide drinking water to the people.

Most open surface water on Arnâron is slightly saline; the sources of the water (melt ice from the poles, rivers) is sweet water, but there remains a lot of salt from the dried-up oceans. Where water is saline, it is desalinated before being used for irrigation or consumption.

Food

Food is always in short supply. Where water exists, it is used for irrigation – food output in these regions will be high, but it is limited – Arnâron is not able to sustain a massive population, and droughts will result in severe famines and may very well shift the local balance of power. Cattle requires a lot of grazing land, so meat is expensive. Fish is available near rivers and the remaining oceans, but will also be expensive due to limited supplies. Many people live on a purely vegetarian diet.

Local rulers always attempt to control food supplies tightly, either to ensure that they and the military get the lion’s share, or that food is distributed “fairly”. Poaching and illegal fishing are problems in some areas, and are usually sanctioned with harsh penalties.

Salt, incidentally, is fairly worthless – dried up seas have left more salt than anybody could want. However, spices of all kinds are expensive trade commodities.

Cloth and Leather

Due to Arnâron’s status as a desert world, organic materials are relatively rare and expensive. There are forests, and where possible the people of Arnâron do cultivate and protect them – knowing very well that deforestation would only hasten the fate of their world.

Cotton, flax, and hemp are grown next to food crops, and are the main materials used for textiles. Wool, leather, furs and pelts are the byproduct of domesticating animals, and in areas where wild animals survive, hunt. Silk is a luxury cloth, available only to important rulers and very rich individuals.

Metals

Metals of all kinds are used for items of every day use, for construction, and for weaponry. Depending on local conditions, items that can be made from metal rather than from an organic material will be made from metal.

The main problem with obtaining metals is to find a source that can be easily reached – ideally by a canal, otherwise with a caravan route. There are many deposits and ancient mines all over Arnâron that could yield large amounts of materials, but which are inaccessible due to their location deep in the hostile deserts.

Ancient cities and battlefields are routinely scavenged for metals and other materials, and are mostly stripped bare. Metals are also easy to recycle, so that an unwanted or even broken metal object will always fetch some money on local markets.

Energy

Energy production on Arnâron is mostly from renewable energy sources – water and wind, but also solar energy, in a primitive way. Solar cells are no longer manufactured, but solar energy is used to heat up water, for example.

Wood is burned where needed, for example by the hordes, caravans or travelers, as it can often be recovered locally and other ways to heat oneself in the cold desert nights are not readily available.

Slaves and beasts of burden are another source of power. Since both require food to sustain, their use depends on local conditions. However, captured enemy soldiers or criminals that are not executed are almost always put to work – they need to be fed, and the captors thus see little reason not to recuperate the expense in food in some way.