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Posts from December 2007

So it's 2008 now, and I think it's going to be a many-headed hydra*, but not all those heads will be spewing fire. Some will be friendly and fruitful. Here's what 2008 will bring in my universe. What the rest of the planet will experience, I can only wait. *I definitely won't quit with the metaphors this year.

  • My first novel, The Darkwood Mask, comes out in March. And check it out, the Random House released the cover on the book page. It's....amazing. Michael Komarck didn't disappoint in the slightest. The guy's a genius.

  • Begin my next writing project. Immediately. Which is great. But I can't talk about it just yet. More importantly, I intend to use this year to establish a writing regime. When writing The Darkwood Mask (for which I was given a generous deadline), I was all over the place; writing when I could find the time and that's all. No routine. I won't let it be that way this year. And I will carry around my master files for this next endeavor on the 2-gig USB flash drive below (the one on the right). There's some oddly antiquated about that, I know, like some throwback to typed manuscripts of yesteryear. But I rather like it.

  • Get myself into better physical shape. Seriously, I need to get moving again. I'm giving myself until GenCon (9 months) to really get to the point where I feel good and healthy. I'll be damned if I go into my early 30s feeling less than optimal. I'm not thinking of this as a New Year's resolution so much as hitting the RESET button. It's easier to attach the "starting over" notion with a momentous date like the beginning of the year.
  • Watching with interest what Josh Wentz is cooking up over at Sidedown. He's going back into full, self-employed mode and intends to revamp his site and his business (Sidedown.com). The Sidedown Monograph #2 had some teasers about this.

  • Watching with interest what my brother's new business, Very Us Artists, cooks up. 2008 both begins and ends with VUA in full swing. Right now they've got out a prototype album and a first full-fledged album. The next one, The Future Is Now, will be out in February.

  • Get my wife to start contributing to this website with posts of her own. We'll see what happens.

What's your 2008 intentions? Anything on the horizon? Talk to me!

posted on 12.31.2007

For you gamers out there, WotC put up another On the Set of 4th Edition movie. I don't think it's on YouTube yet, so only members of D&D Insiders can see it just now. As mean as it is the poor, unsung gnome, it is funny.

The recently released Races and Classes book talks about some of the changes to the core races and classes of the game. Some of it's intriguing, some cool, and some a bit scary. For example (if you're not a gamer geek, the following won't make much sense to you):

  • Humans, generally speaking, are horse-riding, plains-dwelling folk. Which seems odd to me, given the diversity humans normally represent in the game. They're sort of an orphan race, the god that created them having been murdered somewhere in their mythology.
  • Elves have been split into three 'species': What was once wood elves are now simply elves, forest-dwelling, wild folk; what were once high or gray elves are now eladrin, a magical race who dwell in the Feywild, 4th Edition's version of the world of Faerie; and of course drow, which seem relatively unchanged. Elves seem to have a lot shorter lifespan now.
  • Dwarves, among others, have lost their darkvision.
  • As the video above illustrates, the tiefling is now a core race, and for the time has bumped the gnome off the list. I have mixed feelings about this. But in time the gnome will return in some other release so I'm not as concerned for the long run.
  • A new race, the dragonborn, have appeared. They look a bit like DragonLance's draconians, but they're meant to be more accessible to players.
  • Halflings are now water- and marsh-dwelling river folk. I think that's a bit extreme. I know WotC wants to distance halflings from the Hobbits they came from, but maybe they're being oversensitive to this fact?
  • Half-orcs, half-elves...will these even appear in the initial release of 4th edition? No word on that.
  • Paladins will no longer be restricted to the Lawful Good alignment. Now there can be evil paladins. Another shame. The origin of the paladin comes from Charlemagne's knights; heroic, noble champions. That's what they were. I'm all for re-imagining, but I'd rather they find new ways to portray the classic chivalric holy knight than completely redfine it.
  • Warlord is a new class. The concept is fine, but I think it's an odd name for a core class. Might as well name a class General.

I'm not a nay-sayer of 4th Edition; in fact, I'm more optimistic than most. But I generally dislike 4th Edition's proclivity for "what looks cool right now" over what makes a better, longstanding setting.

One thing I can't help but think about: how does the new version of D&D affect the novels? When rules of the world change, as well as the magic system, and new races appear, how does that affect the campaign worlds and their fiction? It should be interesting.

posted on 12.27.2007

A couple days ago my brother informed me that the moon would be at its brightest on Christmas Eve, and will not be as bright again until another 16 years have passed. There was unfortunately a lot of cloud cover from my part of the planet, but I took a snapshot of the moon anyway where it floated nearly overhead.

So what makes the moon appear so bright? It didn't technically glow any brighter, but it was rising at an angle to the Equator such that more light shines directly down onto smaller portions of ground.

At the same time, Mars was also visible to the naked eye and unusually bright because it was in 'opposition,' aligned with the Earth and directly opposite the Sun. It was obscured by cloud on the 24th, but it was clear and bright the day before and also appeared very close to the moon. If you get a chance, look for our friendly neighborhood Red Planet; it'll be faintly visible for another couple months. It's slightly orange-ish compared to the stars around it. This is the Astronomy Picture of the Day's photo of the moon and Mars together.

It's natural for spiritual-minded people to draw big parallels with our everyday lives and these celestial alignments, but I won't. They're just some of the Creator's awesome creations riding their own currents, and sometimes we get an evening show out of it.

posted on 12.25.2007

Maybe it's the strange time of the year or maybe it's Mike Oldfield's Light + Shade that I was listening to, but it's been an odd and introspective day today. The Friday before Christmas. Lots of people in Manhattan have already begun their extended holidays, yet the streets are still swarming with shoppers. People, in this city and I suspect on this planet in general, are such a mixture of cluelessly selfish and randomly kind. It continues to strike me. The rat race mentality that this city engenders is exactly what it seems like in the movies and on TV, but there are plenty of exceptions you non-New Yorkers will never know.

2007 was a pretty good year in my world, but I think 2008 might be better. But it will be a year, I think, of change. But not on New Year's Day.

I also hope you have a peaceable Christmas of considerable levity and a safe New Year.

posted on 12.21.2007

Presenting Part 2 of Hollycast, a collection of alternative Christmas songs and some fun little movie excerpts. Check it out. Another 45 minutes of unusual holiday cheer.

Hollycast Part 2. Download it or play it here:

Here's some more Christmas Carol thoughts:

  • "We Three Kings" - The Bible never specified that there were three kings; it only cited three specific gifts (presumably among others) offered by the Magi.
  • "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" - Figgy pudding is a medieval spiced porridge which is more cake than pudding and was very difficult to prepare; it either came out wonderfully solid or a soggy mess. The Cratchit family has figgy pudding in A Christmas Carol.
  • "The Christmas Song" - This song seems not to wish "merry Christmas" to people 93 years or older. That's kind of messed up. Perhaps Mel Tormé and Bob Wells, its writers, didn't anticipate our increasing life expectancies?
  • "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" - Like "Winter Wonderland," this song makes no reference to Christmas, though it's considered a Christmas carol. Also, why does the singer encourage snow when he also considers the weather outside to be frightful?
posted on 12.18.2007

I suspect most people who visit my website aren't necessarily music-loving fans. (They're probably friends of mine or maybe--just maybe--they're fans of fantasy fiction.) But I am (big time), and I like telling people about good music.

Josh Wentz, friendly-neighborhood Webwright and musician, can churn out music like you wouldn't believe. Generally it's atmospheric, sometimes ambient, music and it's almost always excellent accompaniment to writing (hence my compounded interest). And so he's just put up a winter EP (mini-album) called Wonderland over at his INDISTR page and you can buy it for $3 if you're interested. Or even just go stream one of the songs, "Overnight Coach," for free over at Sidedown today! Do it!

Josh makes a harpsichord seem like it belongs to winter. I'd never have thought. But all in all, Wonderland adds a clear and melodic, sometimes mournful, note to the season. I'd really recommend it, and I'm not just saying that because he's one of my oldest friends. Promise.

Also, he's just been interviewed on the INDISTR site. A refreshing perspective. Read it here.

posted on 12.17.2007

Ever wonder who the heck Parson Brown is? And what's so hot about Farmer Gray that everyone wants to attend a birthday party at his place? I can tell you. Well, mostly.

See, it's that month where holiday songs (mostly Christmas carols) are playing in every store across the country. I'm guessing about half of you out there are already sick of them, especially since many of them started before Thanksgiving.

Here's the thing. I like Christmas music, even though there are plenty of crappy songs out there. I'm fascinated by the fact that there's a few dozen songs floating about the airwaves that seeminglyeveryone knows the words to. No other musician or artist is like that. Do you like U2? Great, so do millions of other people (including me), but not everyone does. Can you sing along to the most current pop songs? Good for you, but I can't. I don't like most of them. But Christmas carols? Like them or not, we all probably know most of the lyrics to most of them. We never had a say in that. I think that's...interesting about our culture.

So here's my take on it. If you've got to listen to them every year, why not at least give alternate versions a chance? Shake it up a little. Personally, I'm a little tired of Brenda Lee's version of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride." Don't know who they are? Neither did I, until I looked them up, but you've heard them about a zillion times. They're the same ones every radio station and every retail store plays. (It should be noted that my wife likes most the traditional ones; I may be alone in this! While I search for goth versions of popular Christmas songs, she's just as happy playing Dolly Parton's.)

Toward this end, I've curated the next two episodes of Sidedown's Downcast, which I've called Hollycast. It's 45 minutes of alternate Christmas songs, some funny, some serious, all guaranteed to be different than what you're used to! With some fun bits thrown in. Please, enjoy!

Hollycast Part 1. Right-click and download the mp3, or just play it right here off this page:

Christmas carols are pretty strange, though. We sing them but we don't usually think too much about them or what they're saying. Some of them are strange, quite far removed from modern thinking. Here's some trivia for you:

  • "Winter Wonderland" - Not technically a Christmas song at all, though it's certainly winter-themed. It's actually a love song of sorts with a snub toward authority by not waiting to be married to act married. Really listen to the lyrics and you'll hear it. "In the meadow we can build a snowman / Then pretend that he is Parson Brown / He'll say 'Are You Married?' We'll say 'No man, but you can do the job when you're in town!" A parson is a sort of wandering Protestant minister (pastor) who conducts wedding ceremonies, and Parson Brown is evidently a known parson from wherever this wintery stroll is taking place. Then: "Later on, we'll conspire / As we dream by the fire / To face, unafraid, the plans that we've made / Walking in a winter wonderland." Later on the same day, still unmarried. Innnnteresting.
  • "Sleigh Ride" - No one knows who Farmer Gray is. I guess he's just everybody's favorite farmer and brews a mean eggnog. Who the heck knows?
  • "Jingle Bells" - There's another verse to the original song, in which the narrator takes a ride on a sleigh with a girl and they careen into a snowbank and fall down (or get drunk, depending on your chosen definition of "upsot"). Oh, and a bob-tail is a horses's tail clipped short so it wouldn't risk tangling in the carriage it pulls. Poor horse.
  • "The Twelve Days of Christmas" - The first seven of the twelve gifts involved birds (it has been surmised that the gold rings refer to rings around a bird's neck). What's up with that? And it's supposed to be four "collie" or "colly" birds—not four "calling birds"—which are black birds. What's up with this gift-giver?

More trivia for you next week with Part 2 of Hollycast!

posted on 12.10.2007

This is seriously one of the best times of the year. While most of my fellow New Yorkers complain about the cold and hide indoors, I relish the need to put on gloves and a scarf. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to be frozen; but it's so much easier to get warm than to cool off.

These images accurately represent my weekend. A trip upstate to upstate New York turned into a side-trip to Vermont, where we were caught in the sudden snowstorm. Our car had some trouble exiting the state, but it was worth it for the scenery alone. And we even snagged a Vermont Christmas tree (a balsam fir, smells awesome) while we were up there and carried it all the way back to New York. The Vermontians thought we'd come all the way up just for the tree.

Anyway, this is how winter is done, people. This is what December should be. That's all I have to say about that.

posted on 12.03.2007