Happy premiere week. Unwell is a go. At long last, the project we have been working on for…a year and a half? Two years? Whatever, it is finally going out into the world and is getting great buzz. (Look at me, saying buzz like a person who says things like “buzz” in a media context.) So by all means, go check out this completely slice of life family drama with absolutely no ghosts or supernatural elements at all I swear.
So whether you know me personally, follow me on the interwebs, pass me on the street, or just randomly hear a disembodied voice on digital recordings that sounds sort of familiar, you are aware by now that my script "Monstruos" was selected to be part of the 10th Annual Deathscribe Radio Play Festival.
That's not what this post is about.
This post is about failure.
So, something like five-ish years ago Ele Matelan joined the Our Fair City team as Cassandra Wilkins. Ele was a member of WildClaw Theatre, a horror theatre company in Chicago, and wasted no time in spreading spurious rumors of some radio play festival that they held every year. Now, it was a while before I clued in on this, because...I'm me and as with everyone I meet, it took me about a year before I actually talked to her, but I was quickly in on this whole "Deathscribe" thing. After all, I had been writing radio plays for years now. It was sort of "my thing."
And so, I entered my first Deathscribe. One of my scripts was an idea I had been waiting to use for one of HartLife's Halloween episodes. The other was something I came up with about a week before the deadline to submit, a funny little riff on Poe called "The Crypt of Arabella Dodd." I sent those off into the ether and waited to hear their fate.
Neither got in.
I was...a little upset. Not too bad, though. Within days, I was already planning for next year's competition. In fact, I had two really great stories in mind. Also, Deathscribe had made me realize that there was an entire world of radio plays and audio dramas out there beyond Our Fair City. Arabella Dodd soon found herself a place in The Whiskey Radio Hour and I started working on that second future Deathscribe idea for a scriptwriting competition that David Rheinstrom told me about from a program called Midnight Audio Theatre. Eventually, that would become "Last Transmission."
Months passed. The call for the next Deathscribe came in and I was ready. I had spent the entire year planning this script. I carefully wrote and revised it over the course of months. This was my baby. It was the best radio script I had ever written, maybe even the best thing I had written period. Everything I had done: all of Our Fair City, working on this stupid book draft that no agent wanted, all of it culminated in this script. It was my A game. The very best I could do.
And it was rejected.
This time I was UPSET. I had given it my all: everything I had, all of it. There was nothing else. If THIS couldn't get in...what was the point? It would never happen. Nothing I could possibly write would ever be good enough. Friends tried to talk me down, but...I wasn't sure if I would EVER write for Deathscribe again. It was hopeless. Every year there would be more and more submissions. If my very, VERY best couldn't get in now...nothing would.
Time passed. I went to see Deathscribe, to support my friends involved with the performance, but I couldn't ACTUALLY enjoy it. After that, I went on about my business doing Our Fair City, submitting to Midnight Audio Theatre, not with my Deathscribe piece (too many characters) but another that I had originally written for Valenhigh before that production imploded or didn't or whatever happened with that. Finally May and June came around and the cry went up for Deathscribe.
I still wasn't sure I wanted to submit. The hopelessness had lessened, but it was still there. However, sometimes being a writer...you don't get to choose. Neil Gaiman (not to compare myself to Neil Gaiman), but he once described being offered the chance to submit to anthologies where a person says "Hey, we'd like you to write a piece about Shakespeare and cats." To which he responds, "No, absolutely not. What would that even look like?" And then two days later he calls back to say he'll have the story for them in a month. That's what this was. I had told myself I PROBABLY wouldn't do Deathscribe. But my brain started working on stories I MIGHT submit anyway. Eventually, I decided to do it. At the very least, I reasoned, I would have something to submit to Midnight Audio Theatre again this year. One was a piece about two plague doctors, because...plague doctors. The other was...very unlike what I normally write. People I sent it to remarked on how unlike me it was. They weren't sure if they liked it (whereas they loved the other piece.)
Again...I was rejected. This time it didn't hurt as much. I was expecting it. Deathscribe, much like my query letters to agents, was a thing to submit, but not something I expected anything to come of. In the e-mail, it was clear that the piece my readers didn't like, the unJim one, had made it further in the consideration than the other. The problem is, that script was horrific. It was dark and brutal. I wrote it specifically for Deathscribe and didn't (and don't) think it could live outside this one competition. So into the special desktop folder it went. The other I sent off to Midnight Audio Theatre again to become "The Plague Song.".
Which brings us to this year. THE YEAR. There is nothing special about it. I wrote my scripts out of habit...because Deathscribe is the thing I write for, don't get into, and then re-purpose. The only difference between what I've written above and now is the utter crap show the world has become. Both my pieces served to vent my anger and frustration and hopelessness in ways I don't normally indulge in. But beyond that, I did my typical routine: write the pieces, ask a few select readers for notes, send them in, get rejected, be upset for a little bit, and then move on..
Only this time there wasn't rejection. This time...a piece got in.
But that's not what this story is about.
This story is about failure.
This story is about failing at the one thing you do best, the thing that defines you, the thing that gives you your sense of self and sense of worth. This is about being rejected when you've put everything you have onto the page, your very best, your A-game and still coming up short. This is about thinking you suck, that nothing you do will ever be good enough, that you just CAN'T EVER. This is about complaining and whining and brooding and venting until that wound from putting yourself out there, from exposing yourself, heals or at the very least, scars over.
And then its about sitting down and doing it all over again.
Because that's what it takes. That's how you succeed. You send out fifty letters to agents and when fifty nos roll in, you send out fifty more. You submit to a contest and when that doesn't pan out, you submit to another. And another. And you keep trying. You keep writing. And maybe it works out. You play the numbers.
And as I write this I don't want you (or me) to think that I'm completely well-adjusted now, that I've had some kind of epiphany, that I on this high horse of writerly knowledge know what I'm talking about. Someday soon, I will face disappointment. Maybe next Deathscribe (though I hope now that I've gotten in once...I can at least chill out a bit), but more likely some other goal I set. Something that I think I deserve or am a shoe in for or just REALLY want. And I will be rejected. And I will moan and complain and vent to friends. I will feel hopeless, like I suck and nothing I do is a worth a damn. And I will feel that way for a little bit and then, when the pain has dulled, I hope I will do that same thing again. And probably again.
Because that's how you succeed. That is how you write.
It's the most wonderful time...of the year....
The werewolves are hairy
The ghosts very scary
To fill you with fear
Tis October, ghasts and ghouls, AKA Halloween. (Seriously, the entire month is just Halloween. Let's rename it. It's not like "OCTober" makes sense for the TENTH month of the year...Thanks O'Caesars.)
Now, this may come as a bit of a shock to you, but I am a fan of Halloween. I always have been. Since the days of heading over to Mr. Simpsons house at the end of a spookily wooded driveway to the party where there was always a mountain of candy in the middle of the room and black and white monster movies on the TV. Since the days of checking out the orange-covered children's book on Halloween from the elementary school library over and over and over again. (Or also the orange-covered Universal monster movie books from the public library. Somewhere in time, Child Jim is very confused why Murders in the Rue Morgue was considered a monster movie. It was just an orangutan. It wasn't even giant.) Needless to say, Halloween is my special favorite.
And so I want to share with you a newer tradition, one that hits me in the scares and the reads. It is called All Hallow's Read. Here's one Mister Neil Gaiman to explain it:
Now, I've attempted to get my friends to partake in this tradition with me for a number of years without any luck. The one time it succeeded was when I just said "Screw it" and bought people books. But financially, that's not really feasible for me right now, so I will instead put out some potential suggestions for you, the internet person, to check out whether by purchase or library or tracking me down and saying, "Hey, can I borrow that book from you?" (To which, I will respond "Yes! Yes! Here! Now get me out of this bear trap!")
Let's face it. You knew this one was coming. And you knew it for the same reason, I'm recommending this book.
I love the miniseries. I love this Barlow. He's terrifying and monstrous and wonderful. And so I had to read the book. And the book is just as good. This is, as Stephen King put it, what if Dracula didn't go to a modern city like London or New York, but stayed among the sleepy New England towns, towns that another King antagonist pointed out, "Know how to keep their secrets." It plays straight with its vampire lore. When they realize ALL they have to do to defeat Barlow, you like the characters realize just how impossible your victory may be. The good guys are not assured victory. And there's also the Marsten House, an evil separate than Barlow, an entity in and of itself.
Another vampire tale. Huh. Imagine that.
I heart Mike Mignola. He's a wonderful mythological storyteller. This is one of several collaborations between him and Christopher Golden and by far the best. The premise: WW1 has ground to a halt due to the "plague" that Lord Baltimore accidentally awoke on the battlefield one night. Since that time, he has dedicated himself to the extermination of evil, but also to tracking down the scarred vampire who has destroyed his life. Three men arrive in a city at Lord Baltimore's request. As they wait for their friend to arrive each tells two tales: one, a story of their association with Baltimore and what he saw and the second an encounter of their own that led them to believe him. Set up in the classic style of The Canterbury Tales, each story is different and mythic in the sense of old storytelling, where each one seems to occupy its own world and doesn't connect neatly with each other and that's okay.
I will say, this one is not for everyone. There are long slogs of narration prose in this book, but if you can stick it out, I think its highly worth it.
(If you want something a little shorter or really love Baltimore and want more Mignola Golden goodness, maybe take a look at Father Gaetano's Puppet Catechism.)
Oh and speaking of not for everyone...
I could put down any number of classics on this list--Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde--but you already know those. You've already read those. How about something NO ONE knows about? Unless of course they read the same "listicle" a few years ago that I did about how there are no classic werewolf novels. Here's an attempt...Alexandre Dumas, yes THAT Alexandre Dumas, wrote a werewolf story once upon a time. It's not your typical werewolf story either, no sad eyed Larry Talbot's here. This is old-fashioned werewolf morality tale in the vein of the Grimm Brothers or other fairy tales. Again, this one is a bit of a challenge--it is OLD literature (Most people forget that a fair portion of The Three Muskateers is them being given letters of introduction so that other people will give them money or stuff) but hey, it too is fairly short and if you get through it, you TOO can brag to your friends "Oh hey, did you know the Count of Monte Cristo guy wrote a werewolf book? Yeah, I've read it."
Also Reads: In the, DID YOU KNOW: suggestions, Louisa May Alcott wrote a short story called "Lost in a Pyramid; or The Mummy's Curse." I haven't read it, but hey...an unexpected story from a literary titan to brag about.
Lizzie Bordon takes on the eldritch horrors of the Cthulhu mythos. DO NOT BE FOOLED. This isn't Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. There is no flipping in the air with an ax to do away with monsters. There are however characters you care about and deep-seeded dread and corruption and madness. Everything is dealt with seriously and with the proper amount of horror by those experiencing it. Both this and the sequel Chapelwood live up to the best Lovecraftian stories.
If you are perhaps in the mood for a little lighter fare, how about the story of a snarky necromancer? Of a similar tone to another book YOU MAY BE FAMILIAR WITH this is a novel series that delves into necromancy, vampires, werewolves, devils, steam punk, and love craft always with a bit of foot note sarcasm and a tongue safely, but not TOO firmly placed near its cheek.
Not enough for you? Well how about seeking/helping out some NEW horror. Inkshares, the company that brought you "Me" is holding a horror writing contest. Nearly 100 authors currently have books for you to peruse and pre-order. The Top 3 will be published, but all have a chance to put a tale of terror in your hands. (Including my fellow Our Fair City writer Mark Soloff. You can find his book The Silent Scream of Melania Trump, a satirical send up of horror, samurai fantasy, and politics, HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERE.)
Anyway, that's it from me (except that my reading list is currently The Strain Book 2: The Fall, to be followed by either Annihilation or Lovecraft Country). I better get back to REAL writing instead of this blogging crap.
*Vincent Price Cackle*
If I may, I'd like to take you back to a time long ago, a time of myth and legend, when the ancient gods were petty and cruel. This was a time when the Marvel Cinematic Universe consisted entirely of Iron Man, Nick Fury, and the Edward Norton Hulk. Bow ties were not cool. Sherlock Holmes was strictly 19th century. No one knew about Game of Thrones (except for you, because we get it, you were sooooo cool). Some nerdy ass voice actors had not yet played their first D&D session. There were no Black Tapes, no We're Alive, no Night Vale. The Thrilling Adventure Hour was something you had to be in L.A. to enjoy.
I had never even heard of "podcasts."
It was 2009: a different time, a different age. An age of Gargoyles.
I had been in Chicago less than a year. I still said "oofta" from my time in Minnesota and did not yet slur the "rs" on words like "doors" and "bears." I was an actor first and writer a diiiiiiiistant second. I was right in the middle of my Second City Conservatory classes, the reason I had moved to the city in the first place. (My parents kept trying to talk me into going back to school and getting my masters, because "DePaul is right there," but I wasn't interested. Second City would be my graduate school.) I knew exactly four people, all of whom had moved down from Minneapolis at the same time I had. Of those four, I hung out with exactly one of them: the one I lived with. I didn't have a Twitter. I wasn't on Facebook. I didn't even text. My phone still flipped. Also I had hair, lots of it.
At the time, I was barely employed, my only gig being a temporary position as a professional wizard at a science museum. I will reiterate...I was paid by a SCIENCE MUSEUM to talk about MAGIC. While waiting in the Hogwarts Express closet for the next group, I would jot down a word or two in a notebook about a silly vampire story. I had written maybe forty pages over the course of two years. I had not yet lost that notebook.
My manager at the museum, Clayton, had an idea for a show about a frozen post-apocalypse run by an insurance company. He gathered a couple of the professional wizards and a few others to work on it with him. The plan was to put a bunch of scenes together and do staged readings at a bar or something. We could do like a full two hour episode once a month or every other month. We were going to ask another wizard, Tara Jenkins, to read all the stage directions, so that people knew what was happening. To be a Narrator of sorts. Tara was engaged to someone named Ryan Schile. I didn't know this. Again, I am shy and don't talk to people.
The first episode was going to start with a scene of a guy hauling dead bodies out onto the tundra. He would muse to some apprentice about the dangers of all the corpses that were exposed on the barren tundra rising from the dead to inflict terrible revenge for this treatment. After that there was a scene in which our main character, a young, good guy named Nathan Rourke, yelled at his guidance counselor about his identity variance scores.
Ansel had written a piece about a poop cowboy, the Sharp Chuter, Neal Henderson, who was trying to convince his superiors that the storms out in the fields were getting worse. Neal was out of air for his protective bubble, he'd used it to save his own life the night four of his coworkers drowned. Frank had created an organ harvesting cult run by a man named Lazarus who took parts of his followers to keep himself alive. Those followers who survived became saints, like Saint Jimmy, Saint Sarah the Sightless, and poor old near Saint Nick (a near saint because he'd died). I really liked the idea and wanted to create a skinless assassin who truly believed in Lazarus's messianic message. Also, the doctor who did the organ transplants was a corporate spy named Caligari. We had asked an older guy who was a wizard with us to read the role.
I had two scenes in this first episode. One was a little sketch in which molepeople argued about whether antpeople existed. The other CONFIRMED that antpeople existed as they attacked the underground train with Nathan aboard. As it was going to be a reading, I put lots of jokes into the stage directions including ones where they seemed to be directly addressing or thwarting the character. It was funny and definitely wouldn't work if the episode had sound effects. No, it definitely should have...that is to say, WOULD have to be rewritten if sound effects were involved.
There was also some talk about introducing the character of Herbert West. West was from those H. P. Lovecraft stories I had started reading a year or two before. The second episode would likely be about him, but we might introduce him at the end of the first. He would walk into Al's Bar, set a head on the counter, and say, "A big one for me and a small one for my friend here."
We threw the scenes together into a kind of narrative structure that we liked. At some point, the museum guy and the Skype guy disappeared. The next step was Jeffrey and Clayton finding a venue to do the readings. We went off to our lives and waited for them to call.
Months passed. Nothing happened. Like so many other "Hey, let's get people we know together and do a thing" projects, it had fallen through. I was disappointed. I had liked working on something that different, where we could be as weird as we wanted to and not have to worry about budget or believability or other b words. Also, I rarely get asked to do things. But that was that. It would never see the light of day. Our Fair City was dead on arrival.
This Saturday, August the 12th, 2017, Our Fair City will be launching its eighth and final season. Well over a hundred people have worked on it in some fashion--whether they were actors for a live show, sound designers, sound effects (babies and dogs count), board members, set designers, party designers, DJs, food creators, artists for comics, artists for episodes, or any number of other things that were not in my purview. We have had over a million downloads. We have won awards. (Though not yet for sound design…hint, hint.)
We have told a story.
I have written, in whole or in part, forty-three episodes of Our Fair City. This does include the non-canonical Herbert West v. The Martians and a riff on A Christmas Carol, but does not include a few scripts that were cut or otherwise went unused. Perhaps more importantly, I’m seven for seven on “seasons with a vomit gag” soon to be eight for eight. Trust me, it’s suuuper important. I wrote pieces for each of the comic anthologies and served as story editor for the last three, working with Dann Tincher and all the writers to make sure scripts were (relatively) on time, made canonical sense, and didn't use the wrong they're. Of the seven launch parties, I probably spent just over an hour attending them. Combined. Mostly so I could win “The Shards of Betsey” in a silent auction. My apologies for anyone who tried to talk to me while I wallflowered.
I am technically an actor on the show too, but that has never been as important to me as being acknowledged for the writing. I am a writer first and actor not at all. I have, in fact, mastered the art of writing. At least, that’s what DePaul University said when they gave me a piece of paper and a silly hat. (My parents were proud, almost like they planned it.)
These days, I mostly write radio plays and audio drama scripts. Three have been chosen by the Midnight Audio Theatre to be produced. One appeared at the Whiskey Radio Hour. I still haven't gotten into Deathscribe, but I keep trying. There are a lot just sitting on my desktop waiting to be made. (That's a hint radio people reading this. Take it.)
I also write novels. One has been published. If you're reading this you've probably heard of it. It's a silly story about a vampire. It is also on audible so you can listen to it on your phone or iPod while you're stuck in traffic. I'm working on another that I started during grad school. It's not silly, but does have monsters. I really should be writing that instead of this.
I have not yet started to miss Our Fair City: the crazy world of HartLife with its molepeople, mad science, and corporate jargon. It hasn’t yet sunk in. Maybe I’m distracted by looking forward to everyone’s reactions. Maybe it’s because I’m too busy with and nervous about working with the team on the post Our Fair City show. The "Next Big Thing" people call it. I hate that name. It seems presumptuous. I'm afraid it will jinx us. I prefer To Be Determined. We've brainstormed. We've reached out to writers. We've pieced together part of an overarching story. We've even set up a small time table for when we'll start working on season one. It is not nearly soon enough for me.
I don't really know how to end this. I mean, I could get all sentimental "without Our Fair City, I wouldn't be the person I am today." True, but ugh! Barf! Not my style at all. I suppose the only thing to do is to press save, send this off, and get back to work writing.
Greetings from a post-Academia world from this your new Master.
Now that I have won writing and all that sweet, sweet George R. R. Martin money is on its way (I can recycle as many jokes from Twitter as I want to, now that I'm a master), I shall soon find myself with plenty of time on my hands, so I figure I'd update ye olde blogge and let the two of you who care know what to expect in the near future.
First of all, I didn't just walk across the stage and get handed an empty diploma holder for my health. I'm coming out of this program with two short stories that I'll be revisiting shortly and and a new novel that's in revision.
In two weeks, I'll be returning to HartLife studios to begin work on the post Our Fair City show, whatever that may turn out to be. Will it involve this weird statue in England? Maybe. Who knows. (Probably.)
Beyond that, there is Deathscribe, the annual horror radio play festival and perennial rejecter of my scripts to submit to. One piece is in revision, the other needs to be written. Will Deathscribe X (in SPACE!!!) be my year? Will I get weird space armor and kill the cast of the Kevin Sorbo vehicle Andromeda? Will you submit to Deathscribe and rob me, yet again, of a slot causing me to devolve into some sort of feral wolf-creature who will stalk you in the night? Only one way to find out.
Beyond that there's the Lovecraftian audio drama I've been meaning to write.
And the space mystery audio drama I've been meaning to write.
And the superhero audio drama I've been meaning to revise and submit.
And what ever happened to those "children book" scripts.
Oh and hey, where did this mountain of books come from?
Basically, now that I'm done writing taking copy-editing test and writing papers on the nature of truth in Arthurian Romance, I can get back to all that other stuff that I've wanted to do, talked about doing, thought about doing, but darnit, look at the time. Can't do that. Also I can go back to the gym. And apply for writing jobs.
But most importantly, you may call me Master now.
News from the world of audio drama for which, I feel, I must dress appropriately...
My latest radio play "The Plague Song" has been named a winning submission in this year's Midnight Audio Theatre Scriptwriting Competition. Which means sometime in the next year you will be treated to a tale of plague and intrigue and other "-gue" words. Prepare your WebMD searches appropriately.
Speaking of Midnight Audio Theatre, my winning submission from last year "The Fairy Wood" has finally aired. Listen to it and learn you should not just believe in fairies; you should fear them.
WHO SAID IT?
Donald J. Trump, President of the United States
Jesus H. Christ, Christ
QUESTION 1: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."
QUESTION 2: “The other thing with the terrorists, you have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.”
QUESTION 3: “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.”
QUESTION 4: "Nasty woman."
QUESTION 5: "I gave millions of dollars...raised or received millions more, ALL of which is given to charity, and media won't report!
QUESTION 6: "When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others."
Question 7: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.”
Question 8: “And I said to myself, if they can stay so poor for so many generations, maybe this isn't the kind of person we want to be electing to higher office. How smart can they be? They're morons. There's a perception that voters like poverty. I don't like poverty. Usually, there's a reason for poverty.”
Question 9: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Question 10: “Maybe he should have been roughed up.”
Question 13: "And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away from you."
Question 14: "And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab 'em by the pussy. You can do anything."
Question 15: “I’m so tired of this politically correct crap.”
Question 16: “Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever is not kind has no faith.”
Question 17: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for ne who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Question 18: “I’m really rich.”
Answers: 1) JHC 2) DJT 3) JHC 4) DJT 5) DJT 6) JHC 7) JHC 8) DJT 9) JHC 10) DJT 11) JHC 12) DJT 13) JHC 14) DJT 15) DJT 16) Trick question: Muhammad 17)JHC 18) DJT
Another "Because I wanna" fun Critical Role fan-fiction piece finally "finished." (Barring the horrible glaring misspellings I'll find later and log back in to change.) This was the first Critical Role I decided to do, though not the first I finished. And obviously, it's been a looooong time in the writing because of "reasons." (For more about these reasons, look at the other pages on this website.) But for now...I hope you enjoy.
A Goliath Prepares
The following takes place in the midst of Critical Role Episode 27 as most of Vox Machina prepares to leave for Whitestone and Grog gets VERY bored.
Grog took a large swig from his mug—a bucket with a handle—and slammed it onto the table. His belch shook the unused cutlery. “More food! More ale!”
“Uh, excuse me, Master Strongjaw, sir.” Laina, the soft-spoken, middle-aged woman who served as cook for all of Greyskull Keep, appeared at his elbow.
The mountain of Goliath looked down at her, still sitting. A single, tiny thought burbled to the front of Grog’s mind. “Oh, right.” He gave half a bow and half a shrug. “More food! More ale! Please?”
“I’d love to dearie, but you’ve eaten the larder.” Laina gestured to the piles of empty platters dripping with grease, gravies, and bones.
Grog scratched his head. “You mean, there’s no more food?”
“I could prepare you a nice salad,” the cook offered.
Grog sneered at the mere mention of vegetables. “That’s Keyleth food.”
“Well, I’ve sent a boy to the butcher for more meat,” she explained, “but I probably won’t have anything ready until supper.”
Frowning, Grog tipped the dregs of his mug into his mouth. “At least, there’s still ale.”
Laina let out a little cough. “We’re out of that too.”
Grog looked from side to side as if expecting to find the room filled with casks. “How can we be out of ale?”
“Sir, you’ve been eating and drinking for four days now,” Laina informed him.
Grog’s brow furrowed. “Is that a lot?”
“Yes, sir it is,” she nodded.
Grog looked down at his empty mug and his eyes peed.
“There, there Master Strongjaw,” Laina consoled the mighty Goliath. “Here, Erwin’s got a bit of sherry stashed about. It’ll tide you over until the lads come back from the brewery.”
“Alright,” sobbed Grog. The cook ducked out of the room and came back with a decanter of light-brown, liquid that put the Goliath in mind of the time Trinket ate those awful berries. Laina poured the entire contents of the glass container into his mug which filled it about a fourth of the way up. Grog eyed it suspiciously. “You’re sure this is ale?”
“Wine, actually,” she clarified.
“Oh so juice then,” said Grog. Keyleth said juice was good for you. He drank it in one gulp, feeling smug about how healthy he was now.
“Why don’t you run along?" Laina gently shooed him from the room. "I’ll let you know when supper’s ready.”
Grog stood up from his chair and wandered upstairs to where the bedrooms were. He approached Scanlan’s, checking the doorknob for a sock or for any rocking, both of which, the gnome had explained to him, meant he should not come a’knocking. With everything clear, he a’knocked. “Scanlan?”
There was no response. Just in case, he knocked louder. “Scanlan!”
Still no response. Scanlan was out. He passed by Vax’s room, because screw him and tried Keyleth’s, knocking more gently, because it was Keyleth and she liked soft, gentle things like flowers and armadillos. “Keyleth? Are you in there?”
There was the sound of breaking glass.
“Oh shoot!” came a muffled response. Footsteps approached and the door swung open a crack, with Keyleth behind it. “Grog. Hi.”
“Hello,” Grog responded, he tried to look past her into the room. “What are you doing?”
“I was working with my new alchemy set,” she told him with a strained smile.
“Can I help?” he smiled.
“Oh. Well. You know, it’s really more of a… druid thing, you know,” Keyleth stammered.
“Like salad?” asked Grog.
“Yes. It is exactly like salad. Hey, I know. Why don’t you go see what Scanlan is doing?”
Grog’s eyes lifted to a spot above the druid’s head. “Why is your room smoking?”
Keyleth glanced up to find a red fog billowing out from behind her. “Sorry, got to go.” She slammed the door on Grog. “No, no, no, no, no.”
Grog turned away and sighed. But then he saw Percy’s door was open. Percy never left his door open and Grog was never allowed in Percy’s room for stupid reasons like “privacy” and “safety.” He walked over and pushed the door open. “Percy?” No response. The room was empty. “Yes!” Grog hissed to himself as he leapt inside.
Percy’s room much as Grog had found it days ago when he had barged in: Papers and books covered the ground, the desk, the bed, all available surfaces. The sheets were unmade. A half-eaten breakfast tray gathered flies on the nightstand next to a broken clock which had been gutted like animal. Grog understood. He hated clocks too. Except the ones with cuckoos, they were funny.
Grog took this rare chance to look around Percy’s things. He tried on one of Percy’s jackets which ripped all up the back and was hastily thrown under the bed. There was a fancy handkerchief on the bed monogrammed with the letter “L”—L for Percy. He blew his nose in it like a fancy person, then waved it around, slinging snot all over the room. Fancy people were gross like that. Next, he picked up a handful of papers, turning them over to admire the little marks. “Yes, yes. Very good,” Grog said in his best Percy impression. Suddenly, like a pent up fart, Grog had an idea. He went over to Percy’s desk and rifled through the drawers pulling out paper, a writing feather, and a bottle of ink. Clutching feather, he and jammed it into the ink bottle, which shattered, and began to scribble.
How are you? Is your temple done yet? Things are bad here. The people who killed Percy’s family showed up and are vampires. Vax almost died. That was funny. Tiberius killed an old woman and everyone hates us. We are going to go to Percy’s home to kill the vampires, but everyone’s being slow and there’s nothing to kill yet. Also, we’re out of ale. When are you coming back? Can you bring ale?
The goliath admired his handiwork. The squiggles were very squiggly and his frowny face stick figure really summed up the tragedy of the situation. He crumpled the paper into a ball and headed back downstairs.
“That was my personal property,” echoed the plaintive cries. “You had no right.”
“One of the masters needed it,” Laina chided. “And besides Erwin, it won’t kill you to go without for a day or two.”
The elderly halfling steward. “I don’t know what you are implying. I am very responsible…”
Grog’s thundering footsteps interrupted the servants’ argument. Laina leapt at the opportunity. “Master Strongjaw, what can we do for you?”
“Where do I go to get a letter delivered?” He showed them the wad of paper. Laina and Erwin exchanged looks.
“Give it to me, Master Strongjaw.” The halfling reached for the note. “I’ll take care of it.”
Grog withdrew his hand, protecting his masterpiece. “No. No. I can do it myself.”
“Really Master Strongjaw, I should…”
Laina cut across the steward, whispering, “Let the poor dear mail his letter. It’ll get him out of the keep for a bit.”
“Oh very well,” grumbled Erwin. He turned back to Grog. “You’ll find Farouk’s Messenger Service in the Promenade between Duncaster and Dragonscale Road.”
“Right, right,” Grog nodded. “And where’s that then?”
The halfling sighed. “Do you know the Silken Cushion?”
Grog smiled. “Yeah.
“How do you know about the Silken Cushion?” asked the cook.
“I’ve...you hear about these…places,” answered Erwin with a blush. “Just go down that street til you see a green sign.”
“Green! Right. I know Green,” Grog clapped the aged steward on the back, nearly knocking him to the ground. “Thanks.” And with that Grog bounded off to mail his letter.
“Eels! The freshest eels in all of Emon! Pulled straight from the harbor this morning! You’ll find none fresher!”
“Pickled cockatrice feet! All the way from the fens of Lollehndam. Cures acne, asthma, arthritis, all ailments with beginning with ‘a.’ Don’t ask me why. I’m not a healer.”
“Glass orb snow displays! Memorialize your trip to Emon with replicas of the city painstakingly crafted within glass spheres and magically filled with snow. Just give it a shake and…”
Crash! The cart of semi-magical baubles flipped end over end as Grog entered Abadar’s Promenade.
“Uh, sorry about that,” Grog said. A small snowstorm sprung up from the broken enchantments, covering the road in frost. It made the goliath giggle.
The halfling seller rounded on his knee. “You think this is funny? This is my livelihood this is!”
“Uh,” Grog had apologized, but she was still yelling at him. He thought about what Scanlan might do and reached into the bag of holding. “Here?” He put out a half giant-sized handful of gold.
The woman seemed unimpressed. “What? You think you can throw money at me and that makes it alright. This isn’t about gold. This is about principles.”
“All right then.” He went to put the coins back.
“Now wait just a moment. I didn’t say, I wouldn’t take it…” She scooped the gold out of his hands and into her hat. “But just so you know, it’s not about that!” She put the now jangling hat back on her head. “You…be more careful.”
“And pick up my cart.”
Grog bent down and put the cart back to rights. As he did, the last surviving glass display fell out and shattered on the cobblestone road. “Er…”
"AAAAAAAAAH!" The bases of broken snow displays bounced off the barbarians back as he made a hasty retreat.
There were many signs in the Abadar’s Promenade. Grog checked them all for “green.”
“Brown. Brown. Brown,” Grog said to himself. “Blue and yellow. Red. Brown again. Um…” He paused at a turquoise sign, staring at it for a full minute before moving on without a word. “There! Green!”
Grog sprinted to the door underneath the correctly identified green sign that, unbeknownst to him, read, “Farouk’s Messenger Service.” A youth in a green hat carrying a green satchel exited the building.
“Hey! You!” Grog bellowed at the poor teenager.
“What? AH!” the girl screamed at the arrival of a muscular giant with a warhammer strapped to his back. “Please don’t hurt me.”
“Do you deliver letters?” Grog asked.
“Er…yes?” she answered, slightly uncringing.
Grog stuck out his hand and showed her his handiwork. “This is for Pike.”
The messenger took the wad from Grog. This was not her first crumpled ball letter. The messenger service dealt with all types. “Uh, do you have an address for this Pike?”
“Address?” Grog repeated.
“Do you know where she is?” the girl simplified.
“Oh right, address,” Grog nodded as if he had known all along. “She’s in Vasselheim.”
The messenger stared at him. “Anything more specific.”
“The temple in Vasselheim,” Grog said proudly.
The youth sighed heavily. “You want this delivered to Pike in ‘The Temple in Vasselheim.’” She got out her sheet. “Letters to Vasselheim are two gold apiece.”
Grog opened his purse and looked at the gold coins. “Two. Yeah. That’s...uh…” He held out a few coins and stared at them in concentration. He pushed a single coin forward on his palm. “One…” Beads of sweat formed on his brow.
The girl reached out and slid another coin toward her. “Two.”
“I knew that,” Grog said handing her those coins.
The messenger slid the coins and the letter into her satchel. “I’ll make sure this gets on the next sky ship to Vasselheim.” With that, the teenager walked off to make her rounds, leaving the goliath in the middle of the city.
“Writing’s not so hard,” Grog boasted. He looked around. He was now in the heart of Emon’s marketplace and as luck would have it, within spitting distance of one of his favorite pubs “The Thirsty Owlbear” so named for having alcohol for the thirsty and owlbears for fighty. And right then, Grog was in the mood for both.
It was barely afternoon, so the bar was quiet except for a few old-timers arm-wrestling at the bar. An elderly half-orc threw handfuls of sawdust on the floor in anticipation of the vomit and blood and ale that would be spilled later. That's the kind of place this was. Grog's kind of place.
An older dwarf woman spitcleaned mugs behind the bar. She nodded to the goliath. "Grog. How goes it?"
"Thilda," he answered as he took a seat on one of the wider stools. "An ale and keep them coming." He threw a gold coin on the rough wood of the bar. This was answered a moment later with Grog-worthy mug of ale. "Say Thilda. You were an adventurer back in the day?"
"Aye, until I took an arrow in the leg," said the barkeep. "And the arm. And three in me chest. Still cough up blood sometimes. Battle of Darkhelm Chasm. Now that was a fight."
"Did you ever go up against anything...weird?" Grog asked.
Her brow furrowed. "How weird?"
The barkeeper laughed. "Vampires? No I can't say I ever fought vampires."
"Oh," Grog frowned. "Don't suppose you know any good vampire fighting advice?"
She thought for a moment. "Have you got a shovel and a pickaxe?"
"What’s that good for?" he asked.
"There's an old dwarven saying, 'Any problem can be solved with a shovel and pickaxe.'"
Smiling, the goliath threw back his drink. "One more and then I'll be ready to wrestle—" he counted out on his fingers, getting lost after one. "—some owlbears!"
"I'm afraid you'll have to talk to the damned monk about that," the barkeep grumbled.
The barkeep nodded to the four-foot deep fighting pit on the far side of the bar out of which a round cheery face seemed to levitate. Grog stood up from his barstool and walked over to the pit. The gnomish bald figure was not floating, but standing, perfectly balanced, atop a three foot staff.
“He’s been here all morning,” she called to Grog. “Something about looking for an honest man. Or woman. Or orc. He went on rather a long time listing off races.”
The gnome opened his milk white eyes and stared at a point just to the left of the near giant. “Hello.”
"Why are you standing on that staff?" Grog asked.
Atop his post, the gnome shrugged. "Why are you standing on the ground?"
The goliath's eyes went crossed and his head went all hot. That was too much thought for him. With a quick gulp of ale, he pressed on. "You're a monk?"
The gnome switched legs, though barely moved to do it. "I am."
"Do you know Earthbreaker Groon?"
"Can't say that I do," the little man replied.
"Oh," said Grog. "Cuz, he's a monk too."
The blind gnome chuckled. "Not all monks know each other."
"Yeah," Grog agreed. "Look, I don't suppose you could teach me a little something?"
The gnome reached down and climbed down the staff landing with a small hop in the dirt of the pit. "You could learn many things. Peace, serenity, how to move like the wind, dance between shadows—" he gave a wry smile. "—rip the still beating heart from the chest of an enemy and show it to them before they die."
"Yeah!" cried Grog.
"Travel east to the far reaches of Wildmount," the gnome instructed. "Find the Eyes of Selune in the Nightsky Monestary and learn all that they have to offer."
Grog let out a little belch. "I was kind of hoping you could just, you know, show me something here. You know—" he did a little one-two punch in the air. "—something that might help against vampires."
"Oh, is that all?" said the monk. "Sure thing. Come on down."
Grog hopped down into the pit while the gnome limbered up. Tiny pops came from his back, neck, and fingers as he bent and stretched. "So," grinned the gnome, "let's teach you balance."
"Balance?" the goliath laughed. "I think I've got balance down." He stomped his feet.
"Can you stand on top of your weapon like this?" The monk climbed to the top of his quarterstaff and stood there on one foot while he bent the other over his knee in a faux sitting position. "You try?
Grog took out his firebrand warhammer, a single piece of duergar iron, and set it, hammer down, onto the ground. The end came up to his thigh. He lifted his right leg and, hopping, tried to put his foot on the pommel. "One sec." He dragged the weapon over to the edge of the pit and climbed out. From this angle he could get on top of it more easily. He stepped onto the warhammer and then off of the ground. "See, I can...wha!"
"So...balance," said the gnome, hopping down.
Grog picked himself up. "Oh come on. You're teeny compared to that staff.”
"Lesson one," the monk replied. "Balance is not fairness. Now—" he stretched his hands toward Grog. "—try to hit me."
The eight foot tall, six hundred pound goliath looked down at the old, blind gnome who didn't even come up to his knee. "Are you sure about that?"
The gnome lowered his guard. "If you don't think you can, I'll put one hand behind my back."
Grog let out a warrior's laugh. "All right then." And with that he swung down at the tiny gnome. The fist connected and the monk flew backwards into the wall of the pit. Something went crunch.
"Are you okay?" Grog asked.
The monk wobbled to his feet. "You are bigger than I am. You are stronger. When you hit me—" the tiny figure spit a mouthful of blood into the dirt. "—it hurts. Also, you can see me and I can't see you." He took up his fighting position. "Hit me again."
"That's all right. I think I've got it," Grog replied.
"Hit me again," said the gnome.
“Yeah! Hit him again!” The old men at the bar were watching now and laying bets.
Still, Grog felt kind of sick at the idea of hitting the gnome again, so he tried that "tack" stuff his friends always went on about. "Look why don't we just go have a drink?"
"That works," smiled the monk. He walked and brought the heel of his foot down hard on the goliath's toes. It took a minute for the pain to reach his brain, but finally Grog bellowed. "Ow."
"Hit me again," demanded the gnome.
"I don't want to," growled Grog. The gnome nodded and brought another fierce kick down onto the barbarian's feet. Something went pop that definitely should not go pop.
"Stop that!" Grog shouted.
"Make me," the monk said. Grog reached down to grab him, but the little guy ducked underneath his arms and this time full-on punched the half-giant's foot. A white hot pain filled Grog's sight and it was all he could do to keep from going into a rage.
"I thought you were blind?" Grog said confused.
"I am," grinned the gnome as he pulled his staff out of the ground. "But you are loud and obvious. Most people are." He smacked the staff onto Grog's toes. "Balance."
Grog lunged for the monk, but the tiny figure weaved away and whacked him on the foot. The goliath and his toesies were ready for payback. With a roar, he went punt the gnome. The tiny man sidestepped and swept up with his staff, pushing Grog's leg higher than he’d intended. Grog tipped over and fell flat on his back. The blind man sidled up to him.
"You are bigger," said the monk. "It is awkward for you to fight someone my size. It leaves you open to attack.” The staff whipped down onto the goliath's nose with a crunch. "Balance."
Grog scrambled to his feet as the gnome darted off. He wiped the warm blood pouring from his nostrils onto the back of his hand and grinned with savage delight. "Fine. You wanna play?" He picked his fallen warhammer up from the ground. "Let's play."
The barbarian charged the monk. The old gnome simply smiled as his opponent bore down on him. "There is of course one way in which all are equal," he said. Grog wasn't listening. He was in the midst of battle and glory. He raised his weapon above his head, ready to turn the blind man into mayonnaise.
"Balance," said the gnome. Everything went black.
Grog tasted ale. It was delicious and almost took his mind off the horrible throbbing he felt somewhere in his body. At first, he thought it was his head. Maybe he was hungover. He'd never been hungover, but the others said stuff about their heads hurting when they drank, so maybe that's what this was. And someone was pouring the hair of the dog down his throat. Though it didn't taste like dog, but really good ale, which Grog appreciated. Dogs could taste pretty nasty.
After a moment, he realized it wasn’t his head that hurt, but some much more important equipment. Grog checked to make sure everything was intact.
"You shouldn't do that," called a pleasant voice. The goliath opened his eyes to find the monk not quite smiling down at him. "You'll go blind."
Grog tried to answer, but his words were replaced by a groan. The gnome nodded. "That's okay. Drink this." He felt around on Grog’s face until he found his mouth and poured a second mug of ale into him. As it trickled down his throat, the ache subsided and the goliath was able to sit up without throwing up.
"You all right Grog?" asked Thilda as she arrived with a third glass of ale. She handed it to the monk who uncorked a small red potion, poured it inside, and handed it to Grog.
Grog threw it back, now almost feeling like he hadn’t just gotten punched in the nuts. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
"It's the one thing that unites us all," said the monk. "From the lowliest gnome to the grandest of dragons. Everything's got genitals."
Grog's brow furrowed. "What about ladies?"
The dwarf barkeep guffawed. "Trust me, even for a woman, it don't feel great to get punched in the nethers. Matter o’ fact, that's how I won this bar."
With a few false starts, the barbarian stood up. There was a strange feeling behind his eyes...like a burp, but in his head. He was pretty sure it was learning. For the second time in one day, he felt like Percy. "Thank you," he said, leaning into one of those monk bows.
That's when he saw it: the firebrand warhammer laying underneath his feet. He was standing on his weapon.
The gnome smiled. "There are some things we cannot change. I am small. You are big. I can't reach the top shelf. You can't balance on a thin piece of wood. So we come at these problems in our own way, using what we have and who we are to conquer the same challenges. That is balance."
Grog nodded. "And if that don't work...everything's got gentles."
The monk laughed. "Yes, everything's got gentles. Even vampires."
Grog left the bar feeling confident—after a quick stop at Mason & Maison General Store to pick up a shovel and pickaxe—that he was ready for anything the Briarwoods might throw at him. He headed home with purpose, though without being particularly perceptive.
“Commemorative porcelain plates! Each one-of-a-kind, hand-painted plate features an image of a hero from Emon’s glorious…”
Grog arrived back at the keep a half hour and several handfuls of gold lighter to find Vax just getting back from doing Vax things. The rogue stopped upon seeing the bloodied goliath. "Hey there big guy. You look like shit. Where have you been?"
"Learning," Grog replied.
"Oh yeah?" asked the half-elf. "Learning what?"
"Balance," he grinned and punched Vax in the gentles.
So yeah, it's been a rough couple of days. Between numbness and despair and anger and feelings of helplessness and being barely able to function, let alone create. I remember feeling the same way after 9/11, basically curled up in a ball, watching the news, not moving. I'm reading about hundreds of attacks and harassment of women and minorities all over the country and it's only the THIRD DAY SINCE THE ELECTION. And I don't know what to do. I'm no lawyer. I'm no organizer. I write silly stories about monsters.
People I know posted an article from Jezebel with a list of organizations to donate too. And I did, but not a lot because, I don't have a lot of money.
No money to donate, no skills to help...the only thing I do have are six Audible codes for my book.
So that's what I'm going to do. Here's the deal folks: I'm going to raffle off An Unattractive Audiobooks to those who donate to organizations helping groups at risk because of this American Horror Story: advocates for immigrants, women, Muslims, African Americans, LGBTQ, refugees climate change, etc. If you need a starting point, here's the list from Jezebel to get you started. Donate to one of these organizations between now and December 15th 2016. After you do, tweet me or e-mail me, walk up to me and perform the Elder Sign, just make sure to tell me, in some way, that you donated and your name will be added to a list. After the 15th, I will draw six winners and send them the codes to claim their audio books.
So get out there. Donate. Do some good in this pretty craptastic time. And together, we'll get through this.
Greetings from the land of Grad School and poor social media skills!
There is lots to say about my own stuff, but please...that's dumb. It's almost HALLOWEEN! Which means there are spooky offerings to be had. Here are some great ones to participate in (if you have the chance)
This Saturday, WildClaw Theatre will be presenting the best and scariest of the scripts from their annual radio play festival. Produce will be smashed, chomped, cut, and shattered along with other gooey stand ins for severe bodily harm. And all at the Steppenwolf Theatre. Unfortunately for you, it's already sold out. (I've got my ticket...neener, neener, neer.) However, if you happen to be in Miami on Halloween night, you will have another chance to see it as they will be taking the same production on the road.
For those who are stuck in northern climes for All Hallow's Eve, consider the annual Twin Cities Horror Festival: two weeks of scary stage plays to get your live scream on. Check out all they have to offer, here.
Looking for spooky offerings to plug into your earholes? Here are a few recommended podcasts and audio dramas with seasonal offerings (or just generally spooky) for your consideration:
- The Black Tapes Podcast
- Blurry Photos
- Spirits: A Drunken Dive into Myths and Legends
- Uncanny County (Particularly the episode Coulrophobia)
- Scareblast Podcast
- Alcohollywood (for Horror Octorber)
Additionally, this Monday you will be able to listen to the spooky story I wrote and read for The Nerdologues: Your Stories.
And of course, there is the annual All Hallow's Read. Though I can never get anyone I know to do this with me (unless I forcibly send them a book), I encourage you to share scary books with each other for this, the greatest of all holidays. Nothing says, I value you as a friend like the gift of vicarious dismemberment.