The Only Way to Answer the Question My Grandfather’s Papers Left Us

My uncle inherited my grandfather’s old papers. He would read them all one day, he told himself… he digitized them without reading them… because he would read them later… and then one day, over 25 years after my grandfather died, he started reading my grandfather’s autobiographical writings. One of the first stories he stumbled on grabbed him so hard he organized the autobiographical scribbles into a memoir.

So far, I’ve only read Volume 1, which includes the story which lit a fire under my uncle’s butt. What’s makes this 15-page story strong enough to end decades of procrastination?

I also just finished reading The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne… which has an explanation.

Continue reading

What My Favorite Board Game Session Ever Taught Me About Storytelling

One board gaming session stands out as the greatest I ever had. Why? I’ve played board games countless time. I’ve forgotten most of my board game sessions. What made that time different—and what does it have to do with storytelling?

This session stands out for the same reasons some movies become blockbusters and some novels become bestsellers.

The board game was Shadowhunters. In the game, there’s a Hunter team, a Shadow team, and neutral characters who each have their own unique win condition. Three outcomes are possible: Hunters win, Shadows win, or a neutral win forces both Hunters and Shadows to lose. Sometimes neutrals can win with Hunters or Shadows, but Hunter victory and Shadow victory are mutually exclusive. Therefore, the Hunters mostly try to make the Shadows lose, and the Shadows mostly try to make the Hunters lose, and the neutrals do their own weird things which interfere with both Hunters and Shadows.

Can you tell that the neutral characters make this game re-playable? When it’s only Hunters vs. Shadows—which the rules permit—the strategies are simple and the game becomes repetitive after a few sessions. The neutrals make it so that a strategy which worked once might fail the next time.

It’s a hidden role game, so players known their own identities, but not other players’. A player may choose to reveal their identity, a player’s death reveals their identity, and some game mechanisms force partial reveals. Since forcing a full reveal is extremely difficult, players must guess each other’s identities based on behavior.

In this session, I was a Shadow. And the other two Shadows died within two rounds.

Continue reading

Why Are My Novels Important Enough to Sink So Much Time Into Writing and Revising Them?

The stories which most influenced my novel-series-in-progress have this in common: they’re set in a social order which is about to collapse. So is my novel series.

One is about a French aristocrat… during the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI.

Early in the story, she fully believes in the social values of France’s ancien régime. Over time, she notices problems which make her lose confidence in her society’s stability. She finally concludes that the system must fall, fall in the pragmatic sense that it can’t sustain itself, fall because it’s unjust.

During the storming of the Bastille, she dies. The End.

In these stories, the protagonists often die amid the collapse. However, I’m more intrigued by the ending in which the protagonist lives. Alas, the story I have in mind doesn’t run much past the collapse.

My novel series is secondary world fantasy, so historical accuracy doesn’t bind me. (Though I research history for ideas and to check plausibility.)

The protagonist of my series has been raised to believe in her social order without question. The cracks in social order are so glaring even she’s aware of them, but she considers them to be setbacks, not a prelude to the fall.

A wonderful thing about beta reader feedback is getting granular opinions of how people interpret a story. They noticed a gap between what my protagonist observed and her interpretations. One beta reader referred to my protagonist as an ‘unreliable narrator’ (note: the protagonist isn’t the narrator, but it’s written from her point-of-view). None of them predicted the collapse, but they did figure out the true social-political situation is most likely not what the protagonist thinks it is. This is exactly how I want readers to interpret Book 1. I want them to know the protagonist’s interpretation of her world is off without predicting that this entire social order is going to fall apart in the middle of the series.

That’s right. The fall won’t end the series. It’s just the midpoint.

Continue reading

Revising a Novel Is Zeno’s Paradox

During NaNoWriMo, millions of people are writing first drafts of novels. This is fantastic. Winning NaNoWriMo is an achievement (an achievement I’ve never attained myself).

In my experience, writing the first draft is the easy part. And if it’s not easy, it means that my outline has a problem (outlines are harder than first drafts) (yes, I’m a plotter, but I’m cool with pantsers, I don’t care how a novelist writes as long as I love the published version).

Outlining is harder that spewing out words at the top of my head. And revision is even harder than outlining.

Continue reading

Why Aren’t the Cargo Ships Waiting to Unload in Southern California Going to Oakland?

Given the current supply chain crisis, you’d think that those cargo ships waiting in line for the Southern California ports would sail north to congestion-free Port of Oakland. Even if it’s not part of their usual contract, surely they could temporarily arrange alternate routes, especially since the Port of Oakland is asking for more cargo ships. Furthermore, Oakland has a rail terminal, so there’s no need for truck drivers: containers can go straight from ships to railcars.

Does the Port of Oakland have enough spare capacity to take all the cargo ships lined up in Southern California? No. But why aren’t the shipping companies taking up all the capacity which is available?

The supply chain crisis is a combination of long-term problems, such as non-union truck drivers, after expenses, earning less than minimum wage from port work (which explains why most truckers refuse to work in ports) (and there aren’t enough union truck drivers, or rather, the ports don’t contract enough union truck drivers because they don’t want to pay union wages). With these accumulating problems, this crisis was going to happen at some point. The pandemic is just one more straw on the camel’s back.

If the people who controlled cargo shipping—that is, the shipping lines and the ports—were interested in a functional supply chain, they’d shift some of the cargo traffic to Oakland.

The crux of the matter is: the people who have the power to ameliorate the crisis make more money by keeping the system broken.

Continue reading

Leave Facebook If It’s Good for You, But It Won’t Stop Facebook’s Evil

The media brims with stories about Facebook’s evil. I won’t rehash them.

Bloggers I follow drop post after post about how they want to quit Facebook, but they can’t/won’t, and they know you won’t quit either.

That’s false, at least when addressed to me. I stopped using Facebook in 2010. To flip the ‘early adopter’ paradigm, I’m an early quitter.

For the first few years, when I told people I didn’t use Facebook, they looked at me as if I’d admitted to hating kittens. Why would anyone refuse Facebook? As time has gone by, the reactions shifted. For the past four years, whenever I tell someone I don’t use Facebook, by far the most common response has been, ‘Good for you, I wish I could stop using Facebook too, but [some social connection they maintain on Facebook].’

Why did I quit? Because Facebook bored me. It was that simple. No lofty ideals, no high moral grounds, nothing like that prompted me to quit. I just always had something more interesting to do than use Facebook. Such as checking emails. My personal experience (and yours may vary) is that if someone cares about keeping in touch with me and they have consistent internet access, then email works. Email is much better at nurturing the relationships which are worth my time.

Continue reading

Guy Fawkes vs. The Prince of Lanling: How a Silly Search for Music Videos Explained Why People Reject Masks (Part 4/Conclusion)

Continued from part 3.

It’s too late to change people’s attitudes about masking for the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yes, some individuals will change their mind. But most people’s minds have been made up, and won’t change over the next few months.

So why bother persuading people to take a more positive outlook towards masks? Because this won’t be the last airborne pandemic. Now is the time to do the slow, slow work of changing public sentiments about masking so that the next pandemic will disable and kill fewer people.

The way masking has spread during this pandemic, alas, has seared negative connotations into people’s minds. Yes, the political polarization is bad, and it presses people who otherwise would wear masks to go maskless because they don’t want to ‘make a political statement.’ But it goes deeper than that. We’ve impressed upon ourselves that masks = deadly pandemic which causes mass upheaval.

Even if people understand that the purpose of masking is to protect people from pathogens, that emotional link will make them recoil from masks. Emotion overwhelms thought when we make decisions.

I have a confession to make: these negative feelings are why I refuse to wear surgical masks.

Continue reading

Guy Fawkes vs. The Prince of Lanling: How a Silly Search for Music Videos Explained Why People Reject Masks (Part 3)

Continued from Part 2.

One thing which makes “Toulouse” such an awesome music video is that it’s open to multiple interpretations.

Interpretation 1: People resist the music at first, but the rhythm is too infectious, and the number of cool people who get it exponentially increase

Interpretation 2: Creepy people in masks harass and assault strangers. They force them to put on masks. Then they turn into creeps themselves and harass and assault even more strangers.

Interpretation 3: This is all a dream.

Interpretation 4: It’s not a dream, the protagonist just thinks so because the truth is too much for him to handle.

The Guy Fawkes mask has a centuries-long history in England. It represents a menace to society, which must be burned. Guy Fawkes masks gained new meaning when Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V Is for Vendetta dystopian comic books featured them. If society is evil, and Guy Fawkes is a menace to society, then maybe Guy Fawkes masks are good?

Continue reading

Guy Fawkes vs. The Prince of Lanling: How a Silly Search for Music Videos Explained Why People Reject Masks (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

According to The Book of Northern Qi, Martial Prince of Lan Ling Changgong (蘭陵武王長恭) had a beautiful appearance and voice, so he wore a mask in battle to scare his enemies. This mask was not shameful; The Book of Northern Qi praises him for being a fierce military commander. Nor does the book shame him for looking ‘soft’ and beautiful (as far as I can tell, I suck at Classical Chinese so I might be missing nuances; the words used to describe him supposedly suggest he has an androgynous look.) So we have someone who is physically beautiful, and this is good, and he covers his beauty with a mask, which is also good. He’s been part of Chinese culture for over a thousand years, and his story also spread to Japan. And possibly other East Asian cultures.

All the connotations of the Prince of Lan Ling wearing a mask are good. He wasn’t hiding anything bad; beautiful faces are good. He also did nothing bad by putting on the mask; scaring the shit out of enemies was also good. Nothing about this cost him respect.

Continue reading