Tag Archives: Writing

#235: Versers Infiltrate

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #235, on the subject of Versers Infiltrate.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have now completed publishing my first three novels, Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, Old Verses New, and For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (those links will take you to the table of contents for each book).  Along with each book there was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as I am posting the fourth, Spy Verses,  I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look may contain spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, hopefully giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

This is the third mark Joseph “young” web log post covering this book, covering chapters 43 through 63.  These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #218:  Versers Resume (which provided this kind of insight into the first twenty-one chapters);
  2. #226:  Versers Adapt (covering chapters 22 through 42).

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 43, Kondor 106

I had decided at this point to turn the situation around, to put the trio among the whites and see where that took me.

Bob and Shella of course are protected by their SEP to enemies spell–they would not have thought of it thus, but everyone in this world is their enemy–and so they are not seen until they reveal themselves.  The fog was convenient as an explanation, particularly for Joe, whose perspective this is.

The take charge attitude Bob displays is a technique for getting people to yield:  he acts as if there is no question who is in charge here, and they are not certain they are in a position to object.  Even the way he asks “who are you?” carries with it the implication that he is important and they are not.

I wanted European sounding names up front to contrast against the African names I had used among the blacks.

Chapter 44, Brown 117

Splitting the team is another encounter in the scenario, which sets up the next two.  It’s always tricky trying to figure out how to split them, although it helps generally (in play) that it’s done with one player character and the rest of the team non-player characters, so if I can set up a credible reason for the split, the split works.  Here I am able to make the split the decision of the main character.

Derek has used this springing stab attack before, but it was a risky move and I couldn’t allow it to appear to be a certain kill.  This time he had to fail, and we had to have more tension in the fight because of it.

I realized at this point in the read-through edit that I had not mentioned the chain, and it had to be somewhere accessible, so I went back to Brown 110 and made a few tweaks to include his weapons.

Chapter 45, Slade 106

Slade’s uncertainty about what to request reflected my own about this scenario:  I did not know where it was going.  It was a good short-term cover story, but it opened more problems ahead.  I was going to have to figure out what to do about them.

Chapter 46, Brown 118

Making the communications links very short range was a story decision at this moment:  I did not want Derek to know what was happening to the others until he got there.  It made sense, though, as short range communications would use less power, be less likely to be overheard, and be sufficient for most applications in a commando group.

One of the points made through the books and in the game is when you have more options you have more decisions.  Derek here considers whether to become Morach and use the drugged arrows, although he rejects it as not better tactically.

Chapter 47, Kondor 107

The notion that both sides had dehumanized the other takes form here in a simple conversation.  It probably is not changing the world, but it is illuminating it.

Joe’s speech is reminiscent of Shylock’s in The Merchant of Venice.  In high school I had to write and perform an updated version of that particular Shakespearean play for an English class, and when the Jew says, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” arguing for his own humanity, we have something of the same echoing here.

I was the eldest of four siblings, and at some point decided that whenever two people were sharing one object–a sandwich, perhaps–the fairest way to divide it was to have one person divide it into halves as evenly as he could, and the other pick which half he wanted.  That’s not quite the same thing here, but as the threesome defer to each other, they each are seeking to accommodate the others as fairly as possible.

Chapter 48, Brown 119

I should apologize to our friend whose middle name is Kaseem, a very American Christian son of a Palestinian Islamic family, who goes by “K. C.” (his given name appears on some of his mail, and his first name is also rather Arabic, but few people know it).  It seemed likely that in this situation an Arab terrorist in Britain would have adopted the same name.

I think that my notion of how forty or fifty terrorists with significant military equipment could get into a public high rise office building is probably adequate; I suspect it’s been done, at least in other works of fiction, although I don’t know for certain and hope I haven’t given ideas to any terrorists out there.

Chapter 49, Slade 107

The exposition of the problem and solution was probably unnecessary, as I hope the readership already understands it.  It’s there for clarity, and to show that at least the characters understand it.  It also set me up for Joe’s next move.

The referenced movie was entitled The Russians Are Coming!  The Russians Are Coming!, and was generally a rather humorous film, although the climactic scene did have a Russian submariner climb the outside of a church bell tower to rescue an American boy who had slipped and was hanging precariously from some unsafe board.

Chapter 50, Brown 120

We had a problem with the rise in popularity of rap music and the corresponding rise in small portable audio players:  friends of my sons would come to the house and blare what I considered obscene language.  I informed them that if guest in my house talked like that I would ask him to stop or leave, and I couldn’t treat his music player any differently.

The lone individual was probably inspired to some degree by Hans Gruber in Die Hard, the villain pretending to be a separated office worker.  Derek intuitively recognizes that a real terrified office worker probably would not have mentioned how many of them there were, and thus he must be trying to feed information to someone.

Derek’s memory is of the slasher summer camp scenario in his first book, Old Verses New.  He gives all the relevant details.

The fifteen minute thing gave me a deadline without promising to detonate the bomb.

Chapter 51, Kondor 108

The discussions in the previous chapters revealed to me what had to happen here:  I needed Joe to demonstrate that he was a genuinely compassionate human being, without either appearing that he was trying to do so or stepping out of his otherwise coldly rational and atheistic character.  This was where I managed to find that solution.

The peeping sound of tree frogs, which for years I thought were crickets, is a normal sound in the woods during the warmer times of the year.  That it is absent demonstrates that the ecology has been disrupted by the war.

The orange light is because Joe is still using the settings of the cybereye he used when they stepped into the fog.  Thus his “red” sensors are seeing infrared and his “green” sensors are centered on green, and thus the combination of heat with visible light is interpreted by his brain as a combination of red and green, which the brain sees as orange or yellow.

I figured the medicine practiced here would be that of the Crimean and American Civil Wars–a lot of amputations, no anesthesia or antibiotic.  It would be simple for any modern doctor to improve on the situation, particularly one with a medical bag containing a few modern instruments and medications intended for emergency field use.

The diagnosis is there because I thought it important that Joe establish his credibility through being able to tell what was wrong.  If they’re going to believe he can fix it, they must first believe that he knows what he is saying.

Again the Shylock speech influences Joe’s answer about whether he is a demon.

Chapter 52, Brown 121

Derek raises an obvious solution:  check a building directory, there is bound to be one.  I am glad no one ever attempted to do this in play, because I don’t have one–the floors are created in response to the arrivals of the player character, to meet the needs of the encounters that are appearing next.  Since I didn’t actually have to present a complete directory in order to say that Derek saw it, that wasn’t a problem here.  In play, I’d just ask the player where he intended to go to find such a thing, and see what he wanted to do, making it as difficult as possible to get there, and interrupting him with the remaining encounters along the way.

Chapter 53, Kondor 109

When I wrote this chapter I was contemplating the possibility that the whites had some religious truth and the blacks were all atheists.  I saw no way to pursue that, though, and ultimately abandoned it.  I was beginning to recognize that I’d set myself a problem that my characters could not possibly solve, although actually the point was probably not that my characters were supposed to solve the problem but that they themselves were to learn from it.

Chapter 54, Brown 122

The “terrorist uses terrorist pretending to be hostage as a shield” scenario is also in the book.  I had not yet begun shifting Derek’s chapters forward and had recognized that I had bitten off a huge story that wasn’t going to be able to be finished in a reasonable time running against the Kondor and Slade story, so I brushed over this encounter by telling it in retrospect.  It enabled me to include all the encounters in the original scenario without bogging down into telling yet another directly.

The story here is a combination of two encounters which I always hoped someone would connect this way–one, the launching of a larger team to find them, the other hitting the booby-trapped door.  When I wrote them I hoped someone would think of a way to walk the strike team into the booby-trap, and that’s what I did here.

As Jim’s doubts are resolved, we are reminded that there was no reason for him fully to trust Derek before this, and no indication that he actually did–Derek was the leader because that was the assignment, not because Jim recognized his ability.  Of course, Jim has been reflecting Derek’s own self-doubt in this situation, but that has caused Derek to play the part of the person who knows what he is doing.

Chapter 55, Slade 108

Having Bob have to ask directions (twice) instead of following “his ears and his nose” underscores that he is very different from Joe.  Joe works from solid evidence and rational thinking; Bob works from hunches and luck.  Bob’s hunches and luck always get him through the trouble, but not through the simple tasks.  Finding the mess tent isn’t a very risky situation–not much riding on it–so it was fun to have him struggle with it however briefly.

I think the best expression of the idea that men usually accepted excuses that began with the words “My wife” came from Ogden Nash, in a non-poetic poem about how criminals frequently arrested for vagrancy when “casing a joint” in preparation for a crime could explain their presence any place at any time with the words, “I’m waiting for my wife.”  Bob has not had any experience to support that, but he recognizes that it’s true of people he has known.

I don’t remember where I got the name “Vargas”, but it seemed European, probably Spanish or Hispanic, to me, and it got me away from a monolithically British name set.

I now had a story I could run for a while, as Joe taught medicine to the white doctors and Bob pretended he was eager to leave but would wait a bit longer.  It wouldn’t last forever, but it would hold for a while.

Chapter 56, Brown 123

I had said “photography studio” previously, but had forgotten that when I got to this chapter (I was writing very slowly, trying to find my story as I went).  The idea that a nuclear bomb would be traceable by detecting radiation sent my mind in the direction of a place that had radiation shielding, and while I suppose a photography studio might have that in a darkroom, the readers would certainly know that a radiology practice would have to have such rooms somewhere.  In reviewing I placed the radiology office next to a photography studio to resolve that.

Chapter 57, Kondor 110

The remembered words of the preacher were similar to some I had heard on some teaching tape decades before; I do not know who it was, although it was probably one of Bob Mumford’s free monthly teaching tape series (from a variety of speakers).  The quote is far from exact, but it is basically the same concept.  It was also probably race-reversed, but I think that gives it more impact here.

Chapter 58, Brown 124

The penultimate encounter says that the character finds the leader, and the bomb is not far.  The guards on the door are in essence window dressing–I decided at this point that there would be guards on the door.  It is sort of an extra encounter, but it is an obvious one, particularly given that the leader knows there is a strike force out there.

The lost kid gambit is an obvious one for a five-foot-tall male adolescent, and would probably set terrorists off balance.  It is undoubtedly part of why children are used for bombers in the Middle East–Westerners, at least, hesitate to shoot them.

Chapter 59, Slade 109

I notice a couple things about Bob that came simply from writing his story, not from any particular consideration of the matter.  One is that despite being bored in camp with nothing to do because Joe is teaching medicine to the white doctors, it never occurs to him that it might be either interesting or valuable to sit in on that instruction.  The other is that although he is bored, he gets out and around and Shella does not, but he doesn’t really think much about her being bored alone in the tent.

When I realized that there were no people of mixed race, and that Bob might eventually notice that, I needed a word for it.  “Arab” was reasonably good, because as a people they tend to be the median skin color, and their geographical position in the world suggests it might well be because of racial blending.

Some of this may have set my mind running toward the gather world.  I don’t know whether I had yet realized I would be pushing that into the next book, but I began to think in terms of a magical Arabian setting for it.

It was probably a stretch suggesting that Bob knew “Montague” was the name of one of the families in Romeo and Juliet, but that’s why I didn’t let him know the other name (Capulet), as knowing the one more shows his ignorance than his knowledge.

Joe’s smattering of French is not sufficient to make it seem that he speaks French, only that he’s become educated enough to use snippets of foreign languages common among educated speakers of English.

The idea that a person can matter without doing anything is certainly not new, but it’s one that’s usually overlooked.  One of our United States Presidents (Truman, perhaps?) was once asked about the fact that his father had been a lifelong failure, and he responded to the effect of asking how anyone could be considered a failure whose son became President of the United States.  That has to reflect on the father somehow.

Chapter 60, Brown 125

The decision to stab someone with a dart of course goes contrary to expectations, but is perfectly logical in the situation and demonstrates that Derek is able to use objects in unexpected ways.

The simple plastique bomb was not really planned, but it had come to me that Pete had acquired the explosive earlier and really should use it at some point.

I was doing final preparations for publication and realized that Jim referred to what you see on “TV”.  In all my British television viewing, I don’t think I’ve ever heard any character use that American identifier.  I changed it to “the tele”, which I checked with Dictionary.com to be certain I had the right spelling.

I also realized at this point that Jim and Pete would use “lift” instead of “elevator”, and attempted to make those changes retroactively.

Chapter 61, Kondor 111

Joe is struggling with the fact that in what he must believe is coincidence he and Bob have exactly the kinds of skills needed to do the job of persuading each side that the other side is human in the sense they understand.  It seems like divine intervention, but of course for him that can’t be accepted.

His thought of not telling Derek because it would “confuse the boy further” is in essence an idea that the evidence really supports the view that there is a God, so it has to be suppressed.  It is an accusation raised against people of faith frequently, but it is subtly present here on the other side.

Chapter 62, Brown 126

I had to remember that although Derek is good at what he does, Jim is good at what he does, and that’s not what Derek usually does.  Thus Jim does the assault here.

I’ve heard the “cautions” on British police dramas; they don’t repeat them as often as they do on American shows, I think (where we call them “warnings”), but I’ve heard them enough to recognize that they are different on a few points.  That’s to be expected, since most of ours are based on United States Supreme Court rulings interpreting the Bill of Rights, and I expect theirs have followed based on their own laws and court rulings.

Chapter 63, Slade 110

Any time a story falls into a routine, it risks becoming boring.  I needed to break the routine again, and of course there was in the background this problem that Robert Elvis Lord Slade of Slade Manor is a title from a different universe, with no correspondence here, and someone might eventually realize that.  It gave me a new tension.

I recognized that it would be easy to give a non-descript name to the section of law in question here, and it would be very realistic.  In America we speak of violations of Title IX, or Miranda Rights, or First Amendment issues, and we know what they are because the shorthand refers to familiar laws.  Thus “section five of the war code” would be that kind of “everyone knows what this is” identifier that you would only know if you were from there.

That Shella would want to straighten up the tent before Joe arrived was exactly the sort of wife thing husbands don’t generally understand.

This has been the third behind the writings look at Spy Verses.  If there is interest and continued support from readers we will continue to publish this novel and the behind the writings posts, and prepare the fifth novel to follow it.

#228: Applying the Rules of Grammar

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #228, on the subject of Applying the Rules of Grammar.

This web log entry has little to do with my recent decision to collaborate on the next Multiverser novel (tentatively entitled Garden of Versers) and more to do with my dissatisfaction with a book I am currently reading that aims to teach aspiring writers to write better.

Some years back I was chatting with C. J. Henderson (pictured) at Ubercon, and he said that he didn’t really understand what a split infinitive was.  I explained, using what is perhaps the most famous example, and that example had a story attached.  It seems that when Patrick Stewart took the Star Trek role of Jean-Luc Picard he was bothered by the opening speech in which he was required to say, “to boldly go”.  That is a split infinitive–the infinitive being “to go”, and thus it ought to be “boldly to go” or “to go boldly”.  C. J. decided right then that he was never going to give any concern to splitting infinitives because, he said, he thought that one of the great speeches in modern writing.

Well, I still think that a bit hyperbolic, but I do see his point.  It is a strongly inspiring speech, and made stronger by the force of the split infinitive.  However, to some degree that force arises precisely because it breaks the rule–which brings me to one of the points I want to make.

When I was studying music theory, one of the first points Mr. Bednar made concerned the purpose of the course.  The first lesson to learn, he explained, was the rules, but then the second lesson was the reason for the rules.  Every rule in music theory exists because it prevents a typically undesired effect.  Once you understand the reason for the rules, you can decide intelligently when and how to break them to achieve that effect.  For example, in writing block harmony, the rule is to avoid parallel octaves, parallel fifths, and unsupported parallel fourths.  The reason for the rule is that the resonance between the notes in such parallels causes them to stand out against the other parts.  Thus you avoid such parallels when you want the harmony to blend evenly, but you choose to use these parallels when you want those parts to come to the fore:  you break the rule when, but only when, you are trying to achieve the result, and do so in ways that will effect the result only when it is wanted.

It is certainly possible in the course of writing to unintentionally or otherwise in attempting to fully and completely engage the reader split an infinitive or two–even to nest them as demonstrated in the first part of this sentence (to…to…engage…split).  However, although a brief interruption in the infinitive such as “to boldly go” can add force to the statement, a longer one such as just used here tends rather to be confusing.  That statement would have been easier to read as “It is certainly possible in the course of writing in attempting fully and completely to engage the reader unintentionally or otherwise to split an infinitive or two.”  (It is admittedly still a cumbersome sentence which could be significantly improved with more resequencing and a bit of trimming, but the point is still there.)  It is better to avoid them.

When I encounter a split infinitive in my reading, my mind usually attempts to repair it; it does the same when I encounter sentences ending with prepositions and a few other common mistakes.  (I refer the reader to my collected list of The Self-Breaking Rules of Grammar for a wonderfully illustrative set of mnemonics for some of these.)  However, I make a clear distinction in my writing, and particularly in my fiction.

Writings such as these web log posts, called “expository writing”, are supposed to be formal, and as such the rules of grammar should generally be followed.  An “intentional error” occasionally which creates impact is permitted, but it should be evident that saying it “wrong” is more effective than saying it “right”.  However, people don’t generally talk that way.  I often hear myself breaking the rules, particularly splitting infinitives and ending sentences with prepositions.  (It annoys me, and my mind sometimes goes back and attempts to edit what I said.)  Thus the rules are looser when writing fiction, and particularly when writing dialogue.  Fictional narrative is often in the voice of the character, or similarly approaching the voice of the character; dialogue is always in the character voice.  Thus my characters will split infinitives and end sentences with prepositions because they are supposed to come across as people, and that’s how people talk.  My narration almost never does so, unless I am trying to capture the impression of character thought and feeling (or I miss something in the editing process).

The rules exist partly for clarity.  Breaking them often creates narrative that is less easy to follow.  Some of the rules are what might be called grammatical formalities, artifact from previous centuries and source languages–someone has said that the reason we object to ending sentences with prepositions is that it is absolutely forbidden in Latin, although much of our usage is derived from German, where it is considerably more common.  The problem with doing this is it divorces the preposition from its object, and sometimes the object is omitted entirely, which makes the language less clear.  Yet native speakers provide the needed objects easily enough most of the time, and so native speakers omit them.

So the point is that you should understand the rules, figure out why they exist, what they prevent, and then learn to follow them most of the time, breaking them when doing so will achieve the kind of impact you want.  And remember:  the more frequently you break them, the less impact breaking them has.

#227: Toward Better Subtitles

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #227, on the subject of Toward Better Subtitles.

Decades ago I saw a joke birthday card.  On the face it raved about how it was the first perfect birthday card, designed and printed entirely by a computer so nothing could possibly go wrong.  Inside, it said in Courier Block lettering, MERRY CHRISTMAS.

It came to mind recently because I have come to watch television with the subtitles activated so that if somehow I miss what someone says I can read it and keep up, and sometimes they can be rather silly.  In a recent time travel movie I analyzed, Paradox, one of the characters at one point asks what it is they are seeing, and another reasonably clearly says, “Quark gluon,” but the person writing the subtitles apparently had insufficient education in advanced particle physics to recognize those as words, and so subtitled it “[Speaks Indistinct]”.  My wife recently reported watching a British mystery series and seeing the name “Wetherington Perish Church” as the local parish church.

Image captured by Gwydion M. Williams

The reason I thought of the birthday card is upon reading some of these I began to wonder whether someone was experimenting with speech-to-text software, feeding the soundtrack into a computer and getting it to figure out what everyone is saying.  I somehow doubt it–speech-to-text software has its limitations, but some of the mistakes I’ve seen could only be made by a human.  The kind of mistakes I see strongly suggest that someone is sitting at a keyboard listening to the soundtrack and typing what they hear, and that no one is proofreading the finished product.  Yet it strikes me that the people who do these subtitles are missing an obvious aid in their efforts.

I once watched an excellent Spanish-language time travel move, Los Cronocrimines a.k.a. TimeCrimes, which was both subtitled and dubbed in English, and it was intriguing to me to notice that the subtitles did not always match the dubbing.  My conclusion was that the subtitles were probably the more accurate rendering of the original Spanish.  My reasoning was that the dubbed text had to be adjusted so that the words we heard in the audience credibly matched the movement of the lips of the speakers, but the subtitles would be a direct English translation of the original Spanish dialogue.  Therein lies my solution:  use the script.

It wouldn’t work for a lot of programs–news, reality shows, talk shows–but the majority of the television I watch is scripted.  The people on the screen aren’t making up their lines; they’ve memorized them (or sometimes are reading them from a teleprompter).  The script is available, and given the ubiquity of computers it’s almost certainly available in an electronic file format.  So the obvious fix is for those who write the subtitles to start with the script, copy/paste the text into the subtitle program, and then simply adjust it whenever the actor got the line wrong–or not.  I often see subtitles in which the actor actually said about twice as many words as the subtitle, but didn’t really change the sense.

This solution seems so obvious to me that I find myself swithering between two conclusions.  It may be that the people responsible for the subtitling just aren’t bright enough to realize that they have an available resource for any text of which they are not certain, or to recognize that what they typed can’t possibly be right.  On the other hand, maybe the attitude is based on that corollary to the familiar law, Anything not worth doing is not worth doing well.  After all, how many of us out here really rely on subtitles?  Why spend a bit more time, a bit more money, a bit more effort on getting them right?  I’m constantly reading and reviewing books which are poorly edited; should I expect better of television and movies?  Does the subtitle audience really matter?

Maybe we don’t–but we aren’t all hard of hearing.  Some of us use subtitles because we watch late at night and don’t want the television to be so loud that it disturbs the sleep of others in the house.  Some use subtitles because we’re watching at work, such as night security, and we don’t want the noise of the television.  Some use subtitles to get past character accents that are sometimes challenging to understand (oh, that’s what she said!).  They’re a convenience–but an annoying one when they make stupid mistakes.

I don’t have much influence in the film industry.  I write a few articles about time travel in movies, and I’m aware that a few independent film producers have read them, but in the main I’ll probably be ignored.  However, it would be nice to have the subtitles match the dialogue, or at least accurately represent it, especially if the people typing them can’t understand what the actors are saying–that, after all, is when many of us most need to have the written form.  So here’s hoping that those who provide the subtitles can do a bit better for those of us who use them.

#226: Versers Adapt

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #226, on the subject of Versers Adapt.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have now completed publishing my first three novels, Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, Old Verses New, and For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (those links will take you to the table of contents for each book).  Along with each book there was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as I am posting the fourth, Spy Verses,  I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look may contain spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, hopefully giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

This is the second mark Joseph “young” web log post covering this book, covering chapters 22 through 42.  These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #218:  Versers Resume (which provided this kind of insight into the first twenty-one chapters).

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 22, Brown 106

I’ve never had anyone attempt a roof entrance on this scenario.  I have had them rappel down to a random floor window and go in that way, but the roof door is usually thought (correctly) to be guarded.  Derek takes that entrance, because it is the worst guarded.

The fear and confusion of the guard is because he does not understand the gargoyle-like creature flying at him.

Chapter 23, Kondor 102

Bob wouldn’t know the word, but he raises the eugenics issue:  is it morally wrong to purify the gene pool by preventing defective members of the race from reproducing, and if not, what defines who gets to have children?

The notion that the blacks would have material establishing their own genetic superiority developed slowly here.  I needed a way to make Joe think that the discrimination against whites in this world was based on something rational, so that he could buy into it however briefly.  He needed that jolt, that realization that he was thinking exactly like white slavers and later white racists thought, that there was a real difference between the races which amounted to a biological superiority of one over another.

In the previous novels I had been developing Joe’s “reverse” racism, and had been thinking that this had to be a major arc in his story.  This world was going to be a significant step in that–but it suddenly ended quite abruptly.  Bob’s argument about the parakeets and sparrows shook Joe’s illusion of science.

I kept wondering what Joe and Bob were going to do about the systemic racism of this world, but ultimately at this moment I have accomplished the part of this world that really mattered:  Joe recognizes that he can be just as racist as anyone, and racism can appear to be quite reasonable to those who think they have reasons for it.

“They breed like rabbits” was something that was said about blacks in the early twentieth century.  The fact is, rapid breeding rates are normal for humans.  For one thing, child mortality rates were always high prior to the dawn of modern medicine, and even (perhaps especially) wealthy and powerful families needed to have several children (and hopefully several sons) to continue the family line; in the modern world, there is a lot less pressure from that, because more children survive to adulthood.  For another, in agrarian and herding cultures children are an asset, a cheap labor force that increases production; in urban societies children are a liability, costing money in the short term and the long term, and not generally considered a good financial investment (although that’s a very individual matter).  Since blacks lived in poverty, there was a strong tendency for them to have larger families–although this was also true of poor whites, and of specific religious groups (Roman Catholics, conservative Lutherans, conservative Baptists most notably).  However, middle and upper middle class whites tended to see burgeoning impoverished black families as proof that blacks could not control their breeding, when that was only part of the problem:  more children meant more labor, more income, particularly for rural black families.  That’s why the line comes to Joe, and why he doesn’t like it.

Chapter 24, Brown 107

Derek, now in the form of Ferris, suddenly faces an ethical crisis.  He is carrying his darts and the drugged arrows he created based on the darts; they are anesthetic, rendering their target unconscious.  He developed the arrow drug precisely so that sprites, including himself, would not have to kill people.  However, this terrorist will kill him if he gets the chance, and Derek might be giving him the chance by not killing him first.

I realized the problems with the stairs at this point as well.  At two and a half feet tall, Ferris is toddler-sized, with the sort of short legs that struggle with stairs.  He doesn’t fly, he only glides, and trying to glide down the typical skyscraper stairway with its switchbacks at the landings would be very difficult.  In a sense it would be easier to leap down an elevator shaft.

Chapter 25, Slade 100

The human/animal argument returns, as Slade considers whether the way we treat chimpanzees comes under a different category than the way we treat creatures who seem to us “almost human”.

My trick to keep them in the bunker now worked against me, as they were stuck in the bunker until I found a way to get them out; but I started looking for ways to use that in my favor.

Chapter 26, Brown 108

My parents took me to the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building; the latter had elevators much of the distance, but both involved a lot of stairs.  I’m not sure I appreciated the view, but I remembered the climb.

The lone gunman is the first encounter; it is not necessary that the main character actually confront him, and in this case I chose for this to be more a tension builder than a confrontation.

Apart from the fall into the pit at the end of the third novel, this is the first time Derek has ever used Ferris as more than a way of getting between Derek and Morach.  Thus he never had shoes.  I never go barefoot but in the shower, at the poolside, and in bed; I don’t like the soles of my feet on anything hot, cold, sharp, or rough.  Thus I feel the steps when Ferris lands on them.

The office worker is also a planned encounter.  There are later encounters when terrorists have hostages and when they pretend to be hostages, so it’s important that the player not think all encounters are necessarily terrorists.  This plays with those expectations.

On the read-through edit I realized that Derek could use his scriff sense to point to wherever Calloway had his equipment, and that he would think of that, so I added it.

Chapter 27, Kondor 103

One of the difficult issues in this story is why the war is still happening.  The blacks have such military superiority that they could easily overwhelm the whites; the whites only have numerical superiority, as far as I can see.  I needed the war to continue, to be continuing for generations, without any real hope of either side winning, while maintaining the technological superiority of the blacks.

I took a new tack with the characters.  Since Bob Slade was trapped as an unwelcome guest among the blacks, and he was likely to be the best hand-to-hand fighter (not to mention good with the blaster) that they’d ever seen, I could use his superiority to undermine their confidence, cause them to believe that the whites might be more human than supposed.

Chapter 28, Brown 109

One would expect that something that glows would become an obvious target, but one of the tricks defense experts learned in World War II was that a plane against a daylight sky was a dark blip, but if you put forward-facing spotlights on it it became part of the brightness of the sky.  Thus a logical reason for sprites to glow is it makes them less visible to anything looking up at the sky.  It now also occurred to me that shadows are one of the most difficult things to hide when stalking, and the light emanating from a sprite would reduce the shadow some.

In one of my favorite movies, The Last Starfighter, there is a moment when the navigator, Grigg, is explaining the problem to the starfighter, Alex.  Alex notes that it is a knotty problem, and Grigg says, “I’ll have it all figured out by the time we reach the frontier.”  At that moment an alarm sounds, and Alex asks, “What’s that?” to which the reply is, “The frontier.”  I think that kind of scene is what I was thinking here, as Morach is trying to figure out what he’s going to do when he gets to the terrorists, so he’s taking his time getting to the terrorists, but he still doesn’t think of anything.

Derek learned some aerobatics as a young sprite; before that he saw Lauren adapt her acrobatics to her combat techniques.  I always tried to avoid making the characters too much alike, but at this point it made sense for him to emulate her, adapting his aerobatics to combat.

One of the downsides of using published worlds in published novels is that I give away secrets, tricks that a future player might exploit.  One of the advantages of my characters is that they are unusual enough that a lot of their solutions to problems aren’t really useful to most players.  It would require a remarkable set of coincidences for a player to be able to copy Derek’s means of clearing the back door.

Chapter 29, Slade 101

Joe easily slips into the mode of making his hosts uncomfortable with their resident ghost.  He focuses on how to get them to recognize just how skilled a killer Bob is.

Bob is adapting to his new identity.  He was becoming a warrior of Odin in the first book; in the third (his second) he married the girl, and now he is also a husband.  He asks himself how those two roles mesh, and starts looking for answers that make both work better.

The reluctance of the soldier to touch deadphones that had been worn by a white man is one of the little bits that show their deep prejudice.

I liked taking the phrase “he was not safe” and inverting it:  it wasn’t that he was in danger, but that he was a danger to them.

I also used that to segue to the possibility of doing a magical SEP (the type of invisibility known as “somebody else’s problem”, the reason nobody can describe the custodian who was mopping the floor or the bum on the park bench).  Lauren does the trick psionically, but it’s a useful trick and something Bob and Shella might be able to do by magic.

Chapter 30, Brown 110

I don’t usually talk about Derek’s high-tech gear, but since I introduced a trinary computer connection in the second novel and fiber optics are known to be faster than electrical connections, I thought I’d toss in a bit of jargon about what the component did that would be right but confusing to someone who knew enough to know that they weren’t using trinary systems.

I’ve always thought that working in a field where there was some information that only some people were permitted to know would be frustrating both for those who knew and for those who did not, and I reflect that in this interaction.

The elevator trick was off the cuff, something I thought would have potential for the story.  I didn’t know whether I would use it again, but I wanted it to be there in case I did.

I thought Uballa sounded like an African name, and so although I didn’t say the bomb expert was black I at least created the impression he might be.  My mind puts the accent on the second syllable.  I picture Jim as played by a young Steven Segal.

When I reached Brown 117 on the first read-through edit, I realized that I had not previously mentioned where he put the chain, and it needed to be accessible.  I also realized that I didn’t remember mentioning any of his weapons in this scene, so I came back and added them, and also added mention that he packed his electronics gear.

Chapter 31, Slade 102

In the back of my mind I was at this point exploring the possibility that the whites had magic they could use against the blacks; I never pursued that, but it gave me some basis for a low but functional magic bias.

I noticed that Shella always called Slade “M’lord”; it was automatic, that when I wrote her dialogue, that’s what she called him.  It occurred to me that it was the kind of thing that Bob would find both pleasing and embarrassing, and wouldn’t exactly want to object but would want his wife to be comfortable calling him something else.  It struck me just about here.

It also occurred to me that Bob and Shella spent quite a bit of time in the vampire future world with Lauren and Derek, and Shella would have spent some of that time with Lauren and Bethany, and some of it with Merlin, all of which was, as it were, “off camera”.  Thus I could fill in blanks of things Shella learned while there (a very high magic world) for her to know now.

Having Bob experiment with what magic works has the advantage of informing readers not familiar with the earlier books concerning what magic he has used before; the same goes for the discussion about magic with Shella.

The experiment with the SEP invisibility gave me the opportunity to create a bit of adventure for Bob and Shella; I hadn’t thought through what was going to happen, but I figured it would lead to something interesting if they could wander the halls unnoticed.

Chapter 32, Brown 111

The bombs are part of the original scenario, and finding one from the safe side is the next encounter.  The stickers are also part of that.

Left or Right was the title of the Game Ideas Unlimited article in which I discussed this method of designing a scenario–in which the encounters are sequenced and the referee places them in appropriate places as the floor plan is created in response to character choices.  Derek’s reaction is of course correct in reality:  everything hinges on which direction he goes, but he has no data on which to base a decision.  The scenario, though, is based on movie logic:  the way he chooses is of no consequence, because wherever he goes he will walk into the next encounter there.

I vaguely remember that that trip to the Empire State Building was connected to some trip to see some specialist doctor who had an office in the building.  It had not previously occurred to me that doctors might have offices in high rise buildings–growing up in the suburbs, my doctors all had private offices in small buildings.  Most other high rise buildings I had been in had been hotels or buildings housing a single company, e.g., the Blue Cross/Blue Shield office building in Wilmington, Delaware.  This idea of individual separate offices within the larger building still strikes me as unusual, but of course it’s normal.

“Three and then go” is of course from the Lethal Weapon movies, where they always stop and ask whether it’s “on three, or three and then go”.

Chapter 33, Kondor 104

Again I note differences between my characters, as despite his scientific and technological training Joe does not really carry a toolkit.

At some point I dropped a new player into a variant modern world, and then brought in several other player characters.  It was the first player’s home town, Columbus, Ohio, but within the first few minutes of play I’d realized that what I wanted to do was create a 1950s B Movie world, in which all the monsters were real because of radioactive and chemical waste.  Some of the player characters became very involved in trying to organize a “clean up the world” process.  The first player, though, took a different tack:  this is not our world, why are we interfering?  Joe is now debating that same issue–but it is one he already addressed, and he remembers his thoughts on that subject now.

Joe works from his early impressions of Bob, a guy who believes in Norse gods and thinks he’s been chosen for Ragnorak, who thinks he can talk to the wind and have it hear him and cooperate; from this Joe thinks Bob is not very bright.  Thus when Bob demonstrates something intelligent, Joe admires it but downplays its importance.  It probably contributes to this that Bob does not think himself very bright either–“only an auto mechanic” is still part of his self-identity.

Chapter 34, Brown 112

Derek’s spritish upbringing comes into play here, as he realizes he is responsible now for killing three terrorists.  At the back door he might have killed one–but it was more accidental, as the man choked on the arrow that otherwise would have rendered him unconscious.  Here it is clear that three men have been shot dead, intentionally, by his team, and that makes him a killer here.

He also recalls the slasher summer camp scenario, and tries to explain to himself how he is different from the killer there.

I created the smiley face stickers as markers for the bomb when I wrote the game scenario, and used it here.

The reference to fighting demons is specifically to the Vampire Future world at the end of the third novel.

Chapter 35, Slade 103

Several factors go into learning a new skill.  One of them is how many skills you already have (technically how high they are bias-wise) in that area, and thus Shella has an advantage over Bob in learning this one.  Another is that having an example of how it’s done gives a bonus, and thus Bob watches Shella and learns a bit better how it’s done.  Thus they both successfully learn the skill.

The trick of having Shella drop the invisibility and address the group was inspired about this moment, as was the line about being called “ghosts”.

Chapter 36, Brown 113

When I designed the world, I suggested many things that could be on various floors of the building; one of them was a shopping mall, which could easily fill two stories.  I needed variety in my floors here in the game world, but couldn’t envision Derek going downstairs very far, so I decided to put the mall about twenty-five floors above the street.

I am still running the encounters by the book.  This one is an office worker fleeing from terrorists.

I almost gave Derek the smiley stickers at the first encounter, but at that point he had no possible reason to take them.  Now he knows their significance, so having them is to his advantage.

Chapter 37, Slade 104

This chapter covers a lot of Slade’s internal considerations, and it reflects a lot of the character of the character.  It includes the fun side near the beginning, and then he gets into some serious issues.  It is really about Slade himself more than anything else.

I, too, was wondering how Joe, Bob, and Shella could change the world.  They continue struggling with that question for a while.

Chapter 38, Brown 114

The world description on which this is based calls for an encounter in which the characters have to pass over or under some kind of bridge or balcony where they are exposed to view.  This was my way of including that here, and I often include it in a mall-within-the-building scenario.  I think most of us have been on the upper level of a mall that has some kind of overlook to the lower level, so it’s a familiar enough setting–and fountains are also fairly common in malls.

Chapter 39, Kondor 105

I knew it was time to move my versers out of Mlambo’s bunker, but did not know where they were going or what would happen next.  I considered that they might be returning here before they went anywhere else, so I set that up as a possibility.

Bob’s comment about not needing luck makes an important point–that “luck” is what you need when you can’t count on skill–but it’s also true that he has called for a bit of luck sometimes as well.

Chapter 40, Brown 115

The scenario in which terrorists use hostages as shields also comes from the book.  I decided that a hostage wounded by the rescuers would add tension, but it had to be Jim, not Derek, responsible for it.

It also underscores their problem:  they aren’t here to rescue hostages, so this is an incidental rescue.

Chapter 41, Slade 105

By letting Bob describe Joe adjusting his eye, I didn’t have to decide to what degree ultraviolet light would be useful in the fog.  I only suggested that it was possible.

I also got to play a bit with Joe’s naturalism:  Bob and Shella perform their SEP spell (“Somebody Else’s Problem” invisibility) and immediately they are unnoticed by the patrol, but Joe does not know why.

The “ghost” label was something of an abrupt inspiration when I brought the whites into the compound and needed a word that would be descriptive and potentially offensive for white people which was not used in our world.  I spent quite a while trying to find a way to “demonize” the blacks, and decided that “shade” was an excellent counterpart.  It is more than merely white ghosts and black shades.  “Ghost” suggests something insubstantial; “shade” is closer to something inhumanly evil or demonic.  It gave metaphoric substance to my races.

Chapter 42, Brown 116

One of the encounters in the scenario is that a small team is dispatched to hunt the intruder.  The problem I had here was determining how to make that known to the reader without breaking perspective.  Perspective is a type of a rule in literature which can best be described as who is telling whose story.  Throughout these novels I have maintained what is called an internal character perspective, each chapter told from the viewpoint of the principle character.  It shifts a bit over the course of the telling, sometimes approaching (but not reaching) first person, getting to the specific thoughts of the character, usually third person but still internal, focusing on what the character himself perceives and knows, and omitting anything he does not see or cannot know.  In effect, the reader travels with Derek, as Derek’s companion and confidante, knowing and seeing what Derek knows and sees.  I do that in part because it is more like the game, in that if you were playing Derek you would not know what Derek does not know.  It means, though, that I cannot tell you what Jim thinks or feels except as Derek perceives it, and I cannot tell you what is happening somewhere else in the building or beyond, unless I either break perspective or change perspective.  Breaking perspective is jarring for the reader, as if someone with the same voice suddenly interrupted the speaker.  Authors change perspective all the time, but it has to be done smoothly and the new perspective has to be maintained long enough to establish it before changing it again.  Dramatists and television writers are generally limited to external perspective–we know nothing of character thoughts and feelings but what they express for us to observe (although soliloquies and voice-overs were invented to provide a route to internal perspective).  Modern writers often use what is called “divine perspective”, allowing us to know what all characters see, think, and feel, and often what is hidden from them, but this has its own problems particularly with keeping it clear to the reader whose feelings and thoughts are presently described, and if you stay with one character long enough the reader is shocked by an abrupt change to another even if you thought you had established divine perspective.  All of this is to say that my solution here was to have Jim tell Derek that he heard on the enemy radio that they were dispatching a team, and thus I was able to inform the reader of a fact that could not otherwise have been mentioned without changing the perspective to one I never otherwise used in any of the novels (viewing events not within the knowledge of a central character).

The issue of whether the enemy could have identified which way Derek’s team was moving was never resolved, but it was more important to show that he was thinking about how to lead the team in ways most people wouldn’t.

This has been the second behind the writings look at Spy Verses.  If there is interest and continued support from readers we will continue to publish this novel and the behind the writings posts, and prepare the fifth novel to follow it.

#219: A 2017 Retrospective

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #219, on the subject of A 2017 Retrospective.

A year ago, plus a couple days, on the last day of 2016 we posted web log post #150:  2016 Retrospective.  We are a couple days into the new year but have not yet posted anything new this year, so we’ll take a look at what was posted in 2017.

Beginning “off-site”, there was a lot at the Christian Gamers Guild, as the Faith and Gaming series ran the rest of its articles.  I also launched two new monthly series there in the last month of the year, with introductory articles Faith in Play #1:  Reintroduction, continuing the theme of the Faith and Gaming series, and RPG-ology #1:  Near Redundancy, reviving some of the lost work and adding more to the Game Ideas Unlimited series of decades back.  In addition to the Faith and Gaming materials, the webmaster republished two articles from early editions of The Way, the Truth, and the Dice, the first Magic:  Essential to Faith, Essential to Fantasy from the magic symposium, and the second Real and Imaginary Violence, about the objection that role playing games might be too violent.  I also contributed a new article at the beginning of the year, A Christian Game, providing rules for a game-like activity using scripture.  Near the end of the year–the end of November, actually–I posted a review of all the articles from eighteen months there, as Overview of the Articles on the New Christian Gamers Guild Website.

That’s apart from the Chaplain’s Bible Study posts, where we finished the three Johannine epistles and Jude and have gotten about a third of the way through Revelation.  There have also been Musings posts on the weekends.

Over at Goodreads I’ve reviewed quite a few books.

Turning to the mark Joseph “young” web log, we began the year with #151:  A Musician’s Resume, giving my experience and credentials as a Christian musician.  That subject was addressed from a different direction in #163:  So You Want to Be a Christian Musician, from the advice I received from successful Christian musicians, with my own feeling about it.  Music was also the subject of #181:  Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration, the steps involved in creating the song Even You, with link to the recording.

We turned our New Year’s attention to the keeping of resolutions with a bit of practical advice in #152:  Breaking a Habit, my father’s techniques for quitting smoking more broadly applied.

A few of the practical ones related to driving, including #154:  The Danger of Cruise Control, presenting the hazard involved in the device and how to manage it, #155:  Driving on Ice and Snow, advice on how to do it, and #204:  When the Brakes Fail, suggesting ways to address the highly unlikely but cinematically popular problem of the brakes failing and the accelerator sticking.

In an odd esoteric turn, we discussed #153:  What Are Ghosts?, considering the possible explanations for the observed phenomena.  Unrelated, #184:  Remembering Adam Keller, gave recollections on the death of a friend.  Also not falling conveniently into a usual category, #193:  Yelling:  An Introspection, reflected on the internal impact of being the target of yelling.

Our Law and Politics articles considered several Supreme Court cases, beginning with a preliminary look at #156:  A New Slant on Offensive Trademarks, the trademark case brought by Asian rock band The Slants and how it potentially impacts trademark law.  The resolution of this case was also covered in #194:  Slanting in Favor of Free Speech, reporting the favorable outcome of The Slant’s trademark dispute, plus the Packingham case regarding laws preventing sex offenders from accessing social networking sites.

Other court cases included #158:  Show Me Religious Freedom, examining the Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley case in which a church school wanted to receive the benefits of a tire recycling playground resurfacing program; this was resolved and covered in #196:  A Church and State Playground, followup on the Trinity Lutheran playground paving case.  #190:  Praise for a Ginsberg Equal Protection Opinion, admires the decision in the immigration and citizenship case Morales-Santana.

We also addressed political issues with #171:  The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention), noting that political terms of office are not eternal; #172:  Why Not Democracy?, a consideration of the disadvantages of a more democratic system; #175:  Climate Change Skepticism, about a middle ground between climate change extremism and climate change denial; #176:  Not Paying for Health Care, about socialized medicine costs and complications; #179:  Right to Choose, responding to the criticism that a male white Congressman should not have the right to take away the right of a female black teenager to choose Planned Parenthood as a free provider of her contraceptive services, and that aspect of taking away someone’s right to choose as applied to the unborn.

We presumed to make a suggestion #159:  To Compassion International, recommending a means for the charitable organization to continue delivering aid to impoverished children in India in the face of new legal obstacles.  We also had some words for PETA in #162:  Furry Thinking, as PETA criticized Games Workshop for putting plastic fur on its miniatures and we discuss the fundamental concepts behind human treatment of animals.

We also talked about discrimination, including discriminatory awards programs #166:  A Ghetto of Our Own, awards targeted to the best of a particular racial group, based on similar awards for Christian musicians; #207:  The Gender Identity Trap, observing that the notion that someone is a different gender on the inside than his or her sex on the outside is confusing cultural expectations with reality, and #212:  Gender Subjectivity, continuing that discussion with consideration of how someone can know that they feel like somthing they have never been.  #217:  The Sexual Harassment Scandal, addressed the recent explosion of sexual harassment allegations.

We covered the election in New Jersey with #210:  New Jersey 2017 Gubernatorial Election, giving an overview of the candidates in the race, #211:  New Jersey 2017 Ballot Questions, suggesting voting against both the library funding question and the environmental lock box question, and #214:  New Jersey 2017 Election Results, giving the general outcome in the major races for governor, state legislature, and public questions.

Related to elections, #213:  Political Fragmentation, looks at the Pew survey results on political typology.

We recalled a lesson in legislative decision-making with #182:  Emotionalism and Science, the story of Tris in flame-retardant infant clothing, and the warning against solutions that have not been considered for their other effects.  We further discussed #200:  Confederates, connecting what the Confederacy really stood for with modern issues; and #203:  Electoral College End Run, opposing the notion of bypassing the Constitutional means of selecting a President by having States pass laws assigning their Electoral Votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.

2017 also saw the publication of the entirety of the third Multiverser novel, For Better or Verse, along with a dozen web log posts looking behind the writing process, which are all indexed in that table of contents page.  There were also updated character papers for major and some supporting characters in the Multiverser Novel Support Pages section, and before the year ended we began releasing the fourth novel, serialized, Spy Verses, with the first of its behind-the-writings posts, #218:  Versers Resume, with individual sections for the first twenty-one chapters.

Our Bible and Theology posts included #160:  For All In Authority, discussing praying for our leaders, and protesting against them; #165:  Saints Alive, regarding statues of saints and prayers offered to them; #168:  Praying for You, my conditional offer to pray for others, in ministry or otherwise; #173:  Hospitalization Benefits, about those who prayed for my recovery; #177:  I Am Not Second, on putting ourselves last; #178:  Alive for a Reason, that we all have purpose as long as we are alive; #187:  Sacrificing Sola Fide, response to Walter Bjorck’s suggestion that it be eliminated for Christian unity; #192:  Updating the Bible’s Gender Language, in response to reactions to the Southern Baptist Convention’s promise to do so; #208:  Halloween, responding to a Facebook question regarding the Christian response to the holiday celebrations; #215:  What Forty-One Years of Marriage Really Means, reacting to Facebook applause for our anniversary with discussion of trust and forgiveness, contracts versus covenants; and #216:  Why Are You Here?, discussing the purpose of human existence.

We gave what was really advice for writers in #161:  Pseudovulgarity, about the words we don’t say and the words we say instead.

On the subject of games, I wrote about #167:  Cybergame Timing, a suggestion for improving some of those games we play on our cell phones and Facebook pages, and a loosely related post, #188:  Downward Upgrades, the problem of ever-burgeoning programs for smart phones.  I guested at a convention, and wrote of it in #189:  An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience, reflecting on being a guest at the convention.  I consider probabilities to be a gaming issue, and so include here #195:  Probabilities in Dishwashing, calculating a problem based on cup colors.

I have promised to do more time travel; home situations have impeded my ability to watch movies not favored by my wife, but this is anticipated to change soon.  I did offer #185:  Notes on Time Travel in The Flash, considering time remnants and time wraiths in the superhero series; #199:  Time Travel Movies that Work, a brief list of time travel movies whose temporal problems are minimal; #201:  The Grandfather Paradox Solution, answering a Facebook question about what happens if a traveler accidentally causes the undoing of his own existence; and #206:  Temporal Thoughts on Colkatay Columbus, deciding that the movie in which Christopher Columbus reaches India in the twenty-first century is not a time travel film.

I launched a new set of forums, and announced them in #197:  Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums, officially opening the forum section of the web site.  Unfortunately I announced them four days before landing in the hospital for the first of three summer hospitalizations–of the sixty-two days comprising July and August this year, I spent thirty-one of them in one or another of three hospitals, putting a serious dent in my writing time.  I have not yet managed to refocus on those forums, for which I blame my own post-surgical life complications and those of my wife, who also spent a significant stretch of time hospitalized and in post-hospitalization rehabilitation, and in extended recovery.  Again I express my gratitude for the prayers and other support of those who brought us through these difficulties, which are hopefully nearing an end.

Which is to say, I expect to offer you more in the coming year.  The fourth novel is already being posted, and a fifth Multiverser novel is being written in collaboration with a promising young author.  There are a few time travel movies available on Netflix, which I hope to be able to analyze soon.  There are a stack of intriguing Supreme Court cases for which I am trying to await the resolutions.  Your continued support as readers–and as Patreon and PayPal.me contributors–will bring these to realization.

Thank you.

#218: Versers Resume

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #218, on the subject of Versers Resume.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have now completed publishing my first three novels, Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, Old Verses New, and For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (those links will take you to the table of contents for each book).  Along with each book there was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as I am posting the fourth, Spy Verses,  I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look may contain spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, hopefully giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

This is the first mark Joseph “young” web log post covering this book, covering chapters 1 through 21.

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 1, Kondor 97

I was bringing Joe in from the end of the second book, when he was floating in space, and anticipating a moment when he would realize that he and Slade had both just left Derek a few minutes before.  I also wanted to color Kondor as the sort of person who would deduce things about the indigs from the way their world was designed.

Chapter 2, Brown 97

I had never wanted my versers to spend too much time with Merlin, as this would make them too much the same.  I had an advantage, in that I’d established Merlin’s usual technique as beginning with a long stretch of exploration of what the student already knew, so if I could get them out soon enough none of them (Derek, Slade, or Shella) would be pushed toward being Lauren’s clones.  Now, though, I had another reason to end it quickly, as I wanted Slade to join Kondor in Slade’s first chapter, so I was going to have to use Derek as the bridge to get Slade out.

It seemed I was also going to have to get Derek out; taking Slade and Shella at this battle and leaving Derek with Merlin and Bethany was going to decimate my dome attack team, and there wouldn’t be much more they could do against the vampires.  I needed to make it seem as if with the loss of Slade and Shella they won the war, that there was nothing much left to do, but then I would also have to verse out Derek.  This gave me another problem:  Bethany.  I’d established that Merlin was a verser, but I’d also established rather satisfactorily that Bethany was not.  I could make her one, but didn’t want to do that, particularly as my wife always found her annoying.  On the other hand, one of my sons (Adam, I think) liked the character, and I felt I needed to give her closure.  Thus I needed to establish a good ending for her.

The end of the world seemed a good way to satisfy that.  I kept it simple; I wanted people to know what was happening, but didn’t want to dwell on it.

I still needed to get Derek out of there, so he lost that battle.

Chapter 3, Slade 93

The point was to bring Bob to Kondor’s world before anything else happened, without making it seem I was stalling Kondor.  Thus I covered Slade’s disappearance from the final battle of the vampire future world through Derek’s eyes, and then shifted to a very brief recounting from Bob’s perspective and brought him abruptly to somewhere in the compound.

This chapter largely brings everyone up to speed on the characters, and aligns the stories so we know the sequence of events from the previous books.

Chapter 4, Kondor 98

The verse is something modern people accept fairly easily, but Shella is from a medieval fantasy world, and is going to be a bit overwhelmed by it all even now.  She is to some degree struggling to absorb it all; she bites her lip as she considers how to respond to Joe Kondor.

Shella’s blush is there because of course she’s kept track of the days–guilty as charged.  I have not, and I’m not sure whether I could reconstruct them with any accuracy, but hopefully it won’t matter.

Adrus is the name of the first month on the calendar I created for my D&D game world; Zarn was just a word I pulled out of the air to provide what might have been a month on some other calendar.

Joe takes a very humanist/agnostic view of love:  it serves a biological function of creating families for the production and rearing of children, for the continuance of the race.  It is thus irrelevant in the lives of versers, because they will never die and do not need to replace themselves.

I grew up with computers, sort of, but I think my attitude to computers in cars is still somewhat like Bob’s.  I understand how points and plugs and distributors work, but computer-controlled fuel injection I’ve never understood.

At this moment I decided that the cameras would be mounted on the guns, so the operators could use them to aim.  That would have consequences later.

Chapter 5, Brown 98

Derek is now experiencing the “stage two” arrival in which reality and dreams combine in awkward ways until you manage to awaken.  I have to do it for every character at least once, some more than once, and this was his turn.

The consideration of what can be learned about the world from the existence of leaves was something I was devising kind of in reverse of what I knew.  That is, I knew that leaves had the patterns and colors they did in order to capture and process light efficiently, and thus if there were leaves in such patterns and similar colors it would be reasonable to infer that that was their function.

I don’t know the difference between a forest and a jungle; I’m thinking that I should ask someone who knows, but I don’t really need to know to tell this part of the story.  I eventually did ask someone with a degree in ecology, but she was not certain either.

Chapter 6, Slade 94

Bob’s definition of “people” as having discovered swords is probably pushing back toward the humorous side of the character.

That Shella misses the connection to Derek is perhaps awkward, as she was there when Bob met him, but they probably think about him in different ways, and she also has the connection that in her world of origin people said that Slade had elfin blood, so that connects him to the fairy people in her mind.

Chapter 7, Brown 99

I had gotten to what was chapter 77, Slade 118, alternating rather consistently Kondor-Brown-Slade, but I was struggling with a couple of issues.  One was that Derek’s story had a lot of detail best managed in small chapters, and that meant that his story was moving very slowly in the book.  Another was that I had Bob and Joe in the same world, so I was telling their story two chapters in a row every time, even though it was a slow story, more an intellectual conflict, and I didn’t always know what was happening.  When I reached that point, I realized that I could resolve a lot of this if I backed up and moved all the chapters around and renumbered them so that Derek’s story was told twice, in a Kondor-Brown-Slade-Brown sequence.  It was a lot of shuffling of text (thank the Lord for word processors), but Derek’s chapters through somewhere around Brown 119 got moved forward, including this one.

Chapter 8, Kondor 99

Mlambo was the surname of a college peer of mine, Lyson Qorani Mlambo.  I enjoyed saying his name because of the unusual (for English) consonantal combinations–the “Q” represented a click created by pulling the tongue from the roof of the mouth.  I used the surname for the commander; I then used the first name as the surname of one of the other officers.  Lyson was a student from somewhere in Africa.

It was about here that I formed the idea of a race war, that this bunker belonged to the “black” side.

Chapter 9, Brown 100

I had done the energy release for Derek because even though it was supposed to be a body morphing transformation, the mass difference would need some kind of explanation; but I realized as I was working through it that the mass/energy conversion was as big as Derek saw, and thus that even without the magic some of that mass had been shunted into some other dimension or something.  Thus I had created the trick that he had to restore a significant amount of energy through caloric intake in order to reach and retain his larger size, and at the same time attempted to defuse objections that he couldn’t possibly gain that much energy from eating a single meal no matter what it contained.

I created the Reptile House team mostly of people I knew, several of them players in the game.  It was inspired because Ed Jones sometimes called himself Chameleon, and particularly when he was wearing his army reserve camouflage outfit; I had taken to calling myself Sea Turtle, a reference to something of a joke for which one took a test to see whether one could “think clean” when asked a set of questions which were suggestive of lewd answers but also had clean answers, and I was officially a Sea Turtle.  Thus I formed the team with Ed as the field commander Chameleon and me as the unit commander Sea Turtle; the others will be introduced as they appear.

Chapter 10, Slade 95

The idea of calling the whites “ghosts” had a lot of appeal here.  I needed a racial slur that was not a racial slur in our world, and everyone imagines ghosts to be pale and thus white, so it fits.

There is also some of the discriminatory attitude that American blacks faced mostly in the south:  Mlambo is concerned that he can’t provide separate facilities for the ghosts, because of course whites would not be permitted to use the same facilities as blacks.

Chapter 11, Brown 101

This world was designed for The Third Book of Worlds.  The opening can drop the player character anywhere in the world and then have the pickup team there within forty-eight hours.  This is ultimately explained in the story.  The world is called Why Spy, and is designed to facilitate playing plots from spy movies and similar sources, making the player character the secret agent.  “C” is my version of Bond’s “M” or Smart’s “Chief”.  It actually stands for “Claude”, and he’s a character from another world as well.  He is based on the generic British gentleman in the secret service, no particular individual.

“Iguana” is a college friend of mine, “Big Brother” Archie Bradley.  It’s more for the physical description, although the character of being a nice guy despite a formidable appearance is part of it.

“Python” is based on Joe Kondor, who in turn is not really based on anyone.  The idea is that this is Joe’s divergent self.  I put him here intentionally, to make a connection that this was a parallel earth, and to create a surprise situation.

“Gecko” is Richard Lutz, whom I never met.  I make him a tech head here, and he’s the guy who has the portable scriff detection equipment, plus the main communications gear.  I was more than once told that he had a Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) with no buttons, and accessed the functions by knowing which exposed wires to cross.

“Kimodo Dragon” was the transport officer; I made my son Ryan the model for this, and gave him the conceit that he could drive or fly any vehicle.

“Cobra” was a divergent of Chris Jones, largely because he had studied some martial arts and I wanted to intensify that and make him strong and fast.  In play we sometimes get the Reptile House team working with the player character in adventure situations, but I wasn’t sure whether I was going to do that here.  Chris, of course, was the primary model for Bob Slade, although Chris has dark hair, not blonde, and never was an auto mechanic or an Odinite, even in the game.  He is also the player behind the character Whisp, detailed in an appendix in Multiverser:  Referee’s Rules.

Originally I had written “shooting knock-out darts at guys with guns didn’t sound like a clever plan,” but I realized during the major edit that that was exactly the plan which led to the development of the arrow drug.  I decided that it made a difference that it was “several guys” and that they had “automatic weapons” instead of “guns”, and also decided that “needles” was a better description of the arrows here.

Chapter 12, Kondor 100

A lot of Joe’s prejudices emerge here.  The first one is that religion is a mark of a lesser intellect, and thus Bob must not be that bright if he thinks he’s one of Odin’s chosen warriors.

Joe also thinks that the fact that Bob did not notice that everyone in the other room was black indicated that he was prejudiced–that not noticing someone’s color was indicative of discrimination based on race.  Bob, of course, thinks that it’s perfectly natural, and there’s no particular reason he should have noticed something like that; black soldiers are common, and it’s because a lot of blacks see it as a good economic choice.

Lyson’s prejudice is also shown when he reacts to Bob speaking to him.

On the edit, I seriously considered altering “If Slade didn’t understand why noticing the color of someone’s skin was important,” to read “If Slade didn’t understand why not noticing the color of someone’s skin was racist,” but I decided that was too strong and probably not really the way Kondor would have thought it.

Chapter 13, Brown 102

The problem of Derek attempting to fly through the turbulence created by the helicopter blades was a sudden realization, a recognition of the realities of the situation.

I knew all along that he was in the Amazon rainforest; this was the first time I said so.

The rapid consumption, digestion, and metabolizing of the high-energy food and drink was my best idea for the transformation.  I might have gotten some of this from episodes of The Flash, the 1990s version, in which Barry Allen consumes large quantities of food to maintain his energy level after running, but I don’t know that I ever recognized the connection.

Chapter 14, Slade 96

Shella very much reveals her girl side, prettying the barracks room for their brief stay with knick-knacks and a comforter.  She also predictably complains when Bob starts polishing his dagger on their good comforter.

I didn’t yet know what they were supposed to do, or going to do, while they were here.  I’ve got them exploring the possibilities.

Chapter 15, Brown 103

“The clock” is of course Big Ben.  It’s probably the most recognizable landmark in London, at least in an international sense.  Most Americans would not recognize most of the truly significant buildings and other landmarks in the city, but the clock is known.

Derek’s age is of course problematic from any perspective.  Like versers, he doesn’t age, so he kept his twelve-year-old appearance into his twenties; then he had the rare experience of returning to pre-born and growing up again, this time reaching about seventeen before dying.  So he is probably around fifty by years lived, but it would be difficult to say how old his body appears to be.

This is really the standard setup for the game world:  British Intelligence knows that versers are dangerous, and that they have a lot of advantages in the spy game, and so recruits them; C does not want them working for anyone else, and will do whatever it takes to prevent that.  I had one player get very upset about not being given a choice in the matter, but usually they like it and go with the flow.

Chapter 16, Slade 97

Shella challenges Bob’s self-perception in this chapter.  Most of us have ideas about ourselves, that we are this and not that, and sometimes those ideas are contrary to the evidence.

Joe is trying to figure out what’s happening, and at this point I didn’t know how he was going to do that; but I figured he would try to include recovering his gear in the process, and that meant going outside.

Chapter 17, Brown 104

The name Kyler Bryant borrows from one of my sons; I thought it likely I would use this passport at some point, so I detailed it.

The driving training is there so that if I have a use for it in the future I’ve got the foundation for it here.  I don’t know when I’ll use it.

The recognition that Derek is lonely is a fairly obvious one, particularly given that in the last world he was fighting alongside his odd collection of friends, and in the world before that he was part of a close family for a long time.  I have not considered yet how to address it, because things are about to happen for him.

I didn’t waste names on the other passports because I guessed I would not need them, and knew I could give them names later if necessary.

About halfway through the read-through edit (after chapter 75), probably because I had just written chapter 143 (Brown 159) in which Derek arrives in the final world, it occurred to me that Derek’s gear had been neglected for most of two decades, and the bicycle in particular would need some maintenance.  I came back to this chapter and added parts about cleaning and repairing his equipment, and letting Gear examine his things.  I had originally written the part about them developing an analog of his drug, but at this point I added the provision of several small containers of the stuff.

Chapter 18, Kondor 101

I started to play with the idea that Kondor’s cover story might make him someone people feared; I don’t think I ever decided about that, but it’s not something he could ever ask or anyone would ever say.

I also needed to find a way for him to learn what was going on in this world, and it made sense that there would be reading materials somewhere which would include the official propaganda.

Chapter 19, Slade 98

By having Joe stay late in the library and Bob fall asleep, I saved myself a useless chapter in which Joe stops to tell Bob to go to sleep.

I didn’t know what I was going to do with my characters once they left the bunker, so I figured an early morning attack would trap them here for a bit and I could work through the situation here.

Chapter 20, Brown 105

When I was in college for a while I had a night job, and so I often ate in my room.  I was stocked with a toaster and a percolator coffee pot in which I heated water, and I had instant oatmeal, instant soup, and toaster pastries which I tended to eat because I was at work during dinner and asleep through breakfast.  I also caught supper at any of several fast food places in the area (Gino’s was both very convenient and much preferred at the time), but I lost a lot of weight.  In any case, the idea of instant oatmeal and toaster pastries as something Derek could easily make for brunch was from my experience.

The high rise scenario is from the Why Spy game world.  It was an experimental approach in which the scenes were organized as they would appear in a movie, and the referee created the encounters and picked the floors as the players moved through the building.  It was intended to prevent the possibility that someone would go directly to the bomb, making it play more like the action movies Die Hard or Under Siege.  It undoubtedly owes something to True Lies, as well.

Chapter 21, Slade 99

I had to work out myself what it was that Bob could notice, and how to turn that to a useful bit of strategic analysis.  I had to figure out what it was the white army was trying to do, and how that was supposed to work.

I realized that I had created the weakness by tying the cameras to the guns:  if the whites could get the guns focused in specific directions, they could create a blind spot.  That, I figured, was the best guess for what they were doing, so I went with it.

This has been the first behind the writings look at Spy Verses.  If there is interest and continued support from readers we will continue to publish this novel and the behind the writings posts, and prepare the fifth novel to follow it.

#209: Versers Victorious

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #209, on the subject of Versers Victorious.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have now completed publishing my third novel, For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first two, you can find the table of contents for the first at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, and that for the second at Old Verses New.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed along with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as the third is posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, hopefully giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #157:  Versers Restart (which provided this kind of insight into the first eleven chapters);
  2. #164:  Versers Proceed (which covered chapters 12 through 22);
  3. #170:  Versers Explore (which covered chapters 23 through 33);
  4. #174:  Versers Achieve (chapters 34 through 44);
  5. #180:  Versers Focus (chapters 45 through 55);
  6. #183:  Verser Transitions (chapters 56 through 66);
  7. #186:  Worlds Change (chapters 67 through 77);
  8. #191:  Versers Travel (chapters 78 through 88);
  9. #198:  Verser Trials (89 through 99);
  10. #202:  Verser Confrontations (chapters 100 through 110);
  11. #205:  Verser Reunion (chapters 111 through 121).

This picks up from there, completing the book with chapters 122 through 132.

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 122, Slade 89

It was too soon to explain what happened, but I had to let the reader know that the characters were aware of the problems.  I’d devised the answers already, but couldn’t take the time here to give them.

I had become aware of the redundancy between both locking out the computer controls and destroying the mechanism.  I didn’t really have a good reason to lock out the computers if the mechanism was going to be destroyed, but I did have a reason to destroy the mechanism if the computer lockouts were in place, so I tried to make it all seem credible.

The barn would be Cowtown; I just needed a few places they could use in the travel for color.  The idea of having them split up had come to me more as an added precaution.

I was actually stuck for a place for them to go at this point; but it was obvious that once Tubrok knew who was behind the raids, he’d know where to look for them, and they were going to have to move.  It would be most obvious perhaps to Merlin, who had something of an outsider’s perspective, but knew Tubrok.

The legend of the Mystic came back to me abruptly.  I wanted to start having ordinary people attack domes, and this was a good opportunity to kick-start that.

Chapter 123, Hastings 134

My explanation for how Omigger had come to be Merlin was intact before this point, but this was the time to deliver it.  The tobacco thing was a passing point.

I decided on Philadelphia next.  After all, this was where Lauren had started, but she’d not yet freed it.  She had attacked the dome control station to steal the papers, but had not yet opened the dome.  I also had a wild idea of having them travel from the dome control station in a tour of the world only to return to Ana and Dimitri to stay there for a few days–after all, that would not be where Tubrok would look.

Chapter 124, Brown 93

The details of this came together rather quickly; the presentation took longer.  But I liked the idea of going back to Philadelphia the way she’d left it, by Speedline.  Yet I was getting close to the climactic battle with Tubrok, and I didn’t want to overdo the combat just before it.  This all seemed to work.

Chapter 125, Slade 90

At this point it was becoming necessary for me to sketch out what was going to happen in the remainder of the book.  There were a lot of things I had to do, and not much time in which to do them.

The fact that Derek could turn into Ferris Hoffman and so catch himself when falling had to be worked into a combat situation; and that meant it had to be established that Bethany had done the magic clothes.

The next assault really had to be Washington; nothing else made sense.  That also meant they were going to face Tubrok finally.  I had to come up with a way for him to make a speech in the midst of this–a magical defense that was going to cause a lull in the fighting at some point–and I had to get the dialogue down so it really made sense and mattered.

Lauren was going to die in this battle; but she couldn’t die at the beginning of it, and she couldn’t die at the end of it.  I was going to have to have another Hastings chapter, and then move away from her and back again.  It made sense at this point for Slade to wrap up the fight prelims (including the suit for Derek) and the decision to go to Washington.  My thinking was that Ana would mention it, and give some foreboding about it.  After that, Lauren will give us the movement to Washington and the confrontation itself.  Derek and Slade will then report the fight details; in that, Derek has to be thrown or knocked from some high point (or perhaps the floor beneath him has to be destroyed so he falls through?) so he can change to Ferris and catch himself.  Then the fight will continue through Lauren’s eyes, and at her climactic moment she will grab hold of Tubrok and pronounce the fire spell that killed Horta.  This will be the end of her story, but not the end of the fight, as she will verse out (and maybe take a couple of Tubrok’s lackeys with her) but Tubrok will survive.

I was thinking that Derek would see Tubrok pick himself up and revitalize himself, but now perhaps it would be better for this to be Slade.  The combat continues, with Horta and Merlin throwing enough magic around that the place starts to crumble (Tubrok will have used a darkness spell and something else to keep the sunlight out).  It would then shift to Derek.  Perhaps if Derek fell into a hole, caught himself by changing to Ferris, and then got out by changing to Morach, he would emerge from the hole a sprite, deprived of his larger weapons.  In this case, he would use the psionics he learned, and then maybe we’ll surprise everything by having the sleep drug work on Tubrok, so he goes down and can be finished by something else.  That would be a good ending, I think.  Thereafter, Merlin asks who his new student is.

That leaves me in need of a denouement.  There were good afterthoughts in the first two books, and I’ll have to think of one for this one.  Also, the first two books both ended with one of the characters in the next world.  That’s problematic for this one, as Lauren will not be in the fourth book and Derek and Slade won’t verse out of this one.  Perhaps I need to bring in one chapter of Kondor–I don’t yet know where he is, but he will be back in book four, so it’s time to start giving thought to that.

I came up with Slade’s speech about being prepared for the next thing; I figure that’s my big point in the denouement.  I did this while I was thinking over how this Slade chapter was going to go, and typed a quick draft at the end for reference.

The prophecy was a last-minute addition.  Since I already knew that it would be Derek, Lauren’s student, who finished Tubrok, I thought it would add tremendous tension for the prediction to have suggested she would defeat him and then have her die.

I knew at this point that I was entering a single combat that would last several chapters.  Lauren would get us there.  Derek would fall into a pit, and emerge as a sprite.  Tubrok would use darkness to blot out the sun.  It was going to be a long battle, with lots of combatants and lots of actions, and I was going to have to think of much more to make it work as it went.  The end of the book was about to begin.

Chapter 126, Hastings 135

I had actually forgotten that there would be people in the control room when they arrived; I let this carry over to Lauren.  It took me a couple sittings to get all the way through this chapter, as I kept having to stop and think about how it should unfold.

I’d been toying with the booby-trap idea for some time.  The more I considered it, the more sense it made.

I was also uncertain how to proceed with the end; I started trying to outline the last chapters and the major events they would include.  Lauren had to verse out; Derek had to see it, I think, but he also had to fall into the pit.  After he fell into the pit, he had to turn into a sprite, and come out again; and he had to make the fatal shot.  I intended to have Tubrok block the sun with several magics, and make a bit of a speech about having them all together to destroy them.  It seems that I’ve got to start with Derek for the arrival and joining battle.  Then Slade will take the brunt of the combat, showing that they were tearing through enemies but badly outnumbered.  Lauren steps forward in her chapter; she and Merlin will be focused on Tubrok, and she’ll end her appearance in the book with that fire spell that took out Horta.  Then Derek is horrified that Lauren is gone but Tubrok, although unsteady, remains; and before he can act, the ground opens beneath him and he falls.  We have him plunging, transforming, and catching himself, and leave him on the ground below–or maybe still headed toward it.  That takes us back to Slade, who is fighting a losing battle (but then, that’s what Ragnorak is about, isn’t it?), despite Shella, Bethany, and Merlin.  Probably he plunges into battle against Tubrok, who isn’t so good against physical attacks despite being a tough kill.  Yet he’s tiring, wearing down.  Derek becomes Morach, flies out of the pit, recovers his bow and arrows from his pack, and fires the pinprick into Tubrok’s cheek.  The vampire reels and falls, and then vanishes to dust.  We go to Slade for the aftermath and Slade’s speech.

I keep wondering what to do for the final chapter.  Lauren will not be in the fourth book (although otherwise details are still sketchy, but I’m thinking of a spy story for Derek).  Derek and Slade won’t have versed out.  I’m wondering about bringing Joe Kondor in for the last chapter, although I don’t know where he is.  I don’t like that, but it might work.

Chapter 127, Brown 94

Derek is caught in that moment in which what he had intended to do, what he always did on these trips, isn’t going to work, and he has to change gears, as it were, to figure out what he should do instead.  I’ve had that problem in other situations, where I knew what I was going to do and now that for some reason that was not a viable choice I couldn’t for a moment get away from that to wrap my head around doing something else instead.

Derek is almost last through the door because despite all his skill he has very little experience fighting–he has helped them fight these battles, but he is usually “the computer guy who also knows how to use a gun”, not one of the fighters.

I’ll credit Shakespeare’s MacBeth for the inspiration for the prophecy that Tubrok would not be killed by anyone born in that world; I was always fond of that twist.  In MacBeth the charm is no man of woman born would kill him, but MacDuff announces that he was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped (born by caesarean section).  Tolkien probably stole it first–his chief nazgul had been promised that no man could kill him, but he was killed by a halfling and a woman.  My twist, of course, is that Lauren, Bob, and Derek were all born in the parallel earth, and Shella and Merlin/Omigger were born in the medieval fantasy world Slade had visited, so Bethany is the only one present who can’t kill Tubrok if the prophecy is true.

Chapter 128, Slade 91

It is a perhaps dubious supposition of Multiverser that allows pagan Bob Slade to be infused with power from God’s Holy Spirit, but it is not completely unfounded.  The assumption is that in the spirit realm there is the one Creator God, and that religions that worship that one God, whether Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any of their offshoots, are all “close enough for mortals” to the truth; and that there are many other spirits who fall into three categories, those who are aligned with and servants of God (“alliance”), those which are openly opposed to God (“anarch”), and those who have not (yet) chosen a side (“neutral”).  Many of the “good” heads of pagan pantheons are presumed to be “alliance”, servants of God who were given charge of some group of people somewhere in the world to prepare them for the truth, and thus Odin is seen as God’s servant preparing his people ultimately to become servants of God.  Thus by serving Odin Slade is indirectly serving God, in something of the same way that a private who obeys the commands of his sergeant is indirectly obeying the Commander in Chief of the military.

I suppose that Bob delivers the moral of the story in his thoughts to himself, that “if every good man fights to his last breath evil loses, even if it takes the field.”

Chapter 129, Hastings 136

I had been scouring scripture for good verses for Lauren to use, so she would have something new in her repertoire at this point.  I’ve never been particularly good at chapter-and-verse addresses, but I might have recorded them somewhere.

I knew Lauren was going to verse out here, and she was going to finish her own life by being caught in the same fire she calls against Tubrok.  However, she knows she can’t cast that spell and survive it, so at this point I’m making her aware that she’s not going to survive this combat anyway, so she’ll use the spell.

“East side, center gate” was a phrase given to me by Steve Freed, when we were both leaving Gordon College.  It is a supposed meeting place in the New Jerusalem, a way of saying I will see you there.

Chapter 130, Brown 95

I was facing several issues at this point.  One was, if the death of Tubrok closed the chasm into which Derek was falling, he would be buried in it; of course, it might not do that, and in the end it seemed better that it not.  Another was that if Tubrok had just died, the enemy would be routed and the battle ended, but that wasn’t the way this was to go:  Derek had to deal the fatal shot.  So I shifted to Derek’s perspective as he is still falling (probably a moment ago) in this pit, and dealt with bringing him back to finish the battle.

I don’t know when I decided that Ferris Hoffman would be the answer here, but it was to me significant that the form that he had disdained became the one that saved him.  Had he stayed Derek, he would have crashed and died; had he become Morach he would probably have dropped the rifle and seen it damaged.  Only as Ferris could he slow his fall and keep the rifle.

It seemed important to make the statement that Lauren had won, that this was her victory, even though Derek fired the fatal shot.  I had realized at some point that although the first book was Slade’s story, and the third book perhaps another story about Slade, and the middle book Derek’s story, the three books together formed Lauren’s story arc, the story in which she faces and ultimately defeats the vampires, and the death of Tubrok here, in the same battle in which she died, means that she won.

Chapter 131, Slade 92

Maybe, though, the moral is in Slade’s conversation with Derek, regarding each moment in life preparing us both for the end and for the next moment.

I glossed over a minor issue:  Lauren is the only member of the group that had a way to pay for things.  Bethany was going to work on something, but we never saw her do so; so they don’t really have any money for a place to stay.  On the other hand, they’ve got three wizards, so they’ll probably come up with something.

Chapter 132, Brown 96

I found a way to wrap up the book, mostly talking about the fact that there were many other worlds, and reminding the reader that we did not know where Lauren went or where Joe was.  Joe would return in the beginning of the next book; Lauren would wait for another book after that.  Derek and Bob were still here, and I would need a chapter to send them on their way to new places, but of course I was setting up that expectation as well.

This has been the twelfth and final behind the writings look at For Better or Verse.  There is hope that the fourth Multiverser novel, Spy Verses, will soon appear on the web site, if there is interest and continued support from readers.

#205: Verser Reunion

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #205, on the subject of Verser Reunion.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have begun publishing my third novel, For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first two, you can find the table of contents for the first at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, and that for the second at Old Verses New.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed along with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as the third is posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, hopefully giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #157:  Versers Restart (which provided this kind of insight into the first eleven chapters);
  2. #164:  Versers Proceed (which covered chapters 12 through 22);
  3. #170:  Versers Explore (which covered chapters 23 through 33);
  4. #174:  Versers Achieve (chapters 34 through 44);
  5. #180:  Versers Focus (chapters 45 through 55);
  6. #183:  Verser Transitions (chapters 56 through 66);
  7. #186:  Worlds Change (chapters 67 through 77);
  8. #191:  Versers Travel (chapters 78 through 88);
  9. #198:  Verser Trials (89 through 99);
  10. #202:  Verser Confrontations (chapters 100 through 110).

This picks up from there, with chapters 111 through 121.

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 111, Hastings 130

I’d been trying to figure out how to bring Derek’s new middle form into view.  I’d been working with the idea of Derek versing in, looking at his new body, finding his equipment, figuring out how big he was, maybe figuring out how to change his size, and then finding Lauren–and it was all too complicated.

This chapter was originally going to be a Brown chapter; I’d even placed the heading on it.  I had figured that I would have Bethany do something very complex involving potions and long rituals to enable Derek to change forms; but suddenly I thought it would work best to have Derek first seen through Lauren’s eyes.  From that, the thought of the wolves asking her to identify a creature for them appealed.  That would happen were he in wolf territory.  He was some distance from his things when he versed out, so trying to reach them would be as good a way as any to bring him through the wolf lands.  The rest was easy.

I really liked the idea of Lauren recognizing Derek as the answer to her prayer.  I’d thought of it when I thought of the prayer.

Chapter 112, Brown 89

I got hung up on the name for a couple hours.  I stumbled on Hoffman pretty much the way Lauren does, although I worked with a Mark Hoffman at the radio station.  Ferris took a lot longer.  I knew a Jeff Ferri in scouts, but didn’t think I could sell that.  Ferris is of course the name of the guy who built the amusement park wheel, as well as the character in a movie, Ferris Bueller.

I had intended for this section to cover the magic of the transformation, but felt it was bogging down.  My concerns at this point are that everyone is a bit slow, and I can’t verse Slade out of his world until I’ve got Lauren caught in combat in hers, and that’s going to be a while, as I have to do the transformation for Derek, cover the stuff about opening the dome, and plan another raid.

The vague reference to Pinocchio was an inspiration at that moment, seeming to be appropriate to the magical setting.

Chapter 113, Slade 86

I took a couple of days to try to piece together what is in essence filler, an effort to move the story forward to the next action scene.  I’m still planning on having him go down fighting, although it occurred to me that I can’t really use the efriit battle because in that case the djinn could have come to this world.  I’m back to a fight with Acquivar, now thinking that he will take advantage of his status and abuse his honor to get back to the palace, where he will fight Slade.  Slade will be clearly superior, but Acquivar’s people will join the fight, and someone will stab him in the back.

Chapter 114, Brown 90

I decided to do the ritual from Derek’s perspective.  It seemed to work best that way.  The three forms are each double/half of each other, which is within the ordinary limits established by the game rules.  In fact, I’d pushed Derek to be a tall sprite at fifteen inches so that I could get a five foot human with only two doublings.

Chapter 115, Hastings 131

I needed to hurry Slade’s story; I wanted him to enter in a fight.  This seemed the best opportunity for a fight.  But that meant I had to push forward through Derek’s information that they had to be at the site to open the dome (a decision that was really necessary to make the war against the vampires last more than a few days) to get to them actually doing it.

I also needed a credible force that would be too much for the three of them, but not so much that the addition of Slade to the mix wouldn’t balance the odds.  I’d established Slade as the better fighter, I thought, so he could more easily take out ghouls with his sword than Lauren could with her martial arts training.  This would work, I thought.

Chapter 116, Slade 87

I needed a setting in which Acquivar might reach the bedroom levels (where Slade’s possessions were) without the alarm having been raised, so that Slade could face him.  Having Slade be the last to bed accomplished that.

I also needed to make some sense of Acquivar’s presence.  I knew pretty much how it was done, but the reader had to get that–and I didn’t see Acquivar stopping to explain.  Thus Slade tells it.  This led to the idea that Acquivar wasn’t going to say much of anything.

At first I’d seen this as a serious fight, but then it occurred to me that it would enhance the battle image of Slade to have him take it very casually for the first few rounds and then, when he got hurt, to finish the game rapidly.  I also needed to have him be hit several times in close succession, so that the amount of damage he might take would be reasonably able to kill him.

I’d also decided to move him to the next “stage” of versing, where you enter limp but can immediately catch yourself.  This would have him in the battle faster than the dream state; and Slade has always been the leader in the versing stages, so that works.

Chapter 117, Brown 91

I hesitated as to whether to tell this part from Derek or Lauren’s perspective.  I went with Derek partly because it was sort of his turn, and partly because he would not know who Slade was.  This gave me the ability to describe Slade anew.

It had been rattling in my head that there were a dozen ways to get that dome closed that got around the security lockouts on the computer.  You could replace the computer with another.  You could cut the computer off and apply power directly to the motors.  Slade would be the perfect person to know how to sabotage the gear mechanism itself, such that it would require major repairs.

Chapter 118, Hastings 132

The part about destroying the gear was carefully considered; the rest was improvised.  I was in part trying to keep the narration flowing reasonably and answer as many problems as I could.  The PR problem struck me somewhat out of the blue.

Chapter 119, Slade 88

My mind has been racing ahead.  Tubrok creates a rapid response team to travel to any part of the world in response to an attack.  Derek says something about the security being a “tough nut to crack”.  Lauren figures out the acorn in time to release Merlin and drive off the attackers.  I had two problems.  One was I didn’t know where this should happen.  The other was that I didn’t want the rest of the book to be one fight after another.  Having Slade and Shella enjoy their hotel room seemed a good buffer for that, particularly as this is Shella’s first visit to someplace not medieval.

At the same time, I couldn’t make it seem too much like a modern hotel, since this is supposed to be the future, even if in some town of which most people have never heard.  Yet I didn’t want to belabor the story with gadgets.  The answer was that Slade didn’t understand much of it himself, so I could be specific enough about things that would be recognizable, and vague about things that wouldn’t be.

Chapter 120, Hastings 133

I pondered this section for a couple of days.  In that time, I changed it from a Brown chapter to a Hastings chapter.  I didn’t want to have to do Derek’s perspective on the security on the computer, and there wasn’t enough to do in front of that to make a preceding chapter.  On the other hand, I wanted to be in Lauren’s mind when she made the connection and released Merlin.

It was also during this time that I realized I could connect Merlin to Omigger.  I was already beginning to sketch this recognition by Shella, which would still be two chapters away.  That meant that Derek would describe what Merlin did, the assault which destroyed or drove away vampires, the introductions, and then Shella using the name, and then I’d shift to Slade.

The magic object is, of course, an unusual design for a nutcracker.  If you saw it next to a bowl of nuts, you’d know what it was in a flash.  Finding it in a drawer of utensils or a box of tools, it would not be at all obvious.

Chapter 121, Brown 92

I wanted to emphasize that the situation was desperate; to do this, I backed up a bit and retold the losing battle through Derek’s eyes.  This also gave me the opportunity to show Merlin completely from the outside, with no connections to who he might be.  I also decided, on the fly, that he shouldn’t kill them all; that was too much power.  The others would finish off the last of them.

This has been the eleventh behind the writings look at For Better or Verse.  Assuming that there is interest, I will continue preparing and posting them every eleven chapters, that is, every three weeks.

#204: When the Brakes Fail

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #204, on the subject of When the Brakes Fail.

It happens all the time in movies and television shows:  someone is driving, and someone has sabotaged the car so that the brakes don’t work, and frequently, too, the accelerator gets stuck so that the car is now out of control and headed for a major accident.  I have seen it enough times that what bothers me is the number of ways of slowing or stopping a car that they don’t try.  I have not been in the kind of situation portrayed in these fictions, but I have had brake trouble and have given thought to how to address the kinds of problems so portrayed.  Maybe if those people had considered the possible solutions to the problems before they happened, they would have avoided the life-threatening accident–and perhaps if we talk about the options, you will know what to do if it happens to you.

First, let’s get a few assumptions here.  First, it is unlikely that you will completely lose your brakes without warning, and similarly unlikely that your accelerator will jam; it is thus unlikely, barring sabotage, that both will ever happen at the same time.  Second, you are very unlikely to be the sort of person whom someone would attempt to kill by sabotaging your car.  That’s not to say that no reader of mine is such a person, but it’s a very unlikely sort of way to try to kill someone, and a very small percentage of the population are actually targets of killers, and even fewer of careful conniving killers with clever assassination plans and the mechanical knowledge to so rig a vehicle.  So you should probably assume that if either of these problems ever occurs to you, it is random mechanical failure, not an assassination attempt (don’t be paranoid, and don’t panic).  If both happen together, that’s a different matter, but let’s start with the assumption that only one happens.

Brakes once failed when they got wet.  Modern brakes generally don’t.  However, the regular driving brake on most vehicles is hydraulic (except for large trucks, which use pneumatic brakes because they work better with the trailers).  That means that there is a fluid, a hydraulic oil, in the lines, and pressing the brake pedal compresses the fluid which closes the brake pad creating the friction which slows the car.  Modern anti-lock brakes have a sensing system to prevent wheel lock skidding, but otherwise work much the same.  If air gets in the line, as from a leak, this can malfunction.  For both of these conditions, wet brakes and air in the lines, the first line of defense is to “pump the brakes”, that is, to press and release repeatedly over perhaps ten to fifteen seconds.  This will help dry wet brakes; it will help compress the fluid in hydraulic lines forcing the air out of the system otherwise.

If within ten seconds this is not showing any sign of improvement, the obvious second line of defense which is almost never used in the movies is what is properly called the parking brake but often identified as the emergency brake and in some vehicles the hand brake.  In cars with a center console it is frequently there as a lever that can be pulled up; in other cars, it is often a pedal by the driver’s door.  In both cases the control is ratcheted so that when pulled or pushed it locks into place until the release is pressed or pulled or otherwise activated.  The proper intended use of this brake is to lock the car in place when parked, particularly on slopes.  However, it serves as a secondary brake in an emergency situation.  It uses the same brake pads as the hydraulic brakes (although frequently only the rear brakes), but is connected to them by a cable, not a hydraulic system, and so is effectively a secondary but more direct method of applying the brakes.

There are other ways to slow a vehicle if the brakes are not working, but first we should consider the problem of the accelerator jamming.  The problem here is generally that the engine is being given gasoline and so increasing in revolutions per minute (RPM on the tachometer if you have one), and correspondingly increasing the vehicle speed.  The obvious first answer to this, in addition to applying the brakes, is gently to drop the transmission into neutral.  (With a standard transmission this can be accomplished simply by depressing the clutch, but standard transmissions are no longer standard on most cars.)  The engine will roar as it no longer has the burden of pushing the vehicle, but you will cease accelerating and unless you are pointed down a steep slope you will begin to decelerate.

The transmission can also be used to slow the car if the brakes are not responding, by downshifting.  If you do this at too high a velocity, you are likely to destroy your transmission and/or damage your engine, but if it’s a choice between thousands of dollars of damage to the vehicle and a fatal crash, that’s probably not a difficult choice to make.  This is less likely to be helpful if your accelerator is stuck, but it is an option that might reduce your rate of acceleration.  The objective is to let the engine be a drag on the velocity, although it works considerably better with manual transmissions than with automatic ones.

If you have put the vehicle in neutral but the brakes are not working and you are headed down a slope, if possible consider getting off the road.  Roads are generally designed to be smooth and provide the right kind of friction for rolling vehicles.  Shoulders are usually rougher and will slow the vehicle more, and if the ground beyond the shoulder looks flat and level it will probably slow the vehicle more.  There is the danger of hitting a hole that will damage an axle, but this will at least stop the vehicle and cost considerably less than a transmission or an engine.

You might also consider aiming for objects that will slow your car but neither stop it completely nor flip it.  Hitting a tree at high velocity is a bad choice, but a bush will collapse under the impact and slow or possibly stop the car less abruptly.  Sideswiping a tree, if you can control the vehicle well enough to do so, will also slow the car.  New Jersey Dividers–those perhaps three foot tall concrete walls with the half-parabola curved sides that often line highways–are designed to slow a vehicle and press it back into the lane from which it is coming.  In recent years, large usually orange plastic barrels have been placed in hazard locations along highways, such as construction areas; these are generally filled with water, and as such are designed to collapse when hit, providing a less than solid impact surface.

One other method of slowing an out-of-control car should be mentioned:  shut off the ignition.  If the car is in gear, the engine will immediately become a drag on the car, and in most modern cars the fuel pump will stop providing gasoline to the cylinders.  If you have power steering, it will immediately become much more difficult–but not impossible–to control the direction of the vehicle, somewhat worse than standard manual steering.  It will not affect the parking/emergency brake, and will have only minimal effect on the operating brake.

I have also considered the option of pushing the vehicle into reverse or park.  This requires overriding safeties on the transmission (it will require you to press or maneuver something to shift out of neutral in that direction), and will probably destroy it and damage the engine, but again if you are worried about dying versus destroying your car, that’s an easy choice.

So now if the thing that probably never will happen to you does, you’ve got some ideas about how to handle it.  I would like to say that I have tested them, but I am more pleased to say that apart from pumping the brakes I have never needed to, although I have tested the idea of pushing the car into neutral while driving, so that also works.  Oh, and once when I was teaching someone how to drive I had to use the parking brake to stop the vehicle before he drove in front of a rapidly oncoming car at an intersection, so that works, too.

#202: Verser Confrontations

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #202, on the subject of Verser Confrontations.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have begun publishing my third novel, For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first two, you can find the table of contents for the first at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, and that for the second at Old Verses New.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed along with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as the third is posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, hopefully giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #157:  Versers Restart (which provided this kind of insight into the first eleven chapters);
  2. #164:  Versers Proceed (which covered chapters 12 through 22);
  3. #170:  Versers Explore (which covered chapters 23 through 33);
  4. #174:  Versers Achieve (chapters 34 through 44);
  5. #180:  Versers Focus  (chapters 45 through 55);
  6. #183:  Verser Transitions (chapters 56 through 66);
  7. #186:  Worlds Change (chapters 67 through 77);
  8. #191:  Versers Travel (chapters 78 through 88);
  9. #198:  Verser Trials (89 through 99).

This picks up from there, with chapters 100 through 110.

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 100, Hastings 126

As I was dealing with the wolves, I wondered why they should trust Lauren or care about humanity.  I realized I’d already given myself a reason:  Bethany had saved the forest for them, working with the people of Wandborough.  It also occurred to me that Lauren has always called on the wolves for aid, but they have never called on her.  It seemed reasonable to suggest that pack mother Sielle would have some problem for which Lauren was the answer.  I don’t know what it is, yet, but it gives me something for Lauren to do besides repeated commando raids on vampire government officials.

When I was playing the games that became the basis for the Philadelphia stories, the wolves did come to me for help a few times; that was a much longer story, though, than I could include in the books.  (Much of this is preserved in the older Stories from the Verse site as Journals of the Architect.)

Chapter 101, Slade 82

Most of this I realized as it was unfolding–the slack and taut ropes, for instance.  I decided on the use of the sheepshank in the midst of writing, as well.  I was thinking before I started the passage that Slade didn’t know how to find the door, and the Norns idea was getting tired, but I could have them guide him by pointing him to Shella.  I remembered that Shella had been watching, and thought perhaps I could come up with some plausible reason why she knew the way when he didn’t.  However, it wasn’t until just before I wrote it that I realized that the tower was there.  Slade’s embarrassment was thus a reflection of my own on that count.

Chapter 102, Brown 86

I discovered a numbering glitch when I was writing this; I’d numbered two consecutive Brown sections 76.  I corrected it; I hope I got it all.

I awoke with the idea of the dream, and let it simmer while I took care of some other things.  I had a lot to do today, but did not want to lose this idea.  One fragment of it, the idea that marrying might be a cause of grief, I probably got from my morning reading of Jeremiah.

I also began envisioning a bit of a battle between Derek and the king’s guards in the human city.  His aerobatics practice and his training with Lauren would finally combine into something unique to him.  I’ll have to figure out how to preserve it, but I think this could go somewhere.

I also wanted him to feel the pain of losing his family now, before he lost them.  I decided he should say goodbye to his father, but not wake his mother, but simply kiss her.

Chapter 103, Hastings 127

Adam commented a day or so ago that everyone was getting married in this book.  He didn’t know that Derek wasn’t going to reach the altar (something of which I was myself only about ninety percent certain then, and still only ninety-eight percent certain now).  Yet I did observe for him that Lauren wasn’t headed that direction.  He said he knew why this was:  it was because she was already married.  Yes, that was correct, I observed, thinking back to her tension on that in the end of the second novel.  Yet at that moment I saw something I could do with Lauren’s story that would make it far better.  I would bring Phil Hastings back as a vampire.  She never did find out what had happened to him in this world, and he had married someone else.  It was not an impossible stretch.  I could do something with it, give Lauren more depth than merely killing a bunch of vampires, and stretch the story a bit to give the others time to catch up with her.  In the midst of this, it was an echo of Bethany’s confrontation with her mother centuries before.  This time it would be Bethany who told Lauren that she could not believe it was human, and that she had to recognize it for what it was and kill it.  I thus started looking for a way to carry it in that direction.  As I write this, it seems to me that I should connect Phil Hastings with the Philadelphia area leadership somehow; I’m not yet certain how, but it would explain why Lauren arrived in Philadelphia instead of Wandborough.

The name thing was not an entirely new idea; after all, Gavin had changed his name, and that had been mentioned.  I needed a way to prevent Lauren from realizing that she was about to confront the man who was this world’s equivalent of her husband, and the name was the way to do it.  The Liberty Bell/Independence Hall idea had merit, in that having it closed and slated for demolition would provide some echo of the idea that the vampire domination was a bad thing.  I thought also that The Arena might recall Rome to some readers, although I didn’t want to push it.  I created the route on the fly (I’m not completely certain where Independence Hall is relative to the waterfront, but figured it wasn’t that close, and the sports arena is near the airport, which is the south side of the city, so things are pretty well arranged).

I also decided she needed to fight her way through.  These were no longer going to be simple run-in-and-kill-the-vampire raids.  It had to look more difficult.  I also needed to help people understand why she just doesn’t blow everyone away with the disintegrator rod.

I recalled the “old times” line that had really been something of a throwaway in the first book which had echoed in the second when they were in Camelot.  Now to have Bethany say it again more soberly I thought would have some impact.

Chapter 104, Slade 83

I remembered that there was a bar on the inside of the door, and I had to provide a way to get past it.  I also remembered the D&D Viking Handbook had said something about Viking thieves not knowing anything about mechanical locks, but understanding how to jimmy barred doors, so I figured there was a way to do it.  It seemed a simple enough approach to use the metal strip, so that’s where I went.

Chapter 105, Brown 87

Most of this I felt my way through–the difference between mentally visiting a place and being there, between traveling the streets and flying above them, and the telekinetic lock picking were all things I created during the day I wrote this, although I wrote part in the morning and part in the afternoon, and so had time between to think through the end of the chapter.

Chapter 106, Hastings 128

Part of the idea was for Lauren to face the same tension Bethany had faced, to have to kill a vampire that looked like someone she loved.  I also had it in mind that this might free her from her concerns about being married to Phil, although I don’t yet know how that will work.  It only now occurs to me that this fits well with the marriage thread of the book, as well as leading to the climax of the vampire thread and the Merlin connection.

Chapter 107, Slade 84

I’d given some thought to a quick fight scene for Slade, in which a guard came through the door and he stabbed the man through the throat and tossed him off the wall; but it seemed too violent for this moment in the story, in which a quiet takeover seemed the order of the hour.  I glossed over how many men were on the wall and how they were silenced, for much the same reason.

I considered whether Odette’s dagger should find a target, and decided against it.  I had not yet decided how to verse them out of this world, but I was eager to see a scene in which Acquivar disclaimed any interest in saving Odette.

Chapter 108, Brown 88

I’d played out this scene in my mind a few times; still, there were elements that I devised as I wrote.  The guard on the door and the food cart were both created at that moment.  I had envisioned the confusion in the room, several people being brought down by arrows, and the use of telepathy to reach the ruler (whose title I never did decide).  The idea that people did not know sprites could talk seemed reasonable, particularly since elves didn’t even know they existed.  To expand that to suggest that humans didn’t know elves or gnomes existed also seemed reasonable.  The simple rule to establish peace seemed an acceptable solution to the problem, and let me move forward.  I’d imagined some agreement being reached, and then someone very like a gardener or maintenance man bursting in and “dealing with the problem” over the objections of the ruler.  It seemed to work well enough.

Chapter 109, Hastings 129

As I prepared to write this, a number of ideas connected.  One was that Lauren and Bethany would pray for someone to come; Derek was already on his way, but they couldn’t know that, and it would be a valuable story point.

Another was the idea that Lauren, as powerful as she is, finds her real strength in building teams, of bringing people together who compliment each other.  It is perhaps a theme in Lauren’s story that she almost always works with others, that she forms teams that work well.  In Philadelphia, she brought the human hunters together with the werewolves against the vampires; in the parakeet valley she worked with Joe and Bob to rescue Speckles; in Camelot a good part of her reported adventures involved questing with Sir Sagrimore, and in the end she brought the villagers together with the werewolves against the vampires.  In the futuristic post-apocalyptic world she turned an adventuring party into a university faculty that continued after she had gone.  In Wandborough she worked with Bethany against the vampires, and then in Terranova Habitat she teamed with Derek and Joe.  She was alone on the tropical island, but her task there was to practice and learn, and now that she is back in the vampire future world she is building a new team.

I had long been thinking that Derek was going to develop the ability to change between his three forms–the sprite, the human, and the mid-sized something.  As I thought about the turns ahead, I realized I could make this work much more convincingly by having Bethany use her magic to give Derek this ability.  It would also bring him to Lauren more quickly.

A lot of this chapter was written to provide the space I needed to bring in the prayer.

Chapter 110, Slade 85

The idea of Odette confessing from the battlements had been in my mind for quite a while.  What I hadn’t worked out in advance was the movement of armies to get to this position.  I glossed some of that, but I think it was credible.

At this point I had again lost my chance to kill Slade and send him to the next world; but with Derek on the way, I wasn’t ready for him anyway.  I was envisioning Slade and Shella appearing in the midst of some battle, recognizing Lauren in trouble, and coming to her aid, and that wasn’t going to happen until I managed to handle the arrival of Derek.

The idea that formed in my head at this point was that Slade was going to fight some fire elemental, an efriit of some sort.  It should be a major battle, taking at least a chapter, maybe two.  I haven’t figured out how to set it up yet, though.

This has been the tenth behind the writings look at For Better or Verse.  Assuming that there is interest, I will continue preparing and posting them every eleven chapters, that is, every three weeks.

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