Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Picking a System

No, this does not mean a full-on return to the weekly features, although I'm not ruling it out. But I've been doing a lot of reading and thinking about gaming lately, partly because of this guy (with whom I agree on very little, and yet I enjoy his blog, and not just because it features porn stars--he writes with a lot of intelligence and passion about D&D).

But basically, a couple of months ago, inspired by Sargon's Steampunk Atlantis campaign, I came up with a concept for a role-playing game world that I thought I might want to run. It's developing very slowly, but one of the real stumbling blocks to putting together anything concrete is simply that I haven't decided what rules system I want to run.

Basically, here's the deal. The game I've played most is Champions/Hero System, but I acknowledge that it's a hard system to learn and elements of it can be cumbersome to play. Character creation, especially, while it gives you great freedom and crunchy detail, can be a bitch of a chore and daunting to a newbie. The speed chart also, though I love the unique flavor it gives to a game with superheroes, can be a pain in the ass when running a large group and a waste of time when running a Heroic group where everyone is speed 2 or 3.

That being said, what do I love about it? I love the basic attack roll mechanic: 11 or less on three dice, plus attack value, minus defense value, with a few other optional modifiers thrown on top if conditions warrant. Easy to figure out with no chart to consult once you've memorized the most common modifiers. I like that hit points are divided into stun and body, so that you don't have to kill someone to defeat them. Dying sucks for player-characters, and it shouldn't have to be their first option against enemies, either. I like that you only use six-sided dice, and that success checks against different stats are all computed the same way; once again, simple mechanic with no charts.

So I looked around to see if anyone had put out a simplified, old-school Champions-style system without the layers of later-edition dreck that have accreted over the years. And no such animal exists.

But I did find a system called OpenD6, which is an open gaming license product based on the system used by West End Games when they designed the original Star Wars Roleplaying Game (which I never played). It's d6 only, apparently fast to run without a lot of charts, and character creation looks a lot simpler than Hero.

Problem is, I've never played it, so I don't know how fun it would be. The characteristics are expressed in number of dice, rather than a simple number, so where a Hero character might have a strength of 18, a d6 character would have a Strength of 3d. It may just be an aesthetic thing, but the character sheets just look weird with all those tiny numbers with d's next to them.

And there is a central mechanic called the Wild Die, which basically allows you to roll frequent criticals or fumbles. And while it sounds cool in theory, in the character-on-character combats I've test run, that fumble can be devastating, and it happens way too often.

Another problem with OpenD6 is that there are several variant rulesets out there. There are a few old West End Games products, and then another group has put out something called MiniSix, while another company is putting out something called Cinema6. And while they all have something to recommend them, none of them really hits me where I live.

So I'm currently going back and forth between three options.

1) Try designing the game for OpenD6, which is a proven rules system with a dedicated group of fans, even though I still know little to nothing about how it runs in practice, let alone trying to teach it to other players who've never played it.

2) Just bite the bullet and design the game for Champions, using an older, simpler edition of the rules to minimize problems and confusion.

3) Design my own rules system to keep the elements I like about Champions gameplay while simplifying character construction and speeding gameplay.

That's when I'm not questioning my own insistence on d6-only rules systems and looking at Paul's Franken-Chaosium rules or GURPS or something.

But I'm looking forward with this. If the game runs well, I may decide to publish, and it would be easier to publish with either an OGL ruleset or my own system. The advantage of the OGL ruleset is that it's less work and it comes with a presold audience that already knows how to play it. The advantage of my own rules is that I own them and that I might enjoy playing them more than the OGL rules.

And all this assumes that I ever actually end up running anything at all.

Oh yeah, and remember when I posted this pic in my discussion of Villains & Vigilantes 2nd Edition?

Well, it just so happens that Jeff Dee and Jack Herman have formed a new company and released a new edition of V&V that they're referring to as 2.1, and guess what's prominently featured on their free preview?

Yeah, look, they've fixed the formula so that now it matches the one written in my old book by hand. Better (18 years late) than never, I guess.

Although seriously, as much as I rag on V&V, I actually did have fun playing it. Not as much fun as Champions, but really, if you're looking to buy a superhero game to try playing now, you can pay 70 bucks for Hero 6th Edition Core Rules plus $45 for the Champions sourcebook, or else pay $45 for Mutants and Masterminds, or $50 for Wild Talents, or pay $7.50 (that's SEVEN-FIFTY!) for Villains and Vigilantes. It's a good deal.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fraze Writes Somewhere Else

So I mentioned yesterday that I would be making an announcement soon. Here it is.

I'm doing reviews of "classic" movies at My first one is up now, which is basically a shorter, less funny version of this Movie Monday about "The Sin of Harold Diddlebock."

Yes, this means I'll probably have a strange definition of the term, "classic." However, there's money in it based on the number of clicks I get. Not a lot of money, granted, but every little bit helps.

I'll be posting there twice a week, at least that's the plan, and I'll be linking to every one right here, so expect to see lots of that in the foreseeable future. And depending on how things go, I may see about covering other topics for them. At the very least, it's more on-line exposure.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Pieces of a Larger Puzzle

So I wrote recently about the idea of publishing Death Wave myself, and I tied it into the idea of finally going out and making this writing stuff that I do actually earn me a living.

Two big problems with that:

Number one, it's scary.

And number two, I've not been very good at it so far.

I mean, the DIY ethos sounds great when you're discussing it around beers late at night, but it's not as if I haven't tried it before. Blue Falcon went nowhere. Hero Go Home, the webcomic, fizzled (partly because I was still learning about pacing, partly because I had other things taking up a lot of my time, but also largely because I enjoy writing much more than drawing, and the art was a shit-ton of work for very mediocre result). Even this blog, which was basically started as an attempt to let folks get to know me and maybe build a following, is basically read by my friends and no one else (not counting the dozens of folks who visit once while searching for pics of the Barbi Twins or Tig Ol' Bitties).

But here I am with time on my hands and a desire to do more, go farther, than I have before. So I'm working on a few projects. I haven't figured out which one I want to lead with yet, aside from one small announcement I'll be making very soon.

One is publishing Death Wave. It's more or less ready to go right now. It could use an editing pass, and needs some other work, but most of the heavy lifting has already been done.

Another is perhaps publishing an anthology of Digger Universe stories. I don't have a lot of those so far. There are basically four that have been published (three starring Digger and one starring Digger's former teammate AcroCop), plus another that was started but never finished, another that has been basically plotted but not written, and another unrelated story that also features supers and could easily fit into the universe with a couple of tweaks. So that's seven, which is not really enough for a proper anthology, but could serve as a chapbook or something that could be the seed for future development. But since all the writing hasn't really been done yet, it's not as "shovel-ready" as Death Wave is.

Another possibility is finally doing another draft of Hero Go Home. I still take out the idea and mess with it, trying to find a way to make it work. I really want to make it work, although two bad drafts has pretty much scared me away from it. But if there was interest in the Digger anthology, I could certainly see myself writing this up as a follow-up. If there was interest in that, I might even figure out a way to finish Digger's Big Con, the storyline I barely started in the webcomic.

Also still rattling around in my brain is the new book I want to write, the Twenties-era Johnny Dollar meets Cthulhuzilla story. And at the same time, I'm playing around with notes for a role-playing setting that I might have finished enough and be brave enough to present to friends by the time our current Atlantis game starts to wrap up in a year or so. I probably won't make any money from that, but there are a lot of indie publishers with PDF's for sale on DriveThru RPG. Somebody must be making some money. Maybe after I've run it a while, it will be something I feel confident enough to sell.

Will any of this pay my bills and make me a living? Seems doubtful. Nothing here looks like a Penny Arcade/Schlock Mercenary caliber idea. Then again, who knew that those would take off the way they did? I did have an idea once that struck me as a possible hit, but I had neither the money, nor really the desire, to pursue it to its conclusion.

The point is, no matter what's going on with my current job situation, I feel as if I need to start putting more stuff out there. I know some people will buy it. I know my work is worth paying for, because I've been paid for it by professional markets. Now I need to find the right way to connect with the right audience, and find the confidence and enthusiasm to start producing the kind of work I was producing five years ago. And hope enough people will pay for it to make it worth the effort.

Corinne Bohrer, give me strength.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Comics Code Oops

Told people about this last night, decided to post it today. The scan is from Overstreet's Comic Book Price Guide, No. 9, 1979. The following illustration is from an article titled, "For Those Who Know How to Look," by Carl Macek. The title is a quote from Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent, in which Wertham explained that there was sexual imagery hidden in all kinds of comics panels for kids who "knew how to look."

But with the establishment of the Comics Code Authority in 1954, mighty efforts were made to clean up comics' image, though those efforts didn't always work out as intended. For example:

Panel on left is from Harvey Comics' Teen-Age Bride #5 (published before the code), while the panel on the right is from the exact same story reprinted in Teen Bride-to-Be Romances #20 (published post-code). Is this really less dirty?

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Game That Stays With You

Yet another Dougal post.

Although it's not so much a post about Dougal as about the game in general. This game is different from any other game I've ever played. The thing is that, although roleplaying games are often spoken of as "interactive storytelling," the roleplaying aspect is often fairly weak. The mechanics of the game get in the way, the players get bored or silly, or else the game develops into some sort of contest between players and GM.

Out of six players, we have four published authors, so there's a lot of story being developed and a lot of roleplaying and emotional involvement. I've had emotional investment in characters before--I was devastated when Digger died--but I don't know that I've ever been so emotionally involved that the character's experiences were still affecting my attitude two days later.

And I'm not the only one. Another player is having dreams about the game. Another got kidnapped and ended up getting a special short story written by the GM about her experiences while a prisoner. Players are making binders of game info, sourcebooks, character backgrounds, character portraits. The superhero game was fun, but the Atlantis game is getting deep.

Sargon the GM mentioned in a LiveJournal post once that I always have "an agenda that is weird, but entertaining to watch unfold." Part of that is due to my character. Dougal is smart, but he's not clever. He can figure things out, but he needs time to reflect. So I would be driving home from a game, puzzling over clues, replaying scenes in my mind, and I come to a realization of what I think is going on, or figure out how Dougal would react. And I would walk in the next week prepared to spring that on the game at the right moment--a speech about my plans for my future career, or a speech about my speculation on the identity of our enemy, or my epiphany that we are in hell. Played in Dougal's personality, something he has figured out over time, not done as metagamey table talk.

I didn't want to dominate the game, but I wanted the game to have dramatic interpersonal moments. And what was really cool on Wednesday night was that we had another one of those scenes, one player character springing an absolute head-spinning surprise on another. And the best thing was that it wasn't me this time. Everyone is stepping up, and this is truly a level above just about every game I've ever played.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Good Omens?

So I'm in that strange netherworld right now where I'm fresh enough off the job that I still have money in the bank and so I don't quite have the reality of looming debt grinding me under yet. And though I'm in basically the exact same spot that I was in last year, it doesn't feel as bad.

Number one, what happened last year was a hard emotional blow that took me several weeks to really recover from. I couldn't concentrate on what needed to come next because I was still processing what had happened before. This time, I've already processed the loss, and I'm ready to move forward.

Number two, I didn't have any irons in the fire. What happened last year was completely unanticipated, so I had to start completely fresh, assessing the job market and starting to submit applications. This time, I already had applications out by the time the breaking point came.

Number three, I've leaned out my lifestyle. The hard times of last year were made harder because I was holding on to some expenses that I didn't really need and didn't let my money stretch as far. This year, my expenses are lower and I know how to make my money stretch a little farther.

And as absurd as it sounds, something completely unexpected happened last night, a pleasant little bonus that my superstitious half hopes signals some overdue good times returning to my life.

We had our weekly game last night (and quite frankly, the entire thing has taken a strange turn that I'm still trying to process--without going into detail, the game shifted from a steampunk adventure seeking a missing scientist into a political power struggle between factions trying to control the city, and at the same time, several characters, mine included, have gone through some unexpected changes), and after the game, I borrowed a DVD of "Van Helsing," a movie I've never seen but have long wanted to. And I'm not going to go into detail about the movie here, because I may be bringing Movie Mondays back, and I'll need the material then.

But as I'm lying on the couch at 2 in the morning, I start to get up and grab the top of the couch for support. My fingers hit something hidden behind the plush cushions that falls off the back, and I reach down behind to find something caught in the Venetian blinds. I retrieve the object with amazement.

It was my glasses.

You have to understand, my glasses have been missing since (more or less) the time I left Newport Television last year. During the spring and early summer of last year, as I was going through the Biggest Mistake of My Life(patent pending), I made do with my prescription sunglasses, but even those were lost a year ago when everything blew up in my face. Unable to afford new glasses, I spent a year coping without any vision correction at all. It helped that I only really used them when driving at night or at the movies, but it was still just one more thing I needed that I couldn't afford to replace.

Which has been the dynamic of the past year and a half. Struggle, struggle, struggle, think that I am finally on the verge of getting on top of the shifting pile of debts and problems that my life has degenerated into, then something happens that pushes me back down--electricity gets shut off, car insurance is cancelled, whatever.

Good things have happened, too. Family and friends have proven unexpectedly generous, at times. And I've been able to avoid any really big catastrophes. But in the main, it has seemed as if Fate has been dealing from a stacked deck, and good fortune has been missing from my life for a long time.

I know I'm reading an awful lot into a stupid pair of glasses that I was dumb enough to lose on the back of the couch in the first place, especially since they're an old prescription and I bent the frames retrieving them from the blinds. Maybe I'm just grasping at straws here, but I need this year to be better than the last. I really do.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cover Test

This is more in the way of a proof of concept than anything close to a finished cover, but I think it illustrates what I'm after well enough. The scene is a stylized version of something that happens in the book (not much of a spoiler since it's mentioned on the very first page), although the death ray in the book does not put on such a light show.

It's still way too plain, especially the background, and I really want it to have a sexy woman in there somewhere, but I think my basic approach is sound (that basic approach, in case your interested, is basically doing a photo montage in GIMP, then shifting to Corel Painter Essentials 4 to render it as a painting).

More Logo Goofing Around

Looking at the logo I did, it occurred to me that it wasn't so much the shape of the font that made it seem so cartoony, but just the bright flat colors. So I toyed with muting the colors a bit and adding some grunge texture. It looks more interesting now.

I'm putting together a rough concept of a proposed cover that may take a while to finish, but right now, I've got some free time on my hands.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

So I Somehow Didn't Get Fired

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Picturing the Cover

So I'm contemplating ideas for the Death Wave cover, and I'm torn between the "collage of thrilling moments" approach used on 70's movie posters, or the "single, sexy, striking image that may or may not actually occur in the book."

And I've taken a first pass at a logo.

I'm not in love with the colors, and I think the font may be too comic-bookish (not surprising, since it's a Blambot font), but I kind of like the sine-wave and the overall proportions. And the final logo colors will depend on the colors of the cover image itself.

Nowhere Man In Nowhere Land

Sitting here about to get ready for work, unsure of whether I actually still have a job. Had a blow-up on Sunday night with a customer. There are a lot of things I can say in defense or in mitigation or as an excuse of my behavior--I was at the end of a long shift, at the end of a long week that included both mandatory overtime and a mandatory schedule change, my ears were ringing after 9 hours on the headset, the customer was much ruder to me than I was to her, and I still ended up solving her problem--but the reality, for all its nuance, still boils down to two things: no employee of any company can hope to speak that way to a customer and keep his job, and I was never meant for that sort of job in the first place.

I've been applying for other jobs for weeks now, and have been on the verge of quitting a few times. Insane in this economy, I know, but that's how miserable I am in this job. How miserable? I have played hooky, purposely missed work, multiple times. I have never skipped work on a job. Not at the TV station when my marriage was falling apart, not at TV Guide in those miserable final days when I felt under siege from all directions, not in the freaking U.S. Army. The last time I ditched work was in 1987, when I missed one day because of a hangover, and even then, I was legitimately unable to function at work. It was just my reason for being unable to work that was not legitimate.

So I'm planning to go back to work today, but I may not be there for long. Meanwhile, I've started wearing one of my wedding rings again.

Yes, I said "one of my wedding rings." I've never really liked wearing rings, so when I got married in 1990, I chose the flattest, smallest band I could fit on my finger, hoping that my other fingers wouldn't find the interloper too intrusive. This worked pretty well until I entered the Army. In training, I learned that rings were a no-go in a tactical environment--too shiny, and they pose a physical hazard when working with machinery or camouflage netting. A super-titanium-alloy ring may save your life when you need to stop a closing bulkhead door in the Deepcore oil drilling rig, but a regular gold ring is just an easy way to lose a finger on most other physical jobs.

So when I went over to Korea, the ring came off, and because it was a pain to put on and take off again, it stayed off (and yes, being a geographical bachelor may have played into that somewhat). After I got back from Korea, I discovered that my knuckles had thickened, apparently from all the physical labor, so that it was now really hard to put my ring on and almost impossible to get back off, so my wife bought me a new ring at a medieval fair, of all places.

See, the other reason that I had gone with the flat ring was that she had this idea that she might get a dragon image or something engraved on it, but it turned out that was much easier said than done. So when we were at the fair and found a silver ring with a dragon on it, we bought it for $20 and that became my new wedding ring. Bonus: it fit less tightly than my old ring, so I could still take it off when I needed to for work reasons.

Both rings have come and gone in the years since. My daughter went through a phase of hiding things, and the dragon ring disappeared. So after about a year, my wife took the old gold band off her thumb and I started wearing it again (I was long finished with the Army by that time). Both rings have since been lost and shown back up and been lost again. I just recently uncovered the dragon ring, so started wearing it again last week. The wife commented on it the other night, and mentioned (referencing the old Seinfeld episode) that it's supposedly a chick magnet.

To which I replied that I have neither the time nor the energy nor the money nor the self-confidence to think about having any women in my life right now, not even the one I'm still married to. I do still have the urge though, at least subconsciously. I've dreamed about meeting someone several times in the past week or two. But in the light of day, it's not going to happen.

Time to get dressed for my firing squad.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Beaten to the Punch

I was thinking of doing something like this yesterday, but snell beat me to the punch.

If you're afraid to click the link, it's merely an ironic comment on one of the most definitive Joker stories of all time, linked to a big event currently in the news.

You want a bigger hint? Newest spin from the Obama administration on the BP oil disaster: crimefighting tool.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Doc Savage visits Tulsa

So after mentioning Doc Savage in my last post, I remembered that I had a Doc Savage novel that took place in Oklahoma and dug it up. I believe this was the first Doc Savage book I had ever read.

I don't remember how I first learned of Doc Savage. It may have been Steranko's History of Comics, Volume One (which I wish I still had, but I think it was burned in a fire, along with Volume Two), in which Steranko spends a loooooonnnngg chapter talking about various pulps as influences on the development of the comics superhero.

At any rate, I bought this book at some point. The copyright statement says the Bantam publication date was 1973, so I was probably 11 or 12 when I bought this, and I wonder about it now. As a kid, I deliberately steered clear of stuff that seemed as if it would be too mature, and the back cover illustration of Doc and his Fantastic Five has a swanky 70's feel that puts it right next the Executioner in my memory.

I'm including that scan of the entire book, including the frayed edges, just so you understand how thoroughly used this book is. I've probably read it four or five times. The cover is creased, the pages are yellowed, the ink is fading, and there's a curious dark stain on the first page of Chapter XVIII that I believe is blood (I think I cut myself on a page while reading, but I don't remember). The cover also bears the indentations of something I wrote or drew on another piece of paper using this book as a support, and there are pencil doodles on the first page that I don't remember making. It's not just a book; it a marker of my youth.

The price on the cover is 75 cents, and it's only 138 pages long. Death Wave was obviously written in the wrong time and for the wrong market.

The funny thing is, though I had read the book several times, I couldn't remember much about the story. I remembered the secret of the Derrick Devils (jellylike blobs who supposedly had risen from the center of the earth from a deep-drilled oil well to consume unfortunate oil-field workers), and I remembered one very dramatic moment from the climax, but other than that, the plot was a blur.

Reading it again, I realized why. The plot, such as it is, is a dull string of pointless events. When the woman who brought Doc into the mystery apparently dies early on, it has little impact. Number one, we don't believe it, and number two, it doesn't have any real effect on the story. Doc and his men do not seem to be any more motivated because of her death, nor do they for one second think, "The woman who needed our help is dead. Our job is finished."They go on almost as if nothing has happened.

The mystery has lots of twists, and there are the requisite number of action scenes and narrow escapes, but Doc is such a cool, calculating character that you never doubt he's in control at all times. I mean, I can sort of see why I liked Doc as a kid; I liked heroes who were strong and in control. I didn't read for emotional involvement. I read for thrills and mystery.

But I can also see why I prefer the Spider now. The Spider bursts with action on a scale never seen in Doc's cerebral mysteries, and everything he does burns with melodrama. Every emotion is either agony or rage.

Doc always seems to have a secret plan, and usually it seems as if he's mainly keeping it secret because he finds chilly amusement in watching his aides blunder about without realizing what's really going on. The Doc is a dick. The Spider, on the other hand, also comes up with secret plans, but he mainly keeps them secret because he's paranoid and desperate (with pretty good reason).

And then, of course, there's the final reason I prefer the Spider now, which is that Doc's mysteries always presented a dull, mundane solution to the mystery. Those evil red blobs from the center of the earth? Foam rubber and big liquid-filled balloons, manipulated by wires, while the "victims" were actually dissolved in acid. Like Scooby-Doo with a body count.

The Spider, meanwhile, battled menaces that were just craaaaaaazy! I've already mentioned the explosive distilled from eels. In Death Reign of the Vampire King, it's vampire bats from South America who have been brought to America by blowgun wielding natives who paint the bats' teeth with curare to cause instant death from the bites. In Satan's Murder Machines, it's giant suits of robot armor, Golden Age mecha. It's outrageous nonsense, presented without apology just because it's so cool (and who knew the Rule of Cool applied back in the Depression?).

Monday, June 07, 2010

Master of Men

I mentioned earlier that I'd picked up a Spider book by Norvell Page. I just finished reading the three-novel volume (Satan's Murder Machines, Death Reign of the Vampire King, and The Octopus) and... wow.

On one level, they're not great books. I mean, there's a reason "pulp" was long synonymous with "trash." A typical passage, from Satan's Murder Machines:

Jackson cried out softly as the car whipped into the side street that flanked Wentworth's Fifth Avenue apartment house, and Wentworth saw the reason why. A long black limousine was just sliding past the street's end, slowing to a halt before the main door--and that limousine had blood-red headlights! It was the car of Stanley Kirkpatrick!

You see the dilemma here. On the one hand, exclamation! points! everywhere! There's barely serviceable prose and clunky dialogue in great abundance. Like many pulp authors, Page often finds himself stretching for adjectives and adverbs and not... quite... reaching the right one.

But on the other hand, there's a limousine with blood-red headlights! That deserves an exclamation point. And that's not even the bad guy. That's the Police Commissioner, the Spider's own personal J. Jonah Jameson, a regular member of the supporting cast.

The novel itself is full of thrill-a-minute action on a scale I'd never encountered before Page. I've sadly never read a Shadow novel, but I'd read a few Doc Savage ones in my youth, suckered in by those awesome James Bama covers in the 70's. But though people talk about Doc Savage's action-packed adventures, they're positively dull next to the Spider's tales.

In the first scene of Satan's Death Blast, the Spider kills a roomful of men, but is shot and wounded himself by a mysterious assailant just before the police show up outside and the Spider is forced to flee. Likewise in Satan's Murder Machines (and no, the recurrence of "Satan" in the titles does not mean they featured the same villain--either Page or his editor just liked using "Satan" in the title to denote ultimate evil), the first scene has the Spider attempting to kidnap a security guard for questioning, only to be interrupted by a cop and a robot, and during the fight, he receives a radio message that his secret identity has been framed for burglary. In both books, the Spider runs desperately from confrontation to confrontation in near real-time, avoiding the police while hunting the villains. Neither he nor the reader have a chance to catch their breath until about 2/3 of the way through the book, to set up the final battle.

Compare this to Doc Savage, which would usually start with some random person in trouble, who then seeks out Doc Savage. In chapter 2 or 3, we are introduced to Doc and his assistants, and by chapter 4 or 5, Doc gets into the actual investigation, which proceeds with much banter between his assistants and the Guest of the Week. The Spider starts at Chapter 5, kills off the Guest Stars before they have a chance to make a joke, and runs desperately to catch up the rest of the way. This is what Sargon means by "relentless."

In a way, you could say that the Spider was Marvel to Doc Savage's DC. Which is more apt than you may think, considering that Stan Lee has said that the Spider partially inspired the creation of Spider-man. Now that could be a big load of Lee bushwa, but then again, it's not just the name that ties Spider-man to the pulp hero. As I mentioned above, the Spider spends much time running from the police, a problem Spider-man shared for much of his career. And the overwrought emotions of the Spider, occasionally agonizing over the fact that his crusade against crime has stolen his personal life and that of his fiancee, bears much more resemblance to Marvel's 60's heroes than the staid, cerebral (Doc Savage-like) science detectives of the DC stable.

So it came as a strange shock when, in the first chapter of Satan's Murder Machines (which, remember, I bought just after seeing "Iron Man 2"), a fleeing villain screams, "The Iron Man! God save me! The Iron Man!"

Hey, maybe Smilin' Stan really did read the Spider.

Then I get into the second book in the volume, Death Reign of the Vampire King (love the titles), and Chapter One is titled "The Bat-Man." A quick check of the original publication date, and good God, it came out in 1935, a few years before the first Batman story (although as any true fan knows, in his first story, he was known as The Bat-Man). So did Bob Kane also read the Spider?

Hard to say. Batman writer Bill Finger read pulps. Batman was supposedly inspired by Johnston McCulley's Bat, as well as McCulley's Zorro, and we know Finger adapted a Shadow novel into the first Batman story. Could he and/or Bob Kane have read this one as well and unconsciously swiped the name? Who knows? But it's fun to speculate.

Then I read the third novel, a non-Spider story titled The Octopus, expecting a let-down, but holy shit. The main character is a nondescript rich dude named Jeffrey Fairchild, who for some reason decided he could do more good for society as a kindly old doctor named Dr. Skull (yes, in this world, patients willingly and even eagerly seek out a doctor named Skull), and in his non-doctoring time, Fairchild hunts down criminals as the Skull Killer (and no, with one exception, nobody ever remarks on the similarity between the two names or imagines any relationship between the two). That's right, "Skull Killer" is the good guy. And you thought the 90's were grim'n'gritty.

The bad guy is the Octopus. Hmmm. No real comic book connection there. Oh wait... he's a doctor. Okay, maybe he's not actually a doctor, because it's never explained exactly who he is, but his entire scheme does revolve around an insanely outlandish plan to turn people into vampiric creatures with salt-water blood via ultraviolet radiation in order to scare people into thinking there's an epidemic and extort health insurance money from them. That's right. It's a big health insurance scam. Who said pulps aren't relevant to the modern world?

Anyway, the entire novel is a crazed running battle between the man with two secret identities both named Skull and a tentacled, telepathic monster running a health scam, featuring vampires with glowing purple eyes, and it just misses being the greatest book ever by having a disappointing climax that never gives even a hint of who the villain really is or where he came from, and a side plot involving the hero's sullen kid brother that never goes anywhere (I'm assuming this would have been a recurring feature of the series if The Octopus magazine had lasted for more than one issue).

Anyway, still noodling the idea of self-pubbing Death Wave and chipping away at the plot of the new novel, but no major progress to report.

Friday, June 04, 2010


Impatience has led me to lots of bad decisions. I understand this, and yet, it doesn't keep me from doing it again and again. Because for me, the opposite of impatience is dithering, refusing to pursue something because I'm afraid or feel as if I don't know enough.

Example--impatience: Burned out at my job at Newport Television, I quit without having another job lined up. I actually wanted to try owning my own business, but by the time I had to leave Newport, I hadn't found exactly the right thing. So I jumped into The Biggest Mistake of My Life, which is still weighing down on me today, almost a year after it blew up in my face.

Example--dithering: I dropped out of college in 1984, and have intended ever since to finish my degree. But although I've looked into it several times, and even went back to school for a while right after getting out of the Army, I still haven't finished my Bachelor's, mainly because I can't commit to a major. Pathetic.

But there is one decision I made out of impatience that I'm still not sure whether it was a mistake or not: Blue Falcon. The link describes the pros and cons of that situation pretty well, but it boils down to the fact that I'm embarrassed by the book and by the stigma of the vanity press, even as I'm proud of parts of the book and learned many valuable lessons about writing and publishing through the experience.

The experiences I've gone through since, having joined a writers group and published fiction professionally, make me think I jumped the gun by going to iUniverse. Then again, a part of me thinks that I would have been unable to move on and have those other experiences if I had not made the plunge and gotten Blue Falcon out of my system.

Why am I bringing this up again?

Because of a chance Facebook thread of an author I've talked to on-line here and there, a very talented fellow named Steven Savile. It was regarding a decision by another author to release his books through, Amazon's self-publishing venture. And the tone was somewhat admiring of the guy for taking control of his own fate, because midlist authors are stuck in a terrible place, professionally.

And suddenly it seemed to me as if the idea of POD publishing had suddenly become not as stigmatizing as it once was. And here I am with a finished novel, Death Wave, that I think is pretty good, but is a hard sell to publishers because it's so short. Should I try this again?

On the one hand, I haven't really explored my options with traditional publishers. I've submitted to one publisher, Hard Case Crime, and been rejected. I've checked out a few other publishers, and almost without exception, they ask for word counts substantially higher than Death Wave's. I've queried a few agents, but have gotten no bites so far.

But I could spend years pitching Death Wave and not have it go anywhere, or maybe place it with some small publisher who gives it a crappy cover and dumps out a few copies at conventions here and there.

Or I could give this DIY thing another try. Design my own cover, maybe commission a few interior illustrations to give it that truly pulpy feel. Maybe add in a special bonus short story to round out the volume, fatten it up a bit to give more value for the money. Use the lessons I learned from Blue Falcon to put together an even better product this time, and use what I've learned about social media and web advertising to reach a bigger audience. Redesign and use it to add value to Death Wave (and maybe also to build an audience for a Digger anthology or future books).

It may thud as loudly as Blue Falcon did. But look at a guy like Jonathan Coulton, who decided to blow off the rat race and grab destiny with both hands. It paid off for him. Then again, he was ready. He had the skills and he was able to connect with a big enough audience to make it work. And he appears to be the big exception to the rule. There are a lot of people out there trying to do the same thing I would be trying to do, and I would need somehow to get my message to those people who would be interested in what I'm selling at a time when they have the cash and motivation to buy.

The question is, can I? And whether I can or not, is it worth the risk?

Or am I just being too impatient again?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Fraze Puts Dougal's Foot In It

Another update on our current game starring the Scottish giant, Dougal Smeaton (no pic this time, sorry). Previous posts here, here and here.

So Sargon had a post on his LJ about the game we're currently playing and how it's taking a turn into very complex waters, and I said the worst thing you can say to any gamemaster. I basically said that I wasn't worried because my character would have it easy, being a relatively uncomplicated guy. I think among my exact words were the phrase, "This is cake."

So the game is going along last night, and everyone else is mired in the weeds of politics and the machinations of nobles, but I often break off to go build my sub or something, because Dougal's a hands-on kind of guy and not so much of a strategic thinker. So a fellow soldier asks me for a favor, and next thing I know, I'm caught in a situation where my understanding of what's going on literally changes from second to second. And by the end, I'm deep in it, whether I want to be or not.

And the thing is, I could probably manage to work my way out of it only because I'm sort of poor and powerless. Except that now I'm not. We just got back from an extended adventure with a hell of a lot of money, so now I'm sort of a man of means, and I've got to figure out how to deal with that. I was planning to use that money to become an industrialist, but that means a certain amount of influence and responsibility, and that means dealing with political structures that an underling never has to deal with.

So everything just got a lot more complicated. Damn.

Have I mentioned that this game is one of the best I've ever played in? I'm having a blast.