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Media Review – January 2019

I totally forgot that I wanted to do this, so I’m doing it a couple of weeks late.

Welcome to Media Review, where I talk about the things I read and watched and played that month! It’s been a little bit so let’s see how much I remember…

Books/Novellas: The Annotated Big Sleep, The Glass Key, Double Indemnity, Red Wind, Blackmailers Don’t Shoot, I’ll Be Waiting

Movies: Double Indemnity; Murder, My Sweet

Games: Into the Breach, Overcooked! 2, Beat Saber

So let’s get into it.

I survived Game Jam 2019!

Hello, friends! In case you’re not up with the news (and also not from the Midwest United States), it’s currently about -20 degrees Fahrenheit outside, a temperature which is also known as fuck cold. It’s so cold that even the state universities have closed for the day, and plain old subzero temperatures aren’t enough to make that happen. So I’ve been inside all of today under a very cozy blanket so I don’t freeze. I haven’t gotten a whole lot done today–it’s just one of those tired days, I suppose.

Anyways, in case you missed it, this past weekend, January 25-27, was the Global Game Jam. My good couch friend, who’s working with me on some other projects, invited me to come along, and so I did! I ended up doing basically all of the art in the game (and nothing else), and all in all, it turned out really well. We (a team of five people: three coders, me, and a guy who did basically everything else) really made a whole-ass game in less that 48 hours, with game mechanics and even a cutscene that took like 14 people-hours to finish. If you’re interested, you can download it here:

While I’m here, I’ll go ahead and talk about the process and how it went.

Book titles and noir

I’ve been working some more on my book (and also watching film noir movies like Double Indemnity and Murder, My Sweet) and I’ve been thinking for a while that Pearls and Smoke isn’t a very good title–or at least it doesn’t sound like a very noir title. I liked the inclusion of pearls and smoke, which are in-universe slang, but it doesn’t sound super exciting. So I’ve decided to change the name of my novel to The Crow’s Last Call, which is equally significant, in ways that I cannot explain without spoiling the entire plot, and actually sounds like a hardboiled novel title. So I’ll be referring to it as that from here on out.

Moving on from that, I’ve been going through my hardboiled library a bit more, my hardboiled library being the works of Hammett, Cain, and Chandler. Since I’m trying to emulate a story written in the 1930s or 40s, both in time period and writing style, I think it’s important to go off of stories that were actually written in that time, by multiple authors. It’s a good thing I’m not trying to emulate any one author in particular (such as, to pick a completely random example, Raymond Chandler) because it’s just impossible. I’m the least poetic person in history and I’m not able to come up with big exciting metaphors and clever uses of language. My strengths are in character interaction and action and emotionally-charged scenes, so it’s best if I play up to those.

Anyways, I recently read The Glass Key, which is apparently considered a very good mystery novel, but which I found a bit confusing, and Double Indemnity, which was a wild ride because I had no idea it was just about a dude trying to commit the perfect murder and get away with it. But it was! And it was so good that I decided to watch the movie ASAP afterwards, and that was really good too. I also read The Annotated Big Sleep which was partially because I love Philip Marlowe but also because I really enjoy annotated books and being able to see the kind of context involved in a story that’s very steeped in 1930s culture on account of being written at the time.

I’ll probably read The Postman Always Rings Twice and The Maltese Falcon next, along with Red Wind. We’ll see how those go.

Characterization and other foibles

I’ve been working on my book again lately, and let me tell you, it feels great to get some progress done. I’m around the 21k mark, which I estimate to be 25-30% progress, though it’s always hard to tell such a thing when you don’t know where exactly the 100% mark will be.

The point is, Pearls and Smoke is a story told in first person, which basically makes the entire book a detective noir monologue, and as such I’ve spent a pretty sizeable amount of time writing Sable’s character. And while this would be a great segue into talking about her character, the thing is that it’s not really that easy.

The thing about characterization when it comes to my writing is that I find characterization as a whole incredibly nebulous. Which isn’t to say that it’s a fake thing, because it’s very definitely real. What I mean is that while I’m fairly competent at consistent and compelling characterization, I’m not very good at articulating a character.

I suppose that doesn’t clear up very much. So let’s talk about it some more.

Writing into the new year

Hello, friends!

It’s the new year (a couple of days late, but don’t mind that), which means it’s time for looking back at the past year and forwards into the next.

It would probably be easier to look at the things I did in the past year if I did any sort of record keeping, which I…generally don’t. So let’s see how much I remember and go from there.

Snow days

So if you’re up on the news, you may have heard that there’s currently (or was very recently) a huge snowstorm in Chicago, which ended up cancelling about a billion flights at O’Hare. Of course, even though there’s somewhere around eight inches of snow, classes are still in session (which really sucks for anyone who flew out for turkey day weekend). Considering I’ve had to go to class in subzero weather before, the lack of snow days isn’t a surprise.

But the amount of snow had me thinking about the last really significant blizzard, aka that one in February 2011, aka Snowpocalypse. It’s really funny to me that you can look up the phrase “snowpocalypse” and get actual results about the 2011 blizzard, though obviously “snowpocalypse chicago” gets you a lot more relevant results. Apparently it was a significant enough event that it has a Wikipedia page. That shouldn’t surprise me, but Snowpocalypse didn’t feel like a “historical event” sort of deal so much as some localized phenomena that everyone who was in the area remembers. It’s the kind of thing where if you talk to someone from Chicago and ask them about Snowpocalypse, they go, “oh yeah!” and if you ask someone from somewhere else they go, “what?”

Obviously I have no idea if that’s the case, that’s just how it feels to me. But a lot of people have a Snowpocalypse story and I’m in a snowy mood, so I’ll talk about mine.

On fantasy and speculative fiction

So I’m writing this on turkey day (though it’ll post slightly later), otherwise known as Thanksgiving in America and just Thursday to everyone else. Unlike back in undergrad, my break only lasts from Thursday until Sunday, so it’s kind of like being back in high school again. It’s not the most exciting holiday because it means there’s more people in the house than usual, which means I can’t sleep in because of people noise, but it does mean I get some time to play games and lay down, which is always a plus. Personally, I’ve spent the weekend so far trying to learn the official Chinese rules for mahjong and writing more of Something Wicked so I have enough content queued up for the next few weeks because I’ve got a schedule to keep.

This would be an opportune time to talk about holidays and family and the fantastic turkey I roasted, but I don’t really feel like it, so let’s talk about that book I’m writing.

The vague anxiety victory lap

Last weekend, I just finished one of my shorter stories (as in about 20k, so not that short). It’s always such a weird feeling when I’m done writing something and put it out for people to read, partially because I hammered out about 13k in a week and partially because there’s this extended period of held-breath anticipation while I wait to see what other people think and if my work really was up to snuff.

The problem with that, of course, is that there isn’t really any kind of objective metric by which I can say my work is good or bad (other than the fact that I have complete confidence in my writing skill, so I can say with some certainty that it’s not bad). I can get comments and kudos from people but there’s no magical threshold over which I know I’ve made it, so there’s no way to really feel satisfied, and I just keep being vaguely anxious until I run out of steam about a week later.

It’s kind of like a victory lap except instead of victory and celebration it’s anxiety about whether there are people out there who share my very narrow window of interests. It’s kind of like when you build a Rube Goldberg machine and try the whole thing out for the first time, except the machine just keeps going and there’s no win condition.

It’s not a mystery why it happens–it’s a function of not having well-defined goals before I throw stuff out into the aether. So, by extension, it’d be pretty easy to fix by setting goals (which everyone loves, I’m sure). It’s just that any number I chose would be arbitrary not to mention irrelevant, because a lot of numbers (comments, hits, kudos) are a function of exposure, not my raw writing skill.

It’s not really a bad thing, it’s just a thing that happens. By the end of the week, I’ll stop worrying about this story and get back to work on the next one.

Apples and Cinnamon

This short story was written in June of 2015. The background is, back in the day (by which I mean 2014, which feels like a billion years ago at this point) I hosted a short writing tournament on a forum I used to frequent in which writers would get a set of prompts with which they were to write a story featuring both their and their opponent’s OC. The tournament had some amount of success, but one of the entries struck me as having a lot of lost potential. So I rewrote the story into what you see here, “rewrote” being used in the loosest sense possible since the characters, situation, and background are all different and only some elements of the plot and superficial points remain the same.

I think that this story was a pretty important part of my development as a writer, and one of the major stepping stones I took to writing–and more importantly, following through on–longer novel-length stories, so without further ado, here is Apples and Cinnamon, a story about two people being very sad about a dead person.