Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Ending a Story is Difficult

Recently my wife and I finished watching Seinfeld, a series that, despite loving and having grown up watching reruns of, neither one of us had ever actually seen the ending. In spite of that, I was somewhat familiar with how the series ended. For those not in the know, it's...rather controversial, as Seinfeld and his friends are arrested in a small town called Latham, Massachusetts and end up going to prison. That in itself wasn't exactly a surprise, considering the fact that throughout the show's nine year run, the main characters all committed various crimes and showed a general pattern of antisocial behavior, or at the very least a lack of empathy towards others. In fact, defenders of the ending and detractors both agree on one simple point, that the main characters generally made life worse for those around them and should face consequences of their actions, but the main issue that many, myself included, took with the ending was the way it went about it, by being indicted by an interpretation of a law that doesn't really work in real life, with people they've wronged throughout the series brought on as character witnesses to show just how bad they are to varying degrees, relevance to the case at hand be damned.

I saw what the show was going for, as it's the capstone to the general mantra behind the series, "No hugging, no learning," a pretty scathing critique of family sitcoms of the era that felt the need to moralize to their audience. I can see something similar happening when It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia comes to an end, whenever that happens, as it's a show built on a similar idea. However, the way it was handled here was really messy and didn't pack the satisfying punch the creators thought they were going for, which brought me back to something I've been thinking about for quite a while: why do so many tv shows botch the ending? Is there something about writing an ending that's inherently difficult? And for those stories that ended well, how did they manage it?

Seinfeld's failing was mainly that it wanted to have a specific ending but didn't really go about it in a way that makes sense, something that can also be seen in Game of Thrones (whose problems are numerous and well-documented, so bear with me). While it is true that the showrunners ran out of book material to adapt around seasons 4 and 5, they were given an outline of how the author George RR Martin wanted to finish the story, even if Martin himself had completely failed in his promise to have book six, The Winds of Winter, out on shelves by 2016. And I get it. Sometimes you have an idea of how you want a story to play out and you just can't get it to come together the way you want it to. Regardless, Martin has an idea of how he wants the books to end, and he gave his plans to the showrunners at a time when their own writing chops were being called into question as the pacing ground to a halt and the story began focusing on less consequential sideplots (personal note I think season 5 is the worst part of the series because nothing happens and entire characters just stop existing). Even with those notes in hand, the showrunners struggled getting the story out in a way that was satisfying to viewers, leading to a brutal backlash that has more or less killed any hype people have for the upcoming spinoffs or anything else the showrunners have to work on.

Which sucks, because it was a massive, groundbreaking show that won a lot of awards, but it was struck down by an ending that even defenders of it (such as myself) declare as shruggably all right (to use a term I just coined), which isn't the way such a grand piece of work should end by any stretch. To be honest, though, I blame Game of Thrones' ending woes on the lackluster seasons 7 and 8 as the showrunners blitzed through important plot points to get to the ending rather than using the time that the network was willing to give them to properly set up the conclusion that was already at hand. It's kind of astounding how they managed to go from "Nothing is happening for an entire season" to "Okay slow down, things need to breathe a bit" in a couple seasons, but here we are.

So having the broad strokes of the story might not have been enough, fair. We can see something like that done extremely well in Avatar: The Last Airbender (the tv show from Nickelodeon, not the movie, and probably not the live-action series that Netflix is apparently working on). They only planned for three seasons, they had a specific plan for what plot points each season was to cover, and they ended the story when it was time to end. This isn't to say that there wasn't behind-the-scenes drama, which is also well-documented, but the gist of it is despite that drama, they had a very clear plan going in and they stuck to it, something that cannot be said for the follow-up The Legend of Korra, which was initially planned as a single-season miniseries before growing into a much bigger show. But I haven't watched all of Korra so I'm not going to comment on it beyond just noting that reception of its four season run is mixed.

I praise Avatar for sticking to the plan, but admittedly even that can backfire, as we can see with How I Met Your Mother, an otherwise fantastic show with a pretty widely-panned ending, but there's actually a pretty easy culprit to point out for this one: the show's framing device. For those who are unfamiliar, a framing device is the story within the story, in this case, Ted describing the events of his 20's and 30's to his children in the future as a way of detailing the events in his life that put him on the path of meeting their mother (with many details being questionable as to how relevant they were, but whatever, it's a sitcom). However, because shooting something with actual youth actors presents its own very real cosmic deadline, that being the children growing up and being unable to be used for future shots, the "ending" was shot way back in season 2, the same season where Ted would get together with Robin, who was explicitly not the children's mother. The ending, by the way, which reveals that the children's mother passed away some time ago and that Ted has been more or less secretly asking his kids' permission to get back together with Robin, something that would have made sense for the story arc for the first two seasons with Ted falling for Robin and finally actually starting a relationship with her.

There's a problem though. The story was about how Ted met the kids' mother. Who wasn't Robin. And there was to be another seven seasons of television exploring how their relationship ultimately didn't work, and how both of them moved on into other relationships that were better fits for their personalities, and  the show's slavish devotion to the initial vision ended up hurting the storytelling for the rest of the series as almost no focus was given to the mother (who didn't even show up as a named character until the final season).

So what's there to be done? Well, it sounds like striking a balance between having a plan for how the story is to go but also being flexible enough to alter details or throw out the initial vision for something that works better is the way to go, which takes a lot of skill as a writer/crew, as audiences are perceptive enough to notice when some things are written by the seat of the author's pants, though that works for a lot of stories as well (Dragon Ball is a prime example there). I certainly don't have all the answers, and as people have noticed in my D&D campaigns, I struggle massively with coming up with an ending. Heck, I disliked the way The Epiphany Colony's ending came out so much that I completely rewrote the second half of the story to keep it grounded, and even then there are ways it could have been improved. It's even worse when dealing with a long-running story like a tv series that asks a lot of time investment from its audience. It's also a problem that sitcoms in particular seem prone to, as the stories usually come to an end because the show itself is getting cancelled, rather than reaching a natural conclusion, with said cancellation usually coming after a decline in viewer interest as can be seen in shows like That 70's Show, whose finale, if I'm being honest, was actually really good, even if it came at the end of a season that was just...not. I dunno, it's an issue that I don't have the answer for. It's just something I wanted to reflect on.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

On Doing Things And Feeling Accomplished

Today I went out and got my haircut, which since I graduated from BYU-I is something I do less and less frequently now that the only thing I have to make me get a haircut is my wife suggesting it. So it's understandable that it's a bit of a special occasion for me. At any rate, considering I'm in-between jobs at the moment with the majority of my time spent building my career as an author, as I was getting my hair cut, the question turned to what else I had going on that day, presumably with the implied question being how a man in his 30's can make it into a hair salon at noon on a Wednesday.

I mentioned that I'm writing a book, so that would be where the majority of my time would be spent, to which my stylist pointed out how cool it was before mentioning that she didn't think she could ever get herself to sit down and write a full novel. That it would be too hard to focus on, which I suppose is a fair statement. That being said, it got me thinking. As roughly 99% of my readers are aware, this book I'm working on is my second full story I'm having published, having just published The Epiphany Colony (shameless plug because I'm shameless) a couple months ago to the widespread fanfare of...almost nobody, barring a few good reviews.

Anyway, I say it got me thinking because despite the fact that I've done something as big as writing, editing, and publishing my own book, I'd say the relative lack of readers has been a bit of a motivation killer. It feels like no matter the hours I spend writing, editing, marketing, talking, planning, outlining, more writing and editing, it might not really matter because nobody's gonna see it. That in the endless competition for people's space, attention, and (hopefully) money, my work just isn't up to snuff.

This isn't to say that I think The Epiphany Colony is some underappreciated masterpiece of storytelling. Far from it. Heck, the version available on Royal Road with the weird Star Trek-esque Gainax Ending has some of the worst writing I think I've ever done, but the commercial finished product is something I'm proud of and hope to see more success out of.

So you see where I'm at right now. I'm doing something many (I'd argue most) don't feel like they could ever accomplish, and yet I catch myself feeling down, that my work isn't good enough. And I'm not gonna sit here and pretend that this isn't...completely normal in any endeavor, or that other, much more successful creatives don't have the same funks. The trick is finding the motivation to keep going despite them.

I'd encourage you to look at your own life. You're probably doing something a lot of people (probably most) don't feel like they could do. Unless that thing is crime, you should feel good about it! Not because others can't or won't put in the effort for it, but because it's a talent that you have and are trying to cultivate.

Either way, project #2 is coming along quiet nicely at 30,000 words. We're about 1/4 of the way there, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

A Sneak Peak at What I'm Working On

Hey everyone, how's it going?

I've been busy working on my next project, and I gotta say I'm having quite a bit of fun with it. I'm working off an outline this time and trying a bunch of different things to see what works for me and what doesn't, and I've even finished the prologue.

It's about as removed from The Epiphany Colony as it gets. It's a mostly lighthearted parody of the standard epic fantasy quest as seen in the Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy games, written in the first person with a female protagonist who isn't part of the Hero's party. Instead, her story involves following in the Heroes' wake and getting caught up in the crazy things that happen mostly as an unintentional result of their actions.

I just finished writing up the prologue, and I'm going to drop it on this entry. Let me know what you think!

Not many are alive today who remember what it was like before the Demon King reawakened. Records of those days have been lost to time, and nobody can seem to agree on whether the world enjoyed a period of unprecedented peace or if, like in any other age, the different kingdoms across the land were locked in a perpetual state of war. I mean, I say nobody can seem to agree, but the truth is this is less of a professional sociopolitical debate and more a bunch of old dwarves, elves, and basically every race that aren’t humans shouting at each other over drinks at the local tavern, since they’re the only ones who really care about “the good old days”.

No, the only thing most people have clear memories of is the centuries of fear living under the thumb of the Demon King and his minions. I mean, it’s all I’ve ever known, up to the last decade or so.

But I suppose some introductions are in order. My name is Ilala Twistfall. I’m a gnome. And not like one of those bearded statues with the really pointy hats.

That’s…actually quite a hurtful stereotype based on an infamous drunkard named Sir Alvyn Pointedhat. No, the “Sir” isn’t a title. He legally had his name changed out of some inflated sense of his own self-importance. Anyway, he and a bunch of his followers scammed some town by promising that, just by standing in their yards, they could ward off evil spirits or something to that effect (a promise that, you can imagine, paid off exceedingly well during the early days when the Demon King rose to power). To this day I’m not really sure what their end goal was for doing that. Maybe to peep on people as they were changing? Maybe just to get paid to do literally nothing? Beats me.

Sorry, I got a little distracted. Where was I? Oh right, the Heroes and the Demon King, what you’re actually here for.

Let’s start with the Prophecy of the Heroes of the Dawn. From Legend of the Dawn, chapter 23, verse 18:

And lo, the land shall be smitten with a famine, the winds shall blow unceasingly, the seas shall rage, entire countries shall burn, all heralding the return of the King of all Demons. Thus shall the world lie in desolation and ruin, until four Heroes shall reclaim the lost Gems, take up the Sword of Dawn, and banish that foul beast and his generals back from whence they came.

Sounds pretty bleak, right? That’s a pretty clear picture of how the world was for the years that the world was under the thumb of the Demon King. How we managed to survive as long as we did is, frankly, a mystery. Though many of those things were definitely localized to the areas claimed by the Demon King’s generals when they swiped the Gems from their places of rest.

Oh right, the Gems. I kind of took for granted that people who read this would know what those are! I’m not sure who designed it like this, but essentially, there are four Gems, each corresponding to one of the four elements of Earth, Fire, Water, and Wind, those being the Earth Diamond, the Flame Garnet, the Aqua Marine (look, I didn’t make the name), and the Wind Jade. The corrupting influence of the Demon King is what threw all of the elements out of whack, especially in the regions surrounding the temples, so naturally, get rid of the guy corrupting the Gem, and the problem is solved. Apparently this is also what let the Sword of Dawn decide that the hero would be worthy? We’ll talk about that a little later.

I’ll never forget that fateful day. One day from my hometown of Seameet, population…I suppose…sixty-five at the time, I saw a pillar of light descend upon the nearest major city of Brightdale, seat of the Temple of Dawn where the Sword of Dawn rested. It was, without a doubt, the brightest light I had ever seen in my then-short life. Only the oldest among us could recognize that the sudden bright light, along with the equally sudden break in the dark, red clouds, was a sign that the Demon King’s rule was being threatened. Apparently that clear blue sky that shone through the clouds once our eyes adjusted, the same blue sky we see now, was something the older folk took for granted during the Demon King’s reign. This was it. The day that they’d waited so long for. The day that, if I’m being honest, I was pretty sure I’d never see in my lifetime.

At the time I was twenty years old. I’d had a little education but my parents thought I’d settle down and marry some farmer and start popping out babies, so the conversation of possible careers or even travel never really came up.

At least, that’s what I’d assumed they thought. Well, I was right in that assessment about my mother. It’s exactly what she did (well, not the farmer bit, since Dad was a merchant), which was exactly what her mother did. Not her grandmother, though, which was something I found interesting. My Great Grandma Pomomo was a bit of a maverick for her time, as I’d find out not long after this.

Dad, as it turns out, had something else in mind.

He’d paid close attention to me over the years. Saw that I’d had a knack for gossip and news. He often took me on trips to cities. I always assumed that it was because he wanted company on those long nights while Mom was home with my younger siblings.

But no, not exactly. I mean yes, he did love the company. Travel is always more interesting when you have someone to share it with. But he also had other plans, for as it turns out, he saw me writing about our trips in my journals, which he would secretly read later when I was asleep or helping Mom out with chores around the house, something I definitely should have been upset about, but as it turns out, he wasn’t reading my journals to spy on my personal life or whatever, especially during my prepubescent and early pubescent years. I guess when I said I wasn’t interested in the boys at home, he actually believed me.

No, he read my journals because he legitimately loved the stories I would tell, and he took me on these trips to encourage me to build up my talent for observation and writing. He finally told me this when he took me aside about a week after the light came down. I really wish I’d have written down exactly how the conversation went, but I’ll try to recreate it, as best I can, at any rate.

We were having dinner as a family, when my dad asked for everyone’s spirited conversations to quiet down a bit, since he had something to announce.

“Well, as you all know, I’ve been planning a trip into the city for a while now, and I’ve been holding off on it ever since the light appeared, at least until I got word from out of town about how it’s affected the Demon King’s troops and their movements. Well, messengers from the city arrived this morning, and apparently the Demon King’s troops have pulled back a bit in response, instead doubling down on the four temples. I think I’ll be able to make the trip in.

My mom clasped her hands together, saying, “That’s wonderful!” She then sat back into her chair, her expression softening. “Does that mean…what we’ve discussed…”

Dad nodded. “I believe so.” He then turned to me. “Ilala,” he began. “How’d you like to make the trip into the city with me?”

“Was I ever not going?” I asked, trying to hide my excitement.

“No, I suppose not,” Dad chuckled. “But, there’s another question. A bigger one. Have you been in your room yet this evening?”

“Umm…no,” I replied, confused.

“You should go check it out.”

Even more confused, I excused myself from the table, and walked toward my bedroom. Once I reached the door, I saw on my bed a brand new leather backpack along with a set of traveling clothes, a new leatherbound journal, a quill and ink set, a short dagger, and a cast iron frying pan.

My dad, who had followed me to my room, said, “Your mom and I have been talking, and she’s finally come around. We think this is your chance to become a big shot writer by following the Heroes and chronicling their journey. Last I heard, they were looking for someone to do just that.”

I began to hyperventilate. I’d never said anything about it to my dad at all. Heck, I wasn’t sure I’d even be around by the time the Heroes began their journey. But I’d been dreaming about the prospect of traveling with the Heroes since I’d first heard the prophecy. Dreams that had only become more vivid and more frequent ever since the light had descended a week before.

I looked up at my dad, tears welling in my eyes. “You mean it?”

“I do, sweetheart.”

Without another word, I threw my arms around him.

The rest of the evening was a blur as, once my siblings had gone to bed, Mom, Dad, and I were up much too late talking about the journey I was about to make. Honestly, it was all a bit of a shock to me. From the sound of things, it took quite a bit of work to convince my mom. Dad mentioned something to the effect of arguing that the guys in our home village weren’t much of a catch, that my talents were wasted here, and a few other things. To be honest, it was all a bit much. Especially Mom’s heretofore unexpressed enthusiasm for this journey that I hadn’t mentioned I wanted to go on. I’m comfortable admitting being moved to tears over the whole thing, especially with the knowledge that I probably wouldn’t be coming home for a while.

More tears came the next morning. Mom got my siblings up early to see us off, and the ones closest to me in age masked their own sadness with my leaving by an exaggerated expression of jealousy (or at least that’s what I’m telling myself). Don’t worry about them. They got their chances for adventure later on, and this isn’t about them.

Eventually we set out for the city of Brightdale, hitting smaller towns and villages along the way to add to Dad’s freight. Admittedly, I was getting a little frustrated with the amount of time it was taking, as the journey would take about three days one way, and a lot can happen over the course of three days. But I also forced myself to be patient. After all, this was my Dad’s journey just as much as it was mine.

At the end of our three-day journey, we reached Brightdale. They weren’t kidding when they called this place Brightdale, because when I say everything was bright and colorful, I mean everything was bright and colorful. The cobblestone streets were polished to a mirror sheen as what I can only assume to be wizard interns made a systematic sweep through the city periodically using magic to blow away dirt and debris as well as magicking away any leftovers by passing pack animals. The wood and stone on various walls and buildings throughout the city were also immaculately clean. Music filled the air as bard and ordinary citizen alike lifted up their voices in song. I even saw a young man and woman happily dancing their cares away in the town square, the picture of life if ever I’d seen it.

This clashed a bit with the last time I’d come here with my dad, before the light descended. Before the Heroes. Not gonna lie, this place was kind of a dump for a very long time. Everything looked as if it were worn down by the decades under the fist of the Demon King. If the people had anything to celebrate, it was only for a short while before it was all taken away by the Demon King’s forces, all the while the Demon King’s generals reiterated that it was the humans who called them back, wishing to pay them tribute. Just for that extra little salt on the wound, knowing full well that, were that even the case, no humans who called them back in the first place were around to give them the tribute they offered. Several generations of humans had come and gone, and it was us in a blind hope that the Demon King and his armies would go with them, but unfortunately that didn’t seem to be the case.

This does kind of put a sour note on humans so I want to throw in a disclaimer that I don’t know who or what brought the Demon King back, and certainly not all humans, or even a significant number of humans even wanted him to come back in the first place.

Whatever the past, and whoever it was that shouldered the blame, things had definitely made a 180. In fact Brightdale might have become a bit too bright. It was kind of garish, if I’m being honest. I mean I suppose I can’t say I blame them for being excited. I mean, I was too. The wizard intern street cleaners felt like a step too far, though.

Anyway, we arrived at the local tavern where my dad had made arrangements to stay while conducting business in the city. Even this place, which was normally one of the nicer, less trashy joints before the light, was abnormally spirited. I actually kind of wondered if anyone there had slept in a week, and yet even if they hadn’t, there was no sign of the party stopping.

Eventually I began to ask around. After all, despite being a merchant’s daughter, I still was a little girl from the countryside who’d only heard the rumors. These were people who had seen everything happen firsthand!

At least, that was my assumption.

I started with the barkeep at my dad’s lodging, a birdlike…birdfolk woman named Khiet with white, dovelike feathers and soft eyes, hard at work cleaning glasses in preparation for what was, presumably, to be yet another long night of carousing.

“The Heroes? Nope, haven’t seen ‘em personally. Just the light. Rumor has it they met up outside of town and were immediately brought in by the city watch to have a chat with the king.” She placed the glass down to dry and picked up another one, looking it over closely for any blemishes. “A few people who came in that night said they saw it happen.”

“So wait, they were arrested?” I asked incredulously.

“No, no, dear girl,” the barkeep continued, “I guess you’re not up on the local news throughout the kingdom. It has been a while since I’ve seen you and your da. The princess has been kidnapped!”

Khiet was right. This was literally the first time I’d heard anything about it. At the time I scowled, thinking my dad had just left out that nugget of information to avoid causing problems with the village, but as it turns out, the runner that had carried the message to our village had left the day before the princess was kidnapped.

“Kidnapped?” I asked in disbelief. “Who would do such a thing?”

I know, dear reader, you’re about to say in disbelief at my own naivety, “Lots of people!” I know that because…well…

“Lots of people!” Khiet replied loudly, to a surprising chorus of, “Hear hear!” from inside the tavern. Apparently this was the talk of the town for the last few days. Khiet continued, “Lots of coin to be had from the ransom alone! Although, in this case it doesn’t seem to be what the kidnapper was after.”

This got my attention. If not money, then what could the guy be after? “So they know who did it?”

“Know who did it? Lass, the man made mincemeat out of the guards on duty, embarrassing the entire city watch. You couldn’t miss it if you were here! Guy in spiky, dark grey armor with a dark cape and a ridiculously large sword. Former captain of the king’s guard, he was!”

I raised an eyebrow. “Gardner? Sir Gardner? The Sir Gardner?” I asked, trying to remember which captain of the guard would even still be alive.

“That’s the one!” Khiet exclaimed with what sounded like a whistle. “Appeared out of nowhere in the dark of night and stole the princess as she slept, leaving a note that if the king wanted to see her again to send the Heroes.”

“Why?” I asked, trying to piece together the story.

“Couldn’t tell ya. Maybe he really just wanted an autograph. But it sounds like he’s holed himself up in the Demon King’s shrine a little ways out of town, so it’s probably something a bit more nefarious. The Heroes left a couple days ago so they might be on the way back, depending on how their little party went.

“Oh that’s perfect! Where’s the shrine?”

“You can’t mean you’re heading out now, Lass?”

“Of course I am! This is my chance!”


“It shouldn’t be that bad if I stick close to the road, right?”

“True, the Demon King’s minions usually don’t make their way onto the main roads, but it’s still dangerous! The shrine is off the main path a bit!”

“I’ll be careful! I know a little bit of proper wilderness safety! You know my dad didn’t raise an idiot!” I distinctly remember saying it like that because that was my usual rationale for making half-baked decisions. After all, if I’m smart, I don’t make mistakes. The logic was perfect to me when I was younger!

Khiet was less convinced, but she relented. “All right, it’s a bit northwest of town. You’ll hit a place where the road gives way to less-developed trails and grassland. It shouldn’t take much more than a day if you walk, but do be careful. I don’t want to hear about you meeting your maker a week from now because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“I’ll be fine, Khiet! Oh, but I should go so I can see if I can catch up with them! The next time you hear from me, it’ll probably be from the book I release talking about my adventures as the Heroes’ personal scribe!” After I said that I grabbed my things and scampered out the door, eager for my adventure to begin.

As Khiet had said would happen, I reached the end of the main road without running into any trouble. I’m not entirely sure how that works but the Demon King’s minions just sort of ignore the main roads. That is, roads that were built before he rose to power. Pardon the pun, but they seem to have just been built differently. The stone used to build them was of some blessed variety that repels monsters and doesn’t require much in terms of maintenance. Major cities were also made of the same stuff, which is why monsters never go into major cities.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Gee, Ilala, if this enchanted stone is so great, why haven’t kingdom construction workers continued building roads out of the stuff? And unfortunately I don’t really have a good answer for that, beyond the stuff just…not existing anymore. Either the stone itself doesn’t exist or was incredibly rare, or the spell used to enchant the stone has been lost to the ages. Couldn’t tell you. I don’t know how to use magic.

However there is another explanation, albeit a much more mundane, pragmatic explanation. In order to build the roads, crews would have to first leave the protection of the already-built roads, and I’m not joking when I say even one step off that stone meant that you were suddenly prey for the Demon King’s minions. Now, for armed travelers like soldiers, or in my case, me, that’s less of a problem than it would be for a construction crew.

And this is all assuming that they had access to the enchanted stone in the first place. Basically a road crew would also need to either be trained in melee combat or have a retinue of armed buff guys to protect them.

Now, I didn’t have said retinue of armed buff guys to protect myself, exactly. I was more hedging my bet on running into the Heroes and joining them, as you’re aware. However, even without that, I had one other thing going for me: my size.

Say what you will about being small. Trust me, I’ve heard it all before. But one extremely good thing about it is the ability to hide pretty much anywhere if I get enough time to prepare.

As it turns out, that’s a pretty big if.

I walked off the main road for a few minutes, my guard up. Supposedly I’d be able to see the shrine by now, but I couldn’t see anything but grass and trees. Did I take a wrong turn? I couldn't see how that would be possible. I went the exact direction Khiet told me to go! At least, I was pretty sure I did.

The more I walked into the trees, the more I cursed myself for not at least taking a map with me when I set out. Before long, my frustration gave way to panic as I felt like I’d walked past the same tree several times despite supposedly walking in a straight line.

And as I thought it couldn’t get worse, it got worse as a thick mist descended upon me.

As I desperately tried to gather my bearings, I heard a gruff, guttural voice behind me say just loudly enough for me to hear, “Well well well, what we have here. Little gnome girl lost in da woods!”

Another, more nasally voice to my right then added, “All alone, too.”

And another voice said, “Wonder what she’s got in that backpack o’ hers!”

More voices added to the chorus until a group of nine goblins stalked into view. Nine goblins, armed with clubs, slings, and even some rusty spears! I couldn’t believe my luck. Here I was less than a day out on my own and I was about to get dogpiled by nine goblins! I knew that it was a possibility, but I figured I’d at least run into one, maybe two, or a couple wolves, or something less dangerous than nine freaking goblins for my first encounter with the Demon King’s minions.

I quickly reached back for my dagger, scrambling to find a handle of some kind. I couldn’t remember where I put it. My belt? No. Attached to my backpack? No. I paused, realizing my mistake.

I never actually took it out of my stupid backpack!

Trying not to panic, I grasped at whatever I could use to protect myself, my hand eventually landing on a metal handle.

The frying pan! It was clipped to my backpack via a leather strap and a wooden button.

I yanked the pan forward, tearing the button out from the backpack—something I’d worry about later—and raised the pan threateningly. “Stay back!” I exclaimed, trying to hide the slight crack my voice made. “I…I know how to use this!”

The one behind me chuckled, saying, “Oh yeah, whaddaya gonna do, cook us up some nice cornbread?” I spun, pointing the pan directly in his nose, noticing that his large leathery ear had a tear in it. He also was a bit larger and more imposing than his companions.

“Are you the leader of this little band?” I asked, feigning confidence.

“So what if I am?” the goblin growled.

Without a word I reared back and smashed him right in the face with the pan as hard as I could, sending him reeling back clutching his face in pain. I rationalized that if I could at least knock out their leader the rest would leave me alone.

I was wrong.

Not a second after, the leader shouted something in the goblin language, I felt a club smash into the back of my head, sending me hurtling to the ground. My vision blurred, the entire place spinning, as eight goblins took turns smacking me with sticks like I was a pinata.

 I’m not really sure why they didn’t just impale me and be done with it, but who am I to look a gift miracle in the mouth?

 The rest is a bit hazy, but I do recall coming to and realizing I was tied up. My body hurt basically everywhere, and I was covered with bruises and cuts. My backpack was gone, a few paces away where the goblins were rifling through my things and talking amongst themselves in their own language. It has a few similar words to the common tongue but if I’m being honest, I have no idea what they were saying, but I imagine it involved complaining about the lack of money I had on me since I was only carrying some basic food rations, my empty journal, my quill and ink set, and the dagger. One among them started playing with my dagger, and I guess he’d decided he was going to keep it. I mean, I don’t blame him. It was probably in better shape than his spear.

The leader looked at me, his face disfigured from the pan. I must have broken his nose at the very least. He said in that guttural tone, “Where you from, gnome girl? Why you out here?”

“None of your business!” I shouted back, trying to hide my panic.

“Careful,” the goblin said. “Want to live? No backtalk! Your family must be rich.The book and dagger are much too nice for poor gnomies!”

“Leave my family out of this!” I screeched back, desperately trying to figure out how to get out of the mess I’d landed myself in. I had no way to wiggle my way out of my bindings, everything hurt, and I was fighting back tears of both fear and embarrassment. I couldn’t face my family after this.

I’d resigned myself to my fate, when the silence was broken by one of the goblins screaming in pain, somewhere to my right. I stretched myself to look in the direction the screaming was coming from to see a goblin in flames. I looked at another goblin and thought I saw a thunderhead floating above him, something I chalked up to my current mental and physical state. That is, before the goblin was struck dead by a bolt of lightning.

At this point, I think my body and mind gave up trying to process what was happening, because I was awakened some time later to the sight of the most gorgeous human (well, okay, half-elf) I’d ever seen in my life looking me in the eyes. I could never forget him, his piercing blue eyes, his short, messy blonde hair, his muscular physique under that captivating red breastplate. I honestly assumed I’d just died and was being welcomed to paradise by an angel. I vaguely remember muttering something like, “Oh thank the goddess,” before going limp again, and then I heard his soft, ethereal voice (that may or may not have been my imagination embellishing the experience) as he turned to one of his companions, a red-haired woman in long, flowing white robes and said, “Kari, do you think you can save this poor child?”

I snapped to attention, wincing at the sudden pain in my chest as I tried to sit up, “Excuse me?! I am not a child! I’ll have you know I’m twenty years old!” I snapped before immediately slipping back down to the ground, dizzy from the mother of all head rushes.

A third, deep voice rang out, “Haha, that means the ‘child’ is a year older than you, Marsden!” I strained my neck to see the source, a huge man with long brown hair, half-orc from the looks of him considering the tusks and the off-color skin as far as humans go, dressed in what looked like a torn blue martial arts gi. He even had a headband.

“Shut up, Baridash,” the gorgeous knight, excuse me, Marsden retorted, before turning back to the woman in the white robes. “Well, Kari?”

The woman replied, in a soft, soothing voice, “I’m not sure. I can only do so much to heal her, and she’ll probably still need some time to rest. Let’s take her back to town.”

A fourth voice, another woman, with a much firmer, more mature tone spoke up. “We may as well. We already have to take the princess back. Although since she hasn’t regained consciousness either, that means we’re literally carrying two people.” The source of the voice was on the side opposite from where the half-orc was, and I was already in too much pain to try to get a look at her.

A fifth, more snooty voice piped up, “Listen, Mr. Greenforest, if we’re stopping off the side of the road to help every wayward child, we’ll never actually finish the quest.”

Marsden narrowed his eyes and looked at the source of the voice, also out of my sight. “I appreciate the concern, Gilberto, but you forget your place. If we really are the Heroes, we’re going to do it right, and that includes helping random citizens as well as the entire world as a whole. If you have a problem with that, you're welcome to bow out.”

The voice responded, “No no, I’m here for a reason. You need someone to chronicle the story, and I am a bard. It’s a perfect fit.”

That sentence got a reaction out of me, a simple, “No, that’s not how this was supposed to go…” as my senses faded away.

I awoke a few days later in the city of Brightdale with the single worst headache I’ve ever had, unsure of how I got there. Eventually as my brain caught up with the rest of me, I sat bolt upright, and, seeing that I was alone in the room, I lifted up my shirt to check my wounds. Everything was as it was supposed to be. No cuts, though one of the deeper wounds had left a scar. No bruises. My chest and ribs no longer hurt, so I could only assume that my broken ribs had been seen to.

I carefully slid out of the bed I was in, only then to realize I was in nothing but my undershirt and smallclothes. I could feel my face reddening as I quickly cast my eyes about the room, wondering where my clothes were, and more importantly, where I was. Eventually I noticed my backpack on a chair in the corner of the room with my outfit, freshly laundered, hanging off the back of the chair. I walked over to get a closer look at the backpack, and I noticed that even the strap which previously had held my frying pan had been repaired, however the handle of the pan stuck out of the main pocket of the backpack. Instead, I noticed a slip of paper rolled up in the leather strap. The note said:

Hello Ms. Gnome, I hope this note finds you well. We did what we were able to, but eventually we could put off the journey no longer.

I apologize for my companions’ rudeness in mistaking your short stature for your age, but I’ve taken the liberty of speaking to them about it privately. Please know that if we happen upon any gnomes in our future travels, this mistake will not be made again

I did what I could to heal you, but some of your wounds were beyond my meager skills, for I am still a novice. As such, you have been treated at the clinic in Brightdale and we even put you up in an inn after the treatment is over. Please do not worry about payment, for all has been taken care of. Instead, as a cleric in service of the goddess, I welcome you to pay the favor forward.

The four of us wish you well.


Kari Bright

Kari Bright…so the woman in the white robes had been the one to see to my injuries. At the very least, that was a prospect I could live with, if she’d been the one who undressed me to put me to bed. At least, that’s the version of my thoughts I feel comfortable putting to the paper.

I’m kidding, I’m kidding, and I probably shouldn’t even joke about that because Marsden and Kari were essentially the stereotypical childhood friend romance, as I’d later find out much to my chagrin. Oh don’t worry, she knows that it was essentially infatuation at first sight for me, and she claims to be okay with it, so I’m just not going to push that any further (though I’m going to leave in the chat we had later just for the sake of comedy).

I sighed, a strange mix of angry and grateful for my luck to not only have been rescued from certain doom, by the Heroes, no less, only to find out that they had already found the person who was to chronicle their story. I sat on the floor beside my things, leaning my head onto my knees. Here I was, less than a week out from the beginning of my journey, and I was going to have to return home and say…what, exactly? That I was too late? That I got beat up within hours of leaving my dad’s side? That I woke up in a strange room all by myself in nothing but my undergarments?

Although tears had already formed in my eyes, a new feeling began to take hold in my heart. Call it determination. Call it motivation. Call it spite. Whatever you want to call it, I decided, then and there, that, no, I wasn’t going home to look like the fool I felt I was. I don’t know to what extent I believed in destiny, but what I did know was that there was no reason for me to let this opportunity slip through my fingers, even if it did nothing but let me give an honest, face-to-face “Thank you” to the Heroes.

I stood, got dressed, hung the dagger from my belt, gathered my belongings, and marched out the door.

So that's the prologue. at a little less than 6,000 words. I'm hoping to make it to 100,000 words, but the story will be over when it's over, I suppose. Anyway, let me know what you think!

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

The Epiphany Colony: An Announcement A Month Late

Hey everyone! Just dropping another quick article to talk about a book I had published last month called The Epiphany Colony: The Murder of Vincent Cortez. It's essentially the completed version of my novella series Asher and Elaine as found on my Royal Road account, previously on Kindle Vella.

I didn't really like the way the story ended on the novella series and so I spent quite a bit of time rewriting the story to make things make more sense and read less like a bad episode of Star Trek. Also I redesigned the book cover.

I wasn't overly impressed with the way the previous cover came out, and even for the next one I might have someone else with better graphic design sense do the cover.

Anyway, anyone who reads this has probably already been made aware of the book long ago, but for anyone who hasn't, you can find it here. You can even read it for free with a trial to Kindle Unlimited, and I still get paid if you do!

I'm also hard at work outlining and writing my next story, which is going to be a parody/satire of the standard epic fantasy adventures, specifically taking heavy inspiration from video games and tabletop RPGs, something, as you're aware, I have a ton of experience with. More to follow!

Edit: Also we're going back to Avernus soon!

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Don't Stop Him Now, He's Having Such A Good Time

No comment about the length of time between posts. I'm just gonna jump right into the story here.

In a bit. First, a little background.

So, in movies and tv I am a huge fan of the trope of Soundtrack Dissonance. As a TLDR, it's exactly what it says on the tin. The tone of the soundtrack directly clashes with what's happening on screen, and you see it in a lot of movies and tv shows, in action scenes in particular. Rather than having an intense orchestral piece matching the setpiece, the background music is anything from a peaceful ballet piece to a classic rock song that's completely out of place. A good example of this is the church fight in Kingsman: The Secret Service which is set to Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird, and it's every bit as ridiculous as it sounds.

One song that's commonly used is Queen's Don't Stop Me Now, which has been used in a number of scenes in movies such as the power test in Shazam! or a montage in Sonic the Hedgehog, or my personal favorite, the fight in the pub in Shaun of the Dead (warning, this is a clip from an R-rated film for language and violence, viewer discretion advised), where not only is it playing in the background in universe, the fight itself is in time with the song. It's...absolutely beautiful in its absurdity.

Which brings us to our story, from the first campaign with our friend David (the one with the bard starting the zombie apocalypse). It was the mid-campaign climax, but essentially, we arrived at the gates of a city and our characters were wanted as fugitives by the then-current villain (it's complicated, but usual D&D stuff). There was a faction of clerics and paladins to the dragon god Bahamut deadlocked against a cult trying to summon the evil dragon goddess Tiamat from Avernus to bring about the end of days, standard demon or dragon cult stuff. Anyway, we were met at the city gates by a huge horde of cultists who were out for blood.

So...from the perspective of almost all of us, it was the leadup to the standard final battle where we all drew our weapons, unsure of whether we were going to make it out alive, as the epic music swells. I say almost all of us because...well...then there's the dwarf Ryuu.

As in, the one who asked to be tossed to the river bank to solo a bunch of orcs.

For you see, as he drew his weapons, under that big bushy beard of his, a smile cracked.

And I don't remember who started it, but someone made a joke about how off it would be if different, happier music was playing in his head, and then I started singing under my breath, "'Cause I'm havin' a good time, HAVIN' A GOOD TIME!" Which drew some questions until I explained where I was coming from and pulled up Don't Stop Me Now on my phone.

We rolled for initiative, and Ryuu went first. And every time his turn came up, I switched the background music to Don't Stop Me Now. Because while the rest of us were fighting the big, serious, epic climactic battle, he was having the time of his life transforming himself into a four foot tall Beyblade of destruction. It was so perfect that if that campaign ever got the Legend of Vox Machina-esque adaptation that we definitely don't deserve, I would offer a substantial percentage of my cut of the royalties just to have Don't Stop Me Now in the background of that scene, in that exact manner. When focusing on the rest of the party, epic, tense fight music, with occasional cutbacks to Ryuu with a massive smile on his face as he relishes in the violence while Don't Stop Me Now plays.

I'd do it myself if I knew anything about animation and had any sort of art skills. Or understanding of shot composition and fight choreography.

A guy can dream.