Choose your Adventure: The Basin — Part 1

I was writing short stories and I’ve been editing them. I wrote a piece I called, A story’s price, but it didn’t feel right to submit it for a journal or something to publish. It’s bigger than a short story, it’s got its own world and everything. But, I don’t want to novelize it. So I thought, what the heck make it a choose your own adventure.

This is the first time I’ve tried something like this, so I’m interested to see how it goes. Heck, I don’t even think anyone regularly reads my blog so it might be a while before I get a vote.

At the end of each part is a choice–and you get to vote what are unnamed hero does.

Let’s begin.


Part 1

I could hear the fog. There was no life here, the last field mouse I had seen plunged into a brush two miles back. Fleeing the Vapor Basin. The lake of water sourced the fog peeling off the water’s surface. The Vapor Basin was a ruined city seemingly floating on top a poison lake. This route was a shortcut east-west. I couldn’t be late for the harvest out west. The Vapor Basin road was safe if one brought their own water and avoided breathing the air. Supersitions kept the foolish away, which was most everyone else.

Around my mouth, I tied my scarf. Deep fog kept my vision limited to about an arm’s length.

I kept to the main road. Many inviting ruins defied entrophy to the left and right. Everything useful had long been scavenged.

Then a metallic rattle cracked. From a manhole a thing–four legs, gangly, big head, grey but what wasn’t–it crept up from the manhole and whisked away into the fog.

This was the first I’d seen of life in the Vapor Basin. I ran after it. This would be a great story for the tramp trail.

I dashed around and through a building. Then slowed. I would never see the thing again, let along catch it. Surely it knew the alleys and could see through the fog. I stood in a ruined house.

Through a punched-out window, I gave one searching look into the fog.

It had stopped too. The grey form sat on a rock that merged in and out of the fog.  It sat on his hunches. Nibbling at something. Mindful of the ring, I unsheathed my sword. The creature may be dangerous.

it spoke, “I know you are watching me.”

The sword was only token protection. I knew quarry work and picking fruit. Strong but little martial skill. If the thing had unnatural strength or subtle means I would be ripped to pieces.

The thing turned. I could see it clearly now. Pale blue, small. Arms and legs like stretched tar. “have no fear. I am not dangerous. I only have sharp ears and quick feet.”

“And the ability to speak.” I couldn’t deny such a novel creature conversation.

“And the ability…” He muttered, trailing off, “Why are you here? This city has been plundered long ago. Unless the outside world has dire need of rusted manhole covers.”

“Things haven’t got that bad yet,” I quiped, “I should be asking the same of you.” I have traveled through the Vapor Basin before and have never seen the likes of you before.”

“I live underground,” the blue gremlin had no face covering. The fog must not harm him. I needed to know more. Every tall tale on the labor trail I paid no mind. This may be my only chance to satisfiy my curiousity.

I asked, “You said the city was plundered long ago?”

“I’d like my question answered first. Why are you here?”

It was his home after all. I obliged. “Citrus trees on the west coast are nearing harvest. I will be spending the summer there.”

“You’re a migratory worker then?” I hadn’t expected to engage in small talk. Certainly the gremlin would be obsessed with caverns and perhaps a tribal culture of sun haters.

“Yes.”

“Looking for stories to share?”

“Always.”

“Care to learn some history? And not the babble you are perhaps used to.” I instinctively touched my temple. The creature was reading my mind. I shook the thought away. I wouldn’t allow such paranoia. I was merely connecting with a cave denizen of a poisoned land.

“Gladly,” I said.

“I’ll tell you a story for a price.”

“What’s your price?” I asked.

The gremlin licked his lips, “I want to eat a finger. It has been years since I’ve had fresh meat.”

“my finger?” I recoiled, glad that I’ve kept my blade drawn the whole time. I was no longer connecting with the fiend. On my sword, water beaded in it’s blood gutter.

“Any finger. I recommend the littlest of your hand. You shouldn’t miss it.”

A finger for a story. I wished I hadn’t finished my own supply of meat. He might have traded for that. I couldn’t give my finger. Just meeting this gremlin was a story all by itself. When I worked at the quarry, I kept my fingers clear from my chisel. Anyone does the same. And now should I whack off a digit?

Yet, my curiosity grows. How could I cut this story off in the middle for want of a little finger?

I said, “How do I know you story is worth it? Or even if you are good for it. You could very well run away after you have my finger.”

The gremlin pouted, “I’ll tell you the beginning.” He said, “All this here you call the Vapor Basin was an ancient city. At the height of it’s glory, a man of hundred dying would be mourned for being cut down in his youth. Women and men worked the same offices. They could choose when to bear children and all the physical jobs were replaced by magic. Lightning sent messages to the far corners of the world. This culture tamed every beast. Even lesser-dragons were lap pets for society ladies. The poor were poor by choice alone. Monks studying virtue of having little.

“All of history hinges here in this city. Like a pinch in an hour-glass. You only know of four races–now five, including me. Believe me when I say, forty races used to live here.

“This is merely the frontispiece of my knowledge. More than idle curiosity, my reward can make you rich. Cities full of treasure are out there, undiscovered by your ignorant generation. I would give you the beginning of your new life, all it costs is a finger.”

I was convinced. But the anticipation of parting with my finger held me still. It would take some focus. I placed my finger under the edge of my sword. It had been a while since I chiseled anything off. Quarry workers were increasingly locals draining me of the few jobs I could get. To think I would chisel off my finger.

The thing leaned forward on his rock, spearing a long arm out for balance. “So?”

I said, “This is harder than it looks.”

One. Two. Three.

My hand screamed murder. I bound my hand with my handkerchief. Staining the last bit of clean cloth I owned. Once done, I tossed the finger to the gremlin. He snatched it and chew on it with needle teeth. Showing every evidence of pleasure.

I ignored his wet chewing. I held out my right hand. The otherworldliness of a four fingered hand was to be as familiar, as say, the back of my hand.

A forked tongue flicked and snatched a drop of blood off his lip. It said, “Payment given deserves reward.”

The gremlin told me everything he knew about history. The gods created the races in their own images. After thousands of years, the first civilizations began. After much bickering by sword and law, they collated into an empire. The empire mastered magic. The gremlin said there were two kinds of magic, but I had even heard a credible claim to even one type of magic. The empire crumbled and, in its crashing wake, every evil imaginable swept the earth. In no small to uncontrolled magic.

As a last hope for life, many races buried themselves in the ground and waited.

When they emerged, these people made the city. The city now ruined at the pit of the Vapor Basin. There was only one city, so it was called Polis. Magic poured from the ground here. In Polis, they only knew one type of magic. It was powerful enough alone to make a society like the one he previously described. The gremlin said the creation story I was told as a child originated from the races emerging from the ground. Safe from the magic wars of the past. Our religion denied many thousand years of history.

There were seven towers spread out to all corners of the compass. These outposts were where Polis sent lightning-messages too. The gremlin told me where one was. In the valley between Mt. Raven and Mt. Carval. Here I could prove if the story was worth my finger. Buried treasure.

For unknown reasons, the gods poisoned Polis’s water and drove the peoples away. From here on, the myths and history I knew were more-or-less accurate.

Intently, I listened. Struggling to file away every word. I had paid a finger after all.

He finished by saying, “And that is all I know. I must apologize.”

“For what?” Other than taking my finger, of course. This fact was ever present on my mind.

“This was a trap. My brethren have been trapped under the city for thousands of years. All I needed to bring them to the surface was the scent of fresh blood.”

I leapt up and looked behind me.

The ground writhed with gremlins. Each grinning with needle teeth. Their pale forms crawled soundlessly in the fog. Dilated nostrils.

A pause while everyone calculated the turn of events.

They leapt at me and I leapt away. I ran away from the crowd of gremlins toward the first one. The first gremlin leapt at my face. I severed that educated head from it’s twitching body. Behind, I heard countless naked feet slap the stone streets. Immediately, rubble and walls emerged from the fog. I dodged. The sounds of feet ever present on my heels. At any moment a half ring of needles would sink into my calf.

Suddenly, water appeared on both sides. The ground narrowed from a path to a pier. I ran across the pier of stone over the lake. I wheeled my arms in from for balance. Then the pier stopped. I just about fell into the water. Threw my arms forward and regained balance on the pier.

All around me was the poison water. The air was warm.

Behind me the gremlins crept on the walk way. Not one of them swam in the water. The one at the front stopped just out of my swords reach. “You can either give up now, or wait till sleep takes you. Why prolong your suffering?”

They wouldn’t risk the water and they knew I could hold them off one by one.

I stabbed at him. He lost his balance and plunged into the water. The others panicked and retreated. They stopped once they reached a thicker part of the pier, four abreast. I was trapped. Poison water on one side, gremlins the other. I went back to the end of the pier. None of the gremlins followed me back–they could wait. When I fell asleep, they would cut my throat and then down their throats.

Perhaps I could fight through the gremlins. With my sword, and a little luck, I could cut through them. 

Over the water, lay the shore. It’s image wavered in the fog. I could swim for it.

He will swim for shore. Part II to be released soon…

Character Article is up

I am becoming proud of my website. Piece by piece the original idea is coming together. I wanted to take about the art of fiction in a precise way. A first attempt at 2 out of 7 articles are up.

Both are the articles are quite good. They distill dozens of books and hundreds of articles into a single 5 minute read. You can understand fiction characters better than all your friends (and a few humanities majors) by a single five minute read.

As the years pass, I hope to have all seven articles polished and illustrated.

What are you waiting for. Read the thing!

That’s all. 😜

Photo Credit: John Evjen

Space-Farming in the age of the Disco-pirates is now in Third draft

Finished the third draft of Space-farming in the age of the Disco-pirates.

I got some fantastic criticism of the first chapter. Things that were clear to me were opaque to my reader. It is my job to make it clear.

I’m moving onto the fourth draft which should make the prose to be extremely clear. I fear I’m losing a bit of the tone, I would like my story to be absurd but absurdist digressions tend to kill narrative momentum. I think if I read some Pratchett I can see how he does it.

I’ll post the first two chapters after I complete a fourth draft version of both.

After completing this book, I intend to remove the free download to Jacob’s Quest. So get the PDF now. Blog post with download link. It will become a reward for joining my email list. Why email list? My business is in providing stories to readers. I don’t want to rely on Amazon, word-press, or any other social media for that. If I can email directly to you, I can provide stories on an on rolling basis.

But I like free books, so Space-farming will become free. Available only on this website.

That’s all.

Writing update

Space-farming in the age of the disco-pirates has 9,999 more words to be edited. Yes that’s right, only four digits. 97959 words had been edited into a second draft. I am happy to say the book is readable. A reasonable person can follow the plot from word one to word 100k.

I’ll finish up this second draft soon and get started on the third draft. Once I edit chapter one again I will re-post it explaining changes from the previous version.

The third draft will see to clarity. Many setups are vague, I want to play those notes louder earlier. In particular, a biker gang (space-bikers) loses trust in their leader, but right now it comes out of nowhere. Putting some work into that will be good.

I feel that the third and fourth drafts will be lightning fast. Especially compared to the second draft. I deleted 15000-ish words of first draft material. And wrote 20,000 words of fresh material. The book is at 108331 words. I am hoping to bring down the word count slightly. 108k words isn’t bad, but I have a feeling the narrative is a bit bloated.

I love the settled title for the book, Space-farming in the Age of the Disco-Pirates. I am really happy that I got a lot of fun things in there. Food-tyrants, Gambling, Heists, Drug running, and of course Disco-Pirates. They are the first and last villains of the book. I love how my initial idea of having one villain, the Pirate Queen Dina, grew into a cast of four villains. Mr. Paulo–casino owner, Prime-President Macka–leader of the free world, and Xercan–the universe’s primary food supplier. I take a great bit of pride in my villains. No by the numbers evil here.

Anyhow, thanks for your continued interest.

That’s all.

Don’t control what the reader thinks: You’ll only annoy them and exhaust yourself

Language is abstract, accept this limitation. You are only able to do the first half of communication, let go of the second half.

Every time I write something, especially writing advice, I am overwhelmed by how much I don’t know. Every sentence demands elaboration. Every concept bears millions of nuances. Too many choices.

Too many choices = paralysis.

Just to write one sentence on psychology my idiot brain wants to get a quadruple PHD to justify my position.

Write instead what you know. If you survived childhood, you have enough material for two lifetimes.

But that doesn’t help either. Will people get your work? No one can say. Instead, lets see your writing as a whole.

Reality assaults your senses. You rationalize your experience. And then you write it down in fiction (or non-fiction) Three stages. At each stage reality is watered down until its purely abstract–merely language!

Stop underestimating your reader.

They control the reading part. In the same way you hurt yourself trying to control what other people think of you, let your readers read. You already know what you make is something broken. All puzzles are broken. Whether they know it or not, readers masterfully reconstruct these language puzzles. They will recreate the reality you first imagined (or witnessed in the case of non-fiction).

Let your readers read. That statement precludes you have written something. Go write.

That’s all.

The art of noticing: What is Character Perspective

Character perspective is built of moments of noticing.

I went to Starbucks today to write and there were no open tables. Seeing my frustration, a complete stranger invited me to sit with him. I wrote for a bit and then we starting a conversation. Two hours flew by and we talked about at least eleven different subjects.

I realized during the conversation that perspective is far more than the five senses. I told him a story about my weird lungs–breathable anesthetic doesn’t work on me. He asked me if intravenous anesthetic works on me and I said yes and then he pondered. He said that oxygen and nitrogen are small molecules and anesthetic molecules are big. Perhaps the membranes in my lungs have smaller than normal holes? Or less of them which is another possibility.

His background in chemical engineering (A full PHD) makes him notice what is otherwise invisible. For me, my lungs being weird is just that, I don’t understand them. He was breaking them down in a system and trying to understand the parts. He revealed later asking about the intravenous anesthetic was to see if my brain couldn’t process them. He was building a mental model and testing why it was weird.

He told me he was a PHD in chemical engineering and I believed him because I default to truth. (Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell) When he demonstrated his insight into molecules and membranes then I understood what having a PHD meant.

Let’s go a step further. If I asked him about chemical work it would have led to a boring conversation. I don’t have a floor of understanding. In the same way, he didn’t ask me about my work, which I am glad for. Explaining animation and layout is difficult. Trading lectures on expertise is boring. In the same way exposition is boring.

We traded stories instead.


our unique perspectives brought our lives into the conversation. That’s what I mean by saying moments of noticing are what character perspective is made of.

An animation work story or a chemical engineering work story can only be shared with those in groups. Human society is more than work. We have plenty in common. We talked about self-improvement, business, marketing, bad-actors and drugs. (That’s how we got on the topic of anesthetic) All of those things are shared with anyone you will write for. Your reader has concrete experiences that you can swap stories about and bring your own perspective to it.

Now when I think of my lungs, which I do often, I will be reminded of molecule size and membranes. Could I use this start to study chemical-engineering? Theoretically, but I haven’t the time. In the same way you can bring your abstract ideas to your reader by noticing the peculiar in the common.

Start noticing what you and you alone can see and make your characters do likewise.

I want to make this lesson unforgettable to you. I will say one sentence and you will never look at rainbows the same way again. You will be an expert noticer.

The more red there is in a rainbow, the bigger the raindrops.

Thanks Praf for the excellent conversation.

That’s all.

Photo Credit: John Evjen

How to make a reader empathize with your character: Personalize Character Motivation

Counter to want we believe, universal motivations inspire no one, but personal motivations inspire empathy–perhaps even a whole universe of readers.

There is a category of things that everybody and their second cousins twice removed wants. Let me give you a sampler of this set. Everybody wants to get money, feel belonging, be treated fairly, be happy, and not die.

They’re universal and perfect and beautiful and you should never, ever, ever, write them as character motivations. They are as bland a mayo on white bread.

Instead of mayo on white bread may I recommend personalizing those motivations to capture your readers attention. For example, in my novel my characters want to be rich. They spend most of the book trying to make money. But I don’t stop there. Charles wants to buy a private garden planet so he can live off-grid in his personal garden of Eden. Jessica wants revenge on everyone who has ever slighted her, so she gets to rob enemies and then use the money to harm them further. Like a saw, she cuts on the push and pull. Mateo wants to buy back lost family land. Terrance loves gadgets. Matilda wants to arm people against the tyrannical government. They all get along just fine.

My book is working because I turned I want money into I like gardening and private planets. Far more engaging. It’s odd really, the universal desire of money, money, money! doesn’t inspire empathy but the personal desire of funding a hobby does.

Perhaps I cheated with the money one, lets move onto not dying. Everybody wants to not die. Boring. To make this work show the audience what they want to live for. In the Hunger Games, Primrose Everdeen is introduced at the same time as Katniss. Katniss sacrifices herself and then fights her way out for Prim.

Being happy. Being happy is stupid simple. Just give up desire. It’s nigh impossible to give up desire so: show your character’s desire. And then wham! they get it and are unhappy. Classic be careful what you wish for moral tale. Or perhaps you have a happier ending in mind.

Treated fairly. Envy is unique among human evils because it is never admitted. People can be pressed into admitting lust, gluttony or any of the six sins but not envy. Envy insists that life and other people have stiffed you. A desire for fairness is a powerful motivator. I love how closely tied fairness and envy are. It’s narrative gold.

Feel belonging. Man’s a social creature. Everyone is either going to get himself into a healthy or an unhealthy relationship. In all my life I haven’t met a hermit, probably because they have been avoiding me. Nothing personal I’m sure, but I’m offended anyway.

That’s all.