Zombie Bloodflies of the Chesapeake Bay

I was on a boat the other day on the Chesapeake Bay.  Water in all directions as far as the eye could see. So where were all the flies coming from? Big black flies flitted from leg to leg, and they bit. These were biting flies.

Fortunately, there was a swatter aboard. I went to work on the flies. Since they were full of our blood, the flies splattered in red goop. If they did not splatter, that was even worse they might return. These bloodflies rise from the dead no problem. We got to the point where we would smack the flies and then stomp on them. If they didn’t end up in stomping range , three or four more smacks to make sure they were in several pieces seemed sufficient to preclude any fly resurrections.

A dead fly, unfortunately, attracted more flies. They continued to arrive from nowhere to feast on the corpses of their comrades, which the smack of the swatter drove into the air to land elsewhere on the boat. The flies’ tricks didn’t end there. The skipper had evidently become enamored with the flies, and suggested that we should respect them instead of killing them. I was tempted to smack this turncoat to see if he himself dissolved into a swarm of carnivorous flies.

Still, the flies kept coming. Soon, we were sure we were under attack by yellow-jackets, but the flies had just gotten bigger and gained yellow and black stripes. We began to worry that in a few hours they would be as big as rats and detonate in showers of smaller flies when swatted, but soon we had made it back to land. We fled into the bathroom and hid until the flies lost interest.

9/10, would recommend.

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Opening Lines

The opening line for my novel, the one based on my blog serial of the same name is probably not yet what it should be.

My memory of that day becomes clearer as the events become stranger.

It’s not a bad hook, but I think it’s too vague to serve for the whole novel, which is meant to do more than simply hold a reader’s interest. This line tells the reader (a)  the narrator is remembering things and that her memory is sometimes fuzzy, and (b) the events in the book are strange. (b) is true and worth communicating in an opening line, but probably not sufficient. (a) is utterly worthless, perhaps even misleading. Placing it in the first line suggests that fuzzy memories are a key element of the novel, which they are not.

What is the main theme, though? Robots are becoming as smart as humans, and their motives are as difficult to understand as they are counterintuitively mundane. The protagonist Diane has a dead husband Benjamin of whom she often thinks and whose death is mysteriously intertwined with the world in which Diane now lives.

I should not reveal too much, though. An opening line should not be a spoiler.

How about this?

Despite what people might think to look at me, I personally wasn’t around to see the plains of North Carolina and Kentucky rise into the Blue Ridge Mountains, the wintry glaciers retreat from modern day Wisconsin, the once prolific Montana bison driven to near extinction by a foe it would never understand. It’s the sort of change no one expects to live long enough to witness firsthand.

It all started with a change I may rather have died than live to see. One involving the little library off Old Fayetteville Road.

It’s certainly more epic. It clearly tells the reader “this is about the United States of America,” and I can work in references to the events in this line throughout the book as Diane visits these locations in her journey. It also says “the protagonist is old” and “something big is going to change in the universe of this book.” Also, there’s a library. It is a little odd, though, just how epic it is. I intend my book to describe a historic paradigm shift, but are the behavior of ice sheets, tectonic plates, and large mammals an appropriate allegory?

Despite what people might think to look at me, I personally wasn’t around to see the mule give way to the tractor. I didn’t witness the horse and buggy be replaced by the car, nor did I watch John Henry kill himself in a desperate bid to prove he was better than a drilling machine. A drilling machine that has certainly become ten times more powerful, cheap and efficient since. What I did see starts at a place that I thought would be the end of my story.

This probably has the opposite problem. It may be too on the nose, so to speak. It says “Machines are replacing people.” I don’t want to bash anyone over the head. Let them get into the story, then I can work them towards the more important points.

Probably the best thing to do will be to revisit this several times, especially after I have a first draft written of the whole book. Then I’ll have a clearer sense of how my theme comes together, which will help me craft the opening couple sentences. I also should keep paying attention to opening lines of other books.

Purple Tofu Time

I realize it seems like I talk about tofu sticks a lot, but you see, statistically, one could argue that the apparent proportion of tofu stick mentions is artificially increased by a perception of a proliferation of tofu stick-based posts. So, now that you’re all convinced that it’s fine for me to write another tofu stick post, here goes.

Hot off my big success making root beer tofu, I ran out to Harris Teeter to get ingredients for cheerwine tofu. Once I made it there, I got ahold of myself. Was I really going to deliberately enter the situation I had decried just weeks earlier? Surely cheerwine is better than root beer. Is it, though? I distinctly remember thinking I was going to enjoy that root beer when I bought it. Once I’ve bought cheap soda specifically to make a recipe, I can no longer claim to be the clever DIY’er making the most of the unfortunate circumstance of having such stuff in the fridge. So I classed it up. I bought cheap wine.

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I specifically picked red wine in order to give the tofu some color, and color it it did.IMG_20170909_111439616.jpg

I also added sesame seeds, sesame oil, and soy sauce. I should have added more spices, because the sticks turned out a little bland this time. The most tragic part, though, was that the purple cooked away.

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Glossy black is a fine color for tofu sticks, especially dotted with the light sesame seeds, but it’s no vivid purple. Like always, though, in the end the sticks proved to be the convenient, filling snack that I can constantly change the marinade recipe for and safely keep outside a refrigerator for hours. Expect many more posts on this delightful class of dish.

The End of a Campaign

Yesterday, the D&D campaign I began on December 3rd, 2016 ended. Generally, it was a success. The players seemed to think so, and that’s really the most important gauge. I enjoyed myself, although I would be hard pressed to tell you I succeeded in creating the story arc that I originally set out to. Communicating a complex story in four-hour-per-month increments while simultaneously keeping action up for players who themselves can and will change that story is challenging if not impossible task. As a writer, I cringe at the mess I made of my own story at times to keep things moving. Abrupt plot shifts, characters dropping all of their internal motives just to say “ok” to whatever needs to happen for a session to end on time, and of course, monsters and villains inexplicably arriving at exactly the right time to make for an exciting battle. It’s ok, though because this isn’t a fantasy novel. Most if not all of the best moments came from my party’s own sense of their characters and personal creativity.

In Asymmetric Information in D&D, I described some of the entirely organic scenes that arose in my D&D campaign. Let me add a couple more. One of my players insisted on looking through a bad guy’s desk I had just put there for decoration. He kept asking me what he found until I told him he found a list of people they were looking for. Then he kept pushing. “What else do I find?” I told him he found some tawdry love letters to an “Esmerelda.” Then when the bad guy showed up, he read the love letters aloud to infuriate him.

Another player tried to seduce the bartender Ilyna with song. The tavern got excited at such a beautiful voice singing for them and started making requests, which he was happy to fulfill. They had such a good time that Ilyna invited him to stay at the inn as long as he liked and enjoy the food and lodgings free of charge, and he said “no.” He was a wandering man. Ilyna said she understood. The world needed saving. She just had to ask on behalf of her customers.

Another time, I was putting a bunch of vultures on a clocktower just to make it creepy and draw attention, and a player said “someone’s been hanged.” I liked the idea and I decided a NPC priest of the D&D god Pelor they’d met before who had been trying to stoke the peasants into a fury against the queen had overplayed his hand and gotten lynched. The rest of his little gang got run out of town at the same time. It turned out to be an exciting way to tie up loose ends and raise the stakes at the same time. The players, some of whom had a personal connection to this NPC, cut him down and had a burial service. I even got to resolve a little subplot another player had created around himself where he wasn’t sure what version of Pelor he was supposed to be following, the kind, loving Pelor, or the angry, intolerant Pelor these NPCs represented. He’d fought with Pelor so much that for a few campaigns I told him he felt his connection to his god weakened. After laying his former comrade to rest and praying for the rest of the day, Tom the Monk finally understood in his heart he’d been on the right path all along and could feel the light of Pelor shining through him once more.

So, what to learn from this? I should spend less time planning D&D modules ahead of time, and just run with the ad-lib, I think. People really don’t mind when it’s simple or there are plot holes. They love getting the opportunity to do something nobody else has thought of, and uncovering something surprising. What’s especially important, and I think I’ve done well with this, is that I must never lose track of the point of a D&D game. It’s not about telling a heart-wrenching story,  making a perfectly coherent world, or perfectly balancing the monsters and the players in combat. It’s about the all the players having a good time. As a DM, that’s what makes me have a good time.

The Curse of A&W

Last Thursday, the host one of my regular writing groups said he would provide ice cream as a snack. Wanting to contribute, but not wanting to compete with my host, I brought something I felt would go with the ice cream – root beer for root beer floats. One guest and I had root beer. I was the only one that put my root beer together with ice cream to make a float, and it wasn’t very good. I wondered whether I had ever really thought it would be good. The root beer guest declined to take the root beer home with him.

So, I took the root beer home. Naturally, I have options besides throwing something away and eating it straight – I can cook with it. Yes, even A&W root beer has recipes dedicated to it online. It’s also a reasonable shot to try substituting it for another popular dark soda – the ubiquitous Coca-Cola. This was my first experiment.

This experiment was cut short when, moments after my root beer sauce began to bubble, Alice fled from her room coughing. In addition to being unappetizing and unhealthful, A&W contained compounds to render the atmosphere of our apartment unbreathable.

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A&W root beer is specially cursed, even among soft drinks. It has 45 grams of sugar per serving.

After we spent some time eating supper on the porch and venting the house, Alice glanced at the oven burner and pointed out some egg that had fallen under and generated the deadly, invisible smoke. My experiments could continue! Nevertheless, I had soured on making a root beer sauce. Instead, I took advantage of the sheer quantity of the root beer to make a tofu marinade.

I added the same ingredients as for the coca-cola sauce, but proportional to the extra root beer. I added a generous helping of sesame seeds and left the tofu to marinate overnight. Then I cooked it for 20 minutes in the oven at 350 degrees. IMG_20170819_115442928 The result was delicious. Alice said she could taste the root beer. The best part? It nearly used it all up!

The remaining root beer went into a root beer chicken recipe. This used substantially less root beer, but made up for it with a full bottle of barbecue sauce. It’s no New York Times recipe, but it tastes a lot better than swigging the stuff straight.

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Now there’s only dredges of root beer left, and I have food for the weekend. Thus, the curse of A&W was broken.

Sam’s Guide to Swimming

Swimming is an art form just like competitive street polo and professional Hungry Hungry Hippos. It is relatively quick to pick up, but mastering it takes a lifetime.

When swimming, if you find that you tend to sink to the bottom of the pool easily, not to worry. It is simply that you are heavy. No, you’re not fat. You’re just dense. No, not stupid, just, well, never mind.

In ancient prehistory, our ancestors were the ultimate endurance swimmers. We would swim for miles chasing the large fish that once inhabited the African ocean until they’d eventually become exhausted and be unable to continue to flee. Modern humans have fish delivered to their doorsteps already killed and cooked, and they no longer use these skills, but they lay dormant in all of us. One day in the near future the carbon generated by our fish delivery systems will heat the atmosphere to the point that the icecaps melt and the entire world will be one great African Ocean, and the people that survive will be the ones who can best return to these ancient practices. Kurt Vonnegut agrees with me.

In a modern pool, one of the most important secrets to swimming faster is to be able to turn around quickly when one reaches the wall. The commonly accepted technique to deal with this is the flip turn. Here is a professional performing a flip turn. Be wary, though, pool walls are something humans never dealt with during our evolution, and thus can be very dangerous. As an amateur, you should be sure to have someone nearby to resuscitate you when water gets in your nose and you drown. With practice, you will learn to stay conscious long enough to get to the surface and clear your nose of water to breathe again. Good safety practices have dramatically reduced the high death rate from flip turns in the history of the sport of swimming.

In this modern era, it is tempting to sit on your couch and have cooked fish delivered to your door. Remember that you can take better care of yourself if you drive to the supermarket to buy fish and cook it yourself with only a small amount of added oil and salt. Swimming in a pool is also good for your health, once you have mastered the technique of not dying. So get out there and swim!

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It's about whatever I say it's about