Web Comics: Narbonic

I’ve been following Narbonic for a while now.

It’s a webcomic about mad scientists, their henchmen, and a number of other things. I’m partial to comics with on-going storylines and Narbonic is one of them. Not only that, it’s also funny, something that isn’t required for me to like a comic, but it is cool when it happens.

Anyway, that’s not the main point of this post. The main point is that today’s strip includes a visual reference to Sandman #11, “Sound and Fury.”

It’s the bit where you see a person standing against a background and then you realize the person is standing in a much larger being’s hand.

So anyway, that’s cool.

If for some reason you feel inspired to read more of Narbonic, go for it. The archives used to be visible only with a subscription to Modern Tales. Now, however, they are free to all and very much worth the read.

Harry Potter Speculation: Horcrux, Harry’s Death, the Scar and More

With all the important issues in the world to discuss, I’ve decided to concentrate on something truly vital–Harry Potter. Though people who frequent websites and forums where Harry Potter is discussed won’t glean much new from this, I thought I’d speculate a little bit about what will happen in the next and final book of the series.

For what it’s worth, you can blame the fact that I’m writing it now on Topher. His blog pointed to an article about Harry Potter that contained a couple things that I wasn’t aware of. The article wasn’t actually available on the web when Topher wrote his entry, but it is now.

For the convenience of those who haven’t read the sixth book in the series (and want to remain ignorant), I’m requiring people to click through to read the rest of this one.
Continue reading Harry Potter Speculation: Horcrux, Harry’s Death, the Scar and More

Novel: Writing Systems of Magic

I describe my novel’s genre as “Contemporary Fantasy.” I’m not sure if that’s an official publishing genre or not, but it puts it into an understandable category. It’s fantasy in that it includes supernatural events that have no rational explanation. It happens in modern times, meaning no traditional trappings of fantasy (i.e. no knights, barbarians or elves need apply).

Where magic comes in is simply that the trolley system that used to run from Holland to Grand Rapids appears occasionally in the modern day. I never call it magic in the book, but that’s the only real option for explaining it.

In earlier drafts of the novel (particularly in the original short story version), I made no rules for where and when the trolley would go, allowing it to depend primarily on the plot. Unfortunately, I wasn’t completely clear on what the plot would be either. I knew in a general way, but now I’m beginning to feel like there’s no choice but really nail down the trolley system’s routes in time and space.

Space is the easy part. It runs along the tracks that it actually ran in history. Time is harder. As soon as a person includes time travel in a novel, you end up introducing a bunch of mental gymnastics.

There is, of course, the common dilemma of “What happens if I change my past?” If you solve that as I have by saying “You open up a new alternate timeline, but yours stays just the same,” it opens up even more questions.

It also opens up immediately practical questions such as, “If you get on a time traveling trolley and go somewhere else, what time do you get back?”

There have to be rules and I have to create them, but once I do, it will shape the plot. It will also make for a better book–I think.

At any rate, I hope so,but, that’s one of the things that I worry about. What I loved about the initial draft was the slow revelation and mystery concerning the trolley system. As I nail things down, it becomes less mysterious to me. What I worry about is whether or not I can still make things mysterious to the reader.

Of course, there’s nothing to be done but try. And really, being definite is what this book needs now.

Role Playing Games: Nine Worlds

After a couple generally accessible posts, I’m heading straight for geek territory. I’m going to tell you about a character in a game I played.

You have been warned.

Nine Worlds is a game in which your character discovers that reality is a lie. The solar system is not cold and dark. The planets are not empty. The planets are actually populated by humanity and ruled by the Greek gods or their parents the Titans. People sail from world to world in ships, engaging in commerce or traveling for pleasure. In the meantime, the gods and the Titans war against each other.

The Character
I made a character for Joe’s pre-existing Nine Worlds campaign. Read more about it here.

Though I could have made a character that grew up on one of the other planets, I choose to make a character from Earth. I also chose to have his name be a little archaic–Cyrus Dandridge (called “Cy” by most people). The character concept was “displaced engineer.”

He’s displaced for a couple reasons. First of all, outside of Earth, the technology of the Nine Worlds is at Victorian levels. He’s trained as an electrical engineer. He’s also displaced politically. Though not especially involved in politics at home, he finds that at a gut level he strongly dislikes the idea of being ruled by the gods. They are in his mind little more than dictators (with the exception of Prometheus who he sees as reasonable–so far).

Mars
And that’s how he ended up smuggling modern Earth technology to the rebels attempting to overthrow the god Ares on Mars. He was not smuggling weaponry. He brought arguably legal items such as communications and wilderness survival equipment.

Unfortunately for him, he happened to run into a port official that was suspicious of anyone delivering Earth technology to the very Martian warlord that Cyrus needed to contact if he wanted to deliver his goods to the rebels.

Fortunately for Cyrus, he managed to persuade the official that the Martian warlord was close to Ares and that this shipment of goods would likely benefit Ares.

Soon after, Cyrus found himself at the warlord’s fortress, agreeing to bring more Earth technology.

Jupiter
Not long after that, Cyrus left Mars for Jupiter. Cyrus has two major goals in his life at the moment. One is to convince some gods and Titans of democratic values and to have them help bring about change to the political system. His other is to create telluric weaponry in case violent revolution is necessary after all. Step one in that plan is to free a man named Milo Icarius from Zeus’ highly guarded weapons research facilities.

His contact on Jupiter turned out to be wanted by Zeus’ police forces. Cyrus found his out when his meeting with the contact was interrupted by Aegis forces bursting through the door.

Cyrus response was to turn himself and his contact invisible and incorporeal and float through the walls, blending into the crowds on a busy street.

Next time, I’m hoping to find out what happens when Cyrus tries to rescue Milo.

The Ben Franklin
I should mention Cyrus’ ship. Ships are typically designed to look like creatures–dragons, tigers, birds and so on. Cyrus ship is (by their cultural standards) ugly as sin. It’s streamlined and shaped like a wedge. While primarily silver in color, it is decorated with red, white and blue stripes and the revolutionary war era rattlesnake symbol with the words “Don’t tread on me.” It’s named the “Ben Franklin.”

Jenison Park Mystery (Possibly) Solved

I happened to eat dinner at my parents’ house this Sunday. As my mom was preparing dinner, I told her about the Jenison Park amusement park and about the unnerving name of one of the attractions (“Nigger Baby”).

I mentioned to her that I’d asked the author of the book that the map was in about the attraction’s name. He knew nothing about it. I figured that I’d have to go to one of Holland’s assisted living centers and find someone old enough to have gone to Jenison Park during its heyday.

I may still do that, but I’m not sure that I’ll have to.

Jenison Park isn’t the only place that had that particular attraction. Apparently you could find it in Indiana (where my mom grew up) even into the 1950’s. They had it at carnivals and even at fundraisers for the local Christian school system that my mom went to. In fact once she described it, I realized that you can still find it at carnivals across the nation.

Basically, you had a rack of hinged figures on a wall. You were handed a certain number of balls, and, if you hit enough of the figures over you got a prize.

Since the name of the game was “Nigger Baby,” you would be right to guess that the baby figures that you knocked over with a ball were painted black.

You could never have a game like that now, but as a child my mom never remembered anyone questioning it. Strange to think that something that blatantly racist could be part of the background noise of life. It makes me wonder what we might be doing now that I’ll look back at with shock in the future.

The “Nigger Baby”

Writing a novel involves a degree of research. In this case, research on the city I grew up in–Holland, Michigan.

A trolley system ran through Holland at one point. It had various names. At its longest, it ran from Saugatuck up to Grand Rapids. They’d actually bought the right of way to South Haven. Had they actually built, people would have been able to ride from Holland to Chicago by trolley. Bearing in mind that trolleys could reach 80 mph, this would have been more workable than you might think.

Like many other interurban railways of the period, the trolley system also included an amusement park (Jenison Park–located on the south side of Lake Macatawa near Lake Michigan). This way there would be a built in reason to ride the rails. Grand Rapids’ trolley system included a similar amusement park near Reeds Lake.

Jenison Park included a variety of rides and amusements. They included a roller coaster, merry-go-round, penny arcade, the “House of Trouble” and a few other things. One of the “other things” located next to the House of Trouble is simply labeled “Nigger Baby.”

There are moments in doing any sort of historical research when you read something and realize that things have changed since then. Noticing that for the first time was one of those moments for me.

I didn’t know what that exhibit or event was. I still don’t.

If anyone reading this does, write a comment and let me know.

UPDATE: I may have an answer to this one. See the next post for details.

State of the Novel

Two thoughts on writing my novel:

Singapore
A chunk of my novel uses Singapore, Michigan as a setting. Singapore used to be a lumber town. It was located at the last bend before the Kalamazoo river meets Lake Michigan.

I’ve almost been to Singapore in that I’ve been on the beach next to the mouth of the Kalamazoo, but I need to go a bit further inland to get to the site. Currently I’m thinking about doing so some weekend in September. Thanks to low water levels in Lake Michigan, this might be a good year to go.

It is not, unfortunately, a kid-friendly adventure. As I see it, my choices go as follows:

  1. Hike south from Holland starting from Big Red (Holland’s lighthouse) and follow the Kalamazoo River inland to the first bend, hoping that it is passable and that no dogs or prosecutors wait in woods for me as I trespass on private property.
  2. Make an effort to contact the person or people who currently own the property where Singapore used to be and get permission to poke around for an afternoon. Unfortunately, contacting whoever owns the place could be pain.
  3. Get a hold of a canoe or some other sort of boat, thereby allowing me to get access to the site via a publicly accessible waterway.

Boating sounds like the best combination of level of hassle vs. remaining legal. Trouble is, I don’t have a boat.

On Writing What You’ve Forgotten
Since the novel includes a rock band, there’s always the temptation to use band practice as a way of exploring tensions between the characters. There are, after all, quite a few ways for muscians to drive each other completely nuts. These range from being late for practice to consistently screwing up on a particular part of a song to making questionable musical choices.

The trouble with illustrating character differences via musical differences is that you have to explain why one character would find what the other is doing annoying.

When I started writing this novel, I was playing my bass semi-regularly, was trying to learn more about jazz improvisation, and could come up with musically based conflict situations more easily than than I can now. Sadly, I don’t really have time to play bass or trumpet anymore.

My novel’s theoretical future readers have thereby escaped from digressions about why you might use dissonance in jazz and why some rock musicians might get cranky if you sneak it into their stuff.

L. Frank Baum and Native Americans

I wrote about L. Frank Baum yesterday and thought I’d be able to toss off a blog post.

However…

This morning on NPR, I heard a story about one of Baum’s descendants apologizing for Baum’s editorials recommending genocide for native Americans. I’d been aware of his views on this, but hadn’t known that anyone in his family wanted to apologize.

I just thought I’d bring it to people’s attention.

Oz

The novel that I occasionally manage to work on includes a number of references to Oz. This shouldn’t surprise those of you who know certain things. First, that I grew up in Holland, Michigan. Second, that L. Frank Baum, the writer of the “Wizard of Oz” and a number of other books lived near Holland for a while. Third, that my novel is set in Holland.

Recently a radio show did an episode devoted to Baum and Oz. It’s worth a listen.