Working It Out

Some people like to exercise. I am not one of those people.

I never played sports as a kid. I spent most of my time in front of the computer or on a stage or reading books. I don’t “work out.” I get worn out when I run for more than 10 yards. Lifting weights are too much work.

It’s funny though, as I’ve gotten older (those of you in the older-than-me peanut gallery can keep your traps shut) I’ve started to realize that Working Out Doesn’t Have To Suck. In fact, I don’t even have to “work out.” Last summer when I was biking everywhere and hooping all the time, I was in pretty impressive shape. I wasn’t even trying to work out. I was trying to have a good time and get to work without running over tourists in my Celica.

At any rate, I picked up my hoop for the first time in months this morning – sad, considering that I haven’t hooped all summer and it’s nearly fall, but it was nice. I didn’t even pick up the big hoop – I went for the two small ones I bought at the Dollar Tree ages ago with the intent to work on my hand work/weaving until I could afford to get a nice set of twins1. I put on some Lady Gaga. I sweat.

It’s funny, I always looked at working out or exercise as something that had to be torture to be useful. It’s not supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be healthy. Sort of how salad is supposed to taste absolutely terrible unless drenched in some kind of fattening sauce. But that’s the trick, I think: you’re supposed to like being healthy, so maybe you should like exercise.

Me, I like hooping. I love hooping. The first workshop I ever attended involved lots of talk about your chakras and hippie stuff like that. I dig that. I totally believe it. Hooping makes me feel relaxed, grounded, like I’m in some kind of amazing spiritual shape. Not only do I feel like I’m burning calories, but it just makes me happy. I tried hooping in front of the mirror earlier. I am not a smile-y person. I think I come off grumpy more often than not. But man-oh-man could I even see on my own face that I was having fun.

I think it’s important to do something that you enjoy that’s considered exercise. It’s good for the soul. It makes you happy. If you try running every day and you hate it, maybe that’s not for you. That’s not going to do you any good. Me, I’d be so pissed off from having to run, I’d probably go eat a dozen cupcakes injected with Baileys to drown my sorrows in food and liquor. That’s useless.

So, I dance. I do what everyone probably has done at some point in behind closed doors in front of a mirror2 and just let loose and have fun. I’m telling you. Good for the soul.

Any other exercise-haters out there? What’s your secret? Yoga? Squirrel Shotput? Any other hippies out there?

_______________________________________________________

1. Hoops, not children.

2. Oh, quit being perverse.

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Internet, Meet IRL.

For those of you that are under a rock or just don’t pay attention to anything but kitten videos and CNN when you log online, Google’s launched a (likely to be perpetually in beta) social network to compete with the likes of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and what have you. Not that they’ve even announced it’s a competition – simply by throwing their hat into the ring, Google is well on it’s way to running the show.

One of the big issues many, many people have – which, frankly I’m shocked at – seems to be the “real name issue.” Google requires you to have a real name – not a silly persona like Rainbowflower4523. They want you to be, well, you.

On one hand, I understand the desires of folks to remain anonymous. Anonymous as an online identity was born with the internet, it’s only in recent years that we’ve started getting comfortable sharing our real names – beyond that, some folks have some pretty good reasons for wanting to be anonymous. They don’t want an ex-husband to find them, they’re famous and want to browse privately. I dig that. But, really internet – isn’t it time that we dropped the guise of the internet?

So many of us – myself included – try really hard to convince people that our constant browsing habits, our online interaction, is completely normal and ordinary. Even in this day and age I still have trouble getting people to understand that I use my real name – first and last – in many places on the internet. It’s blasphemy. Shocking. Taboo. You don’t do it – even though, y’know, hundreds of thousands of us are.

 

Internet, Meet Real Life. Real Life, Internet.

Seriously, think for a minute – how much do we discuss the internet in real life? At any point today did you say – in person, on the phone, via text message – “send me a message on Facebook,” “I saw on Twitter…” “I was reading the news on HuffPo…” Right. You were. You were Tweeting, Facebooking (probably with a real name!), reading news on one of the most popular online news sources…that doesn’t exist in real life.

It’s time we got over our phobias of marrying our online personalities with our real ones. For those of you late to the game, I’m on G+, Facebook, have a YouTube channel, a Twitter account, this blog, I’m a member of a coupon forum, so on, and so forth. I don’t bother trying to keep those avenues separate, because I’ve realized how fun it is when someone I know from Twitter or G+ discovers I have a YouTube account, or when someone follows me on Twitter and then realizes I have a blog. Even better, occasionally real life friends will see what I post on facebook and engage me in conversation. Out of nowhere, someone will tell me they loved a cover song I did on YouTube because it’s one of their favorite bands. BAM. Instant friendship. Instant gratification.

 

The Art of Not Being an Idiot

The main reason I think most people don’t want to have a simultaneous online and real life personality is because, frankly, many people are ashamed of what they do on the internet. I know plenty of YouTubers who don’t tell their family that they have a channel at all – they’re embarrassed. Despite online putting up a guise of being completely confident and proud of their work, when it comes down to talking goofy videos with their family – they’re just not up to the task.

Pro-Tip: If you don’t post pictures of yourself acting stupid on the internet, no one will judge you for having pictures of yourself acting stupid. How amazing is that! These kids who get in trouble for posting photos of themselves drinking or smoking or whatever it is kids do these days? Yeah. Stop that. You’re making yourself look stupid.

There’s also the fact that, hey, no one is really anonymous. Seriously. You may have come up with the name Josie Cumberbuntcake to post your super sekrit videos with thinking no one will ever know it’s you, but they will find you. Put one toe out of line, use the same email address for your Webkinz account and your Super Porn Fiesta 1000000 subscription, and someone will make the connection. Seriously.

No one can stalk you if you never share your address online or avoid posting videos/photos of too specific locations. No one’s going to send you unsolicited emails or phone calls if you don’t share your email or phone number with the public. Do unto the internet as you’d like done unto you. Or something like that. Just, you know, don’t be an idiot.

 

If You JUST GOTTA – or, How To Quit Whining About G+

For those of you that just HAVE TO HAVE an alter ego – do the smart thing, come up with a realistic sounding name for yourself. Obviously Mandarific <3<3 isn’t going to go over well with the Google People. Pick a fake name that sounds real and call it a day. Use a different email address than your personal one. G+ works the same way as any other website – if I don’t want to be found when I register for something, I don’t use my personal email. I use a dummy account with a fake name. It works wonders. Seriously.

Google+, on that note, isn’t a place for connecting privately – it’s a very open, broad place. It’s a little bit like one of the ancient Roman forums, or like that guy who stands on the corner in the city and asks you if you’ve heard about Jesus lately and if you know the world is going to end three months ago today and have you repented? Because if you haven’t, you’re probably going to burn in hell. Google+ is that guy.

Me? I’m on G+ loud and proud. Well, maybe not so loud. I don’t post much to the public, I mostly use circles for my posting. It helps me stay private when I want to stay private, and lets me spew nonsense to my hearts content when I want to do so.

 

I know it’s tough, opening up, mixing real life and the internet – but isn’t it about time the internet was better integrated with our daily lives? We’re already checking into the internet on FourSquare when we visit places, using the internet to connect with friends and family – why is it such a bad thing to mix the two? Are we all just that ashamed that we spend more time interacting with a screen than with real people?

Not me. Go team Internet, I say.

What about you?

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Always.

So, tomorrow, J.K. Rowling is supposed to announce something “big” for the Harry Potter fandom.

Hopefully it will put to rest all the negative comments I’ve been hearing for the past few weeks about the series ending.

For those of you who are new here, it’s no secret that I’m extremely involved in the Harry Potter fandom community – I’ve been running a Potter play-by-post RPG for about ten years now, I’ve been a MuggleNet Fan of the Week, I traveled to Florida last summer to speak at a Potter conference. For over ten years, I’ve attended midnight showings of the movies, midnight releases of the books, stayed up all night reading, dressed in dozens of costumes, rattled off hundreds of quotes. It’s with this experience that I can tell you, one hundred percent – we aren’t going anywhere.

I get the sadness behind the last movie ending – it will be one great big chapter of life ending. We’ve watched these kids grow up, we’ve grown up with them, we’ve watched all the movies. For ten years now, this has been going on – and we’re closing the book on it. Done. Movies over.

But the movies aren’t the whole fandom. In fact, does anyone remember the last Lord of the Rings movie? We didn’t say “Oh noooooo! It’s over! No more Middle Earth!”

Hell no! We said “I can’t wait for the Hobbit!” or “I wonder what will make it to the extended cut” and “Maybe we should go play some D&D?”

I suppose that’s the good thing about “Pottermore” – sure, we don’t know what it is yet (though I’ve got a pretty good hunch) – but no matter what it turns out to be, more than anything it’s a sign from Jo Rowling that we aren’t going anywhere – that the ending of the last movie isn’t going to suddenly make the books get shelved where we’ll never see them anymore or the DVD’s be unwatchable or the theme park just drop off the face of the planet.

The point isn’t to mourn it’s passing – the point is to enjoy it, every minute. Every minute of holding on to those ticket stubs, waiting impatiently in line for hours; every minute of sitting in the theatre staring at a blank screen, every second of the movie as it plays, and every last bit of life as a Harry Potter fan that follows after. We’ll be here when the DVD is released, when the theme park is expanded, when Pottermore comes to life, and when the movies get remade in ten or twenty years – and we’re not going anywhere.

Besides, Albus Dumbledore put it best – “Of course it’s happening in your head, Harry – but why on earth should that mean it isn’t real?”

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Ah, the Opinionated Internet

This weekend was awesome. A mini vacation, Medieval Times, Packers winning the Super Bowl. All in all it was probably the best birthday weekend ever. But more on that later.

Following the Super Bowl on the internet is like the greatest example of this weird cultural movement that is online society – basically, this bizarre sense of entitlement everyone feels about their own opinions. Their opinions become no longer opinions, but fact. Phrases like “I think” and “In my opinion” or “I believe” are now completely absent from the English language. Frankly, it’s getting a little bit scary.

See, maybe I’m just too mellow. Despite being an avid internet-goer and queen of all things snark, I genuinely don’t have a lot of “hate” for things that aren’t, like, a giant cultural crisis. I hate what’s been going on in Zimbabwe and I hate that the people in Egypt felt they needed to destroy all those historical relics to make a point. What I don’t hate is stuff. I don’t hate Twilight or WWF. Okay, so wrestling isn’t for me, but I don’t hate it. That seems a bit extreme, yeah?

So the Super Bowl, I don’t know if you’re a Twitter-er or Facebook-er, so I’ll share with you a bit of what it was like. Every Facebook status that wasn’t directed towards a certain team being in the Super Bowl was something along the lines of:

“The Super Bowl is so STUPID. Why do we have to have a whole day directed towards this dumb sport?? The TV should show HOCKEY ALL DAY!”

“Ugh, not caring about the Super Bowl. I’d rather shoot myself than watch.”

“Everyone knows the Dallas Cowboys are the REAL Super Bowl champs!”

And then you know, there’s the Twitter Stream…

“Looks like I have to turn twitter off today. Ugh. Too much Super Bowl talk.”

“That performance was so bad, I’d rather get a root canal.”

“Who gives a shit about Football? You all are dumb.”

I know what you’re thinking. This is the “usual stuff” we see from people’s opinions on the internet – but I couldn’t help but feel guilty that I a, was watching the Super Bowl to begin with, and b, kind of didn’t think the Black Eyed Peas performance was all that terrible aside from the sound mixing. The fact is, Sunday wasn’t a day for Hockey Fans or Canadians or people who prefer reading to sports – it was a day about football. Many people in the country were tuned in to the Super Bowl, many people were having parties and enjoying the company of others – it’s not something you can change. We get our one day a year, just smile and nod and let it be  - it’s only one day, right?

Mostly I just want to know when people decided that “live and let live” or “to each his own” were stupid ideas and should be trashed. I totally get the whole “this is the internet! say what you want!” thing – but is there really a need to voice so much…negativeness? Why is it always what you don’t like? Yesterday I tweeted a couple times about how excited I was to be watching the Packers and how the game was. When your sport of choice is doing great or you’re really enjoying your favorite TV show, I invite – nah, encourage you to do the same. Try being positive and enjoying it instead of hating on everyone else’s opinions for once.

I see the same thing in small fandom circles and the like – you’ve all seen it. “I hate Twilight!” someone proclaims. “It’s so dumb! It’s stupid! Edward is Gay!” People seem to forget that without a “I think” before that statement, it comes off as kind of rude to the Twilight fans. Someone out there really, really likes Twilight. Maybe it was the first book they ever really read and enjoyed. Maybe it got them into role playing or reading or researching actual vampire lore and they learned more about Dracula because of it, or maybe it got them into writing. It may not be your favorite book, but it’s someones. How would you feel if someone was saying terrible things – not opinions, but things like calling it stupid – about your favorite book? Maybe a little bit miffed?

Recently at the Vault I asked the “Coke or Pepsi?” question in our chatbox just for laughs. The internet responded with a resounding “Neither!” or “Dr. Pepper is best!” Disregarding the fact that there were only two options entirely, they filled in the blanks. Are these same kids taking tests and writing in “Maybe” where the only possible answers are “Yes” and “No?”

Everyone is entitled to their opinion – but, this may come as a newsflash, your opinion isn’t any more valuable than mine, or your grandmother’s, or that guy’s down the street. You can “hate” Glee all you want. You’re entitled to that. But you’re not entitled to hate on me for being a huge fan of the show. Just as you’re entitled to hate, I’m entitled to love. We all get our opinions – it isn’t the hateful, rude ones that are king of all other opinions. That’s not how that works.

As for me, I don’t have an opinion on Twilight because I’ve never read the books. Glee is one of my favorite shows. I thought Space Chimps was a terrible movie. I was really proud to be watching the Super Bowl yesterday, and even moreso when the Packers won. I didn’t think the Black Eyed Peas performance sucked that bad. I think Wendy’s chicken nuggets aren’t all that great.

But hey, to each his own.

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State of (the) Mandaland: 2011 Edition

Holy crap wow it’s been a whole year since my State of (the) Mandaland post.

Where the hell has time gone?

Apparently last year my vows for 2010 were semi-on par. I mean, not entirely, but for the most part. I wanted to travel a lot, and I did. I went on a more-or-less cross country road trip (twice!) and visited like ten new states. I did not make it out of the country, but moving to the midwest, well, I might as well have. I wanted to read a lot, and I didn’t finish as many books as I wanted to, but I certainly did do a lot of reading. I wanted to do something “bigger.” I think the changes overall that I made were pretty big.

It’s strange looking forward to another year, especially now that January has more or less come and gone. I have plans already for June, August. I’ve been in this apartment for two months already. I’ve been away from home since last August. Where has the time gone?

I’m really not sure what I could say this year, you know? Predictions are so far off, goals are so unattainable. I almost jinx myself by saying “I want to do _______ this year!” because…lets face it, by setting it as a goal I’m that much more likely to fail.

That said, I don’t know where the year is going to take me. Last year took me a thousand miles away from everything I’m familiar with, doing and experiencing so many new things. Hostessing at a restaurant, Disney World, Universal Studios, stepping into the world of Harry Potter for the first time, publicly talking about my website and having people become interested, having my website absolutely take off, meeting people off of the internet, meeting a boyfriend off the internet, staying in a hotel room by myself in a place I’d never been, going to Miller Park, seeing Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and a ton of other performers I’d never thought I’d ever get to see in person. Accepting freelance web design as a career, having my car switched into my own name so it’s really mine, standing up for what I believe in, booking a flight at the last minute, leaving my cat behind, exploring places I’ve never been, watching a football game in a bar, seeing an indie film at the Sundance theatre, getting cds signed by my favorite band, judging a parade on the 4th of July, finally feeling confident enough to wear a string bikini, just so many things I never thought would happen.

This year is going to be a roller coaster. It is going to be unpredictable. I’ll be in Georgia in June and Indiana in August and spending my first birthday entirely away from home. I’ll be starting up a Yoga class in a few weeks. I’ll be launching two new websites and who knows what else beyond that. I want to see a Brewers game. I want to meet more people off the internet. I want to see the bean in Chicago. I want to do more.

The state of Mandaland is good. It is perfect. Blissful. Ongoing.

How is your world?

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Stories, Tales, and Other Things

For the past week or so, Nick and I have been reading before bed.

Years ago, we both discovered (or, I discovered and shared) the author John Green, thanks to the YouTube channel he had started with his brother Hank – VlogBrothers. To me, this story is best finished with a clever “and you know the rest,” but just in case you don’t, I’ll tell you. John and Hank agreed to – for the course of one year – not participate in textual communication with one another. They could talk on the telephone, they could skype, but they could not send emails or text messages or instant messages. Every day, they had to make a video, alternating in turn so that January 1, 2007 Hank made the first video, and on January 2 John made his, and so it began.

As it would turn out, John Green was also a pretty well known YA Author. You know, one of those people who’s books are shelved somewhere near the Harry Potters and the Twilights and the Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret and whatever else they’re shoving there these days. Nick and I both, from a thousand miles apart, went out and purchased matching copies of Looking For Alaska. We both finished in, more or less, one sitting.

Maybe it’s because John Green is an absolutely phenomenal author, or maybe it’s because his characters are extremely relate-able, but each of the books beyond Alaska I scooped up with equal enthusiasm. An Abundance of Katherines forever emblazoned in my head the concept that there are “dumpers” and “dumpees.” Paper Towns was my guidebook and companion for moving so far across the country without so much as the faintest idea what I was doing.

Then came Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

I purchased the book…awhile ago, while I was back home. I had Leslie special order it and rushed over to get it and took it home…and didn’t read it. In that time, I guess I thought Nick had already read it, but when we moved in and combined our book collections and looked at our double copies of Paper Towns and Looking For Alaska, I noted that there was just one copy of Will Grayson. So we decided to read it.

Here’s the thing about this book – it’s written in two parts. Half of it is John Green, and the other half is this guy David Levithan. It takes place in and around the various suburbs of Chicago and follows the lives of two teenagers. Each named Will Grayson, each voiced by a different author. One boy lives by the rules “shut up and don’t care,” and the other is quietly participating in an online romance. Eventually, their lives intersect completely in what turns out to be a completely enthralling tale that you literally cannot put down.

I had forgotten how nice it was to read things aloud, to connect with someone over a book. While one of the Will Graysons was describing his conversations with his internet boyfriend, we laughed about the conversations we used to have before I moved. While the other was recounting day to day high school drama, we laughed over what our high school days were like. It was fun. Reading the book was fun, the story was fun, it was just enjoyable.

The funny thing about reading YA novels is that they aren’t so watered down you feel like you’re going back to See Spot Run, and they aren’t so overdone that you wonder why the author felt it necessary to throw in a 45 point scrabble word in every sentence just to sound educated and “adult.” The story is about the story, and the characters, and the relationships between them. It’s about how the internet is “real” and how people are “real” and how truths are true and sometimes not true. And then, you know, there’s the reading in general – being immersed in a story. It’s one thing by yourself, but it’s entirely different when you share it with another person.

Have you been reading anything good lately? Do you share reading with someone else, or do it alone? Leave a comment! Lets talk books.

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Stay on target. STAY ON TARGET.

2011 has been, thus far, Year of the Scrambled Eggs.

Not literal scrambled eggs, of course – in fact, I’m astutely positive that I have not made scrambled eggs even once this year. Or any kind of eggs for that matter.

No, I speak of a more figurative egg. Scrambled everything. Ideas! Stress! Projects! Plans! My life has become one great, big, hulking platter of scrambled eggs.

First there’s the projects. A few half written stories for a half a dozen anthologies that will likely not be selected, should they even reach completion. A few things over at the Vault that have been more or less “in progress” since December. The resounding promise to finally fold and put away the last of the clothing we still haven’t unpacked or bake those brownies that my stomach has been nagging me for or, more recently, call about those tickets for that show that’s going on in our apartment complex.

I have another short list of things that I’d like to do in the near future – things that aren’t up yet, but need to be, etc. Web design work mostly. And even just now while writing this I got distracted and went to work on something, then had to reel it back in. Scrambled eggs. Can’t focus.

For awhile it seemed like I was spending 90% of my time awake stressed out and accomplishing absolutely nothing because of it. Waking up at 7:30 to get on the computer by 8:00 to stare at twitter for six hours until it was time to take Nick lunch at work. Sometimes there was Angry Birds or Cooking Mama 3: Shop & Chop! or reading through Chuck Wendig’s latest short story collection or perusing my new role playing books but mostly, nope, mostly just staring. I even took a few days “off” to no avail: the scrambling continues.

So, internet, I petition you – how do you relax? How do you get yourself organized? Do you have a particular routine each day to get things done? What about when it doesn’t work?

Stop in, leave a comment. Even if you haven’t before – I know you’re out there! How do you buckle down and get things done?

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Book Heresy! A Kindle Tale.

I like books.

Not just the reading or being taken away to some place that exists solely in the imaginations of myself and the writer, but the actual, physical books. I like cracking open a hardcover for the first time or thumbing through the soft stack of pages in a paperback. I like seeing the goofy, usually-outdated author photos in the back. I like how they line up on the shelf, and that satisfying feeling of having absolutely everything in alphabetical order.

And then came the e-book.

E-books are not a new thing. They’ve been around awhile. Just, you know, man decided that having these cheesy bulky hard-to-access files wasn’t enough and created the fire that is the Kindle and nook and so on, and it was good.

I should stop here, before I continue, and get back to the book thing. My good friend Leslie owns a bookstore. You know, the small town order-it-if-it-ain’t-in-stock type. She is very anti-Kindle. In fact, I am pretty sure that if she is reading this, she already had a heart attack at reading the words “Kindle” and “good” in the same sentence. Leslie’s entire existence depends on people not purchasing the Kindle. Or, well, you’d think.

So about the e-book thing. Nick got a kindle for his birthday back in October. We were both a little fascinated by it and at first not really sure what to do with it. I mean, after all, he already had so many books, and the e-books generally cost more than the actual, physical books, but hey! It was pretty cool! He started off with a bunch of free books – stuff like Frankenstein and other old things that have already passed into public domain. No harm there, nobody’s losing out.

Then he found a series of short stories by Jim Butcher, meant to fall alongside the Dresden Files series. Available only in e-book. That was fun.

And then came Amortals.

I’ve made a few friends thanks to the internet – alright, a lot – and a vast majority of these folks are writer types. When these folks publish things, I want to read them. I’m interested. So when Matt Forbeck announced his latest, Amortals, I was on top of it. It was exactly my kind of read. I wanted a copy right then.

Except, at the time, it was only available in e-book. I hesitated. I hemmed and hawed about it a little bit. And then I whipped out my card, punched in $3 to Amazon, and the book was zipped over to the kindle. Just like that. I was laying in bed and suddenly I had a brand new book to read.

The thing about Amortals is that it’s futuristic. It’s very sci-fi. And, if I dare say it, it was an absolutely phenomenal read on the Kindle in particular, because the device is so futuristic and sci-fi. It pulled me into the story in a way that I’m surprised to say I’m not sure an actual paper copy would have. Except that by the time I was done, I wanted the paper copy. I had sampled the book for $3 and now I wanted to really, actually own a copy of it. The Kindle was seeing the movie at the movie theatre, and now I wanted it on DVD.

Last night, or early this morning, or something like it – Chuck Wendig also put his latest out for the Kindle. A collection of short stories by the appropriate title of Irregular Creatures. Unlike Forbeck’s novel, it’s exclusively for the Kindle – in fact, Chuck’s doing a sort of experiment with “Can Self-Publishing Be Profitable?” Naturally, I picked up a copy of that too.

I think that’s what makes the Kindle so useful to me – not as a replacement to actual paper books, but as a supplement. So far most of the things Nick and I have loaded up onto his have been things that aren’t available as paper books – Amortals being the lone exception, and even then I’m holding out for a regular copy. Despite my allegiance to the local bookstore, I gotta say – maybe we’re on to something good here.

John Green, a New York Times bestselling, Printz award winning author recently stated that he doesn’t care how people are reading, he cares that they are reading. Isn’t that how we should approach the subject? After all – if you like the book, you’re probably going to want to go get a hard copy sometime anyway. So take it for a $3 test drive, and then get the hell out there and support your local bookstore.

Any other kindle owners out there? Thinking about getting one? Staunch anti-kindleist? Leave a comment. Lets talk books.

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Things That Don’t Matter

In case you came here from somewhere else, have been living under a rock, or skip the vast majority of my blog posts – I run a role playing forum. Of the Harry Potter variety. An absolutely massive one, by role playing forum standards. The average board these days has about 20 players and lasts for 3-6 months. Mine has several hundred and has been kickin’ it since 2001.

The thing about having a board this size is that there is a constant demand for new content. A lot of rpg owners don’t seem to realize that in order to keep things fresh you have to keep adding stuff – they come up with a winning formula and ask themselves why after three months, everyone is starting to get bored. You have to keep creating. You have to expand.

For me, this involves writing. A lot of writing. My end goal as a writer has been for some time now to work on role playing games – not the forum variety, but the kind that publishes books and people play at the kitchen table with their friends. The kind that requires you to draft up scenarios that will challenge and interest the player. You know, World of Darkness. Dungeons and Dragons. FATAL.

Okay, well maybe not FATAL.

My writing for the Vault over the past few years has probably equated to about the size of Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. Writing that consists largely of things like rules – what you can and cannot do, how to create a character, how to do this and that. Even more, I’m responsible for coming up with completely original content to supplement the information that J.K. Rowling gives us in her novels. My board allows people to play characters from America, so naturally I should be able to inform them what American wizards are like. We don’t hear anything about the foreign schools Beauxbatons and Durmstrang in the series, so I have to provide that information too. We need a few things to make us stand out from the crowd, so I have to do write ups on things that are completely original to our board. Six vampire clans complete with a clan history, abilities, weaknesses, and other assorted fluff. Three completely original magical schools – the most recent one being so far off of anything we see in the Harry Potter series it could probably stand alone as a Mage: the Awakening supplement. Thousands of words, basically for nothing.

The problem with what I’m writing, for starters, is that at a glance it becomes glorified fanfiction. Taking someone else’s world and making it my own, adding things that were never there in the first place. It’s not so much fanfiction for me as it is filling in the blanks – nothing is added that changes the original story or contradicts the canon of the series. It is only ever things that we do not know about.

I suppose in a sense it’s more along the lines of what the folks at Margaret Weis are doing with games like Serenity and Supernatural. People want a sandbox, so I give them the bucket and shovel. No harm in that. Except, perhaps, the knowledge that the tens of thousands of words I pound out every year will never be published or receive any kind of acknowledgement beyond my players’ excitement that they have new information to work with – which, don’t get me wrong, is usually more than enough for me.

The thing about all this is, though, about writing things that don’t matter at the end of the day or don’t give anyone beyond a select group of people something to bat an eye at, is that I genuinely feel accomplished after finishing a new pile of information. I feel like I’ve written something worth reading, and more importantly – I can feel myself honing down a skill. I’ve already got the write-edit-write-edit-edit-smash-your-face-in thing down pat. I can create entire worlds in minutes and improvise answers completely on the spot. Especially in the Harry Potter variety, I know that world – and more specifically, the variant on it that I have created – so well that I can answer nearly any question about it without batting an eye, even if the query calls for information we never even see in the books.

I suppose it just goes to show that what they say about practice making perfect is true, or that writing just for the sake of writing helps keep things fresh. I may not be looking to be published or even thinking about a full-length novel or some great new game idea that will revolutionize the industry, but I feel confident that when that idea finally hits or an opportunity strikes – I’ll be ready for it. By the time that opportunity rolls around, I have absolutely no doubt I’ll have what it takes to break through and write something awesome.

Until then, I have some Potter-verse to muse on. Excuse me while I step into this vanishing cabinet.

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Coming Off the Code Binge

Somehow, I survived the past week.

I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure how. I usually spend several weeks bunkered down writing and coding and preparing new content for the Vault, and yet still manage to spend somewhere around 42 hours straight in front of my computer surrounded by the carnage of empty soda cans and crushed Junior Mints boxes. This year was no exception.

Somewhere in the middle of my delirium last night I asked Chuck Wendig how to deal with the brain goo that comes of working for too long without a break. His response? “Stop for the night.”

Mine? “Pppppbbhhhhh buh-buh-buh code?”

It always feels like a sort of feat of strength – see if I can finish six weeks of to-do list in one night. Unlike most projects, it’s not a matter of getting put off so much as it is a matter of having to shut the site down. I only ever shut the site down for upgrades and emergencies. I try to limit this to once or twice a year – the days following New Years being the most important. Once the site goes down, it’s do or die: get the content up. Get the people what they want. Get people back into the game as soon as possible. Do I pass the point of needing to stop for the night? Absolutely. Is it worth it to work through?

Maybe not every time, but sometimes you just gotta keep on keepin’ on. Yeah, okay, I am not going to treat every project with a two day caffeine high and a truck load of candy (well, okay, this is entirely possible – just with like, you know, sleep added.) …but once in awhile? It feels good just to get it done.

I stopped making resolutions years ago, hardly being able to keep them – but this is always so much more satisfying. Having a work-a-thon to kick off the year on a strong note always feels more productive. It’s like I’m looking at 2011 and going “Hey, you see this? This batshit crazy writing asskickery? THIS. ALL YEAR.”

I suppose if I had to set any kind of goal for this year, it’d be to keep up the momentum. Keep writing. Keep coding. Get these background projects out of the wings. I’m finally in the position I need to be, able to work freelance and with a ton of opportunities on the table – I’d like to keep it this way. I’d like to make this a “thing.”

So, 2011 – I guess there’s little else to say other than “bring it.” After all, I survived last year – what’s another 360-something days?

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