Monday, 13 November 2017

Why All The Silly

Why All The Silly

Recently I watched Thor: Ragnarok in the cinema with my family. I am a fan of the Marvel movies and I enjoyed this movie the best of them all.

I met a good friend of mine a few days later for dinner. He told me that while his wife and daughter went to the film, he decided to skip it because, as he put it, he "thought it looked too silly."

His comment surprised me in three directions. For one, I began to wonder what a Serious Super Hero Movie looked like. I guess that would be Batman: The Dark Knight by Christoper Nolan. Or the Daniel Craig set of James Bond movies, like Skyfall or Spectre.

For another direction, I wondered about the campaign style I run, and what this friend and the other participants must think of it. My campaign setting is called "County Playground." It is not called "The Suffering of Carlos the Grim on His Descent Into Hell." I'm trusting that at least one of the players will give feedback when I ask for it. I have asked for feedback, and no one has said, "Too Silly. Dial it back."

For a third, I am really enjoying the novel I am writing for National Novel Writing Month. It is not a "GrimDark" tale. It is an adventure comedy in a fantasy setting. When I have bad days, I wonder how it will sell. When I have good days, I ignore whether it will sell or not, and just write.

I can appreciate A Song Of Ice And Fire and the moody television it inspires. Myself, I like to use my free time to make stories and role playing game (RPG) campaign settings where the plot, tone, and characters promote laughter, not weeping. Although to be honest, some of the puns do evoke tears.

I read an interview with Taika Waititi, director of Thor: Ragnarok, and thought he said it best:

This film is so bold and colorful and vivid and bright. 
It’s a celebration of comic books. I think in this day and age, 
when cinema’s so dark and sad, and such a reminder of how 
dark and sad the world is, it’s so nice to have a ray of light, 
and a movie that makes you smile.

The directors words are on my mind, when I get inspired by Kings Of The Wyld and Galavant, and when I work on my own creative pursuits.


Sunday, 29 October 2017

Four Books At A Time reviews Battle Stove Spectacular

I am very thankful to have received my first book review. Four books at a time was gracious enough to review Battle Stove Spectacular. Please enjoy the full review. I would like to know what you think.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

National Novel Writing Month

I've created my NaNoWriMo account and plan to write a novel in November, as part of National Novel Writing Month. A short post, this one. More time spent on the outline for the novel, code named EFALS. I hope your writing is going well!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Battle Stove Spectacular available through VPL

Battle Stove Spectacular available through VPL

My ebook accepted to Vancouver Indie Authors collection

It is my delight to announce that my novella Battle Stove Spectacular has been purchased by the Vancouver Public Library as part of the VPL's new Indie Authors collection.

Here is a direct link to Battle Stove Spectacular in the VPL Indie Authors collection.

I live in Vancouver, B.C. and I am an independent author. The VPL Indie Authors collection gives this mission statement on their site:

As part of our commitment to helping residents share their own stories, Vancouver Public Library is creating a collection of self-published books by local authors. The goal of this collection is to promote local books that might not be available through traditional channels, both to increase exposure for local writers and to increase the selection for local readers. We welcome both print books and ebooks.

I hope this encourages you to seek out more ebooks.

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Sunday, 25 June 2017

Markdown All The Way

Markdown All The Way

Improvements to how I use Vimwiki

I changed the syntax of my Player Information wiki from VimWiki to Markdown.

Pandoc flavoured Markdown has support for Header Identifiers; this helps keep internal links working when converting a wiki of several files into one EPUB book.

Pandoc syntax also allows better support for naming a file with no spaces in the file name, yet allowing titles that have spaces in the file name.

Where I started out

I have two wikis for my one campaign. Both run within VimWiki. One for GM eyes only used the traditional VimWiki syntax. The other, the Public Wiki filled with details for the players (a.k.a. Player Information Wiki), used MediaWiki syntax. In the Public Wiki, I intended to use the VimWiki "diary" function to build and maintain Chronicle entries.

(As a side note, when I say "Chronicle" what I mean is a record of what happened during the campaign session).

There are a few problems with this approach:

  1. VimWiki has a "VimWiki to HTML" function. It only works with VimWiki native syntax. It does not work if you run your VimWiki with MediaWiki syntax. Since at the time that I started Pandoc did not have a VimWiki reader, this meant that for Pandoc to read wiki data, that "VimWiki to HTML" function was a hard requirement.
  2. Running one wiki in one syntax and one in another is a headache.
  3. The diary function creates a subdirectory for diary entries. Having some files in a subdirectory and others out is not an impossible issue. However dealing with links gets more complicated when your hierarchy is not flat.
  4. VimWiki and MediaWiki can handle files with spaces in the name (like "Joe Smith.wiki") Shell scripting tools can, too, but it makes for an additional set of headaches.

While I love to create, edit, and delete data within VimWiki, it's not my final output. I have Vim but not VimWiki on my mobile phone. I wanted a way to review the Gamemaster notes on my phone.

I studied my use cases and decided there are three sets of output I want to create:

  1. I want to collect the individual wiki files into one single ePub electronic book, for reference when the Internet is not available. I might also sell that ePub one day.
  2. Most of the Public Wiki detail is going up to a MediaWiki site hosted on the Internet for my players. Maybe.
  3. For the Non-Player Characters in the campaign, I have an idea for how I can create paper miniatures (or "pogs") that match print (PDF) NPC reference sheets.

All three of those I intend to treat in more detail in future blog posts. For now, I'll detail what I've changed to.

Where I am now

Today, both wikis are in Markdown syntax, specifically the Pandoc flavour of Markdown.

From Pandoc Markdown, using Pandoc, I can create any type of output I can think of with a minimum of transitions. Yes, there is a thread within Vimwiki development to using Markdown as the base markup language of Vimwiki. My best estimate is that will be a long time coming. Several of the people who use Vimwiki like the To Do List toggles in Vimwiki native syntax. To the best of my knowledge, Pandoc does not provide such a thing.

Related: As of the last two weeks, there is now a Vimwiki reader in pandoc. This is great for getting data from VimWiki to Markdown. It doesn't solve the potential problem that I might one day have something in HTML or MediaWiki format and I want to put it in to VimWiki. If that source HTML has lots of links, I don't want to break all of those transitioning from one format to another.

Thankfully:

  1. VimWiki supports using a VimWiki in Markdown syntax.
  2. Pandoc can read and write to Markdown
  3. Pandoc can create any other format I can think of.

I toyed with using Vimwiki native syntax to turn the entire wiki into HTML, then using Calibre to take a directory of HTML files and turn that into an EPUB. I prefer to use Pandoc and Markdown, because:

  1. Pandoc flavoured Markdown has great, straightforward support for internal links
  2. Pandoc has great support for metadata blocks in YAML format.
  3. Pandoc when creating an EPUB can create a Table of Contents with a --toc argument.
  4. Pandoc can build the EPUB from the command line. With Calibre, I was launching a GUI tool.

I have a script that will sync one-way the Public Wiki content from files in MediaWiki format up to the MediaWiki site on the Internet. To get the VimWiki details from Markdown to MediaWiki, I use Pandoc. No muss, no fuss.

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Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Gamemaster awards two extra skill points

The GM is kind; the GM awards two extra skill points.

There never seem to be enough skill points in the game for everything I want to do as a player.

Granted, I want to try some pretty strange things as a player. One of my characters wanted to make his own weapons. A second character wanted to build up the Profession: Gambler skill. Yet something like Perception gets used in almost every session, but not every session has gambling.

Now, as a GM, I have an opportunity to change all of that for my players when I run my campaign.

In the character guide I put together, A PC Guide to County Playground: The Grand Grind, the newest version provides a boon to my players:

I intend to place more emphasis on skills and contacts. Each player is given two bonus skill points at first level; these have to go into a Profession skill, a Craft skill, or the Survival skill. The intent here is twofold: First, the Profession or Craft should help "round out" who the character is and what the character is interested in, making for a more interesting character. Second, the GM will use those interests as plot hooks. For example, a character with ranks in Profession (Sailor) will know other sailors; the GM will use those other sailors as plot hooks.

To get two bonus skill points at first level in PC Gen, go to "Feats & Abilities" > Misc > GM Awards and choose "+1 Skill Rank" twice

A screen capture of setting this value in PCGen version 6.0 is shown below:

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Friday, 12 May 2017

Battle Stove Spectacular

I am over the moon with excitement to announce that my newest novella Battle Stove Spectacular is available on both iBooks and Amazon for purchase.

Battle Stove Spectacular: Description

Battle Stove Spectacular is a short novel of adventure, comedy, fantasy and event planning.

Years of cultivation and negotiation are about to bear fruit. To seal a treaty between the fieldfolk of the Dominion of Cede and his people the elves, the Captain-King of the flying castle Battle Scar asks the greatest chef in the world of Poem to prepare a banquet. A Spectacular banquet. But the old king dies, and young king Corys has other plans for the elves....

Who will help Chef, and who will oppose him? The silver-tongued maƮtre d' who disappears when you need him most? The shy gnome who loves complicated toys? The dwarf with every reason to hate the elves? A demon named Sunshine?

How will Chef defuse the tension and complete the banquet? With skill, friends, and spectacular style!

Background to the creation of the novel

I first announced this title in my 2016-12-16 blog post "How To Build A County Playground: One Book At A Time." I started the work much earlier, in fact; in March of 2016, while I was trying to find a way to avoid completing course work for a BCIT course in iOS Application Development. (Still completed the course, got my 'A').

The bigger truth, though, is that this work has been mulling around in my head for a long time, along with nineteen or so other stories. Most of these form the background to a Pathfinder Role Playing Game campaign setting I run for my friends, called County Playground. My intent is to sew the best twenty of those stories into The Twenty Tales of County Playground.

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Thursday, 11 May 2017

I Support the Down Syndrome Research Foundation

For 2017, Standard Eyre Digital Services will donate one hundred percent of all profits to the Down Syndrome Research Foundation.

The staff and volunteers at the DSRF do incredible work to ensure people with Down Syndrome live full and fulfilling lives.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Distinguishing GM Info from Player Info in Vimwiki

I write up notes for encounters in my campaign within Vimwiki.
Some notes are intended for the Player Characters.  The majority of the text is intended for the Gamemaster's eyes only.
My understanding is that the text intended for players is called Boxed Text. Here's an example of Boxed Text intended for the players:
"You awake in a room. There are two doors. A hidden voice asks, 'What door will you choose: The Lady? Or the Tiger?'"
The following note is intended for the Gamemaster only:
"Behind each door is a female tiger. Bad Gamemaster! Sneaky Gamemaster!"
I found it a challenge to keep each type of note distinct within the Vimwiki file. In the paper modules I bought as a teenager, the notes to the players were set off from the rest of the text. A light shade of grey filled the background of these text blocks, the text was indented a small amount, and a black box surrounded this text.
To recreate this effect in Vimwiki, I tried two things.
The first thing I tried was to set the text off in a Vimwiki table.
| First Announcement      |
|-------------------------|
| You enter a             |
| place filled with       |
| twisty little passages, |
| all alike.              |
This works okay as long as you are viewing the information within Vimwiki. The problems I had here began when I converted the table to HTML (and from HTML using Pandoc to any other format). Vimwiki treats this table as four separate rows. Each line of text gets its own row.
First Announcement
You enter a
place filled with
twisty little passages,
all alike.

The HTML for that looks as follows:
<table>
<tbody><tr>
<th>
First Announcement
</th>
</tr>
<tr>
<td>
You enter a
</td>
</tr>
<tr>
<td>
place filled with
</td>
</tr>
<tr>
<td>
twisty little passages,
</td>
</tr>
<tr>
<td>
all alike.
</td>
</tr>
</tbody></table>
 
That's not what I wanted.

I made an edit to Vimwiki. I forked the project on Github and added a toggle so that a table with a single column would treat all rows as one single cell.

The end result was that the HTML when converted looked like I wanted:

First Announcement
You enter a place filled with twisty little passages, all alike.

<table>
<tbody><tr>
<th>
First Announcement
</th>
</tr>
<tr><td>
You enter a
place filled with
twisty little passages,
all alike.
</td></tr>
</tbody></table>
My pull request to add this feature was not accepted by the current maintainers. So it goes.

I looked at the existing features of Vimwiki, and I realized I can achieve a similar effect by writing the text in a blockquote. The indentation sets the text off within Vimwiki. The CSS could set the text off when rendered to HTML.

This block of text in Vimwiki:

    You enter a    
    place filled with 
    twisty little passages,
    all alike. 
becomes the following
You enter a place filled with twisty little passages, all alike.
The HTML for that blockquote looks as follows:
<blockquote>
You enter a 
place filled with 
twisty little passages,
all alike. 
</blockquote>
The file vimwiki/autoload/vimwiki/style.css contains the following line:
blockquote {padding: 0.4em; background-color: #f6f5eb;}
That helps provide the background shading in the HTML.
So, in the future, GM info will be the default Vimwiki text. Text intended to be read to Player Characters, by contrast, will go between <blockquote> tags.

If you like what I've written here and want to help support future posts, please:
Thanks!

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

An Extremely Thin Overview On How I Created And Sold An Electronic Book

In 2016 I created, edited and sold my first electronic book, A PC Guide to County Playground: The Grand Grind. The sales were not astronomical, but they were above zero. I consider that a success. I am enthusiastic about creating and promoting more books.

One of my friends recently asked me: "I was wondering if you can share some wisdom and experience on how to get a book published."

I'm happy to share what I know.

I divide up the work into three categories:

  1. Creating the manuscript: From idea to completed text
  2. Crafting the book: Cover, ISBN, Editor
  3. Promotion of the book: Marketing, finding your audience, making it as easy as possible for people to discover you and to buy your book.

I'm going to go into more depth on all three of those topics in future blog posts.

Until I get my own experience updated here in mind-numbing detail, I will recommend APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch. They have made a thorough, honest and (in my opinion) encouraging overview of what it takes to write a manuscript, turn that manuscript into a book, then promote the book.

Physical and Electronic Books

I'm interested in both paper books and digital books, also called electronic books, ebooks, or iBooks.

Much of what I did, I followed from the examples and recommendations in APE. Some specifics:

Creating the manuscript

  • Set a specific goal for what the finished manuscript should look like. For me, I wanted a book that was 30,000 words. My finished book was 35,000 and change.
    • The reason this is important is: it helps you know when you are done. Sometimes you write and write and write and it never feels like the work is done, complete, good enough. It really helps to have a clear vision of your ending in sight. This helps you reach the ending.
  • Build a routine that helps you to finish the book. For me, this meant finding a time of day that (a) I was most productive and (b) I was not likely to be interrupted.
    • I tend to write between 05:00 and 06:00 each morning. That may not work for everyone, but it works for me.

Crafting the book: Cover, ISBN, Editor

  • I created the cover myself for my first electronic book. I do not recommend this. It costs money to hire a professional graphic designer, and that person is worth it. APE has suggestions on how to find a designer for your book cover
  • I found an editor through the Blue Pencil offerings at the Vancouver Public Library. The editor I found is associated with Editors British Columbia
  • The Canadian Federal Government provides services for a publisher to get an ISBN. This includes self publishers. For other countries, I point you again to APE.

Promotion of the Book

I would say I still have a lot to learn about this area. My initial target audience for my first book was very small, as I was more interested in the mechanics of publishing rather than volume sales.

Here I would turn to The Internet, particularly the Meetup part of the Internet. I know of at least one Group of Writers who have organized a "Self-Publishing and Book Marketing Support Group." Chances are, someone in that group knows someone who can help you find the next step to building an audience for your book.

If you have created a manuscript, turned it into a book, and/or promoted it, I would like to hear about what works and what does not. Please leave a message in the comments or contact me through this blog.

Thanks, and I wish you success on your book journey.