In November, 2019, I began work on a new role-playing game based on World War II espionage. I had read Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton and was inspired to create a game based on the Allies effort to sabotage Nazi Germany’s war machine in general, and England’s Special Operations Executive specifically.
I’ve played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons in my day, first with the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons created by Gary Gygax and sold by TSR, Inc. back in the early 1980s, and more recently with the 5th Edition rules by Wizards of the Coast, LLC. Other RPG’s I’ve played have been G.U.R.P.S. by Steve Jackson and several others. I wanted something that wasn’t as rules-heavy as D&D, yet still allowed players to take on characters of their choosing and fight bad guys.
I figured the genre and milieu of espionage during World War II, located in western Europe in particular, was a rich environment for role-playing action. The stakes were very high for spies during that time, with capture and execution a likely result of their brave actions. The rewards for successful missions, however, had an outsized positive impact on the war effort against the Axis powers.
I came up with a skills-based experience system that rewarded agents with improved abilities based on experience and training, just like in real life. This is in contrast to games like D&D where the entire character rises in level based on overall experience earned. I added an element of luck to the game as well to represent the way real life can sometimes go your way without any apparent cause, and can sometimes go the wrong way despite your best efforts.
After working on the game throughout the year, it has reached a point where I feel it was ready for release to the public. I have made it available using a license similar to the Open Game License used by Wizards of the Coast. In my case, I am making the rules and player’s guide available free of charge, and am selling missions for a small fee. Players can create their own missions and distribute them as long as they do so for free. I may create a marketplace down the road where players can sell their missions for a small commission.
I encourage you to download the rules for free as well as a beginner’s mission, Operation Virgin Snow, and try out the game with your friends (social distancing, of course). Let me know what you think. I hope you enjoy it.
By the way, if you’re curious about the name, Germany’s River Isar is a special location in post-World War II history. When Nazi war criminals were caught, convicted and executed, they cremated several of them and spread their ashes in the River Isar to keep their followers from having a grave site or memorial to commemorate their evil. You can learn more here.
Solo motorcycle travel has been a part of my life since 2007. I began writing my first fantasy novel in 2011-ish and published it in 2013. (I’ve been writing fiction since I was in junior high school.) The overlap of these two activities is not coincidental. Travel, especially solo, has always been an inspirational activity to me, even as a kid.
Seeing new scenery, from the topography and way the land flows up and down and along rivers and shorelines, to the flora of an area be it sparse and blanched or lush and green, to even the weather as it changes as you crest a hill or as the sun rises or sets, has been a constant source of creative thoughts and ideas.
I can look at a wooded hillside and imagine a troupe of orcs living in a cave amidst the trees, or I can see in my mind’s eye a dragon perched atop a rocky vista surveying its hunting grounds. Hiking trails inspire thoughts of a fierce battle to the death between a man and the beast that pounced upon him from behind a tree.
If you read my books, you may notice that weather and terrain get a little extra descriptive boost amidst the text. The lay of the land and the foliage as well as the skies above are almost another character unto themselves, playing out their impact on the activities — or even survival — of my characters.
It’s surprising that when I travel and meet new people, they have a minimal impact on my creative muse. Sometimes I’ll hear a line of dialogue between people sitting near me in a small town cafe, or I’ll catch a glimpse of someone’s face as they struggle through a personal trial or endeavor. Or occasionally a stranger-that-becomes-a-friend lends inspiration in the unusual spelling of their name.
People rarely inspire me, though, but the places I go and see when I travel never fail to juice my muse to new heights.
Take a look at this photo of an abandoned church I took during a recent road trip. What does it inspire in you? Who utilizes that structure in your creative mind? What role does it play in your story’s possible evolution?
There’s a saying that if you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen. I think that maxim was created by astronomers, but it’s likely someone came up with the idea long before scientists started looking at the stars.
In my case, I began carrying a journal on my first motorcycle trip back in February 2007. I took it along on a solo weekend trip to visit my sister. The inspiration for journaling my motorcycle adventures came from reading Neil Peart’s autobiography, Ghost Rider.
It’s amazing how much comes back to me when reading over my old journal entries. I can recall the scenery, people I met, places I ate, things I saw, even smells. Sometimes I can even recall the song I was listening to in my earphones as I went around a particular curve on a specific trip.
I no longer own a motorcycle and have stopped riding as a result. Although I don’t regret getting out of motorcycling, I still miss it. I get a lot of enjoyment thinking of the memories of the many roads I’ve traveled and adventures I survived.
Motorcycling isn’t for everyone, but many people enjoy various forms of travel, whether it be on foot along a local hiking trail, or via jet plane or sailing vessel to distant lands across continents or oceans. I suggest to those who do like to travel to get into the habit of journaling their adventures. A handwritten notebook is subjectively ideal. Don’t rely on just the photos you take with a cell phone. Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but a few hundred — or even a few dozen — words can convey far more than a photo viewed out of context at a later date ever could.
Do you have Steve Miller stuck in your head now? Sorry.
I look at the calendar and see that it’s October 14th and feel blown away by how quickly the last two months have gone by. I think September only had 17 days in it.
Since August I have spent most afternoons practicing guitar, keyboard, bass and drums. I’m learning all four instruments with the goal of writing music inspired by my first novel, Ohlen’s Arrow. That is going well but except for savants, learning to play and compose music is not an overnight endeavor. I’ve played all these instruments in the past, so fortunately I’m not starting from ground zero, but I still have a long way to go.
I’ve also been thinking about continuing my Taesia series of novels. The next step would be to write book 5. I already have the bulk of the plot figured out, but haven’t formally nailed down the outline. An avid reader of mine recently shared their view that I really need to keep writing and continue the story. We’ll see.
Currently I’m reading Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy. Although it’s a real page turner, I’m struck by how expository Clancy is. The old maxim, “Show me, don’t tell me” is one Clancy apparently never heard. Unlike popular belief, rules are not made to be broken but you certainly can if you know about them and have a good reason. In Clancy’s case, this book wouldn’t work without all the ‘tell me’ expository text.
In the cycling part of my life, I recently purchased a Wahoo KICKR Core smart trainer. I previously had a traditional spin bike but sold it as it was uncomfortable and had very poor ergonomics. The smart trainer will be hooked up to Zwift for a virtual riding experience. I may write a review after I’ve used it a bit. It will be nice to train on my own bike (Trek Domane AL5) rather than a rigid and poor substitution like a spin bike.
This article describes the methods I use and the steps I follow that have proven to be very effective at avoiding writer’s block and at meeting deadlines. This process is efficient, methodical, and productive. If you follow this approach, it is very reasonable to expect that you can write an 80,000-word fiction novel from concept to publication-ready in less than five months.
Prepare to be Creative
When the muse hits, be prepared. Keep a notebook or note-taking app handy (personal preference) at all times. Jot down even the smallest ideas that come to mind, whenever they happen — don’t rely on your memory alone.
I keep my notebook nearby when watching movies or listening to music. These activities give me ideas for character names or traits. I also find my muse when traveling. Seeing diverse scenery and meeting new people often provides inspiration for my biggest and best ideas.
Find your muse and keep your notebook handy for when creativity strikes.
Allow Creativity to Happen – Creative Place and Mindset
Find a place where you can focus on creativity without distractions. It’s not as important to find a particular day or time, as that is often out of your control. If you know that you only have an hour a day, or a few specific hours on a weekend, allocate that time and keep it sacred.
Get into your creative space and remove every distraction possible. Are you familiar with the way your brain says “Let’s talk!” as soon as you crawl into bed at night? That’s because your brain has your undivided attention. Use that technique to let your creativity be in charge. Simulate (metaphorically) that state of being under the covers, the lights off, comfortable — and free of distractions.
If you get your best ideas lying in bed, keep your notebook nearby. It’s not uncommon for nocturnal ideas to disappear by morning; don’t rely on being able to remember them.
Write down what comes to mind. Don’t filter yourself. Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling or anything formal. Just get your thoughts down on paper. Use position on the page to your advantage if the juxtaposition between ideas means something to you. Draw doodles if that helps. The whole point is to get a raw capture of what’s in your brain without imposing the distractions of formality.
Tip: I prefer a quiet room with a paper notebook rather than a computer, because it’s too tempting to check email or social media.
Give Shape To Your Ideas
The next step is to go back into your creative space but be ready to be slightly more organized. This will be a bit more of a problem-solving session rather than a purely creative time.
Read over your captured ideas and start to think about these things:
Characters — Who is your protagonist and who is your antagonist?
Events — What are the key, high-level events that will happen to your main characters?
Locations — Where will these events occur?
Spend a bit more care writing down your ideas. Don’t be afraid to use short sentences or even paragraphs if the mood strikes, but avoid being completely random or needlessly verbose. The point of this session is to give your raw ideas some initial shape and flow.
The whole purpose of this phase is to flesh out your raw ideas, with the end goal of turning it into a plot event list (an outline).
Define your Characters
This phase of the process is reiterative. I will often spend a few sessions focusing just on character development. I want to really get to know my characters and will write 1-2 page biographies about them. These bios will include physical descriptions, noteworthy events from their history, and personality traits. I’ll define their fears, ambitions, passions, aversions, likes and dislikes, enemies and friends, relatives, etc. Any detail about my character that might come up in the story ahead is noted, as well as anything that will inform how I write them — their mannerisms, way of speaking, etc. This character development is much like an actor getting into the head of the role they will portray. The only difference is you are creating that character from scratch, not mimicking an existing person.
Location, location, location!
Locations are like characters. I write descriptions of where they are located in my world and any pertinent or likely facts that may come up, such as population, elevation, climate, and prominent historical facts. I also like to define the location’s character. Is it lawless or does it have authoritarian policing? Does it have the smell of nearby swamps or industry? Are the residents matter-of-fact or carefree and joyous? Great writers let the environment their characters dwell within have a personality of its own, taking on its own character. It’s like the seasoning you add to a dish to make it taste that much better.
What Happens to Whom
Events are the things that happen to your characters as they move about in your environment. It also represents the order of things as they occur. Not every story is linear in how events are presented, so pay attention to the order of events as they actually happened. It’s okay to reveal events in a non-sequential order if you have a reason for it — does it serve the story? See the Tarantino film, “Pulp Fiction” for an example of non-linear storytelling.
Continue to flesh out your characters, locations, and events until you have an adequate amount of detail for your story.
Plot Event List
The purpose of this phase is to create a plot event list. It is a series of statements that describe each scene of your book, listed in the order they will appear in your manuscript.
Review your notes from the previous phase, paying special attention to your events. Write each event as a single sentence with a brief supporting paragraph to provide a little extra detail.
These sentences and paragraphs will become your scenes. You will write your book one scene at a time, helping focus your mind on what is at hand without being distracted or intimidated by the overall scale of your story.
Each scene statement and supporting paragraph should contain enough information to get your brain focused on what needs to be written. The scenes you write can end up being as short as a few paragraphs or many pages. The point is to keep each scene self-contained and about a single event as much as possible. It is reasonable to have between three and eight scenes per chapter, but don’t sweat it too much if you intentionally go above or below that number if it makes sense to do so.
The primary purpose of scenes is to break the book into manageable chunks as an aid to writing.
The final step is to organize your scenes into chapters. Although you may not have a specific number of words or pages per scene, try to accomplish these two objectives:
Keep chapters at roughly the same length.
Phrase or arrange your scenes in the order that makes the most sense for the story.
Once you have your plot event list completed and organized into chapters, it’s now time to start writing the book itself. You should already have bios written for each of your main characters, your locations are well laid out and adequately described, and you know all the key events that will occur and the order they will happen — and the order they will appear in your story.
Start with your first scene. Read your scene statement (single sentence) and supporting paragraph. Read the bios of the characters that will be acting in this scene and review them. Like an actor preparing for a scene, get into the mindset of the characters and understand their motivations.
Without trying to edit on the fly, begin writing the scene. Don’t worry too much about the overall story — you already have that figured out.
A great tip is to compose the first scene of the book to be something that is short, snappy, and catches the reader’s attention without being overly informative. Raise questions but provide no answers, only hints. Give the reader a reason to read the next scene.
Now that you’re started, you will discover how all the prep work and processes really help you become a productive writer.
Hone Your Process
Find specific days and times during the week when you can write. Be as consistent as possible. I personally write on weekend mornings before the rest of the household is awake. I am focused, not distracted or worried about things, the house is quiet, and I don’t run the risk of other events during the day ruining my schedule.
If you only have an hour to write every other Thursday evening, so be it. Do what works for you, but be consistent. Set that time aside and make sure everyone who might take you away from it knows that you are unavailable and not to be disturbed. Period. Non-negotiable.
Even though you are properly writing your book now, this phase is equal parts creativity and production. You’ve already done a great deal of the legwork on your story. You know what’s going to happen to whom and where it will take place. All you’re doing now is filling in the details.
Because you are only writing one scene at a time, you’ve taken a huge undertaking and broken it down into manageable, easy to chew tasks.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Avoid the urge to edit yourself as you go. It’s not uncommon for writers to spend a needless amount of time writing and rewriting their opening paragraphs over and over again, spending more time working the backspace key than any other. Don’t do that. It’s like driving with the emergency brake on.
Our brains work in different ways depending on the circumstance. You will learn — if you don’t already know — when you are most creative, when you are most productive (they aren’t always the same), and when you are the most critical. These can take place at completely different times of day or days of the week, or even in different locations. I like to take a notebook to pubs and jot down my brainstorming ideas, but would never take my laptop to the same place for primary composition or editing. It just wouldn’t work for me.
Write in one session, and set aside another session to go back and read what you’ve written and give it a brief edit. Make them separate efforts. I’ll usually spend Saturday morning writing, often 2,000-5,000 words, sometimes more. I’ll then spend Sunday morning reading over what I wrote the day before. Sometimes I’ll review and edit on weeknights, but not often and not usually for long periods of time, typically an hour or less.
The following writing session, skim over the previous scene or two just to get a sense for where you left off. Read your next scene’s statement and supporting paragraph, read your pertinent bios and location descriptions, and start writing.
This is a highly productive process and you’ll be amazed at how many words you can write per week. It can be easier to produce six scenes of 8,000 words total than a single chapter of the same length. It’s a psychological thing, where you get mini-rewards throughout your sessions rather than bigger but delayed gratification at some seemingly distant point on the future.
Editing and Post-production
You have an editor, right? You’re not editing your own work, are you? Sure, you’re reviewing your scenes as you go along and making changes, but that’s not what I mean by editing. An editor is another person who’s sole job is to help your writing be the best it can be. They don’t write for you, they refine you.
Editing is a different skill than writing. The best athletes don’t always make the best coaches, and the best coaches aren’t always the best athletes. Editors are similar to coaches in that regard. Writing the story is your job. Making sure your story is conveyed in the best way possible is your editor’s job.
There are different types of editors, and there are different ways to work with them.
I break down editors into two types, and yes, they can exist in the same person. I call them story editors and line editors. I’ve been fortunate to work with an editor that performs both functions remarkably well.
A story editor makes sure your character development maintains the best flow and pace, and they keep you from changing the rules without realizing it. For example, a good story editor might say something like, “In chapter 17, scene two, you have the main character wielding their sword in their left hand, yet back in chapter 3, they held it in their right. Are they right- or left-handed? Ambidextrous?” They keep you on track. (This may seem like a trivial detail, but readers pick up on little things like that and will ding you in reviews for it.)
Story editors will also let you know if you are being overly expository (you’re telling the reader what’s going on instead of showing them) or if you need to expand what’s happening in a scene. They have opinions about what’s lacking, what’s glaring, and areas that could use improvement, but they often leave it to you to figure out how to solve these problems. Remember, the story is your job, they’re just helping you make the expression of that story the best it can possibly be. You won’t always agree with your story editor, but never do or say anything that might discourage them from being able to be honest with you. You’re paying them for their honesty. Value it.
Quick note:Editors are people, too, and some people are jerks. There’s a difference between giving honest feedback and being an asshole. Make sure you get along with your editor and don’t compromise your emotional health over it, even if they’re technically good at what they do.
Line editors will review your grammar, sentence structure, spelling, and other mechanics of your words, but won’t get involved in story or plot or how things feel.
Now that I’ve described the two types of editors, and hoping that you can find both skillsets in the same person (it’s cheaper that way), how you work with your editor is important.
There are two main ways to work with your editor. You can work a few chapters at a time, or write the whole book before your editor sees a single word of it.
As I mentioned previously, I write on weekends. I compose on Saturday, then review and refine my work on Sunday. I then pass along to my story editor everything I’ve completed over that weekend. They have the week to review what I’ve written and give me feedback. They often will send me a Word document with annotations noted within either through Track Changes functionality, or color coding/highlighting. They don’t correct my spelling or grammar, unless I am using an odd spelling or capitalization for something, in which case they might ask if it’s deliberate.
I’ll either spend an evening late in the week making any changes based on their suggestions, or I’ll spend the first part of my Saturday morning on rewrites if their suggestion warrant it.
This often equates to one to three chapters being written, reviewed, edited, and revised per week.
There are some benefits to this stepped approach. If my story editor has strong feelings about where things are going with a character’s development, or a side character has a lot of unfulfilled promise, they’ll often point this out. It can make me stop and think about my original story idea, and based on their feedback, I may decide to alter the planned events or character development points. I’ve also dropped entire chapters before because, based on my story editor’s feedback, they either weren’t adding anything to the story, or they just didn’t make sense. Changing the order of events can come up, too.
It’s important to keep in mind that I don’t share my plot event list with my story editor ahead of time. I want to get their feedback as a reader of the story, with their opinion fresh and untainted by me spoiling the story ahead of time.
“I really look forward to seeing what happens between Jane and John in the next chapter,” is something you want to hear from your editor.
Remember, give your reader a reason to turn every page and see what happens next.
Congratulations! After repeating this process chapter by chapter, you have completed the first draft of your story. You should not anticipate any significant rewrites, only minor revisions that don’t affect the plot much, if at all.
Once I have iteratively worked with my story editor through all the chapters, I will often leave my book alone for a week or two and not look at it or touch it. This is to give myself a sense of fresh eyes. I will then begin reading through my completed draft from page one. If I see misspellings or weird grammar, I’ll fix it, but otherwise I’m trying to get a reader’s perspective of the story as a whole.
Pay attention to the song, not the notes. Does it make you tap your feet or want to dance?
I will make notes about character development and key events, and decide as I go along if I feel they are serving the overall story that I wanted to tell. Is the story eliciting the emotions I hoped to create in my reader? Is it boring me? During this read-through, you should get a sense for parts that drag or go too fast.
Sometimes removing something can be just as useful as adding something new.
Once I have read through the entire manuscript, and made any revisions that I felt were necessary, I’ll turn the book over to my story editor for their full read-through.
I’ll review their suggestions and make any changes I feel necessary, and will communicate any things I disagreed with and why. They often give suggestions or feedback that can help me find a better approach to further improve the story.
Once those changes are completed, I’ll hand the entire manuscript over to my line editor (or the same editor if it’s the same person). This is where they fix all the typos and grammar and make the story mechanically sound. They will not be giving advice about plot, character development, or anything like that. Unless you have a very specific and deliberate reason not to, accept their edits. It is their job to focus on the notes and make sure a B-flat sounds like a B-flat; they won’t be focusing on the overall song.
Converting your story into an eBook or formatting it for paperback publication is beyond the scope of this effort. But, I will remind you that once you’ve got your book into Kindle or Nook format, or get your first proof copy in paperback, give it another read. Pay the money to get your line editor to review it in those formats as well. Trust me, you’ll still find a typo or two, and you don’t want a stranger who paid to buy your book to let you know in their Goodreads or Amazon review.
Tip: Hire a cover designer. Unless you’re a graphic designer, don’t cheap out by designing your book cover yourself, even with those widgets offered by Amazon and the like. Cheap covers make readers think the book is unworthy of their time.
Using this process, I have written four novels between 65k and 105k words in four months, each. I spent roughly the same amount of time in the three phases of planning, composition, and editing/production. In one case, the primary composition phase was the shortest, taking only 30 days.
I want to point out that I am describing here the process that has worked best for me. Everyone is different and you should expect to find your own changes and tweaks to this process to make it work best for you. If you’re one of those people who write on a daily basis, you can expect to reach your goal of a completed manuscript in a shorter amount of time (depending on the availability of your editor, of course).
Be open to various ways of working, but ultimately do what works best for you. Find your own rhythm and path. Writing a book is hard. Selling a book is even harder, but that’s another topic for another day.
The arrow sank deep into the creature’s throat and it fell backwards in a spray of blood, twitching and clawing at the wooden shaft protruding from its severed windpipe. The man lowered his bow and crouched behind the bushes in case there were others. He watched and listened to see if he had stumbled upon a lone cru’gan or if it had been part of a patrol. The only sound was the wet gurgling coming from the cru’gan’s throat. Soon it lay still and silent, and the only thing the man could hear was the evening breeze through the pine trees.
After several minutes passed, he retrieved his arrow and quickly searched the beast’s body, then rolled it out of sight under a pile of briars. He kicked dust over the creature’s blood, and then moved silently away into the forest amidst the diminishing evening light.
This is where it all started. The above excerpt is the opening paragraphs of my first novel, Ohlen’s Arrow. What does it say about an author who’s first word of their first book is “thwip“?
My intention was to create an instant sense of action and a feeling of mystery about the main character that compels the reader to continue the story. There’s nothing I’ve written that has been worked and re-worked more than that opening section, and in many ways, it is the work I’m most proud of.
I encourage you to read Ohlen’s Arrow and learn the rest of the story. It is my hope that it engages your attention and carries you captivatingly forward.
For Kindle and paperback editions of my books, visit my Books page.
As you may have noticed, I recently expanded the breadth and capability of the Ruckerworks.com website. I changed hosting providers to a system that is far more capable of handling high traffic, and I implemented e-commerce capabilities that allow me to sell my eBooks directly without having to rely on Amazon.
Because I am now selling the Kindle versions of my books directly, I get a much larger percentage of each sale than when I sell them through Amazon. If you are the kind of reader who likes to support independent authors, this is a great thing as a big chunk of your reading dollar isn’t going toward helping Jeff Bezos buy a new yacht — or a small island.
I also have the ability to directly connect with my readers and those who buy my books. I have set up a newsletter for site and book updates, and have a Contact form so readers can get in touch with me directly.
Through this site-wide upgrade, I hope to establish a stronger and more immediate connection to my readers while still providing direct access to my written works.
Let me know in the Contact Me form what you think of the site. Happy reading! – Steve W.
Roughly half of my career as an IT and software development professional has been spent in the capacity of a consultant or freelancer. Part of that involved trading hours for dollars, but another aspect of my work has been providing solutions and being paid for those solutions regardless of how little or how long it took.
One of my favorite stories, likely apocryphal and without original attribution, is a legend among consultants and experts-for-hire. It goes something like this:
A manufacturer used a very large and expensive machine to make their product. One day the machine stopped working. None of the employees or managers could figure out how to get it working again. The company was losing thousands of dollars per hour in lost productivity. Something had to be done, fast!
On the advice of someone on the management team, they called in an expert from the outside. This individual arrived shortly after receiving the call. After being briefed on the problem, the expert carefully walked around the machine, listening and inspecting different parts of it.
After about 15 minutes of inspection, the expert asked that someone bring him a 10-pound hammer. The tool was produced, and taking it in his hands, the expert drew back and smacked the machine in a very particular spot.
Whirrr! The machine came to life and everyone cheered, quickly getting back to work.
Ten days later, the factory manager opened up the mail and saw an invoice from the expert. After looking at the amount due, he immediately called the expert on the phone.
“I just got your bill and I am flabbergasted and very angry.”
“What’s the problem?” the expert said, calmly.
“You have the audacity to charge us $2,000 when all you did was walk around the machine for 15 minutes and then smack it with a hammer. I could have done that!”
The expert politely said, “You aren’t paying me for 15 minutes worth of my time, like you do your bookkeepers or floor sweepers, and you aren’t paying me for my ability to swing a hammer like you do your workmen.”
“Then what exactly are you expecting me to pay you for?” the manager screamed into the phone.
“I restored to life a critical piece of machinery, without which you were losing thousands of dollars per hour in lost revenue. You are paying me for the value of what I gave you, produced through my years of expertise in knowing where to strike the machine and how hard.”
I tried Marmite for the first time, spread on a Ritz cracker. Here’s how I would describe it.
Molly Molasses, well beyond her ‘best by’ date and bitter from a recent divorce, went to Las Vegas in a vain attempt to forget her past life. In a run-down and smoke-filled bar at the unfashionable end of town, she met a surly local with thick sideburns escaping from under a sweat-stained trucker hat, a bulging man that introduced himself to everyone by saying, “Call me Mr. Beef Bouillon.” They spent one unspeakable night together in a dilapidated by-the-hour motel, its slogan “What happens here, stays here” displayed in faded false prophet neon blinking arrhythmically behind scuffed, bullet-proof glass. Their unholy lust produced a child, a hell-spawn son named Marmite, a boy with a face and disposition only an utterly knackered and jaded mother could love.
Did I win the lottery? I can name a few people that would be very keen to know if I did. I used to play but recently stopped. Would you stop buying Powerball tickets after you won? I would. Stop, that is.
I would stop for other reasons, too. Being a curious person, I wanted to find out how many drawings it would realistically take before the jackpot was in hand. They tell you the odds but that’s not very meaningful to me, or to most people.
Tell someone there are a trillion stars in the sky and they’ll believe you, but tell them the paint is wet and they’ll still touch it to make sure.
Being a software developer (programmer) by trade, I decided to write a simulation program to find out how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop Jackpot.
I looked up the rules for payouts on the Powerball lottery game and wrote a web-based program in PHP to simulate drawings. The simulation is simple. You specify how many drawings you want to simulate, it assumes you spend $2 per ticket, and it conducts random drawings, tallying the number (and dollar amount) of wins along the way.
My simulation presents not only how many times you’ve won, but also how much money you won minus how much money you’ve spent.
What did I find out? After running a few hundred million simulated drawings, you will have a winning ticket roughly 0.04% of the time, your winnings will be roughly 12% of what you spent (that’s an 88% loss), and your average win per ticket will likely be around $6.08.
They say the lottery is a tax on those who are bad at math. They’re right.
The Ghost Rider
On January 10th, 2020, it was announced that Neil Peart passed away a few days before (Jan 7) of brain cancer. This crushed me more than I expected.
I have always looked up to Neil more for his qualities as a person than for his amazing ability as a drummer (for the band Rush, for those who have no idea who he is). He was an author and a long-distance motorcycle rider as well as a drummer.
It was my dream to run into Neil in some small diner in a tiny rural town while on a motorcycle trip. Based on his writings, I can confirm that he and I have ridden many of the same roads and even stayed in some of the same motels. We just never did it at the same time.
Neil was famous for being shy in the spotlight. He was more than happy to talk to strangers when he was out and about “just being a guy,” however. I had thought that if I ever did run into him, after chatting about our bikes or destinations or the weather, I’d sign my autograph on a paper napkin and hand it to him with a wink, then say, “I’m glad you got to meet me.” I don’t know if he’d find the humor in it, but considering the fact that he was a genius (estimated IQ 155+), he’d probably get the joke.
Neil, you will be missed for decades.
Oh, and by the way, his last name is pronounced ‘peert’, not ‘pert’.
This is a quick update on my current project, a contemporary fiction novel titled Second Citizen. I’ve been working on primary composition for several weeks now and I’m currently on chapter 10, roughly 37,000 words. I’m ahead of my usual schedule, as I typically don’t start writing until the first week of January.
I still haven’t found an editor, but I haven’t been looking, either. I’ll worry about that when the manuscript is finished.
Meanwhile, I’m very happy with how the story is coming along. I outline quite thoroughly before primary composition, so I always have a clear idea of where the plot is going to go and what will happen.
Considering this is my first contemporary fiction piece (I have previously only written fantasy), it will be interesting to see how this turns out.
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Like many fantasy authors, Steve Williamson was introduced to the genre when he played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. It was during a family camping trip in May, 1980, and as he and two friends sat inside a travel trailer rolling dice and fighting orcs, the air outside became gritty and hard to breath. It was permeated with the fine gray ash spewing out of Mount St. Helens which was erupting just sixty miles away.
Steve now lives in Western Oregon in the shadow of another active volcano, Mount Hood.