Mazes: A Weekend Double-Feature

Hello all,

It’s been a while since my last post. January was another month where life got in the way of writing. I’m thankful I have stable employment, especially during such a trying time. Still, over the last month, it took a bit more out of me than usual. Truth be told, I haven’t had much time to write or edit in the last few weeks.

Excuses aside, I’d like to hit the ground running again, so I’m working on two new short stories this weekend. They are both intended for a contest on the theme of labyrinths, but they have very little in common beyond the inspiration for them.  I’ll have to check the fine print on multiple entries for this competition. Worst case scenario, I’ll just pick the one that turns out best.

I haven’t chosen a writing partner for this weekend because I’m still building the set intended for my next act’s worth of novel editing. But I should have that ready to show you soon, along with an update on my novel. Until then, if you’re itching to read some of my other content, please check out my works page. I’ve got a lot planned for 2021; that page should be much more interesting soon!

Writing Partner: Working With a Group, Part 2

Warhammer Underworld's Garrek's Reaver's Painted

Hello,

As I discussed in my last post, I took a break from my book to write a new short story. It was a weird one and I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. Well, I finished! It’s also turned out quite well. What’s more surprising is that this project’s writing partners turned out pretty nicely in their own right.

Warhammer Underworld's Garrek's Reaver's Painted

This crew of rowdy wildmen were good company while constructing my story. The Underworld’s line is always a joy to paint. Even this group, which is just a bunch of marauders, is surprisingly detailed.

Painted Warhammer Marauder
Painted Warhammer marauder

All the little scars and details really bring out the character in these minis. It’s like the small connective tissues of a story. A reference here, a flourish there. Scars showing old, aching wounds.

I’ve already found a contest to enter my new story in. It needs a bit more polish and I’d like to get a few more opinions on it before I can call it truly finished. But, it does mean I’ll be getting back to my book this weekend. That means picking a new writing partner. Act two of my book begins with a rather grisly revelation, I will need to consider that when making my decision.

Xander of the Broken Antler

Hello All,

                I recently took part in a Christmas themed one-off D&D session. We did it over Zoom, but it was still great to roll some dice again. I didn’t use my normal random number character building methods for this character, but I still think it’s pretty neat.

This is the backstory for Xander of the Broken Antler.

*****

                It began like any other holiday season. Xander was home tending the hearth, waiting for his parents to return home from their shopping excursion to town. Xander was patient for a ten-year-old and was not concerned that they were running late. He busied himself with preparing dinner and writing his letter to Santa by firelight. It was a short list: a wooden ship, a new hat, sweets and something nice for his parents. The simple list of a kind child. He would soon deliver it by tossing the letter into the lit hearth of the fireplace, as was the tradition in his village, but he would wait for his parents to do that. As the night grew long, Xander could wait no longer and fell asleep on the rug in front of the fire.

                His parents never returned.

                Xander woke in the morning to a knock on the front door of the cabin. He opened it to find his neighbors there; sadness spread across their faces. They could hardly speak, but through sobs and choked voices, he understood what had happened. His parents were beaten, robbed, and left to die in the snow.

                The neighbors offered Xander their home. They said he could stay as long as he wanted. He thanked them and said he would come, but he wanted to say goodbye to his home. When they agreed to leave him there, Xander closed the door and went to his room. He sat on his bed and cried quietly for hours. He has heard of similar crimes committed across the countryside and knew the perpetrators rarely paid for their crimes. That thought crystallized in his mind. They would never pay for this.

                Night was beginning to fall. Xander knew that he would need to leave soon if he was to make his way to his Neighbors’ cabin. That thought floated back into his head, first like drifting snow, then like a frigid blizzard.

                They will never pay for this.

                His parents loved him and raised him to be kind. They would want to be remembered, but also for him to be safe. He knew he should have gone to his neighbors. They had always been good to him. They would treat him like family. Like family.

                Like family.

                He knew he should be charitable. They died due to the cold. The thieves may not have meant to.

                May not have meant to.

                Leave them to die slowly in the cold.

                Xander was unsure if the voice growing stronger inside him was his own, but he was sure of its intent. Guided by confidence uncommon for one so young, he moved to the hearth. For the first time in his life, he knew this letter would be read.

                Xander tore up his previous letter and gathered up a new piece of thick parchment. Rushing to begin his task, Xander cut his thumb along the side of the paper. A deep, stinging wound, but he hardly noticed it. He wrote a new letter to Santa Clause.

                Dear Santa,

                I have been good this year. I have been good all my life, as have my parents. But instead of gifts, they received death, and I misery.

                Know that I have only one request. If you grant this request, I shall never want for anything else.  One single gift for which I am willing to devote my life in exchange.

                I want revenge.

                With that final sentence, Xander felt a weight lift from his heart. For the first time in his short life, he was feeling hate. Admitting that was not only a relief, it felt good.

                Xander began to toss the paper into the fire when he realized he had not signed it. He scrawled his full, god-given name across the bottom of the page. Then, Xander felt a sting in his thumb. Guided again by assurance not his own, he pressed his thumb beside the signature, leaving behind a small bloody print.

                He folded the paper and threw it into the fire.

                Hours passed as Xander watched the fire. He wasn’t sure what he was waiting for, just that he had to wait. As the fire grew dim, the weather outside shifted. The light snowfall of the afternoon turned to a fierce blizzard. The chill wind howled and battered the cabin until suddenly, every candle in the house blew out as if the wind itself were let inside.

                “Do you hate them so?”

                Xander didn’t turn to face the voice behind him. He continued to stare into the dwindling flame. “Yes.” He whispered. “More than anything.”

                “And you would give your life to have theirs?”

                Xander considered this. He watched the flames and wondered if he could walk away. Could these flames be reignited, or would they succumb to this cold wind?

                “Yes, I will give my life,” Xander said.

                The response he received was a loud crack like a bone snapping behind him. At the same time, the fire went out, leaving only dying embers.

                “Take this and exact your task. Only with that can our pact be forged. Only then will I visit you again.”

                Xander turned to find he was alone in the room. Though it was dark, he could see no one, and nothing changed in the room, save for a curious item left on the floor. A bone, no, an antler.

                He picked it up. It was a single sharp tine from what must have been a monstrous antler. As he turned it over in his hand, it changed from bone to blade. The pale dagger glimmered in the dark and tingled in his grasp. He knew right away that it gave him power, but more importantly, it gave him direction.

                Xander disappeared from his town without a trace. He left behind the murderers, stabbed to death and shoved up the chimney of his parents’ now abandoned cabin.

*****

                Woof! I know, pretty dark for a Christmas character. I started with the concept of a warlock who has a pact with Krampus, and it just expanded from there.

                I built the character to be a stealthy magic-user. I picked spells to help him stay hidden and then gain combat advantage. If he had more levels, I would have to figure out how to give him the Sneak Attack ability to use these spells and the theme better. Think Nightcrawler from the second X-Men film, but Christmas themed.

                For the pact, I imagine Xander is compelled to give to the good and needy, but he is then obligated to punish the wicked to balance the scales every time he does. Basically, it’s a naughty or nice based pact. The dagger is the focal point of this pact, and it allows him to sense who is naughty and who is nice.

                I really like this character, and while I doubt I’ll ever play him again, I have a feeling I’ll be writing more about him in the new year. In the meantime, I’m well on my way to finishing my edit of the first ten chapters of my book, and likewise, I’m almost done with the accompanying writing partners. You can find a sample from the group below. Stay tuned for an update in the coming days.

Death May Die wizard miniature

Happy Holidays!

Some Assembly Required

The crib was one of those kit builds. Just twelve pieces total and all the hardware was included. Even so, John struggled with it. He was not terribly handy, at least not in the traditional sense. As he worked, sweat ran down his body, stinging the cuts and scrapes on his arms. Fatherhood was trying but rewarding. His son was his whole world now and it was all worth it.

When strangers met his boy, they always said he looked like his father. They even suggested he took after his personality, his mannerisms. John wanted it to be true, but he knew it wasn’t. The truth was the boy took after his mother. John winced as he nailed in a support. His side still hurt, but it was crucial that the crib was strong. Even with his lack of craftsmanship, he knew it needed to be made stronger.

John was not accustomed to caring for an infant, and he had never expected to do it alone. Still, he was proud of his work. He was proud of his boy. John completed the final modifications to the crib. He hoped the metal mesh would hold. It was supposed to be for chickens, but it was stronger than it looked. The full moon was coming, and he didn’t want to resort to barbed wire again.

Writing Partner: Working on the Hook

Zarbag

I’m finally digging back into my book! I really need a title… But that isn’t what I’m working on this week. This week, I’m working on the hook.

What is “the hook”, you might ask. It is the piece of the story, ideally as close to the beginning as possible, that is meant to pull (hook) in the reader. Think about how I used a nice picture to pull you into what is ostensibly a diary entry.

Speaking of nice pictures, I need to pick a writing partner. I will be painting the Zarbag from the Zarbag’s Gits Warhammer Underworlds warband. If this part of my editing takes longer than expected, I will expand to the rest of Zarbag’s warband.

Zarbag's Gits

The unruly mob of gobos shown above is lead by the eponymous Zarbag. He is a lovely lil’ wizard and I think you would agree he would make an excellent little friend.

Zarbag
He also has a literal hook on his staff… so there is also that.

The first chapter of my book deals with a goblin who becomes an important character in the plot of my book. He may even be the most important character, but I don’t want to spoil it for you.

The character I will be basing this off is an old goblin. With this in mind, I plan on using a lot of yellow to highlight his green skin. For the cloak, I plan on using a dark, almost black purple. This play with the yellows and purples will be subtle but should draw the eye to his face.

The other gobos will follow the same basic color scheme. As for the squigs (those mean dog-things), I’ll be paining them with blues and pinks. I want the whole warband to pop in an almost unnatural way.

Both Zarbag and the hook should be a small project. Bite sized as it were. The first chapter of my book has received more attention than any other and Zarbag is, well, small. Even if I include batch painting his warband this is probably doable in a single day of work.

Tune in next time when we will talk about the process of sharpening hooks and painting little friends!

Closing Up 2020

D&D Red Dragon Mini

Before I start discussing my plans for the rest of 2020 I want to close two remaining loops.

What happened to that other story and writing partner?

A few posts ago I mentioned writing two short stories and finishing two painting projects by the end of September. That didn’t happen sadly. Work is still extremely busy and I only managed to complete one short story. The other got an outline and its writing partner is still as sad as he began. I think part of the problem, at least on the painting side, is that I have already completed a better version of it. I was trying to fix a brass dragon with red accents but I have already completed a red dragon with gold accents.

Here is my sad brass dragon:

D&D Copper Dragon mini
Woof…

And here is the Red Dragon I completed months ago:

D&D Red Dragon Mini 2
D&D Red Dragon Mini
This mini has a bit more detail to work with.

So, suffice it to say that even if I did fix the brass dragon it could only pale in comparison to the red dragon I already have. Have you ever had projects that just haven’t come together? Ones that you know you probably could fix but even if you did they will never be great? That’s my brass dragon.

Back in the drawer with it!

He Plays She Plays

He Play She Plays Podcast

I wanted to post something about the podcast because a couple listeners have asked me about its status. Even though we are a couple weeks late for our next episode my wife and I are hard at work on the series. Most of the credit goes to my wife as she does the audio editing, but we have made some major ground in refining the podcast.

We are a bit late because we have had some technical difficulties after upgrading our equipment. Basically, we’re experiencing our first growing pains. We should be back on schedule soon, just bear with us a bit longer. We’re working on a website for the podcast so in the near future we’ll be able to post status up dates there to make sure our listeners know what’s going on.

Plans for the rest of 2020

When I started this blog I mentioned I was here to do the ground work I had been neglecting as an author. I hadn’t really built up a base of publications and I hadn’t attempted to build any kind of online presence. While I’m still working on the publications (it has been a slow year for responses) I have built up a fair back catalogue of short stories and poems this year. In a lot of ways I think it has brought back my voice in a way I haven’t know for years. Now it’s time to bring that voice back to my main project, my novel.

I have mentioned my novel a few times since my blog was established. My novel is a murder mystery set in a fantasy world. It would be classified as urban fantasy but I’d like to think it’s a fairly unique addition to the subgenre. It has been my main creative outlet for a few years now. However, I put it down a while ago so it could cool. Now that I’m focused again I want to return to it and finish my third draft.

I expect there will be five drafts before it is truly finished but this one will focus on the punch up of the key tentpole chapters. I want to strengthen the dialogue as well as the central mystery but my focus is on making sure each chapter pops on its own.

For the next few months my blog posts will focus on this work. I plan to post about my goals and challenges regularly while continuing to pick writing partners to add a visual component to these updates. I would hate to neglect anyone following me for my rather pedestrian painting skills, haha. It also, honestly, helps me focus and I’m going to keep trying to pair new minis with the chapters I’m working on. Much like the short story pairings, this will also help me discuss the plot of my story without giving away any details.

Well, that’s my plan. If you have ever worked on a long piece of writing before please share your experiences in the comments. This is only my second book so I’m still learning how to focus and stay committed to such a long process. If you have any strategies, no matter how novel (loves me some puns), I would very much appreciate the advice.

Talk to you soon!

Writing Partner: A Killing Machine

Painted D&D Iron Golem Miniature

It took a couple of weeks but I have finally finished my new short story. This one is a case horror story about an every day item posed with intent and malice. As I promised I worked to refurbish my poor abused Iron golem as my writing partner for this project.

As a reminder, this is where we started:

Iron Golem mini

After a couple sessions of layering and tarnishing it, here is the completed golem:

Painted D&D Iron Golem Miniature

Over all, I think it turned out pretty good. As good as an old, rusty, souless guardian can be at least. There are a few things I would have liked to fix but I think they would have required striping the mini and that wasn’t in the spirit of this project.

My short story focuses a lot on sound and I like to imagine what it sounds like for this golem to walk. I moves slowly, joints grinding together, almost screaming, as particles of rust flake off. It would be painful if it was alive. But it is not alive, you are. As it slowly and inexorably moves toward you know that the only thing it wants, needs, is to balance out that equation.

Painted D&D Iron Golem Miniature Sword

Imagine the sound of it sharpening its blade. Grinding the cutting edge against the plate armor of its forearm. Even with this effort, it is still far too dull to make clean cuts anymore.

The antagonistic machine of my story has no blade. It has no way of doing harm directly. Instead, it poisons minds and souls. Lulling its victims in to heinous acts through its cunning and its voice. It might not have a sword, but its intent is deadly sharp.

I’m going to submit this story to one competition and one journal. Both are ok with multiple submission entries so I’m going to hedge my bets. I have been finding the response times this year have been painfully slow, another consequence of the new world we live in, but I’ll let you know if it gets picked up. If it doesn’t I’ll find another way to get it to you.

I’ll have a post discussing my October plans up in the next week. I plan on shifting gears for the remainder of the year, but don’t worry, there will still be plenty to discuss.

Upping Your Game: RPG Characters as Writing Prompts

Welcome to Upping Your Game – the series where I help you make your favorite games tell a better story.

For my first article, I’m going to break down an old strategy I have for making engaging NPCs and player characters for tabletop RPGs. It’s pretty simple and seems like random generation, but let me explain my design method and I think you’ll see how this can lead to some great characters.

One more disclaimer: we aren’t aiming for “strong characters” in a game-play sense. If you’re a GM, you might want to give your players a re-do if they roll up a particularly difficult character. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re looking for a more challenging experience or play at a table that is more interested in role-play than combat, then this may be perfect for you.

The basic method is just to roll random ability scores. That’s it. But the really important part is that you have to keep them in the order they are rolled. That mean that for D&D or Pathfinder you will want to roll 6 sets of 3 D6 dice and place them in Strength, Dexterity, Consitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma in the order they are rolled. By contrast you would usually roll the numbers then place them in the most appropriate places. For games with races I would also suggest picking one at random. Then you pick your class or profession (game specific) based on what you have rolled.

If you are unfamiliar with D&D, check out a basic character sheet.

But why do this? Why do you choose the class, and how does it make interesting characters? Let me explain – good stats don’t make good characters. Bad ones do. Or, to put it differently, interesting characters are defined by their flaws not their strengths. A person is more defined by the challenges they face than the skills that come to them naturally.

Every fighter has a high strength stat. How could you ever make that interesting? But try to explain why they have a 7 in wisdom, and you’ll see what I mean. This can also apply to higher than average stats in strange places. Why does your wizard have a higher strength stat than wisdom, or an equal constitution to their intelligence? Are they natural factors, or did something in their life mold them? You can use these numbers, that would usually just be “dump stats” (the numbers you throw into your least important stats) to build your character’s background and explain why they chose the path they did.

In the next article, we’ll roll up a character as an example. Hopefully, we get a good one. The last time I did this, I created a giant-slaying gnome fighter. I’m hoping for a magic user this time. Fingers crossed!

Part 2 can now be found here: Upping Your Game: RPG Characters as Writing Prompts Part 2

Why I’m Here

A mug full of pens and writing supplies.

I’ve been reading/highlighting my copy of the Writer’s Market text for the last 5 hours and I need to come up for some air. That thing is a real cinder block! I’m compiling a list of publishers to submit one of my projects to, and I’m nearly done now. This should be an easier process, but the truth is, I haven’t really done this before.

I spent the last year writing a novel, which I’m now editing, but I guess I should have started with this site. It turns out I put the cart before the horse. I wasn’t aware how much publishers rely on self promotion these days and I’ve spent the last 10 years working on my storytelling. I never learned how to sell my own works.

However, things aren’t hopeless. I have ideas on how to build up some fun content on here that will both entertain and get people acquainted with my brand. It just might take me a little bit to iron out the balancing act.

Here is my basic content plan:

  • I have a series of articles I plan to writer based on storytelling through tabletop gaming. It’s a subject I have been working on for years so I’m excited to share some of my ideas.
  • Series that will show how I incorporate my love of painting with my writing work. It’s weird but it’s something that actually does help me write more efficiently.
  • I also plan on posting regular flash fiction and poetry online. I haven’t worked out the exact delivery method yet but I’ve already started building a catalog so it’s just a matter of time.

In short, I know I need readers but I also know that no one wants to read blog post after blog post of me complaining about trying to get published. I will post topically and thematically relevant content on here and if/when people start reading this I am also open to suggestions.

Just bear with me, I’ll have something worth reading up soon!

Introductions

My name is Jacob Marsh and I’m just your average everyday Fishman. As a young fry, I spent all my time telling stories. I imagined my future as full-time writer, not as a run of the mill office trout. Unfortunately, that is somehow where I found myself. However, after an occurrence at work reminded me of my dream, I have decided to swim in a different direction. Fish puns aside, I’m actively trying to make the transition from part time to full time writer. This website is intended to be the beginnings of an online portfolio for my work and a way to promote my work once published. As I work on various projects, I will post updates and the odd bit of creative content on this site. If you are a fan of literature, especially horror and fantasy stories, have a look around!