Turning an outline from a list of plot points into a scaffolding that you can use to build a story

by Hugh Sullivan



Note: this is an article I wrote last year for NaNoWriMo, with the intent of publishing it then. For some reason it never got published, so I figured I’d start out some very pre-NaNo posts with this now.

I could write an entire article on the various ways of coming up with an outline… but it’s been done. A lot. Which is what I found when I started preparing for my first attempt at completing a full novel for National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short).

There are dozens of methods for coming up with an outline, maybe as many as there are writers. Some methods get reused a lot. Randy Ingermanson’s snowflake method is great for expounding something into a pulp-style 4 act format, and I used my own personal take on the concept to do the outline for my first NaNoWriMo story. Snyder’s ‘save the cat’ or Campbell’s ‘hero’s journey’ beat sheet is good for adventure stories. A sprawling list of clues, red herrings, and possible deductions to be made in different situations can be used for a mystery story. A list of obstacles and how to overcome them can be a barebones outline for everything from a children’s story to a romance novel to a sprawling science fiction epic.

The first year that I did NaNoWriMo, I thought an outline would be enough. But a week before November started, I looked at my outline and realized that I still didn’t know how to make it go from an outline into a story.

So here’s what I did, and I hope this will help you too.

Step 1) Map out your foundation

The very first novel I ever wrote for NaNoWriMo (or at all, for that matter) was written in a very episodic format, made to be published serially in short audio format, and then as a whole novel afterward. The main story had four acts, each act had four chapters, each chapter could be divided up into four 10-ish minute long podcasts. (Should I choose to make four books in this series, then I suppose the structure will be completely fractal at that point) This made it easy for me to separate out each episode to do this step. However, not every outline is going to be as clearly delineated. You may have to go through every point in your outline, or you may be able to find small logical groupings of events.

Then you start listing out what each section actually does for the story.

In general, the early parts will involve setting up the characters, world, and plot. Later chapters will illustrate more about the characters, move the plot along, and show how the characters change and grow.

For example, here is a basic example of a chapter outline from my first NaNoWriMo novel. My original outline had a basic overview of each chapter, and four separate points divided up into what would happen in each ~10 minute podcast.


Chapter 1) Jacobs washes up in Crown Bay, setting the story in motion

  • Jacobs washes up on shore in Crown Bay. Jim Leatherby uses a magical item and finds him.
  • Jacobs gets drunk, screams at a statue commemorating the massacre ten years prior, then gets cornered by guards and subsequently rescued by Jim Leatherby.
  • Jim brings Jacobs somewhere quiet to get sober, and then recognizes him.
  • Cut to the governor’s office in the city. The governor confides in his right-hand man, Commodore Briggs, that he’s near breaking down. He lost his wife during the massacre ten years ago, he can’t afford to lose his daughter. Briggs brings him the good news that Captain Jacobs has been spotted, and he takes a group of soldiers to find him.


Once the outline of this chapter was done, I went through and wrote down all of the functions that this chapter served in the novel.


Functions of Chapter 1

  • Hook the reader into the lead character and world.
  • Introduce the reader to the two protagonists.
  • Introduce the idea of magical items in this world.
  • Show that Jim has a very simple life, and that the magic item he possesses can lead him to find adventure outside of that life.
  • Show that Jacobs is in fact the captain of a pirate ship, not just a sailor who fell overboard.
  • Show that Jacobs is well known enough that the governor would be looking for him, and leave the reader with enough questions as to why to keep them reading further.
  • Show that this town has a history, and link that history to why Jim is an orphan and Jacobs left to became a pirate.


Most of these functions will seem simple and obvious to the writer of the outline. Even so, it’s good to actually list them out so that you know what your foundation is supporting. Now that we’ve mapped out what the outline currently supports, we move on to the next step.


Step 2) Figure out where to place your support beams

Every story has basic needs that need to be fulfilled. A story needs a beginning, a middle, an end, and action or conflict to move itself along while keeping the reader engaged.

The basic outline of my novel was a very simple four act structure, similar to the potboiler pulp stories of Lester Dent and Michael Moorcock. In the first act, the world, characters, and the adventure were introduced. In the second, the characters found themselves embroiled in that adventure. The peak of the growing adventure hits between the second and third act, where the characters have to choose whether to blunder on or give up. And by the end of the third act, they have found themselves in so deep that there is no longer a choice. They have to see their way to the end. (Those who have looked into popular story and act structures may recognize this as somewhat similar to the current Hollywood 3-act structure, and both styles are compatible with most popular beat sheet formats as well.)

That meant that for my story, the basic needs for each act were simple. I needed to hook the audience at the beginning with an interesting world and characters. I needed to keep building the story in such a way that it kept people tuning in for the next chapter or episode.

But every plot point creates a set of needs as well. Let’s say that in your story, part of your plot entails a group of people traveling into a dangerous area.

So now you add to your list of story needs:

  • Show the reader that the area is dangerous
  • Show whether the characters know it’s dangerous.


There are also some more subtle needs that you may not think of right away, but once you get into the habit of looking for them, you’ll find them fairly easily. Some of them may not have to be in any one particular place in the story, they may simply need to be inserted somewhere before the point where they are used in the story. Think of this is kind of a reverse Chekov’s gun. If a gun is needed at the end of the story, then make a note to show that the gun exists in the universe.

For example, when I realized that a minor character was going to be killed off at the end of the story, I decided that his past life before the story needed to at least be hinted at, if not expounded on so that when he died he could pass on some sage advice and maybe make some of the sappier readers get a little bit misty-eyed. (Not that I would know ANYTHING about that. Men don’t cry. Not even when a house-elf breaks his promise and sacrifices himself to save someone else’s life. Nope.) So that was added to the general list, as a note of something that needed to be worked in where it could be.

Some obvious things to put on the list of overarching story needs are things like:

  • Get the audience to know the characters well enough to understand their motivations and capabilities. (There’s nothing better than a villain whose motivations you understand… but can’t condone.)
  • Display the basic traits of the important characters and settings. (Even if your protagonist is going to be a boring everyman character for the audience to project themselves onto, the rest of the cast has to be three dimensional and interesting.)
  • Find some way to fill in any important backstory that’s relevant to the current plot. (Sometimes this may end in a simple flashback or prologue. But if you just keep it in mind while writing, you can often find a spot to weave it into the narrative much more naturally.)
  • Give the reader a question. (Who killed the butler?)
  • Answer the reader’s question. (It was the maid in the drawing room with the candlestick.)

Now that you have your foundation and you’ve set up support beams on it, it’s time to make sure that the beams can actually support your story.

Step 3) Build your crossbraces

Now that you have a list of what each chapter accomplishes, and what each chapter and the story overall needs, you can start going through and finding the holes in your outline and plugging them. Sometimes this is as simple a step as leaving yourself a note to mention something important in a character’s backstory. Other times it may require adding in a few extra plot points that you hadn’t thought of in the original outline. Something that you may have been able to do on the fly when writing, but now you don’t have to.

Keep in mind that even if you miss something in the planning phase, this method can help while writing as well. If you reach a block, don’t try to figure out how to get around it. Try to figure out what the story needs to continue. Does it need an outside force to make something happen? Or do the characters need to find their own way? This can be a wonderful spot to allow a person to step forward, do something to show growth and character, and help move the story along.

At one point in my novel outline, I needed a way for a character to escape after being tied up. So I made a point to mention in earlier chapters that he hid several coins in hidden pockets in a leather bracelet, and he was quite adept at sleight of hand, repeatedly making the coins appear and disappear. So when the time came, it wasn’t a shock to the reader when he produced a coin and used it to saw away at the rope. A simple bit of characterization early on saved me from a plot hole at the end of the novel, and simultaneously helped illustrate the character better for the audience.

Step 4) Start building

Now that your outline has filled in, you’ve got more than just a list of plot points. You’ve got a guide that you can use to write your story. A solid, but not inflexible scaffolding to build on.

For an example on how to use the guide in practice, let’s break down the plot point that I mentioned above. In this case, we’ll say that the characters are going to go into this dangerous area, and they will be made aware of the danger.

In the original outline, it would have simply said, “The protagonist, his sidekick, and the guide go into the Blasphort Desert.” Now, you have a bit more set up to write the scene when it happens.


“Hmm,” the guide said, poking the ground with the toe of his boot. “Not good.”

“What is it?” the protagonist asked.

“Wyrling tracks. Their territory is close. Probably near the canyon, for access to water.”

The protagonist shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. We have to get through. And if we stray too far from the river…”

“Only one way to deal with wyrlings,” the guide said.

The sidekick piped up, “At least there’s something. How do you deal with a wyrling?”

“Run faster,” the guide replied.

The protagonist looked at the guide curiously. “I didn’t think you could outrun a wyrling.”

The guide shook his head. “Can’t. But outrun someone else, and…”

“Oh,” the sidekick said.

The protagonist put his hand on the sidekick’s shoulder. “Doesn’t matter.”


Now when the scene is written, both the audience and the characters know they’re walking into danger, and some other needs outside of the scene have been fulfilled. For one, the audience now knows a bit more about the personality of the three characters and the danger that they’ll be facing. The guide is simple and straightforward, the hero determined but sensible, the sidekick a little more worried about the situation than the hero, and wyrlings are some sort of dangerous creature, but will stop to feed.

From my own experience, I’ve found that there isn’t a clever pun or turn of phrase that I’ve come up with that makes me feel half as clever a writer as when I write a short passage that manages to fulfill a half dozen story needs. And when facing the normal amounts of self-doubt that one faces while writing a novel, those moments where we as writers feel clever should be cherished.



About the author

Hugh Sullivan has been a long time dabbler in writing, music, and tabletop and video game design. After a ten year hiatus from creative work, the voice in his head finally convinced him that not having a creative outlet was going to eventually drive him crazy, so he went back to school to do a minor in video game design, worked on designing a tabletop role playing game, started participating in NaNoWriMo, and composing soundtracks to accompany podcasts of his writing.

Ironically, doing all four at once may be a clearer sign of madness than following the advice of a voice in one’s head. Follow his work at his website, chickenscratching.com, or his slightly more active tumblr account, chickenscratchingdotcom.tumblr.com.

Ch ch ch ch ch changes

It’s been a while since I updated anything, mostly due to major life changes. I’m still working on rewrites and edits for my two novel-length projects, although my major work in the last year or so had to do with relearning some old 3d modeling skills and working on other things relating to a major life event: I got married this summer. Where do the 3d modeling skills come into play? Well, we had to make suitably themed cake toppers.
Cake Toppers
Ain’t 3d printing grand?

In all seriousness, my (now) wife and I have been working on another creative project besides the audio serial of Incorporated. We’ve also been working on creating a publishable tabletop role playing game module. In the interim, I’ve also been elected VP of my local group of sci-fi/fantasy writers, which has kept me a bit busy on that front. While preparing for a presentation, I realized that maybe I should use the various presentations I’ve given as something to write about here on the blog. So look forward to a few posts about designing, writing, et cetera.

Am I going to finish remastering Saving Christmas (before next Christmas)?

At the moment, I’m very tempted to put it aside and keep working on it behind the scenes until Christmas comes around again. With eleven episodes written (only eight recorded and four with a decent soundtrack and remastering) for the first year, and thirteen written for the next year’s story, I think it might be worth trying to get it all together so that I can do one podcast a day for the first twenty four days of December this coming year.

Click to read the rest

In a nutshell, I’ve gotten plenty written to be podcasted… and little podcasted from what I’ve written. I think I need to focus more on the sound end of things so that I can actually produce. My writing and editing speed and reliability is not in question. My recording, soundtrack writing, and sound editing speed and reliability is.

As for what stories I feel are in a good enough place to start podcasting them, Murder Most Fowl is on the back burner until I can figure out how to set a steadier tone to the story. It’s all good and well to have a light-hearted take on a dark story, but so far the juxtaposition isn’t working well, and I need to figure out how to make it work. My pirate novel that I finished for NaNoWriMo the November before last is still being rewritten, and I don’t think it’s quite ready for prime time. And with summer peeking in the windows, it’s simply the wrong season for Saving Christmas.

Which, oddly enough, leaves Incorporated, the serial that is only about a quarter finished, as the one that I could best start publishing serially right now. Out of all of the stories that I’ve been working on so far, it’s the most episodic in style, and since it uses a female first-person voice, I won’t be using my own stuttering, mumbling, occasionally downright screwing up lines voice in the recording. Which will save a lot of time recording and editing.

Over the last week or two, I’ve been working on a musical style for the soundtrack to Incorporated. I posted a hint of the soundtrack style in my last post. I’ve decided to use bits and pieces of musical sketches to help reach out to other cyberpunk fans and writers via Tumblr. I’m posting musical sketches along with a writing prompt in a style of story that matches the music. Up until this point, I hadn’t done much with my Tumblr account, even though I know it can be used to reach out to others with similar interests as well as if not better than Twitter.

My tumblr account is at chickenscratchingdotcom.tumblr.com, and I really should add that to the links on my webpage now that I’m actually using it for something.

For now, it looks like the primary voice you’ll be hearing on Chickenscratched Serials in the near future will not be my own.


Experimental music track for upcoming serial

Apologies for the very long delays. Work on remastering Saving Christmas kind of went kaput when I got sick several times, and life kind of got away from me. I’m trying to get my manure back in order and hopefully finish remastering the series, but in the meantime, here’s a concept music track for another serial I’ve been working on as of late, tentatively called Incorporated.



I’ve been challenging myself to write the soundtrack to this series as simply as possible. It’s a cyberpunk distopian setting, and I wanted to make something that had both the simplicity of much of the 80s and 90s synth style music that inspired cyperpunk cinema, but done entirely digitally on the same computer I’m using to write the story. This theme was created entirely in the very simple desktop version of the synth app NanoStudio.

Saving Christmas – Slay Bells: Episode 4

Previously on Saving Christmas: Slay Bells

Blip ‘Wiry’ Skipperson and his elite team of special forces black ops elves were on a cocoa break when all heckerdoodles broke loose in the workshop. Unknown invaders blew up part of the workshop. Just over twenty four hours until the Big Day, and the Big Man’s Sleigh had been stolen. The team tracked the sleigh on the Global Present-tracking System to an abandoned toy lab facility that hadn’t been in use since the early seventies. The team has explored most of the facility, and found it infested with Naughty toys and wild creatures. They also discovered that Santa’s Sleigh had been here… and has left through a tunnel that the enemy collapsed behind them.

– December 23, 23:48 hours


We stood around the blazing corpse of the Wild Pine that Doc had just put out of its misery. I guess since we took out two of them, that would make it not so much a corpse as a copse of Wild Pines.

“Well, we’ve got a job to do and no marshmallows to roast over the fire. Shade, Cambo, report.”

“Nothing too interesting in the gym, boss. Other than the fact that these guys had a leg machine forty years ago. But we don’t have one in our gym back at home base. That totally stuffs coal.”

“Can it. We found Santa’s Sack in there, and another collapsed tunnel. That must have been how they escaped.”

“Tinseltoes!” exclaimed Cambo, “Now we’ll never find them.”

“Take it easy. We stick to procedure. They used this building as a waypoint for some reason. We have to find out why. Now, Bobbi, Tina, check out the rec room. We three have water, we can put out this fire before it spreads. The last thing we need is for this whole place to go up in flames.”

Doc and Shade trooped off, and the three of us pulled out our backup Super Squirter pistols. Elf magic enchants our cartridges so they never run out of ammo, but these things don’t really pack that much of a punch. Salt water is good against ice and snow creatures, acid stings just about anything it hits and can melt through locks if we’re willing to take the time, and the cartridges with spiced rum or eggnog hurt anything that’s anti-Christmas. And if you aim the rum at their mouths, it just might get them drunk too.

The two came back as the fire was slowly guttering out. “Just what it looks like, Boss. Lots of old chairs.”

“Okay. Regroup. We’ve only covered about half of this place. Let’s finish checking out the dorms.”

We went back out into the hall, and took the next door in. We were in a wide hallway with two doors on each side. There were eight dorm rooms in this building, according to the map.

And from the one on our immediate left, we heard sounds. Little ‘scrunch scrunch’ rhythmic sounds. I put up a fist and threw our hand signal that meant ‘keep your weapons ready.’ I eased the door open and poked my pistol into the room.

All I could see was a lot of felt and lace and some scraggly red yarn. And the sound of old rusty bedsprings. The figure standing at the edge of the rusted bunk bed turned around. “Bloody ‘ell… knock fehst! We’re *bleep*in’ busy in ‘ere. Literally!”

A female voice just out of sight said, “Oh, ‘oneycomb, let ‘em watch. Some people like that sort o’ fing.”

I slammed the door shut.

Cambo said, “Was that…”

“Yeah. That was Ragged Rory. And Ragged Raina. Being very, very Naughty.”

I heard Rory’s voice from inside the room, “Damn it all, now I’ve gone and lost it. You get yeh knickers in order, dear. I’ll deal with these bloody peeping toms. It’ll take me a few minutes to get my stuffin’ back into place.”

A moment later there was a click of the door latch, and the doll walked out of the room. “What do you wankers want? The missus and I were trying to enjoy a romantic night togever.” He put a candy cigarette to his embroidered lips and took a drag. Powdered sugar drifted from the end.

“We’re looking for someone. More specifically, we’re looking for something.”

“Yeah yeah, I know what you wankers want. A bunch o’ ugly buggers came frough here with a nice shiny lookin’ sleigh. Information like that’s gotta be worff somethin’. How ‘bout you cut me a deal that’s worff my while.”

I just crossed my arms. I didn’t have anything the little yarnball wanted, and I didn’t have time to play good elf/bad elf. Shade took my cue, and pulled out a cleaning cloth. Then she took out her ice axe and started wiping the Wild Pine sap off of the blade.

Ragged Rory tried to cross his arms and stare me down, but I saw his button eyes flicker over in Shade’s direction. “Look, all I’m askin’ for is a little kickback maybe. Somefin’ that’ll benefit me somehow in all of this.”

“And all we need is some information, and then we’ll go away and leave you and your lady friend in piece. As opposed to what we usually do to toys that go Naughty.”

“Now just a bleedin’ minute! I ain’t like the rest of ‘em. Me and Raina, we ain’t violent or nuffin. We just want to be left alone!”

Shade dripped a bit of sap on the floor.

“All right, look, they used this place as a stopover. There used to be a bunch o’ old tunnels that ran between all of the outlyin’ workshop buildings and the main hub, way back in the day. But some of ‘em have fallen in over time. So they had to pop up here on the surface. Came out of a cave not too far from here. Popped back into the cave system here in this building. But I’ve done my fair share of exploring before me and Raina found this place. I know exactly where that cave leads.”

“I’m listening.”

“There’s an old elf town, used to be busy and bustling with activity. Back before you wankers all switched to conveyer belts and machines, back when they needed three times as many elf-hours of work to get the same amount done. It’s backed up against a mountain, so it doubled as an extra workshop and a coal mine. But when the coal ran out, and you lot centralized your operations, it went dark. Everybody moved out. That’s where they took the sleigh.”

Shade finished cleaning her ice axe and tossed the sap-covered rag aside. “Got a location?”

“No, but there’s a map. Over in the visitor’s room.” Rory tossed his candy cigarette onto the floor and stepped on it.

I said, “Thank you. You’ve been very helpful.”

We left the dorms as a group and closed the door behind us. As we were closing the door, we heard Rory say, “Bloody wankers… oh, look. My stuffing’s back in order. Oi! Raina! You ready for round two?”

The door clicked closed, and I was very glad that it was a thick door. Because one by one, we burst out laughing. I think Cambo or Doc started it, I’m not sure. But it spread, and pretty soon four of us were trying not to fall on the ground.

“What are you guys laughing about?” asked Longshot, “That was horrifying! I think I saw… never mind. I don’t want to think about what I saw when you opened that door.”

We finally calmed down, and I started picking the lock to the entrance anteroom. It took me a little work, since I still had occasional twitches due to laughter hiccoughs. Once we got in, the room was just as horrid as it had looked from the outside. Ugly carpet, old faded posters for ugly toys, and a broken down desk decorated the room. The door to the visitor’s waiting room was unlocked. I pushed the door open, and it creaked loudly.

The wall in the far corner looked like something had gnawed a hole in it. But the ugly little doll was telling the truth. Above it was a map of the area, an old map. When I got close, something large, gold, and shiny popped out of the hole in the wall and chittered at me.

“Gyah! Humbug!” I yelled.

I could already hear Cammy switching her ammo to coal rounds, and I knew in a second or two Longshot was going to have his ammo switched out for armor penetrating spearmint crossbow bolts.

But the thing was right in front of me, so I had to act. A staple, aimed right at its face made it rear back. I was aiming for the sensitive antennae, but the thing wouldn’t hold still.

I backpedaled, holstering my industrial strength staple gun and pulling out my workshop mallet. If I couldn’t shoot through the thing’s carapace, then I was gonna have to squash me a bug.

Right on time, I heard Benji’s crossbow ‘twing’ and the creature sprouted a new green, red, and white candy cane swirled limb in its shoulder. And then Cambo’s coal round hit it at full force, stunning it. A cloud of coal dust spread from the impact, and while it was stunned I ran forward and bashed it on the top of its shell.

Its legs skittered out from under it, splaying around it from the force of the impact. Then it breathed in the coal dust, and I knew it was all over. It twitched and tried to clamber back into its nest. But it was too late. A creature of pure greed and Naughtyness just breathed in coal dust. The punishment we give to the Naughty. It got halfway back into its hole, then it collapsed. The grasping legs twitched a few more times, and then it stopped twitching entirely.


Stay tuned for tomorrow’s episode of Saving Christmas – Slay Bells.



A note from the creator:

Howdy folks, this is Hugh. I’m the one who writes, records, and makes the soundtracks for this podcast. I had hoped to finish rerecording and remastering Saving Christmas in time for at least the new year, but since I’m uploading episode 4 or 11 on January second, obviously that didn’t happen.

My day job at the moment is a retail one, and things got a bit crazy around Christmas. Even though I’ve done this for the last few years while I was trying to finish my degree, I forgot just how draining holiday retail work really is, and I didn’t get nearly as much done as I would have liked. So I’m continuing on, hoping to finish Saving Christmas in the next couple of weeks. After that, we’ll start what I hope will be my regular programming for quite some time. I write pulp. Sci-fi, fantasy, murder mysteries, I write adventure potboiler pulp. During the early days of publishing, pulp got popular because it was addictive, fun, and cheap to print. Now that the internet makes it entirely free to distribute, serialized fiction has been making a bit of a comeback, and I’m hoping to add my contribution to the fun.

At the moment, I’ve got three big pulp projects in the works. A pirate fantasy adventure on the high seas, a murder mystery featuring a werechicken detective, and a cyberpunk street runner action story. I’m sure you won’t need too many clues to guess which of the three inspired the name of this website and podcast.

I’m not sure which one will kick off my regular serials, but the one that’s closest to being ready to publish is the pirate one, so hopefully in a month or two I’ll be bringing you guys an epic adventure on the high seas. There’ll be enough blood shed to make this one be rated Arrrrr. But first, tune in sometime in the next few days for the next episode of Saving Christmas: Slay Bells.

Saving Christmas – Slay Bells: Episode 3

Previously on Saving Christmas: Slay Bells

Blip ‘Wiry’ Skipperson and his elite team of special forces black ops elves were on a cocoa break when all heckerdoodles broke loose in the workshop. Unknown invaders blew up part of the workshop. Just over twenty four hours until the Big Day, and the Big Man’s Sleigh had been stolen. The team tracked the sleigh on the Global Present-tracking System to an abandoned toy lab facility that hadn’t been in use since the early seventies. When they entered the facility, the team came face to face with a group of toys who had gone bad.

– December 23, 23:23 hours


I know we at the North Pole have the reputation for being nothing but Nice, but every now and then there’s an outbreak of Naughty. It usually hits the toys first. We never know why, but sometimes, toys just go Naughty.

The ring of five porcelain faced dolls stared at me. And I couldn’t look away. I was rooted in one spot. Sometimes, it just doesn’t matter how tough you are. When you look into the glassy eyes of Naughty, the Naughty looks into you.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I could hear my team yelling.

But in front of me, all I could see and hear was the ring of dollies. Staring. Saying, “Come play with us.”

A strong hand grabbed each shoulder of mine and yanked me backwards. The next thing I knew, I was looking at the ceiling. As soon as my brain unmushed itself and started cranking away again, I heard a loud ‘thunk’, and a following ‘clop’ on the other side of the door. I looked up, and saw the blade of a knife sticking out of the door.

“What the reindeer dung was that?” I asked.

“Jacknife-in-a-box,” said Shade, “I read about them. Nasty little things. They can spring across the entire room, and they’ll do it just to get a chance at stabbing you in the face.”

“That thing would have stuffed my stocking. Thanks,” I said as I sat up, “How’s about we leave that room alone.”

Cambo chomped down on her candy cane. “How’s about we open up the door again and toss in some T-4.”

“Bad idea. Don’t want to alert the enemy.”

Cambo sneered, “Yeah, well anything Naughty is the enemy.”

“Can it, Cammy. We’ve got a mission to do. The mission comes first.”

As soon as I was upright, I threw another hand signal, and Shade slipped south down the corridor. Longshot trailed after her, his candy cane crossbow ready to provide whatever cover she might need.

Before I followed them, I took a moment to use my lock picking tools to relock the door. No sense in taking any chances. You never know if a toy is smart enough to figure out a doorknob or not. But I didn’t want to take a chance.

The east hallway we were in turned right and headed across the southern third of the building. The southern section of the building was all dorm rooms. This was where the workers and toy lab scientists lived. Shade stopped when she got to the first of the three large doors along the southern wall of the corridor. She clicked her radio.

Something was in there.

I slipped ahead to unlock the door, but when I got there I saw that this door didn’t even have a lock. It was just a large, loose swinging double door. There had been a sign on the wall next to the door, but it had fallen off the wall at some point in the last forty years and it was stuck in the snow and ice that had accumulated along the edge of the wall.

Shade opened the door, and we filed in, silently.

There was no one in sight. We were in a long room, about fifteen by forty. I could see through dirty windows that the room to our right was a cafeteria, and to our left it looked like one of the rooms had a lot of old gym equipment, and the other had a load of old rotted out comfy chairs, some bookshelves, and a movie projector.

At the end of the long room were a pair of Christmas trees. Lush, dark green trees. Just standing there. There was no one in sight.

We prowled around the room, but there was nothing.

“Sorry boss,” said Shade, “I could have sworn I heard something.”

The trees rustled in the breeze.

“Well, since we’re here, we might as well check out this section,” I said. “Shade, Cambo, check out the rec room. Doc, Longshot, come with me and check out the cafeteria.”

The cafeteria was about what you’d expect. Lots of tables. The kitchen along the back was separated from the rest of the room by a half-wall and a counter that you could serve food over.

“Hey boss, you think the pasta’s still good?” Longshot held up a can with a faded label.

“Trick question,” said Doc Bubbly, “The pasta was never good to begin with.”

Longshot poked his head into the walk-in freezer, which, up here in the North Pole, is just a door to a drafty uninsulated room. “Um… boss, you may wanna check this out.”

There was a ramp down. It had been blown up and collapsed, just like the one back in the main workshop. And next to the rubble was a familiar red bag. We’d found Santa’s Sack. Now all we needed was the sleigh.

I left a radio tag on the sack. If we didn’t make it back in time, the rescue teams would be able to find it as soon as the storm cleared up enough for radio contact.

We made our way back out, and Cammy and Shade were waiting for us. “Nothing here,” said Cammy, “We were waiting for you guys to check out the rec room.”

She started to saunter towards the door in the back of the room next to the two Christmas trees.

One of the pines rustled in the breeze.

We were indoors. And we hadn’t just opened any doors. There was no breeze.

“Cambo, duck and cover!” I yelled, but it was too late. Those weren’t Christmas trees, those were Wild Pines. Before Cammy could react, the tree spun at high speed and branch-slapped her so hard that she flew back across the room.

Always on target, Longshot fired. The sharpened candy cane hit dead center, scoring a hole in the tree’s trunk and sticking fast. Sap dripped from the wound, but a little poke isn’t going to stop a Wild Pine. Two of them was going to be a tall order. And elves have never been big on height.

Doc panicked, and threw a bottle of medicinal hot buttered rum at the trees. It splashed, covering one of them with something that smelled absolutely delicious, but now wasn’t the time to indulge. The tree panicked and tried to shake it off. Anything that’s anti-Christmas gets hurt by our Christmas juju just as much as we get healed by it.

We’ve got nothing against them, but Wild Pines think that we’re their mortal enemies. They blame us for the yearly massacre of their brethren in the name of our holiday. They’re not actually Naughty. If anything, their problem is that they think we’re the Naughty ones.

But now wasn’t a time to try and negotiate. Now was a time to chop us down a tree. I pulled out my wooden workshop mallet and charged. I got a solid hit in, and broke off a few branches. But the Wild Pine just spun around again, and sent me flying back onto my cinnamon buns. While I was on my behind, I heard a yell from what was usually our quietest teammate.

“Hey, you ugly sons of birches!” shouted Shade, “I’m gonna cut you down to size!”

Shade specializes in what she calls ‘defrosting.’ Most of her weaponry is made to do maximum damage to ice and snow creatures. But the ice axe she keeps on her belt as a backup weapon can do plenty of damage to wood too. She charged in, ducking under the tree’s wild spin, and chopped squarely into its trunk. It shrieked, a sound I don’t care to describe, and tried to knock her back.

But Shade is anything if not tenacious. She grabbed the incoming branch and cracked it in two. Then she yanked the axe out of the wood and hit it again. And again. The other Wild Pine tried to get around it, but Shade was too quick for it. She chopped a fourth time, and the tree toppled over, creaking in pain.

Then our next quietest team member shouted something that I never thought I’d hear her say. “Fire in the hole!”

Shade took the cue and jumped back out of range. I saw Doc Bubbly toss a soda can at the remaining tree. It trailed brown liquid through the air, then splashed on the ground in front of the Wild Pine, adding a cola smell to the already delicious hot buttered rum and fresh pine smells that were now permeating the room.

Then I saw Doc open up a packet of FizzChunks and throw them into the puddle leading to the tree. For someone who is supposed to do no harm, the Doc sure has a mean streak in her.

The FizzChunks and the soda started a chain reaction. A string of tiny explosions ran along the trail until it got to the tree. The tree that was soaked in hot buttered rum.

I’ve never heard a pine tree scream like that before. And as long as I live, I never want to hear it again. It wasn’t pretty.

“I love the smell of burning pine and hot buttered rum,” said Cambo as Longshot helped her back to her feet, “It smells like… Christmas.”

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s episode of Saving Christmas – Slay Bells.

Saving Christmas – Slay Bells: Episode 2

Previously on Saving Christmas: Slay Bells

Blip ‘Wiry’ Skipperson and his elite team of special forces black ops elves were on a cocoa break when all heckerdoodles broke loose in the workshop. An explosion rocked the workshop, and the facility was invaded by a score of toy soldiers and a few ice-covered monstrosities known colloquially as ‘spikecicles.’ The team, acting with trained precision, took the enemy down. Hard.

– December 23, 23:12 hours


Whoever the invaders were, they really stuffed our stockings. The medical facilities were overrun with injured elves. The medics ran out of tinsel for stitches within five minutes of the attack, and they had to send half of our uninjured elves to go through the workshops and take down all the tinsel from the trees to use for stitches. The rest of the uninjured were sent down to tend the ribbon worms, just in case we did run out of tinsel and they had to resort to curling ribbon. Ribbon worms spin cocoons of curling ribbing before they transform into wrapping paper flies. We harvest the ribbon for use around the workshop.

“I’m not going to lie, ladies and gentlemen, this is not good news,” said General Pepperpants. “Whoever these invaders were, they cut a straight line through our defenses. The attacks you faced were just distractions. They got exactly what they came after. They took the Big Man’s fully prepped sleigh, and then trashed the backup sleighs on their way out.”

“Alpha team, we need you at helipad B. Your mission coordinator will be Sergeant Crumbles. Beta team, we’ve got some high-speed recon snowmobiles at tunnel entrance 3. Your mission coordinator will be Sergeant Buttermilk. We don’t know what we’re facing, boys and girls, so just be ready to take on whatever Naughtiness lies ahead. There’s no time to waste, grab your gear and get in gear!”

“Whoever the invaders were, they came in through some abandoned tunnels that used to lead to old facilities like this one. Then they collapsed the tunnel behind them.”

We could barely hear the mission coordinator over the headsets. Soundproofing can only do so much before the sound of helicopter rotors just decides to take a shortcut through your skull and rattle your eardrums from the inside, like a loosely wrapped present in the hands of a curious borderline Naughty.

“We picked up a blip on the Global Present-tracking System in this location a few minutes ago,” he was saying, “This facility has been abandoned for almost fifty years. All the toys produced here were phased out over time. There shouldn’t be any activity here, and the only explanation for the presence of presents here is the stolen sleigh. There’s a windstorm coming, and it’s whipping up the snow something fierce. Line of sight and communications will be a little shorter range than usual.”

“Whatever’s there, we’re ready,” I said. My team didn’t need to say anything. They were with me one hundred percent. We’re the best of the best. The elite. The Elf Special Forces. “We will do whatever it takes to get the Big Man’s ride back to base before the big day.”

I turned to my team. Cambo was checking her ammo pouches, even though I saw her check it before we left and right after we got into the air. She’s nothing if not thorough. Shade and Longshot were going over their weapons too. Shade was polishing her ice picks to a perfect gleam, and Longshot was looking over his candy cane crossbow with his perfect eagle eye, making sure there were no scratches or dings in the wood or the bowstring. Last, but not least, was Doc Bubbly. She was wrapping red and green ribbon around her hands, preparing for whatever work she might be called on to do. I nodded to the team. Maybe Beta team does pep talks before missions, I don’t know. I never saw the need. My team knows we’re the best. We know we have to win, or else Christmas won’t happen.

And there’s not an elf alive who would let that come to pass. My team and I would rather be gift wrapped alive and mulled over the fireplace than be the one to drop the ball on this one.

The chopper set down on an old cracked road. It hadn’t been repaved or used in a very long time. We all hopped out, and the chopper lifted back up again. The wind was already starting to pick up and toss the snow around, and as soon as the chopper was out of range, the snow started taking back the wide circle of empty road that the chopper’s downthrust had cleared off.

“Keep in touch. We’ll do what we can to stay within radio contact during the storm.”

Through the wind-whipped snow, we could see a large building ahead of us. They hadn’t had time to find the keys in storage, but that’s okay. Between the five of us, we can figure out how to get the doors open ourselves.

We followed the road to the abandoned workshop. Long-lived ice in the cracks glittered like tinsel. It was obvious the place hadn’t been used since at least the seventies. The windows were cracked, and what little peeling paint there was left on the walls was that ugly dull brown that they used to paint everything back then. I would have been willing to bet the carpets inside were orange. Or dull green. The front of the building faced west. Not that cardinal directions mean a whole lot this close to the North Pole.

Once we got close, Shade kneeled down and looked at the ground. “Boss, look here! In the lee of the building.”

Sure enough, where the building protected the snow from the wind there was a pair of sleigh tracks. Leading right up to the front door of the building.

The front doors had a padlock on them. On first glance, it looked like it was rusted shut over time. But on closer inspection, we could see where it had been oiled. It had been used recently. Cambo could easily blow the lock, but if there’s anyone hiding inside, that might blow our cover. Naughty kids may open their presents early, but I didn’t want any Naughties to find out about our presence here. I could have used an acid cartridge in my Super Squirter pistol that I keep as a backup weapon, but that would have taken too long. Longshot boosted me up so I could peek in the window. It was worse than I thought. The carpet was a mishmash of orange, brown and green fibers. It looked like the late sixties had thrown up in there. Gross.

According to the old map they dug out of the filing room, the front door opened up into an anteroom, with a door on the north end of the room for visitor tours and focus group testing, and a big Employees Only double door on the south end. The desk inside was old, and leaning at an angle. The walls were covered in posters for popular toys in the fifties and sixties. No signs of movement. No signs of habitation either. But there was a little bit of snow on the ground, tracked in by someone. Or something.

I threw a hand signal, and while I climbed down from Longshot’s shoulders, Shade slipped on ahead to recon.

A moment later I lost her in the snowy air. Her snow camo is excellent, and when it comes to disappearing, so is she. We moved slowly as a group around the building. The windows on the side were all cracked, but none looked like an easy target for a silent break-in. I checked the map they gave us. It looked like our best option was the back door. No surprise there. The back door is usually the best option.

When we got there, Shade appeared from around the corner. “We’re clear,” she said quietly, just loud enough to hear over our radios over the sound of the wind. My team fell into formation and covered me as I pulled out my multitool and started to work on the lock.

Once I was done, I pulled out an oil can and gave the hinges a once-over. We had to do this silently. No point in taking chances.

Shade slipped inside, as silently and subtle as her namesake.

A moment later we heard a click on the radio. That was a basic warning. There was someone, or something, in there with her.

A crunch sound echoed down the hall, then we heard a double click on the radio. Shade reappeared at the door. “Another spikecicle. Looks like it made a nest in one of the corners, it was just wandering around the hall. I heard some movement in the old toy labs though. Should check it out.”

The two toy labs took up most of the center of the building, with a focus group testing room on the north end of each one, and a focus group observation room running down the middle between them. One way mirrors kept anyone in the focus group testing rooms from knowing if and when they were being observed. The back door to Toy Lab B and Focus Group Testing Room B were right there in the hallway.

I kneeled down to fiddle with the lock, and sure enough, I could hear some rustling inside there too. And occasionally, there was a faint ‘clop’ sound. It took a minute, but eventually the lock clicked, and I eased the door open.

The room was covered in work tables and benches, with old tools strewn willy-nilly around the room. On the far side of the room, I saw a toy soldier, its joints squeaking with age, patrolling back and forth. A nasty looking jack-in-the-box was hopping from table to table, and every time it jumped I heard the sound of a switchblade opening and closing, right before the loud ‘clop’ of it landing on the next table. And sitting in a ring right in front of me were five dollies with cracked porcelain faces. They were holding hands.

As one, they turned to face me. They didn’t move. They just turned their heads.

“Come play with us,” came a chorus of cracked childlike voices.

I was frozen in their gaze, like a reindeer in headlights. All I could manage to say was, “Oh Jingle Bells.”


Stay tuned for tomorrow’s episode of Saving Christmas – Slay Bells.

Saving Christmas – Slay Bells: Episode 1


‘Twas the night before Christmas
and through the Workshop,
Every creature was stirring
And machines went ‘Pop pop’.
The elves bustled about,
Not a care in the world
For the dawn of Christmas day
Would soon be unfurled.
Then from the south quarter,
There rose such a shout
A dozen elves screamed,
“Guards, come help out!”
We sprang from our cocoa break
As quick as could be,
But clouds of dust
obscured all we could see…

December 23, 22:32 hours

So there we were. Just over 24 hours until the sleigh was scheduled to depart for the Big Guy’s yearly mission. When out of the present-wrapping blue, there was an earth shattering blast.

I managed to set my cocoa down before I grabbed my pistol, but Cammy didn’t even bother. She had her gun up and ready, and her cocoa left a brown trail in midair that didn’t hit the ground until she had already gotten to the door. By the time I poked my head and my gun out the door, she had already gotten cover behind a conveyer belt and lined up a shot.

All I could see was dust and dirt in the air. There were a few worker elves coughing and stumbling around. And a lot of shouting in the dust cloud.

Then I heard the footsteps. Tin feet, clanking on the concrete floor of the factory. And out of the dust, a line of them came.

Toy soldiers. I haven’t seen bleeping toy soldiers in years. They went out of vogue back when I was still in tactical training. But I’d been warned. Those pop guns can give you a nasty black eye, then when you’re stunned they like to run up and fillet you with those cheap tin bayonets.

“Wiry, get to cover!” Cammy yelled over the din, “I’ll take these buckos out!”

I nodded, and rolled out of the doorway. While I was rolling, I heard the distinct ‘phut’ sound of Cammy’s marshmallow gun. Instead of the crunch of a hit, I heard a soft ‘thwip’ of her round sticking to an enemy.

Oh, jingle bells. She was using T-4 rounds in an enclosed space again. That girl mixes her own taffy and C-4 to make the rounds extra sticky… and rumor has it that she puts a little something extra in there to give it a bigger kick.

When the dust cleared again, there were tin limbs and torsos littering the warehouse. But the bigger dust cloud still obscured everything beyond this part of the toy factory. And we were still hearing screams.

Something glittered in the dust, but I held my fire. Plenty of elves here get covered in glitter, it’s a job hazard. Especially in the ornament division, and that was right next door.

But this wasn’t no toymaker. It was a blob of snow, with jagged bits of ice instead of teeth. More jagged bits of ice covered it all over. On the surface you’ll get what we call blobs. They’re just little blobs of animated snow. Mindless, vicious, but ultimately soft and harmless. Proto snowmen, maybe. The science division can never figure out where they come from. The wild herds of snowmen avoid them. But every now and then you get one that’s too dumb and stubborn to find shelter in the summer. When they’re out in the white nights, bits of them melt and refreeze. Instead of soft, blobby harmless snow, they develop spikes. We call these guys spikecicles.

Not so harmless. And the three others that slid out of the dust cloud looked equally unfriendly.

How in Kringle’s salty nuts did they get inside the building?

One of the workers was on the ground, frantically trying to crawl away. I took a quick snap shot with my pistol, but the industrial strength staple just chipped off a chunk of ice. To my left, I saw Cambo pop the T-4 clip out of her gun and pull out a clip of rock salt rounds. She’s efficient and she knows her fizzle, but I didn’t know if she could reload in time to save the worker.

With a sudden ‘twing’ and a matching ‘kerthunk’, a peppermint crossbow bolt embedded itself in the chunk of ice that the spikecicle uses as a brain. Its snowy eyes crossed, and it crumbled apart on the concrete.

Shade popped up out of nowhere and jabbed her ice picks into two more of the mean little snow cones. One of them collapsed, but the other one just roared and tried to shoulder check her into the wall. She took the hit as if it were nothing, and used the momentum to tear the ice pick out of the icy skull of the dead one. A few well placed pokes, and this one went down too.

That leaves one. And all I’ve got is my industrial strength staple gun.

Then I heard a click from my left, and Cammy popped up out of cover with her freshly loaded marshmallow gun.

The gun made a hollow pop, and the chunk of rock salt embedded in the spikecicle turned it into nothing more than a chunky wet spot on the concrete.

And that was it. The attack was over. There wasn’t any kind of silence, like you see in the movies. Elves were crying. Some machines were still running unattended. I looked around. In the doorway to the break room was Longshot, our sniper, holding his candy cane crossbow steady. I don’t know how in heckerdoodles Shade got past us, she was right there in the break room with me when the ruckus started. But that’s what she’s there for. To get past the enemy defenses and hit ‘em when their backs are turned.

She kicked at the spikecicle bodies to make sure they were dead. “Anybody got a peppermint? I’m bleeding a little. I’d hate to ruin my snow camo.”

“Hang on a minute.” came a familiar voice. Our medic, Doc Bubbly had already managed to squeeze past Longshot and was tending to the wounded. She pulled a peppermint out of her med kit and tossed it to Shade.

“Thanks Doc.” Tina Toodles, or Shade as we called her, wiped off her blades and then popped the mint into her mouth. I could see the bleeding already starting to slow.

We may not be happy little toymakers, but we’ve got just as much Christmas spirit as any other elf. The quickest way for us to heal up is to expose ourselves to positive Christmas juju. Downing a peppermint or a shot of hot buttered rum usually fixes us right up, unless we’re really hurt.

The PA system crackled, “Attention, all workshop employees. The attackers seem to have fled, it is safe to come out of hiding. Medical staff are being disbursed to help. All security and special forces, come to meeting room B for emergency dispatch. I repeat, all security and special forces are to report to meeting room B for emergency dispatch.”

I nodded to my team. “Our lockers are on the way. You’d better not take more than thirty seconds to grab your gear. Doc, hurry up what you can, then follow us.”

Stay tuned for episode 2 tomorrow!

A meander into the digital past

A meander into the digital past

Now that I’ve got an actual audioblog, the real question is: what do I do with it? Ordinarily, it would be the continuation of the same blog it has been, just with audio in addition to the text. Unfortunately, that would only create the audioblog equivalent of a deserted main street, complete with randomly generated tumbleweeds. I registered this domain name quite some time ago, and hadn’t done a whole lot with it. Mostly because I registered this domain name to be my personal writing blog, and then promptly realized that I really should focus more on publishing, so I created RadioPulp.com. Which I also haven’t done as much with as I’d like.

So, I’m not sure if this audioblog will be more of a music blog, an update on my work blog, a writing blog… maybe some bastard child of all three.

I’ll start off with a bit of a non-sequitor. While procrastinating when I should have been looking for voice actors and a producer to help get my business of the ground, I found and reinstalled several old adventure games. I think a part of me wanted to look to another medium to brush up on snappy dialogue and how to best work in musical cues that help the atmosphere of a piece. Yeah, I’ll go with that.

Mostly, though, it was sheer nostalgia. These were the games of my childhood. While everyone else I grew up with had parents wealthy enough to buy them not just a Nintendo, but when the console wars of Sega vs. Super Nintendo flared up, I was unaware of the conflict, because most of the people I knew had both. My family, however, was not particularly well off. We never quite fell below the poverty line, but my parents spent most of their money just keeping a roof over our heads in a decent neighborhood. We never had the newest clothes, we didn’t have an allowance, and we only got to have a birthday party with all of our friends every other year, because my parents just couldn’t afford to throw a big party for all five kids every year. And you know what, I was fine with that. I didn’t care about having the newest, coolest things. I had my books, and I was happy.

But eventually, times changed. The typewriter my mother used to do extra work out of the home was no longer enough. So my parents scrimped and saved and bought a Tandy 1000 tl/2. For those who recall the era of IBM clones, Tandy was Radio Shack’s personal computer line. It had its own slightly modified version of DOS installed, and it could run any DOS programs that a computer with 640k of RAM and an 8 megahertz processor could run. But it had a few interesting proprietary features. For one, it had an extra operating system on top of DOS, much like an early version of Windows. Just without the… windows.

I have fond memories of using the simple music program to write three instrument pieces of music, because it used the proprietary Tandy 3-voice soundcard, so the sound quality was excellent, but it couldn’t do full 16 voice MIDI. Every school paper and bad attempt at doing a homebrewed role playing game sourcebook from elementary to high school was done on the word processor built into that machine. And, while I can’t explicitly recall doing so, I’m fairly certain at some point in time I drew boobs on the simple drawing program. In DOS there was GWBASIC, where I learned to code things much more complicated then 10 PRINT “Hello World”.

One day, my parents had enough money to let me buy a video game. And that’s when fate stepped in to help steer my life. Forever.

You see, I grew up watching Indiana Jones and Star Wars. And I mean that literally, our VHS library was relatively slim pickings, and we didn’t have cable. The bombastic John Williams soundtrack was what first fueled my interest in music, and the modern remakes of the pulp classics of Spielberg and Lucas’ childhood were what informed my taste in such pulp. Needless to say, the last time I’d stood wide-eyed in the local Babbages, I’d caught a glimpse of Indy’s familiar hat and whip on the cover of one of the boxes. So the decision was simple. I’d played the mediocre Temple of Doom NES game at a friend’s house. The one for computer had to be at least that good, right?

And that is where I was both right and wrong, because you see, the thing that my childish mind had missed, was that there were two Indiana Jones games on the shelf at the same time. What I had taken to be alternate covers for the same Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade game were in fact the covers to two separate games. One was a less than stellar sidescroller, just as mediocre as the NES game, and equally frustrating for a small child. The other was one of LucasArts early adventure games.

Unsure as to whether the two games were one and the same, I weighed the boxes in my hand. One felt heavier than the other. The artwork looked less action packed, but much more immersive and cinematic. Finally, I decided that if I was going to play mindless sidescrolling action, I could do it on Nintendo at a friends’ house. I wanted adventure.

I chose… wisely. When we got home, we found that the game came with its own version of Henry Jones Sr.’s grail diary. It had cool decoder card to use as copy protection. And the game, while frustrating at times, was just as amazing and immersive as I’d hoped. I also didn’t know at the time, but on my computer it was even better. Why? Because despite its limitations, the Tandy 3-voice was a technological marvel. To this day, I can’t play the game on ScummVM, an emulator for adventure games. Because the general MIDI sounds so horrible compared to the memories I have of it that I have to use a DOS emulator that has a built in Tandy 3-voice soundcard emulator.

It turns out that my parents had unknowingly chosen wisely too.

My love of adventure games grew. I could play beat-em-ups and sidescrollers at my friends’ houses. Adventure games were all for me. My entire family loved the game. The kids would play it during the day, and my parents would play it at night, each of us keeping our separate save game files. We’d compete, to see who could get farther. If the winning group was feeling charitable, they’d give the losing group hints. These were the days not just before internet walkthroughs, but before the internet.

We didn’t need a Skinner box tempted us with rewards, although every time I heard the triumphant <insert Indiana Jones fanfare here>, I knew that Indy and I had done well.

With a love of LucasArts adventures firmly entrenched, the next game the family bought was The Secret of Monkey Island. Often lauded as literally the best adventure game of all time, it blended pirate action fantasy with a sense of humor that defies description. While the next set of games that I bought, the Space Quest quadrilogy, remains my favorite series of all time, The Secret of Monkey Island is my favorite game of all time.

Over the rest of the 90s, we slowly stocked up on a good portion of both LucasArts and their rival Sierra’s adventure games. My mother, ever the lover of murder mysteries, claimed ownership of Sierra’s Laura Bow series. Being the resident sci-fi nerd of the house after my eldest brother graduated and moved out, the Space Quest series was all mine, and I suspect that the soundtrack to Space Quests 3 and 4 inspired my love of mixing traditional orchestral soundtracks with electronic instruments. After reading the works of Howard Pyle, I was inspired to get my hands on Sierra’s “Robin Hood: Conquests of the Longbow”. The soundtrack, while cheesy in regular MIDI, featured beautiful sounds of strummed lute on the Tandy 3-voice. My love of soundtrack music had expanded to include renaissance music.

When LucasArts rereleased numerous games in packs of several CDs, my family bought the first two. I was exposed to the wonderful jazzy soundtrack and horrible jokes of Sam & Max: Freelance Police, the twisted humor of Day of the Tentacle, where it’s finally safe to microwave hamsters, and I got to follow in Indy’s footsteps again in Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.

The second pack featured Star Wars games, which, as a fan, of course, I ate up. My older brother was a lover of flight simulators, so I’d already gotten my hands on the X-Wing collectors edition CD-ROM, and the TIE Fighter collector’s edition was in the Star Wars pack. I’m still not entirely sure where my copy of the amazingly immersive adventure game The Dig, which was in the third CD pack that we couldn’t afford at the time, or where my full copy of Dark Forces, which was in the fourth pack, came from. My memory is a bit fuzzy. It’s possible that I found The Dig in a Goodwill somewhere in the early 2000s after I went off to college. Or it’s possible that my stepbrother bought it to test out the new computer he built for himself shortly before he went off to college, then gave it to me when he left. I genuinely don’t remember. All I know is that I never bought either one in its original box, yet I have the CDs.

Looking at my old CD case, I’m seeing game after game that I somehow managed to get, usually on huge discount. Growing up, I always felt like we had nothing, while the other people in our ‘nice’ neighborhood had everything. And yet, in the midst of that, I discovered an entire genre of games before they faded out of view. A genre that challenged the mind, and was made by people who made it look, feel, and sound amazing. Monkey Island and Space Quest are, quite possibly, the best interactive pulp I’ve ever seen. Their humor, atmosphere, pacing, intelligence, art, and music helped form my tastes and abilities. It’s been more than twenty years since I first clicked a mouse to tell Indiana Jones what to do next. But the triumphant fanfare is still with me.


Attacked, delayed, derided – A coffee shop style audioblog update

This is my first attempt at an audioblog update, done hastily over the course of less than an hour. It’s also my first attempt at doing any kind of podcast, just to test the waters and see if this plugin works for my needs for the website/business idea I am working on. The full text of this is below the cut, but feel free to just hit play and listen.

Attacked, delayed, derided – A coffee shop style audioblog update

Today was an… interesting day. Today was the one day when I really, really, needed to get to work on time. So, of course, I was running just late enough that it looked like I’d barely make it. But about a third of the way there, there was a moment. That moment when the adrenaline kicks in, and everything starts going in slow motion, because there’s something drifting towards your car, and even though you can’t see the car in the lane next to you, traffic is dense and you know you can’t safely swerve out of the way.

But the thing drifting towards me was not a deer, or a car, or anything massive enough to actually be dangerous. It was not on the ground. It was in the air. Drifting. A long, slithering, stringy, grayish, translucent mass either came out a window or was kicked up in the air by a car head of me.

And it intersected with my car, wrapping my car lovingly in its tendrily embrace. It wrapped a part of itself firmly around the passenger side mirror, and clung to it for dear life. What it was, I couldn’t be sure. Frayed nylon rope? No, it looked a little too… organic for that.

There was no safe place to pull over. My drive to work involves a quick jaunt on three highways that intersect closely. I couldn’t pull over because my first exit was coming up. And there was nowhere safe to pull over until I got to work. So I drove, distracted by the whipping of the grey, stringy mass firmly entrenched in the seam between my mirror and the rest of the car.

The more it whipped in the wind, the more I was certain, it wasn’t a frayed rope.

I drove along, looking to all the world like a psychotic serial killer slash scalper, with five feet of hair attached to my car, whipping in the wind.

When I finally arrived in the parking lot at work, thankfully there was no one within sight of the right side of my car. It had knotted itself around the mirror, and it took several minutes to extricate it from the crevice. The texture was crinkly and crisp, and my original guess of nylon seemed to be accurate. It looked to be several chunks of a wig or a weave, stuck together in a nearly six foot long chain of seemingly human hair. I couldn’t leave it there… I didn’t want have the police march into my work and demand to know who was murdered near my car. So I was late to work, and thankfully only looked once again like a serial killer slash scalper for the forty seconds it took to walk from my car to the nearest trash can.

I was scheduled to teach the kid’s class at my work today. I work at an arts and crafts store, that will be familiar to most denizens of North America. I won’t say which one, but suffice to say that we have a Joann, A Michel (yes, that’s how her parents spelled it), and we used to have someone with the last name Moore working for us. We’ve never had someone named Hobby or Lobby working with us, but that’s okay, I’d like to think that we wouldn’t hire someone who discriminates against half of the population.

While I find it urgent to show up on time for days when I’m scheduled for the class, it’s only because they never tell me ahead of time what the lesson is going to be. The kids usually don’t show up until half an hour later. I just want the chance to actually look at the lesson plan so I know what I’m going to be teaching them. Of course, today of all days is the first time someone has shown up exactly at ten o’clock for the class. Someone who refused to wait for me to get there, because she intended to simply sign the her two children and two more neighbor’s children up for the class and then dump them for the rest of the morning. The recommended time for each class project is half an hour, and if the children want to stay later they can just play with the various art supplies in the classroom. Apparently we’re the cheapest babysitters in town.

Since the projects were already underway by the time I got there at six after ten, leading me to believe the woman actually showed well before ten and strong armed the manager into opening the classroom early, we decided it was best to let the employee who’d started the project stay until they were done. Of course, this was before we realized that the mother was using us as a cheap babysitting service, and the extra time stretched from half an hour into two hours. At a certain point we did switch and I took over, simply because the other employee was edging into overtime.

Thankfully the children were quite well behaved for such an energetic bunch of siblings slash neighbors, so a good time was had by all. Except, of course, the beancounters back in the corporate office, who had expected the eight dollars paid to more than cover the half hour of employee work that had been intended to be put towards the project.

I relayed my terrifying story of hair horror to most of my coworkers, of course. Since I didn’t cause an accident on the highway or get flagged down as a potential murder suspect, it was funny.

I’m not sure if it would have been funny had those two criteria not been met.

The rest of the day was somewhat uncomfortable. Corporate recently decided to do a manager swap, and the new manager and I got off on the wrong foot originally. We’ve since talked things over, and for the most part there aren’t any problems… but today he seemed to fall into a strange passive-aggressive streak. I’m not sure if it was just aimed at me, but it certainly felt that way. It’s funny, a few years back when corporate decided to try to force us to sign affidavits stating that we would not talk about the company on any public blogs or anything, I had intended to start a small rebellion and make a blog specifically to talk about work. I thought I could be clever, and hide the details so that no one could prove that it was me and I was actually talking about my job.

Yes, even in your late twenties and early thirties, an urge for immature teenage rebellion still surfaces now and then. In the end, I realized that after two or three years of working in the same place, I would only have a half dozen blog posts at most. My job just isn’t that interesting.

Which leads to this. I’m recording this, not because I’m a narcissist who likes to hear the sound of his own voice, but rather because I’m trying to force myself to be more comfortable reading prose into a microphone. I’ve gotten back into writing over the last year or so, and now I’m hoping to diversify into a small publishing company. One that specializes in publishing pulp style audiobooks and audiodramas. Since any small company requires the employees to be versatile enough to handle more than one job, I know I’ll certainly be tasked to take advantage of my music skills to write soundtracks, my writing skills to write scripts and prose, and of course, I’ll more than occasionally have to do just what I’m doing now: blathering into a microphone and making it not sound like crap. In spite of the occasional cold or, as is the case right now, stuffy dose. And the occasional sounds of power tools from the neighbor behind my apartment who has decided that now is a perfect time to use power tools to trim metal pipes in the middle of his driveway.

So from now on, I’m going to try to record all blog posts as audio. As practice for the company I’m trying to make, and hopefully not as an exercise in narcissism.

No promises, though.