"Ease back, 'cause she's back."
Elaine Cunningham's blog is back on the web! Go there, read often, and come away smarter, wiser and better looking.

Love it while it's here, because it might not be around for long. :)

My mom taught me to share.
It has been statistically proven beyond a doubt that any Choose Death* reader is three times more intelligent and better looking than the average internet user. But just in case anyone has the idea that Harley is bashing shared-world fiction, allow me to disabuse you of that notion.

I make the bulk of my freelance income from writing d20 modules that imitate the style of Golden Age Gygax.

That’s sort of like getting paid to sample the top 20 pop hits of 2006 to make disco songs. Still, the work is good and I enjoy it more than nearly any other sort of writing.

So. Shared-world novels? Yes, please, and with undiminished joy.

*For some reason, linking back to myself just makes me want to laugh out loud. Time for more coffee.


Harley Stroh:
Putting the Hack into Hack'n'Slash since 1974

In a recent post in his livejournal, Paul S. Kemp took the time to explain shared world fiction, noting that a recent sale was non-shared world.

At first I was amused; have we really come so far that readers don't recall when fantasy fiction wasn't associated with a brand? But then I took a look at my own resume, and - sure enough - everything I've sold in the past few years is tied to a franchise of some sort.

So? On one hand this makes sense. It's much easier for a new writer* to piggy back on a known commodity. Forgotten Realms sells, even if Harley doesn't. But what about life after FR/Blackmoor/d20? Lately I've been producing a lot of words, but I'm not sure I've been a writer.

Getting the chance to punish myself with the White Wolf novel kicked Harley's old dreams back to the fore. Back in the day I used to create. Nowadays I mostly piggy back. I'm excited to submit the novel, I'm excited to get back to some d20 design, but I'm also excited to start writing again.

A wise, wise friend claims her goal in life is to be a published fanstasy novelist.

Failing that?

She wants to be an unpublished fantasy novelist.

I could stand to learn that lesson.

*Meaning myself, not Paul. :D


Thought Exercise
With every word you or I write, we become better writers. Somewhere in the universe there is a sheet of paper listing how many words Harley needs to write before he sells a book. It might be so many that I never sell a book. Or it might be just around the corner.

I think this is true of any person who wants to be a writer. It's my belief that it doesn't matter so much where you begin; more important is how long and hard you are willing to work to make improvements.

Either way, assuming that my vampire novel is a flop, come May 31st I’ll still be +90,000 closer to meeting that deadline in the sky. And that's pretty fun.

Improvement. Totally doable.

Love Your Plot,
~OR~ Harley Stating The Obvious

When your plot works, the writing comes so damn easy. It's nice to hit those days, especially as I head into the re-writes.

I'm hoping that the reverse isn't true: that if the writing is hard, it means the plot stinks. If that's the case, 75% of my book is sunk. :)

Either way, I'm finding that time invested ploting out your book pays off in dividends later on. So do your homework, kids!


Trashcan Dream Come True
At 8:19, Monday morning, War of the Witch Queen is Goodman Games’ #1 hot seller on RPGNow. The Iron Crypt is #11, and even old Savage Kings comes in at a respectable #19. Even more fun, Witch Queen is presently ranked #13 of all RGPNow’s d20 products sold in the last week.

These rankings are actually a bit deceptive because, upon release, all of the DCC modules sell really well. The phenomena is akin to box office releases. As each module is released it shoots to #1, only to be replaced by the newer modules. There are some perennial favorites, not least of which are The Emerald Cobra, and Idylls of the Rat King, penned respectively by Mike Ferguson and Jeffery Quinn, but my modules (which are – to my devilish delight - regularly dissed by the critics) have yet to ascend to those hallowed ranks.

So if Harley’s vanity isn’t the point of this post, what is?

Just that, for no better reason than dumb luck and persistence, I’ve had the chance to live out the dream of a lifetime. Getting paid to write about dungeons and dragons? C’mon, let’s get real. This weekend I hung out at the skate park, went for walk with Heather, and wrote about vampires. This summer I’m going to the largest gaming convention in North America, and maybe the world. (Although instinct tells me that there has to be some crazy conventions in Japan. Any thoughts, Alex?)

Pretty good for a kid that can’t spell. And that’s the real point of all this. If Harley can do it, you can. Heck, half of you have proved that already. And the other half are in wings, waiting for that golden moment of opportunity + preparation. And it will come along.

If this all ends tomorrow and I never have the good fortune to publish another word again, I’ll still have to count myself a fortunate man. And I can’t wait to see you name on the big marquee.

Of Vampires
When I was little, I used to dread large parties on my birthday. Fortunately we ended up moving out into the country, where the nearest neighbor was literally miles away, so block parties were never much of a problem.

And even though I’ve grown up – at least a little – there’s still a large part of Harley that dreads people looking in his direction.

In 38 days (but who’s counting?), I’ll turn in the book, imperfections and all. And in the 2 to 3 months it takes White Wolf to read the novels and decide, many eyes will be turned this way. Instincts tell me to do everything in my power to undercut your expectations.

Why? I don’t know. I desperately want this book, but I’m still terrified to be the cool kid. Childish? Absolutely. Immature fears? Likely.

So when I write that the novel has little chance of winning, don’t take it as humility, because I’m not that noble. Understand it instead as a demonstration of fear. In my heart of hearts, I think this book might just have a chance, but you’ll never catch me saying that.



I'm going to be at GenCon ...
...GenCon says so.

Heh. That's just silly.

A HUGE 11 (out of a possible 11) skulls thank you is due to Elaine Cunningham for organizing the entire GenCon lit. tour. :)

Go buy one of her books. :)

FYI, Kam: we need to get you on the list.


As Seen on T.V.
First, a big, 10 skull shout out to my pirate crew for rallying around the sinking ship. Thank you guys. If anyone makes it to GenCon, buy us coffee and we'll tell you the story.

But back to T.V.

There was a locked cabinet at school, that held - wait for it - May Faire ribbons.

We needed the ribbons out super-pronto, and the maint. man hadn't shown up. In terms of responsbility, I'm at the bottom of an inverted pyramid - if something goes wrong and the regular channels fail, it's my job. What to do?

I tried every key on the chain, but #13 was missing. Then we resorted to trying to pick the lock. No good. Then we got creative and tried going behind or through the walls of the cabinet. Still no good.

Finally, everyone left and got out of my hair. I warmed up the power drill, dropped in a metal bit, and went after the lock.

I seem to recall having seen this on television at one point, or in a 007 movie.

Anyhow, first I chewed out the tumblers, then I hit the mojo at the back. But after 5 minutes of constant drilling (and no cutting oil even!), the back of the lock popped off and the door swung open.

Rock and roll.


Third Act: Time to Get My Swerve On
You know how in the third act of some plays everything goes to hell? Well, a legal issue cropped up in one of my previously completed works, requiring speedy and massive rewriting before May 15. In case you haven't read the blog in the last 6 months, the vampire novel is due on May 31.

Up to now the vampire novel was ahead of schedule. This could dramatically change things. I need to hunker down, avoid turbo lasers, and write as I have never written before. If you don't see me posting again before May 31, it doesn't mean I stopped loving you.

But here's the thing: this is going to be fun. How often are you offered the chance to, literally, make or break? High stakes, do or die, taking the measure of a man. We put our characters through that all the time, but seldom live into the experience, unless it has to do with the death or sickness of a relative. This is the best of both worlds, since I get to fight for something incredibly important to me (Harley’s first published novel!) and even if I fail, nobody gets hurt.

So often the world is smear of grays. Rarely do we get the chance to play with a palette of black and white. Success/failure, book/no book.

I can’t say that I’m optimistic at this point, but I am hopeful. Rock and roll, and – for better or worse - I’ll see you on the other side.

Shut that dude up!
BTW, two modules are presently at the printers. Expect to see them on shelves within the month. Both will be exciting to see in print, especially Into the Wilds, my Keep on the Borderlands tribute. Watch this space. :)


Hey you there! On the motorcycle. You two girls! It's ladies night, tonight...over at Marce's Blog.

Or at least it will be on Monday. Stop by in the beginning of the week, show her some Deathy Love, and make the old 'Bones proud.

The World is a Vampire
...sucking all my time and energy. But that's the point, really, and a good experience to be able to relate to. Waking up exhausted ---so this is what my characters feel like!

I received an email today from my editor asking for previous writing credits. It was a first, made even more fun because I actually had something to show. ;) Didn’t mention the older stuff, as some it is over a decade old. Yowzah.


LJ: Feed me, Seymour
A big, deathy shout out is due to Deiter Zimmerman, author of Dragonmech, Etherscope, and DCC fame.

Deiter, a.k.a. Mythfish, a.k.a. the feared Badgerman, syndicated Choose Death, because, let's face it, ol' Harley-bot has been less than reliable.

So stop by, hire out his sword-fighting cadre – the Pheonix Swords - and otherwise give the Fish of Myth a dose of deathy love.

Anyone that is willing to don a Badger costume AND declares children to be flammable hazards is good in my book.

Oh yeah. The 'bones feed can be found here, http://syndicated.livejournal.com/grimbones_feed/, or add grimbones_feed to your LJ friends list.

Tangent: Juxtaposition is Sexy
On a related note, just poking around Deiter's online life makes me miss the Faire. Medieval costumes, women in bodices, and protective parent-types with swords. What more could a 14-year old geek ask for? It was a good place to grow up.

My first published story was written after falling hard for a Ren Faire girl. The image that is fixed in my mind is seeing her afterhours, dressed in faire garb and a black leather jacket that read, Punk isn't Dead, but some Punks Are. I want to say she had locks of dyed hair, but that might be my imagination playing with my memory.

Laugh. That image captures Harley's intrests in a nutshell. Good times. :)


The Ronin and the Bushi
When I’m not writing bad novels or d20 adventures, I’m the admin for a non-profit independent school. Money is always tight, and when money gets tight people get upset. Yesterday was another 12-hour day that culminated in Harley swallowing the (rightful) frustration of an angry founder. As the sun set on the valley, I slung my laptop over my shoulder and walked home along the empty highway.

It is times like these that the idea of going ronin appeals to my imagination. Harley, cutting off his topknot, slinging his katana over his shoulder and wandering from village to village, chopping wood in exchange for room and a bit of rice wine, and occasionally saving the day.

This is one of the unlisted benefits of being a fantasy hack. Your imagination is your best friend, and it is easy to romanticize your way out of grim situations. I’m not poor, I’m a suffering artist. You’re not unpublished, you're just the next bestseller waiting to be discovered. And so on.

But walking home yesterday, it struck me how cowardly and selfish my plan was. You don’t go ronin because you’re strong, but because you broke under the pressure of responsibility. The solitary swordsman wandering the western desert isn’t a picture of stoicism. He’s just fleeing in slow motion.

I know that my personal revelation isn’t anything new. We could probably find it in the last 5 minutes of every bad pseudo-samurai anime produced in America, where the lone wolf comes back to care for the people he nearly abandoned. But realizing it on an emotional level was a powerful experience, and radically different from passively observing it.

So what about the bushi, sacrificing himself for the call of responsibility? There’s a story in there for me, not because the idea is new, but because it moved me so powerfully last night.

So straighten up those kimonos, kids, and get your swords polished. We’re going to war.


Why Can't I Find This?
Does anyone know if it is legal to send cookies to inmates?

Common sense says "no," (Mom's crack and chocolate chip recipe was always a hit) but I can't find anything one way or the other. Suppose I can just try and see what happens.

I bet if they are store bought and delivered in unbroken wrapping it might be okay.


Fame and Glamour

A couple days ago I had the chance to skate with some of the students in the seventh grade. Awesome people, and fun to hang out with. They went home and made a facsimile of Harley on Tony Hawk Pro Skater.

If there is any greater honor, I don't know what it is.

Anyhow, that's not this image. I was hunting around for a THPS image of a bearded old fat dude, but sadly couldn't find one. I settled for this image because it will make my older friends laugh.

I did this trick a couple times in college. Wiped out hard every time, tore massive patches of skin off my back and ended up sleeping on bloody sheets for weeks.

Good times. :)


Goodman Games

If you've ever wanted to buy one of my modules on the cheap, now is your chance. All Goodman Games modules sold through brick-and-mortar outlets are 20% off, from now to May 31. I have two modules coming out this month, so this is a perfect opportunity to catch up your Harley collection. ;)


Broken In
Goodman Games
Sunday morning, drinking coffee and getting ready to sit down with the fledgling book and coax out 3k words. My hands are patchwork of band-aids and medical tape, and every joint in my body is making itself heard, but in a good way. This is probably how folks feel after a good session of yoga, minus the bleeding.

I took a break from writing yesterday and drove down the mountain to Fort Collins. For years a friend and I have been eyeing this old, now defunct, concrete irrigation ditch north of town. It sits on public property, and once upon at time was used to channel water for the neighboring fields, but now it is just home to graffiti and trash. We skated the ditch for most of the afternoon, taking a break to get new batteries for Phelgm’s digital video camera. (Pics coming soon! Watch Harley bite it!)

The thing is, it is an irrigation ditch. This is both cool and painful.

Cool because we are making use of something that will probably be dug up and hauled to a landfill in ten years to make room for a new housing development.

Painful because it was built to channel water, not to skate.

First, the thing is BIG - between ten and twelve feet high, with steep walls that descend at a 50 to 60 degree angle. Not a big deal for skating in and of itself, since vertical is the point of “vert” skating, but read on.

The concrete is raw and chews up flesh on impact. The floor of the ditch is notched with deep cracks – more than enough to catch a wheel. Worst of all are the transitions where the wall meets the floor. That 60 degree angle goes flat at a corner – no rounding.

You drop in from the top of the wall, pick up speed screaming towards the bottom, and immediately things get funky. Make it through the drop in, across the cracks without hanging up a wheel, pop over the transition of the other wall, and if you still have speed maybe you can try a trick.

It’s challenging, which is the lure. Good times, and a good break from the life of Harley, responsible School Headmaster.

Expect a new video out in August. :)