Writing: Thoughts on magic systems

This is still pretty true for how I tackle magic/systems. I have other characters and other systems. Some of them incredibly detailed. Some of them pretty simple. Overall, I love creating them….

2nd example for today – this year I’ve been building a magic system which is “seeded” by magical creatures (yes, I’m using the trope “when dragons are born they bring magic into the world”) with the twist of specific creatures have 2 attributes.  One side is the magic they add to the world, the other attribute is what they unlock in a mage.

So when dragons are born, they add earth-based magic into the world. When someone with mage-talent touches them they “unlock” a talent for water.  When a mage who already has healing touches a dragon their healing talent is expanded to maximum potential.  If the person’s natural talent is earth, they will now have potential for either healing or water.  But to “unlock” healing they will need to find a phoenix. To access the full-water potential they will need to find a griffon.

Dream by Day

As a fantasy and sci-fi writer and fan, I spend more time thinking about different magic systems than I probably should. In every system I design for my worlds, I like to answer several questions to myself:

  1. Are people equally equipped to access or utilize magic? (example: if the system is based on alchemy than the limiting factor would be the character’s ability to get raw materials)
  2. If there is inequality (mage A is stronger than mage B) what determines their relative strength? Genetics? Luck? Dieties? I get it, my protagonist might be the strongest mage, but why?
  3. Where does magic come from? Is it a limited resource, and how does it reproduce?
  4. Are all mages/magic users good at all types of magic or do they need to specialize in something?
  5. Does magic have rules for how it impacts the natural world? (ie: how does the presence of a…

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Review: Christmas “Artists”

This is NOT a review on Christmas music.  This is a review on the artists who cover Christmas music. A Lot of them are doing this wrong.  This is not opinion.  It’s FACT.  If an artist doesn’t have the skill to make a song their own, they need to follow directions someone else gave them.  Anything else is wrong.

Let’s start with the ultimate example of an artist “covering” a Christmas song right.  Jingle Bell Rock.  In 1957, Bobby Helms put out a version of the classic “Jingle Bells” but in his own tune.  From the very first note you know this isn’t “Jingle Bells” – this is Jingle Bell Rock.  There is never doubt that he took the “Jingle Bells” song and made it his.

Now, when you are listening to a singer “cover” something like “Silent Night” or “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” you probably can sing along because you know the words. People love singing along.  What is wrong with the classic that the last word or the last measure this “artist” will decide to change it.  Or they’ll pace it wrong.  It’s WRONG.

IF you are set up to be able to sing along with a song and then halfway through they change a little piece it throws you off.  You stop.  You lose your rhythm and suddenly you are listening to see if and where you can jump back in.  Then they do it again.  And again you are thrown out of enjoying your activity and you are sort of listening.  But you aren’t really listening to THEM – you are listening to catch back into the tune.

Either claim the song and do it so differently people can’t sing along (ie someone who knows “Jingle Bells” can’t sing along with “Jingle Bell Rock” the first time) OR follow directions and sing it the way it was written. If anyone else hit 90% of the song, we would berate them for being a bad cover artist.  If you are going to cover it, do it right.  If you are going to interpret it – it has to be more than 10%.  Preferably more than 30%.  Enough that noone is confused.  

This halfway shit has to stop.  Do it right or follow directions.

Theory: Pregnancy Brain

This is 100% my own theory based on my own (still relatively short) experience with pregnancy.  So, with that disclaimer – take it or leave it on my theory.

Let’s start with “What is Pregnancy Brain”  WebMD has an entire article on it, but the jist of it is – pregnant women struggle to continue to function at full use – “momnesia”

I never understood how real it was until I was pregnant – nor how early it starts.  I always assumed it was a 3rd trimester thing and because you feel so weird and out of sorts.  Nope, it definitely started late 1st trimester for me and has only gotten more noticeable as I move through the 2nd trimester.

So here’s the theory: Momnesia is because there is a cycle or two of the brain always processing the pregnancy.

My brain continuously cycles anywhere from 3-6 different things at the same time.  I don’t necessarily control these cycles.  On a “normal” day it’s something like this:

  • Novel element I am trying to figure out 
  • What do I need for breakfast/lunch/dinner today
  • What if… What if… What if… (anxiety cycle)
  • What I am doing in front of me
  • Planning something for the future – ie answering “how to get that promotion” or “how to schedule that party” or “Setting appointment for the dentist”

On a bad day, one of those cycles might be replaced by asthma “Am I breathing right now” repetitions (very annoying).  On a Good day I manage 6 cycles instead, but even 6 stretches my brain.  Even “relaxing” – assume at least 3 of these are running at any given time.  I don’t necessarily get to say which cycles prioritize.  Turning off a cycle like noveling (yes, it’s a verb in my world) or anxiety or breathing… harder than it sounds.

So.  During pregnancy at least one cycle IS taken up with either symptoms or the “when is my next appointment” or “what the hell am I going to need day one of baby?” or “what the hell I am thinking wanting to bring a child into this world?”  This last loves my anxiety cycle too, and if it’s on a roundelay between the two… let’s call those “bad days”

So trying to juggle things like food and what’s in front of me sometimes get booted by “I need to buy a crib.  Shit.  How do I find a crib that will be good.  Oh god, how do I figure out what cribs are safe? What actually is likely versus the ‘one kid died and everyone reacted’ stuff?  Do I need to know?  Do cribs come in colors? What color crib should we get?  White? Brown? Black?  What if my kid hates it?”

Review: Simon Sinek

A friend posted this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MC2X-LRbkE) and I ranted on his Facebook.

I’ve written about Millennials before.  I AM a Millennial.  I struggle with the term because I hate fighting the negative stereotypes.  I HAVE known people who are entitled shits.  But you know who else is an entitled narcissictic shit? Donald. J. Trump.  And he is a baby boomer.

You know who has a history of being selfish? Baby Boomers.  Look at how many bust-boom cycles the economy has been in from ~1980 (the “young” end of Boomers is 1964 which made them 16, so a large majority were at least voting).  Look at the boom-bust cycle since 2000.  Look at Enron.  Look at the recession of 2008.  And the economists say we’re probably about to have another one.  So AT LEAST one per decade!

I know awesome Baby Boomers.  Unlike many of the critics of millennials who love to use sweeping statements about “most” and “all” – I actually recognize that voting in this country has been getting more progressive.  the New York Times has a cool interactive map of electoral college runs. (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/23/upshot/50-years-of-electoral-college-maps-how-the-us-turned-red-and-blue.html)  George W. Bush only got 47.87% of the vote and Donald J. Trump only got 46.09% of the popular vote.  That’s a different issue.

To respond to Simon Sinek – here is exactly what I put on my friends’ wall:

I disagree with him. And it started with his FIRST statement. It isn’t “1980 on,” It’s ~1980 to ~1996.(Gallop says 1980, Pew says 1984, Neilsen says 1977 – almost all of them mention 1996 for the range)

1) the only true part was that the person who just got the “participation ribbon” WAS embarrassed. And the students whose parents fought for them to be in honors classes without earning it – they knew that too. There is a diffference for asking for a cost of living raise and “entitled” – the MAJORITY of people I have ever worked with were asking for the former. In almost 10 years I’ve only ever known one person who had their mother call to quit their job.

2) Baby boomers are seeking the same dopamine addiction – they just use alcohol instead of Instagram
“Researchers see a steady rise in alcohol use and binge drinking […] in the 65-plus demographic” (took out a bit about clinical definition) (https://www.chicagotribune.com/…/ct-baby-boomers…) Boomers use a different addiction to deal with stress -but ALSO don’t have the tools.

3) he might be right about SOME of the issues with instant gratification, but it isn’t as simple as the marshmellow test (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/…/new-research…/) – the research is showing inter-sectional issues like race, socioeconomic status growing up, security, etc. has a huge effect. AS WELL – the millennials even given this test did better than the generation before and WORSE than the kids in the early 2000s (https://www.inverse.com/…/48642-personality-traits-that…)

I do agree there is a leadership problem. People who were promoted to initial management in the ’90s and ’00s were promoted because they were good at their tasks – and never taught how to MANAGE others. Now they are moving into senior leadership and they don’t understand why the people under them are frustrated because they were never taught (or told they needed to) connect to their subordinates.

4) He talks about depression like there aren’t a myriad of factors that can increase that risk. During the Great Depression suicide rates jumped from 12.1 out of 100,000 to 15.4 out of 100,000 (the actual year of the crash it was over 18/100,000 but then it went “back down.” There is a STRONG correlation between economic insecurity and increase of suicide “CONCLUSION: Economic recession periods appear to increase overall suicide rates, although further research is warranted in this area, particularly in low income countries.” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4473496/) but no, no, no – it can’t possibly be that people who can’t afford to buy houses or get married or AFFORD THEIR OWN CHILDREN get depressed. They just need to be told to BE PATIENT.

Simon Sinek isn’t an idiot – but I wish people wouldn’t listen to him on the psychology of Millennials. He never cites any actual references, just is damn OPINIONS on what he “FEEELS” and he can take those feelings and shove them where the sun don’t shine – ’cause when you shine light on his FEEELINGS they are pretty full of shit.

Miss Manners: Holding Doors in the 21st century

This actually came up recently – a friend was ranting about “chivarly” (in a good way to a feminist) – but clearly this needs to be said many, many more times. It isn’t hard…. I promise.

Dream by Day

Anyone who knows me, knows I have strong opinions about holding doors. A lot of my guy friends complain that the rules are “always changing” on them and I have to say, I don’t entirely agree. There IS a problem that there are people playing by different rules. But within those people – the rules are consistent.  I propose a simplification of “holding the door” and the first thing to be aware of: gender doesn’t matter.

Let me say that again – stop looking at gender as the reason you should (or should not!) hold a door. I think part of the problem has long been that there are too many rules to decide who and when a door should be held. I live by a simple set of rules:

  1. Am I in the way if I hold the door for them?
  2. Am I improving their day by holding the…

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Review: Moist Von Lipwig

I can finally review this trilogy since I finished it over the weekend.  I’ve read and re-read Going Postal and Making Money for years, but somehow I never got around to Raising Steam.  Moist was my real intro to Discworld and Terry Pratchett.  Then I went back and red Guards! Guards!  I’m working my way (slowly) through the Witches books.

But I hold a special place for Moist.  He’s awful in a lot of ways.  Like really a bad person who wants to be selfish and greedy.  At least in the first two books.  Now, he also has a strong internal set of morals and ethics – his own which no one else would ever agree with but…

So Going Postal is probably my favorite of the three.  I thoroughly enjoy seeing Moist struggle with his desire to run away and his determination to do something interesting.  The character is “forced” into his position but never loses agency or personality.  In Making Money, he’s somewhat resigned to living “by the law” but still determined he’s a crook and crooked.

It’s Raising Steam that fell apart.  Firstly, Moist was barely the protagonist.  And none of the characters really felt like they had great agency.  I feel like you can see Pratchett’s alzheimer’s throughout the book.  Lord Vetinari isn’t tricksy or snide.  He’s… human.  He never felt “human” in the other books.  It didn’t feel like he had that “I already knew that” suave demeanor.

In a book that revolved around the dwarves Captain Carrot wasn’t mentioned.  Not even a “this is why he’s missing” side comment – nothin’ just…. missing.  Adorabell felt like a trophy rather than a partner (or a person with her own agency).  Goblins were used throughout as a deus ex machina.  It’s a shame because there is an awesome core plot and Pratchett wrote awesome characters earlier in his career.

Overall, I would 100% recommend Going Postal and Making Money but not Raising Steam.  Just skip that last book.  Leave Moist on 2 books and be happy about his progress through them.

Review: Audiobook Players

This review is specifically how these players work with Android Auto (AA) in my Kia Sorento.  I can’t speak as an authority that Android Auto is the same everywhere, so this is definitely MY opinion.

There are technically 5 different audiobook players I have used/do use during my commute.  I’m really only going to review 4 however since Overdrive is pushing towards Libby – either way this is the library, so 100% free (well, paid for by our taxes).  Both Audible by Amazon and Google Play Books require you purchase your books (Audible having a subscription, Google Play doesn’t).  Lastly, the mostly-free option of Librivox.


love getting books from my library.  I do not love Libby.  This app is awkward. It only recently (like maybe this summer) finally updated to even work on Android Auto.  And it’s…. usable.  The controls are all-but useless (the skip is worthless in the car – it skips too much – I made this mistake once).

The worst thing is the launch.  Libby doesn’t remember I was just listening to the damn book. I have to push the icon for audio (because Libby was my last used app on AA).  I then have to OPEN the menu, pick my book, and click “resume.”  GOD FORBID I am running around doing errands jumping in and out of the car at various stops – I have to do this EVERY TIME.

It exists but it is NOT user friendly.  If it wasn’t linked to the library books…. I’d probably skip it.


Ok, so disclaimer here, I haven’t used my Audible in about 2 months – I’ve got like 3 books stacked up on it, but I’ve had library books that were on hold that came available and I had to splurge through like 3 audiobooks in 6 weeks.  So they could have updated, and this is definitely the most out-of-date app for me to say “I used this ‘recently,’ I swear.”

But it’s a good app. It works and registers I was reading a book.  On the AA launch page I can just hit “play” and it resumes my book.  I don’t think I ever had to skip around a book for anything, if I did it was so easy I don’t even remember it.

Their subscription prices are also (in my opinion) competitive.  I think the average audiobook is about $20.  There are a decent number that are $10-15, but there are also a bunch that at $30-40. So for $15 you get 1 and $21 you get 2 books per month.  At $21 each of these books is $10.50 – which is well below any average for audiobooks.

Google Play Books

This might be my favorite interface.  Not because of anything really unique, but very simply for one setting.  The speed.  You can set/change the speed of the reading on Android Auto.   So if the reader is a bit slow (I’m looking at you Michael Kramer) you can reset to 125%, and then when it switches (*ahem* Kate Reading) comes on switch back to 100% speed.  I don’t always remember, but if it’s bugging me that day – it’s easy.

Now, the downside is the 100% must-buy-the-book-at-list-price.  Now, they also seem to run lower average prices and deals regularly/all-the-time.  I also use Google Rewards to earn credit.  Now, this credit might get me one audiobook every six months – but still!  For telling Google where I really was (or more likely wasn’t…) I get ~$0.20 each week.  Maybe.


I am going to give a lot of leeway for Librivox.  If you don’t know Project Gutenberg and Librivox – you need to.  These groups take books/writings that are in the public domain and put them out for free.  Gutenberg in text, Librivox uses volunteers to make audiobooks. Their app can be free – and supported by ads, or for $1.99 you can get it ad-free.

Really, there are several “weaknesses” to Librivox, but the only one in the app itself is it’s memory.  I know of once I was most of the way home and someone called me – interrupting the book.  When I got off the phone I went to resume and…. it had reset to where I had been at the beginning of my commute.  It took a few minutes to get back to my spot (or at least close).

The downside to volunteers is the quality.  Some readers are really amazing.  Some of them suck.  Sometimes it’s their pronunciation (people shouldn’t fake accents), sometimes it’s clearly they are using less-than-professional equipment (echos and breathing).  I try to be patient with these things, but there has been at least one book I had to either muscle through bad readers on certain chapters or give up because there was only reader and she was awful (that particular one she didn’t understand commas, periods or inflection).

The interface itself isn’t bad at all, again – nothing too special.  All the interfaces for Android Auto tend to be very simplistic (I mean, the goal is to be driving, not paying attention to your book).