The latest in dream developments.

Long winter nights throw off my usual sleep routine, and weird sleep patterns lead to oddly vivid but disjointed dreams. A few nights ago, I had some doozies.

I’m left wondering if the ideas I collected from those slumberland excursions came from ideas I read or saw somewhere, or if they’re purely the work of my imagination. I like some of them enough that I might want to use them in a story someday, so I’ve been doing some research, but to no avail.

The most recent sleepytime entertainment involved a new setting, or more precisely a new zone within the complicated urban/suburban region of my dream geography. The place I identify as The City has dozens of neighborhoods and architectures recognizable from real world places I’ve visited, ones I’ve studied, fiction I’ve read, and photos I’ve seen. Parts of it are medieval, some early industrial, some modern, some futuristic.

Evidently there’s a tunnel system beneath the section of City that resonates with urban 19th century America/Britain/Europe society. I hadn’t known that until last night, despite many a dream in which I’ve gone deep in basements to hide from tornado storms. (It’s an annual recurring dream set.) Anyway. In these newly-appeared tunnels there are Old West-style saloons, modern coffee shops and 50’s diners where people sit around and rank the “Worst Deaths” collected from various media entertainments.

I do not question the anachronistic establishments while I’m in them, nor do I wonder at modern media discussions taking place in in patently pre-electronics environments. The list is what stuck with me, that and the passion of the discussions about scenes I am 99% sure actually go with the shows being discussed.

Content Warning: the next bits are gruesome. Feel free to skip to the second row of asterisks. It’s nothing that should shock anyone who’s read my fiction, but…I feel I should issue the disclaimer nonetheless. For whatever reason, disturbing creepiness that comes to me in dreams never fazes me while awake, so it’s difficult for me to judge its effect with any objectivity. Better warned than squicked out, says I.

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Tops on the “Worst Deaths: Ranked” list was “Death by tallow,” aka someone being dipped in hot grease over and over until dead. Has that ever been done on TV? Not that I recall, but it was voted best-worst in the dream discussion I took part in. Every one of my dream friends agreed that was the most horrifically creative means of murder they’d seen, and that it was from a CSI episode.

Second place went to “Fire in the belly,” meaning someone being carefully eviscerated and then having hot coals dumped in their body cavity.  (I warned you, didn’t I?) My dreaming brain insisted this came from Game of Thrones was second. (I can easily believe that but can’t place it in any given episode.) Third place was a tie between shoelace garrote from a buddy cop movie whose name I can’t remember, (dreams being like that) and being skinned alive with a sander from a horror movie. (also no idea which one)

Are any of those death scenes from a real-world existing narrative? I have no idea. But they are all vivid in my brain as items discussed around tables while meals were going on. Which doesn’t sound exciting, but there it is. I actually spend a lot of time in dreams watching and listening to imaginary people. And reading. I read things in dreams.

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Other less disgusting but also deeply-engraved concepts from this episode:

Coins minted by criminals and used as black market currency by members of an underground culture. They’re called Venturi, and stamped from circular metal punch-outs left over from the manufacture of homemade explosive rockets.

A rebel militia run by members of that underground group to fund the political overthrow of a  (which is why rockets are being manufactured) They’re organized in units like a D&D party, with every cell meeting as a gaming group and using gamer lingo as the code for real world operations.

So not all of it was gross, just some of it, and the tunnels part was pretty exciting. My dream world doesn’t grow all that often, and expansion is usually tied to personal growth in other areas.

Maybe I’ve been stretching my limits more than I realized, the last little while. Hopeful thought.

 

Ask for a recipe, get a story: cider edition

Someone who knows my deep & abiding love for all things apple asked if I had a favorite recipe for mulled apple cider. Short answer: no.

Long answer: let me tell you why.

It starts with with flavors. I am a supertaster (what’s that? for more info, click here) which in brief means I can get overwhelmed by things other people don’t find powerful or even taste at all.  Many popular foods taste bitter, or over-sour, or simply strange on my tongue.  Genetics are involved. Yes, cilantro tastes like soap. Truffle oil is downright disgusting. I can identify different types of vanilla even after they’ve been cooked into foods. (Yes, there are many subtle variations on “vanilla,” but that’s a different post.)

The critical point is that my opinions on things tasting “good” or “bad” is heavily influenced by factors that don’t matter to others. Mulled cider typically involves a lot of strong spices: cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, clove, nutmeg, and star anise to name the most common. And I intensely dislike most of those spices.

I tried mulled cider many a time growing up, and I hated it. Always.

What spices you ask? (Of course you are curious.) Star anise makes the whole batch like black licorice and I hate black licorice, coriander makes me ill whether I taste it or not,  allspice & cardamom both leave a weird aftertaste I would rather avoid, and clove…too much clove has bad, BAD dental associations.

Since I always liked like hot plain cider,  I eventually decided I should TRY to mull some, to see if I could do it without making it taste yucky.

So I read a bunch of recipes and then followed none of them. As one does. My current system: pour as much cider as I plan to drink in a pot big enough to hold it, toss in a cinnamon stick & a clove or two, grate in a little nutmeg, heat over low until it’s steaming gently. If I have an orange around I might throw some peel and/or a few wedges. Or not.

I’ll also add a splash of whiskey  if I’m feeling boozy-adventurous. Not the good bourbon, that would be a waste, but Jack Daniels or Jim Beam. Whatever basic is hanging around. Even rum will do. Vodka in a pinch.

Do not add scotch. Or gin. Just don’t.

That isn’t really a recipe, but it’s what I do and the story of why.  Have some links to several good recipes I used as inspiration when I first decided to put spices in my hot cider:

Genius Kitchen has a sweet one.

Pioneer Woman‘s is a traditional one. (scroll down past all the fancy pics for recipe)

TastyKitchen for the slow-cooker edition

That’s it for this week’s edition of “Random Things I Do When I’m Not Writing Books”

 

Birds & bees and kissing in trees

Supers. Sex. Let’s have the talk.

If you’ve ever read and enjoyed a superhero comic book,  ever watched a Marvel movie or a DC-based television show, you must have wondered. How would it work for a speedster f’rex? Or for the invulnerable and super-strong? How do Superman and Lois Lane get it on?

Some books and shows tackle the subject head-on. So to speak. The book So Not A Hero and Jessica Jones season 1 come to mind. Vividly. The Superman question has been the subject of several famous essays, including this one by Larry Niven. It’s even an official TV Tropes entry.

The world in Rough Passages doesn’t have superheroes except in its graphic novels. (Yes, those exist.) But roughly 5-10% of the population over the age of 45 undergo a powerful metamorphosis of some kind, so that “um, how?” question does come up. <nudge-nudge, wink-wink>

In my world….

People develop phenomenal psychic or elemental  talents, others grow fur or scales or tails, and many more deal with altered hair, skin, or eye color. The psychological impact alone can be shattering. Physical changes play critical roles in personal identity, not to mention relationships intimate and social.

And looking at the bigger picture, it’s hard in this world to argue about the validity of transexual identity, f’rex, or whether atttraction to the same sex is natural or no.

Sexuality changes are common enough that everyone knows someone who knows…etc.  Oh, yeah. It isn’t common, but it happens. Go to bed with external plumbing, wake up with internal. Or vice versa. Or BOTH. In working order. Or neither. Does sexual preference change with plumbing or even with minor externals like skin or hair? Does identity? No…or yes, or maybe…depending on the individual.

Just as in our world, those lines can be blurry and cross–and “acceptance” debates have been high profile for far longer than in our history. This is not to say stigma and shame are gone. Or discrimination. Far from it. Visibility doesn’t resolve problems. Sometimes it feeds confrontations between those with conflicting beliefs. (and from conflict arises drama, and drama becomes story. But I digress.)

Other considerations: pornography, the sex trade and fetish communities have all developed quite differently than here. At first glance these things might not look much different from the ones in our world, but rollovers bring whole new options to the sexual smorgasbord.

The upside to all this physical variety is that more people can find willing partners and develop satisfying emotional bonds. There are new horizons to explore. If you can imagine it, someone somewhere is doing it. The downside? Not all those partners are interested in the people interested in them. No one wants to be treated as an object. Sexual violence and its attendant legal definitions, issues of consent, and a number of other tangles are all present, with twists as unique to that world as the changes of rollover itself.

All the variety also means someone somewhere is charging for it and/or recording it too. Lucrative (and some places even legal) employment options abound for those who can act a little and have talents or traits that would require special effects in this world. Those who regenerate in minutes,  those who cannot feel pain, those who can breathe underwater, those who have “animal” parts…there’s an audience for everything.

People change. Human nature doesn’t.

worldbuilding header 2 Rough Passages

Yes, But What Do They Eat?

Life in a super-powered world gets complicated. Speculation is an entertaining playground. Yes, there are big questions to answer, but I prefer to ponder issues that would affect people’s daily lives.  What kind of house paint would work for people who exhale acid gasses? How would the fashion industry cater to scales and tails?

Then there are the scientific conundrums. Elena is five feet tall.  Jack tops eight feet. Amy stands twelve foot-plus. They’re all humanoid, and that’s a problem. If they’re all built on the same framework of bone & sinew, supplied by the same nerve impulses and fueled by the same basic digestive system, the math doesn’t work. Physics and biology both shake their heads and say NOPE. Human bodies don’t scale up well.

And yet, no one would need proof that it works. They see it. They live it. So there’s no reason to explain in detail how joints have to be designed to support that much weight, how musculature would attach, etc, etc, zzzzzzz.* It isn’t story fodder. Oh, sure. Someone in Rough Passages America studies it. Someone is doing a thesis. But wouldn’t be a daily challenge to life, and I’m not writing about puzzled, frustrated scientists right now.

Other mundane details make fabulous story elements. Here’s one: how does someone as big as Jack or Amy survive in a modern world? What do they eat? That’s a point I addressed because it would be an unavoidable problem and a potentially funny one.

Research proved it wouldn’t be easy. Vegetarian animals have to spend up to 80% of their time fueling their bodies off nutrient-poor, high fiber food. And think of the elimination. Not a fun way for a civilized sentient to live.  Going with the carnivore model, we can look at tigers (which are roughly Jack’s size) and we find they burn through 8,000+ calories a day of nutrient-dense meat. And that’s on a lifestyle that sees them lounging around doing nothing 14-16 hours a day to conserve energy. Again, not a sustainable way of life in the modern human world.

My big T-series powerhouses have to be able to act and work with normal human soldier. So what do they  eat? Short answer: nothing and everything.

Under average circumstances their bodies are fueled by the same power that made them roll over in the first place.**  They channel and store that energy at a cellular level on instinct. Ah, but when they need more than they can tap from the environment or pull from their body’s reserves? Then their digestive tracts can break down pretty much anything at the molecular level as effectively as a blast furnace. They convert the resulting energy directly to cellular energy or mass as needed.

How?  Well, they don’t know, so I’m not telling. Ha.***  But think of the entertaining aspects. They don’t have to eat a lot normally. But when they do eat, they’ll eat whatever’s handy. A side of raw beef.  Rocks. Driftwood. Newspaper.

Why do I come up with ideas like this? Blame my analytic background. And the opportunities for humor.

That’s the best part of worldbuilding for me. I hope you enjoy the results as well.

Want to see T-series powers in action? I recommend you try my Rough Passsages Tale   Nightmares. Only 99 cents, and available for iBooks, Kobo, Nook and of course Kindle.

There. Mandatory book plug done. Happy reading.


Notes:

*  I can provide examples if challenged. I do the research. Animals as big as Amy have existed throughout history–even bipedal ones.  Cave bears, anyone? So it could work.

**there’s a whole ‘nother post full of authorial hand-waving on that topic.

*** I do have an explanation. It ties into the whole basis for what made the world change back on First Night,  but it gets into the snore-bore explication zone fast. And I steer clear of that quagmire.

worldbuilding header 2 Rough Passages

Real slang for an imaginary world

My fantasy world characters toss around a lot of jargon and slang specific to their reality.I love constructing their everyday lingo. I do thousands of hours of language and historical research and write thousands of words in background notes before I settle on the words and phrases my characters use to describe made-up events, issues, and concepts.

And then I don’t explain any of it. Why do I let readers flounder  if I’ve gone to the trouble of constructing origin stories for my slang?  In a word: cruelty. (just kidding!)

I do it because these words are as normal for the characters as TV or cool would be to us. No one I know wastes time explaining how cool means good, or that TV is short for TeleVision. Conversations full of concepts like  rollover and acronyms like DPS can be overwhelming, but they also make the actions and interactions feel real.

I do provide as much context as a scene allows, and I’m not above using the New Guy trope to shoehorn a little background into the narrative. I draw the line at sacrificing flow and rhythm to hammer raw data onto the page.

This is a blog, not a story, so have at it. Here be some slang terms and their straight-up definitions. Like any glossary it’s self referential. Entries use words that are in other entries. Enjoy. And if you have words you think someone in Rough Passages would use, lay ’em on me in the comments.

  • Arsenal: a combat-trained squad of bangers
  • Banger: anyone with a dramatic destructive power. R’s and P’s in the higher power tiers, telekinetics with
  • Burnouts: those who develop powers at puberty rather than middle-age. Few live past 20. Those who do are usually bangers and often end up in law enforcement “special needs” units.
  • Carnie: a rollover with major physical manifestations. See also: geek, pistol.
  • Cherry bomb: female burnout
  • Crow: female middle-aged rollover with threatening powers
  • Dip: from DPS, the abbreviation for Department of Public Safety, the federal bureaucracy responsble for R-factor testing, education, and all other rollover-related issues.
  • Dollie: female rollover with innocuous or attractive powers
  • Early-Onset: the official term for pubescent rollover
  • Flare: a power surge that accompanies a rollover exercising their abilities. Invisible to the eyes of nulls, but an auroral glow can be seen by some rollover types and appears on some visual recording media.
  • Joe/Little Joe:  male rollover with superhuman powers but otherwise normal appearance.
  • Midlife Monsters: obsolete nickname for USMC Mercury Battalion
  • Monster Buff:  fan of all things rollover-related. Many buffs keep extensive lists of rollover variant types they’ve ID’d “in the wild.” They scour public record information for likely rare variants and share data with other buffs. Clubs meet to swap sighting information, plan sighting trips, discuss the faults of the designation system and argue over validity of each others’ IDs.
  • Monster Marines
  • Null: someone with no powers/someone whose R-factor blood test is negative for rollover potential.
  • Pigeon: middle-aged or older female DPS employee.
  • Pistol: someone whose rollover power is more like a disability, likely to suicide
  • Poz: from positive. Someone who tests positive for the blood factor that proves them vulnerable to rollover.
  • Punk: rollover with human appearance and minor powers
  • Pyro: pyrokinetics and anyone else with rollover powers that cause booms
  • Rollover: a metamorphosis that hits some middle-aged people and leaves them with superpowers and/or dramatic physical changes.
  • Roll cool/Roll hot:  Hot rollovers develop their full active abilities in minutes or hours. For the first few years after the phenomenon began occurring, hot rollovers were the only kind anyone knew existed. In recent years cool, slow rollovers are becoming more numerous.
  • Rouster: military personnel charged with assisting the DPS in policing the powered population.
  • Series: official ability designation. First letter indicates primary disruption type, scaled 1-0 with 1 indicating the highest power manifestation, sub-categorized by additional letters within each series.
  • Slag: an insult term for particularly animalistic carnies.
  • Teke: Telekinetic
  • Torpedo: militarized water elemental or anyone with.
  • Whistle bait: 
  • Willie-Pete: a pyro who loses control and self-immolates.