Category Archives: Daily Words

Review: Fiasco – A great game for writers

I’m just going to say it. I am a huge tabletop role-playing game nerd. That’s probably what stoked a lot of my interest in writing. The GM’s would offer extra experience points for detailed character journals or backgrounds, so I would deliver 6 pages of tragedy, comedy, and a chance for redemption. Needless to say I was the most obsessive about it. So, while I recommend getting in to RPG’s of any stripes (New World of Darkness by White Wolf is a great place to start but I’ll save that for another post,) there’s another game I’ve played that I feel may be even better.

Fiasco.

Billed as the game version of a Coen brother’s movie, I liken it almost to Reservoir Dogs crossed with Elmore Leonard’s novels. In Fiasco, you play as criminals, ne’er do wells, and poor innocent people caught up in a failed criminal plot.

Now why I recommend it for writers. The game itself is for 3-5 players, but I’ve found it works best with 4 or 5. In the beginning of the game you choose a scenario to play. I’ve played some set in 1930’s Los Angeles, a contemporary suburban neighborhood, and Antarctica. Each setting has a different set of features that shape the story and characters. Not all of them can be chosen in one play through, meaning that each time you play you get a different story. The goal? Basically, survive.

This is not a competitive game, but a cooperative fiction game. You set up relationships between characters and the setting with random die rolls, and refine them as you wish. Then, each player gets several scenes where they can either choose the set-up, or resolution, of the scene. Say if I choose that I want my character to end up in a really shitty place, the other players decide the set-up, and vice versa. The reason you would choose this, is based on how your scene goes with another player, you can be awarded good or bad dice. The bad dice can leave your character standing if you have enough of them, just like the good dice, so the interest becomes telling a good story rather than just focusing on good things happening to your character.

In the middle of the session, the ‘Tilt’ happens. Basically, something random is introduced to the plot that completely turns everything upside down. The rest of the game is trying to pick up the pieces in the middle of the chaos.

I would definitely recommend watching Wil Wheaton’s TableTop session of the game here.

So, the reason I like this is that it makes me think on my feet. Not only do I have to worry about my narrative arc, but also that of my friends. We collaboratively need to create a story that is both fun and realistic, without throwing someone to the wayside. Having a character die though, can be just as entertaining as having one live. In fact, I’d say that ending up worse than you started is the most entertaining scenario. I’ve had characters shot during a confused drug exchange, trapped in a Nazi submarine underneath a collapsed glacier, and have had the dimmest character in the session end up the last one standing: a criminal king pin.

Why should you play? It’s entertaining as hell, and I think it strengthens character building in ways that normal writing exercises do not. It is less acting, more free flow improvisation and character development. If you have a few friends that even have interest in something like this, give it a shot. I haven’t tried the companion book, but if you do please let me know. Bully Pulpit Games, the publisher, also has scenarios you can download for free from their site. Honestly, I love this game, and recommend you all try it if it sounds appealing. It’s worth the money and only takes a few hours to play. Each session is self-contained so if a character dies it’s not a big deal. I promise that I have not been paid off by Bully Pulpit in any way. If they want to send me the Companion though that’s cool. No rush.

Hotel del Coronado: Next stop on my haunted world tour

From my explorations of Bachelor’s Grove, I’ve visited numerous other purportedly haunted places. I plan on dropping some knowledge bombs about them in this continuing series.

Next up on my Paranormal tour of the world, one of the other haunted locations I’ve visited has been the Hotel del Coronado. Situated on an island near San Diego, California, part of the island is where US Navy SEALs train, so that in itself is pretty cool. However, while the hotel is beautiful and on amazing an amazing beach,  Hotel del Coronado has a tragic past. In 1892, a woman named Kate Morgan was found dead. Kate Morgan was a mysterious woman to say the least, if she was actually the one found. On November 24th, 1892, Kate checked into Hotel del Coronado under the pretense she was meeting her husband. Roughly around this time she had purchased a handgun while in San Diego. In November 29th, she was found dead outside the hotel of what was initially ruled a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Kate Morgan, the "Beautiful Stranger" of Hotel del Coronado
Kate Morgan, the “Beautiful Stranger” of Hotel del Coronado

However, rumors began to spread that the bullet that killed her did not match the caliber of the gun she had purchased. Other rumors say that it wasn’t Kate Morgan who died, as the person who checked in to the room was “Lottie Barnard.” However, this most likely was an alias. In the meantime, reports of ghostly sightings in her room and around the hotel began to surface. Common paranormal “events” like cold spots, inexplicable breezes, and moving objects have been observed for over 100 years on the property. The hotel even has a resident historian who has written a page about her.

Now, my journey to Hotel del Coronado was somewhat different. It was shortly after the new millennium when my family had our yearly vacation to San Diego to visit our relatives. We would go for a little over a week, see my grandparents, aunt and uncle, and end up at Disneyland. My dad, knowing on how much of a ghost kick I had been on, decided to take us to the hotel for a day. The hotel is absolutely stunning. Once opened, it was instantly an international hot spot, and Marilyn Monroe’s “Some Like It Hot” was filmed in some places of the hotel.

We did what presumably every ghost-loving tourists did, and requested to see the haunted room of Kate Morgan. While we walked around for a bit, my dad dealt with hotel staff until we were cleared. We saw the spot she was found, and then brought up to the room.

It is there I had a horrifying, unconfirmed spiritual encounter that made me feel dumb. The room is a normal, very nice hotel room. But instantly I saw it. A pen, floating mid-air! I jumped a bit and pointed it out to my family instantly! Here we had proof of some kind of other force existing after death! Yep, that pen, floating underneath the fan in the middle of the room!

It was a goddamn decorative fan pull string. I still hear about it to this day.

That was my extent of the haunting of Kate Morgan, but I did enjoy a beautiful day at an amazing hotel I’d like to stay at one day. Preferably in the Kate Morgan room, God that’d be an amazing trip. If you’re ever in San Diego, be sure to stop in and check out the small displays they have about Kate and see if the room is occupied. If you can, go up there, and listen real close.

They say, sometimes you can hear echoes of a jackass freak out about a phantom pen.

(Seriously though, tell me if that overly decorative fan string thingy is still there.)

Next stop in my haunted hot spots sticks in San Diego, on board the USS Midway. ‘Till next time!

Podcast update

I finally have a proper recording studio thanks to my partner in crime on the upcoming podcast, my buddy Graham! Thanks again man.

Anyways, for you guys this means audio versions of my stories as well as different media updates. I’m super excited, and once I get super rich I’ll buy those sound absorbing tiles. I thought they’d be fun to have but they’re like $1000’s for a single wall.

So sorry in advance for the distortion.

But look at that up there! Isn’t the set up a beauty, eh?

I’ve already recorded a track and sent it to Graham for editing, so I’ll keep you guys all updated.

~-~Luv, LuCk, aNd LoLLiPoPs~-~

Chris

The Bachelor Disaster: The Gods demand a sacrifice

As promised, the second part of Bachelor day! Much less scary than the first, but still entertaining.

However, I did have another creepy thing happen today. When coming back inside from taking Bailey out I heard the toilet cistern refilling from the guest bathroom. No one else is in the house. I am assuming and hoping it is a slow leak that caused a flush.

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I was married in September of 2012. Earlier in the summer, my best man Graham  and other best friend Mike surprised me with an awesome idea for a bachelor party. The three of us have been outdoorsmen for a while. We grew up together in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, regularly go camping at Graham’s farm, and recently did a backpacking trip into a wilderness reserve in Indiana.

We have fun making our bodies hate us.

For my bachelor party they wanted to plan something special. They wouldn’t tell me what it was in advance, only that I needed to bring formal wear, camping equipment, video gaming stuff, among other things. The only things they told me not to worry about was any paintball clothing or target shooting gear. I spent the night at Graham’s apartment and they finally told me: put the formal wear in the car, and grab your camping gear. We’re hitting the river at 11am tomorrow.

Anyways, the idea was for us to go canoe camping along the Wisconsin River. Now, if you’ve never gone canoe camping, the gist is you get dropped off at a departure point by a rafting company, load up the canoes with as much beer as they can carry, and then make a little room for camping gear. You then canoe downriver and drink until you find a suitable sand bar in the river for camping. Finally, play drinking games, camp, and the next day canoe to the pick up point.

A group of about 11 guys went with, with myself, Graham, and Mike having the most experience on the water. We divided up 2 to a canoe, and divided up gear among the boats. For instance, Mike and Graham had the keg, so their equipment was distributed among other boats. The last guy took the kayak and carried what he could in the small craft.

My good friend Adam, who was going to be the photographer for my wedding, brought his dog Arwen. Arwen is a total sweetheart but we didn’t know how she would take to a canoe, so I volunteered to go with. After all, if someone should be dumped into the water it should be the bachelor in question right? I gave my gear to some of the others just in case.

So, we somehow jammed way too much beer and camping equipment into 10 canoes and a kayak, and set off. The water level on the Wisconsin River that year was super low. A foot at best from where we set off, and about 4 feet at its deepest. So all the other boats disappear around the bend in the river, and we get ready to set off with Arwen and… she jumps out. Again! Onwards to victory! Wait… where the hell did the dog go? Repeat this a few times and we found our answer to whether Arwen liked the boat. Out on the water she would shift her weight, slowing us down as Adam had to calm her, so I was sure we were going to be the only boat to tip.

Arwen, happy to be on dry land. Copyright Adam Arcus, 2014. http://arcusphotography.com/
Arwen, happy to be on dry land.
Copyright Adam Arcus, 2014. http://arcusphotography.com/

10 minutes. We had been in the boats 10 minutes and Adam and I are paddling like hell to catch the main group. Coming around the bend the first sign something is wrong is the beer cooler floating down the river next to us and lodging itself on a downed tree.

10 minutes.

I see my friends Matt and Lengkimly wading in chest high water trying to drag their upturned boat onto the shore. The other canoes pulled in to help, and one just sat there in the water and took pictures.

Remember I gave my gear away because I was worried about it tipping? I gave them my equipment.

My unprotected sleeping bag, tent, and clothes.

10 minutes.

While I quietly stewed, arms crossed and yelling at the others to help like a cranky Poseidon, Matt did the impossible and fought against the current and saved the cans of Stella, which made me a bit happier.

Bachelor’s Grove: Most Haunted Cemetery in America

Hey everyone! A bit of housekeeping first. Yesterday I had my 50th post and broke my previous view record! 133 page views compared to 105 after I was published by Listverse, so that feels like an awesome thing since I haven’t been published in a while. Thank you all so much for commenting and sharing and liking! It was awesome seeing that record break, and I’ll admit I had a celebratory Bulleit Bourbon on the rocks while writing this next post last night.

I’ve decided to share 2 true stories with you regarding Bachelor’s. First about Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, called the most haunted in the United States. Second, about my bachelor party, which nearly killed us and would have left a plot of land in Wisconsin the most haunted site in the US. Enjoy! Thanks so much again everyone!

Oh, also creepy side note. I’ve been waking up each morning at 5am (those who know me can tell you that’s scary enough,) however today when I was gathering my writing materials and about to walk out the bedroom door, I could’ve sworn I heard talking in our kitchen and movement. I looked through the house, checking every room, door, and window. Nothing was disturbed. My life is apparently turning into ‘The Map.’ I’m thinking it’s still just my brain waking up and hearing things even though I had been awake for 10 minutes at my time because that’s a nice thing to tell myself.

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Bachelor’s Grove

I grew up near Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery in the south suburbs of Chicago. Legend has it that it is the most haunted cemetery in Illinois, if not the entire US. The cemetery is a run down and ill kept plot of land fenced off in the woods, just off a major thoroughfare. Driving along the road, your car will pass over a bridge looking over a pond in front of the cemetery, with the overgrown tombstone in the distance.

It’s more famous cousin, Resurrection Cemetery on Archer Avenue is one of the birthplaces of the phantom woman hitchhiker myth, but Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery is infinitely creepier. There have been several groups that go out periodically and clean up the area, but each time I’ve been there it has been in disarray and overgrown.

There are quite a few legends regarding the location. The aforementioned pond supposedly was a dumping ground for victims of mob hits in the 20’s and 30’s, however it seems like quite the distance to drive at the time when there would have been quite a few better options closer to the city. Some of the stories claim a phantom Packard automobile will chase lone drivers at night. Having been down that road very often near midnight, I’ve never been lucky.

There is also a picture taken of one of the benches showing a spectral woman who was supposedly not there when the photo was shot. I have a hard time believing it, only because it looks too perfectly staged, and the woman looks too defined. However, other unconfirmed reports also include black masses being held on Halloween, animal sacrifices, and a strange glowing orb that can be seen moving through the woods.

Unfortunately, the only thing I have personally seen is desecration of graves by destruction of tombstones. Markers can be seen dumped in the pond in front of the cemetery leading to the idea that the disturbance and insult to the dead is what causes the area to have that mysterious haunted aura.

Now, I haven’t mentioned my favorite story of Bachelor’s Grove. Legend has it that if you walk along the access road, occasionally you will see a farmhouse in the woods, lantern burning in the window. The legend diverges that if you approach the house it will disappear, you will never get close, or if you enter you’re never seen again.

Some of the accounts I’ve read state that no farmhouses had been in the area. My father has aerial maps from the 1930’s showing the region, and indeed there were no farmhouses within a few miles. He acquired the maps specifically to find long gone farmhouses, as they would dump their trash in holes the farmers dug so you can still find bottles and other cool relics from the 1800’s.

I love the idea of a haunted house that wasn’t ever there. It seems much more alien and mysterious than a simple ghost or strange lights in the woods. The idea of a spectral building and what you find inside seems far scarier to me than any normal phantom, hitchhiker or not.

Last time I went to Bachelor’s Grove we also went hiking in the woods around the property. Less then a quarter mile in the woods we found the remains of an old well.

Just past that, the ruined foundation of a small, long gone farmhouse, barely outlined through the forest undergrowth. It doesn’t appear on my dad’s map. It gives me a chill just thinking about it.

One day I plan on going back to Bachelor’s Grove, but honestly, I have no idea what I’d do if I saw a farmhouse just outside the entrance, door slightly cracked open, with the warm, inviting glow of lamplight trying to welcome me inside.

If you have any stories of cemeteries around where you live I’d love to hear about them. Local legends are the best legends, and I love a good story.

Keep Writing Everyone

Bailey was mad I wasn’t holding the elk antler for her while writing this, so as compensation she gets top billing.

I love WordPress.

I just have to say that right out of the gate. It really is one of the ‘social media’ style sites where I feel connected to people all around the world through our shared love of writing. Each day I see people put their emotions on display, inner thoughts, news, and feelings. The fact that I have to stop myself from writing more for fear of being annoying with my amounts of updates is probably proof of point how much I love this site.

A few weeks ago I was having problems writing. I was a bit down on myself as my laptop broke and I was having issues concentrating in one spot at a time (tethered to my gaming desktop computer.) Now that I’ve gotten a tablet and have been writing from various spots I’ve gotten my groove back. A lot of it is thanks to my followers and those I follow. I get a huge kick out of seeing everyone develop and hit milestones, and it may be selfish, but I love having a place to keep a history of my own accomplishments. It really is a mood raiser, and a great way to conquer the glum moods brought on by winter. Putting up a new post and seeing different countries popping up as having visited the site is amazing, and a bit of the positive side of globalization.

Thank you so much everyone for reading. I’ve decided I am going to start pulling together info for my non-fiction book, but I am going to keep writing here day in and day out. When I made a promise a few weeks ago that I would update 3 times a week, I never knew that it’d actually feel like a ball and chain just a few weeks later.

Keep writing everyone, and I’ll keep reading.

Cowboy Boots Are Cool: Some things I’ve learned from my father

I’ve lived in suburban Chicago my entire life. While I’ve spent time out west on a ranch every few summers, and time camping and riding horses through Boy Scouts, I really am a suburbanite at heart. Some of my friends think I’m weird as hell for not wanting to live in Chicago as soon as I was able to, but the truth is the city does not appeal to me at all. Don’t get me wrong, I love Chicago, but I hate being surrounded by so many people. I need my space and solitude. I convinced my wife to pick an obnoxiously annoying to maintain corner lot for our house because I wanted like, ten extra square feet in the yard.

For my father’s 50th birthday party we had a cowboy themed party. My father has grown up all over the world since my grandfather was an Air Force fighter pilot, but he never lost his southwestern drawl. Born in Texas and living everywhere from southern California to upstate New York, he’s traveled his whole life. It wasn’t until he and my mom met that he truly set down roots for a family.

I think I get my fondness for being close to home from him. Like him, I only like traveling sporadically and would much rather spend time close to home with friends and family than seeing a new city. New wilderness though, that’s our Kryptonite. Both of us love exploring the outdoors but for different reasons. He likes looking for old bottles from the turn of the century, and arrowheads. I like looking for caves that I never find, and camping. While we go out for different reasons, he’s the one who taught me to love the outdoors. He taught me a respect for animals that I have until this day. Even though I am a sport shooter, I’ve never considered hunting simply for the fact that it’s unnecessary for me in this day and age. I would rather catch a deer with a DSLR camera than a pump action shotgun.

Since that birthday party, I’ve had a pair of cowboy boots. A rich brown leather with only the most basic of designs stitched into the side. I let them sit in a closet all through college. It wasn’t until I got out of college that I put them back on. And you know what? It actually looked good on this suburban kid; wearing jeans and button down casual shirts. I can get away with it, and get compliments for it. Hell, casual Friday meant I wore my jeans and boots. I learned that from my dad. He’ll wear black cowboy boots with his work suits and make it work with no problem. I’ve reached that point in my life where I’m not scared to inject a bit of uniqueness into my style and I’m proud of it. I love my boots, they are comfortable as hell and make that satisfying thud with each step.

Now, I will never be able to pull off a cowboy hat, but the boots at least are staying.

Poll: Would you be interested in a non-fiction book about revisionism after the US Civil War?

Hello Internet,

I need advice. I’m still working on my novel, and The Map, however I have an itch to begin gathering information for a new project.

I kind of want to know if it sounds like a good, interesting idea. Maybe not something that’s your cup of tea particularly, but that you can see people reading.

I want to write a book about the revisionist history that happened after the end of the US Civil War.

The plan would be to tackle everything from the “State’s Rights” arguments for the war, to Sherman (I’m on a huge Sherman kick lately), to Lincoln’s popularity, and the issue of slavery in the North. I would try to keep it as non-biased as possible, however would be tackling a LOT of revisionism by post-Civil War Confederate veterans.

So! Can you vote and let me know what you think?

I’d be super appreciative!

Handier than I thought and an announcement

Donkeys unrelated. I just love that photo of me.

So my biggest problem lately has been staying in one place long enough to spend time writing. A lot of my best writing has been done while propped up in bed, or on the couch, but balancing everything has been a huge pain in the ass. I wanted to buy a lap desk, but Karen reminded me I’ve been dropping cash left and right on things. So, I decided to make my own!

I’m not even going to pretend that this is impressive, but I’ve been amused and how quickly I macguyvered it together. It’s only mid way done, and is effectively just a piece of pine wrapped in pleather left over and scavenged from my costume, and glued into place.

WIN_20141117_062851
A masterpiece in progress. Yes, that is weatherproofing caulk. Shut up I ran out of superglue.

 I’ve been feeling like working on a DIY project for a while and this is a simple, but fun start. Cobbled together in 20 minutes, I can prop it on a pillow once done and have a non-slip work surface once I get the urge to move around the house. I want to build my own writing desk soon, but I’m going to need wayyyy more tools for that.

Ever since I’ve started writing I wanted to start doing more stuff with my hands. I’m a target shooter as a hobbyist, so cleaning and breaking down simple machinery kind of scratched that itch, but lately I’ve been in such a mood to create that I’m trying to learn new trades.

Speaking of which! I’m starting a YouTube channel. It should be up by next week, just waiting for my partner in crime to get some of his professional recording mics together. I tried recording with my webcam and headset and… well it wasn’t pretty.

It’s going to be me, me reading stories, and me doing other stuff. Me, me me me me. Yeah I know you can’t get enough of me. (Please don’t close this tab yet.)

So, keep an eye out. I’ll make a post about it, but my first real video is going to be me reading my original story, “Hypothermia,” from the blog. Yeah, it felt thematically right given that it’s my new project and a horribly cold start to winter. The story has been revised since it’s original publication. Not heavily, but enough.

Looking forward to seeing you all next week when I try building a house,

UPDATE: The final product:

Real men wear pink and steal their wife's pink wireless mouse. B-)
Real men wear pink and steal their wife’s pink wireless mouse. B-)

Unexpected bonus, the backing of the pleather also reads the wireless mouse perfectly. Not too shabby for 20 angry minutes of work, a hacksaw, utility knife, a bottle of super glue, and then weather sealant if I do say! Saved $20.

Thankful for the Past

Just a warning, this post has nothing to do with horror stories or writing. Instead, it deals with some of the things I’m thankful for as a 27-year-old man-child. I might alienate myself from some people, but I hate Thanksgiving. I don’t like Turkey, and would just rather write or sleep. So, I wanted to start listing the things I’m thankful for now so that I can just be lazy when others are posting about thing’s they’re thankful for. Pretend I’m like that annoying store that plays Christmas music starting November 1st.

I helped one of my best friends move to a condo in Chicago yesterday. I’ve known him since the end of high school, but it wasn’t until Freshman year of college that we became really close. We were typical freshmen, always in search of something to do or someone to hook us up with beer. We had taste though, it was always Guinness or Heineken and not the lifeblood of the University of Illinois: Natty Ice.

That was nearly 10 years ago, and I realize that while my friends group is larger than ever, most of my friends are those I’ve met through other friends, or those I’ve reconnected with since elementary school or high school.

So really, I’m thankful for my past. Two of my friends have stuck with me since Cub Scouts, and we still all get together as often as possible. My circle of gaming buddies is now huge and started with a chance meeting in gym class with a fellow nerd.

We’re all really diverse now in terms of working. I’m a struggling freelance writer, I know a marketing coordinator, accountant, stock trader, lawyer, student, pharmacist, postal worker, forensic investigator, teacher, among others. I never realized where we’d end up, or that we’d still be so close or reconnect so easily.

My neighbor and good friend is the husband of a friend of mine from elementary school, and a previous member in one of the Cub Scout guy’s old bands.

One of the friends I keep in contact with I met through a bar crawl with Karen’s photo class. I was a hanger-on, and luckily we kept in touch and he was the photographer at my wedding. Karen and I, and him and his wife still are great friends even if we’re only lucky enough to see each other twice a year.

Two of my newest friends I met at a party and we clicked nearly immediately. Now we are inseparable when it comes to our video games and horrible puns.

Karen and I have lived 10 minutes apart our entire lives. We went to schools in the same district, and crossed paths unknowingly on theater trips to U of I. It took both of us going there and various friends and detours to finally meet and link up.

I guess my point to all of this is I’m thankful for fate, and for strange coincidences. It has allowed me to connect with and keep so many great people around me that have more than helped me when I’ve needed them. They never ask anything, but are always there for support or advice.

Ending up where I am now has been a surprising and twisting road. I went to college with aspirations of being a fighter pilot, and ended up taking confidence in my ability to write. My friends are inspirations, and most importantly, understanding and a great time. Anyone I missed, don’t feel bad, this is 6am and is wonderful for any kind of post-Halloween gloom to write.

It’s weird how things work out. But I love it.

Thanks everyone, love you all.

Throwback to my favorite band in college: